Housed inside the grounds of Coventry University, the Warwick Arts Centre has quickly become my favourite venue in which to experience live music. The theatre has the feel of a post-modernist cathedral and it’s the perfect frame in which to experience a performance by alternative country/folk rock band, the Cowboy Junkies. The stage, bathed in dark blues and purples, looks very enticing, and a tangible sense of expectation electrifies the air as we await the band.
There’s no support act tonight, so the Cowboy Junkies will be performing two sets, the first of which gets off to the best possible start with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’. It also happens to be the opening track on their latest album, the collection of covers Songs Of The Recollection, and this first set will be (predominantly) devoted to reinterpretations of others’ songs. They put a rather contemplative, sorrowful spin on Bowie’s dystopian classic, and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the evening, and just when we think things couldn’t get any better, the band pull The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane’ out the bag. Lou Reed touted the Junkies’ version as his favourite, and it’s easy to see why. As with all these covers, the band put their inimitable stamp on proceedings; they’re not mere facsimiles and that’s primarily because of Margo Timmins’ expressive vocals. Maybe it’s a mild case of the flu, but her voice exists somewhere between Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and what’s most impressive is her taking these songs, written by men and for men, (the Stones’ ‘No Expectations’, The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’) and making them her own. Peter Timmins’ vaguely psychedelic guitar playing is also a boon, and it’s here where the wonderful acoustics of the theatre come into their own, and a fuzzed-up version of Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ concludes the first set in style.
Suitably refreshed, the crowd return to their seats for a second set that finds the Cowboy Junkies on more familiar ground, and opens with a warm and luxurious ‘Sing Me A Song’ (from their 2018 album All That Reckoning). From there we travel back almost three decades for ‘Escape Is So Simple’, and despite the years that separate the songs, they make for easy bedfellows. An acoustic interlude adds a nice change of pace, it’s a sudden shift after several songs which have sparkled and fizzed like premium champagne, but that doesn’t make ‘A Horse In The Country’ any less vivacious, and it gives Margo an opportunity to regale us with one of rock n’ rolls best tales. However, it’s back to the rock action with a sublime ‘The Slide’ and a full-bodied ‘Misguided Angel’ which is the perfect vehicle for drummer Peter Timmins who introduces some unusual rhythms and spellbinding fills. With three siblings in the group, the Cowboy Junkies have a chemistry that verges on telepathy, and with bassist Alan Anton acting as an anchor, they barely put a foot wrong all night. Supplementing the band is multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird who adds all sorts of wizardry to the Junkies’ sound and he really comes to the fore on ‘Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis)’ and turns the song into an unforgettable closer.
An encore is demanded, and the Cowboy Junkies are only too happy to oblige, and they push things dangerously close to curfew before riding off into the sunset to entertain another town, they’re safe in the knowledge that no one’s left disappointed.