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Review: Jay Farrar w/ Mark Spencer – St. Louis, Mo – June 17, 2010


The usual chatter of the St. Louis folk will mostly center around our beloved Cardinals baseball team. Matt Holliday not pulling his weight is one of the current laments. Not to say that there was a lack of Redbird talk, there wasn’t, but on this night there were more conversations about favorite songs than favorite players. Being from the area and a current St. Louis resident, Jay Farrar and company attracted an affectionate and excited crowd. I stood in the line and listened to the lady in front of me reminece about going to high school with Jay. It seemed more just a night at the bar with friends than a concert. The club itself helped the intimate feeling, as the Old Rock House is one of the oldest and coziest venues in the city. With a spot at the front of the stage and a really helpful waitress, I had a great view and Gin and Tonics a plenty.

Opening the show was the Col. Ford Duo. Normally a trio, tonight it was Gary Carter on guitar and Dade Farrar on standup bass. As the bass player joked, “we play pop music. Stuff your Pop might have liked”. Dade Farrar is definately the soul of this band, never missing a beat and also having one of the coolest instrument tricks, at least on a stand up bass. Kickflipping the thing like a skateboard and joking with the semi restless crowd, he’s a stark contrast to his brother’s famously stoic on stage persona. Starting the set with “Moanin’ the Blues”, the two singers voices blended perfectly, notably Dade’s slight yodel on the chorus. Farrar dedicated a song to mine and his homestate of Illinois, mentioning the dirty politickin’ up North, and the insane racism down South. Their set ended with a pair of covers in George Jones’ “Your Still On My Mind” and The Flying Burrito Bros “Dim Lights”, with both getting warm receptions.

After no more than 10 minutes after their set ended, Mark Spencer began tuning his multitude of instuments. Indiscreetly, Jay Farrar then made his way through the crowd and walked onto the stage with his acoustic. No pretension, no roadies, just walking onto a stage and playing his tunes. If I didn’t like his work, I’d still apprectiate his ethics.

“Hey, everybody.” Jay smirked to the crowd and went into “Down to the Wire”, which translated nicely to the duo setting with Spencer putting sparkling keyboards over Jay’s strum. “The Picture” followed, with the gob iron taking place of the horns. Set regular “Feel Free” from Sebastapol sounded great, as did “When the Wheels Don’t Move”, which Jay dedicated to BP executives.

One of the real treats of the set was another regular, but one that is a another true testament of Farrar’s songwriting ability. “Cocaine And Ashes”, THE highlight off of Son Volt’s latest record, was perfectly sad and moving. Personally, I love the songs when Jay sings from a character’s perspective, rather than the cryptic, almost newsreporting he is so strong at. The song may be more about coping with death, but its the fear of life the main character displays that makes me fall in love with this brilliant song.

Another tear-inducing song (am I alone in thinking those are the best ones?) was “Big Sur” from the Ben Gibbard colaboration. Jay breaths new life into Kerouac’s already vibrant words, translates them to another generation. “Methamphetamine”, the one song I was hoping for and my vote for the best song Farrar has ever written, followed. Another song with such true characters, its obvious Jay loves the people he creates in his songs, like all great writers. Everyone can feel the pain of the character’s world in the song.

As the near two hour set wound down, the happiness of the crowd seemed to rise. The guy next to me even lit up a bowl, standing under the No Smoking sign. A weird paradox: acoustic folk music and a weed smoker handing out flyers to a strip club, which even Jay was handed when he left the stage. The set was rounded out with the obligatory, yet fully welcome classics of “Tear Stained Eye” and “Windfall” as well as the lone Uncle Tupelo number, a surprisingly jazzy rendition of “Still Be Around”. The encore brought the Col. Ford Duo back on the stage to play Buck Owens’ “Girl Made In Japan” and Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues”. Jay then shyly waved goodbye to the audience and dissapeared into the night, into the other time period I think he came from.

Jay’s voice had never sounded so good, and not enough can be said about Mark Spencer’s abilities. The two are seemless with one another. While there were some slight difficulty with the audio at the Old Rock House, and the bulk of his set relied heavily on American Central Dust and Big Sur, this was still by far the best show I’ve seen since Bruce Springsteen’s maybe-farewell tour last fall. Thats sayin’ something. (Thanks to the guy who shot this video, I knew he was standing in front of me for a reason).

Down to the Wire
The Picture
Feel Free
Wheels Dont Move
Cocaine and Ashes
Dust of Daylight
Pushed Too Far
No Turning Back
Big Sur
Strength And Doubt
San Fransisco
Bandages and Scars
Breathe Our Iodine
Tear Stained Eye
Damn Shame
Still Be Around
Outside the Door
Afterglow 61
Girl Made In Japan
White Freightliner Blues

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