Friday, October 28, 2005
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Monday, October 17, 2005
Ten years ago Jay Farrar first sang those words on Son Volt's debut album Trace. It was a sign of a new beginning for Farrar who had just stepped away from Uncle Tupelo, the group out of Belleville, IL that Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn steered into a realm of unexpected greatness that planted the seeds for the alt-country movement. Although Uncle Tupelo carried on after the depature of their drummer, Heidorn, in 1992, it was Farrar's decision in 1994 to end the band that resonated the loudest. The demise of the band led to the births of Son Volt and Tweedy's band Wilco.
Son Volt was Farrar's clean slate to move forward, but, by 1998, he stopped Son Volt in its tracks to concentrate on his first born child. When he resummed working on his music Farrar went solo and left Son Volt on the back burner. In 2004, news finally came that Farrar and his former bandmates--Heidorn, Jim and Dave Boquist--agreed to reactivate Son Volt, record a new album and tour. But it seemed that within a blink of the eye the reunion was wiped away. Heidorn and the Boquist brothers made Farrar's head spin when they dropped out of the picture. Farrar's lawyer, Josh Grier, shed some light on the matter in the November 2004 issue of Chicago Innerview when he said, "I don't think anybody had any oppositon to the creative side of it, but, five years later, mortgages, kids and wives can change everything."
Farrar gathered new musicians to make Son Volt possible, and the end result was the brand new album Okemah And The Melody Of Riot which was released in July. It has been a quiet return for Son Volt in 2005, and that is't much of a surprise since the band's hiatus didn't cause a sea of headline news. For the fans that packed the Vic Theatre, the reestablishment of Son Volt in today's musical landscape didn't matter as much as seeing Farrar rejuvenated by his latest material. The set list spanned over thirty songs and reached into every facet of Farrar's catalog from Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and solo career.
Farrar has never been known as an artist that lights up a stage. A showman he is not, but he's never sought to be a Pete Townshend (The Who) or Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick). There was an aura about him on stage like he was a walking myth, a sole survivor of the Crusades or some storied fable. The electricity that may not appear on the surface came across loud and clear through Farrar's play that night. With his larger than life voice and a solid band put together, the new Son Volt performed as a band that had been together longer than just a few weeks on the road. After laying down five songs off the new album at the start of the show, the band opened the show wide open. "This is an old song," said Farrar, "I think it's an antique." And with that brief introduction the band dusted off "Back Into Your World" from Son Volt's second album Straightaways (1997).
Farrar flowed with each song and fed off the muscle his band supplied. There also seemed to be a rediscovery for Farrar with his past; themes about seeking for answers as a young man are the same he still asks as a man with a family. Some of the biggest questions in America today deal with Iraq. Farrar summed up his opinions on the matter with a beautiful stroke of set list work by purposefully having "Jet Pilot," a direct shot at President George W. Bush, followed by "Endless War." Neither Bush or Iraq were ever directly mentioned by Farrar. He let his songs act as his soap box and his guitar voice his protest.
As the audience in the balcony rose in volume to sing back to the band during "Tear Stained Eye," it was evident that they hadn't turned their backs on Farrar. It was that sweet moment between fans and artist where the intangible of the music revealed the special bond that doesn't seem to go away over time. Farrar blazed like a bright fire with his guitar solos ("Medication"), refreshed the past ("Windfall"), and paved the way for the future ("Afterglow 61"). During the show's finale, Farrar became almost possessed in the music as the band performed Uncle Tupelo's "Chickamauga." The sweat dripped faster off his face and his intensity grew as he marched up and down the fretboard of his electric guitar. "Solitude is where I'm bound," sang a fully charged Farrar. As he tore through his wailing solos, was he remembering his old friend and partner Jeff Tweedy whom he walked away from all those years ago? Or was he thinking of his former Son Volt partners that left him to carry on the band? Stepping off the stage of the Vic Theatre after the last note Farrar gave an appreciative wave to the audience who stood on their feet cheering and applauding.
The band performed all of Okemah And The Melody Of Riot in front of a massive back drop of the album's cover hanging from the rafters. Promotional move? Sure. It was an evening to reintroduce people to Son Volt and remind them of the album. But for Farrar it was a statement to his fans that he's just as proud of his new songs as he is of his past Son Volt work; work that some may argue is still his best (Trace is Son Volt's best selling album to date). History has shown that Son Volt was the favorite to rise to stardom after Uncle Tupelo. Instead, Tweedy and Wilco have become that which industry insiders thought Son Volt and Farrar would be by now: commercially successful. Farrar may be destined to go it alone on his musical journey but it seems there will always be a crowd willing and waiting to hear what he has to say next. There is no Son Volt without Jay Farrar.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Saturday, October 15, 2005
As quickly as people paid attention to Nada Surf back in 1996 with the single "Popular" they soon went on to the next buzz band. In 2005, the trio out of Brooklyn has gone from being the flavor of the month to a well-respected group among the indie rock circle. The success of "Popular" was both a blessing and a curse; marginalizing the band and casting a shadow on their debut album High/Low. From that point, the band soldiered on with The Proximity Effect (1998) and the critically acclaimed pop nugget Let Go (2002). Though the band's skills in the studio have matured, their performance at Metro lacked an edge that could reveal another dimension not heard on record.
It's a reversal of the classic case of a band sounding better on stage than on record. Nada Surf is in touch with the whimsical and the melodic, elements that serve as strengths for the band. Opening with "Blizzard Of '77," it was amazing to think that this was the same band which wrote "Popular." The acoustic tune turned electric did not lose its softness as singer/guitarist Matthew Caws lingered on the lines, "I miss you more than I knew." From the melancholy to the sunny, "Concrete Bed" gave the first of many introductions to the new record. Drummer Ira Elliot, dressed like some cast member off of 70s TV show The Love Boat, was brisk and steady as he and bassist Daniel Lorca powered the song along.
The trio was solid throughout the night but never quite surpassed the level of greatness. The band sprinkled their newest songs by sometimes separating them with two older songs in between. This made for a choppy show where the pace would spike up and down as if teasing the crowd that some build up was in the making. What was apparent with these pockets of songs was how criticism of Nada Surf as a lackluster band in concert could be viewed as valid. "Hi-Speed Soul" brought the crowd to a bounce and "Always Love" hit the nail on the head with a crunching punch. But the effect of that one-two combo was soon deflated by the dreamlike "Killian's Red." It just seemed as if there was no real direction in place for the night. Not even the band's best songs could set the show straight. "Inside Of Love," quite possibly the strongest song of the band's catalog, carried Nada Surf into a light that it had faded in and out of all night, that of a band more than just average. Immediately following that magic, the band chose the most absolute sleeper of a song that could have caused the show to backpedal. The French sung "La Pour Ca" by Lorca simply killed the pop spell Nada Surf mustered up to perfection. Once again the tempo was shot; "Blankest Year" kicked up a shuffle but then "Meow Meow Lullabye" (a kitten's dream of becoming a cat) brought things to a stand still. "The Way You Wear Your Head" salvaged the set enough to even desire an encore. Surely they could deliver a knockout set to complete the night?
Instead of a blood rush, Nada Surf relaxed the crowd with "Your Legs Grow" and "Blonde On Blonde." It was nearly eleven o'clock on this Friday night and Nada Surf was keeping the crowd from a release. "Imaginary Friends" seemed to capture the unsteady evening, speeding up only to downshift gears into the slowest of tempos and then back again; this was all in the same song. Finally, the band flexed more power than they had done all night with their closing songs. Having been hungry for the band to really floor them, "Stalemate" probably got some in the crowd licking their lips in sheer excitement with its high octane beat. Lorca's bass soon signaled a metamorphosis as he began playing the riff to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." The band pulled off the move, something it has done before at previous shows. It was an ace they had yet to use and wisely saved. As Nada Surf lunged into "Hyperspace," the edge that had eluded them at various points of the show emerged. Why that aspect of its more rock driven songs couldn't adapt to the band's quieter, mid-tempo songs was really an issue that maybe no one inside Metro could lay a finger on. To some, it was Nada Surf being Nada Surf and that was alright. To others, Nada Surf realizes the doors they are opening at this point of the band's career but can't decide on what to do when inside. It's a matter of if and when Nada Surf become the complete package.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Monday, October 10, 2005
Supported by a three-piece band, Tegan and Sara strolled through much of their latest album So Jealous while making small talk with the crowd in between songs. The twin sisters amped up their sound from gentle, acoustic tunes into three minute pop power pleasures. Early on the stage was set with the rolling melodies of "I Bet It Stung" and the whispering "I Know I Know I Know." Equipment problems would occasionally plague Tegan and Sara, but they brushed them off their shoulders with a laugh. Something that couldn't be laughed at was how their duo vocals would get lost among the crunching electric guitars and bashing drums. One such moment was during the more acoustic flavored "Where Does The Good Go." Certainly, on record, it's one of the best songs Tegan and Sara have penned to date--weaving harmonies topped off with lush textures--but it's beauty got lost in the mix that night at Metro.
For a team of songwriters like Tegan and Sara, volume comes in second to the quality of the songs, but the girls have branched out to marry the sonic muscle with the words. It's that desire to be more than you are that slightly hampers them from being great. They are without question a solid, sometimes quirky duo that can achieve so much vocally. Their songs get better and better with each album. So, why try to become a rock band when you're not? Well, because they can. That's just not always the best reason to shoot for the BIG guitars.
It didn't seem to matter to the crowd. Every word and every note made them want to dance and sing along. The rough, punch in the throat blast of the chorus to "So Jealous" had fists pumping in the air. "Speak Slow" was infectious with its jumpy hooks, and "Monday Monday Monday" cast a dreamy spell over the crowd. Give Tegan and Sara some credit: they have a strong handle on their pop hooks.
The fun continued into their encore with a revamped, moody version of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark." Surely, The Boss would have appreciated the different take on his song. Then joining Tegan and Sara for the show finale "You Wouldn't Like Me" were show openers Marjorie Fair and Northern State. It was the feel good end to the night. Tegan and Sara let their songs make the case that they are deserving of the praise and buzz. And while they may not be on the same level as sibling rockers Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis in terms of open rivalry on stage, they are still amusing with their openess to rib each other as only sisters can do--to talk about the other's period or trump the other's songwriting ability. What more could you ask for?
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Joined by keyboardist Richard Morel, drummer Brendan Canty of Fugazi, and Evanston native Jason Narducy (Verbow, Rockets Over Sweden) on bass and vocals, Mould kept the show on a fast pace without so much as a guitar change. The show opened just as Sugar's 1992 debut album Copper Blue opened: the crunching pulse of "The Act We Act," the out-of-control power popping "A Good Idea," and the melodic overdrive of "Changes." Mould also sprinkled a good portion of Body Of Song throughout his set among selections from his Husker Du and Sugar catalogs. Mould clearly felt free of the weight he would normally place on himself when performing solo. It was as if he was no longer driving a one lane road and merged onto a ten lane expressway; his guitar solos knew no boundaries and his vocals howled. A smile appeared on Mould's face during "Hoover Dam" as he and the band locked in perfectly with each other. Narducy (whose band Verbow had their debut album produced by Mould in 1997) had a strong sense of complimenting Mould's vocals almost has if he was some younger clone of Mould on stage behind a microphone.
As soon as the crowd began applauding the end of one song a brand new one would begin. That's how Mould worked the show, a no-frills, all-business affair filled with great songs. From Body Of Song, "Circles" and "Paralyzed" balanced all of Mould's musical traits that have grown through the years, mixing his command of an electric guitar and recent experimental side with electronica (as heard on his 2002 album Modulate). During "High Fidelity," another new song, Mould sang about being left behind in the changing times but somehow, someway he would figure things out. That really sums up a lot about Mould's career. After the breakup of Husker Du, Mould found creative success with Sugar and then success going solo. And while Mould may be considered irrelevant by 2005 standards of what's hip in mainstream music, he has managed to maintain a level of integrity that has kept the heart of his music still beating hard. So, by all accounts, Mould has continued to figure things out just fine on his own.
"It's nice to be back in Chicago," said Mould before the first encore of the night. The audience that filled every inch of Metro responded in kind with a generous ovation. Mould had been on target the whole night. His enthusiasm never faltered as he dug deep for older tunes like Husker Du's "Chartered Trips" and "Celebrated Summer." Here Mould showed he wasn't trying to capture the youth of the songs he had written in his early 20's but rather showed he hadn't lost the connection to how he felt when he wrote them. As Mould and company gave their second and final encore, they sailed into the night with Sugar's "Man On The Moon." Mould ripped into the opening riff like he was about to turn on a chainsaw, and Canty slammed in like a bulldozer behind him. The band became this sonic juggernaut that pushed the song to new heights and had fun doing it. Mould may know how to polish up his act for the studio, but in this instance he gave fans the raw rock show they had missed for ten years. Mould certainly didn't lose his touch in that department.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda