Cowboy Junkies | 03.26.08


The Junkies, heavily due to Margo’s voice, are able to change a song drastically from its original version, while managing to keep the integrity of it. 



The Sheldon, St. Louis

Perhaps to fit the mood of the evening, a torrentially rainy night in St. Louis, The Cowboy Junkies began their set with the song "Follower 2," from their 2007 release At the End of Paths Taken. The lines "And the rain comes down/It’s dark, and the browns/Begin to bite" stick out in that haunting manner Margo Timmins has a way with.     I know that her brother and guitarist, Michael Timmins writes most (or perhaps) all Cowboy Junkies lyrics, but Margo takes them for herself and nobody else would be able to sing them quite in the way she can. Her voice, live, as it is recorded, has a soulful yet cool tone-completely unique and captivating.

Mixing the old with the new, right off the bat, the second song of the set was the harmonica-driven "I Don’t Get It" from the 20 year old Trinity Session. It seems that this tour is just as much about that album-and the 20th anniversary celebration of it, "Trinity Revisited," as it is about their most recent studio release, At the End of Paths Taken. 

Obscured by Margo-at least from my seat, very nicely at the center of the Sheldon, was Jeff Bird, master of seemingly all random instruments that are not the standard drums, bass, or guitar. I was unable to see or determine exactly what he was performing on at all times, but the list included harmonica, mandolin, tambourine and a tiny, fretless bass. He seemed to have the most energy of anyone on stage. I think the Cowboy Junkies were sleepy. As Margo Timmins crooned, she was wrapped in a cardigan-type top that was more afghan than shirt. She would tighten the shirt, loosen it, and lean against the microphone stand. I often wanted my chair to be a bed and for me to be calmly lulled to sleep by the Timmins’ and their band-mates.   

There is a strange dichotomy between the Junkies’ songs and the between song banter of Margo. She cracked several jokes about the depressing heartache theme perpetually found in their songs. She would smile and go into another tune about misery. After plugging their download site (the band records a lot of music that never reaches a proper album), they played the unreleased "Cold Evening Wind." 

The set was generously peppered with covers, including ones by Richie Havens, Townes Van Zandt, and the final song of their regular set, a bluesy rendition of Patsy Cline’s "Walking After Midnight."  The best cover was during the encore, when Neil Young’s "Powderfinger" was played. It was a beautiful and very different version of the song, as were all the covers-The Junkies, heavily due to Margo’s voice, are able to change a song drastically from its original version, while managing to keep the integrity of it. 

Towards the end of the show, several songs were played, pared down from the full band.  Drummer Peter Timmins and bassist Alan Anton left the stage, leaving it to Margo, Mike and Jeff Bird playing songs such as "Someday Soon," that took on a more intimate feel than the rest of the set. 

The sound quality of the show was pretty impeccable. Twenty-something years on the road, and they know how to flawlessly play their songs. They aren’t necessarily a lively bunch-with  Mike Timmins intently looking at his guitar, seated and hidden by bangs and Alan Anton not changing expression or stance during the set-but it seems the Junkies are known for being a good band, not an energetic one. The one possible flaw in their tightness occurred towards the end when Margo might have temporarily forgotten the first couple of lines of "Lay it down."  She recovered from this calmly and the song, one I particularly enjoy, was not damaged. 

The encore seemed like it almost wasn’t going to happen.  The house lights flashed for a moment and people started exiting.  Luckily, Margo, Mike, and Jeff returned for the great Neil Young cover, and Alan and Peter joined them for "Common Disaster." | Jaffa Aharonov

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