Los Angeles, California
October 4, 2011
It was a slow but inevitable process. A few reunion gigs in 2008 and 2009 by the “classic lineup” reuniting Mark Olson and Gary Louris with Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg and Tim O’Reagan that led to more shows in 2010, and the success of those led to a decision to record an album of new material. That recording, Mockingbird Time, is now being supported by a lengthy tour, kicked off by a couple of West Coast shows, that keeps’ them on the road until March of 2012.
The performance at The Troubadour was a quick sellout, the 300 or so tickets going weeks before the show, and there was a strong sense of anticipation running through the audience. At the end of the night, after a 90 minute, eighteen- song set and a five song encore, the band left little doubt that it was back and better than ever. Mark Olson and Gary Louris have a special chemistry in both their songwriting and vocal harmony, and it was the center point of the show this night. The band has a harder edge live than on record, and with four strong vocalists and a set list that featured the best of the back catalog as well as eight songs from the new record, the show had something for everyone.
If there has been one criticism of the reunited band, it’s in not performing any post-Olson Jayhawks material. But with the setlist touching on all the Olson-based albums, ranging from the opening “Wichita,” to “Two Angels,” “Mrs. Williams Guitar,” “I’d Run Away,” “Waiting For the Sun,” “Red’s Song,” “Crowded In the Wings,” of course “Blue” (of course), and little played gems like “She’s Not alone Anymore” from Blue Earth, you could hardly complain. And in the encore, they did do Tim O’Reagan’s “Tampa To Tulsa” and “Angelyne” from Rainy Day Music, so a few of those songs are starting to creep in.
But the big question this night was, would the new material be as strong as the old? The second song in the set, “Cinnamon Love,” answered that with an affirmative “yes.” “High Water Blues” was the hard rocker of the night, with Olson putting down his acoustic guitar and playing the part of the lead singer. “She Walks in So Many Ways” and “Guilder Annie” both featured Louris on Rickenbacker guitar, giving both a classic Byrds twang. “Hide Your Colors” proved to be another old style classic, and “Tiny Arrows” showed that the two could still write the achingly lovely love song.
The standard version of Mockingbird Time features twelve new songs, but it’s best to spring the extra buck or so for the deluxe version that features two additional songs and a DVD with rehearsal sessions and a song from 1985. It’s definitely a spot-the-influence-on-the-songs album, with the lush harmonies and string drenched songs invoking the spirit of the 1960s. The Byrds influence is strongly felt in many songs, most notably on “Hide Your Colors” and “Guilder Annie.” The folk flavored “Black- eyed Susan” and “Mockingbird Time” are both sung by Olson, and the band cranks it up on songs like “High Water blues” and “Cinnamon Love.” It’s an album Jayhawks fans will love, but probably too tasteful and unfashionable—always their problem in the past—to bring them much of a new audience.
—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, California)