FREEHOLD, NJ—What had been a light, but continuous rain drumming on the roof and windows of the well-appointed, garage-like structure suddenly exploded into an intense, wind-driven downpour. Re-adjusting themselves on their folding chairs, the 60 or so “all walks of life” people in the audience marveled at the sheets of rain outside the window and glanced nervously at the arched ceiling.
“Well…that’s appropriate…I guess,” commented The Jayhawks’ guitarist/vocalist Gary Louris from the front of the room as he resumed tuning his acoustic guitar and selected another harmonica. “So many of my songs seem to revolve around rain. Rain, sun, water, ocean… sky…feelings…,” he mused as a pesky E-string eluded his efforts to tame it. “Well…my next record’s gonna be, like, all about individual strife, shameful waste, anger, the end of the world… shit like that.
“Nah…probably not,” he laughed as he kicked off the second hour of an intimate house concert in Freehold with “Angelyne,” one of the most pop-perfect love=regret songs of the many he’s written, and then followed it with the dreamily romantic “All The Right Reasons,” both from 2003’s Rainy Day Music.
On “temporary hiatus” from a band that, thanks to their moody, mildly twangin’, harmony-laden, genre-bending 1992 10-song CD, Hollywood Town Hall, is frequently cited as one of the cornerstone groups of “Americana” music, Louris, with just an acoustic guitar, an assortment of harmonicas and one of the most distinctive voices in music, had, by that point in the evening, already picked his way through several classic Jayhawks tracks for a room of blissfully happy fans.
Critically heralded not only for his songwriting skills, but for the sustained, semi-skewed solos and razor sharp fills he pulls from his trademark maroon Gibson SG, Louris’ delicate acoustic approach kept the melodic gloss to a minimum but did little to dampen the irresistible hooks anchoring such should-a-hits as “Blue,” “Tailspin,” “Settled Down Like Rain,” “Waiting For The Sun,” the Matthew Sweet co-written “Stumbling Through The Dark” or “Poor Little Fish.”
While the wide open, bare bones arrangements helped expose the lyrical beauty and clever simplicity of his more well-known tracks, less familiar tunes such as “True Blue,” “In The Canyon,” “Jennifer,” “Pouring Rain At Dawn,” “Smile,” “Need You Tonight,” “Greatest Long Shot,” “Better Days” and “Everybody Knows,” a song penned for the Dixie Chicks, were all well served by the intimate setting and Louris’ thoughtful delivery.
A relaxed atmosphere and an appreciative audience led to pithy, between song observations on life, sobriety, second chances, happiness, addiction, musical inspirations and his “girly” voice. Performing for nearly two hours, Louris ended the evening with a chilling cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting To Fly (Broken Arrow),” a reflective version of The Jayhawks’ ”Broken Harpoon,” and, before everyone wandered off to the attendee-provided pot luck buffet, a full crowd sing-along on, appropriately enough, “Save It For A Rainy Day.”