The Jayhawks Gift is Long Holiday Show at First Avenue


The Jayhawks stayed home for the holidays and on Friday treated their local following to the first of two weekend shows. The show featured several songs from their new 2018 album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. Friday’s show was packed, if not sold out. Saturday’s show sold out a few days ago. Friday’s featured one local opening act (Chastity Brown) and one not-so-local (Tuomo & Markus from Helsinki, Finland.) Saturday’s version features different supporting artists and you can likely expect some different songs mixed into The Jayhawks lengthy setlist.

Opening the show was our out-of-town supporting act, Tuomo & Markus. This new project for singer/keyboardist Tuomo Prättälä and singer/guitarist Markus Nordenstreng released their debut album Dead Circles this past September. Members of the Jayhawks were featured guests in the recording studio, thus the connection to the invite tonight. I can see why the Finnish duo’s music has been described as Nordic Americana and neo folk with jazz, soul and prog-rock influences. Or that their haunting harmonies complement each other much like the cases of Simon & Garfunkel or Crosby Stills Nash. They are so in synch that it sounds like one person singing in harmonized stereo. The keyboard work of Tuomo dances and rains with beautiful notes and blends with Markus’ electric and acoustic guitar work.

Both took the stage wearing hats and jean jackets. Tuomo’s keyboard was decorated with Christmas lights and Markus stood close by. After a few songs, Markus introduced a song written about the existential feelings he had when he learned he would be a father. He received some love from the compassionate crowd. Markus said, “Even though we’re from Finland, we knew of the Minneapolis music scene with The Jayhawks, The Replacements, Husker Du. And this club (First Avenue). How could you not? And I know a short keyboardist that loves Prince. We love Prince, so we are going to try something risky in this political climate.” What they were referring to is what would be a great finale to their set, a cover of Prince’s “America.” If you missed the show you can find their version or the song on their November 2018 EP America/Get Together. Before exiting the stage Markus shouted, “We love America and Minneapolis! Merry Christmas!” Visiting with these two after the show I asked them which Finnish Wild player was their favorite. What I learned was that not all Finns are hockey fans. You can catch Tuomo & Markus as a full six-piece Finnish band next month on January 18th at The Cedar. I’ll have to ask their bassist who they said is a big hockey fan.

Chastity Brown was raised in Tennessee but moved to Minneapolis in 2006 so she’s one of our own. She took the stage with her guitar and supporting vocalist at her side. Behind them a small seated orchestra included a violin, cello, electric bass, electric guitar, and drum set. Chastity immediately broke into the soulful sound that is her own. Deep bass and the full sound of the orchestra made songs soothing yet spiked with crescendos. Her background singer sweetened and decorated Chastity’s singing. Speaking to the crowd, she said, “This is my band’s last show of 2018. So we are down to the wire.” She also told us that before every show in the green room she writes down a few thoughts for the show. For tonight she reminded herself to be patient and a little sexy. “We’ve been all around the last few months and I’m always so grateful of the local support. We sometimes treat the stage like front porch. So tonight we are on the front porch of First Avenue.”

“The Jayhawks are in the house! It’s such an honor opening for them,” the female singer said. “Thanks for showing up so early for the show. The guys from Helsinki were so impressed with how many people were here already for their opening set. Of course I got to brag to them about our great local fans.” She played the popular “Wake Up” from her Silhouette of Sirens album and asked fans to sing along if they knew it, and many did. “I’m just a black chick doing my best to rock these boots,” she said after taking time to visit. “We have one more song called “Mad Love.” I think we have the room warmed up pretty well for The Jayhawks. I’m going to have a tall drink after this as my reward.” “Mad Love” is Chastity’s latest single and was born out of an awful racist attack she suffered before a show in Eau Claire. She realized the best possible response to racism and hate is love and wrote the song as an anthem for forgiveness and self-acceptance and as a statement of pride. Truly remarkable.

While the Mainroom was already full for Tuomo & Markus, and even more so for Chastity, it was now packed when The Jayhawks took the stage. The band that formed in 1985 is looking older, but so was the maturing crowd. The band impressed with the current line-up of Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, Tim O’Reagan, and John Jackson. You know it was a good show when the comments you hear exiting First Avenue are, “That was awesome,” “We sure got our money’s worth,” and debates over whether the last song or the second-to-last was the best song. It was a 2 hour and 15 minutes and 28 songs that the Jayhawks treated their locals fans to. The show included five songs off of the bands impressive new album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels along with selections off just about every album except The Jayhawks and Mockingbird Time. A special treat was having former Jayhawks and Golden Smog guitarist Kraig Jarret Johnson join the band for several songs from his era with the band.

The Jayhawks opened tonight as they have at past shows with “I’m Going to Make You Love Me.” They soon got to 1992’s hit song “Waiting For The Sun” which the crowd loved or remembered, depending on their level of fandom. Taking their first break to address the crowd, frontman Louris said they’ve been playing here since 1985 when they played at the Entry. Dreams do come true.” He explained the next song is one from the new album and is a song that he wrote with the Dixie Chicks, “Everybody Knows.” Shorty after that the deep, deep track of the night was “The Baltimore Sun.”

Kraig Johnson was now invited to the stage to join the band for some songs from albums released during his stint with band, Smile and Sound Of Lies plus some others. He was with The Jayhawks from 1995 to 2001 after replacing Mark Olson and toured more recently again with band. Johnson’s guitar work and infectious smile immediately took the show to a new level and more of a rock show vibe, especially with Louris grabbing his V-guitar. My favorite song of the night was “Big Star” for which Johnson’s playing contributed. You probably know him from Run Westy Run, the band founded by Kraig, Kirk, and Kyle Johnson. If you can, go to the Turf Club December 26th for Run Westy Run’s concert and tribute to their deceased brother Kyle.

The next stretch of the show included four songs off of the new album. “Gonna Be a Darkness” is my favorite from the new release and “Backwards Women” is catchy too. Being a former baritone saxophone player, I say without a doubt the baritone sax was huge in “Long Time Ago” and “Come Cryin’ to Me.” Keyboardist Karen Grotberg from International Falls sings “Cryin'” for a cool and different sound from the band. For the finale of the main set, Johnson was brought back on stage for The Jayhawks’ defining song, “Blue” and just about everyone had their cell phones recording that.

The Jayhawks six-song encore set by itself would be a full set for some bands. It started with Louris playing a solo version of “Settled Down Like Rain” and then Grotberg joining him for “Broken Harpoon.” Grotberg then sang a fun cover of “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette” after which Louris said, “Country used to be cool, but not so much anymore.” Kraig Johnson came back up for “Haywire” and another special guest in Dan Murphy took over guitar and bumped Johnson to backup vocals. They played the great sing-along “Until You Came Along” from the cool Golden Smog band these guys were also in back in those glory days. Being past midnight, Louris said, “We have time for one more and then we’re back tomorrow night.” The closing selection was “Bad Time,” a Grand Funk Railroad cover and including the special guests and horns to wrap up the first party of the weekend. I hope you have your ticket for Saturday night as it’s sold out and as we learned well worth the money. Happy Holidays everyone!