Jayhawks – The Backstage (Seattle, WA)
Theyd been there for years, those gaudy silver spray-paint stars splashed across the northern and western walls of First Avenue/7th Street Entry, the legendary double-venue situated in the center of Minneapolis and at the heart of the Twin Cities music scene. It was a vintage Minneapolitan touch, a graffiti-style punk-rock takeoff on the bronze-and-concrete slabs embedded in Hollywoods Sidewalk of Stars.
The building has been a home base for all the local heroes from the Replacements and Husker Du, who spent many an early 80s midnight blowing the roof off the tiny Entry cubbyhole to Prince, who filmed scenes from Purple Rain in he spacious main room on the First Avenue side. Youd find their names, and hundreds of others, both well-known and obscure, scrawled upon those silver stars outside, documenting the artists who had graced the space within. Even Gram Parsons had his own star, though the likelihood that he actually played the room seems questionable.
The Jayhawks, however, had certainly played more than their fair share of gigs in the building. Once a green bunch of upstarts trying to convince Entry crowds (and perhaps themselves) that country music was cool, the band grew over the years into a main-room attraction on the strength of the remarkably talented and compatible songwriting team of singer/guitarists Mark Olson and Gary Louris. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, they found themselves movinon up to the digs across the street the mammoth Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team opening a show for Bob Dylan.
A couple of days later, Olson announced he was leaving the Jayhawks. And within the same week, the stars that had long adorned the walls of First Avenue/7th Street Entry were covered with a fresh coat of paint. Just like that, a historical monument erased forever. Just like that, one of the best songwriting duos of our generation, over and done.
* * * * *
Two weeks previous, the Jayhawks had come through Seattle for their first club shows here in what seemed like forever. They had been here twice in 92, first opening for the Black Crowes at a 5,000-capacity arena, then opening for Soul Asylum at an 1,800-seat theatre. In 93, they opened for Chris Isaak at the state fair out in the suburbs. Earlier in 95 they opened for Tom Petty at an amphitheatre on the Columbia River in the middle of nowhere. All good gigs, but all too short, and often too far away to be worth the trip for a half-hour set.
` Finally, this was it. Two nights at The Backstage, a modest-sized club that holds about 500. The Picketts opened the first night, and Kitchen Radio, a Seattle band featuring a couple transplanted Minneapolitan pals of the Jayhawks, opened the second night. This would be heaven.
Sometimes expectations get the best of you, and I had forgotten at first that the Jayhawks arent exactly the most exciting live performers. They get onstage, they play their songs not much more to it than that.
But soon enough it becomes clear that when you write songs as Louris and Olson, thats all you need to do. Especially when youve got a solid, talented cast of players backing you. And especially when the singing can lay all the emotions on the line Olson, plain and true; Louris, high and lonesome. Together, their voices soar and sigh and whoop and pray as they reach for that golden moment, where surroundings fade away and leave us here, eyes closed, lost, yet found.
Thats the way it felt as they strained to hit the lofty notes in the chorus of Blue, wondering where all their friends had gone. As they wrapped hopeful harmony around forlorn melody in Over My Shoulder, needing to be loved when their older. As they implored a friend to stick around for the ride in Nothing Left to Borrow. As they cut to the chase in the middle of Two Hearts: I……..am lonely, too.
* * * * *
It was well worth going both nights, even without knowing at the time that it would be the last chance to see Olson and Louris in the Jayhawks together. The set lists varied by more than half-dozen songs: We got Id Run Away, the unforgettable pop classic from Tomorrow The Green Grass, on Monday night, and then Settled Down Like Rain, the even more unforgettable pop classic from Hollywood Town Hall, on Tuesday night. The second night was overall the better of the two shows, particularly in the encore, which included Marc Perlman taking his turn at vocals for Dylans You Aint Goin Nowhere.
At press time, the Jayhawks future plans still looked unclear. The only thing certain is that without Mark Olson, itll never be the same. Then again, Wilco and Son Volt have reminded that time marches on after the end of a beautiful thing, and new treasures can grow from it.
But it was good to see the Jayhawks at their best, at long last, one last time. If only to wave goodbye.