Jayhawks look back and ahead in Philadelphia

Jayhawks singer/guitarist Mark Olson performs Jan. 22 in Philadelphia. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

By Chris M. Junior

In a way, it felt (and sounded) a lot like 1995, when the core Jayhawks lineup was still intact and touring behind “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” the acclaimed follow-up to 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall.”

But The Jayhawks’ Jan. 22 show at TLA in Philadelphia also was very much in the present and a glimpse into the future, as the band’s new songs from a forthcoming album proved to be a nice complement to its classic material.

The sold-out TLA gig was one of eight scheduled North American dates this month in five major cities celebrating the recently released expanded reissues of “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass” (both on American/Legacy). With no fanfare, the country-leaning rock band – original members Gary Louris, Mark Olson and Marc Perlman, plus longtimers Karen Grotberg and Tim O’Reagan – hit the stage around 9 p.m. and launched into “Wichita,” and right away the distinct vocal blend of guitarists Louris and Olson was on the money. As co-lead singers, it’s natural for them to get most of the attention (and praise), but keyboardist Grotberg’s vocal contributions are a big part of the band’s sound, too, and she made her presence felt on the ballad “Red’s Song,” an early highlight.

The band’s great vocal harmonies were on display once again in “She Walks in So Many Ways,” a song from the new Jayhawks studio album (still untitled) that’s expected in the spring or summer on the Rounder label. It sounded like something that would have been a good fit on “Hollywood Town Hall,” and ditto for the song that followed, “Warm River,” one of the bonus tracks on the expanded edition of “Hall.”

The concert also included its share of fan favorites, FM-radio tracks and shoulda-been hits, among them “Waiting for the Sun,” which closed the main set and was distinguished by Louris’ bluesy, Neil Young-ish leads. The snoozy encores didn’t exactly end the evening on a high note, but by then The Jayhawks had already shown they still possess the vocal and instrumental chops to have fans excited about what’s on the horizon.

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