Is ANYONE listening?

Oh, what a wonderful, unpredictable thing live music can be.

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy played a sold-out, solo acoustic show in Portland at the Crystal Ballroom Friday night. Drawing from a wide array of material – everything from unreleased Wilco songs to Woody Guthrie covers to Wilco hits to an unreleased track from his side project, Loose Fur – Tweedy played for almost two hours and had 95 percent of the crowd mesmerized from the opening notes of “Sunken Treasure.”

But it was that other 5 percent of the crowd that made things – interesting.

On the second leg of his solo tour (he played the East Coast in November), in which nearly every single date has been sold out for weeks in advance, Tweedy normally plays theaters. Yet, for some reason, his Portland show was booked at the Crystal – an open floor, unseated venue. And while it was not the Ballroom’s fault – the place was clean and warm and the sound was loud, bright and clear; all you can ask of a venue – the singer/songwriter consistently had to battle with what can best be described as “crowd noise” (that always-annoying, reverberating buzz of chatter, crashing cups and laughter).

So, midway through his set, despite having played flawless versions of everything from the Summerteeth rarity “How to Fight Loneliness” to the mind-numbingly gorgeous “Blasting Fonda” (off of a “soundtrack CD that no one really bought”), Tweedy was forced, one last time, to confront the talkers.

“People who are talking during this performance, I have a question for you: What can I do to be of a better service to you?” Tweedy asked. “Am I not playing the right songs? Am I not pouring my heart out, up here, for you? Tell me what I can do to get you to listen to the concert up here that you paid money to see.”

And then his tone changed: “I want to make you happy. But, if you’re happy talking, then why did you come here? Because, I’m here too, and I want us all to be here, together. Can you shut up for once in your fucking life?”

Following the last line, the crowd erupted in a gigantic roar and what was teetering on the brink of an alright-see-you-later-walk-off by the artist was averted.

It was an honest, much-needed, refreshing statement from Tweedy. Something that often needs to be said at such performances, but something most performers are too condescending to ever even consider.

Having made his point, and now, with the entire audience in his back pocket, Tweedy continued with what has to be the finest performance since My Morning Jacket exited the Aladdin Theater in November.

Following a brand-new song, “Is That the Thanks I Get?” Tweedy played a breathtaking version of “Theologians,” from Wilco’s 2004 release A Ghost is Born.

“And no one is ever gonna take my life from me,” Tweedy defiantly sang, pulling away from the microphone and stretching his voice upwards. “I lay it down, a ghost is born.”

With Wilco, the track has a warm, soulful, AM radio feel to it. On stage, alone with an acoustic, Tweedy brought the naked lyrics to the forefront.

Returning for the first of two encores with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, who opened the show with a startling avant-garde set composed completely on his drum kit, in tow, Tweedy then kicked the energy up another notch. As he and Kotche locked in, slightly rearranging Wilco B-sides like “A Magazine Called Sunset” and “Not for the Season,” the crowd danced on the Ballroom’s bouncing floor while Tweedy sang out, “there’s a tape machine that won’t let me forget this impossible longing for you.”

A perfect line from the best current songwriter in rock ‘n’ roll. A perfect line for a perfect night – minus the talkers.