The Jayhawks at Taste of Chicago

This year’s Taste of Chicago was scaled down from previous years. No fireworks. And fewer famous bands playing on the concert stage. That was supposed to be the idea, anyway. As it turned out, this year’s festival actually included more musical acts that interested me than usual. Alas, I missed seeing Loretta Lynn on Friday night, but I did catch the Jayhawks Saturday afternoon (July 2) at the Petrillo Bandshell. Now, here’s a show that I thought would draw a decent-size crowd, since the Jayhawks seem to have a pretty good following, thanks in part to WXRT, which was sponsoring the free concert. But for whatever reason, the park had plenty of empty seats.

Still, it was a solid performance, a highly enjoyable set of the Jayhawks’ best songs from their early records, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass — the albums the band made back when it had both of its key singer-songwriters, Mark Olson and Gary Louris. Olson left the group in the mid-1990s, and then Louris and the other Jayhawks carried on. Olson has rejoined the Jayhawks now, and it was a joy to hear Olson and Louris swapping vocal lines in those classic songs they collaborated on in the early ’90s, which have really stood the test of time. The songs were anchored by Louris’ melodic guitar riffs and solos, which were instantly recognizable to anyone who’s spent time listening to those albums.

The Jayhawks also treated us to a couple of songs from their forthcoming album — the first one featuring both Olson and Louris in 16 years. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing.

My Morning Jacket and Ray Davies at Taste of Chicago

JULY 4, 2006

Just another concert by the world’s greatest rock band… Well, at least, one of the greatest. Jim James and company were in fine form, with some nice song choices (stuff from At Dawn that they haven’t played so much in recent years) and Andrew Bird joining MMJ onstage with his violin on a few songs. Now that they’ve played to hordes at Bonaroo and the throngs at Taste of Chicago, I sure hope they’re winning a lot of new fans.

Ray Davies was the headliner, and unfortunately, the security people running the Taste seemed unaware of the fact that a lot of MMJ fans left before Davies started. The result: empty seats. Meanwhile, people were lined up, wanting to get in. Without the seats as full as they should have been, the reception for Davies initially seemed a little muted. I enjoyed this performance, but not as much as Davies’ show this spring at the Vic. Maybe the longer format of the Vic concert just gave him more time to throw in more Kinks songs, including more obscurities. The songs from Davies’ solo record sounded OK, but they weren’t nearly as thrilling as “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” The crowd stuck around for a while after Davies did his “You Really Got Me” encore, hoping maybe for a second encore and “Lola.” But it was not to be.

The first act of the afternoon was Mike Doughty, the former Soul Coughing lead singer. Now, this is someone I’ve been hearing about for years without ever paying much attention to the music. I wasn’t impressed. Too Dave Matthews-y for my tastes, though I’ve heard worse.

One of the highlights of this whole afternoon was watching the sign-language chicks standing at the side of the stage, offering their sign-language interpretations of the lyrics – at least, the lyrics that they knew or could make out. They also did a lot of air guitar and drumming motions when the bands weren’t singing. They were cute, and frequently grinning as if they realized how silly the whole thing might appear.