Tweedy's folky family affair warms Ithaca crowd

Review: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy brought his new solo project, which includes his son Spencer on drums, to the State Theate of Ithaca on Sept. 24.

It’s impossible to talk about Tweedy without mentioning familial dynamics. Because the band consists of a celebrated folk veteran in front and his son, 18, on drums, it’s easy to study their onstage movements and gestures, hoping for a glimpse of the natural warmth of their relationship.

At their concert at the State Theate of Ithaca on Wednesday, Sept. 24, the Tweedy pair sprinkled touches of their loving bond (and some laughable dad jokes) between the strums of their sensitive mid-tempo tunes.

Jeff, the father, has led the Chicago alternative folk band Wilco for nearly two decades. His songs for this new solo venture don't deviate from the formula — sparse, delicate and mostly pleasant. His son Spencer’s prodigious talent shined throughout the first set, which consisted of new tracks from their new album, Sukierae. Boosted drum microphones gave sleepy Sukierae songs like “Nobody Dies Anymore,” “Flowering” and “Summer Noon” a glow not found on the record.

The touring Tweedy band’s three supporting musicians, including a classmate of Spencer’s, added the necessary flourishes to make the songs like a gleaming Diane Izzo cover leap to life.

As agreeable as the set was, the real entertainment came from the silent banter exchanged between the awkward Jeff and the stoic Spencer: a back rub here, a smile in an interlude there. The biggest audience treat came when Jeff jokingly mentioned a desire to walk onstage to the next show with Spencer in a baby bjorn. The crowd laughed; Spencer shrugged and counted off the next tune.

One key musical moment revealed the father-son connection as more than a gimmick, though. The new song “Diamond Light Pt. 1,” swelling from Jeff’s open-mic night acoustic delivery to flowing rhythmic streams to minimalist noise jam, recalled the finest Wilco experiments on record. Half was Jeff’s calm intonations; half was Spencer’s capable drum chops.

After 45 minutes of new material, all exited but Jeff, who ran through meditative Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog songs with just his fragile croaky voice and an acoustic guitar. Wilco staples “Via Chicago,” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Jesus, Etc.” mingled with older country melodies from the singer’s early career.

The show culminated artfully with a rousing rendition of “California Stars” in which Spencer more than held his own, bringing the Woody Guthrie song to life.

Two hours, more than 25 songs and a final hug from Jeff and Spencer — Tweedy in Ithaca gave a poignant and crackerjack (if slightly drowsy) performance.

Author’s note: I couldn’t fit this organically in the review, but the stellar Brooklyn indie pop band Hospitality opened the show with a concise and rainy set of about 10 or 11 songs. Their newest record, Trouble, came out in January and is highly worth checking out. They mix saccharine melodies with an artful fury that recalls Talking Heads at CBGB. Seriously. Give them a listen.

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