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Tweedy, Second City Raise Some Cash

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 17, 2009 5:00PM

Special to Chicagoist from Neph Basedow

As Tuesday’s temperatures rapidly dropped, eager Wilco fans crammed into Second City’s E.T.C. theater Tuesday night, for its 8th annual The Second City Never Sleeps benefit. The 24-hour-long event benefits Letters to Santa, an organization in which creators, Heather Whinna and husband Steve Albini hand-pick letters to Santa, and graciously provide requested gifts and necessities to families in need.

The Wilco frontman, a veteran to the benefit, followed some of Chicago’s most notable improvisers (including 30 Rock writer, Tami Sagher and MADtv’s Frank Caeti). Shortly after 7 p.m., Tweedy humbly strapped on his guitar and took the stage solo, to a crowd of 180 fortunate patrons. “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know,” Tweedy sang, as he opted to go mic-less for opener, “Someone Else’s Song,” from 1996’s Being There. A.M.’s “Passenger Side” roused a pleased stir from the dutiful audience, as Tweedy proved its lyrics were just as comical as the show’s preceding improv acts.

But it was later in the evening, when we were reminded that this wasn’t just a Wilco show for our benefit—it was to benefit families in need—and that’s when the dollars came out. Funnyman T.J. Jagodowski (of T.J. & Dave) auctioned Tweedy’s talents for various performances, including the songwriter’s take on lap-dancing—the “lap-song”—for audience members willing to drop some serious dough. Three benevolent fans beat out fellow showgoers with bids of $500 each, for a kind-of - sort-of one-on-one with Tweedy. He parked in front of the winning bidders, and asked them which song—any song—they wanted to hear. While diehard Wilco fans undoubtedly formulated a playlist of songs they’d most like to hear, these patrons seemed so moved by the act itself, that they asked the singer to choose his favorite song. Tweedy endearingly tapped into his go-to song list, and pulled out some unsuspecting gems, including Uncle Tupelo - era “Gun,” as well as “Remember the Mountain Bed,” which he recorded with Billy Bragg for 2000’s Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. Another high-bidder requested “Impossible Germany” (via a hilariously funny “Single Ladies” tease), while the last winner requested “Reservations,” a certain highpoint of the evening.

Jagodowski then auctioned Tweedy’s coveted private performance—a 30-song for 30-guests in-home show, for which bidding began at $10,000. Three high-rollers battled to $24,000—which was when Tweedy briefly left the stage, only to return with the generous offer of playing all three shows, at $25,000 each. Ultimately, Tweedy helped raise a total of $77,000 for the Letters to Santa cause.

Wilco has taken some course-changes in last few years, shuffling their lineup and sound. It’s often easy to get lost in the glam of an arena band, or the pretense of a licensed-for-commercial-use song—but Tuesday reeled it back. It was refreshing to return to the core of what initially drew us to Wilco—Tweedy’s poetic songwriting and humble musicianship—which, when stripped down and showcased as they were last night, just might be worth dropping a little dough—for those who have it.