"Now and then it keeps you runnin', never seems to die..." The opening line to Son Volt's soothing elegy "Windfall," which closed out Tuesday's main set at the Continental Club - just like almost every other SV set since the band's 1995 debut Trace - goes a long way to explain why Jay Farrar is still hanging around all these years since Son Volt and Wilco sprang from his and Jeff Tweedy's uncomfortable Uncle Tupelo divorce. "It" is that mysterious impulse to keep writing songs, keep playing shows, which never seems to die because - as almost all of Farrar's songs since then explain and explore - no amount of depression, despair or hard luck is quite enough to kill it off. If there's a catch-all term for Farrar's musical domain, it might as well be working-class white-boy blues. His songs seethe with the quiet anger of people abandoned by the society they helped to create - "Who the hell is Dow Jones anyway?," from 2007's scratchy "Beacon Soul" (and parent album The Search) now seems downright prophetic - but whose core values simply won't let them stop believing a brighter future is out there somewhere, be it in the next town, the next paycheck or the next crop.
Not for nothing did Aftermath write "Hello, Springsteen" in his notebook more than once Tuesday night.
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For a good hour and a half, not counting a stomping encore of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," Farrar and his four companions - including Houston native Chris Masterson on lead guitar and Austin's Andrew Duplantis on bass - cued off the title of SV's 1998 album Wide Swing Tremolo. They forged a lengthy lap of simmering, slide-heavy blues; steely, stoic-on-the-surface country ballads; somber, Latin-tinged (thanks to Mark Spencer's accordion-like keyboards) versions of early songs "Tear Stained Eye" - which bought Ash Wednesday to the Continental about an hour before it actually arrived - and "Creosote." Finally, after a muted take on Trace's other warhorse "Drown," came a full-tilt swamp-boogie climax that would have left John Fogerty and Neil Young very happy men indeed. On both hollowbody tremolo and wicked SG slide, Masterson shone throughout - his yearning, stinging guitar lines often played the lead role of pilgrim/searcher as much as the characters in Farrar's lyrics. Farrar learned back in his Uncle Tupelo days that sometimes the best way to deal with all the unpleasantries of reality, whether economic hardships or just not getting along with people, is to throw up your hands and let the hammer down. That's what made the end of Son Volt's set - Drive-By Truckers-style rocker "Action," vintage Uncle Tupelo basher "The Search," the self-explanatory "Scars & Bandages" and "Buzz & Grind" and punkish whirlwind "Voodoo Candle" (from Farrar's 2003 solo debut Sebastopol; SV's next album is due in May) - so satisfying. The darker things look, the louder Son Volt turns up. So, by the time the timeless refrain of "Windfall" rolled around - "May the wind take your troubles away" - Son Volt had already taken care of that. Like another of Farrar's obvious forebears, Bob Dylan, sang in "Like a Rolling Stone": "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." Amen.