Monday, April 16th, 2007
Highways And Cigarettes
I came to the realization last Thursday that my relationship with the music of Uncle Tupelo and its offspring, Wilco and Son Volt, goes much deeper than just fandom. So integral were these bands to the development of my musical tastes that no matter how many times I’ve listened to their records, and that number is easily in the hundreds, they’re part of my musical DNA. And I like that. I came to this minor epiphany at a fortuitous time – while seeing Son Volt perform at the Mod Club.
To start, I’ll refer you to my comments from his October, 2005 show at the Opera House, the bulk of which are still true. A frequent knock on Jay Farrar, be it in his band or solo incarnations, on record or live, is that he’s boring. Being as biased towards the man as I am (see above), I’m duty-bound to argue the point but looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I can certainly see that as being true. He’s not an animated performer nor an especially chatty performer. He shows up, plays his songs and plays them well, tips his hat (figuratively) and leaves. But really, it’s those songs that are the thing. While the Trace material is still untouchable, every subsequent album has had enough highlights that if collected on, say, a well-chosen set list, speaks loudly enough about Farrar’s songwriting catalog that he doesn’t have to himself.
This is true on their latest record The Search which is possibly Farrar’s strongest effort in a while. It’s still a bit draggy in parts but the high points are higher than those on his last few releases. The addition of those songs to the set (and the removal of some of his solo material) made for an even stronger show than last time, as did the addition of Derry DeBorja on keyboards which added some texture and atmosphere you just can’t get with a two-guitar/bass/drum lineup. I thought the other new addition, guitarist Chris Masterson (who replaced album guitarist Brad Rice who was himself replaced on the last last tour by Chris Frame) could have exercised a little more restraint in the leads – “Tear-Stained Eye” does not and never will need extra notes – but based on this performance and the new album, Son Volt Mk2 should put to rest the complaints surrounding Okemah that a Boquist-free Son Volt is no Son Volt at all.
And for anyone who complains that Jay is predictable, I direct you to the Clash/reggae-fied version of “Life Worth Living” in the encore. I can’t decide if it was a triumph or a tragedy, it probably depends entirely on your POV, but it was certainly unexpected.
The opening on this leg of the tour was Jason Isbell, not even a week removed from having to add “former” to his byline as Drive-By Trucker. He was backed by his band the 400 Unit who may have looked more like a skate-punk band from the suburbs but definitely had the chops to back up Isbell on his solo material. It was hard to find an angle from which to describe his new stuff relative to his DBT output – some songs sounded more classic rock, some more hard rock, some bluesier… I guess it just sounds like Isbell but maybe with wider margins. But beyond that the four new songs he played aren’t enough to accurately gauge what Sirens Of The Ditch is going to sound like – we’ll have to wait until July 10 for that. The rest of his set was comprised of a couple Truckers tracks (“Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Danko/Manuel”, both sounded sublime), a song from Patterson Hood’s last solo album (no hard feelings?) and for the finale, a cover of Thin Lizzy’s jailbreak which DAMN looked like fun to play.
The Globe & Mail also has a review of the show, Metro asks Jay about fellow St Louis resident Nelly and The Patriot-Ledger talks to him about The Search. and I just realized that Heath Ledger was IN The Patriot. WHOA.
Photos: Son Volt, Jason Isbell @ The Mod Club – April 12, 2007
Stream: Son Volt – “The Picutre” (QT)
Stream: Son Volt – “Circadian Rhythm” (QT)
Stream: Son Volt – “The Search” (QT)
MySpace: Son Volt
Billboard has an expansive feature on Wilco wherein they visit the band’s loft and how Jeff Tweedy’s headspace informed the writing and recording of Sky Blue Sky, out May 15. They also round up the various formats that the record will be released in – there’s the CD, CD with DVD of featurette Shake It Off, audiophile LP (which will come with a copy of the CD as well – yay!), an iTunes version with bonus track and CDs at “indie coalitions” (I assume they mean independent stores) will come with a 2-song bonus disc. Completists weep for joy, completists’ wallets, just weep. And they’ll be selling it at Starbucks, though no coffee shop-specific bonus goodies for them. They’re at Massey Hall on June 30 with plans for another North American tour in the Fall. They were just in Australia where The Age talked to Jeff Tweedy about the effect his mental health has had on the last few records. And finally, head over to Stereogum to see some little vinyl toys of the band which will be available soon and are really kind of creepy. I think it’s the Amish facial hair they’re all sporting.
Feist is queen of all (NYC) media – in extended pieces, The New York Times talks to her and The New Yorker talks about her. She’s also on the cover of the next issue of Under The Radar. Methinks this is just the beginning of the media frenzy that will envelop Ms Leslie when The Reminder is released May 1. She’s at Massey Hall May 25 and 26 and in addition to the video for “1234” that made the rounds last week, there’s a second official clip for “My Moon, My Man” now available – it’s just as dance-errific but also moving sidewalk-tacular (via All Things Feist which, if you’re interested in this stuff, should probably be your homepage for the next while).
To anyone who picked up Centro-Matic’s new EP Operation Motorcide, or is thinking about it, An Aquarium Drunkard has some interesting information about the the tracks that comprise the release – mainly that they were the songs excised from last year’s Fort Recovery, which was originally intended as a double album. He’s got the track listing of that release if anyone wants to go MP3-shuffling and hear Will Johnson’s unaltered vision. Not that you can hear a vision. Different senses. Like tasting a smell, you can’t do that either. Anyway.
So you thought The Hulk was bad? I didn’t, radioactive poodles aside, but I was one of the few. Well bound and driven to make a Hulk movie that’s far less thinky and far more smashy, production is beginning on The Incredible Hulk this Summer – right here in Toronto and guaranteed to be 100% more incredible than its predecessor – and who’s going to be filling out the purple pants? Edward Norton. For reals. They’ll need a new tagline for the film though – I’ve seen Edward Norton angry and I do still like him. No comments from the actual Hulk in his blog, but I’m sure it’s coming.