Friday, October 28, 2011

The Jayhawks Live At The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA, October 22, 2011

As good as Gary Louris is The Jayhawks were never quite the same band without his partner and co-founder Mark Olson so it's good to see the latter back in the lineup after a long absence of more than a decade. The duo recently revived the highly regarded quintet who rocked out in front of a packed audience last Saturday night at the old Keswick Theater, a locally famous, art deco, former movie venue in the suburban Philadelphia village of Glenside.

The lineup for the evening consisted of the best supporting cast Louris and Olson ever assembled during the band's long history. In addition to Louris on electric guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals and Olson on acoustic and lead vocals the band included original members Marc Perlman on bass and long-time songwriting member Tim O'Reagan on drums. He and Karen Grotberg, their keyboard player during their glory years, also helped out with the singing.

The set started off a bit unpolished and the sound mix wasn't what it should have been, but it only took a couple of songs for the band to find their groove. Once they did the Minneapolis outfit offered the very appreciative crowd a whole night of duets with strong harmonies on almost every tune, something most rock bands either can't or won't do.

The Jayhawks are about the songs, not musical showmanship. Louris is a fine lead axeman but his solos were quite brief. He seldom improvised and he played it fairly close to the vest all evening, never straying too far from the original arrangements.

Louris and O'Reagan sang on a couple of the group's latter day songs with the drummer even taking lead on one. The two main frontmen did quite nicely on a cover of the moldie oldie "Love Hurts" but the rest of the evening appeared to focus on the group's just released, self-written CD, Mockingbird Time and their two critically acclaimed masterpieces, Hollywood Town Hall (1992) and Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995).

The set list included "Blue," "I'd Run Away," "Take Me With You (When You Go)" and much more. A big surprise was a fine rendition of "Miss Williams Guitar" a song about Olson's ex-wife, folkie Victoria Willliams. Missing were "Waiting for the Sun," "Bad Time," and "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me."

Neither Olson nor Louris spoke very often during the entire gig. They seldom announced the names of their songs and they never even introduced the band, two things they need to improve on.

Overall the veteran roots rockers gave us a concert worthy of their reputation and no one returned home disappointed.

The evening opened with a brief set by a former Grammy nominee, Tift Merritt, whose seemed to please only a few in the crowd because her songs all came from the same mid-tempo frame of reference. She needs more inspiration to hold your interest despite the fine pedal steel player who accompanied her.

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