Concert Review: The Jayhawks at the Commodore Ballroom

Published on February 12, 2012

By Jacob Zinn

Vancouver got an earful of the American Midwest Friday night as The Jayhawks played their blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll downtown.

The Twin Cities alt-bluegrass five-piece burned through a 20-song set at the Commodore as they neared the end of the Canadian leg of their tour, returning from a four-year hiatus.

Abigail Washburn, a curly-haired, banjo-picking southern belle, opened the show with bluesy songs with titles like “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “If I Had a Shotgun”. Her songs were toe-tappers, not foot-stompers, but she kept her set interesting by singing a cappella tunes from 1938 and reciting lyrics in Chinese.

Thirty minutes later, the Jayhawks kicked off their set with the slow-strumming “Wichita” that got the largely middle-aged crowd on the ballroom floor.

Vocalist Mark Olson played rhythm guitar unplugged while Gary Louris took lead guitar with an electric pulse, delivering mellow, laid-back porch-rockers throughout the night.

They contrasted softer songs like “Two Angels” with the crash bang boom of drums starting “She Walks in So Many Ways”.

But the best crowd reactions came with the singles, particularly “Blue”. The audience sang along, belting out the lyrics “Where have all my friends gone?”

They followed that with the down tempo “Tiny Arrows”, the twangy-soloed “I’d Run Away” and “Clifton Bridge” off Olson’s 2007 solo record, Salvation Blues.

The band themselves were touring on their latest album, 2011’s Mockingbird Time, performing songs like the title track and “Black Eyed Susan”.

But the majority of the set included recognizable tunes for fans, including “Angelyne”, “Two Hearts”, “Miss Williams’ Guitar”, “Smile” and a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head”.

After briefly leaving the stage, the band returned for their encore. Their performance felt more intimate, like the band was jamming in a garage, throwing hits like “Tampa to Tulsa”, “If You Really Want Me To, I’ll Go”, and their first single, “Waiting for the Sun”.

Four years off the road proved to be a good thing for The Jayhawks – it made their return performance that much better. Even if you don’t like country music, at a Jayhawks concert, it’s hard not to have a good time.

Jacob Zinn contributes to the music section of the Polyphonic Pixel. See more of his stuff here.