Tuesday, October 18th, 2005
If I kept a running list of bands I’ve been a long-time fan of, but have somehow never managed to see live, then Son Volt would have to be at or near the top of that list. My excuses are myriad and uninteresting – what is important is that last night, after a decade of following his career, I finally got to see Jay Farrar live and more importantly, he didn’t disappoint.
With his recent solo work leaning more towards the acoustic, folkier side, I had forgotten how much of Jay’s repetoire was full-out rock. Luckily, Jay hadn’t. What he lacked in charisma (I’ve never seen anyone stand at a mic stand so straight and motionless before), he made up for in endurance and quality. The epically long setlist (28 songs, 1h50m for those keeping track) drew from all points of his career and while it was great to hear all the SV material played live, it did serve to reinforce my general opinions about his career. One – Trace remains the best album he’s ever made. Cliche, but true. The songs from the Son Volt debut still stood out from the pack as being the best of the bunch. The other material from Son Volt I was also strong, and the Okemah material, while solid, seemed to lean a little too much on the rock and lacked some of the nuance and feel of the earlier material. Almost all of it was still better than the solo stuff, however. Placed alongside the Son Volt material, it seemed meandering and out of focus. If anyone ever needed proof that Farrar works best in a band context, this was it.
And the new band was good, though
Brad Rice’s touring guitar dude’s Chris Frame’s guitar parts were more noodly than Dave Boquist’s more economical playing in the old band, no doubt his (assumed) session guitarist past coming to the surface. Personally, I preferred it when Jay took lead guitar duties, most notably on the final song of the encore, “Chickamauga”. Yes, “Chickamauga” – he actually trotted out one of my favourite Uncle Tupelo songs, actually the first time I’d ever heard any Tupe material performed live. I don’t know if this is something he’s always done or if it’s a recent development, but it certainly made my night. Full marks to Son Volt Mk 2 for putting on a helluva show and I hope this new incarnation sticks around a while.
I’d seen opening act Fruit Bats once before, at a tiny show in 2003 in support of Mouthfuls. As I recall, it was a good laid-back show and the record, which I picked up afterwards, didn’t disappoint. Their latest Spelled In Bones, however, had gotten enough lukewarm reviews to put me off picking it up yet. The band is different now, too – frontman Eric Johnson remains, but keyboardist/vocalist Gillian Lissee is no longer in the picture. This is a shame, since her harmonies were a big part of Mouthfuls‘ charm. The bassist and drummer certainly did their part to cover the backing vocals and it sounded pretty good, but it wasn’t as nice as the 2003 show. And the new material was perfectly decent pop, but alongside the Mouthfuls material, it just didn’t compare.
My photos didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d hoped, mostly on account of the fact that the band was almost exclusively backlit. So great light on the hair, not so much for the faces. Still, I managed to get a decent gallery out of it all.
Popmatters interviews Jens Lekman, who has finally gotten a proper ad-free website URL. But for those of you prepared to yell “sell out”, don’t worry – it still looks like ass. Jens is at the Music Gallery November 5 with The Phonemes, whose website is nothing to write home about either.
Harp has finally gotten around to actually making their website useful by putting up actual content. And they’ve made up for lost time by including archived material from as far back as 2001. While not necessarily timely, they’re still good reading – check out features on Billy Bragg, Wilco, Neko Case, Steve Earle, Cat Power, Lucinda Williams, Jay Farrar, Wilco & Sonic Youth… aw hell, go browse yourself. There’s craploads of good stuff there, though. Bravo, Harp. There should be a new ish in stores any day now – My Morning Jacket grace the cover.
np – Shearwater / Winged Life