Cowboy Junkies show a sedate style
By Noel Davis
Special to the Register
Photo by H. Lorren Au. Jr.
Orange County Register
Monday, June 12, 1989


Judging by the Cowboy Junkies' performance at the Coach House Friday night, the Timmins kids probably were not the terrors of their neighborhood when they were growing up. During much of their 90-minute set, the three Timmins siblings, who along with childhood friend Alan Anton form the core of the seven-piece Canadian band, had their faces hidden behind their hair as they hunched over their respective instruments, or in lead singer Margo's case, her microphone.

Guitarist Michael Timmins played in a sated position and barely looked up all evening. Drummer Peter Timmins, brush in one hand, stick in the other, tapped delicately at his drum kit as though he were trying desperately not to wake the sleeping kids in the next room. Margo Timmins shyly mumbled her song introductions in a voice so soft you had to strain to hear what she was saying.

Even the Cowboy Junkies' souvenir T-shirts seemed determined not to make a ruckus. They were emblazoned with the motto, "Shhhhh." Shhhhh? We're used to being screamed at by rock bands, boogied out of our seats and encouraged to party, but how often is a rock audience hushed?

Everything about the Junkies' quiet, self-effacing stage presence turned the usual fist waving, roof-shaking rock conventions inside out. The Junkies made the listener come to them as they subtly spun a web of haunting music in a subdued, hypnotic atmosphere. Instead of assaulting your eardrums with a wall of sound, they demanded silent attention.
The Cowboy Junkies 17-song first set mixed most of the songs on their break-through album, "The Trinity Session", with new material from their upcoming third album as well as with rock, blues, folk and country standards. The mixture of original and classic tunes demonstrated the way the Junkies strip rock of its cliches and take it down to its bare bones.

The Junkies slipped effortlessly from their own country lament, "Misguided Angel", into Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues" and from there to the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" and their ethereal version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane"

Although the Junkies' first album, "Whites Off Earth Now!!", drew primarily from blues and their most recent material delves deeply into traditional country, their mingling of these genres in Friday's show gently pried away the barriers to expose common roots of both styles. IT was hard to decide whether, in doing this, the Junkies are taking us back to a time before the modern pop music stereotypes were established or whether, by challenging our assumptions about both rock and country music, they are propelling us forward into the next musical era.

The Cowboy Junkies' live show was not only able to recapture the magical quality of "The Trinity Session", it made the Junkies' strengths as musicians even more striking. In person Margo Timmins' voice was stronger and even more commanding than it was on record, and Michael Timmins' lead guitar rang out with spine-tingling clarity. The marvelous hues and shadings that Jaro Czerwinec's accordion, Jeff Bird's fiddle, mandolin and harmonica and Kim Deschamps' pedal steel and lap steel added to the Junkies' tunes shimmered with the brilliance that comes from the perfect touch at the right moment.

The new songs introduced Friday continue in the same vein as "The Trinity Session" material but are even more country and just as quietly moody. Most songs were delivered almost in slow motion, but when the Junkies really wanted to rock out they would accelerate the pace to a reckless mid-tempo and Margo would shake her hips a couple of millimeters.

Those listeners who came looking for the cathartic release of a rock concert may have found the unrelenting tempo and almost oppressive quietness of the Junkies' show a bit too much like pressing on the same nerve, but those who were willing to drop their expectations were rewarded with a novel experience.

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