Live Last Night: Mark Olson and Gary Louris

dancerThe All-Americana duo: Just don't call 'em the Jayhawks.

Roots music is all about basicness. So, to compare Mark Olson and Gary Louris to sandwich spreads, let's go no further than peanut butter and jelly. Pretty darn good on their own, but most sublime when thrown together. A Birchmere crowd feasted on the harmonic staples served up by the reunited former Jayhawks on Tuesday.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The 90-minute set was dominated by tunes from "Ready for the Flood," the first new material from Louris with Olson since 1995. That's the year Olson left the Jayhawks, their beloved Minneapolis band, for the wild west and love -- he married singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, moved to the desert and formed a new rootsy band, the Harmony Ridge Creekdippers (Both the marriage and band have since dissolved.)

The Jayhawks hadn't broken any new ground, but they did give folks clues about what the Byrds might have done had Gram Parsons stuck around a little longer. And none of the revivalist acts spawned by the original Jayhawks, or even the Olson-less Jayhawks that Louris continued touring with, provided as many vocal thrills.

But the fans at the Alexandria club were again goose-fleshy as Olson and Louris, harmonizing over their two acoustic guitars and beats provided by percussionist Ingunn Ringvold, recalled the finest vocal combos in folk-pop history. The new "Life's Warm Sheets" sounded like Simon and Garfunkel's earliest and mellowest material. "Saturday Morning on Sunday Street," also off "Ready for the Flood," harked back to the Mamas and the Papas.

Neither Louris nor Olson wowed anybody with their guitar strumming or plucking. "That's called shredding," Louris joked after a particularly rough flat-picking run. But Ringvold, whom Louris called "a beautiful John Bonham," occasionally cut through the mellow. She and her African drum, added an amazing amount of oomph to "Two Angels" from "Hollywood Town Hall," the Jayhawks' 1992 breakthrough LP.

Also just like old times, Olson and Louris summoned up their inner Gram Parsons on "Two Hearts," a 1995 Jayhawks song with a short bridge (finding them singing an elongated "I'm lonely!" over and over and in an upper register) that might provide the duo's finest hour. Or finest several seconds, anyway. But, boy, you wish that sound would last an hour.

-- DAVE MCKENNA

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 11, 2009; 11:50 AM ET Live Last Night
Previous: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Perfection of a 30-Minute Set | Next: They Played What, Where? Vol. 2, No. 2

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I'd disagree - "Blue" is the only song they do that I'll actually be upset if they don't do, and they wisely saved it for last song of the night. Gorgeous, as usual, as their voices dive around each other.

Posted by: Hemisphire | February 11, 2009 3:09 PM

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