Son Volt, Cowboy Junkies Take Seattle Zoo
Son Volt, Cowboy Junkies – Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle, WA – July 22, 2009
It’s been twenty-one years since Cowboy Junkies lept ahead of their time to release Trinity Sessions – their second album, granted, but the one which undoubtedly solidified the mark they were making on modern music. It’s hard to imagine many new-formed bands sticking together for so long these days, but then the Junkies are three-fifths family, and their synergy as a group is strong. The band with whom they’ve been touring this summer – Son Volt – has been around nearly as long (they made their debut in ‘95, after the now-famous dissolution of Uncle Tupelo). Together, the two groups have been making their way around the country as one of this summer’s finest double-bookings (at least as far as roots fans are concerned). Last night, they made a stop at Seattle Zoo, with the Junkies on first.
It’s hard for me to watch Margo Timmins onstage. Having seen her band a handful of times, I always get the feeling she still wrestles with a bit of stage fright. Her movements, in direct contrast to the power and intuition of her voice, feel rehearsed and reserved. It’s an interesting juxtaposition – that of her body and voice – and I feel almost compelled to kick back and close my eyes when she’s onstage. Last night, as usual, she held the microphone hard with one hand and draped the other, wrist-deep, over the back of the stand. Head bowed, eyes frequently closed or squinting, it was almost like she was singing in secret, all but covering her mouth. But then out came her voice, with so much power and nuance…an interesting thing to watch.
Behind her, her brother Peter kept a smooth beat on drums. Their other brother Michael, who writes the songs, sat practically still, angled away from half the audience, unassumingly strumming a solid rhythm guitar. Even Jeff Bird (mandolin, harmonica), with all his exuberance, looked much more reserved than the notes which poured so energetically from his instruments. Pulling from their entire career, they delivered a couple of songs from a forthcoming disc they’re working on now, and a Neil Young cover (”Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” which they dedicated to a friend celebrating her 60th birthday). They played their whole set so still it was almost deadpan, yet the sound that came from them was big and stirring enough that the audience jumped to its feet at the end, demanding an encore (which wasn’t obliged, presumably due to time restraints).
Son Volt opened their set with “The Picture” from 2007’s The Search, hitting the stage with at least five times the energy and momentum as that of the night’s first band. (It’s hard to imagine calling Cowboy Junkies an opener, considering; also the tour these two groups are on has seen them switching the billing order from time to time.) The seminal alt-country quintet delivered a spirited set of mostly tunes from their latest release, American Central Dust. Though many of the arrangements felt slower than those on the record, tunes like “Dynamite” came across better and more resonant from the stage than they did from the studio.
The band noted on its blog yesterday that it had taken an unexpected day off in Portland, so it’s likely that leader Jay Farrar was well-rested and eager to hop onto a stage again. He seemed to have the crowd in his pocket from very early on, and the group delivered great performances of Central Dust highlights – particularly “Dust of Daylight,” with its well-pronounced steel solos from new member Mark Spencer. The set was, indeed, enough to interest both long-time fans and cynical reporters like myself who, admittedly, don’t always cotton to every record Son Volt delivers. Lesson learned: Son Volt is perhaps a band best taken in live.
This review originally written for SoundNW.com