Cowboy Junkies' Poetic Restraint at House Of Blues

Categories: Aftermath

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Flickr photo by adambowie
Everybody knows that good news always sleeps til noon. -- "Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning"

There was a palpable tingle of anticipation in the joint as we waited for the curtain to go up on the Cowboy Junkies' first gig in Houston in a coon's age Tuesday at House of Blues. And, after a quarter century of shows, this band certainly knows what to do and how to present itself.

From the second Margo Timmins followed her band mates out of the wings swigging a cup of hot tea, she absolutely mesmerized an adoring audience. We had forgotten what a searing experience the Junkies can be, but as an hour-and-a-half raced by, were reminded all over again why the Junkies have been around 25 years. Part of it is their brutally beautiful poetry.

Do you ever reach the point of knowing
Or do you just wake one day and say 'I'm going'
Enough of all this shit, I'm going

Another of the Junkies' artistic weapons is the ability to maintain what my friend whispered during the second song of the evening: "they have such a beautiful restraint." Which seemed both a spot on description of the Junkies' vibe but also a total contradiction for a band that has a world class drummer pounding the skins. That Plexiglass baffle surrounding Pete Timmins' kit is there for a reason.

Highlights of the evening? The wispy version of Waylon's "Dreaming My Dreams" that cast a witch's spell over the audience and quieted even the idiots chirping at the bar who were trying to watch the Lakers/Celtics game during a Cowboy Junkies show. Sacrilege of the highest order.

In fact, during the acoustic portion of the set, Timmins thanked the HoB management for "turning the basketball game off," noting that she travels with a bus full of men and lately they'd been "watching soccer at 7:30 in the morning, which is usually my quiet time. I think I'll shoot myself."

Another highlight was the laconic, dreamy version of the Rolling Stones "No Expectations," which segued to the acoustic portion of the show which began with a monster take on Townes van Zandt's "Rake," a song that seems like it was written specifically for Timmins' other-worldly voice.

I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
My laughter the devil would frighten


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The Junkies also unveiled parts of their latest recording, Renmin Park. Introducing the title track, Timmins told the crowd it was "a song about lost love, the kind of song we do best, except songs about murder, yeah, we're pretty good at that." And indeed the title track offered up maybe the most poetic line of the evening: "we'll watch the darkness leach away into the haze of another day."

And suddenly, it was all over too soon, with nothing left but an encore. "Lost My Driving Wheel" seemed like a personal statement about the wearying nature of touring.

Just came up on the midnight special
Hey, how 'bout that
My car broke down in Texas
she stopped dead in her tracks
Just called to tell you that I need you
Just called to tell you how I feel
I feel like some old engine that's lost my driving wheel


Saving the best for last -- no, Bubba, it's not "Sweet Jane" -- Timmins and her band ramped it up into explosive territory with the icily sinister "Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park," by which time my companion felt compelled to whisper, "you know I'm so gay for her."

But this morning the head keeps coming back to my companion's remark about "beautiful restraint." This show was no acid trip, this was a sweet, mystical opium dream.


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