Back in 1995, when I was deep in the throes of NME-addled, Britpop-lovin', Noel-and-Liam-fueled Anglophilia, the Jayhawks' "Blue" somehow pierced my consciousness enough that I went out and bought Tomorrow the Green Gas--about as far from the sounds coming from Old Blighty those days as you can imagine. I still don't know how to explain the anomaly, but now, more than 10 years later and to my continuing surprise, I finally saw the original songwriting team for myself.
Gary Louris and Mark Olson, Great American Music Hall, May 8, 2006: I have a thing for seeing singer/songwriter types away from their usual band, especially in an acoustic setting. There's nothing like hearing a song at its most basic to remind you of where it starts and how far it can go. Granted, it doesn't always deliver the same punch, but it's a chance I'm willing to take.
I won't pretend to be any sort of authority on the Jayhawks. Other than the earlier exposure mentioned above, they're one of the bands that I stumbled upon in my post-Wilco conversion. Fortunately, I got to see them at the Fillmore, though I stupidly passed up the chance to attend a Golden Smog show a few years ago. Still, unlike with many of the so-called No Depression bands, I latched on to their harmonies and rootsiness.
For the show tonight, the Great American Music Hall set out tables and chairs to create a mellow, uncluttered feel, and onstage were two stools for the night's troubadors. There were no openers, so Gary and Mark joined us posthaste. They went fairly light on banter, but their very demeanor fostered a relaxed, cozy feeling. I can't tell you much about the setlist, except that they played a fine mix of songs. They went heavy on the old stuff, as you might expect, but they also hit a few later Jayhawks titles, and Mark sounded right at home on the Rainy Day Music tracks. The funniest part of the night was probably when a woman yelled out "Blue"--as if they wouldn't have played it otherwise!
Gary and Mark's songs, even electrified, aren't known for their pyrotechnics, and accordingly, I didn't expect revelations. But the two of them sound so good together that I'm kind of ashamed of my last statement. When it comes down to it, I'm a pop (in the Biblical sense) girl at heart. I love angular guitars, mixed-up syncopation, and novel takes as much as anyone, but when you have a great combination of voices, words, and instrumentation--no matter how basic--the rest of the world tends to fall away.