November 17, 2009
With a new album on shelves, Son Volt returned to Memphis to do what they do best – tell Jay Farrar’s road-weary Americana tales to an eager audience.
When Uncle Tupleo split, two roads diverged, taking different courses through the musical landscape. Where Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have eventually gone a completely different direction, Tweedy and Son Volt have held relatively fast to the ideals and ideas of the seminal Americana act. They speak to the everyman, the working class salt of the Earth. That message was delivered hard and fast at Minglewood Hall.
The early part of the band’s set was, appropriately given a tour behind a new album, heavy on material from American Central Dust. Songs like "Down To The Wire" and "Dust of Daylight" resonate much more when played on stage than they do through a stereo. The former featured the new line-up nicely; James Walbourne, new to the team as of this summer, brings a lot to the table, and his slide guitar on "Down To The Wire" was a great foil to the top-notchi keyboard work from Mark Spencer.
Where the newer tunes were nice to hear, the band started cooking once they went back a little further into the Son Volt catalog. "Methamphetamine" was well received, and obviously the crowd rallied behind "Tear Stained Eye."
One of the better tunes of the night came not from a Son Volt album, but from Farrar’s disc with Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, One Fast Move Or I’m Gone – "Big Sur" was marvelous, and had a slightly fuller sound than the version from the album.
The back half of the show was a smoker, from the sizzling "Medication" that ended up somewhere in the ether – transported by the ghostly piano work from Spencer – to the fast-paced "The Search," driven by hard-charging guitar from both Walbourne and Farrar.
However, the icing on the whole cake was the last third of the show. From a phenomenal take on the Gob Iron nugget "Buzz & Grind," to the duo of "Bandages and Scars" and "Afterglow 61," this was Son Volt at it’s nastiest, dirtiest, down-home Country Rock best. There’s just something about a line like "Can’t taste holy water…can’t find it in the well…doin’ a lot of thinkin’…thinkin’ ’bout hell" that, when paired with searing guitar, depicts the struggle of middle America in a way that music from no other genre can do…and Son Volt does it better than anyone.