|The Jayhawks/Richmond Fontaine/Canyon Ryde - Bristol, O2 Academy - 13th March 2012|
|Written by Russ P|
|Wednesday, 21 March 2012 05:00|
First support act Canyon Ryde are in full swing as I enter the venue tonight. I'm momentarily confused into thinking I'm watching Richmond Fontaine - knowing that they're American - but hearing the cowboy hatted singer talk in a British accent. Phil Lively-Masters has a good voice but I only get two and half songs to appreciate it before they're gone.
I've checked out Richmond Fontaine beforehand on YouTube. They're a good match for The Jayhawks, as were Canyon Ryde but I'm not looking forward to standing through a couple of sets of dreary Americana. I'm only a Jayhawks fan by the skin of my teeth. They have something extra - the pop sensibilities, the strong bittersweet choruses, and the Olson/Louris signature sound that have enabled them to find fans outside of their core genre.
As it happens Richmond Fontaine are rather good. By their own admission they play depressing folk but tonight this stripped down version of long-time friends Willy Vlautin and Dan Eccles do everything to win me over. Vlautin introduces 'Boyfriends' with the words: "Except for one I wish they'd all rot in hell" in reference to men that didn't treat his mother right. On 'Lost In This World' as he sings "I fucked up again. I barely know where I am" I'm not thinking of usual comparisons to bands like Uncle Tupelo but of the alt-folk storytelling of The Eels' 'The Other Shoe' or '3 Speed'. Dynamic Dan, for his part, exhibits an uncanny aura of restraint and playing exactly what is needed to flesh out each song whether that be on pedal steel or wringing every last tasty drop out of his Telecaster.
I've wanted to see The Jayhawks for some time now. It's not often that they venture out of the major cities. And with the band's current 'Tomorrow The Green Grass' classic line-up this isn't an opportunity to be missed. The only possible problem in my mind is what songs are they going to choose tonight having such a breadth of back catalogue to choose from, but I'm revved and ready for this.
'Wichita' from the band's third album 'Hollywood Town Hall' is the opener, though in effect, this American Recordings debut is regarded by many as the band's 'first' as this was the album where most people discovered The Jayhawks. With 'Cinnamon Love' the band come right up to date taking this cut from last year's 'Mockingbird Time' before rewinding back to 'Tomorrow The Green Grass' and 'Red's Song'. And, for the most part, this is where tonight's set is culled from - those three albums. And three great albums they are too. With The Jayhawks-era, devoid of Mark Olson, is skimmed over. Which is a pity. Especially with 'Sound Of Lies' not getting a look-in, as it's one of my favourite end-to-end albums that they've ever made.
'Take Me With You (When You Go)' is the one of the first songs to rekindle the fire and the set highlight comes in the form of 'Blue' which, more than any other song tonight, perfectly encapsulates the band - the perfectly matched dual harmonies of Louris and Olson, the pop choruses that elevate the band above run of the mill Americana and, not forgetting, the musicianship of the band.
Whilst Gary Louris has undoubtedly been my main Jayhawks man due to his vocals, his songwriting and his guitar playing, tonight's performance has an unexpected twist, as it is in fact Mark Olson who is the star performer. It's Mark Olson with the spring in his step and the smile on his face. Suddenly it hits me. I can't imagine The Jayhawks without him. And how did they survive for 8 years without him? And make 3 albums? Live it must have been a drab affair.
So when Louris unexpectedly exalts: "C'mon! Enjoy the ride", it's at odds with his stoic persona and I have to look closely for any sign of a smile on his face. Whether or not Louris himself is enjoying the ride tonight next song 'Tiny Arrows' is a corker. It has the air of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young about it. The harmonies are as sublime as the chorus is subtle. It's one of the best songs from the "reunion" album 'Mockingbird Time'. And on par as a breath of fresh air is the follow-up 'I'd Run Away'.
Deviating slightly from the band's dual vocal approach and from The Jayhawks' discography is a song taken from Mark Olson's solo career. 'Clifton Bridge' could be mistaken as an ode to this city's famous suspension bridge of the same name. It's a song with a dark uncertain edge but ultimately hopeful and poignant.
Gary Louris then gets his time in the sun taking the lead vocals with a song off 'Rainy Day Music' called 'Angelyne'. Biggest cheer of the night goes to a pair of songs from 'Tomorrow The Green Grass'. 'Two Hearts' showcases the considerable talents of Karen Grotberg on piano and 'Miss Williams' Guitar' just about edges it in terms of crowd response. In the absence of Olson, Karen is paired with Louris singing dual harmonies on 'A Break In The Clouds' from the 'Smile' album. I didn't think it was possible but the whole band seem happy and get the crowd clapping along for closer 'Up Above My Head'.
The encore brings the welcome opportunity for drummer Tim O'Reagan to take lead vocals on his song 'Tampa To Tulsa'. The stark black and white lighting, revolving pattern masks and mirrorball all coming together to give a low-key intimacy that I'd have liked to have experienced more of tonight.
Olson, mic in hand, treads the boards to sing one of his Creekdippers' songs 'How Can I Send Tonight (There To Tell You)'. Like seeing a famously spectacled person without glasses Olson seems a little out of context without his acoustic guitar and more like a speaker at TED. 'Waiting For The Sun' is next and a lot of us have been waiting all night for it. It's a great end to the night...if left there. But, like a drunk man who insists on "just one more" the band play one too many bringing it down a notch in playing a song so far out of The Jayhawks repertoire and so obscure that you'd need a flashlight and a shovel to find it.
Like the Eagles The Jayhawks have a solemn mastery of performance with nearly all members lending their vocal talents to the overall sound. Louris' fuzzed up SG and Grotberg's keyboard skills are unquestionable. But, like the Eagles, you have to look hard to spot the rock and harder still to spot the roll.
Photos also by Russ P - www.russellprothero.co.uk
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