If walk-on music is any indicator of a band’s mood, the Jayhawks seemed to be out for a good time Saturday at First Avenue. They took the stage to the tune of their own tune, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” as it sounded this summer performed at a Boston Red Sox game by Fenway Park’s house organist and Jayhawks fan Josh Kantor. Gotta love a guy who makes one of the world’s coolest jobs even cooler.
There were plenty of smiles and a few quips after that, but the most remarkable thing about Saturday’s sold-out show was how much the Jayhawks really got down to business. They diligently tore through 26 songs in two hours, including six new songs. Even more than when Gary Louris and the band’s former co-leader Mark Olson temporarily reunited around the 2011 album “Mockingbird Time,” this was the first Jayhawks hometown in a long time that wasn’t primarily about nostalgia.
Louris and his core unit – keyboardist Karen Grotberg, bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O’Reagan -- are headed into the new year with a new album in the can, co-produced with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and reportedly due in April (via an ongoing PledgeMusic campaign). They also had a new band member in tow on Saturday, John Jackson, who co-produced their recent trio of 1997-2003 album reissues and ostensibly replaced that era’s guitarist Kraig Johnson.
Jackson only served as a guitarist part-time, though, and spent just as much time on either mandolin or fiddle. His fiddling especially added some rich new melodic tones in oldies such as “I’d Run Away” and “Smile,” while Louris himself spiked “Waiting for the Sun” with a lengthy, Neil Young-esque guitar intro. A few of the deeper ’97-’03 cuts also gave the show some fresh spirit, including “Broken Harpoon,” “Queen of the World” and “Think About It.” The latter song’s theme about suicide hit Louris again via a friend’s death recently, he said, and he urged others in a downward spiral to get help.
As for the new songs, the show opened with a rather straight-ahead, melodic and anthemic one titled “Leaving the Monsters Behind.” The rest were peppered throughout the set. “Lost the Summer” was more of a left turn, boasting a fun, Big Starry southern boogie fueled by Grotberg’s rollicking piano parts. “Lies in Black and White” was also atypical, a slow burner with a dour and seething tone that was dramatically paired with “Sound of Lies” in the second half of the set. So much for the jovial take-me-out-to-the-ballpark vibe.
Here’s the full setlist. And below that is a recording of that sweet walk-on music..
Leaving the Monsters Behind (new song) / Stumbling Through the Dark / All the Right Reasons / Think About It / Nothing Left to Borrow / Lost the Summer (new song) / Bottomless Cup / Waiting for the Sun / Queen of the World / Lovers of the Sun (new song) / Angelyne / Pretty Roses in Your Hair (new song) / I'd Run Away / Tampa to Tulsa / Lies in Black and White (new song) / Sound of Lies / Save It for a Rainy Day / The Devil Is in Her Eyes (new song) / Smile / Blue / Tailspin
ENCORE: Broken Harpoon / Trouble / Take Me With You (When You Go) / I'm Gonna Make You Love Me / Baby, Baby, Baby