Jeff Tweedy in Vicar Street, Dublin, on January 30th 2018

James Elkington appreciatively commends the “unnerving silence” in an all-seated Vicar Street, joking that “I like to be talked over as much as possible“. A deft picker, his selection comes from last year’s ‘Wintres Woma’ record, and it is over the instrumental passages of these numbers that his set is at its most compelling.

Elkington is an English folk musician now living in Chicago, and the city’s blues lineage seems to have seeped into his own compositions, particularly through one piece of darkly hued, impressively wrought baroque folk prior to his parting shot. He goes out, then, on The Parting Glass, an Irish classic freshly learned (“come find me after if this is horrifying“). Head down, Elkington studiously picks out the notes on his own retelling before retiring to the wings.

If it’s through unnerving silence that Elkington gets his dues from the crowd, then the headliner turns that trend completely on its head. When Via Chicago ends, the gale of a greeting that meets Jeff Tweedy is nothing short of uproarious. It’s something that continues through the set, the reception to each choice cut a testament to the esteem in which he’s held. Tweedy stands alone with his acoustic guitar, leaving his musical comrades behind for a spell to embark on this solo run. 2017’s ‘Together At Last’ saw him undertake a retrospective retelling of his work with Wilco, as well as the Golden Smog and Loose Fur side projects; all well represented tonight and with some Uncle Tupelo material to boot.

It is a night typified by laughter, from Tweedy’s faux-disappointment that we don’t know the words to the new material, to his wry admission that “truth be told, in a room this small there’s only a handful of you I would really like, probably.”  Anecdotes are proffered and requests shouted out and shot down, everything cut through with a tinge of good-humoured nihilism.

Occasionally, Tweedy’s acoustic strumming is punctuated by a flurry of staccato guitar work, but it’s the stories contained within that resonate, and not just those belonging to Tweedy. Woody Guthrie’s words are set to music on Hesitating Beauty and California Stars, with the gruff, low register of the audience’s accompaniment on the latter offset by Tweedy’s higher harmony. They murmur along with reverence as Jesus, Etc. begins, but by the time it ends, it’s as if the room has been collectively holding its breath without even realising.

Any set that begins with Via Chicago sets its own bar, but the highlights are consistent throughout – Bull Black Nova, a scarcely heard live Passenger Side, a pared-back Locator – and all the while the warm rapport between crowd and performer binds the songs, old, borrowed and new. As A Shot in The Arm closes the night, Tweedy cuts the guitar and he and crowd roar the final line acapella: “What you once were isn’t what you want to be any more”. One last show of unity, one last cry of defiance.

 

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