LIVE: Jay Farrar @ The Egg, 2/7/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Let’s face it, singer-songwriter Jay Farrar is not a charismatic performer. He doesn’t deliver any gyrations or gymnastics in the spotlight or on his guitar. He pretty much just stands there and strums his six strings at a deliberate, slow-to-mid tempo and sings his songs in a sweet, slightly clenched, country drawl.
He doesn’t talk much between tunes, either, which was a bit of a disappointment, as his concert at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre in Albany last Saturday night was billed as a career retrospective, and it would have been nice if he’d chatted just a bit about the hows or whys of any of the nearly two dozen songs that he churned his way through during his short, 75-minute performance. But that was not to be…
Which left the songs to stand on their own. And for most part they were sturdy, country-centric songs that focused on road-weary troubadours and the struggles of down-trodden folks who have fallen on hard times. (In fact, he included a reworked version of Stephen Foster’s classic “Hard Times.”)
Just a year and a half ago, Farrar was at The Egg for a full-band Son Volt performance, and fans might have hoped that his more intimate show on Saturday – backed only by multi-instrumentalist Gary Hunt – would have allowed him the opportunity to showcase something a little different. But 16 of the 22 songs that he played came from the Son Volt songbag, and he had played 13 of those 16 the last time he was at The Egg.
As a founding member of Americana pioneering band Uncle Tupelo, Farrar is a bona fide godfather of the alt-country scene, but he dipped into the Uncle Tupelo songbag only twice – for the shifting time signature of “Grindstone” (bolstered by some very tasty steel guitar licks from Hunt) and the encore of “Still Be Around.” Not much of a career retrospective, I dare say.
Hunt did his best to mix things up sonically by playing steel guitar, fiddle (highlighted by an extended Cajun-style intro to “Hearts and Minds”) and mandolin (adding some spark to “Highways and Cigarettes”) throughout the evening, as well as electric guitar, but there was still a certain unavoidable sameness to Farrar’s songs.
Anders Parker opened the show with a 40-minute solo set book-ended by an equine theme – the opening “72nd Street Horses” and the hard drive of the closing “Horses Running Over the Hills.” In between, the highlights included a gem of a love song (“Second Skin”) and “Fly High,” that he and Farrar culled from the lyrics of Woody Guthrie. Unfortunately, Farrar didn’t join him onstage…
JAY FARRAR SET LIST
Hard Times (Stephen Foster)
Strength and Doubt
Highways and Cigarettes
Down the Highway
Back Into Your World
Hearts and Minds
Yellow Walls (Jackson C. Frank)
Tear Stained Eye
Still Be Around