Review of Philly Radio appearance last Friday, featuring the full-band debut of lots of tunes.
Circadian Rhythym – Way more subdued version then earlier takes would’ve suggested, and the keyboards have finally reached the right level. This is a haunting song.
Underground Dream – Why does Jay drop so many big, smelly-fart abstractions like “eternity” lately? Amazing chord progression and arrangements show that the stripped acoustic version we heard on Gob tour was really only half the song. Gorgeous, and overburdened with half-formed or ‘goes-without-saying’ political platitudes. “Guns or education,” huh? One recalls that Pearl Jam t-shirt with the kid, the crayon and the gun…that’s not a compliment. I liked it better when Jay grieved all punk-like “this trickle down theory has left all these pockets empty” or in the way more oblique, pastoral mode of the first two volt records.
The Picture – Way more bearable with harmonica ‘stead of horns. Pretty, actually.
Action – Now we’re talking. Finally the “blues hammer” inclinations we’ve endured in Jay’s two worst ever songs (Fool King’s Crown, Damn Shame) have come to fruition. The song modulates from brainy, introspective mantras into purposeful open strumming, finishing up in a briney swamp. It’s a great, subtle realization of all the raga-inspired experiments during the solo period spent touring with Spencer. I say this because rather than having a part that screams “modal East Indian thing,” that motif is phrased in a blues-y context…of course that’s the modal/pentatonic synthesis that guides all of our favorite psychedelic music, right?
Methamphetamine – I always think of that other druggie/journeyman epic, Lowell George’s ‘Willin,’ when I hear this one. All of my issues with Jay’s way of writing “topical” songs notwithstanding, the chorus gets me every time.
Highways and Cigarettes – An attempt to recapture the “Windfall” thing? Weird that despite all of the talk of a new-fangled Son Volt that accompanies this record, it features some of the most “traditional” Jay songs we’ve heard since “Barstow,” at least.
Phosphate Skin – Wow. Interesting and gorgeous. It’s like a “Damaged Son” or “Dead Promises” for the 2.0-era volt. This will be getting a lot of play with me. Awesome, reverb-y notes from Walbourne, the kind my friend Abe calls “desert riffs.”
The Search – Is a great song. What’s not to like? People say his voice sounds strained, but this one’s got the steady-galloping momentum we like from Son Volt’s “rock” songs. Hooray!
(Apparently they encored with Bandages and Scars and a cover of the Stones’ “2000 Light Years from Home.”)
Additional Note: James Walbourne sounds great on this recording: his leads never get buried like Chris Frame’s sometimes would, but his playing doesn’t quite have the over-assured, whatever-comes-into-my-head-is-cool stylings of B. Rice. As this is his second tour as a Son Volt utility guy, I wonder if he’s opted out of any full-time assignment.
Additional Additional Note: This show is currently downloadable from the Jay board, under a thread entitled “Set List 2/2/07 Live at WXPN.” In other Jay board news, my friend Sticky has made available very high quality video of Volt at the Pageant, in what was I think the last gig of the Okemah tour: check out the thread called “10/29/05-whole show…etc”. He’s also posted really old, really rare video of the Primitives, Jeff, Jay and Wade’s pre-Tupelo teen scream. Check “Some real old UT/Primitives video.”