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The Jayhawks Sound Ageless at The Bowery Ballroom

June 16th, 2016

The Jayhawks – The Bowery Ballroom – June 15, 2016

The Jayhawks - The Bowery Ballroom - June 15, 2016
It’s inspiring that Gary Louris and the Jayhawks can still do this: hit that sweet spot where good-time rock and roll, sweet-and-sour folk and scuffed country are the same music and hold on that spot for the duration of an entire show. You find yourself embracing the voices, but it’s as much the vibe, too—those mesmerizing, Everlys-style harmonies laid on a Flying Burrito Brothers bed, but with the frayed edges of ’90s alt rock present to keep things from getting too comfortable. Louris himself—surrounded by a further-revised version of the band that includes Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg and new guitarist Kraig Johnson—is making age work for him.

Louris’s singing sounds a bit more lived in, but as he and the band peeled off songs last night at The Bowery Ballroom like “Waiting for the Sun,” “Leaving the Monsters Behind” and “Stumbling Through the Dark”—the first three to begin a 25-song evening—it’s clear that he’s become the gritty veteran troubadour he could only nod toward when he was a much younger man. Even the Jayhawks classics, from “Blue,” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass” to set-closer “I’d Run Away,” have a more knowing, perhaps pragmatic tone than they once did, made that much more potent by the fact that the singer, 20 years or more later, now knows these things he thought to be evident, rather than speculated. Give Louris this, as well: That Jayhawks sound stayed remarkably consistent, right up through this year’s guitar-y, gently experimental Paging Mr. Proust, one of the band’s best albums.

That newer material—“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” “Ace,” “Isabel’s Daughter”—nestles comfortably among the old, with fewer emotional triggers for a crowd weaned on classic-era Jayhawks albums like Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, but in time, becoming of a piece with those decades-old tunes. Indeed, throughout this very sold-out show, Louris and Co. seemed to draw on as many Jayhawks flavors as possible to demonstrate the common thread, from “Tailspin,” which was served up roadhouse-Dylan style, almost a fist-pumper, to “Settled Down Like Rain,” which Louris delivered solo, plus “Tampa to Tulsa” and “Angelyne,” each with an assist from opening band Folk Uke. The Jayhawks—and Louris, personally—have been through a lot of changes since those heady days of Hollywood Town Hall. But shows like this one confirmed what we always suspected about the band back then: The Jayhawks’ sound is ageless, and their mission is a sure one, even as time marches on. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com