Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Sept. 23, 2005
Stubb's, Sept. 16
The signs were ominous. Son Volt's new album, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, wasn't exactly a hit; guitar player Brad Rice was unable to perform on this part of the tour; and reports of their SXSW 05 showcase were mixed. But Jay Farrar and his rejuvenated, reconfigured band hit the outdoor stage at Stubb's Friday night as if they had something to prove and didn't let up until nearly two hours had passed. Always the quiet one, Farrar's stage patter was characteristically brief, but the rare occasional smile spoke volumes. With birthday boy/Austinite Andrew Duplantis on bass serving as the anchor, Son Volt spun through most of the tunes from the new disc with authority and warmth, distinguishing themselves as today's state-of-the-art roots-rock band. Like the mid-Nineties edition of the band, they were full of crunchy jangle, at times recalling early R.E.M., at others playing country like a rock band. Nashville's Chris Frame filled in on lead guitar for Rice without missing a step, shining on the extended improvisation toward set's end. It was around that time things really jelled. Three of the band's best-known tunes, "Tear Stained Eye," "Windfall," and "Drown," boosted the enthusiasm of the moderately appreciative audience, which went wild during the encores: a ragged, droning cover of the reggae classic made famous by the Clash, "Armagideon Time," and the rarely played "Chickamauga" from Farrar's Uncle Tupelo days that blew the sweat off their faces and sent everyone home with a happy glow.