11 October 2004
Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, UK.
By my estimation it is a month short of the full 15 years since I last saw the cowboy junkies live. Though I could be wrong. The anticipated phrase would be “my, how they’ve grown” in fact, the reverse is true; the up to a dozen acoustic musicians on the stage, that I somewhat hazily recall, has been snipped down to a mere 6 persons. And they have discovered a harder edge also seen in their first album recently released after a ten year break.
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Obviously with such a depletion in numbers their distinctive layered sound was not quite so much in evidence, but the characteristic unity, craftsmanship and sheer joy of playing comes across so strongly. The coverage of their work spanned the years although they changed the balance of some earlier tracks; state trooper lasting maybe up to ten minutes of effects, bottlenecks and really almost rawk; Maybe it was the influence of whitesnake reportedly playing next door. Thankfully they did a run of tracks acoustically in the middle of the set to let it all settle a bit. To my most biased mind some more recent songs were rather bland but the execution of all was faultless.
The focus had to be margo, though. Centre stage, with a vase of lilies, hallmark huge, unruly hair, and a mug of fruit tea, she was the sole mouthpiece of the band which is still, at the core, a family affair (brother Michael, songwriter extraordinare and pete on drums). And one of the few bands I have ever known to have thanked their crew.. From her breathy, almost vapour-like words in their early days, her voice has done incredible things. She does not have the widest octave range of any vocalist but her purity of tone, power and command of the dynamics were frankly awesome.
From an incoherent wail to a bar-room growl telling of too many late nights and bad men, whatever she sings, one believes in wholeheartedly. It is doubtless this voice, as well as the mesmerising music (and of course their liberal use of the cosmic perfect fourth interval) that sends tendrils into your chest that clutch around the heart.
Not wanting to breathe lest that be a measure of time passing. An evening in thrall.