Concert Reviews

Last Night: Mark Olson and Gary Louris at Sons of Hermann Hall

[Editor's note: This review was penned by our newest Observer/DC9 contributor, Eric Grubbs.]

Mark Olson and Gary Louris
Sons of Hermann Hall
April 17, 2009

Better Than: wondering if Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary could successfully do a reunion record and tour.

The average age of the crowd was well over thirty as Mark Olson and Gary Louris took stage at a little after 10 o'clock last night, and the reunited Jayhawks duo played almost non-stop until an hour later. 

But their set was no easy breezy walk down No Depression Lane. Giving the audience a steady balance of well-loved Jayhawks numbers (mainly from '92's Hollywood Town Hall and '95's Tomorrow the Green Grass) and songs from their '09 album, Ready for the Flood, the set didn't drag for one minute.

By the time the duo finished its encore, the two had played 20 songs in just under two hours.

Backed only by a percussionist and outfitted with solely acoustic guitars, Olson and Louris were in fine form. Louris has always sung beautifully, but Olson's voice has surprisingly gotten better over the years. There's still plenty of tender ache in both of their voices, and it's something that's always been central to their harmonizing.

But without the luxury of a piano, violin, or even a full drum kit, so the show hinged on their ability to work in an extremely limited way. Thankfully, it all worked. And the crowd dug what they heard.

While the newer songs, like "Black Eyes" and "Bicycle," were warmly received, the crowd definitely responded stronger to the Jayhawks material they had spent time devouring over the years. Songs like "Two Angels," "Over My Shoulder," and "Settled Down Like Rain" received passionate responses from the crowd.

The O's opened this very pleasant, sit-down evening at Sons, and they were probably the most worthy local band to play this show. Backing up all the praise given to them in the last few months, Taylor Young and John Pedigo zipped through a satisfying set of poppy folk and bluegrass in thirty-five minutes. With their spot-on vocals and friendly rapport with the crowd, it's quite impressive they were so upbeat--mainly because the distance between their previous gig was a long 23-hour drive.

At the end of the night, Olson and Louris finished with a one-two punch of "The Trap's Been Set" (with Pedigo joining them on banjo) and the best-known Jayhawks' single "Blue." 

Overall, it was a relaxed and intimate evening, not chained to nostalgia.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I have loved Tomorrow the Green Grass since the first listen, but Hollywood Town Hall has always eluded me. Listening to that record is like sitting patiently on a plane that is just about to take off, but it never does. Moreover, as unpopular and sacrilegious as it may seem to longtime Jayhawks fans, I really enjoy the three albums that followed Olson's departure--especially Smile. That admission might sound like you enjoy that Velvet Underground record without Lou Reed, but I can't help melting when the chorus of "Smile" kicks in.

By the Way: Since the smoking ban has been in place for a week, it's kind of strange to pass by the downstairs bar at Sons and not see clouds of smoke. Memories of passing by my middle school's teacher smoking lounge are slowly fading. And that's not a bad thing.

Random Note: Even though it's been this way for over a year, it's still odd to see the empty lot where The Door used to be. This lot once housed many great all-ages shows I saw eight years ago. Now I park on top of it.

Photos from the show are up in our slideshow here.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman