The Jayhawks’ last visit to Chicago celebrated milestones. Gary Louris and his band of alt-country-meets-pop heroes were supporting a welcome reissue campaign of the Jayhawks’ turn-of-the-century titles. The line-up for underground favorites “Sound of Lies” and “Smile” reconvened at House of Blues for one of 2014’s most memorable shows there.
The band is currently focused on the present. The Jayhawks will headline two nights at the intimate Lincoln Hall with material from an ambitious new album called “Paging Mr. Proust.”
Songs like in “The Devil is in Her Eyes” include occasional snatches that echo the Gary Olson-era classics “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” but Louris and his accomplished bandmates don’t dwell there. “Proust” explores modern cultural maladies with musical twists that infuse New York City art-punk and European Krautrock into the Jayhawks’ unique blend of homespun folk and psychedelic jangle.
The characters in Louris’ new songs are often ironically trapped in motion. The girl in “Lovers of the Sun” seems willfully adrift. The author admits some sleight of hand. “I think it was more about myself, even though I made it about a woman,” he says. “It’s somebody always looking for the next big thrill, who isn’t good about staying put and appreciating what they have. I’ve certainly been very guilty of that. I believe I’ve changed, so it’s hopefully about my past and not my future.”
The song draws from classic pop influences known for crafting dreamy soundscapes including the Byrds, Burt Bacharach, Zombies and Moody Blues. Another influence rings true to the Jayhawks. “[Bassist Marc] Perlman said, ‘That’s kind of a rip-off of The Velvet Underground,’ but I said, ‘I don’t care,’” says Louris with a laugh. “We all seemed to embrace it after that. I love the song, and it moves me.”
“Leaving the Monsters Behind” is a group-penned song with sweet harmony from keyboardist Karen Grotberg. It encapsulates the album’s restless nature. “If I move fast, maybe I’ll outrun my past,” sings Louris. “That song is most specific about my demons,” he says. “Instead of staying and dealing, it’s about moving and trying to stay ahead of your problems – never really processing and solving what’s in front of you.”
The mixture of light and shadow is elemental to Jayhawks music. “I’m drawn to pretty melodies with somewhat darker lyrics,” says Louris. “That seems to make a song balance for me. I like drama in a song.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.
An official video for “Comeback Kids” from classic MTV-era video director Chuck Statler arrives in late June.