Monday, September 04, 2000

Jayhawks earn Americana label

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Many of the so-called Americana bands, those of a country-rock or folk-rock bent, are given the tag for such dubious distinctions as donning western wear or employing phony accents or singing stupid songs about trains.

        If there's one band that embodies what sort of music the convoluted label should be reserved for it's the Jayhawks. In a performance at Bogart's Friday night — that thanks to two encores lasted nearly two hours — the Minneapolis quintet seemed to be channeling the sound and spirit of the forefathers of all this Americana business, the Byrds.

        The music was steeped in country-rock and folk-rock, and the harmonies between Gary Louris, keyboardist Jen Gunderman and drummer Tim O'Reagan had a familiar ring, but the Byrds connection that counted most was well-written, catchy songs.

        Even those among the enthusiastic audience who didn't know all the tunes, such as those from the new album Smile, were singing along by the second time the chorus came around. (Smile, by the way, was produced by rock giant Bob Ezrin, who has done records by the likes of Kiss and Alice Cooper — and it doesn't get any more Americana than that.)

        Mr. Louris, the band's principal vocalist and guitarist, sang songs not of stupid trains, but of the highs and lows of young-adult love, all well-written and all resonating with the crowd. “Blue,” in particular, was a perfect nugget of pop confection, something that should have been the radio song of 1995, the year the band released it.

        As impressive was Mr. Louris' guitar playing. It became clear who influenced the somewhat jagged soloing style that he exhibited throughout the show when the band broke into a great version of Neil Young's “Revolution Blues” during the first encore, sung by guitarist Kraig Johnson.

        In the forth and final song of that encore, “Baby, Baby, Baby,” Mr. Louris was in the middle of another Neil Youngish choppy solo when he jumped onto the floor, into the crowd and kept playing. He then relinquished his guitar to the roadie shadowing him and ran through the crowd and down the stage-left stairs, into the bowels of the club. It would have been a grand end, but the crowd demanded, and received, another encore.


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