Son Volt: 17 September 2009 – Fillmore at Irving Plaza, New York City

“Hard times come again no more,” sang Jay Farrar Thursday night. The sympathetic lament echoed through Irving Plaza as the rest of Son Volt took a break, this time Farrar conveying his dejected sonorities solo. Though taken from an 1854 Stephen Foster tune, Farrar’s incarnation, “Hard Times,” paralleled the original’s depressed tone. That dejected but introspective sentiment was something Farrar, with his band Son Volt, returned to frequently—usually over a foundation of good ‘ole American alt-rock.

Blessed with a baritone cadence—not unlike Eddie Vedder—Farrar wasted no time in using it, leading Son Volt through an extensive mix of new and old material. They treated fans to beautiful recreations of the new American Central Dust tunes, like “Dust to Daylight,” while also indulging them in sing-alongs, like “Tear Stained Eye” from their seminal record Trace. Despite the bonhomie, there is an underlying remoteness to Farrar’s writing and singing. On stage he was flat, like the plains he originated from, and his subjects were despondent (e.g. “Cocaine and Ashes,” “Highways and Cigarettes.”) His somber troubadour personality aside, the crowd loved every minute—courtesy of lead guitarist James Walbourne and his fiery playing.

As Son Volt’s set progressed their volume crescendoed. “When the Wheels Don’t Move” became a penetrating baritone dirge, with Walbourne providing a sonic eulogy in his solo.

Near the end of the night one caught a glimpse of Farrar’s personality aside from his general melancholy—a seemingly never ending umbra cast by Jeff Tweety’s resounding success post Uncle Tupelo. He dedicated “Big Sur” (from his upcoming Jack Kerouac collaboration with Ben Gibbard) to “the reverend Billy G” of ZZ Top. Apparently they have similar tastes in literature. For once we saw some excitement out of Farrar.