Sen. Russ Feingold opens the "Concert for Change" at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Saturday.
A seemingly unlikely candidate for the political limelight, the usually disheartened Jeff Tweedy offered a lot of low-key, tongue-in-cheek humor and just enough heart at a "Concert for Change" in Madison on Saturday. The Wilco singer and guitarist said campaigning for Barack Obama made him realize he doesn't perform many songs about hope, that "there's a hope gap" in his repertoire. He would call on the songs of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan to fill that gap, though.
Tweedy, along with Wilco bassist John Stirratt and pianist Pat Sansone were spot on and downright velvety for a noon performance at the Wisconsin Union Theater. "Here's a song with Jesus in it before he was appropriated by the right wing conservatives," prefaced Tweedy before performing "Christ for President," a Woody Guthrie-penned song that was set to music in the classic Wilco/Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue. Their version of "I Shall Be Released," which Tweedy said can be downloaded free from Wilco's website for those promising to vote, might even make Dylan tear up.
The concert was part of a rally directed towards University of Wisconsin students and staff, featuring exhortations by Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. Tammy Baldwin to cast early ballots in advance of Election Day. Tweedy didn't hesitate in taking jabs at John McCain and his campaign's media instrument known as "Joe the Plumber," dubbing the tune he debuted last Thursday on The Colbert Report as "Wilco the Song." At this performance, though, he replaced "Wilco will love you baby" with "Feingold will love you baby."
The capacity crowd in the theater was enthusiastic but not overly raucous. Both Feingold and Baldwin received standing ovations, before and after the music, respectively, reminding the crowd that Wisconsin has long been a swing state. "Get out the vote, vote early, and volunteer as much as you can so others will vote," declared Baldwin. When Tweedy, while waiting for the capo to be put on his guitar, asked how many in the room had already voted, there was an ardent cheer.
The only older Wilco song on the set list, which may have predated some in the audience judging by the sedate response, was "Passenger Side" from the band's debut album A.M.. Tweedy tied it thematically to the message of the rally, saying it fit "in case you lost your license for some practice I'm not advocating and need a ride to the polls."
Before the rally ended and Baldwin led a march down State Street to the City-County Building for a round of early voting, Tweedy waved once more to the crowd. "Keep hope alive," he exclaimed, "we'll see you all on the other side of Tuesday." Indeed, my friends, indeed.