Playing a concert originally scheduled for late winter of 2022 (but postponed due to COVID infections in the band), Son Volt finally made it to Salt Lake with a show at The Commonwealth Room on Tuesday, Aug. 2. In support was Jack Broadbent, a sub for the originally-slotted opener, Old Salt Union’s Jesse Farrar.
It’s Hip to Have a Hip Flask
It was a minute, maybe two, after 8 p.m. when opener Jack Broadbent arrived onstage in an all-black outfit, sitting down on his amp for the duration of his set. With a good portion of the audience assembled on the smoking patio, he ripped through a few chords, paused, thanked the small crowd and noted that he had merchandise for sale in the lobby. That bit of dry humor was present throughout his opening set, which involved a lot of chit-chat with the railbirds assembled just in front of him. An amiable guy, Broadbent was able to blend his good sense of humor alongside a uniquely modern yet traditionally respectful take on the blues.
A native of Lincolnshire, England, Broadbent has six albums to his credit, including his latest Ride. Adding classic, time-tested blues cuts to his original material, Broadbent’s voice and guitar style more than satisfied those longing for a straight-ahead blues set, though he also bent into singer-songwriter territory on a couple songs. This created a diverse, compelling 40-minute appearance during his first show of a week’s worth of gigs with Son Volt.
The charming and self-assured Broadbent had the room listening at pin-drop level, fully enchanting the early birds before heading out to the lobby for those promised merch sales. Which, of course, included a personalized hip flask, fully lining-up with his self-described “rhythm-and-booze” style. Those who arrived late surely missed out, though it’s assumed here that the talented Broadbent won’t be a stranger to touring (and winning over) the U.S.
Giving Us a Break
As a quick compliment, I’ll note that Son Volt took the stage and played their first notes at the promised 9 p.m. start time. Too many local shows of late have seen interstitial breaks of 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even longer. With little equipment to change over, Son Volt were ready, able and willing to allow their fans a moment to stretch their legs before launching into their own 100 minutes of the evening’s entertainment. Appreciate it!
And Speaking of Stretching Legs
Let’s note up top that Son Volt’s not a band given over to showiness or theatricality. Founder, songwriter and frontman Jay Farrar said maybe 200 words to the audience over the course of this show (including a shout-out to Red Iguana and their many moles) with half of those spoken during a brief moment of technical adjustments for drummer Mark Patterson. Reliant on the strength of the songs (which date back to the mid-‘90s) rather than straight-up, play-to-the-crowd showmanship, the group’s content to remain hyper-focused and precise in their instrumentation and stage approach. At one point during the group’s three-song encore, guitarist John Horton wandered a couple of feet from his pedal board, which was as wild and spontaneous as things got on this evening.
This isn’t to say that the band’s not compelling in their own right.
The group—which also includes longtime Farrar collaborators Andrew DuPlantis on bass guitar and Mark Spencer on keyboards, guitar and steel guitar—has an obvious chemistry. Pulling songs from their 10-album catalog, including 2021’s Electro Melodier, the band mixed-and-matched songs from different eras, to the obvious delight of longtime fans, including known Son Volt winners such as “The 99,” “Drown” and the night’s closer “Chickamauga,” a song dating back to Farrar’s pre-Son Volt band, Uncle Tupelo. Also heard during the encore was “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which was infused with enough originality to make the track feel vital. (To be fair, those of who grew up on the popular Guns N’ Roses version of the track might have different feelings about this song than contemporaries from Dylan’s day-and-age; forgive this Gen X musing!)
Son Volt is a hard-working band of veterans playing a no-frills style of rock/Americana that’ll always have a place on the touring circuit (for as long as Farrar finds interest in sharing his songs in the live setting.)
A few hundred Utahns were treated to a fine night of rock ’n’ roll on Tuesday, via a mid-career band playing stellar songs wed to a high, high level of professional musicianship.
A Quick Personal Aside
Son Volt’s home base is St. Louis, where I lived until moving to Utah this year. Family needs have me moving back there shortly, so Son Volt was my last touring show to take in as a full-time resident here. Almost-impossibly, due to Son Volt playing dozens of shows in/around St. Louis for the past 28 years, I’d never seen the group live. As Farrar’s songs can direct your emotions into a degree of melancholy, this gig was special, a tad bittersweet, but also hopeful. Thanks be to Jay Farrar & Co. for keeping this rock ’n’ roll unit on the road.