In rare Orlando show, Son Volt prove to be living masters on stage with Duquette Johnston

by

THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
Son Volt and Duquette Johnston, The Social, Nov. 15
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
For a Kilimanjaro of reasons – heritage, quality, historical significance, a seeming chronic allergy to Orlando, etc. – Son Volt has been looming especially large on the calendar even among the usually bountiful autumn concert season. The Jay Farrar vehicle, of course, is the lesser known tine of the fork in the road that was Midwest heroes Uncle Tupelo, the most seminal alt-country acts of the modern era.
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
Farrar’s path may be the far overshadowed one, but there’s a traditional purity about Son Volt that could never be said of the wander and bloat of Wilco. Since their inception more than 20 years ago, Son Volt’s music has essentially been die-cast and preserved in gorgeous amber, staying true to its roots all along. It’s a living snapshot of the alt-country golden era of the ‘90s, one that endures as if none of the trends of the 21st century ever happened. Regardless of what that says about progress, it is an undeniably beautiful place to be and, sure, stay - one that’s much closer to the original and definitive Uncle Tupelo aesthetic.
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
In concert – at last for us and after all these years for them – Son Volt were flawless, masters of their craft and domain. As a lush five-piece replete with organs and pedal steel, they played live with an assertiveness and brawn that wasn’t always there even in their recordings. It’s a gutsy footing that’s especially suited for the new swamp-thick blues currents in this year’s album, Notes of Blue.
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
Regarding their latest work, I think it’s quite good. But given the size of Farrar’s legend, hardly anyone will argue that it’s prime-era Son Volt. Whatever diehards will feel about the blues edge in it (spoiler: it’s legit), the album is a distinctly muscular outing. That’s noteworthy for a band more than two decades into their career, and a great omen for their longevity.
Son Volt at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Son Volt at the Social
On stage, Son Volt today are effortless perfection, a live unit that’s in the kind of top form that doesn’t even need to break a sweat to beam brilliance. They’re true believers who are executing like a dream right now. After watching them, you’ll never mistake the scrap of young try-hards for charm again. And though it may have been an eternity, they made it a performance worth the wait, coming out one last time even after playing an encore just to rip a tight cover of the Velvet Underground classic “What Goes On” before riding off into the ether of history again.
Duquette Johnston at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Duquette Johnston at the Social
Speaking of history, Alabama opener Duquette Johnston, despite little name recognition, has a fairly notable one. He was an original member of Verbena, a Southern grunge band of some accomplishment and acclaim in the late ‘90s. Through that group, he’s linked to another current name – Fat Possum artist A.A. Bondy – who was Verbena’s frontman. Like the solo work of Bondy, Johnston’s own music is decidedly roots-hearted. And as he tells it, he hasn’t played Florida since maybe those Verbena days.
Duquette Johnston at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Duquette Johnston at the Social
Live, Johnston’s songs were rendered with an effective arrangement of two very atmospheric and detailed guitarists, he with his hollow body and his accompanist playing lead and pedal guitar.
Duquette Johnston at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Duquette Johnston at the Social
Duquette Johnston at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Duquette Johnston at the Social
Duquette Johnston at the Social - MIKE DUNN
  • Mike Dunn
  • Duquette Johnston at the Social
It’s a setup that allows his distinctive rawness to shine while granting adequate sonorousness for his moody but expansive music. Their interplay stretches Johnston’s gruff, curious soul across long, lonely hills, making the songs occupy and cling like beautiful ghosts.

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This Little Underground is Orlando Weekly's music column providing perspective, live reviews and news on the city's music scene.

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Email Bao: baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com


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