CHICAGO To say Wilco songwriter Jeff Tweedy is prolific is an understatement.
In 10 years of recording, he's not only penned Wilco's three full-length albums (including the double disc Being There) with Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog and Billy Bragg Tweedy has contributed substantially to seven more. And he's not slowing down.
That catalog alone would have provided Tweedy with ample material for his upcoming solo shows Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Lounge Ax, the Chicago club owned by his wife. But he also introduced four new originals and dropped in an ever-changing repertoire of covers.
"I've been writing a lot with Jay [Bennett, Wilco's lead guitarist]," Tweedy told the crowd after opening Tuesday's show with one of his new songs, a comedic musing on the freedom or boredom of being alone. It featured the refrain "Alone, like I'm supposed to be."
In another new number, Tweedy's descriptions of cash machines and falling leaves gave way to the chorus "All my lies are always wishes/ I know I would die if I could come back new."
According to Wilco manager Tony Margherita, the new songs are "works in progress" and don't have names yet. He said the band plans to record new material at its Chicago studio in December.
"Lyrically, I feel like [the new material is in] the vein of Summerteeth," concert-goer Elizabeth Stockton, 25, of Chicago, said, referring to the acclaimed 1999 album on which Wilco moved from away from the country-rock of their past and into an ambitious pop-rock sound.
"The lyrics are abstract," Stockton added. "[He's] still dealing with personal relationships, but not in that plaintive, Paul Westerberglike way of earlier Wilco records. 'Sunken Treasure' [RealAudio excerpt from Being There], with its observational bent, is a good precursor of [his recent] style."
One of the other new songs was a goofy ode to "those heavy-metal bands that I used to go see on the landing in the summer," as the lyric put it. The last new song he played described struggling to write a love letter: "Just hold my hand and you'll understand/ I'm the man who loves you," Tweedy sang.
On Tuesday, Tweedy's set included the Irish folk ballad "Auld Triangle" and the Elvis Presley hit "A Fool Such As I." Big Star's "Thirteen" and the Kinks' "Oklahoma USA" appeared on Wednesday, as did the traditional folk song "Down in the Willow Garden." Thursday's marathon 34-song set included two from the Anthology of American Folk Music Dock Boggs' "Sugar Baby" and Richard "Rabbit" Brown's "James Alley Blues" as well as Blondie's "Dreamin'," Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away," and Mott the Hoople's "Henry and the H-Bombs."
Each set also included Tweedy-penned songs originally recorded by Uncle Tupelo (his former band), Golden Smog (his current side project), and for the WilcoBilly Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue, which set the lyrics of late folk singer Woody Guthrie to new music.
During Thursday's encore, Tweedy performed "California Stars," a single from Mermaid Avenue, with his guitar tech, Jonathan Parker, on 12-string guitar. During the three-night stand, he also played two unreleased songs recorded for Mermaid Avenue: "Washed in the Blood" and "When the Roses Bloom Again." The latter was left off the album when it was discovered that the lyrics were not written by Guthrie but instead came from a traditional folk song. The Tweedy version, which sets the lyrics to his own melody, was covered by country-rocker Sally Timms (of the Mekons) for her forthcoming solo album.
Tweedy's solo sets were warm ups for a Wilco tour that begins Thursday in Madison, Wis.