Review: Jay Farrar at the Wild Buffalo
I’m Skot, and I’m a bit of a Wilco fan. I am, in fact, one of the fewer than 1,000 Wilco fan that owns that particular band’s 2-inch tall Unipo dolls. Yes, I’m that fan.
Being a Wilco fan means that my relationship with Jay Farrar’s music is inevitably skewed by the prism of a rivalry that seems largely imagined and manufactured, but persists nonetheless. I had Trace, of course, but much of the rest of Son Volt’s library languished in my laptop largely unlistened too. It was until the release of Farrar’s brilliant collaboration with Ben Gibbard on One Fast Move Or I’m Gone that I dug deeper into the material. 2009 was a very good year for Farrar, and his Son Volt album American Central Dust also took a place in heavy rotation in my listening.
With a new album of material based on Woody Guthrie material coming out in 2012, Farrar has hit the road on a tour of the Western United states. Forgoing a stop in Canada, the tour started at Bellingham, Washington’s beautiful Wild Buffalo House of Music. The Buffalo is about an hour from Vancouver and a better venue that most comparable ones in my hometown anyway, so I headed down for a late Thursday night.
Taking the stage at about 10:30 after an opening set Bobby Bare Jr., Farrar quickly got to business opening with material from American Central Dust. With no rhythm section on stage, the pairing of Farrar’s acoustic guitar and with Gary Hunt on the electric guitar, fiddle and occasional ukelele for accompaniment made for a quieter take on some of his harder edged material.
It wasn’t until Big Sur that Farrar first chatted with the attentive and appreciative crowd. Ben Gibbard is a Bellingham local, and I’d half expected him to make an appearance at the gig. He didn’t, but the material from One Fast Move was as strong as I’d expected live and got the modest crowd fully engaged in the gig
I’ve got a friend who has a musical theory that says that when Uncle Tupelo split up Farrar and Son Volt took the “long hairs” and Wilco took the “short hairs.” If she’s right–and she usually is–it wasn’t obvious tonight with a crowd as diverse as any I’ve seen.
The acoustics at the Buffalo are excellent, and go a long way to showing why the venue is becoming a favourite stop for tours in between Seattle and Vancouver. Farrar worked through a playlist that included more material from One Fast Move before introducing Holiday Machine, a new piece from next year’s Woody Guthrie album (the video is here) that shows tremendous promise.
The Son Volt classic Tear Stained Eye followed, and with the night running late and 1:00 a.m. ticking past on my watch I left for the drive home.
Farrar’s touring down the coast towards Los Angeles over the next month, and shouldn’t be missed. He’s in fine form, and the new material being played shows that there’s much to look forward too in 2012’s collaborations and whatever the future brings for Son Volt. As a songwriter Farrar’s material remains strong and his musicianship is at least its equal. The chance to see him perform in smaller, more intimate venues isn’t one you should pass up.
As for that prism? The one that colours my perception of Farrar with its lens of Wilco fandom? As I mentioned above, I was already a fan of much of Farrar’s recorded output but it’s fair to say that this show shattered any lingering bias, and seeing Jay live finally gave me the opportunity to see a great songwriter without prejudice. I’m looking forward to the tour that hopefully accompanies next year’s release. If it does, I’ll be there.
See video of Jay Farrar playing Hoping Machine from next year’s Woody Guthrie collaboration here.