In his formative years, Son Volt's Jay Farrar spent time working on a farm and in a used bookstore. This mix of rustic and introspective elements drives much of his band's gripping emotive sweep but also made its Saturday night show at the 9:30 club somewhat disappointing.
The quartet, particularly the incisive guitar and fiddle lines of Jim Boquist, nailed its chunky alt-country sound, reaching roaring sharpness on "Drown" and "Caryatid Easy." Farrar's throaty, sonorous vocals give the songs their horsepower, and when he leaned in to recast dramatic versions of "Tear-Stained Eye," "Creosote" and the near-waltz tempo of "Windfall," some in the full house closed their eyes and swayed with the cascading melody. The band members were meditative, too: Their onstage movement makes the Grateful Dead seem like aerobic instructors by comparison.
Experiencing Son Volt in a context where patrons swig five-dollar imported beers and chat giddily didn't jibe with Farrar intoning about "driving sunny 44 highway/ There's a beach there known for cancer" in "Ten Second News." Removed from the car stereo or late-night hi-fi, Son Volt was far short of the band's usual transcendence.
Support act Continental Drifters, featuring Peter Holsapple and former Bangle Vicki Peterson, sought solidarity with the headliners, taking as inspiration the bracing folk-rock of early Fairport Convention (they opened with Richard Thompson's "You're Gonna Need Somebody"). With three capable singers, especially Susan Cowsill, they seem capable hitting the high marks they set for themselves.