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In the Footsteps of Woody and Pete 

click to enlarge Jeff Tweedy will perform at Clearwater’s Spring Splash on March 28 in Beacon. - CHARLES  HARRIS
  • Charles Harris
  • Jeff Tweedy will perform at Clearwater’s Spring Splash on March 28 in Beacon.

Jeff Tweedy isn’t doing interviews. This isn’t a surprise. He has headaches. He has issues. He even hit a fan onstage once, in Springfield, Missouri.

The fan deserved it. He had jumped on the boards to do the “look-at-me” dance, then snuck up behind Tweedy, who freaked out and put the kid in his place.

He lives in Chicago, what do you expect?

Chances are slim that Tweedy will haul off and belt anyone when he headlines Clearwater’s Spring Splash at Beacon High School on March 28, but whatever happens, it will be interesting.

Tweedy, after all, has made a career out of confounding expectations—whether as half of the creative engine of the contentious but brilliant Uncle Tupelo or as the emotionally fragile, artistically fearless leader of alt-rock super group Wilco. And heaven knows being a member of that band is even more dangerous than being a fan.
But Tweedy onstage alone with a 1957 Gibson J-45 is another thing entirely. In fact, Tweedy is a lot like a ’57 Gibson. He’s weatherbeaten, used to the point of abuse, battle-scarred, and beautiful. He’s a little rusty, a lot funky, and fickle as Chicago weather. And, oh yeah, there’s a big hole where the sound comes out.

Solo, that sound can veer from confusion to rage to joy, with as strong an emphasis on the latter as the clinically depressed rehab vet can muster.

A 2006 Albany appearance nearly mirrors much of the chatter on Tweedy’s live solo DVD, Sunken Treasure. The film finds Tweedy alternately arguing with and cajoling audiences at a series of shows in the Pacific Northwest during a different leg of the same tour.

In one particularly telling scene, Tweedy, scruffy as a castaway, pleads with a crowd of Chatty Cathies to shut up. His language is a little more colorful, as you might imagine (especially considering his ruthless self-assessment of his primary skills: “All I do is fart and swear”).

But once he starts to win the crowd over Tweedy actually cons them into playing possum and gets a few hundred people to stand still and be silent for a raw, pure moment. “Cool,” he says, almost under his breath, breaking his own reverie. “It could go on even longer.”

Maybe he’ll find that same magic space in a high school auditorium. Maybe he won’t. Either way, it’s appropriate that Tweedy is finally making his way to Beacon, particularly on a quick tour that lands him only in Burlington and Northampton before he flies to Spain. Beacon, after all, is Pete Seeger’s town, and Tweedy’s already done Woody Guthrie.

Few rockers as successful as Tweedy look so helpless, hapless, and homeless. Billy Bragg may espouse the spirit of Guthrie, but Tweedy inhabits it. Seeger—as Tweedy is well aware—will also be a part of Spring Splash, singing with students from J. V. Forrestal Elementary School. He’ll probably sing with Tweedy, too, and it’s hard—Chicago, migraines, and flatulence aside—to say no that wonderful opportunity.

“If you want to have a singalong, that’s my favorite thing in the world,” Tweedy says in Sunken Treasure, deep in his parry-and-thrust with the crowd. That’s Pete 101 and Tweedy knows it.

So, sing along with all your might, but just don’t get too close and make a fast move, or he’ll have to take you down.

Jeff Tweedy will perform at Clearwater’s Annual Spring Splash at Beacon High School on March 28 at 8pm. (503) 265-2270; www.clearwater.org.

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