"This song is about Jesus smoking crack," smiles a wry Jeff Tweedy, the frontman of Chicago rock band Wilco, who stands solo in front of the pulpit at the beautiful Union Chapel. "I keep getting invited to churches to play this song, so I'm guessing it's theologically sound."
A shy Tweedy is clearly nervous when he first takes to the church's stark stage (he admits to "screwing up the words" within seconds of shakily commencing opening track, "Someone Else's Song", and starts again).
Standing in front of a line of six acoustic guitars, there is no stage paraphernalia to hide behind. It's just Tweedy, his strings and his mic, until British singer-songwriter Bill Fay joins Tweedy for some moral and vocal support on his third offering to the crowd – Fay's delicate song "Be Not So Fearful". Aptly, this track seems to be Tweedy's turning point as he gains control of his nerves and is soon firing off signature comic asides as he relaxes into the intimate surroundings. He chats with the crowd, and fans even shout questions up to him, giving a friendly, close atmosphere that is further intensified by the summer heat.
As Tweedy serenades the seated audience with "One Wing" from Wilco's newest 2009 self-titled album, the light in the Chapel begins to fade in perfect unison with his charmingly jaded vocals. Later, he takes requests from an "asshole called David, who wants 'anything by Dylan'". "I've written like a million songs!' Tweedy protests, before strumming Simple Twist of Fate.
Sadly, the echoes of the overly loud PA drown the nuances and delicacy of Tweedy's voice – which he thankfully shows the crowd by performing his last song, Uncle Tupelo's "Acuff-Rose", without his mic.
Raucous isn't usually a word that best describes the congregation in a church, but this crowd of thirty and fourtysomethings salute Tweedy with a thunderous applause and a standing ovation that is thoroughly deserved.