Thursday, January 20th, 2011
Hollywood Town Hall
The Jayhawks at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangMy affection for The Jayhawks goes a long ways back, but not quite far enough. I became a fan around ’96, when I got a copy of Tomorrow The Green Grass via the old BMG Music Club – remember that? – by which point co-frontman Mark Olson had already left the band. Which meant that the only Jayhawks I got to experience in real-time was the second incarnation of the band, led solely by Gary Louris. And so while I appreciate why folks refer to the lineup that made Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall as the “classic” lineup, I will always rise to the defense of any of Smile, Sound Of Lies or Rainy Day Music should someone try to diminish their worth.
That said, seeing Olson centre-stage at The Phoenix on Tuesday night fronting the reunited Jayhawks on the occasion of the deluxe reissue of those two timeless records, it was impossible to deny there was a certain kind of magic about the show generated by the reunion of he and Louris. Most obviously it was there in their vocals and the way their harmonies interlocked – as good as they sounded individually it was like their voices were meant to be together for always – but also in the way their guitars played off one another, Olson’s acoustic rhythm and Louris’ searing electric leads reminding that they played both sides of the country-rock tag equally and just that undefinable but undeniable chemistry between them. I’d seen the Louris-led Jayhawks in this same room back in 2004 and a short Olson solo in-store in 2007 and both more than stood tall on their own, but together with their old bandmates and those songs? Wow. If you ever want an example of two artists who just belong together, it’s them.
As befit the occasion, the hour-forty-five set stopped the clock at 1995 (save for a short excursion to 2003 when drummer Tim O’Regan sang “Tampa To Tulsa” from Rainy Day Music) and showcased broad swathes of Tomorrow The Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall along with b-sides from the aforementioned reissues, as well as going back to their self-titled debut for a few and airing out some new songs from their just-completed new record. While it’s too early to comment on the quality of the new songs, they certainly had that vintage Jayhawks feel about them which, as far as first impressions go, is all anyone can ask. And as good as it is that The Jayhawks are intent on being a creatively active concern, on this night the fans were out to hear the old stuff and they got it.
The execution wasn’t always perfect – there were some off-harmonies, some missed cues, and by the show-closing jam on “Lights” the band’s tiredness was showing – but the spirit of the evening, both the celebration of their works and the gratitude that so many had come out to witness their return, more than carried them through those patches. Even though they promised a return engagement later in the Summer after their record was released, this first night of the tour and the official return of The Jayhawks was a special, singular occasion.
Photos: The Jayhawks @ The Phoenix – January 18, 2011
Video: The Jayhawks – “Save It For A Rainy Day”
Video: The Jayhawks – “Big Star”
Video: The Jayhawks – “Blue”
Video: The Jayhawks – “Waiting For The Sun”
Video: The Jayhawks – “Settled Down Like Rain”
Myspace: The Jayhawks
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