In what almost seemed like an afterthought or postscript to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Minneapolis roots/pop/country rock band the Jayhawks stopped in at Stubb’s Monday night for a two-hour set on the outdoor stage. “We were told it wasn’t going to be a very good night,” frontman Gary Louris said a few songs in, aware that Austin music fans may have been weary from the Zilker Park treks. “But I think it’s a nice night.”
And it was. The expansive Stubb’s yard could have used a few more people, perhaps, but the few hundred who showed up were rewarded with ease of movement (and no mud!) on a refreshingly cool October night as one of America’s best bands of the past quarter-century ran through a broad selection of songs drawn from all phases of their considerable career.
While it remains a shame that they’re missing founding member Mark Olson, with whom Louris’ off-and-on relationship has taken a sharp turn toward off in the past couple of years, there’s still too much talent and history spread among the remaining five musicians for the Jayhawks to simply lay fallow. Indeed, Louris shared the spotlight frequently during the set: Drummer Tim O’Reagan sang his standout cuts “Bottomless Cup” and “Tampa to Tulsa,” while Louris credited bassist Marc Perlman, the only other remaining member from the band’s early days in the mid-1980s, as co-writer of “Trouble,” a mid-set selection from the 1997 “Sound of Lies” album.
Guitarist Kraig Johnson and keyboardist Karen Grotberg took the reins for a rambunctious cover of the Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter staple “I Ain’t the One.” Johnson also sang his easygoing folk-rock tune “Looking Forward to Seeing You” off the 1998 Golden Smog supergroup album “Weird Tales,” from which they also pulled out the spectacular soaring pop number “Jennifer Save Me” during the encore.
Though they steered away from material off 2011’s “Mockingbird Time” (made when Olson had returned for a few years), they dug into almost all the other albums. Highlights included “Tailspin” and “Angelyne” from 2003’s “Rainy Day Music,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Somewhere in Ohio” from 2000’s “Smile,” “Big Star” from 1997’s “Sound of Lies,” “Blue” and “I’d Run Away” from 1995’s “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” and “Waiting for the Sun” from 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall.” They even reached back to 1989’s “Blue Earth” for “Ain’t No End,” getting an assist from violinist Gina Romantini, who’d played with opening act Taylor Schoepp.
There was a time when the Jayhawks playing ACL Fest, rather than riding in on the tail end of it, would have been a no-brainer; indeed, the band was part of the fest’s inaugural year, and has also been on the “Austin City Limits” TV show. But times have changed for a festival now steering its fortunes toward the likes of Iggy Azalea and Eminem, with noticeably less Americana than its early iterations presented.
And yet the band’s presence on this Monday night was still welcome. It’s not that the Jayhawks aren’t past their prime (they are). And it’s not that they weren’t better with Olson (they were). It’s simply that there are very few American bands who have made as much beautiful music over the long haul. It’s still good to hear them play those songs, even in the denouement.