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I feared the cheerful Christmas lights decking the stage at Belly Up would be too incongruous to the sepia tones of rust-belt Americana act Son Volt, but the band tore through their set with an intensity that suited the rainy weather and shrugged off the festive decor.

Behind singer-guitarist and Son Volt figurehead Jay Farrar, their secret weapon on this night was Brit guitarist James Walbourne, who was on loan from the Pretenders. Walbourne’s haunting leads gave older numbers ("Ten Second News," "Tear Stained Eye") new life and new tunes (show starter "Down To The Wire" and "Jukebox of Steel" from this summer's American Central Dust) fresh-from-vinyl immediacy. A show highlight was "Cocaine and Ashes," Farrar's tribute to Keith Richards, for which Walbourne switched to lap steel and multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer slid from his keyboard bench to play a pedal steel guitar, giving the already mournful tune a graveyard vibe that would chill “Keef” himself. Farrar then sampled his upcoming tour with Ben Gibbard, singing "Big Sur" from Kerouac documentary soundtrack One False Move and I'm Gone.

Limited to a short set due to a second (unrelated) show at the club that night, the band played one encore, a Stones-y take on Doug Sahm's "I'm Not That Kat Any More," and were gone. Unlike (former Uncle Tupelo partner) Jeff Tweedy's Wilco, Son Volt probably will not love you, baby. But, they will make you a memorable rainy December night.

  • Concert: Son Volt
  • Date: December 13, 2009
  • Venue: Belly Up Tavern
  • Seats: Floor
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