TVD Live: The Jayhawks and Harrow Fair at the Birchmere, 10/11

Talk about rainy day music. The last licks of Hurricane Michael were blowing rain into Virginia soaking the night of The Jayhawks’ return to The Birchmere. And it was the band’s 15 year old album, Rainy Day Music, that dominated the generous 24-song show.

Not just because it contains a lot of the band’s strongest tracks, such as “Stumbling Through the Dark,” “All the Right Reasons,” “Tailspin,” and “Save It for the Rainy Day.” It was also heard a lot because guitarist Stephen McCarthy had driven up from Richmond to join them on several songs. He was with the band right around that era, and the more twangy style from the former Long Ryders guitarist lent a more country bent to the show—though he only brought along his electric, not his steel guitar.

Still, the combination of frontman Gary Louris on acoustic, newest member John Jackson on mandolin, and McCarthy on electric made a strong stringed front—just as the combination of Louris, keyboardist Karen Grotberg, and drummer Tim O’Reagan on vocals created ringing harmonies.

The country slant had Louris surprise Grotberg by suggesting the straight country cover they occasionally do, “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette,” on which she shines both on voice and honky-tonk piano. There was country too in the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Maines solo songs that Louris co-wrote that they also recorded for the newest Jayhawks album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels.

The Jayhawks by now are a solid and reliably strong folk-rocking outfit with so much strong material from which to pick, there is nary a wrong move or a lull. There is also a solid rock center to their live shows with the great electric solos of “Waiting for the Sun.” Because a lot of his cousins from the area had come to the show, O’Reagan was sure to sing a couple of songs, including his “Tampa to Tulsa” (which is also from Rainy Day Music).

Just as the band has shown itself as a reliable backing unit on Ray Davies’ last two solo albums, Louris has become an in-demand co-writer of songs and the show had a few of those from new album as well—including “Gonna Be a Darkness” that he co-wrote with Jakob Dylan for TV’s True Blood (which Louris claims he still hasn’t seen). Louris came out solo to start the encores with “Broken Harpoon.” Miranda Mulholland, the fiddler in the duo that opened the show, Harrow Fair, came out to join the band on the final song of the main set, the keening “Blue.”

Harrow Fair, for their part, were an unusual twosome. With Andrew Penner on growling vocals, atmospheric guitar, and also playing bass drum and hi-hat one-man-band style, they kick out a lot of rootsy sound, though their voices don’t blend that well together. Having just driven down to the show from their home base of Toronto, they brought a few covers in addition to their originals. One was a wrong-headed version of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game.” Another spoke to the rainy conditions as well, Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks,” better known from its Led Zeppelin cover.

THE JAYHAWKS SETLIST
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
Ain’t No End
Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces
Waiting for the Sun
Everybody Knows
Tampa to Tulsa
Stumbling Through the Dark
Backwards Women
Trouble
I’d Run Away
Bottomless Cup
Come Cryin’ to Me
Haywire
A Break in the Clouds
All the Right Reasons
I’m Down to My Last Cigarette
Angelyne
Gonna Be a Darkness
Tailspin
Blue

Broken Harpoon
Need You Tonight
Save It for a Rainy Day
Until You Came Along

HARROW FAIR SETLIST
Told a Lie to My Heart
I Will Be Your Man
Call to Arms
Held Tight
Hangnail
Wicked Game
When the Levee Breaks
Bite the Way

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