The Phoenix Rises

Wilco - The Jayhawks

Riviera Theatre - Chicago

May 22, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, July 1997, Volume 4, #7

Written by John Metzger

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On May 22 and 23, the Chicago-area was treated to a pair of shows at the Riviera by The Jayhawks and Wilco. For some reason, the promoters felt the need to add a third band, Scrawl, to the line-up which was detrimental to the otherwise outstanding concert.

Scrawl actually started 10 minutes early, in an attempt to fit in a 30-minute set. Unfortunately, after the first two songs, the group's performance went downhill quickly. Its musical style blends Veruca Salt and Liz Phair, and its set became tedious.

The addition of Scrawl forced the Jayhawks to squeeze its performance into an hour, and it placed the road crew in the unfortunate position of having to scramble to ready the stage in a mere 10 minutes.

Since the departure of co-founder Mark Olson, The Jayhawks sound has mutated away from its country / Byrds roots, and for some, the adjustment may take some time to appreciate. The group's new style has wandered a bit more into the psychedelic realm, and its vocal harmonies have changed dramatically taking on more of a pop / Fleetwood Mac-feel. Still, with The Sound of Lies the band has managed to put together an excellent album of material, a good deal of which was performed at this show. It has augmented its sound with the addition of Jessy Greene who added some outstanding violin playing to complement singer/guitarist Gary Louris's feedback-laden guitar.

The Jayhawks got off to a bit of a slow start and seemed to take the first two songs (Think About It and Poor Little Fish) to warm up. As the group launched into its third straight selection from Sound of Lies, everything fell into place. Big Star rocked with life as lead singer Gary Louris put the old-Jayhawks behind him and looked forward with his latest incarnation.

Fortunately, Louris didn't throw out all the old material and touched on the three earlier Jayhawks albums. Take Me with You (When You Go) was performed perfectly with excellent harmonies provided by keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O'Reagan. A surprise rendition of The Baltimore Sun crept in midway through the set, but it was the songs off the successful Tomorrow the Green Grass that sparked the audience's attention. Both Two Hearts and Blue were performed respectably, though it was on these songs that Olson was missed the most.

Just as the Jayhawks arose from their own ashes, Wilco emerged from the break-up of local favorites Uncle Tupelo. The band's recently released Being There is an outstanding set of material that helped to carry this show. Led by Jeff Tweedy, this group swings back and forth between country tunes and all-out rock and roll. Wilco's sound is diverse, and Tweedy manages to sing with a snarl in every style imaginable.

Wilco's 100-minute set, which featured two encores, boldly opened with four songs from Being There, including Misunderstood with the appropriate lyrics, "Back in your old neighborhood." The Nicky Hopkins-style piano playing of Jay Bennett really makes this song stand out on the album. However, as performed in concert, the tune had the added feel of Jackson Browne's For Everyman, as Ken Coomer's drum playing built the tune to a crescendo before bursting into feedback. Red-Eyed and Blue followed, again playing up more of a Jackson Browne feel, this time from Browne's burned-out-on-touring Running on Empty album.

As the band tore through a number of songs with a huge variety of different influences The Eagles (I Got You [at the End of the Century]) to New Riders of the Purple Sage (Forget the Flowers), Jay Bennett switched between keyboards and guitar, often in mid-song. He was quite entertaining to watch as he would move from playing subtle keyboard textures to kneeling by his amp creating mind-bending feedback. The result was an explosive mix of music from a talented band.

The two big crowd-pleasers were the radio hits Outtasite (Outta Mind) which closed the set and the second encore which contained a pairing of Casino Queen with Duelin' Banjos. Outtasite (Outta Mind) had actually been teased several times throughout the evening, but the audience didn't seem to catch it. During Casino Queen, Tweedy dove into the audience while the rest of the band delivered an impromptu jam.

This was an outstanding pair of sets from two bands that could easily stand on their own. Together, it was quite a treat.

Sound of Lies is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Being There is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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Copyright 1997 The Music Box