TVD Live: The Jayhawks at The Birchmere, 4/23

The latest recordings from The Jayhawks come as backing band on the new Ray Davies album Americana, which came out the same weekend the venerable Twin Cities band played The Birchmere. The band hasn’t exactly become the Kinks in the meantime; the Jayhawks’ latest release, Paging Mr. Proust has many of the same tuneful, expressive songs they’ve been producing for more than three decades.

They didn’t play any Davies stuff in the show, but it reminded music lovers that dreamy songs like “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Save It for a Rainy Day” are right in the sunny ballpark with “Waterloo Sunset.”

It’s been a bit of a struggle for the band that began with two chief songwriters. By now, the band seems to have solidified with largely one—lead singer Gary Louris, after Mark Olson’s departure and brief return didn’t work out. The generous show demonstrated though that drummer Tim O’Reagan not only fills in most often as harmonizer with Louris these days, he’s also been contributing a few of his own songs, including “Tampa to Tulsa” and “Bottomless Cup.”

With touring guitarist Jeff “Chet” Lyster off the tour and on the mend following surgery, the second guitar spot is being filled by John Jackson, who also happens to be the A&R guy who hooked up the Davies connection. But Louris takes up a lot of the stinging leads himself, to good effect and the rest of the band—Marc Perlman on bass and Karen Grotberg on keyboards and O’Reagan’s drums perfectly framing the songs, whether they were spare ballads or all out rockers.

The good news is that newer Louris songs such as, “Quiet Corners & Empty Places,” The Devil is In Her Eyes,” and “Lovers of the Sun” fit in just fine alongside “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” with which they opened or “Waiting for the Sun,” which sprawled like the lost Buffalo Springfield song it seems to be. While a handful of the cuts on Paging Mr. Proust ended up being performed, it is the 2003 classic Rainy Day Music to which they most returned, to the crowd’s delight.

As the band nears the end of its long tour, they said they’re playing looser with the setlist, playing “Smile” by request from a long distance fan, and later in the long encore, another song they hadn’t rehearsed from that same album, “A Break in the Clouds.” That was the one song that not only had the most country twang, but the best duet with Grotberg.

Louris had started the encore out solo acoustic on “Settled Down Like Rain,” and then was joined by Jackson for mandolin backing on “Angelyne.” “We’re not a folk band, we’re not a country-rock band,” Louris said. “But since we’re in a folk club we’ll play this cover.” It was Tim Hardin’s timeless “Reason to Believe,” which they’ve played before on the tour (and probably beat their other go-to cover, Grand Funk’s “Bad Time”). The band closed with the rocking “Until You Came Along,” which Louris first sang as part of the Midwest supergroup Golden Smog, with Jeff Tweedy and Jody Stephens among others.

Opening the show was Johnny Irion, who was in town just the weekend before as part of the big Pete Seeger salute at the Kennedy Center with his wife, Sarah Lee Guthrie. He poached a couple of Jayhawks to aid him in his short set, and though he was officially introduced to back one of the headliner’s songs, he kept sneaking back on stage, to play tambourine, add an acoustic guitar or the odd harmony. Clearly, the guy wanted to be part of the band. But who wouldn’t?

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
The Man Who Loved Life
Leaving the Monsters Behind
Stumbling Through the Dark
What Led Me To This Town
Lovers of the Sun
Save It for a Rainy Day
Tampa to Tulsa
The Devil is in Her Eyes
Two Hearts
All the Right Reasons
Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces
Bottomless Cup
You Look So Young
I’d Run Away

Settled Down Like Rain
A Break in the Clouds
I’ll Be Your Key
Reason to Believe
Sister Cry
Until You Came Along

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