In between every song of the Cowboy Junkies' 90-minute set last Friday at Avalon, a woman on the right side of the stage could be heard screaming to lead singer Margo Timmins.
"I love you Margo! Thank you! This is my favorite song!" The often publicity- shy Timmins could not help responding to her blissful admirer. When the fan yelled "Tuesday Morning" loud enough for Timmins to hear, she smiled in the direction of the faceless voice and said, "You got it."
With that, Margo closed her eyes, and her brother Peter Timmins started the trademark rim shot that opens the song. "Sun comes up, it's Tuesday morning," Margo purred into the mike, eyes closed and one hand hanging loosely at her side. "Hits me straight in the eye, guess you forgot to close the blinds last night.
"Oh that's right. I forgot. It was me."
At their best, the Cowboy Junkies seem to embody their name perfectly. They make people feel like they need to listen, and the capacity crowd at Avalon could be seen straining to soak in the Junkies' painfully beautiful songs.
The stark beauty of their music is offset by the uncompromisingly doomed outlook of their lyrics; like a lover who delicately cuts you and forces you to stay and watch yourself bleed, the Junkies draw you into a wonderful, desperate, lonely world. Their songs so often perfectly describe the physical pain of broken hearts, the lonesome, romantic path down the road of fated love.
Live, the band seems to respond to their music in an equally necessary fashion. The four core members of the Junkies--Margo and Peter Timmins, their brother, guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins, and bassist Alan Anton--appear totally intent on communicating their music without any pomp and circumstance. Michael Timmins remained seated in the back of the stage for the whole show, the his face hidden for the most part by his long, brown hair. Similarly, Peter Timmins and Anton were conspicuous only because they were never in the spotlight.
And this is how their music works best. Indeed, when guitarist Ken Myhr and mandolinist and harmonicist Jeff Bird (who have toured on and off with the Junkies for years) left the stage for a couple of tunes off of the Junkies first album, Whites Off Earth Now, the Junkies glimmered with a raw intimacy that was previously overpowered by Myhr's slick lead guitars lines. (To be fair, Myhr often played an aching slide guitar, such as on "Cause Cheap is How I Feel," but his sunglasses and purple shirt didn't totally jibe with the Margo's flowing shapeless dress or the Timmins brothers jeans and sneakers.)
The show as a whole was just this side of spectacular. Showcasing tunes from all of their albums, the Junkies played several great numbers from their latest, electrified release, Pale Sun, Crescent Moon, including the driving "Crescent Moon" and the up tempo "First Recollection."
And when Margo and the band came out for their encore smiling to the crowd, it was clear that both audience and band had had a good night. As Michael Timmins slowly strummed the opening chords of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," the crowd roared.
Margo closed her eyes and stepped up to the mike. "Anyone who's ever had a heart... wouldn't turn around and break it."