The Jayhawks at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (London, U.K. – July 18, 2014)
A hot and steamy London night saw the Jayhawks’ 1997 touring band play at this iconic venue in support of the recently released and remastered versions of the Sound of Lies (1997), Smile (2000) and Rainy Day Music (2003). The trilogy includes bonus tracks, alternative versions, demos, live takes, new liner notes and unreleased material from the band’s extensive collection of archives. Original co-founder Gary Louris was the driving force behind the initiative, which has been well received by fans and critics alike. Tonight’s show was therefore highly anticipated by the London audience, which has been loyal to the band in its various incarnations over the years.
The five-piece featured Louris (vocals, guitar and harmonica), Tim O’Reagan (drums and vocals), Marc Perlman (bass), Karen Grotberg (keyboards) and Kraig Johnson (guitar). Johnson was the replacement for co-founder Mark Olson who left the band in 1995 and many fans (yes, me included) still mourn his departure. That is not to take away anything from Johnson but Louris and Olson’s co-writing and harmony vocals created the seminal Jayhawks sound. Olson and Louris have since worked together (Ready For The Flood, 2008) and indeed the original Jayhawks line up re-formed to release and tour 2011’s Mockingbird Time but enough of the history, let’s get down to tonight’s performance.
The 2,000 capacity venue was pretty full and as promised, songs from the three albums augmented by some other, older Jayhawks and Golden Smog tracks made up the ninety minute, twenty song set list. Some of the material has not been performed live for many years so it was a pleasure to hear rarities including “Dying on the Vine” alongside perennials like “Blue” and “Save It for a Rainy Day”. These last two elicited the loudest cheers of the night, as they always seem to do.
Although Louris was front of stage and firmly in charge he was generous in his comments about drummer/vocalist O’Reagan, who took the lead on his composition “Tampa to Tulsa”, and Johnson, who shared the limelight on the co-write “If I Only Had a Car”. Less generous was Louris’ aside about Mockingbird Time, in which he confirmed his distaste for the album – he is on record as saying that he doesn’t think it adds a great deal to the band’s cannon (I paraphrase).
My love of words and lyrics is key to my enjoyment of music, so the sound mix was disappointing because at times the balance was such that the vocals were completely drowned out by the instruments. I have been to this venue before and know that, depending upon where you are situated, the quality of the mix can vary enormously – in my experience, up in the balcony is usually better, but it wasn’t tonight.
The band cantered through the set list with only minimal chatter (from Louris), in effect, just getting on with business and letting the audience hear as many songs as possible in the allotted time. In fairness, he did acknowledge a fan who had travelled from Israel to see the performance. At the end, Louris stepped down off the stage so that those filming with their camera phones, in the front row, managed to get some close-ups.
The Jayhawks are one of my favourite bands and I know that I’ll be booking tickets when they return (in whatever guise) but I’m not convinced that they will ever overcome Olson’s absence. He was such a strong influence and his presence in the band was profound. I miss him.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
The Man Who Loved Life
Think About It
Stumbling Through The Dark
Somewhere In Ohio
Waiting For The Sun
Sound of Lies
Dying On The Vine
Save It For A Rainy Day
Tampa To Tulsa
If I Only Had A Car (Golden Smog)
I’d Run Away
All The Right Reasons
Jennifer Save Me (Golden Smog)
P.S. Mark Olson has recently announced a September 2014 release for his new album Good-bye Lizelle.