With the stars-of-fame outside First Avenue currently being repainted, it looked as if the Jayhawks were campaigning to make theirs the first local name to go back up on the walls.
The pioneering alt-country band had not played their hometown rock haven in more than five years. It had been 15 years since they performed there with original co-leader Mark Olson, who quit the band in 1995. One could practically smell the nostalgia in the air at Sunday's show -- the second in a three-night stand -- and it was much sweeter than paint fumes.
Instead of playing all their standard tunes, though, the quintet offered up a two-hour concert filled with hidden gems and way-old nuggets. It was a sharply different set list than they played at the Basilica Block Party last summer, which was the first local reunion by the Jayhawks' mid-'90s lineup, featuring Olson, singer/guitarist Gary Louris, bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O'Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg.
No doubt, the goal was to vary the First Ave performances from night to night. Also, last month's reissue of their little-heard 1986 debut ("The Bunkhouse Album") seemed to spur the band to dig deeper.
Thus, in place of familiar favorites such as "Waiting for the Sun," "Two Angels" and "Over My Shoulder" (all forsaken Sunday), the concert featured long-shelved tunes including "Ain't No End," "Will I Be Married," "King of Kings" and the opener "People in This Place on Every Side." Instead of the radio-polished single "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" -- which itself would have been a surprise, since it came in the post-Olson era of the band -- Louris dusted off "Someone Will," an early version of that tune with a different chorus.
At times, it felt like the band was playing to 12 super-geeky music fans instead of all 1,200 audience members. That especially seemed the case when it threw in a fairly obscure cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet's "I Don't Want To" without explanation. (At an Electric Fetus in-store gig Friday, the band played two "Sir" Doug Sahm tunes and Olson told fans, "You'll know everything you need to know about the Jayhawks" by listening to a Sahm album.)
No explaining was required to appreciate the night's other surprise cover, "Lights," by Olson's former wife, Victoria Williams, which the group recorded for a 1993 "Sweet Relief" tribute/charity album. (They also paid homage to her Sunday with Olson's "Miss Williams' Guitar.") "Lights" epitomized Sunday's concert, and maybe the Jayhawks in general. An unsung classic, it oozed a warm spirit while showing off Louris' uncanny, pedal-steel-styled electric guitar work and the two singers' natural-sounding harmonies. (They weren't perfect all night, though; "Red's Song" and "Clouds" sounded a bit off.)
With the band's standard version of Grand Funk Railroad's "Bad Time (to Be in Love)" and its own oft-covered classic "Blue" providing balance to the set list, the stars aligned onstage Sunday even better than on the walls outside.
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