There’s really only one word to describe the return of Son Volt after several years on hiatus: sonic. It had been so long since I’d witnessed Jay Farrar in his live rock persona that I’d actually forgotten how powerful Son Volt truly is. Exhibit 1: it’s 8:12am as I type this and my ears are still literally ringing (not kidding). Somday I am going to regret rarely wearing earplugs in my long, storied history in the nightclubs. Someday. Not today, though.
In front of a sold-out Paradise nightclub in Boston last night, the band opened with several numbers from the fabulous new “Okemah & The Melody Of Riot, including blistering versions of “Who” (the opener) and “Endless War.” The old Farrar solo song “Damn Shame” even showcased the frontman blowing into his harmonica at a fevered pace which I don’t believe I’ve previously seen.
Farrar (whom I interviewed here last year) and his newly hired guns proceeded to be as crisp as any October night in New England and as clean as any freshly-washed baby. The new material (played in its entirety) arguably sounds better live than the older material, although I say that under the complete realization that despite the layoff, I’ve heard the old stuff in a live setting at 15 fifteen times already, so freshness may certainly have been a factor in that opinion. But to hear Farrar have to really take his voice up and almost inaudibly scream the lyrics when the chorus in the biting “Jet Pilot” roars off, well, to me that’s fresh, raw and oh, so welcomed.
It certainly wasn’t all new material, either. Some pleasant surprises included the solo/acoustic “Way Down Watson,” the walloping full-band assualt of “Picking Up The Signal,” and “Loose String,” a great song from their freshman album only made better by a live band who seem hungry and probably in awe of a lead singer in front of them who has a ligitimate claim to be considered as one of the preeminent songwriters of our generation.
So by the time the show was finding its way to the finish line and the band broke into the gentle, sweet “Windfall,” I couldn’t help but think that as tremendous a song as that is, it’s almost a sore thumb for this kind of band today. Leaving it out of the set, of course, is simply not an option. The song is too good, plus it’s essentially Farrar’s signature and you’d be hard pressed to find another tune that really takes you somewhere (although “Left A Slide” had me near tears one memorable night in 1997). Try listening to “Windfall” on a long drive sometime. You’ll see what I mean.
Anyway, my only point is that after you’ve gotten the left hook of “6 String Belief,” the uppercut of “Drown,” and the crushing body blow that was “Afterglow 61,” I would have felt quite OK if Windfall was cast aside, even for a single night, despite how nice it is to see the crowd singing along to every last word of the song. That’s always neat.
The finishing number was the old rollicking standby and old Uncle Tupelo chestnut, “Chickamauga,” which really never disappoints. It’s always been the song where Farrar captures it all and for some reason, it’s one of very few songs where he gets outward, particularly on that solo towards the end, which was punctuated last night by an extra few minutes of rawk.
All in all, it was a splendid powerhouse return which left me hoping it won’t be another 7-8 years before they come back. They are hitting it on all cylinders right now and frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d ever say that about Son Volt again.
Photo set from last night’s Son Volt showcan be seen here.