Son Volt / Buick MacKane – Cat’s Cradle (Carrboro, NC)
This one was like the feeling you get an hour and a half after slamming down a six-pack of Jolt Cola: sugar up, sugar down. Buick MacKane got the night off to a frenzied start, while Son Volt’s headlining set was…well, as consistent as they always are, with everything that implies. As good as the band can be on record, in person Son Volt remains about as energetic and charismatic as Al Gore.
Jay Farrar does seem to be taking tentative steps toward opening up. Though he’s still hardly a motormouth, his between-song chatter added up to quite a bit more spoken words than at previous shows (he even worked in some baseball commentary at the start of the encore, “No more Braves”). And hiring the high-octane Buick MacKane as an opening act, as opposed to past tour openers like Richard Buckner, could be viewed as Farrar giving himself a challenge.
One thing Son Volt could do to liven things up would be to mix the set up a bit more to try and maximize variety, rather than playing a half-dozen acoustic songs followed by a half-dozen electric songs. Structured that way, a lot of the songs started to sort of fade into each other. It was pleasant, sure. No way it couldn’t be, given the strength of Farrar’s catalog. “Ten Second News” was as spooky-sounding as ever, and “Loose String” is still a stirring rocker (thanks in large part to Dave Boquist’s lead guitar). And one of the evening’s few curveballs — an unexpectedly rocked-up “Windfall”, which retained the original’s subtlety while increasing the voltage — turned out great.
As for Buick MacKane, they seemed delighted to get to play for a good-sized crowd after drawing only about 20 hardcore fans their previous time through town. The band’s set ranged far beyond the group’s Rykodisc album The Pawn Shop Years, in part because Alejandro Escovedo’s brother Javier recently signed on as bassist — which makes Buick’s current lineup a two-fifths reunion of the late, great True Believers.
And 40 percent of the True Believers kicks the bejesus out of 100 percent of just about anybody else. Highlights included the True Believers rarity “Marianne” (rescued from the soundtrack to the 1985 cheeseball flick Blue City); the Pawn Shop track “Black Shiny Beast”, which Alejandro dedicated to Raleigh band the Backsliders; and the obligatory Rolling Stones cover, “Shine A Light”.
Javier Escovedo fit right into Buick’s good-natured self parodies. At one point, after one of his brother’s song introductions went on a bit too long, Escovedo began noodling around on the bass line to the Spinal Tap chestnut “Free Flyte”. And it was truly grand to see the Escovedo brothers sharing a microphone again, just like the old days.