With the opening guitar chord and organ pump of "Wichita," the Jayhawks immediately threw something of a curve ball at their hometown fans Saturday at First Avenue. The song choice confirmed they wouldn't be playing the "Hollywood Town Hall" album in order -- with "Tomorrow the Green Grass" to follow the second night -- as they had done for the other two-night stands on their short tour that winds down tonight (tickets still available). No biggie, except in the case of Minneapolis, the band's reunited mid-'90s lineup with Mark Olson had already rolled through relatively standard mixed-bag set lists over three nights last summer at First Ave. So the question remained if and how they were going to keep things fresh for the local diehards.
They started answering that about half way through the nearly two-hour set, when Gary Louris set down his seemingly inseparable Gibson SG and picked up a Rickenbacker (quite a big shift in guitar-geek terms). This was his instrument of choice for the three brand-spanking-new songs performed Saturday, the first of which was a playful and slightly poppy but still rootsy ditty called "She Walks in So Many Ways." That was followed a few songs later by the darker and hazier, Neil Young-like rocker "Black-Eyed Susan," and then they offered up the folkier "Gilder Annie" in the encore. All told, the three newbies suggested the upcoming album (slated for a summer release) should be quite a varied and complex collection, as Louris and Olson hinted in our interviews three weeks ago. Granted, the songs were a bit rough and tepid performance-wise Saturday, but it was nonetheless a thrill to hear 'em-- sort of the final confirmation that the Jayhawks have re-entered the building. Two B-sides featured on the new reissues, "Warm River" and "No Place," also helped distinguish the show from last summer's set lists. The latter nugget was nicely dedicated to the band's original (and vaguely Broadway Danny Rose-like) manager Charlie Pine.
Of course, the usual, nostalgic, singalong, walking-on-down-the-road aspects of Saturday's show still held plenty of charm. In Dylanesque fashion, they played a little loose with some of their best-known tunes, resulting in somewhat flat, unfulfilling versions of "Nevada, California" and "Real Light." But the extra-spirited spins through"Red's Song," "Tomorrow the Green Grass" and "Blue" were especially rousing, and having "Ten Little Kids" back for a pre-encore finale was a genuine hoot. The crowd also cheered with approval as Tim O'Reagan started up "Tampa to Tulsa" to kick off the encore, serving as a reminder that there are plenty of songs off the post-Olson Jayhawks albums that fans would like to start hearing again. No matter what, though, the band clearly won't have a shortage of songs to keep things fresh from here on out.
Wichita / Pray for Me / Real Light / Red's Song / Nothing Left to Borrow / Tomorrow the Green Grass / Two Hearts / Settled Down Like Rain / Nevada, California / She Walks in So Many Ways (new song) / Warm River / Blue / I'd Run Away / No Place / Miss Williams' Guitar / Black-Eyed Susan (new song) / Bad Time / People in This Place on Every Side / Waiting for the Sun / Ten Little Kids ENCORE: Tampa to Tulsa / Gilder Annie (new song) / Clouds