New Heathens

Cash for Junkers

Here's a review I wrote for a little startup publication of the Cowboy Junkies show last night in South Orange, NJ. Pix by Kristen.

Canadian country mystics the Cowboy Junkies hit stride more than two decades ago with their breakout album, The Trinity Session, recorded in a church in Toronto.

On Sunday night, the quartet plus two sidemen tried to recreate that record’s signature, ethereal groove in the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

It was the band’s first-ever appearance in South Orange and their more than 90-minute set earned them two appreciative, albeit sleepy, standing ovations.

Singer Margot Timmons’s crystalline, melancholy voice was in fine form, even if she seemed at times shy about projecting it. Splitting her time between standing and sitting in front of her microphone, Timmons often shielded her face with her hands and at times she both left the stage during instrumental breaks and sat with her back toward the audience. Her most theatrical gesture was swirling a teabag around one of three steaming mugs she sipped from during the show. To her right sat a table adorned with (heavenly) wine and roses.

Her most direct connection with the audience occurred when she dedicated two songs to local fans who had emailed the band. Timmons said that a baker named Fred had requested the song “White Sail” for a woman named Lynn. Timmons said she was touched both that Fred referred to his paramour as a “lady,” and that he gave the band a chocolate mousse cake.

“Hang on to him,” Timmons advised. “He bakes.”

The second request was from a couple celebrating their anniversary. The band, appropriately, performed “The Anniversary Song.”

“Thank god it’s a happy song,” Timmons quipped. The crowd laughed.

Michael Timmons, Margot’s brother, led the band and painted with deep, rich tones coaxed from a handful of guitars. A third Timmons, Peter, played drums. Alan Anton, who for much of the show was the only person who stood up onstage, handled the bass.

Some of the most interesting sounds came from two Junkies sidemen. Longtime associate Jeff Bird blew harmonica licks reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s mouth organist Mickey Raphael. He also played piercing mandolin fed through a wah-wah pedal. Aaron Goldman, on loan from the opening band LeE HARVeY OsMOND, provided more traditional sounds on pedal steel guitar.

The band started the night crescendoing into “Dragging Hooks (River Song Trilogy Part III),” and then segued into “Crescent Moon.”

After “Hold On To Me,” Margot Simmons sent a song out to her tour manager, who had watched his beloved Boston Red Sox lose earlier in the day. In the hands of a band with less finesse, a statement like that could elicit guffaws from a Yankee crowd. The Junkies then tugged their fans’ heartstrings with a shimmering cover of the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations.”

Other highlights included a spooky take on the bluegrass standard, “Working on a Building,” and the band’s classic, “Misguided Angel.” By the time the Junkies played their final song, “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,” they seemed so focused on each other it was as if the audience wasn’t even there. Almost as if SOPAC were a Canadian church.

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