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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Jayhawks stay serious

House of Blues, Hollywood, Cal., Jan. 20, 2001

By Dan MacIntosh

HOLLYWOOD, CA - Skeptics may claim that The Jayhawks have sold out to pop, especially after calling upon Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin to man their latest effort "Smile." But in concert, they were just as rootsy and Neil Young-ish ("Harvest" era) as ever.

Drawing primarily upon deep folk roots, Gary Louris now leads The Jayhawks while looking not unlike a rail-thin college English lit teacher. This night's best moments were framed by two selections from the band's "Tomorrow the Green Grass" album. They hit their stride with the restless "I'd Run Away" on the second song in and closed their set with the longing of "Blue."

You can't quite put your finger on it, but these two songs exemplify The Jayhawks' enigmatically unique quality of consistently hitting an emotional nerve with their melodies. It may be hard to pick out many outstanding song lyrics from the group's repertoire, but after a night filled with their heart-tugging melodies, you might just find yourself close to tears, yet not sure if these are tears of joy, sadness, or both.

When the band rocked it up some, as with the newer song "Smile," this caused them to lose some of their gentle art of persuasion. Louris may have the guitar licks, but his string work was no replacement for band's three-part vocal harmonies.

Its near-hit "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" - although it better conformed to the group's stylistic strong points - was also well below the band's standards, mainly because of its sappy lyrical sentiments. In concert, it fizzled fast like a dud firework.

Louris sounded sincere during the few times he interacted with the sold-out crowd, but gave the impression of having no time to fool around. The 'hawks were all business this night, and stayed the course by keeping permanently straight faces. A little humor might have helped pace the show, though, and given the audience a slight break between some of the group's dead-serious heart-on-the-sleeve songs.

Opener Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, on the other hand, tried without much success to inject a little levity into the evening. Case made three or four valiant attempts to kid with the audience, before eventually condescending to explaining her jokes. She even resorted to lifting her dress, which showed off her black knickers. But this audience just wasn't on her wavelength tonight.

This was a shame, though, because Case was in fine voice. Her short opening set consisted of tortured love songs like "Twist the Knife" and angry breakup songs such as "Whip the Blankets." She even threw in a peppy cover of The Everly Brothers' "Bowling Green."