Son Volt | 11.06.09

farrar_2.jpgFarrar’s soul-stirring vocals mingled with the lilt of Spencer’s sublime pedal steel – a match made in heaven.















Photos: Joanna Kleine

The Pageant, St. Louis

Local favorites Son Volt returned home for a show at The Pageant Friday night on their tour in support of this summer’s release, American Central Dust. The St. Louis-based band, led by former Uncle Tupelo founder Jay Farrar, played to a nearly packed house of eager fans, tearing through almost two hours of material spanning their diverse catalog.

They opened strong with "The Picture" from 2007’s The Search, Farrar looking like a young Johnny Cash, dressed head to toe in black, guitar slung across his shoulder, belting out the lyrics, "And war is profit, and profit is war, we know when we get there, we’ll find mercy." Right away it was evident this was going to be a special night. Feeding off the vibe of the hometown audience, Son Volt was most definitely "on" and they’ve never sounded better.

Farrar and the band’s present incarnation including drummer Dave Bryson, bassist Andrew Duplantis, lead guitarist James Walbourne and keyboardist/pedal-steel guitarist Mark Spencer proved a tight unit, seamlessly transitioning between evocative ballads like "Cocaine and Ashes," Farrar’s nod to Keith Richards off of Dust, and more hard-driving rock songs like "When the Wheels Don’t Move," "Action" and "Afterglow 61."

Farrar’s soul-stirring vocals mingled with the lilt of Spencer’s sublime pedal steel – a match made in heaven – on road song "Highways and Cigarettes" and the downtrodden "Methamphetamine," both from The Search.

Walbourne is a standout guitarist (on both electric and lap steel), bringing a harder edge that puts the "alt" in alt-country. The heavy "Medication," from 2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riot, culminated with Farrar, Walbourne and Duplantis locked in a in a trippy guitar jam.  

After 15 years (including a brief hiatus) and several changes in lineup, Son Volt is a band that has truly come into its own – perfecting the sound Farrar first pioneered with Uncle Tupelo – a sound that so uniquely captures the essence of the Midwest, where Farrar’s own roots run as deep as the Mississippi.

They covered a fair amount of material from Dust, an instantly classic Son Volt album that feels closest to the band’s origins, including "Dynamite," the groovy "Down to the Wire" featuring funky keyboard work by Spencer, "Dust of Daylight," and the twangy ballad "Pushed Too Far."

Although no Tupelo classics were resurrected, old-school fans appreciated a few choice cuts from Son Volt’s critically acclaimed debut, Trace, including the beautifully melancholy "Ten Second News," an ode to dioxin soaked Times Beach – Farrar bellowing in his deep timbre, "Driving down sunny 44 highway, there’s a beach there known for cancer waiting to happen."

The sweet and simple "Tear Stained Eye" was another treat with local flavor; but the crowd cheered loudest for the encore of "Windfall," a quintessential Son Volt song that happens to be one of my personal favorites.

"Sounds like 1963, but for now, it sounds like heaven." A fitting lyric for a show that covered all the musical bases – raw and raucous at times and transcendently heart aching at others.

It was good to see Son Volt back where they belong, feeling comfortable like a favorite pair of old jeans. St. Louis may be home of the blues, but it’s also the birthplace of alt-country, and Farrar is its founding father. We’re lucky to have him to call our own. | Amy Burger

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