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Together again for the first time: (l-r) Mark Olson and Gary Louris.

photo:Martin Benjamin

Mark Olson & Gary Louris of the Jayhawks
By John Brodeur

The Egg, Feb. 26

There must have been something in the water out in Minneapolis back in the mid-’80s. Might have been alcohol, actually, if the careers of the Replacements and Soul Asylum are any indication. That would also explain the number of booze-themed tunes on the self-titled 1986 debut album by the Jayhawks—songs like “The Liquor Store Came First” and “Six Pack on the Dashboard” set the tone, both figuratively and literally, for Uncle Tupelo to turn up a few years later, essentially launching the alt-country genre.

It was the plaintive, earthy harmonies of the Jayhawks’ chief figures, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, and their laid-back, Byrdsy folk-rock that eventually defined the group’s sound. Sadly, it’s been almost 10 years since they rode the sunny Sunday-morning sound of “Blue” to the peak of their success; Olson left the band in 1996, forming the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers with wife Victoria Williams, while Louris carried on, continuing to make well-crafted twang-pop under the Jayhawks name.

The bygone decade became but a distant memory when Olson (elastic and celebratory) and Louris (lanky, yet stoic) took the stage at the Egg’s Swyer Theater. The chemistry was undeniable as their voices came together on the line “I found tomorrow was a friend of mine” early in the first set, while a reverent, sold-out audience basked warmly in the glow of what once was and what was thought could never again be. Tomorrow is now today, and this reunion couldn’t have sounded any sweeter.

The duo, backed by the precise drumming of Ray Woods and Creekdipper Mike “Razz” Russell’s tasteful fiddle, delivered exactly what the audience came to hear. That, of course, meant a generous selection of songs from the Jayhawks’ heyday: the bulk of breakthrough albums Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, plus a handful from 1989’s Blue Earth and their aforementioned debut.

But for all the times the show felt like a Jayhawks revue, some of the most arresting moments came when the show retraced the widely different paths the two have followed. Sure, this meant some clumsy anti-Bush-administration rhetoric from Olson, in the form of a few loose-limbed blues jams (“Poor GW” and “George Bush Industriale”) and the deceptively sweet-sounding “End of the Highway,” which disguised a miniature diatribe against Donald Rumsfeld as a shuffling country-waltz. But it also meant a few fine tunes from the latest Creekdippers release December’s Child, including the Zombies-esque “Say You’ll Be Mine,” the duo’s first post-Jayhawks songwriting collaboration.

Also of note were the selections from Louris’ post-Olson Jayhawks releases, particularly those from 2003’s Rainy Day Music. “Save It for a Rainy Day” sounded tailor-made for this lineup—Olson commented loudly about having a good time with that one; crowd-favorites “Angelyne” and “One Man’s Problem” were equally as wonderful.

But the meat of the set came from songs like the opening “Pray for Me,” where the band could just sit back and let the breezy harmonies carry the audience’s spirits. Contemplative tunes like “Settled Down Like Rain” and “Commonplace Streets” let the band show off their flexibility, the latter featuring Olson on fuzzed-out, fingerpicked Stratocaster, and a mean triangle (no joke) by Woods.

As cliché as it might sound, the theater acted as a fifth band member, allowing for the perfect relationship between the stage and PA volumes. Each player was able to step forward when needed and seamlessly recline back into the mix; the group as a whole turned back the master-volume knob whenever Louris would invest himself in a harmonica solo or plainly stated lead-guitar turn. Olson’s bass guitar was just loud enough onstage that it leapt forth during his forays up the neck, as at the end of “I’d Run Away,” while Russell proved himself an enormous asset, flavoring each song with plucked violin or choppy piano blocking (or soft-stroke bass whenever Olson moved to the keys).

Nowhere was the duo’s pairing of sterling songcraft and gold-plated harmonies more evident than on the night’s three-song encore. “Take Me With You (When You Go)” is as good an example of the band’s distinct sound as any, if not a candidate to represent an entire genre, and their Grand Old Opry-worthy versions of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and the show-closing “Five Cups of Coffee” brought it all back home. Just two old friends revisiting long-uncharted territory, and making it all sound new. Here’s hoping they don’t let another decade slip by before doing this again.



photo:Kathryn Lurie

We’ll All Fit In

Dave Gutter, lead singer and guitarist for Paranoid Social Club, extoled the virtues of sex, drugs and rock & roll to a packed house at Saratoga’s E. O’Dwyers Friday night. In the spirit of practicing what they preach, the three-man band wound their whiskey-soaked way through each of the last two PSC albums, but closed with “Combustible,” the track that put the band’s previous incarnation, the seven-piece Rustic Overtones, on the nation’s radar. Gutter and PSC bandmates Jon Roods and Marc Boisvert are expected to make their major-label debut in the near future, so their rowdy fans can expect many more opportunities to “get fucked up and wasted” with the Maine-based trio.

 

—Rick Marshall

 

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