Son Volt: Live Last Night
By Chris Klimek
'Scuse me, son, but haven't I seen you hanging around with Chrissie Hynde lately?
Indeed. The pale, intense young fellow stage right at last night's robust Son Volt gig at the 9:30 club was one James Walbourne, the British guitar prodigy whose serrated-edge leads make the current, boot-cut incarnation of the Pretenders so much fun. He's even more valuable as an addition to Son Volt, whose solid but often grayscale tunes -- which aspire to be the iPhone era incarnation of Woody Guthrie's dust-bowl ballads -- tend to need the extra hooch more than Hynde's do.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
Son Volt's new "American Central Dust" is their latest Album That Isn't As Good As "Trace," their commanding 1995 debut. But it's a confident, graceful record, one that boasts a lovely tribute to Keith Richards in "Cocaine and Ashes," one of the best performances of the night.
Nobody seemed to mind that Farrar found room for three quarters of the new disc in his generous 26-song set. He also played five from 2007's "The Search." Farrar's confidence in his recent output isn't misplaced, but it was a credit to the exemplary musicianship of his band that these songs sounded as vital and urgent as they did, especially given Farrar's recent predilection to work in only one tempo -- that'd be mid.
If Farrar happened to stack a few too many slow-burners atop one another in the show's midsection, that at least gave you plenty of chances to notice that his voice -- as pliant and distinct as Michael Stipe's -- has never sounded better. Stomping on the throttle, Walbourne flash-fired dour numbers like "Strength and Doubt" and "Medication" into thrilling new realms with his incendiary solos. And the show-closing cover of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" gathered velocity like a tape deck with broken fast-forward button, ending the evening on a bracing note.
Extra credit to Farrar for leaving his coal-mining songs at home. He even had the good taste to omit "Sultana," his requiem for the passengers of a steamboat that blew up on the Mississippi in 1865. It's nice to hear a folkie whose head isn't stuck in the sixties.
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