Written by Traci Rogers
Nov 19, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Minnesota’s Jayhawks rocked Houston’s House of Blues Saturday night along with opening act and Houston native Jolie Holland. Houston was privileged to serve as the last stop on the 2011 Mockingbird Time tour, the showcased album wherein all original members reunited after 15 years to record what many believe is the band’s best work since 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. In fact, guitarist Gary Louris told Rolling Stone this past September that MBT is really a continuation of TTGG.

“I drove here from Austin to see them reunite!” said Ray Busby, minutes before his favorite band took the stage. “The first time I saw The Jayhawks was 25 years ago at what was the Liberty Lunch in Austin, you know, before the town began redeveloping, and Matthew Sweet opened for them,” the 49 year old gold trader said while grinning ear to ear. Because of various conflicts, Busby did not see The Jayhawks at Austin’s Paramour Theater earlier this week. After glancing at his watch, Busby quickly disposed of his cigarette and added one final comment before returning to his seat: “I don’t care if I’m out of space on my I-pod, I will choose the Jayhawks over all of the others. I’m so happy they’re back together; they’ve just got that vibe!”

With no introduction other than a “Check, Check, Check” microphone test, the Jayhawks humbly entered the stage, took possession of their instruments and lit a fire under the spectators’ feet (or behinds) with “Wichita” from the 1992 Hollywood Town Hall. In his trademark head bandana and juxtaposing, casual business attire, Mark Olson led the band straight into “Cinnamon Love,” a tune from the latest CD which tends to weave serious, minor-keys that eventually blend into a light, coasting, circular chorus.

I have to agree with other listeners in that Mockingbird Time is a creeper. As Billy Cox said before the Saturday night performance, “I had to listen to it three or four times before I could really enjoy it.” Likewise, after listening to the album six + times, I have been waking in the mornings with “Guilder Annie,” “Black Eyed Susan” and “Tiny Arrows” in my head.

From their 1995 Tomorrow the Green Grass album, “Pray For Me,” one can hear shades of Buffalo Springfield from Louris’ guitar, while keyboardist Karen Grotberg’s contribution personifies the more spiritual plea for fidelity.   Before the performance, I wondered how the band would achieve the melancholy tone with the absence of a violinist in my favorite MBT song, “Black Eyed Susan”.  Grotberg’s playing proved most impressive and melancholy enough for the live concert.   I did not require the effect of a violin to accent the “home and spoon collection” line. Grotberg conveyed the vivid sentiments of heartbreak and loss through her Hammond organ.   In addition to her keyboarding skills, her Joni Mitchell, soprano voice can hold its own in a live duet or in three/four part harmony, particularly in the “Cool Cool Water” duet with Louris.

Although the House of Blues was not filled to capacity, the Jayhawks played to what appeared to be die-hard fans from a few generations.   Steven Meyer, a native of Minnesota himself, has lived in Houston for the past 11 years. “The first time I ever saw the Jayhawks was in Austin, MN on 6th Ave,” he said. Yes, you read his quote correctly; I had to double check for myself. There is an Austin in Minnesota, just as there is a 6th Street/Avenue. After the 2000 release of the Smile album, “They were playing with [the band] Train in front of this huge church. The weather was perfect, and the wind was blowing their hair back. . .I brought my children with me tonight. This is my daughter’s first concert ever,” Meyer said.

Toward the end of the show, Louris recalled the last time the Jayhawks visited Houston. “Do you remember a place called Fitzgerald’s?” he asked. The crowd erupted into applause as he and Olson discussed their fellow headliners from that night eleven years ago. “Yeah, we were promoting Smile at that time, and there was some band we played with. . . I think the name was Johnny Reno, the Sax Maniac.” Whistles, laughter and applause were the responses.

During the demanded encore, I finally heard what I thought would never be played Saturday night: “Tampa to Tulsa”. Standing on the 3rd level, I looked down to scan the bottom level for the same reactions that I was feeling to the song. In addition to the dreamy-eyed women singing along, I noticed more men than women shooting videos/photos. I surmise that the sincerity in Tim O’Reagan’s voice and the heart-tugging longing in the lyrics touches us all in some way.

In the grand finale, we were treated to an extended version of “Waiting for the Sun” from the 1992 Hollywood Town Hall. It dawned upon me that Louris’ guitar riffs might have been the inspiration for Tom Petty’s 1993 single “Last Dance with Mary Jane”.

Once The Jayhawks wrapped up their last night of the tour, they were still generous enough with their time to sign autographs and pose for photos.

They will be heading to Europe after the New Year, according to their official web page.