The band he cultivated while former UT cosongwriter Jeff Tweedy nurtured his Wilco has birthed an admirably multitextured new CD, The Search (Sony/BMG), full of songs seeking insight amid post-9/11 wartime ("The Picture"), soullessness ("Automatic Society"), drugs ("Methamphetamine"), and other trad forms of escape ("Highways and Cigarettes").
"I probably read too much current events in the paper," Farrar, 40, says from St. Louis. "And some of those topical issues do find a way into the writing. 'The Picture' is a song like that. There's a line 'War is profit / Profit is war,' and that's kind of being borne out by companies like Haliburton moving to the Middle East where the money is being made."
The title song seemed to best tie together his thoughts about this moment. "I mean, I didn't want to call it Methamphetamine!" he says, gracefully allowing that, yup, Uncle Tupelo once lived together, subsisting on ramen, and contrary to rumor, their house did not have dirt floors.
Farrar isn't working "Handy Man" territory yet, but it's safe to say his partying days are behind him. He's currently reading S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones, about the band's somewhat infamous 1972 tour, though not for inspiration for his own travels. "Heh-heh, it can definitely be used as a reference point. I think most people who have done as much touring as I have tend to get that out of the way the first couple years. Eventually, you find rhythm that works."
What's working for him now is playing with a band, a new lineup that includes keyboardist Derry deBorja, who can replicate everything from a banjo to a flute. "I guess having a band," Farrar says with no little irony, "is the one true way to make sure that no one mistakes you for someone that came from American Idol." *
GRASS ROOTS RECORD CO. SONGWRITERS REVUE
Fri/30, 7 p.m., $5 suggested donation
2318 Telegraph, Oakl.
With Spindrift and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound
Sat/31, 9 p.m., $12 advance
Hwy. 1, Big Sur
Fri/30, 9 p.m., $25
1805 Geary, SF