Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Son Volt - Afterglow 61

Caught Son Volt live twice, once right after the release of their new album about two years ago, a free afterwork show at the Seaport, which was okay except they played no old stuff at all in the first seven or eight songs. The song in this video, Afterglow 61, is the best thing on that album, and it even holds a place on the my MP3 player, one of about 325 songs to do so. This version of Son Volt was a whole new lineup of essentially young newcomers sharing the stage with Jay Farrar, who of course was part of the seminal alt-country band Uncle Tupelo along with Jeff Tweedy, which ultimately splintered in the mid-1990s into Wilco and Son Volt. Son Volt's 1996 album Trace contains some of the most gorgeous new country music ever committed to wax as they used to say, especially in moving ballads like Tear-Stained Eye and Windfall and ravers like Drown and Catching On. Son Volt unfortunately never recaptured that peak or that buzz in other albums, but I was lucky enough to be at their May '96 show at Irving Plaza which will go down as easily one of the most stirring, spiritual musical experiences I had ever bore witness to, without sounding too over the top. I believe Paul Ska will back me up on this one, as the large hall resembled a cathedral that night, so deep was the connection between band and audience. The only other thing I can compare it to, not incidentally, is hearing a Lucinda Williams song when you're in a certain mood; it can really bring out the tears of joy/sorrow that are often lurking just below the surface. Maybe it's that pedal steel guitar, which is one of the more plaintive, mournful sounds in all of human instrument-dom. But then you already knew that if you've read this far. Jar Farrar is just such an understated, unassuming person to front a rock band that the audience roots for him that much more, as if to cast his apparent stage fright in an almost saintly light. And when he sings lines like...

Seeing traces of the scars that came before
Hitting the pavement still asking for more
When the hours don't move along,
Worn-out wood and familiar songs
To hear your voice is not enough
It's more than a shame

...it takes you to that elegaic, beatific region where only the most transcendent music can carry you.

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