Jayhawks – Riviera Theater (Chicago, IL)
Gary Louris’ tenor lilts and lifts, effortlessly exploring a natural landscape, untethered from its familiar mate. He stands as if at home, singing like he means it, but in some soft way — no strain, no pressure. This just is, he seems to say, breathing poetry as if it were ordinary air.
Jessy Greene dances gently forth and back, crosswise to her bow, eyes dreamy-lidded. The lights, the music, the audience — all are entirely in love with her. Marc Perlman’s bass wields inspired punctuation, and — who else is that singing? Keyboardist Karen Grotberg makes a trio of drummer Tim O’Reagan’s vocals and her own. Only antic newcomer Kraig Johnson, packed with manic energy, disturbs the flow, his guitar shining sharp highlights on the melodies.
A packed house flocks the Riviera’s floor and balconies on this second of two nights featuring the Jayhawks and Wilco. An apparently relaxed Louris chews gum as he sings. Three opening songs showcase Sound Of Lies, and a subtle twist on the song “Big Star” reflects the mood. The recorded version strikes a tellingly sour chord near the end, then returns for a triumphant finish. Tonight, the Jayhawks skip the feint and head right for the top. Grotberg’s keyboards sketch an arena on ahead.
The set freely roves the Jayhawks catalog. “Settled Down Like Rain”, from Hollywood Town Hall is barely recognizable in its updated form, as is “Ain’t No End” from Blue Earth. “Waiting for the Sun”, though, seems to find its rightful place in the bigger, more polished sound, as do “I’d Run Away” and “Two Hearts” from Tomorrow The Green Grass.
In the encore, Grotberg’s voice evokes the plainspoken enigma in “Ode to Billy Joe”, and Greene’s violin cries over the bridge. After three more songs, the Jayhawks move to make way for Wilco, but the crowd’s ruckus is rewarded. Jeff Tweedy and Dan Murphy join in on a last song, a new one from Golden Smog’s next record. Louris is nonplused when Tweedy moonwalks during the guitar solo and, sharing close quarters for the vocals, trades kisses with him at the mike.
The Jayhawks have played perfectly in the venerable Riviera, its own grace nobly facing down criminal neglect. Could this music be more elegant? Only if being more heard would make it so. Tonight’s new converts are more apt to be old friends.