Tweedy Heckler Attempts to Wreck Concert for Everyone

Photo by Piper Ferguson

Photo by Piper Ferguson

It’s not a good idea to heckle Jeff Tweedy.

For one thing, the Wilco frontman is not shy about interacting with crowds, and though he usually shows good humor, he has a sharp side to his wit. He’s also demonstrated at times a willingness to reprimand audiences: in a performance on the “Sunken Treasure” live DVD he released in 2006, Tweedy stops the show to ask people chatting through songs what it will take to get them to shut up.

All the same, a woman in the audience when Tweedy performed Saturday at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton couldn’t resist making herself heard in response to what was obviously a joke the singer made about damaging the environment during the solo-acoustic portion of the show. (The first half of the concert featured Tweedy fronting Tweedy, a five-piece band that includes his son Spencer on drums, in support of their new album “Sukierae.”)

The incident came after Tweedy said that a woman told him earlier in the day that Massachusetts law didn’t allow the band’s busses to idle outside the theater. Turns out she was mistaken, the singer said, because the idling engines powered other systems in the vehicles, such as the air-conditioning and “our football TVs.” As a result, he joked, “the environment is going to have to take a hit.” Then he played a song.

When it was over, a woman in the audience shouted something about how the environment is more important than his tour bus. Tweedy retorted that he had been joking, but the comment, and the woman’s evident anger, clearly rattled him: he later explained that the band supports environmental causes and other charities in every city they visit on tour, “so sit the fuck down.” After the next song, he apologized and dedicated “I’m the Man Who Loves You” to the heckler, but continued to bring up the incident for the rest of the show.

Loud-mouth audience members have long been an issue at the Calvin, where some mysterious air of entitlement makes a handful of people in any crowd feel like it’s perfectly fine to shout out song requests, commentary or self-centered observations whenever there’s a quiet moment. It’s inevitably irritating, but Saturday’s heckler changed the tone of what was otherwise an excellent concert.

The full band played together with a tight assurance honed over the past few months, and the songs from “Sukierae” became even more vivid onstage. Spencer Tweedy is a subtle drummer, and his tasteful economy steered the band through the restrained pop of “Summer Noon” and “Low Key” and the mournful folk tune “Nobody Dies Anymore,” and he showed an instinct for keeping precise time on the pulsing, hypnotic “Diamond Light Pt. 1.” The band also played a cover of “Love Like a Wire” by the late Chicago singer Diane Izzo. When Jeff Tweedy was alone onstage, he dug deep for “Radio King” by the alt-country supergroup Golden Smog, along with Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid.” He threw in fan favorite “Passenger Side” and reduced the blustery “Born Alone” to its acoustic essence. After the heckling, he lost himself within the always-riveting “Laminated Cat,” before ending with “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” For an encore, the band rejoined him to perform songs including a pair of tunes he wrote for Mavis Staples —”Only the Lord Knows” and “You Are Not Alone” — and “California Stars,” which afforded guitarists Jim Elkington and Liam Cunningham the opportunity to trade solos.

It’s regrettable that one audience member’s narcissism, disguised as progressive self-righteousness in a town with no shortage of that, made her outburst a sudden, unwelcome focal point for the other 1,000 people in attendance. It’s to Tweedy’s credit that he kept the show going, even as he worked out onstage between songs why he was shaken by the incident. And next time, ma’am? Just keep it to yourself.

Here, as a palate cleanser, is Tweedy’s video for “Low Key,” directed by “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman. Jeff Tweedy and Offerman talk about making the clip in this story.

  5 comments for “Tweedy Heckler Attempts to Wreck Concert for Everyone

  1. Aquarium Thinker
    September 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    You nailed this one to perfection. The shout out requests are always annoying and routinely ignored by the artists. Tweedy was thrown a little off-balance by the shouting incident, but put on a great and graceful show regardless.

  2. Ida
    September 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    My partner & I were deeply offended Mr. TWEEDY was rude to that woman. We don’t need even more misogynistic rude men taking our money in OUR TOWN. No, YOU sit the fuck down, Mr. TWEEDY.

  3. Rich
    September 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Oh, Northampton. Is there anywhere else where this would be framed as Tweedy being rude to the heckler and not, y’know, vice versa?

  4. Max
    September 29, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Oh Ida, come on! You think that everyone in the audience has the right to yell out their own views? NO THEY DON’T! People are paying to hear Jeff not the stupid heckler. I think he was very restrained…I think you are being ridiculous.

  5. Sweet Throttle
    September 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    “She spoke to me and provoked my band/and I broke in two in the heat of her hand.” “Summer Noon,” Tweedy. Life imitates art? Taking stage banter way too seriously and then verbally assaulting a performer? “No, it’s not okay!”

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