Anyone who's been there knows he's right, with its gorgeous acoustics, wood-paneled walls and wooden seats, the nearly 100 year old space is a crown jewel for live performance in St. Louis. Thanks to a generous grant from PNC Art Alive, more "Sheldon Sessions," a concert series co-presented by KDHX, will take place in the future.
A little after 8 p.m., Bobby Bare Jr. made himself comfortable. He walked on stage and took off his shoes to play the evening in his socks. Getting ready at the microphone he asked the audience coyly, " Why are you staring at me? Why are you laughing at me?" With the smallish stage and a large room, Bare likely felt he was in the proverbial fishbowl.
Armed with an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a tambourine, which he deftly played with his foot, Bare opened the concert and served as both comedian and musical act. With a mop of brown curly hair and scraggly beard, Bare asked the crew behind the scenes, "Could you make those lights dimmer? I'm not feeling pretty tonight."
The son of country music star, Bobby Bare, he told anecdotes about his songs that quite often mention his hometown of Nashville. No stranger to performing live in St. Louis, Bare typically plays smaller rooms like Off Broadway. Impressed with the hall though, Bare, seeming to angle for a return engagement, advised the audience, "I really like this place. I never knew it existed, but it never knew about me."
Making reference at the concert being played next door at the Fox Theatre, Bare quipped, " Maybe if we get real quiet we can hear the Australian Pink Floyd seeping through" and proceeded to play the opening bar to "Wish You Were Here." He continued referencing a story about his ex-girlfriend and his trip to rehab in 1992 and launched into "Don't go to Chattanooga."
While his set was a little short due to the stories between songs, Bare won over the crowd with his genuine and self-deprecating humor; after his set, a crowd of people gathered around his merch table.
After 20-plus years on the stage, the Belleville native Jay Farrar is still a reticent performer. He lets his lyrics speak for him and demonstrates his emotions via his musical performances. A stark comparison to Bare's sly humor, Farrar, the serious artist, took the stage in all black -- shirt, jeans and boots. From beneath dark brown hair, bangs covering eyes, Farrar immediately launched into his first song, "Down to the Wire" with no introduction.
If Bare's common denominator in his lyrics was Nashville, then Farrar countered with a theme of highways. At times, while he played, the feeling of traveling down a rural two-lane highway, not unlike the famous Highway 61, flowed through my thoughts: a car with its windows down and wind whistling past were always at the front of my mind.
Weaving a thread through his solo work ("Feel Free" and "Barstow"), collaborative pieces with other artists ("Big Sur and San Francisco") and with his band Son Volt, Farrar gave the audience a nice career overview focusing on his recent compositions while hitting highlights from the past. After a few songs, Farrar told the crowd, "It's good to be back playing music in St. Louis."
Gary Hunt, a St. Louisian best know for his work with the Rockhouse Ramblers, Swing DeVille and now Colonel Ford, accompanied Farrar throughout the show. Playing his Fender Telecaster much of the time, he also added mandolin, a little fiddle and harmony vocals. Hunt added rich textures to Farrar's songs with his country licks and even mixed in a bit of slide guitar work.
During the main set, Farrar focused on the last Son Volt album, "American Central Dust" and added doses from "Okemah and the Melody of Riot" and "The Search." Near the end of the main set he brought the audience back to the 1995 classic "Trace" for the Columbus Day protest song "Out of the Picture" and stunning versions of "Tear Stained Eye" and "Windfall" with Hunt helping along on vocals.
Saving his surprises until the end, Farrar wore his influences on his sleeve. Here he brought out fiddle player Justin Branum to add extra color to these songs. Keeping with his theme Farrar started the encore with the new song, "Down the Highway" likely to be included on a new Son Volt record due later next year.
He introduced "She's More to be Pitied" as a Stanley Brothers song, but the song has its roots in a song by William B. Gray titled "She is More to be Pitied than Censured" from 1894. Using the same tune and theme, the Stanley Brothers fashioned a song about a fast-living young girl who wrecks her reputation by drinking too much.
Farrar went back to his own roots by playing the Uncle Tupelo standout "Still Be Around," a track celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. Hunt added a beautiful electric lead from his guitar as Farrar sang and strummed along. Not one to follow a trend, this is as much '90s nostalgia as Farrar will allow.
As a perfect end to his theme, Farrar ended the set with another cover as he took the audience "out on the highway to listen to them big trucks whine" for the Townes Van Zandt classic "White Freight Liner Blues." Hunt and Branum dueled between guitar and fiddle lines.
Over the course of 24 songs and roughly an hour and forty minutes last night, Farrar stole away our minds from our thoughts of everyday life and a packed Sheldon Concert Hall enjoyed every minute.
Jay Farrar setlist:
Down to the Wire
When the Wheels Don't Move
Highway and Cigarettes
Dust of Daylight
Hanging Blue Side
Strength and Doubt
Out of the Picture
No Turning Back
Hoping Machine (likely title for new song from the Woody Guthrie project)
Tear Stained Eye
Bandages & Scars
Down the Highway (new song)
She's More to be Pitied (Stanley Brothers)
Still Be Around
White Freight Liner Blues (Townes Van Zandt)
Bobby Bare Jr. setlist:
I'll Be Around
Visit Me in Music City
Don't go to Chattanooga
? "there's a calmness in the way you laugh"
Rock and Roll Halloween