There are times when you stop by the local watering hole only expecting to have one beer, and you take your barstool and place your order with that avowed intention, when you feel a hard slap on your back and a loud voice in your ear and turn to see the face of a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. He orders another round, and you settle in. That’s what Jay Farrar’s set at the Intersection was like.
If some of you like me are a little fuzzy on the names like I always am, he did a couple of albums with his band Son Volt, and before that, he was in Uncle Tupelo with a certain Jeff Tweedy (does that make Tweedy his cousin if they’ve got the same uncle?). His accompanist, Mark Spencer, played a Telecaster and a lap steel, while Jay had about half a dozen acoustic guitars with him, although I only saw him play one of them. The crowd was a little too old for a Tuesday night, and pulled tables and chairs up close to the stage where the dance floor would usually be. Farrar’s voice had that familiar tone and cadence, instantly recognizable.
Most of the set was comprised of songs from his new solo album, Sebastopol, very appropriate for the two guitar arrangement (even if the house acoustics and stage configuration was not), the songs a little like the conversation with that old friend where you talk about what you’ve been up to lately. Mixed in was an Uncle Tupelo number and a song or two from Son Volt’s debut Trace.
With the first couple of bars of “Tear Stained Eye,” after the appreciative woops from the crowd died down, I had to wonder why the old songs gave me so much more of a twinge than the new. Is it the fact that they’re old times being talked about that makes them good times, the years and a lively imagination putting a spin to them? Or do good songs become great when you’ve listened to them time and again on mix tapes, and sung along with the tune, out of tune, on road trips into the great West? Maybe he says it best in that very song: “Can you deny/there’s nothing greater/nothing more/than the traveling hand of time?”
Whatever it was, the songs sounded good, the slide guitar on the solo sounding like a trembling saw. I was still thinking about the question when they wound up their set and were brought back for an encore by the polite but insistent applause. They closed with another Son Volt song, “Windfall,” which sounded like the promise you make after a few too many rounds to keep in touch and do this more often, and they were done. I picked up his disc on the way out—as our man Scott put it, “It’s almost like buying the artist a beer, considering you’re cutting out the middleman.” And Jay definitely deserves another round.