Despite a plea from a fan in the crowd, Jeff Tweedy refused to play “Handshake Drugs” during a solo acoustic concert in upstate New York Saturday night. “It’s inappropriate for the environment,” he said from the stage. He had a point: the Wilco leader was onstage at Beacon High School for a benefit for Clearwater, the environmental organization that Pete Seeger founded 40 years ago to help clean up the Hudson River.
And if playing a high school auditorium didn’t keep Tweedy from singing about drugs, he might have thought twice after watching 19 fourth-graders from a local elementary school sing songs about the environment with Seeger. The folk legend opened the show solo, playing acoustic guitar and leading the crowd through a sing-along of “Over the Rainbow” before performing with the kids. Seeger, who will celebrate his 90th birthday May 3rd during a benefit concert for Clearwater at Madison Square Garden, arrived and left the stage to standing ovations.
Tweedy, like Seeger, engaged the crowd throughout his set, entertaining requests and indulging one fan who yelled out for “Hummingbird.” He also sang with crisp vocals and rich vocal inflection on “Passenger Side” and played haunting harmonica lines on “Via Chicago.” But that was after he used a harmonica that was seemingly in the wrong key, stopped the song and tossed it to the side of the stage before exclaiming with sarcasm, “flawless.”
Tweedy also performed a few songs slated to appear on Wilco’s June album, including “Solitaire,” “Everlasting” and “Wilco (the song), which got the loudest reaction from the crowd, with its assurances that “Wilco will love you, baby.”
Tweedy commented a couple times about playing a high school, which seemed to remind him of a more mischievous period of his life. “I think I’m still marveling at the unlikely nature of me being invited back to a high school,” he said after opening the show with “Remember the Mountain Bed,” from Mermaid Avenue Volume 2, a record that featured music by Wilco and Billy Bragg and lyrics by Woody Guthrie. “There are a lot of things to marvel at,” Tweedy continued, in a very humble tone, “like Pete Seeger playing before me.”
Tweedy seemed genuinely thrilled when Seeger, joined by his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, sat in for the first encore. “I couldn’t come all this way,” Tweedy told the crowd, “and not play a couple songs with Pete Seeger.” The trio performed Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special” and the spiritual “Jacob’s Ladder.” Seeger turned toward Tweedy and played directly to him for most of each song; Tweedy strummed sparingly and barely sang, while looking right back at Seeger.
Tickets go on sale today for the May 3rd Clearwater concert at Madison Square Garden featuring Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and many others. Wilco launch a U.S. tour April 14th in Milwaukee and will release a new DVD, Ashes of American Flags, on April 18th.
Jeff Tweedy set list:
“Remember the Mountain Bed”
“The Ruling Class”
“Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard”
“Wilco (the song)”
“Heavy Metal Drummer”
“Airline to Heaven”
“I’m the Man Who Loves You”
– with Pete Seeger and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger
“Someone Else’s Song”
“Acuff-Rose” – with no microphone and no amp