I don’t spend a lot of time on negativity anymore, and that includes writing negative reviews. I mean, really…we’re surrounded by a shitstorm of Trumpist negativity and we are a music site of, by and for fans. So it pains me to write this:
This new Son Volt video is laughably bad. Jay and crew playing in front of a green screen while stock footage of the Great Depression is the No Depression version of phoning it in. And seriously, we can’t have that. This is a crucial time in the history of this country and we need Jay’s voice. It’s important. No half-measures, man. I am onboard with the sentiment, but you must try harder!
How great is Jay Farrar? He’s been writing consistently good songs for thirty years now. It’s pretty crazy if you think about how long and how consistent his career has been. Even heroes like Neil Young went through a dicey phase 20 or 30 years into their careers; Jay Farrar has rarely slipped up.
And now he’s written a song about the nuts and bolts of making music and how it helps to keep you focused when the world around you is crazy.
No artifacts just melody rings
Compression drivers pushing air
Phantom power and faders up
Keeping time, keeping sane
Farrar told Billboard that he wanted a song for the thematically political album “to embody a more regular rock ethos… I was thinking about bands like the Replacements, who would fall off the stage in the first chords of their songs, the Stones, the Who.” Lyrically, the song channels “the flowery language put on a lot of music equipment packaging–’stellar magnetic winding’ from string packages or something, that kind of Guitar Center reality.”
The best thing about this video besides the gnarly Dustbowl-era footage is Jay Farrar’s badass sideburns. I can’t think of a more overtly political Son Volt song. Then again, it’s easy to hear everything as a topical statement these days…
All the signs say pick up the pieces
All the signs say make a stand as one
What survives the long cold winter
Will be stronger and can’t be undone
I still love this band. It’s always reassuring to hear Farrar’s voice. I wonder why he hasn’t played lead guitar since the Uncle Tupelo days? Do you think he misses it? He had a unique style. Oh well. People change. So it goes.
Look what I stumbled across in the May 7, 1994 issue of Billboard. It’s a blurb about the break up of Uncle Tupelo who had played their final show just a few days earlier on May 1.
“Say Uncle: Uncle Tupelo is dissolving, with core member Jeff Tweedy and drummer Ken Coomer forming a new group called National Dust. Tupelo’s other main member, Jay Farrar, is forming his own band. Both new acts have deals with Sire.”
By the time the Red Hot + Country compilation was released in September, which contained Tweedy’s new band’s cover of “The T.B. is Whipping Me,” they had settled on Wilco. Greg Kot quotes Coomer on why the band ditched the National Dust moniker: “The womenfolk weren’t havin’ it.”
Of course, a good name can’t remain unused for long, and by 2005 a Los Angeles cockrock band had taken it on. The fact that this new National Dust sounds like post-makeup KISS and employs Confederate flag imagery is a bummer, but what can you do?
According to its website, the Wonder Ballroom in Portland was built by The Ancient Order of Hibernians, “a group committed to immigration reform, civil rights for those of Irish descent and the preservation of the old Irish culture.” It opened September 10, 1914 and over the next 96 years passed through a variety of hands and served a variety of services. It was an American Legion, a Catholic Youth Center, a day care center, and now sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Fully rehabbed and restored, the Wonder Ballroom is a glimpse of the past struck new. What better place to see and hear Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard translate Jack Kerouac to an audience of skinny jeans and beard scratchers?
As is known around here, I am a big fan of this album Farrar and Gibbard put out. I love everything about it as a modern musical interpretation of Jack Kerouac‘s most heart wrenching novel. It features two songwriters so steeped in illusion and imagery that you might guess they’re lost beat writers caught in a worm hole and trapped 60 years from their homes. As an album, One Fast Move Or I’m Gone is about as perfect as they come for me. It has lyrics I can pore over and reinterpret and ponder, it has music that strikes me dumbfounded on a regular basis. It simply doesn’t get better.
If someone had asked me what Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Son Volt’s Jay Farrar have in common I might have answered, “They both have unique voices?” As it turns out they have much more in common, including a shared passion for Jack Kerouac and it appears now, co-writing credits on the soundtrack for an upcoming bio on the king of Beat writers.
Gibbard and Farrar were approached by filmmakers in 2007 about writing music for the film One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur (IMDB), due on October 20. According to Farrar, approximately 90% of the soundtrack’s lyrics draw directly from Kerouac’s poems. One wonders how the filmmakers landed on these two as writing partners, a question that isn’t immediately answered by Gibbard.
“I’d never met Jay before, and we found ourselves in a studio with a film crew, just blinking at each other, diving right into recording sessions,” Gibbard told Billboard.com. “In that first session, we did 3 or 4 songs together. We had the trepidation of not really knowing each other; getting to know each other in real time as we were recording made for a beautiful recording.”
Writing a summary of Rothbury is kind of like explaining the Lord of the Rings trilogy to my 4-year-old daughter. I can give her a broad overview of some of the plot points and make some specific comments about some of the characters, but there’s just no way she’s going to understand without so much extra exposition that it’s pointless to even make the attempt. Not to mention that there’s just some stuff you’re not going to go into regardless.
That said, let’s delve into just a few details that should help set the Rothbury scene:
1. Rothbury is dirty in every way imaginable. (Not to mention literally; showers cost $10.)
2. Everyone is getting fucked up pretty much all the time.
3. I don’t know how you could have more fun at a concert — I never have.
To put that last point in perspective, consider that I am 36 years old and have been to well over 100 big-name touring act shows in the past 23 years since my first (Springsteen). I can’t even begin to estimate how many bar shows I’ve attended in that time. I have seen damn near every classic rock icon, plenty of indie rock, lots of metal shows, and even a handful of legendary jazz artists. So for Rothbury to compare this well to my better-with-age memories of Lollapalooza 2, Clash of the Titans, or some of the old-school Pine Knob shows when nobody cared what you brought in to the show, well, that’s saying something.
No, it’s not the Buffalo Springfield outtake, although I can totally hear Jay Farrar singing that. Did Uncle Tupelo used to cover that? This one is an original that sounds like it would’ve fit nicely on 2007’s underappreciated The Search. It features tremelo guitars and swinging drums, and actually sounds kinda fun. And check out that smiley promo picture: could Son Volt have become…happy? (Probably not.)
You can’t see everything, and with 130 bands over three days, you wouldn’t want to. I wasn’t very excited about this year’s lineup. In fact, there were less than 25 bands that I was even vaguely interested in, and that’s being liberal with my definition of “interested.” So there was no way that I could spend every waking hour for an entire weekend there. Not this year. Not for three whole days.
I devised a plan which I called “Hit it and quit it.” Get in, see some bands, and get out before I got bored or sunburned or too wasted. I ended up getting sunburned anyway. But I saw some great sets and had a few pleasant surprises, which is all you can really ask for.
Not really, of course. There’s a lot more you can ask for… like good sound and short beer lines, both of which were handled very professionally this year.