Son Volt Live 2013
Son Volt did a real fine concert at The National in Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. I've seen Son Volt live a couple of times before, but I thought this was the best edition of the band that I've heard. Some thoughts:
1. The National is a beautiful venue with a great sound system. Every voice and instrument came thru with crystal clarity. If you're interested, here are some (stock) photos of the place: http://www.thenationalva.com/pictures/venue
2. It was a decent crowd for a mid-week concert here in Richmond by the time that Son Volt played, but we felt a little sorry for the opener, who started off playing to just a few dozen people. They closed off the upstairs balcony seating due to the mid-week turnout, but put out folding chairs for those who preferred to sit on the normally standing-room-only downstairs floor. We arrived early enough to grab a couple of chairs and have a front-row view on the raised platforms behind the soundboards. Perfect line-of-sight above the heads of the folks standing on the floor (and the floor was fairly packed for Son Volt).
3. The opener "Colonel Ford" turned out to be Son Volt minus Jay Farrar. They played mostly older country/outlaw/bluegrassy covers, but played them well. Mark Spencer stayed on electric guitar (he alternated sitting at pedal steel and keyboards during Son Volt's performance) throughout, and he had some very enjoyable interplay with the second electric guitarist (Mr. Hunt I believe, the fiddle/mandolin/guitar master-of-strings guy during Son Volt).
4. Son Volt played a single set (with two encores) that lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. Again, a great performance with great sound. I didn't try to keep a setlist, but the songs I recall spanned the spectrum of Farrar's career from Uncle Tupelo thru 'Honky Tonk', with a cover or two thrown in for good measure along the way. Some of the songs I recall sitting here right now include Chickamauga, Windfall, Tear-Stained Eye, Drown, Barstow, Down the Highway, Seawall, Hoping Machine (from 'New Multitudes'), Hearts and Minds, Highways & Cigarettes, a cover of "Stop the World and Let Me Off", and a lot of other songs I recognized, but couldn't bring the song title to mind. Farrar was in fine voice throughout, the band was tight, and when Spencer stepped out on the pedal steel, he was often sublime.
5. Not to kick off another "what is alternative country?" discussion, but when I think "alternative country" Son Volt could be the poster band for it. They absolutely have a country heart beating underneath everything they do, but they are not the trad-country of Hank, Sr./Merle/George Jones/Johnhy Cash; they are not the outlaw country of Willie & Waylon, etc; and they are definitely not the modern country of Garth/Toby Keith/Rascal Flatts/Brooks & Dunn/etc. So, "alternative country" fits them as well as anything else I can think of.
6. I remember a quote somewhere that goes something like: "The surest sign that God exists is music". I don't know about the God part, but an evening of music like last night's reminds me of why I believe that we're more than just flesh & blood; more than just chemicals, hormones and electricity. I'm not a religious guy, or even a particularly spiritual one, but sometimes when a song I love gets played live, and perhaps a fiddle or pedal steel pierces thru in a particularly lovely and unexpected way, I feel something inside that's got to be a soul, a spirit, or something else greater than the sum of our meat and bones parts. Music that is just so. damn. good. that you feel elevated somehow, almost outside of yourself. I had a couple of those moments during this concert and I'm thankful for them.
7. Only disappointment of the evening: the merch table. Meager seelction and the guy manning it was totally disinterested in helping, and was completely uninformed about the products when I (obviously disturbing him - - he had to take his earphones out and tear his attention away from the device he was playing) asked him about a few of the CDs I was interested in.