Revisiting an album as downhearted and determined as the Jayhawks’ “Sound of Lies” warrants having a little fun for balance, and the band had more than a little of that Thursday night at the Turf Club.
Lone-frontman-out Gary Louris led his revived and expanded troupe through three of the more despairing “SoL” songs to kick off the sold-out, two-hour performance, which had been tacked onto Friday’s and Saturday’s First Avenue concerts as something of a warm-up (and goof-off) session. “The Man Who Loved Life” sounded especially lush and lost with Jessy Greene back on violin for these hometown shows, plus newcomer New Yorker John Jackson on mandolin.
After the blustery “Think About It,” though, the music stopped and the shenanigans began. The night’s “emcee,” 89.3 the Current jockey David Campbell, took the stage with a box baring a caricature of Louris – drawn by guitarist Kraig Johnson -- and a big hole for a mouth. Campbell proceeded to draw slips of paper at random baring song titles, which had been written up following a poll of fans on the band’s Facebook page. Sound effects such as a hockey-arena organ, boxing-ring bell and rolling bowling ball were enlisted for effect.
Right away, things got interesting: Besides the obvious standard “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (from the album after “SoL,” 2000’s “Smile”), the box served up the rarer nuggets “Last Cigarette” (a vintage country hit for Billy Walker sung by keyboardist Karen Grotberg) and “Fools on Parade” (a bonus track on the new reissue of 2003’s “Rainy Day Music”).
Some of the slips drawn later in the set included: drummer Tim O’Reagan’s purported first output as a songwriter, “Dog Town;” the Johnson-sung Golden Smog favorite “Looking Forward to Seeing You,” and even an entry that read, “Something by Eric Clapton you’d play at a wedding” (answered with bits of “Lay Down Sally” and, quite humorously, “Cocaine”). One of the more enlightening add-ons was the so-called “Inbred Version” of the “Rainy Day Music” favorite “Tailspin,” which they played after the regular version with a twangy bend akin to the Stones’ “Country Honk” (the remake of “Honky Tonk Women” on “Let It Bleed”). There were some fine moments when the band played things straight, too, especially during O’Reagan’s “Bottomless Cup” – the best side-effect of reforming the “SoL”-era lineup might be hearing that one live again – as well as in the pre-“SoL” favorites “Nothing Left to Borrow” and “I’d Run Away.”
In the end, Thursday’s roulette-style set was reminiscent of the old Golden Smog shows at the 400 Bar – largely off-the-cuff, randomly in-the-pocket, occasionally out-of-tune but consistently a blast. The First Ave shows should be an entirely different thing – probably better, or at least hopefully no worse for the wear.
Tickets are still available for both Friday's and Saturday's concerts. Here's Thursday's set list:
The Man Who Loved Life / Poor Little Fish / Think About It / I’m Gonna Make You Love Me / Last Cigarette (sung by Karen Grotberg) / Last Cigarette / Fools on Parade / Sound of Lies / Nothing Left to Borrow / Big Star / Coffee Shop (Kraig Johnson) / Bottomless Cup (Tim O’Reagan) / Break in the Clouds / Dog Town (O’Reagan) / Eric Clapton wedding jam / Looking Forward to Seeing You (Johnson) / Tailspin / Tailspin “Inbred Version” / Save It for a Rainy Day / Stumbling Through the Dark / Until You Came Along / Two Hearts / Somewhere in Ohio / I’d Run Away ENCORE: Sedan Delivery (Johnson) / Blue