The Black Void: Jeff Tweedy Live in San Diego – 2/11/06 - Part Two

Okay. Alright. So where was I on Part One? Lame poetry? Great - I start in on Part Two a full two weeks after the concert, my memory totally shot, and where did I leave off in Part One? Only with the most thoughtless poetry I have ever written on four hours of drunken, fitful sleep. Wow, am I disappointed in myself…Tweedy definitely deserves a better review. He gave me a phenomenal show from the bleediest of nosebleed sections, and I respond with the lame italic poetry I wrote to pass the time before the show even started. Seriously, I should have all my Wilco albums revoked for that.

But enough self-indictment. Allow me to backtrack a bit, all the way to January (by the way, the chances of this post becoming a credible, publishable concert review [as was originally intended] have evaporated, thus freeing me up to ramble incoherently, effectively turning this into a very personal account of a very public concert…thank you for your understanding). Or was it December? That was when I originally heard Tweedy was solo touring through Southern California. After trying unsuccessfully to score tickets to the LA shows (two nights) at the Henry Fonda Theatre, I looked south to San Diego for hope.

It would be difficult to convince any of my fair-weather Tweedy fan friends to make the trek, I surmised, so I decided not to bother asking anyone in favor of just going solo. As I put my credit card through the soul-crushing torment of Ticketmaster’s $12.00 processing charge, I noted that this would be my first loner concert experience since my incredibly lucky second-row view of the Smashing Pumpkins back in 1996. I wondered, perhaps a little aprehensively, feeling vulnerable in anticipation of being alone in a big theatre of snobby hipster / surfer strangers… Who would I talk to before and after the show? Who would I make eye contact with as Tweedy launches into “Airline to Heaven” and my brown peepers well up with shameless tears of joy as I secretly toast the legend of Woody Guthrie?

Then I remembered that, for the most part, I’ve been spoiled by a great tradition of live rock and roll companionship. Most of the great concerts I’ve experienced in the past fifteen years have had strong buddy associations – dating all the way back to my soccer teammate Bree at Paula Abdul/Color Me Badd (if that can be considered a great live rock and roll concert…umm, okay, let’s just pretend here) in sixth grade. What would I do, left to my own lonely devices, witnessing Tweedy’s songs, which have become mysteriously sentimental to me in the past year? There was no telling what sorts of outward emotions would come pouring out. With no one reayd on the receiving end, would I be forced to keep it all bottled inside?

Fortunately, the closer the days elapsed to February 11, the better I felt about my choice to go by myself. After all, outside of the concert world, I do a lot of things by myself. The social pressure of such loser labels frequently associated with loners does not faze me. In fact, the very same social pressure that hounded me back in high school can just kiss my ass because I have grown up to become a proud loner who happens to have a lot of close friends as well – I like it both ways: independence and dependence, and most of my friends do, too. So I prepared to hit up the elusive city of San Diego, where I know a total of three people (none of whom I know very well), and get my Tweedy nosebleed experience, merging my solo, single self into a theatre packed with couples intent on celebrating Valentine’s Day a few days early.

A bit more backstory (because you know you want it): the events leading up to the Saturday night concert were simply draining. First, as happens a lot these days, Thursday night I got caught up in writing some pointless prose and forgot to check the time until 3:30 a.m., leaving me overcaffeinated but somehow functioning for a long day of office work on Friday, after which I decided, quite appropriately, to go to the neighborhood bar with a couple friends and get bombed on three extremely strong vodka tonics, only to face the 8:15 alarm and a mind-numbing hangover for an all-day Saturday hospice volunteer training, where there was much talk of death, dying, and even more death, with a little terminal illness spirituality dynamics thrown in for good preparatory measure.

Immediately after my training, which ended at 5:30, I got in my car and started towards the freeway onramp (from the Wilshire center of Los Angeles, this is easily five miles away, with a long stoplight every ½ mile), at which point I realized that in my hungover haze, I’d forgotten to pack directions to the Spreckels Theatre, the Tweedy concert venue. So I called home for help with Internet mapping. After all the hospice discussion of death and dying, the last person I wanted to talk to was my cancer patient mom, as I was feeling especially morbid and didn’t want it to rub off on her and downturn her spirits a month before her tumor extraction surgery. But as usual, she was glad to help me out, gave excellent directions, and didn’t seem to notice my bummer mood (at least I don’t think she did, but she does have that maternal telepathy connection power over me, so there’s no telling).

By the time I got on the freeway and endured about 45 minutes of inexplicably random Orange County traffic (we went 82 mph. on average, and suddenly, without warning or explanation, down to 25), it was 7:00. The show started at 8:00, and I was easily 90 minutes away. As the hangover had drained most of my energy, I was running out of fumes the whole way down the I-5. I smoked cigarettes to stay awake, something that worked wonders for college road trips (when I actually used to smoke) but in this instance just made me feel very glad that I’ve quit (for the most part).

By the time I arrived at the Spreckels Theatre, I resembled a shaky, cracked out version of myself at 21, fresh off an all-nighter churning out a dense 12-page paper on post-structuralism theory, ready for the kind of nap where you fear your eyes will close forever (enter lame poetry here), but luckily, the lights turned down and Jeff Tweedy took the stage just before my lids hit rock bottom. Just seeing him down there, strumming his guitar, singing “Sunken Treasure,” made me completely forget about the chain of events that had brought me to a live concert featuring one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Logically, with no sleep, energy, or sanity, I should have conked out right when the lights dimmed, never to wake up until the ushers made the final rounds after the show. The fact that I suddenly willed myself wide awake for the duration of the show (and even more strangely, until 6:30 the next morning), still defies explanation. Did Tweedy bring me back to life through the power of rock and roll? Believers say yes, cynics say no, and I’m stuck somewhere between believer and cynic, so I’ll just say it’s possible. Yes, possible.

Getting back to being alone at the show - I’m not sure I would have wanted anyone there with me, at least not anyone I knew personally. Why? Well, it was an incredibly intimate show, even from my nosebleed balcony seat. I can’t do a play-by-play, as it was dark and obviously, my brain was not operating normally at the time, but certain memories rise to the surface of my internal hard drive, where they will be stored until I am very old, when I’m jamming with my acoustic in the nursing home, leading a sing-a-long of “Heavy Metal Drummer,” which was performed with groovy precision in the encore, accompanied by Glenn Kotche, Wilco’s percussionist. In addition to “Heavy Metal Drummer,” my favorite songs of the evening were (of course) “Sunken Treasure,” “Airline to Heaven” (sure enough, I pretty much shed internal tears of joy when my ears first detected the opening chords), “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and “Shot in the Arm.” At first I felt a little disappointed that he didn’t play “Company in My Back,” but now I’m glad because I'm pretty sure I would have just lost it.

Favorites aside, one overarching theme permeated throughout the performance, blanketing it with the kind of feeling that stays with you like an old crush with a timeless, intoxicating aura. It stemmed from the humorous, self-depreciating between-song conversations that Tweedy conducted with us, attempting to connect to the best of his ability. At one point he remarked that he couldn’t see anyone in the theatre, just a black void in front of him…shouting song requests…echos ranging from “you rock” to “you suck.” He explained this phenomenon as “exactly what happens when I’m talking to myself.” Like everyone around me, I laughed when he said this, but at the same time I marveled that the self-reflexive intimate interaction he’d achieved with this black void was the same sort of universal intimacy he’d built with many of his fans, myself included, on such ambitious, lyrically revealing albums as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the final two songs of the night lulled me away from the tired, burnt-out realities of my inner cynic, leaving me with the strangely attractive longing to fulfill the stimulant of the next instant. The delicate lullaby “California Stars” and its soft closing refrain, “So I'd give this world / Just to dream a dream with you / On our bed of California stars” seemed to be hinting at my own impending slumber, but no amount of foreshadowing could prepare me for the moment Tweedy stepped away from the mic and moved closer to the edge of the stage, launching into “Acuff-Rose” without the amplification support of the PA system. His voice resounded all over the black void, naked and simple, singing:

Early in the morning, sometimes late at night
Sometimes I get the feeling that everything's alright
Early in the evening, sometimes in the day
Sometimes I get the feeling everything's okay

As I stepped out into the chilly potential of what remained of my stay in San Diego, I had no idea what to expect, and above all else, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that, well, everything was okay…yeah, believe it or not, sometimes I get that feeling.


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