Jay Farrar of Son Volt commented between songs at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. “This is really a beautiful place,” he said, “Built by beer, no less!” The same can be said for Farrar and his former partner Jeff Tweedy who contributed heavily to the burgeoning early-nineties alternative country movement, with their old band Uncle Tupelo. I’m sure beer had some influence on that partnership too. Uncle Tupelo broke up in 1994 with Farrar forming Son Volt and Jeff Tweedy starting Wilco.
I had not seen Son Volt before live and was impressed with how good they were musically and lyrically. The top-notch band behind Farrar never missed a beat and captivated the audience with songs from the new album “American Central Dust.” My two favorites off the release have to be the slow rocker Down to the Wire along with the twisted ballad Cocaine and Ashes. They played for over two hours and certainly gave ticket buyers their money’s worth. This isn’t the type of show that warrants raucous stage antics. Son Volt’s authenticity through musical means was enough reward for the Saturday night crowd.
Farrar barely said a word to the audience, beyond introducing songs, except for the news that he was putting out a new record with Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur is a soundtrack effort featuring songs composed and performed by Farrar and Gibbard, with lyrics based on the prose of Jack Kerouac’s landmark 1962 novel Big Sur. The album will be released October 20 along with a feature-length documentaryof the same name in which both Gibbard and Farrar appear.
The crowd at the Pabst was an interesting combination of reformed punks wearing Black Flag and CBGB's t-shirts, mixed with the disenfranchised country audience tired of Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts. The mid-fortyish gentleman standing next to me was there with his wife, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend. “I listen to outlaw country on satellite radio”, he said, “I like Son Volt, Bottle Rockets, Steve Earle, Waylon Jennings. You do too, right?” I hadn’t been to a show at the Pabst Theater in several years. The venue really adds a nice ambience to the music experience. Combine that feeling with Son Volt and you’ve got a great evening of original alternative country from one of the bands that started it all.