If Cowboy Junkies concerts have in the past been tepid and lifeless affairs, the veteran Canadian roots-rock band solved the problem on its current U.S. tour by employing the services throughout the show of members of opening act Over the Rhine, whose melodious folk-pop added exciting new life to the Junkies’ sometimes laconic, countrified efforts.
The Junkies’ recent Geffen Records album “Miles From Our Home” seeks to move the group in a more melodic (some would say mainstream) direction, though it retains guitarist-songwriter Michael Timmins’ trademark alternately obscure and biting lyrics.
At the ornate (and exquisitely refurbished) Royce Hall, on the campus of UCLA, the Junkies explored songs from most of their seven albums, often with triumphant results.
A new acoustic version of “Something More Besides You,” the bluesy “Ode to Billie Joe”-ish “A Common Disaster” and a sparse, show-ending “Blue Moon Revisited” each revealed new musical insight, rewarding the enthusiastic though far from sold-out crowd with inventive new arrangements.
From the new album, “The Summer of Discontent,” the triumphant “Blue Guitar,” which seeks to overcome lost love with just a guitar, and the upbeat “New Dawn Coming” were standouts, along with fan faves like “Misguided Angel,” from the band’s breakthrough 1988 album “The Trinity Sessions,” and a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”
Singers Terri Templeton and Karin Bergquist from Over the Rhine added not only bright harmonies to the concert but an energizing (and previously lacking) sense of celebration.
Cowboy Junkies vocalist Margo Timmins is still a bit of a wallflower on stage, but with a new short haircut and buoyed, she said, by having other females on the tour, the singer was far more engaging than in the past.
Thoughtful instrumentation also added to the hour-and-50-minute show, including warm Hammond B3 organ, plenty of biting guitar from Michael Timmins, and the impressive array of stringed, wind and percussive instruments employed by Jeff Bird, whose only transgression was that he often blew his harmonica too loudly over his singer’s delicate notes.