When the Cowboy Junkies play, people really listen
The stage setup for the Cowboy Junkies' performance Wednesday night
at the Roxy in West Hollywood included dozens of small votive candles,
the kind found in churches. It was a strikingly appropriate image.
The group's immaculately conceived vision of country music is reverential
of its sources, and the capacity audience was worshipful, as if in
prayer. There were times when the crowd was so hushed that the Roxy
seemed less like a nightclub than a novitiate.
But, thankfully, Toronto's Cowboy Junkies - in the first of a two-night
stand - weren't as understated onstage as on their acclaimed "Trinity
Session" album, where they are quiet to a point of coma. Featuring
a seven-piece lineup and offering a sharper sense of dynamics, the
Junkies played the 75-minute set with a serene intensity that underscored
and highlighted the fragile grace of the record.
The focal point of the Junkies' sound is the voice of Margo Timmins,
by turns dark and commanding, light and ethereal. It is a voice that,
without resorting to theatrics, conveys a spectrum of emotions. On
"Blue Moon REvisited (Song for Elvis)," the groups's reworking and
updating of the Rogers & Hart classic was sublime, while "Shining Moon",
a track from their first Canadian album ("Whites Off Earth Now!!"),
was more down to earth, yet still blessed with a frail, translucent
While Timmins' voice is an initial lure, the Junkies' musicianship
- especially that of guitarist Michael Timmins (Margo's brother) -
shouldn't be overlooked. Their skills are readily apparent even through
the muted playing. Despite all of the Junkies' many fine points, they
may have backed themselves into a corner with their distinctive yet
strait jacketing style. The new songs performed, though often beautiful
and haunting, were similar on first listen to the "Trinity Session"
material. Watching where they go from here will be an intriguing adventure.
Opening trio Show of Hands, who have just released an album on IRS,
may not want to be compared to Peter, Paul and Mary, but the parallels
are obvious. Chris Hickey, Randell Kirsch and Lu Ann Olson play acoustic
guitars and sing folk songs in breezy three-part harmonies. While their
40-minute set was enjoyably earnest and many of their songs, such as
"They Can Blow Themselves Up", had punch, they seemed rather dated
in light of such new folk heroes as Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg.