It may be true that you can’t go home again, but by revamping Son Volt — which played its first Gotham gig in its current incarnation Tuesday night — Jay Farrar has proven that it’s possible to assemble a new domicile that goes a long way toward assuaging any wistfulness for days gone by.
Playing in support of its new Legacy album, “Okemah and the Melody of Riot,” which hit stores the day of the perf, the band showed a bit of rust early on, a problem that was exacerbated by the absence of regular guitarist Brad Rice, who was unable to make the one-off show.
Farrar and fill-in guitarist Chris Frame took a while to get into sync; versions of the stirring-on-disc “Six String Belief” and “Gramophone” offered plenty of bluster but little passion. Mid-set, however, the quintet pulled a Jekyll and Hyde, tearing into “Medication” — one of the highlights from the new disc — with a palpable fury that carried through the next half-dozen songs.
Perhaps due to the sweaty setting, the newer material lost some of its nuance. Farrar has always had quite a fondness for Woody Guthrie — Okemah, Okla., is the name of the folk legend’s birthplace — but he has never waved that flag as robustly as he’s doing these days. “Jet Pilot,” which takes certain D.C. denizens to task for playing fast and loose with their own military history, as well as the lives of current uniformed forces, cut through the haze stridently, though, largely due to its decidedly unsubtle structure.
Farrar opted to change course for the 70-minute show’s encore, proffering a melancholic solo version of “Tear Stained Eye” and bringing the band back out for a rare cover — a surprisingly down-and-dirty version of R.L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South.”
While Son Volt stopped short of delivering the “melody of riot” promised in that new album title, the new lineup proved much more capable of kicking up a fuss than its predecessor. If Farrar can harness that ability a bit more consistently, they might yet provide a soundtrack to propel some marching, charging feet.