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Show Review - COWBOY JUNKIES @ MASSEY HALL: Saturday February 23/08

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COWBOY JUNKIES @ MASSEY HALL: Saturday February 23/08

Review by David Ball

I felt like telling the woman sitting behind me to fuÇk-off after she whined, "the only reason I'm here is to see Ryan Adams." Really? If you can't sit back and enjoy a concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the masterpiece The Trinity Session album by the band that created it - sans a sick and disappointingly absent Ryan Adams - then get the fuÇk out of Massey Hall. Afterall, The Trinity Session helped direct a snot-nosed Adams and others of his ilk into alt-country in the first place 20 years ago.

The Hall was at a near-capacity as The Cowboy Junkies played the album straight through with some slight arrangement variations. Some worked, some did not like a sped-up and melody-tweaked version of "Sweet Jane". But the disappointment of the "miss" experimental pieces like "Jane" did not dampen the band's mellow, but excellent live form. The Junkies don't countrify blues, folk and rock; I think it's the other way around: they bluesify everything. As the night's set wore on it dawned on me that the Junkies are one of the least celebrated but best blues bands in Canada. All their songs dripped of murky, muddy blues, especially the celebrated covers like their hypnotic rewrite of the Hank Willims classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", the traditional "Working on a Building" and the album and concert opener, "Mining for Gold", the latter resembling a plantation holler. Sideman Jeff Bird's harmonica had lots to say too on the blues tunes. His blasts sounded like they came from the southside of Chicago.

Margo Timmins is just plain lovely. Her voice hasn't changed one bit over the years and with the tastefully lit purple and red gelled lights, you'd swear she looks the same as she did the very day the when The Trinity Session was released. Margo's brother, guitarist and main songwriter Michael Timmins doesn't get his due in the guitar-geek world or as celebrated songwriter and arranger, but he's certainly one of this country's most underrated talents - maybe because he quietly sits in a chair and lets his guitar do the talking; and talk it does. His guitar screamed and wailed, tearing through spellbinding solo after solo; his original "Postcard Blues" and Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" were particular guitar highlights. I know I harp on my love of underground 70's band Television, but man, Michael sounds like a bluesier version of Television guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd mashed with a hyper Neil Young.

For the encore, doing a version of the often-covered "Powderfinger" proves that the Junkies continue to rewrite iconic songs, but can still make them their own. Covers, originals, it doesn't matter. We can hope that Margo sticks to her word and they stick around "for another 20 years." *** 1/2 (out of 5)

February 24/08

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