Son Volt @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, 12.9.09

I have been in my apartment all of about three minutes since arriving home from this show. Although The Fillmore's only about ten blocks from where I sit right now, I literally made it home in about 1.4 minutes. I had to write this while it was all still with me.

From 1995-1999, I would guess that I saw Son Volt perform about thirty times. I drove from Boston to New York the day before a final to see them on an absolutely freezing New York night at The Bottom Line. I saw them close Tramps in New York. Man, I saw them all over the East Coast. I made another trip from Boston to South Orange, NJ to visit a buddy at Seton Hall and head out that night to see them at some hilarious club that must've doubled as a strip joint. I never missed a show. They were that good. And Jay Farrar and his band were integral to my exploding obsession with music. Their debut, Trace, was in my CD player for about three years straight. And so were the two follow-ups.

And then Farrar put the band on "hiatus." He released a few solo records, the highlight being 2001's Sebastopol, but his solo work, and shows, just couldn't match the magic that was Farrar with the Brothers Boquist and Mike Heidorn. And then in 2005, he reformed Son Volt, but legal wranglings of some sort left the original members, with the exception of Farrar, out of the band.

Since they've reformed, the lineups have shifted around numerous times. Since Farrar originally put Son Volt on pause back in 1999-2000, I think I've seen Jay solo or Son Volt maybe six times. To my ears, they just weren't the same band. The records were still fairly strong, especially 2005's Okemah and the Melody of Riot, but they just didn't match the three fantastic records of the 90s. And the live shows missed Jim Boquist's harmonies and his brother Dave's beautiful playing on just about every string instrument they could fit onstage.

This all changed tonight. I used to call those Son Volt shows throughout New York, Hoboken, Providence, Boston and all over the coast, some of the best shows I've ever seen. And they were. But tonight may have very well been the best Son Volt show I've ever seen. If you asked me the possibility of writing that sentence three hours ago, I would've guessed that I'd have better odds of being nominated the next Supreme Court Justice.

The Fillmore tonight brought in a decent crowd, larger than I expected for a band whose heyday seemed to have passed. By the second song, "Feel Free," as I stood about ten feet from Farrar, I was starting to get that feeling. All thoughts removed. Pains and scars put on damn hold. By the time they plowed through "Ten Second News," "Dust of Daylight" and "Jukebox of Steel," I had started to escape, but I wasn't totally there yet. And then came "Methamphetamine." You could see an almost reborn Farrar rising to the occasion. As guitarist James Walbourne (Peter Bruntnell, Pernice Brothers, The Pretenders), who put on a performance I won't soon forget, tore through yet another song, witnessing the exchanges between Walbourne and Farrar was priceless. I had a beer with Walbourne about ten years ago in Austin. He was a young kid then (and doesn't look like he's aged an hour since), and he talked about Jay Farrar being his hero. Seeing them in some moments tonight, you couldn't tell who was looking up to who. But there were plenty of smiles and the pure joy of what they were creating onstage did not appear lost on either of them.

"Big Sur" hit home in more ways that I can possibly explain. Not only has the Farrar/Gibbard record nailed me to the core, but the entire story and the words that fall on the pages of the Kerouac novel have had a huge impact on me over the past few months. They closed the set with a charging back-to-back of "Bandages and Scars" and "Afterglow 61" that was entirely reminiscent of the surge and power of Crazy Horse or The Stones. Yes, it was that damn good.

Early Son Volt staple "Windfall" was delivered in the encore. After 15 years, I thought this beautiful song was ready for retirement. But tonight's version was completely new, yet didn't betray the original beauty. It was absolutely perfect. Doug Sahm's "I'm Not That Kat Anymore" had such a Stones feel that if I closed my eyes, I would've heard Keith and the boys feet from me. The room was going nuts. Closing the show with a blazing version of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It That Way?" left me gasping for air.

I am absolutely full of life right now. And it was this new version of Son Volt that injected it into me. For the first time in a decade, I no longer miss the original lineup. Tonight's band is Son Volt. This was an amazing rock and roll performance, led by one of the most important songwriters of our time. But tonight was more about the fury and spirit that was pouring out of these five guys. And as they walked offstage, you could see in their eyes that they felt it too.

Son Volt is Jay Farrar, James Walbourne, Andrew Duplantis, Mark Spencer and Dave Bryson


George said...

Well done K-Fly! This SV lineup is not to be missed.

jdenver said...

nice write up - making me really sad to have had to miss it.

jon said...

I too attended alot of shows in the 90'S . I'm with you on how great they are. Thanks for the write up!