Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas comes early for Jayhawks fans: Tim O’Reagan & Karen Grotberg live at the 318 Club – 12/12/09

Former Jayhawks, including Marc Perlman, warm up a tiny music cafe a stones throw from the frozen shores of Lake Minnetonka

Frankie Lee

Frankie Lee + Erik Koskinen

Tim sits in with Frankie for a Freddy Fender cover

Tim starts off the main set with help from Frankie and Erik

Tampa to Tulsa

Karen and Tim!

Karen Grotberg

"The Jayhawks" minus a "couple guys" 

International Man of Mystery Marc Perlman

"I wish that I knew what I know now/ when I was younger"

Perlman, Grotberg, O'Reagan & Murphy ("PGOM?") - the Twin Town's next supergroup?


Jayhawks drummer/singer/songwriter Tim O’Reagan has a knack for playing gigs “off the radar” – his most recent local appearances have been (twice) at a coffeehouse on the Crow River in Delano (an hour west of the Twin Cities) and two wonderful sets with his band at the 2008 Minnesota State Fair. Former Jayhawks keyboardist Karen Grotberg has been mostly missing from action during the last decade after she left the music biz to tend to the home fires (she joined the “classic” lineup of The Jayhawks for 4 reunion shows over the last two summers in Spain and Minnesota). So it wasn’t too surprising to see that Tim and Karen had booked a gig at an uber-cool “music cafe” in the Lake Minnetonka community of Excelsior, well outside the normal circuit of local music venues (although the 318 has been making great strides as a music venue over the last few years).

After 90 minutes of almost pure joy from Tim & Karen and friends (including founding Jayhawk member Marc Perlman and Soul Asylum’s Danny Murphy), I don’t think anyone in the audience was thinking about the long drive or unfamiliar surroundings. As it turned out, this was an extraordinarily fun and rewarding evening of music and good vibes in lovely downtown Excelsior, Minnesota, about a half hour west of downtown Minneapolis, just a few blocks from a rapidly freezing Lake Minnetonka. The 318 holds maybe 60 people and, thanks to just a few notices on the Jayhawks Fanpage and Facebook, the reservations for this tiny cafe were gone in a flash. Through a stroke good luck i was able to secure a precious table seat with a couple of old, dear friends who arrived at the exact same time as i did and had an extra spot.

Predictably, this quintessentially cozy little place (a converted lumber warehouse) was jammed, but the wonderful staff managed to find spots for everybody. I can't say enough good things about how cool everybody was at the 318. They were friendly and accommodating in a way that's almost entirely missing from "Rock World." And the food was killer, too. Things got under way just a tad after 8 with a nice opening set from Frankie Lee, a local singer songwriter who played bass in the short-lived but awesome "Tim O'Reagan Band" (with Jim Boquist and Peter Anderson), which was assembled to support Tim's 2006 solo album and made their debut at South by Southwest in March 2006. Frankie's set was nicely flavored with some Texas spice, not surprising since he spends a lot of time down in Austin. He did a great version of the immortal Doug Sahm's "Crossroads" and finished his set with a cool cover of Freddy Fender's "You'll Lose a Good Thing" featuring Tim and Frankie trading vocals.

The main set started out with Tim solo in a fairly laid back mode; he was soon joined by Frankie and Erik Koskinen, an abundantly talented guitarist, musician and producer who fronts his own band and also works with Molly Maher as one of her Disbelievers. Within a few songs, however, it became clear something special was brewing and that this was gonna be a very, very good night. The sound was exceptional and everybody on stage was in great spirits (the wine was a-flowin' freely!) and tip-top happy holiday form. After a nice sampling from Tim’s brilliant solo album + the always riveting “Tampa to Tulsa,” Karen hopped up on stage after receiving a very warm ovation. It's hard to overstate just how good it was to see her in action again and hear her lovely voice. She also was in a great mood; her smile warmed the room almost as much as the fireplace in the corner. Tim wasted no time in getting their former compadre Marc Perlman to plug in his bass and then it was off to the races. Perly ended up sitting in for a good chunk of the set, which resulted in this hilarious exchange:

Tim: so, we have a majority of the Jayhawks here
Karen: there are only a couple missing, really (audience titters) 
Audience member: don’t worry, you guys sound great!
Tim: we’re not worried
Crowd: laughter

Tim's quick wit and fine-tuned sense of humor just added to the good times. He's come a long, long way as a "front man" since those early solo gigs almost 4 years ago.

The setlist was pretty incredible - not only a bundle of joy for fans of Tim and The Jayhawks, but a music geek's wet dream as well. "For Me Again" (an early lost Gene Clark treasure, finally released on the Echoes reissue of the classic Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers albuma touchstone for anything remotely resembling "alt-country") was a tremendous surprise as was a picture perfect reading by Karen of Tammy's edgy "I Don't Wanna Play House" and Tim’s excavation of Richard Thompson's "Wall of Death" from the harrowing Shoot Out the Lights album. The highlight of the entire evening may very well have been a drop-dead gorgeous performance of The Velvet's "Femme Fatale" (what a setlist, huh?!), which was just breathtaking, with Tim and Marc doing a bang up job with the background vocals. After this stunner, i heard somebody behind me ask her table mates, "was that a Motown song?" <eek!>  Lou Reed would likely be very proud!

The best "Jayhawks moment" was probably the old b-side, "Last Cigarette," which caused a minor buzz in the audience amongst the diehards when they heard Tim call it out. Hearing Karen rip through this Harlan Howard gem – as well as a perfect version of her old spotlight song, “Ode to Billy Joe” – triggered a flood of happy memories associated with all those great live 'hawks shows back in the "golden age."

The Christmas miracles kept on coming when Mr. Dan Murphy was called to the stage. He wormed his way into the corner and plugged in his guitar and cranked up the tremolo on his amp. This ad hoc "supergroup" (Perlman, Grotberg, O’Reagan and Murphy - “PGOM?”) started off with more magic from the Jayhawks' "golden age" (“Reason to Believe”), nailed another killer obscure cover (“Sorrow,” also done by Golden Smog way back in the day) and ended the festivities with a song i absolutely can never hear too many times, The Faces' "Ooh La La," a perfect capper for this to-die-for set as the crowd bellowed merrily along with the chorus. Tim clearly wasn't planning on an encore, but was quickly cajoled back into action after a heartfelt ovation from the mostly awestruck crowd. He corralled Frankie who grabbed Danny’s guitar as they brought everybody back to earth with a quietly mesmerizing "Bottomless Cup."

Did I mention how great it was to hear Karen in action again? :)


318 Music Café – Excelsior, MN

1. These Things (a)
2. River Bends (b)
3. Black and Blue (b)
4. Happy Man (a)
5. April Come She Will [Simon & Garfunkel] (c)
6. Tampa to Tulsa (d)
7. Almost Saturday Night [John Fogerty] (e)
8. Star [Stealers Wheel] (e)
9. For Me Again [Gene Clark] (e)
10. Girl/World (e)
11. Wall of Death [Richard & Linda Thompson] (e)
12. Plaything (e)
13. I Don’t Wanna Play House [Tammy Wynette] (e)
14. Pray For Me (f)
15. Femme Fatale [Velvet Underground] (f)
16. (Lost My) Driving Wheel [David Wiffen/Roger McGuinn] (f)
17. Ode to Billy Joe [Bobby Gentry] (f)
18. I’m Down to My Last Cigarette [Harlan Howard/kd Lang] (f)
19. Reason to Believe [Tim Hardin/Rod Stewart] (g)
20. Sorrow [McCoys/The Merseys/David Bowie] (g)
21. Ooh La La [The Faces] (g)
22. Bottomless Cup (h)

Tim O’Reagan = ac gtr, lead & bg vox
Karen Grotberg = piano, lead (13,15,17,18) & bg vox

a = Tim solo
b = Tim + Frankie Lee (ac gtr, vox) & Erik Koskinen (elec gtr)
c = Tim + Marc Perlman (bass)
d = Tim + Marc Perlman (bass) + Frankie Lee (harp, vox)
e = Tim + Karen
f = Tim + Karen + Marc Perlman (bass, vox)
g = Tim + Karen + Marc Perlman (bass, vox) + Danny Murphy (elec gtr, vox)
h = Tim + Frankie Lee (elec gtr, vox)


cccathouse said...

Has no one got a recording of this?

cccathouse said...

Is there not a recording of this?