The Jayhawks Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON January 18

The Jayhawks Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON January 18
Influential American roots rockers the Jayhawks made their much-anticipated return to Toronto on the same day that Sony/Legacy gave the deluxe reissue treatment to the two albums generally considered their finest, 1992's Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass. The reunited and rejuvenated Jayhawks now feature the mid-'90s lineup -- often viewed as their best -- and this show was as close to an unequivocal triumph as it gets.

Tracks from those two records formed most of the generous set, but this was no empty exercise in nostalgia. Three songs in, the band were firing on all cylinders on Tomorrow's "Real Light," and they never let up. Radio hits like "Blue" and "Waiting for the Sun" drew loud cheers from the capacity crowd (which included members of the Sadies, Blue Rodeo and Cuff the Duke), while the show confirmed the consistent strength of the Jayhawks' songwriting.

A few songs from a new album due in the spring showed real promise, though they indicated more of a rock direction than the earlier material. The band even went back to their self-titled 1986 debut for "Let the Critics Wonder," while former B-sides added to the set's variety.

The core of the Jayhawks' sound remains the interplay between Gary Louris and Mark Olson, the band's two singer-songwriters/guitarists. Through Louris's ever-fluent work on electric guitar, he added a rock edge to Olson's rootsier leanings, and the vocal harmonies that were their signature were back in full Everlys-like glory on tunes like "Red's Song" and "Nothing Left to Borrow." Adding to the vocal variety, keyboardist Karen Grotberg enlivened the bracing "Bad Time" (a Grand Funk cover) with her harmonies, while drummer Tim O'Reagan sang lead on one of the encore tunes.

The Jayhawks' style has certainly aged well, and the clichéd yet accurate observation that "they sound better than ever" was heard exchanged between more than a few contented concertgoers.