June 11th, 2013
It was a sold out audience last Thursday at the High Noon Saloon for Son Volt’s first Madison appearance in a while. They were in town in support of the new Honky Tonk album which takes the band’s established acoustic side and throws in some George Jones and Buck Owens.
But first came the openers Colonel Ford which mostly seems to be a rotating cast of St. Louis-area musicians performing country classics. Last week the band consisted of Son Volt minus Jay Farrar, although Farrar has been playing pedal steel with them lately. They got the crowd warmed up with a treasure trove of great country tunes including George Jones’ “White Lightning” and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” by Buck Owens.
These days Son Volt is, besides Farrar, his long-time cohort Mark Spencer on keyboards and pedal steel, bassist Andrew Duplantis, who’s been with the band since it reformed in 2005, newbie Gary Hunt on guitar and fiddle, and drummer Jay Edwards who filled in for Dave Bryson. They played a set that concentrated on the less rocking side of the band with an emphasis on Honky Tonk and 2009’s American Central Dust.
“Down to the Wire”, a favorite of mine from American Central Dust, kicked things off and the mid-tempo numbers led by Farrar’s acoustic guitar kept on coming. Also from ACD were the beautiful “Dynamite” and the country-inflected “Dust of Daylight” which would have sounded at home on Honky Tonk. The shiny new “Wild Side” is a delicate shuffle in the studio but lost a bit of the maudlin and gained a little heft on stage. Going back a bit further, “Highways and Cigarettes” from The Search and Sebastopol’s “Barstow” fit in well despite their darker lyrics sprinkled with social commentary.
There were a few times when Farrar dispensed with the acoustic guitar and strapped on his Epiphone. “Hoping Machine” from New Multitudes, an album of new music with Woody Guthrie lyrics, provided a nice change of pace. It was a moody slow-burner that gradually built up to climaxes with some of the most beautiful singing of the night. The band pulled out “Drown”, the closest thing to a hit for them, to get the set moving to a close. It was followed by “Afterglow 61″, one of Farrar’s best rock songs.
The encore started with “Hearts and Minds”, the lead track from Honky Tonk. It gave way to two of Trace’s most beloved songs, “Tear Stained Eye” and “Windfall”. It finished with Waylon Jennings’ “Stop the World (And Let Me Off)”. The crowd was enthusiastic all night beginning with Colonel Ford. I figured that a set heavy with new songs would leave many disappointed and yearning for “Loose String” or “Live Free” but people seemed happy with steady honky tonk beats and country shuffles. Perhaps as a reward for the sustained enthusiasm, the band returned for a second encore and did “Medication” from Okemah and the Melody of Riot. I adored this song with its raga-like guitar melodies and dissonant jamming when I saw Son Volt in 2007 and it proved no less powerful this night.