Bobby Bare Jr. and Jay Farrar may have drastically different approaches to their music, but they do share an irrepressible yen to do things firmly their way. Bare Jr.'s famous dad and long-standing association with Shel Silverstein set the singer down an unconventional alt-country path that produced a collection of quirky, often self-loathing roots ballads with the same whimsical stamp of his mentor. Farrar, since splitting with Jeff Tweedy and Americana rock band Uncle Tupelo, established a clean and understated folk rock aesthetic with a catalog of exceptional releases as Son Volt, elevating the singer to a different realm of the genre and further away from his equally revered ex-bandmate.
It seems natural that Bare and Farrar would eventually collaborate in a setting where they could play off each others' style in a way that allowed their own to shine, and on Friday the contrast was offset with Bare's warm humor and Farrar's finesse. Bare's near one hour opening set--ripe with biting new material, a rarely performed song co-written with Silverstein called "I Hate Myself", and buckets of self-deprecating banter--rightly primed the sold-out crowd for Farrar's elegant performance.
Farrar arrived on stage around 11 p.m. with two exquisitely resonant hand crafted Bill Bonanzinga acoustic guitars, accompanied by fiddle/mandolin/guitar god Gary Hunt (who also plays with Farrar's brother Dade in Rockhouse Ramblers). The pair played effortlessly together through a choice Farrar sampler, including "Barstow" from Farrar's solo album Sebastopol, and "Big Sur" from Farrar's Jack Kerouac inspired record with Ben Gibbard. Unlike Bare, Farrar said little to the audience as he rolled through the set, allowing his rich, well-metered vocals and Hunt's mesmerizing skill to command attention instead.
When "Windfall" and "Tear Stained Eye"--two achingly serene cuts from Son Volt's debut album Trace--entered the ring, Farrar brought down the house and certified the set list as pure gold. The audience was blissful and satisfied, and chief among them was Bare, taking it all in by the stage. The two artists may each have their own stance on alt-country, but with a mutual admiration that is undeniable--a descriptor Farrar called Bare earlier in the evening--the positive vibes were simply catching.