TVD Live: The Jayhawks at The Hamilton, 10/8

One plus of The Jayhawks playing the mid-Atlantic is that their former bandmate, guitarist Stephen McCarthy, often drives up from Richmond, VA to rejoin the Minneapolis band, adding some extra country twang and bringing added authenticity to the classic albums the Long Ryders member made with them, 2006’s Rainy Day Music.

His appearance with the band at the Hamilton in Washington, DC Friday was not such a casual reunion—his addition was vital to fill out the band after Karen Grotberg begged off of dates in DC and Philly over the weekend due to a short medical leave.

Grotberg adds a lot to the band, and has ever since she joined in 1992 with thoughtful keyboards and sweet harmonies with frontman Gary Louris. On the band’s latest album XOXO, meant to showcase songs and vocals from each band member (and not rely so much on Louris), she was standout on a couple of songs.

This time it was drummer Tim O’Regan doing most of the harmonies with Louris as well as a couple of songs where he took lead, “Tampa to Tulsa” and a newer one, “Dogtown Days.” (O’Regan’s family was in the crowd, we were told, and there was a singalong to note his recent birthday.)

But McCarthy helped on harmonies as well, though his focus was that pedal steel and electric guitar twang. Still, there was a rockier sound to the all-boys lineup (rounded out by bassist Marc Perlman, who didn’t sing at all). The combination of guitars led to some dizzying heights as on “Waiting for the Sun,” one of a couple songs pulled from their third album, Hollywood Town Hall, now marking its 30th anniversary.

An extra buzz of elation seems to come among audiences at live shows in an era trying to be post-pandemic. So Louris had to beg the crowd to quiet down to sing one of his softer songs, “Sound of Lies” (that was particularly missing the piano backing).

Some of the ballads sounded a little more ragged, but “All the Right Reasons,” dedicated to his wife lined up in the first row of the dance floor, benefited from a sweet three-part harmony. Still, Louris said he wished someone “like Adele, or someone who sells records” would record it.

While most of the selections came from the popular Rainy Day Music with its ringing anthems like “Save It for a Rainy Day” and “Tailspin” (which ended the main set), they might have undersold the decent recent output on Paging Mr. Proust and XOXO. Maybe they’ve just got too many good songs.

The five song encore seemed especially oddly constructed, with two Golden Smog tunes, the first of them by Louris solo, “Listen Joe.” The other one was “Until You Came Along,” which went down well as the finale.

If the Jayhawks needed a weekend of female harmonies, they could have looked no further than the opening act The Mastersons, whose Eleanor Whitmore has an unerring vocal tone. The duo is her and her husband Chris Masterson, but they were joined by her sister Bonnie Whitmore for a few tunes, as the singing siblings have recorded their own duo album during the non-touring down time of the pandemic. An excess of help right under their noses.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
Bitter Pill
This Forgotten Town
Tampa to Tulsa
Everybody Knows
I’d Run Away
Two Hearts
Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces
Waiting for the Sun
Dogtown Days
All the Right Reasons
Save It for a Rainy Day
Sound of Lies
Gonna Be Darkness

Listen Joe
Backwards Women
Until You Came Along

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