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Stage Buzz – Review: The Jayhawks

| October 24, 2014 | 1 Comment

Jayhawks1-Louris-ELBEL

The Jayhawks
House of Blues
Chicago, IL
10/11/2014

Led by vocalist Gary Louris with his cherry red Rickenbacker, celebrated alt-country band the Jayhawks launched a new tour supporting their Universal vinyl reissue campaign at House of Blues in Chicago. The show began with the 12-string jangle of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from 2000’s Smile album. Despite one nerve-rattling false start due to problems with the sound system, Louris covered any rough edges with wisecracks and high spirits throughout a show that was loose, but good-natured.

Local fans had thrilled to last year’s tour focused on the rekindled partnership between Louris and co-founder Mark Olson represented by 2011’s Mockingbird Time. The pair’s signature folk and Everly Brothers harmonies weren’t present at House of Blues during songs from 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall including “Settled Down Like Rain,” but keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan joined their voices with Louris in tight, three-part folk harmonies during later material like “It’s Up to You.”

The essence of the show was built around a different high-water mark in the Jayhawks catalog. With smiling guitarist Kraig Johnson (dubbed “Mr. Positive” by Louris before playing “Save it for a Rainy Day”) and reliable bassist and founding member Marc Perlman, the lineup represented the crew that made and toured 1997’s Sound of Lies album (as well as Smile). Songs like “The Man Who Loved Life” sprang to life.

“When’s the last time you heard that one,” asked Louris after concluding “Think About It.” “It’s been a long time since we played that one here.” With strong agreement from the crowd, Louris concluded by saying that he thought it sounded pretty good.

“This is a tight ship we’re running here,” said Louris later as Johnson fussed with a capo. The show wasn’t dialed in to perfection, but the players seemed happy to be back on the job.
“We’re the new wacky Jayhawks,” quipped Louris at one point, following a Monty Python reference. “It’s the first show of our tour. We’re very excited and nervous.” The band flashed frequent grins around the stage. Grotberg bantered with devout fans up front who shouted song requests.

The element that most distinguished the Jayhawks from its Americana peers was Louris’ gift for composing unusual melodies that were anything but roots by rote. Following Perlman’s tumbling bass intro for “Dying on the Vine,” Louris’ vocal traveled the familiar ground of a country lament, but ventured into surprising twists and keening high notes.
If there was a secret weapon, it was O’Reagan’s reedy harmonies on songs like “Trouble.” O’Reagan took lead vocals on “Bottomless Cup” and “Tampa to Tulsa,” sounding particularly strong on the latter. The song counted another mile closer to the comforts of home.

Grotberg had plenty of room to shine as well. Her piano elevated “Stumbling Through the Dark,” and her Hammond organ during “Somewhere in Ohio” recalled the key role of Benmont Tench within Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Her harmonies swelled to fill the room during a breathtaking version of the lush and encouraging “Smile.”

“This song features the indie rock super fuzz,” said Louris, introducing the melancholy but rowdy “Take Me With You (When You Go).” He spit firecracker leads from his guitar accompanied by Johnson’s deep twang, and blew harmonica from a neck rack on “Angelyne.” Louris recalled early Jayhawks visits to Chicago including a visit to the Cubby Bear before playing the battered but hopeful “Big Star.”

Local hero Pat Sansone of Wilco and The Autumn Defense joined the Jayhawks on guitar during signature song “Blue.” His contribution, however, was somewhat lost in the din of a joyful audience that shouted down the band and sang every word.

A cover of Golden Smog’s “Lookin’ Forward to Seeing You” was dedicated to Sue Tweedy in the audience. The band dipped back into their 1989 Twin/Tone release Blue Earth for “Ain’t No End.”

The Jayhawks’ set wound down with the tender “All the Right Reasons.” “It’s the sensitive side of the Jayhawks,” said Louris. The band finished with a full-tilt rocker, however. Sansone joined Grotberg at the keyboards and played piano during the spine-tingling drama of Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery.”

The show touched on the hallmarks of the Jayhawks’ sound, while demonstrating its own evolution. The Byrds, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and other key players along the country, folk and rock axes echoed through songs like “Tailspin.” Not that the supportive crowd needed to be reminded, but the quality of the band’s generous 26 song set suggested that the Jayhawks merit inclusion in the pantheon of roots-rock greats.

SET LIST:

01 I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
02 The Man Who Loved Life
03 Settled Down Like Rain
04 Trouble
05 Think About It
06 Stumbling Through the Dark
07 Take Me with You (When You Go)
08 Angelyne
09 Bottomless Cup
10 It’s Up to You
11 Somewhere In Ohio
12 Save It for a Rainy Day
13 Waiting for the Sun
14 Looking Forward to Seeing You [Golden Smog cover]
15 Dying on the Vine
16 Haywire
17 Blue
18 Big Star
19 Smile
20 Tampa to Tulsa
21 I’d Run Away
22 Tailspin
[Encore]
23 Tailspin (Inbred version)
24 Ain’t No End
25 All the Right Reasons
26 Sedan Delivery [Neil Young cover]

– Review and photos by Jeff Elbel

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Category: Featured, Stage Buzz, Weekly

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  1. Bruce says:

    Nice work, as always!

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