Mark Olson and Gary Louris are probably too earnest to be naturally comfortable as front men and that’s fine because none of the nerds and bald IT coneheads who filled Dublin’s Button Factory last Tuesday to see the Jayhawks were there to see if either of them could match Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in the sarky stakes. They were there to hear two remarkably complementary and melodic voices sing magnificent songs that for a time were lost to all of us – in a live setting at least.
Though Louris – who still looks like one of the Coen brothers – and Olson played a show together in Whelans in November 2008 to promote that year’s wonderful Ready For the Flood, this was the Jayhawks first Dublin show since they played The Olympia in 1997 and their first with the classic line up of Louris, Olson, Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, and Tim O’Reagan since they played the Tivoli in 1995.
The well-balanced set kicked off with Hollywood Town Hall’s magnificent Wichita and finished with their cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s Bad Time, a song they made their own on 1995’s Tomorrow The Green Grass. In between we were treated to a set that was drawn predominantly from those two albums alongside a number of tracks from last year’s return, Mockingbird Time. The band had been travelling since 5am from the UK to make the show and didn’t let the sleep deprivation – in evidence when Louris forgot the name of the support act – affect their performance.
Alongside Uncle Tupelo and descendants Son Volt and Wilco, The Jayhawks are regarded as being the true pioneers of the alternative country movement – whatever that is. Hollywood Town Hall is a classic of any rock ‘n’ roll genre and while its successor Tomorrow the Green Grass may have had the Beatlesque classics Blue and I’d Run Away it didn’t have its consistency. Disillusioned with the commercial demands of being on a major label Olson quit the band in 1995 to settle with his then wife Victoria Williams in the Californian desert when the band seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough that didn’t happen.
Those left behind to pick up the pieces put together 1997’s Sound of Lies, a more straightforward album that many regard as the best released under the Jayhawks moniker. Mojo magazine rated it five stars out of five, calling it the best breakup album recorded since Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights. The split with Olson, along with Louris’s divorce, weighed in to make it an unusually intense and harrowing listen.
We didn’t get anything from Sound of Lies the other night but the band surprised the members of the audience who hadn’t looked up previous set lists in advance by playing the well-received A Break in the Clouds from Smile along with Rainy Day Music’s Angelyne and Tampa to Tulsa – all originally recorded minus Olson. Not to be outdone Olson’s Clifton Bridge from 2007’s Salvation Blues provided the moment of the evening. If any evidence were needed that Louris and Olson aren’t the same without each other this was it. Louris’s harmonies added so much to what was already a very good song.
On an evening where we discovered that Roddy Doyle is also a fan, and that Gary Louris’s mother is from Cork, we got some great music from a revered but neglected band who could easily have been forgotten. A great band that up until recently many of us had given up all hope of ever seeing live. It was nice to have been there.