Mark Olson and Gary Louris | 02.17.09

olson-louris-header.jpgA decade apart did little to dull the pair’s chemistry, and the sparse guitar-and-voice-only performance drew all the attention to their still-impeccable vocal harmonies.

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, St. Louis

 

The concert announcement promised "an evening with Mark Olson and Gary Louris," and that’s exactly what it delivered: just the two former Jayhawks frontmen, two acoustic guitars, and two of the most complementary voices in rock with no openers, no backing band, and no needless frills to spoil the proceedings.

Olson and Louris hit the stage in front of the Duck Room’s sold out crowd in support of 2009’s Ready for the Flood, the pair’s first new recording together since Olson split from the Jayhawks following 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. A decade apart did little to dull the pair’s chemistry, and the sparse guitar-and-voice-only performance drew all the attention to their still-impeccable vocal harmonies—exemplifying Tony Glover’s description of the Jayhawks on the back cover of Green Grass as "not that genetic Everly Brothers sound, rather the gene-spliced brotherhood of the highway that happens when hauling ass to one night stands."

Given their time apart, there was a natural element of nostalgia to the evening, both in terms of song selection and stage banter, with Louris reminiscing about playing the room with Uncle Tupelo when it was still Cicero’s basement bar, lamenting the loss of Mississippi Nights, and pointing out the curious absence of Beatle Bob. But the show wasn’t entirely a trip down memory lane, either, with a hefty 10 of Ready for the Flood‘s 15 tracks making an appearance in the setlist.

The lack of a rhythm section didn’t mean a lack of dynamics with the dark and somber ("Saturday Morning on Sunday Street," "Black Eyes") and the soaring and majestic ("Nothing Left to Borrow") butting up against the rocking and rollicking ("Waiting For the Sun," "Chamberlain, SD"). The set reached an early highlight with "Say You’ll Be Mine," an ominous love song in the spirit of Led Zeppelin’s "Babe I’m Gonna Leave You" that the pair penned together in 2001 during the post-9/11 anthrax scare ("A romantic time in this country’s history," Louris drily joked). Following the quiet, pretty "Two Hearts" (one of the most well-received tunes of the night, and featuring a fantastic flamenco-esque guitar solo), Louris called an audible and pulled Olson into a stomping version of the Hollywood Town Hall track "Clouds." Throughout the night, the sound in the venue was fantastic, with each note of Louris’ meticulously picked solos ringing out as clear as a bell. Even the band took notice, with Olson joking "I have a cold but his guitar sure sounds healthy."

Olson and Louris ended the main set on an upbeat note with the sunny "Settled Down Like Rain" before leaving the stage to loud hoots and whistles of approval from the packed-in crowd. The encore opened with the harmonica-soaked folk ballad "Precious Time" (a song they co-wrote for Maria McKee’s 1993 album You Gotta Sin To Get Saved that is included as a bonus track on Flood) that flowed into the similarly tempered "See Him on the Street."

Oddly enough, the show ended with its only real lowlight, a perfunctory run through the Jayhawks hit "Blue." For a song that so perfectly captures the majesty of those early Jayhawks records, this night’s take felt strangely lifeless, but it did little to dampen the euphoria the two had induced from the rest of the night’s string of successes. "Thank you for coming," Louris told the crowd shortly before wrapping the mainset. "It’s not what you expected, but it’s what you got." And that, thankfully, was better than we could have ever asked for. | Jason Green

For song samples, a video interview, and more, visit http://www.newwestrecords.com/OlsonAndLouris

 

Setlist:

The Rose Society
Nothing Left To Borrow
Bicycle
Bloody Hands
Turn Your Pretty Name Around
Two Angels
Say You’ll Be Mine
Saturday Morning on Sunday Street
Chamberlain, SD
Two Hearts
Clouds
Black Eyes
Doves And Stones
Over My Shoulder
Waiting For the Sun
[not sure]
Life’s Warm Sheets
Settled Down Like Rain

Encore:
Precious Time
See Him on the Street
Blue

 

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