The sun still shines. The rain still falls. And everything’s alright forever when Mark Olson and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks sing together. Thank goodness for small consistencies. Something to bank on in these uncertain times, ya know?
Such was the case Saturday night at a nearly sold-out McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square, where a very appreciative crowd drank in a stellar performance by the recently reunited alt-country pioneers from Minnesota. Long overdue, warmly received and definitely reaffirming in its “return to form-ness,” the quintet’s Charlotte visit was, simply, top flight.
The band blew into town in full-on reunion mode: Olson’s back after bailing in the mid-1990s due to the familiar “burned-out on the grind” factors; there’s a new CD, the excellent Mockingbird Time (a rich, complex effort that although lacking in the immediate hook/pop gratification department, yet gets better with each listen); and a long string of well-received shows in the U.S. and Europe this past year, with more to come.
And, yes, all the “not missing a step,” “it’s like they never left,” and “they sound as good as always” platitudes surely do ring true for this appearance.
Not that I expected anything less. The melancholic northern heartland co-lead vocals of Olson and Louris were never going anywhere, trust me. Whether they’re on different sides of town or different side of the globe, Olson and Louris share something so beautifully right, something seemingly created by divine inspiration, that it’s not ever likely to up and disappear overnight. Or next year. Or the next 20 years. They’re like twin sons of different mothers, brandishing slightly nasally and twangy co-croons that although not quite shining examples of technical/schooled prowess, are pure magic. Now things are just a little greyer, the edges slightly rounded off now, but no way less satisfying.
Musically, things were impeccable. The quintet’s robust 2011 touring schedule has no doubt helped it hone its slightly stoic mix of folk-rock-country that helped launch the alt-country/Americana sub-genre and inspire thousands of musicians in the early 1990s. The old tunes cranked right up like a reliable 1950s classic car kept snuggly in the heated garage, while the new Mockingbird Time tracks benefited from the shot-in-the-arm energy the live stage can provide.
TOP-10 SHOW MOMENTS
1. New songs: Out-of-the-oven fresh, warm and toasty, from the bewitching “Tiny Arrows” and the taught “Cinnamon Love,” to the plaintive “Black-Eye-Susan,” and Rickenbacker jangle of “She Walks in So Many Ways.” Another highlight: “Closer to Your Side” and its 4-part harmonies, invaluably aided by drummer Tim O’ Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg, plus Olson’s acoustic guitar solo (rock it Mark!)
2. “Witicha”: The opener, a great track from the band’s seminal Hollywood Town Hall release and a great choice to kick things off, all “la-la-la, in one morning, you will beeee
3. “Love Hurts”: Opener Tift Merritt joined the band for an excellent cover, helping create an oh-so-sweet Emmylou Harris/Gram Parsons vibe. Total winner.
4. “Blue”: Their big hit, and always the crowd-pleaser. Hook-y sing-along goodness that never fails to deliver.
5. “Up Above My Head”: Olson puts down his acoustic guitar and gets down on the mike like a badass soulful front-man. Well, as badassly and as soulfully as a middle-aged folkie from Minneapolis’s frozen tundra can get, ha. And hearing him sing the “I really do believe there’s a heaven somewhere” refrain while looking up at the McGlohon’s Jesus Christ-adorned stained glass was just too perfect (Wonder if he noticed too? As for the McGlohon, the band seemed to honestly dig the venue.)
6. “Settled Down Like Rain”: Another big winner off “Hollywood Town Hall,” and another of the band’s “rain” songs; it’s easily one of their most standout tracks (in my mind).
7. “Take Me With You (When You Go)”: See #6, this one nicely buoyed by keyboardist Grotberg’s Hammond XK-3c parts.
8. “Waiting for the Sun": See #7, this one a nice snapshot of the Olson-Louris vocal dynamic.
9. “Tampa to Tulsa”: Drummer O’Regan’s introverted original, one of those love song of the “road-weary missing you” variety; It nicely slowed the tempo/pace.
10. “Take Me With You (When You Go)”: More expert Hammond work from Grotberg, coupled with Gary Louris’ Neil Young-styled blasts of guitar fury.
Closer to Your Side
Take Me With You (When You Go)
She Walks in So Many Ways
Tampa to Tulsa
I’d Run Away
Hide Your Colors
Miss Williams’ Guitar
Break in the Clouds
Waiting for the Sun
Up Above My Head
Love Hurts (with Tift Merritt on vocals)
Five Cups of Coffee
Settled Down Like Rain
Clouds (not played)