Mark Olson and Gary Louris gave a brilliant performance at the Aladdin Theater last Thursday evening.
Olson and Louris, who fronted the underappreciated Jayhawks as a singing/songwriting duo from 1987 to 1994, played two separate acoustic sets that ran nearly two hours.
With their well-matched, unique voices, Olson and Louris ran through songs from The Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass with ease.
Though the duo went separate ways following the tour for Tomorrow (Louris carried the Jayhawks’ name until last year – subsequent records by the band were strong, but never matched the LPs released when Olson and Louris wrote together), they have reunited for a tour billed as “Together Again.”
And while most reunion tours can feel as contrived as a generic birthday card, this one didn’t in the least bit.
Always in key (think Simon and Garfunkel covering The Band), Olson and Louris played to a packed Aladdin crowd cheering each song from the second the opening chords for each selection began.
As Olson held down the rhythm with simple, melodic chords, Louris occasionally played solos that were filtered through a chorus or distortion pedal.
Other than that, however, it was just simple, great songwriting. No tricks. No deception.
“Less is more” was the order of the night and it was a joy to hear it unfold.
When they fronted The Jayhawks, the two cultivated a sound that was a precursor to one of the most horrendous terms to ever set foot in the rock world: alt-country.
Melding Hendrix with Dylan, murder ballads with The Basement Tapes, Olson and Louris were at the peak of their creativity at the same time that the majority of the bands in rock were beginning to cash in on the “Seattle sound.”
Images of lonesome men and women, lost in some dreamt-up 1930s American town, walked through the lyrics, while folk chords charmingly battled it out with tight rhythm and searing, fuzz-drenched solos.
If it sounds like momentary genius, that’s because it was.
Of course, the rock world basically ignored the LPs.
And by the time that a cult following had developed around each album, Olson and Louris had parted ways.
While Louris kept The Jayhawks rolling, Olson headed out west with his wife Victoria Williams. Releasing a series of interesting, if low-profile, LPs, Olson became heard but not seen.
So, as the duo ran through “hit” after “hit” at the Aladdin last week, charming an eager crowd, the feeling that immediately leaped forth was a mix of excitement tinged with loss.
A classic “what could have been”?
Hope may be around the corner though.
A new Golden Smog (an all-star band featuring Olson, Louris and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy) album, Another Fine Day, is reportedly already in the can.
And considering how delightful it was to hear Olson and Louris run through The Jayhawks’ startlingly impressive back catalog, perhaps it wouldn’t be asking too much out of the world to try and get them to turn this current reunion into a new marriage.