By Chuck Cox
I was pretty bummed. Although I finally got to see The Jayhawks (the band Louris has fronted since it formed in Minneapolis in 1985) a couple of years ago when it released its eighth studio album, I had never had the opportunity to see him play a solo acoustic show.
But I was clearly meant to be in the Windy City to see Pearl Jam, because it turned out that two nights after Louris played the Kessler, he was doing a show at Evanston’s Space. And that incredibly cool venue (think a much smaller Kessler attached to a restaurant) was all of about nine miles from my hotel room. It was also the final show of the current tour, so fate was on my side.
After catching a White Sox-Braves game in the afternoon, I arrived at Space in a driving rainstorm that reminded of the one that had caused a nearly three-hour delay at Pearl Jam two nights earlier. Thankfully, I would be indoors this time.
Chicago act Musikanto opened the show, and he told the crowd that the next day he was going to start recording his third album, with Louris producing. His 40-minute opening slot was solid, as he played guitar, piano, and harmonica.
And then it was Louris’ turn to take the stage. And, man, did he own it. I fully realize Gary Louris isn’t exactly a household name, but he was honestly one of the best combinations of singer and musician I’ve ever heard play live. His voice, which has wide range that can still hit the high notes with sheer perfection, is flawless. And his guitar and harmonica playing were also both superb. His self-deprecating humor was also fantastic. The combination of those three things made it one of those really special shows that I’ll remember for years to come.
The most amazing thing about the show was that I was so much more blown away by hearing Louris play acoustically than I was when I saw him with The Jayhawks. And that’s not to say he wasn’t great that night, too. He was. But he could not have been more spot-on this night. He also mentioned being under the weather the last time he played Space, so I’m sure the fans who came back to see him there this time were glad they did.
Culling his set list from his solo stuff, his work with Golden Smog, and, of course, The Jayhawks, Louris weaved his way through the beautifully written songs with ease. He even took a few requests during the encore. For me, I really loved “All The Right Reasons” and “Blue.” But every song was delivered marvelously.