The Jayhawks were in town last week. No, not the University of Kansas basketball team, but the alt-country band from Minnesota. Gary Louris is the original member that keeps the band going to this day, but back in their mid-80s founding, Mark Olson was the other founding member. The band has 10 albums out, and has continued to record and tour. I've seen them a few times, and when the opportunity arose to see them at the local music venue in Ardmore, it was too good to pass up.
Now I am not a huge fan of the Ardmore Music Hall. It's acoustics are just so-so. And its layout is terrible. Let me show you a picture (well, two, but I won't comment on the outside one) and describe it.
Check out that picture on the right. While it looks like a compact standing venue, it's actually separated into a standing and a seated section; standing is in the front with the seats behind. Here's the trouble: if you look to the left, there is a large (make that HUGE) bar that runs the length of the venue perpendicular to the stage. It's in a terrible spot, and what's worse is that the restrooms are behind the stage. If you want to go anywhere in that crowd, you're constantly running into that bar and there is a steady flow of patrons and waiters/waitresses going back and forth. It's hugely distracting and getting jostled all night sucks. You can avoid this by getting to the right, but then you're stuck. Make sure you go to the bathroom before the show begins.
If you think that you can avoid this by grabbing a seat, you're put in the back and the floor isn't sloping. So if you don't show up early and get the closest seats, you're stuck in the with a lot of heads in your way.
This could all be easily fixed by putting the bar in the back and moving the restrooms toward the entrance, but that would cost money. And if you are a regular, you realize that they pack this place most nights. It's a money maker so why mess with success, right? I guess that's the thinking. I don't know if the bands complain about the place, but there isn't much room on that little stage, and I have no idea whether they even have much of a backstage - I can't fathom where it would be.
That was too much complaining - sorry about that. I still go to AMH because they occasionally get good bands, it's about 10 minutes from my house, and it has ample free parking around town. Plus, it's small and generally full of easy-going, aging boomers - I've never seen a fight or even a healthy disagreement.
However, there was a dude at the Jayhawks show that was bugging the heck out of me. He was right behind me, pretty drunk, and didn't shut up the whole time (except to sing the 3 songs he knew). He had a booming voice and seemed very interested in high school sports because that was the topic of most of his conversations. And I saw him stiff the barmaid - no tip whatsoever - who does that? He seemed like the type that had been captain of his high school baseball team or something and couldn't believe that he was now an overweight, loud-mouthed, boorish jerk.
Glory days, indeed. Hey, at least I didn't go to high school in these parts and have to bump into Bro's like this dude at AMH. That would suck.
Back to the show. The Jayhawks are one of the best alt-country acts out there, and were instrumental in pushing the genre out. Other bands, like Uncle Tupelo (and hence, Wilco and Son Volt) were heavily influenced by the Jayhawks. Their songs are generally about love and the huge range of emotions that are part of that human need. When they hit on all cylinders, they have some of the most singable, memorable and catchy tunes out there. Here's one that had the entire crowd singing at AMH, Save It For A Rainy Day:
It was an interesting night. I had bought the tickets a while ago, but we had somehow screwed up and had invited people over for dinner on the same night. We moved up dinner by an hour, and had a relaxed and great time. Our friends split, and we quickly scooted out the door and up to AMH. We parked in the SEPTA lot, and got in just after the Jayhawks had taken the stage. Yeah, we missed the opener, which I am loathe to do, but we caught the Jayhawks and felt pretty good about ourselves for pulling off that two-fer.
I love bands that use a multitude of instruments, and the Jayhawks popped out the harmonica, fiddle, mandolin, plus had a heavy keyboard thing going. They had excellent flow to their setlist, letting the crowd get hopped up for a few songs, then gently bringing them back down for a slower ballad. The band also mixed in their "hits" through the show, which allowed for multiple sing-along sessions that were sweeter than most (probably because the songs are so great). When they played Save It For A Rainy Day, Blue and I'd Run Away, the crowd just loved it. As they should, because those are three great songs.
How good are those tracks? Man, they are fantastic. Even the high school sports hero recognized them. Unfortunately, his harmonies weren't quite as good as the band members, but so be it. I love those tunes and it's always great to see them performed live.
I will say that the Jayhawks are not the most dynamic band that you'll ever see on stage. If you watched those videos, the live ones capture the essence of their shows. There is great musicianship, harmonies, and lovely songs, but also a lot of standing around. Nonetheless, given the music they are performing, it's about right. And since there is no room to move about on that crappy little stage anyway, it was cool.
You also gotta love this band's gumption. Like I said, they're from Minneapolis, and I hear it can cold up there. They played the Super Bowl there a few years back - hey, didn't the Eagles win it all there? Why, yes, they did! - and the band did an OUTDOOR concert as part of the festivities. This is February in Minnesota. Check it out - they played outside bundled up in coats and scarves:
There are some darn good bands from Minnesota: Prince, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Husker Du - and the Jayhawks are right up there with these groups. Well, maybe not Prince, but you know what I'm saying. I was glad that they ventured south to do a gig in sleepy Ardmore.
I've got some more good stuff coming up soon, so check back and I'll let you in on the goings-on. I'm going to take a rock 'n' roll memory lane detour for all of you soon, and you won't want to miss my take on it. In the meantime, it looks like the rain stopped just in time for the weekend, so go do something fun outside, OK? I'll be here waiting for you when you come back.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.