The Cowboy Junkies
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA • February 16, 2000
Roi J. Tamkin
Margo Timmins hobbled onto the stage, a cane in her hand and her foot in a cast. The stagehands had set her up with a stool, a table for her tea, and a vase of flowers. The chanteuse took her seat as her brothers Michael and Peter took theirs with guitar and drums respectively. Bassist Alan Anton stood near the drums and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird sat backstage surrounded by his various and sundry instruments. Without so much as a “how do you do?” the band broke into Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” and charmed the entire sold-out audience.
Margo later explained she broke her ankle when she tripped walking her hundred-pound puppies. Thankfully, nothing was wrong with her voice. The songs of the Cowboy Junkies are slow, languid, and hauntingly lyrical. An enchanting voice is key to a band that relies on minimal instrumentation. The music of Cowboy Junkies serve more as background to Margo’s voice. That is not meant to take away from the talents of the musicians. Jeff Bird, who has been playing with the band ever since The Trinity Sessions , stood out with his variety of percussion instruments and mandolin plugged into his foot pedals and effects.
Although Michael played guitar with his head down and Pete was hidden behind his drums and sound buffer, Margo was extremely personable. She explained how the band got their sound from country music. She entertained the audience with her regaling of the movie Deep Blue . And she explained the stories behind some of the songs. Fifteen years of playing in the same band and touring has taught her to reach out to the audience, yet the perception from their music makes them seem insular and unresponsive to the crowd. Seeing them live broke some misconceptions.
She also talked about the tour. The Cowboy Junkies obviously played to some rude and rowdy audiences before arriving to Atlanta. The crowd at the Variety Playhouse was so quiet during the songs, you could hear the ringing of the empty beer bottles as they rolled across the concert floor. For being so attentive, she dedicated “200 More Miles” to the audience. They followed up with “Bread and Wine” and “Simon’s Keeper,” two songs just a touch livelier. She promoted the new CD, Rarities, B-Sides, and Slow, Sad Waltzes , and promised to sign autographs after the show. Again, that personal touch, winning favor with an audience already won over by her voice and the power of Michael Timmins’ lyrics.
Towards the end, half the band walked off stage, leaving Margo and Michael on guitar to sing those slow and quiet torch songs the band is known for. They did rearrangements of “Hollow as a Bone” and “White Sail.” The others returned, cranked up the volume to play “Miles from My Home,” and suddenly, they sounded like a rock band. After a few more semi-loud, rock-ish songs, they ended the show, and later encored with “Misguided Angel” from their first LP.
A critic once described the Cowboy Junkies as performing at two speeds, slow and slower. But by saying that, the critic obviously lost that connection between the beauty of a voice, the lyrics, and the audience. A connection not lost on Margo Timmins.