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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 34
10/29/05 Son Volt, The Pageant. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since the "new look" Son Volt debuted at the 2004 Mound City Music Festival. The current incarnation of Jay Farrar’s band is back in St. Louis with an even newer look- replacement guitarist Brad Rice has been replaced by Chris Frame and Derry Deborja has been added on keyboards. The floor level of the Pageant (the balcony was closed tonight) was full, but not uncomfortably so.
Beneath a huge banner depicting the cover of their current Okemah And The Melody Of Riot CD, Jay and band took the stage and launched right into the meat of their new material with "Who", displaying Jay’s recent propensity for singing in a higher register. Jay’s latest batch of songs has a lot to say about the current state of things in the world, none more so than "Jet Pilot" a venomous rant regarding George W. Bush: "Jet pilot for a day". The guitars become equally agitated as the bridge(?) proclaims that "the revolution will be televised across living rooms of the great divide…". They went on to do almost every song from Okemah.
Given the significant shift in gears from the Son Volt lineup of ten years ago (when varied instrumentation included banjo, steel guitar and fiddle in addition to acoustic and electric guitars), replacing one heroic rock lead guitarist with another was a relatively minor change. It was odd hearing the eastern, sitar-sounding intro to "Medication" coming from Frame’s Telecaster…we have the technology. The new keyboard player pretty much sticks to adding another layer of texture to the backdrop against which the guitars and vocals remain the central focus. Drummer Dave Bryson provided an impressive punch without drawing too much attention to himself. Bassist Andrew Duplantis is a natural fit with the harder, rockier direction the band has taken and adds backing vocals, as well. This might be as good of a place as any to mention that the vocals (both Jay’s and Andrew’s) were fairly muddy in the house mix almost all night. The instrumentation rocked hard, but good luck trying to discern much lyrical content. As always, Jay’s on-stage banter was humble and limited. In Jay’s world, a modestly mumbled, "How’s everybody doing?" is a virtual "Hello, St. Louis…are you ready to party!?"
They ended up playing almost thirty songs. Jay Farrar has a higher than average number of geeky internet fanboys following what he does, so if you’re looking for a complete song list, you can probably find it somewhere at www.jayfarrar.net. With three earlier SV albums and a handful of solo CDs and EPs to draw from, Jay was able to "cherry pick" a nice assortment of memorable songs from his back catalog. "Medicine Hat" and "Driving The View" feature a rocking, rhythmic swing while "Route" remains urgent and intense. "Straight Face" gave Jay a chance to lay on some of that wild sixties-style rock harmonica. "Way Down Watson" got a quiet, acoustic treatment that offered glimpses of Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Nilsson. "Tear Stained Eye" and "Windfall" (the latter done in the encore) have become the obligatory "hits" that Farrar must include in every show…and with reason- they’re timelessly classic in every regard. The final song of the encore was the latter-period Uncle Tupelo staple, "Chickamauga". They wound things out and left on a high note. Well, almost. I was in the men’s room, but apparently, they came back out to tease at a second encore with Farrar and Bryson switching instruments. Less than a minute into this silliness, a Nick Drake song came over the P. A. and sent everyone home happy.
11/1/05 Kelly Willis, Voodoo Lounge, Harrah’s Casino. Another one of those free shows out at the casino. I’m guessing that of the hundred or so people in the room, roughly half didn’t even know who Kelly Willis is…but there she is, several months pregnant and fronting a five piece band (B, D, G, K and fiddle/mandolin) all perched above the bar. For once the high-dollar sound system in this room sounded great. It’s a shame that a big old casino can put on a free show like this for a half-interested audience when other bars in town that cater to true music fans struggle to pay the bills. The dance floor was almost completely empty tonight, so Dan and I stood right up close.
The only other time I saw Kelly Willis was about six years ago. My memory of her from back then was that I liked the sound of her voice (and the surrounding instrumentation) more than the actual songs. This held true tonight, but a handful of songs struck me as memorable, as well. Her voice carries a rich, radiant glow and the songs, while not ones for the ages, were pleasant enough.
She opened with "If I left you" as that huge video screen behind the stage played a distracting sequence of time-lapse nature footage…kinda like Koyaanisqatsi Lite. As always, the bar beneath had its usual assortment of TVs blaring a handful of sporting events to further divert the attention of the audience. For all this visual distraction, there were isolated moments when I was able to focus on just the band and the great sound and things didn’t even seem that weird. My favorite songs tonight were "What I Deserve", "Easy (as falling apart)", "Take Me Down", "I Have Not Forgotten You" and most notably, The Kendalls’ "Heaven’s Just A Sin Away".
11/4/05 Marah, Off Broadway. For whatever reason, the opening band was a no-show tonight…it was nice to do the socialize thing without being the rude folks talking over the music. Eventually Marah took the stage; they’re the personification of that oft-invoked sentence, "Their albums are OK, but they’re really a band you need to see live."
The crowd was a bit lighter than the last time they played here (that’s what happens when you play St. Louis two or three times a year), but the band seemed unfazed as they proceeded to make sure everyone in the room was having as good of a time as they were. The dance floor steadily swelled from empty to full over the course of their long set.
Since I almost never listen to their albums, I always draw a blank when it comes to mentioning the songs they did. The only song I could name from tonight’s set was "Faraway You" from their Kids In Philly album. The earthy vocals and harmonica in this one always remind me of early Springsteen. These guys drew from other simple but fun early seventies rock touchstones as well…The Faces seem to be big in their world. This was the first time I had seen them play this room where they didn’t end up climbing all over the bar, tables and amps...they traded in the theatrics for a bit more muscle in the music tonight.
11/4/05 Sleepover at Fred’s. Here’s what happened Friday night/Saturday morning:
After the Marah show at Off Broadway (a fine, rocking show, BTW), I decided I’d stop off and visit Fred Friction on the way home. I had a beer or two before the bar closed and then we moved up to the "Green Room" in Fred’s house where we hung out with Dave Insley and band before they loaded out for their hotel. Eventually Trish the bartender and Steve the doorman left and it was just me and Fred hanging out, talking, listening to records and drinking beer until way late. At some point, he asked if I wanted one more beer. I replied that if I did, I should probably just crash there and not drive home. He served ‘em up and I ended up crashing on the futon in the "office". I thought about calling home, but figured I’d just wake up sleeping people. Unfortunately, I had left my cell phone out in the car, so when Nancy called looking for me at 7AM, she got no answer. Being the concerned wife she is, she took the kids over to a friend’s house and enlisted the help of my friend Dave in hunting for me.
Their first guess was accurate…they found my car in the lot across from Frederick’s and started hollering at me through the mail slot around 9AM. Eventually I woke up, while Fred remained crashed out in his bedroom. Nancy is so sweet and kind, she was more happy that I was OK than mad that I had made her worry so much. I don’t deserve someone so kind. Anyway, after a mind scolding, I hopped in my car and headed up Kingshighway with KDHX on the radio. When the song ended, Roy’s voice came on saying, "Apparently Rick Wood has been found, call off the search…" (or something like that). Kinda freaky having your escapades tracked on the airwaves.
11/11/05 Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, The Duck Room. I showed up at the Duck Room early and was a little surprised/disappointed that there were only thirty or so people on hand. There were a few more than that when Roman Candle took the stage around 9PM. A reference point in describing this North Carolina three-piece (G, K & Logan alternating between electric guitar and drums) might be Dolly Varden. Like DV, RC features a husband/wife duo (Skip and Timshel Matheny) who do oddly nuanced pop music. The keyboards, in particular set the tone on that score...this aint no alt. country hoe-down. I wasn’t instantly won over, but I’d like to hear their CD sometime. Toward the end of their brief set, they got a little assistance from tonight’s headline act: Aaron on bass and Thad on harmony vocals.
Between sets, the crowd grew to a more respectable size (maybe 70 or 80?)…lots of familiar faces. Soon Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell took the stage, running through essentially the same songs (different order) that they performed at our house concert last July…all of the current Begonias CD plus a handful of covers. Since the strongest asset of this band is the vocal interplay of the two singer/songwriters, it took a while to accept the fact that the vocals in the house PA were less than crystal clear; eventually I made a mental adjustment and wasn’t as bothered by it.
Another difference from that July show was that the instrumentation was louder tonight…appropriate enough, since we’re in a bar on a Friday night. Upbeat songs like "Second Option", "Don’t Make It Better" and Bob Dylan’s "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You" all got a harder treatment. "Party Time" momentarily clicked the band into straight-up honky-tonk mode. As always, Caitlin’s fiddle was sad in all the right places. By now, steel guitar player Rich Gilbert knows these songs inside-out; at each instrumental break he comes up with something inventive and impressive and sticks the landing, pulling up just as another heart-breaking verse is delivered. The bass permeated and accentuated the melodies nicely, as well.
Personal favorites (from an album that is itself a personal favorite) included "Two Different Things", "Conversation About A Friend" and "Waitin’ On June" (the latter was written by Bill from Roman Candle who joined in to add a verse or two). They did that "fake encore" thing where they pretended to leave and come back and then did a few more, including Lucinda Williams’ "Jackson" and ended by rocking out on Caitlin’s "Thick Walls Down". The band stayed at our house, which implied the requisite wind down and drink around the fire out back until the wee hours (even Nancy!). Fun at the time, not so much when the kids are up and at ‘em at 8:30.