The Jayhawks are Minnesota’s most storied Americana band.
They’re ending a busy 2018, which saw the release of Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, with a couple stops at First Avenue. Their first set on Friday night was a diverse, 2.5+ hour marathon of their best material.
When your discography as expansive as the Jayhawks’ – ten albums beginning with 1986’s self-titled release – it can be difficult to touch on all the high points without leaving anything out. They succeeded on Friday night, playing their most popular songs, some deep cuts, and material from their new album.
Americana at its Most
They front-loaded their set with iconic tracks. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces,” and “Waiting for the Sun” were three of the first four songs. The remaining 25 (!) ranged from “Ain’t No End” and “The Baltimore Sun” from 1989’s Blue Earth to a handful from their new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels.
The new tracks aren’t all that new. They are interpretations of songs that Jayhawks leader Gary Louris wrote with some famous collaborators. Their set included material he wrote with the Dixie Chicks (“Everybody Knows”), Emerson Hart of Tonic (“Long Time Ago”), and Jacob Dylan of the Wallflowers (“Gonna be a Darkness,” which was featured in True Blood, and Louris described as “a beautiful song about death…so happy holidays!”).
A sizeable chunk of the setlist came from 1997’s Sound of Lies, which Louris described as perhaps his favorite Jayhawks album. Highlights included “Trouble” and catchy, upbeat singalong “Big Star.”
A Satisfying Night
As promised, there were some surprises and guests. A small horn section was featured on a handful of songs, most effectively on “Smile” and “Long Time Ago.” Longtime Louris friend Kraig Johnson, leader of Run Westy Run and collaborator in Americana supergroup Golden Smog, also appeared on several songs. Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy joined for a small-scale Golden Smog reunion (what Louris called “semi-Smog”). They tore through their anthemic “Until You Came Along,” which was certainly a cool moment for die-hard fans.
They ended with a six-song encore, including intimate acoustic songs and honky-tonk classic “Down to My Last Cigarette.” An energetic version of Grand Funk classic “Bad Time” closed out the night.
During the show, Louris mentioned that Rick Rubin told him to leave the audience hungry, but that he’d rather satisfy. The Jayhawks succeeded on Friday night, and if you missed it, be sure to catch them tonight.
Ending at the Beginning
Following a subdued, Wilco-y set from Finnish duo Tuomo and Markus, opener Chastity Brown more than delivered on her promise to be “a little sexy.” She looked stunning, from her always-perfect hair to her strategically buttoned-down shirt (“My boobs are out on purpose. Just a brown woman living her best life”). More stunning, though, were her colossal voice and soulful songs. Her backing band included a cello and violin, adding a unique atmosphere behind the bass, guitar, and drums. Local luminary Aby Wolf added her usual charisma and strong voice.