Jayhawks – Lounge Ax (Chicago, IL)
Guitarist Gary Louris and keyboardist Karen Grotberg took the stage alone for the opening song of the encore of this rare small-venue appearance by Minneapolis band the Jayhawks. After the first chords, Louris stopped with a laugh. He’d forgotten the words. Fans helpfully hollered. “I’ve been gettin’ by…”, to which he responded, “Thanks…fuckin’ poetry.” What followed was a heartfelt rendition of “Stick in the Mud”, which proved more poignant as a duet, the skeletal instrumentation focusing attention on the vocal harmony.
Fans could not have been so helpful for most of this set. To the delight of those present, the Jayhawks used the hastily arranged acoustic show to have fun, take risks and try out new things. “We were kinda scared to do this,” Louris claimed, but no fear was evident in a performance that introduced Grotberg as a songwriter and bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O’Reagan as lead singers and guitarists. Louris had new tricks, too. Referring to his slide and 12-string — with its price tag still dangling — he said, “You have to know how to play these things. With electric guitars, all you do is turn it up until you fuzz and you sound great.”
Grotberg’s songs were a highlight, full of emotion and detail. New songs and arrangements sampled from a range of genres. Perlman went reggae on the bridge to “Haywire” and donned an electric bass to dress “Dying On The Vine” in a bit of tie-dye. The new “Privilege Of Beauty” could be an R&B romp plugged in. “Someone Will” is a potential full-on rocker, and “Blue Light” sports Beatles harmonies; indeed, three- and four-part harmonies highlighted much of the new material and arrangements.
New covers included Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 hit “Long Long Time”, with Louris’ voice lifting effortlessly to the highest reaches of the moody ballad. Perlman covered the Lonely Ones’ “From Here To Eternity”, and O’Reagan sang Chris Bell’s “You And Your Sister”. As with Grotberg’s songs, O’Reagan’s voice left fans wanting more.
Crowd favorites included “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, “Trouble”, and, especially, “Two Hearts”. Rare treats were “Hear You Cry” (from the U.K. release of Sound Of Lies) and “Water” (recorded for, but not included on, Hollywood Town Hall).
Among the unfinished songs was one Louris introduced wryly as “our No Depression song,” played like a country-rocker all the way back in the ’70s. Its keyboard break revealed a honky tonker lurking in Grotberg’s fingers.