Cowboy Junkies have routinely perplexed music listeners over the last twenty plus years with an ever evolving sound that somehow remains uniquely their own. On Friday night, the band played two sold-out shows at the Old Town School of Folk in Chicago with each set taking listeners on different but equally rewarding journeys through the band’s deep history.
Currently touring in support of the Nomad Series, a four album collection of songs with distinct personalities, the band divided each show into a selection of new songs followed by more familiar songs. Singer Margo Timmins apologized early for exploring so many new songs during the show but few in the audience could have cared. When the band locks into their dark groove and Timmins begins to sing, the sinister but gentle sounds they create are nothing short of magical.
The early show moved along a little carefully as the band settled into the evening on the final night of a busy tour with two full shows to conclude the weeks of travel. The band’s final installment of the Nomad Series, The Wilderness, is the album that comes closest to the band’s traditional sound and new song “Damaged From the Start” pulled back the instruments just a notch and allowed each word the space it needed to cast a spell of sad beauty. Shifting into the second half of the show, the band started with “our one happy song”, crowd favorite “Anniversary Song” and rewarded the audience’s patience with “Sweet Jane”. Coming out for an encore, the band shared some of their Canadian humor on “Fuck, I Hate the Cold”, something the Chicago audience could certainly appreciate.
The later show found the band settling into the shadows of the tiny hall and exploring the darker corners of their catalog. Paying homage to singer songwriter Vic Chesnutt on Demons, volume two of the Nomad Series, Cowboy Junkies set the tone early in the set with “See You Around” and the emotionally broken “Square Room”. While the second half of the set included another run through of “Sweet Jane”, the set reached for less familiar songs that showcased the band’s ability to make subtle shifts without losing a mood. The extended blues of “32-30 Blues” allowed guitarist Michael Timmins and Jeff Bird on mandolin to trade blasts of distortion as Margo moved to the side of the stage to avoid the shrapnel blasting from the amps. Ending the night with an understated “Lost My Driving Wheel”, the band found the energy to return for a two song encore including fan favorite “Blue Moon Revisited” as the night, and tour, came to an end as the clock struck midnight in Chicago. The band’s new material more than holds its own with the band’s more popular early work and Margo Timmins has never sounded better as a vocalist. The band will be on the road again this summer and I will be seeking out tour dates to catch across North America.