Tonight will be a somewhat bittersweet night for me. I’m going to see Gary Louris & Mark Olsen perform in Somerville, MA. Louris & Olsen were the lead singers in a Minneapolis-based band called The Jayhawks. They launched their band in the late 1980s in the Twin Cities, swimming very much against the current of that city’s music movement – the messy, brilliant Replacements were arguably at their peak on the rock side and Prince still mattered on the R&B side. First Avenue had room for all.
The Jayhawks, though, cut their own path, playing beautiful roots-based rock and in their earlier years, adding small twists of country influence. The country thing was more like a subtle trick, though – the rock crowds loved it. It was almost like the band was pulling a fast one on people who detested country music. An inside joke, maybe. I loved it. Through it all, Louris and Olsen were two simply unforgettable singers when they sang together. They shined on ballads and really thumped it on rock songs. Their de facto album, Hollywood Town Hall, has been a constant and easily one of my favorite albums of all time. Critics have hailed it as masterpiece of American songwriting and both Rolling Stone and Spin list the album as one of the essential albums of the 1990’s. Gary Louris probably said it best when he described it as “like folk music, but really loud.”
The band made many more great records over the years, even after Mark Olsen left the band in 1995 and the band took a decidedly left turn into pop/rock territory. I do believe The Jayhawks crafted some of their best *songs* after Olsen left the band, but they never put together anything like “Hollywood Town Hall” in terms of a full album’s worth of stunning material.
Anyway, tonight marks the first time in ten years that Louris and Olsen have played and sang in public together. In fact, it almost marks 10 years to the day since I last saw them perform in Austin, Texas, shortly before Olsen left the band. Needless to say, I’m psyched. The bittersweet part nudges its way in tonight because The Jayhawks recently announced their breakup. Strange – in a way I’m experiencing both a reunion and breakup of a band at the same time.
My favorite headline from yesterday: “Jews Protest Natalie Portman.” Isn’t that funny? I don’t know why, it just is. I can only say this: unless Natalie Portman harms my family or something, I promise I will never protest her.