Home again with The Jayhawks

Written by Josh Mintz / Photos by Josh Mintz

November 22, 2011

I listen to music about eight hours a day. In the car on the way to work…all day at work…on the way home from work…it’s always on. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I remember marveling at my dad’s amazing record collection at a young age; my favorite being his Sgt. Pepper’s picture disc. In lieu of a cover, the jacket had a clear window and the album actually had the cover imprinted on the vinyl. I remember getting my first ever 45″ (Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), and my first tape (Michael Jackson’s Thriller – I was clearly a Jacko fan, but who wasn’t?), and my first CD (Pink Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds).

Through my formative years, I bounced from genre to genre. I listened to classic rock, acoustic folky stuff, and rap, and even went through a brief Nine Inch Nails phase for a year or so in college. Through all of it, though, there was one constant: The Jayhawks.

 

I’m not sure what it was about The Jayhawks that sucked me in, but I have a ton of memories tied to that little band that could from Minneapolis. In the mid-90s, they were the first band I remember seeing at a club — The Music Farm in Charleston, SC — during high school. I got into trouble when I got home because it was way past curfew, but there was no way we were going to leave before the band had finished playing.

I remember the first time my then-girlfriend (and now wife) came to visit me at home and meet my parents the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, listening to Tomorrow The Green Grass on the way back from the beach and then again when we got to my parents’ house, falling asleep to the soft but twangy sounds of “Blue.”

I remember moving to Memphis in May of 2003, and seeing a tour date the band had for July 4, on the roof of the Gibson Guitar Factory. It wasn’t the original line-up (Mark Olson had left the band at the end of 1995), but the sound I had grown to love was still there. It was a good show, and at the end, fireworks lit up the Memphis sky — from the roof of the building, we had the perfect view.

The Jayhawks have been a part of me for nearly 20 years, so I couldn’t have been any more excited to hear that the “classic” line-up had reunited, recorded a new album, and would be showing up in Memphis on their latest tour.

It’s got to be tough for a band to pick back up after nearly two decades, like things haven’t changed. Fortunately it was an amicable split; Olson left on good terms, and the band has played together from time to time. Olson and Gary Louris briefly toured in ’05, and recorded an album together in 2009. So, the musical connection was still there, however dulled it may have been by time.

That said, Mockingbird Time, the band’s new album, is great. It’s got the familiar sound, maybe a tad more refined, even. I was excited to hear the new material live, but a small part of me would have been fine if the band showed up, played Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass from front to back, and left.

By the end of the night, I had a huge grin on my face. It was a show nearly two decades in the making, and it was, at least for me, as good as it could have been.

From the opening notes of “Wichita,” there were smiles on more faces in the room than my own – from the several hundred fans to the band members, teeth were visible everywhere. The harmonies and the rustic, rootsy music teleported the audience to a special place.

The band wasted no time in getting to the new music; “Cinnamon Love,” a stand-out track from Mockingbird Time, was a powerful statement: to the quality of show, the meat behind the new material, and the overall state of The Jayhawks. It had a ballsy guitar line, and the dual lead vocals of Louris and Olson were as strong as they ever were.

While the band rightfully pushed the new songs, the classics were in abundance on the setlist. From “Take Me With You” to “Blue,” the band played what the audience wanted to hear with few missteps. Louris’s guitar solos seemed to get a tad sloppy at times – he maybe pushed himself a little too far – but not to the detriment of the overall quality.

“High Water Blues” was probably the strongest of the new songs – it was edgy at times, but really stood out when the band settled into a nice spacy section where the entire band was locked in together. Marc Perlman was settled into the pocket on bass, Tim O’Reagan was providing a great backbeat on cymbals, and Louris really used reverb and his wah-wah pedal to maximum effect. Over the top of it all, Karen Grotberg added colorful touches on keyboards.

If any track from the new album gave “High Water Blues” a run for its money, it was “Tiny Arrows.” Again powered by the dual lead vocals, the tune would have fit on any previous release. It’s as timeless as the songs the band is known for, which is a testament to the band’s staying power. They’ve found a formula that works, and don’t stray very far, because there’s no need. It works. The albums after Olson left deviated from formula, but now that he’s returned, it’s back to business as usual. In fact, over the course of the show, the only material that the band touched on that was made sans-Olson — “Angelyne,” “Tampa To Tulsa,” and “A Break In The Clouds” — all the flavors of the “classic” line-up.

The band closed their set with the traditional, “Up Above My Head,” with the entire band sharing vocals. It was a pretty powerful way to close the show. After the requisite encore break, they returned to the stage and ceded vocals to O’Reagan, who delivered a stellar version of the aforementioned “Tampa To Tulsa.” Olson put down his guitar for “How Can I Send Tonight There To Tell You,” a tune from his Creekdippers project, and then the band thanked the audience before ending the show in perfect fashion — “Waiting For The Sun.” It was a perfect show ender for a nearly perfect show.

The Jayhawks weren’t on stage long…maybe an hour and a half. But, in that hour and a half, I saw a band with heart. I saw a band that put their soul into their work, and that’s all I ever want. I was teleported back in time. It was a show I had been waiting years for.

I left with a smile. You can go home again.

 

Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show by Josh Mintz