The Jayhawks Fly High at Islington Assembly Hall, London
The first of two nights in London, this was a keenly awaited pleasure for what looked, and soon sounded, like an audience of long-standing fans. It’s been five years since the Jayhawks played here and longer still, before that. Last time it was the full original line-up, this time no Mark Olson. Having listened to the latest release, Paging Mr Proust, I suspected this could be the Gary Louris show, which in parts it was, but there was no shortage of vintage Jayhawks moments to remind ourselves just what a contribution they have made over their thirty year life.
And that combination of looking back and forward characterised the show. Paging Mr Proust bears the stamp of Louris in his more indie rather than alt country mode. To paraphrase a quote earlier this year he said that he was a kid from the suburbs who grew up listening as much to Brian Eno as to Gram Parsons. That comes out in the new record and given its representation on tonight’s setlist, the show. Olson’s country influence is long gone. A call from the audience, “Any chance of ‘Guilder Annie’?” (from Mockingbird Time) was met with a firm “not tonight.”
We got our money’s worth. There was little chat until well into the set as the band seemed almost impatient to play as much as they could. The new record was well represented; Leaving the Monsters Behind, Lost the Summer and Ace felt like the new direction whereas Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces bore all the hallmarks of the Jayhawks we know and love; harmonies, Karen Grotberg’s haunting keys, throughout the guitar interplay between Louris and, this time, Chet Lyster, all being held together by Tim O’Reagan and Marc Perlman. Also from the new record was the song that perhaps best describes this version of the Jayhawks, Comeback Kids.
With a back catalogue as extensive as theirs what to include can’t be easy. Highlights were the opener Waiting for the Sun then Blue, Two Hearts, Nothing Left to Borrow and the final song, I’d Run Away. This is nit-picking, it was all good, perhaps a bit heavy on volume and mix but this fine hall could absorb that.
As with the main set, encores came in size; two Louris solos; Settled Down Like Rain, Angelyne, then the band returned with I’ll be Your Key, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and a storming Tailspin.
This was an outstanding show that demonstrated both the durability and creativity of an iconic band. Long may they fly.
And finally, if any of you are reading this ahead of a show with tonight’s support, get there early and see Ethan Johns with the Black Eyed Dogs. Son of the legendary producer Glyn Johns, Ethan is a highly respected producer, mixer and engineer himself, having produced Rainy Day Music among much else, is a very fine guitarist whose set is well worth catching.