the mary janes

No Depression
September / October 1999
Linda Ray

Mary Janes
Hideout, Chicago, IL, July 23, 1999

The evening began with Chicagoans witnessing one of the city's most beautiful sunsets in memory; everywhere in the club, people were talking about it. The clouds were brilliant with purple, orange and pink, and shifting edges of gleaming sunlight. The spectacle followed a rainbow that ended a drenching, wind-blown, 20-minute squall. The Mary Janes had followed the storm from Bloomington to Chicago in their van, which was fragrant with stargazer lilies from the funeral of Philip Andrew Hoyt.

A victim of lingering cancer, Hoyt had been buried just that day, but his daughter Janas had decided earlier in the week not to cancel her band's engagement at the Hideout. Instead, she put the flowers onstage next to her mike stand and opened the set with an a capella song she'd written, "The Kachina Song". She explained that among the Hopi gods, called Kachinas, there are those who carry deceased loved ones into the clouds. It was as if they'd influenced a particularly magnificent welcome for her father.

Throughout the performance, she would later say, the flowers' fragrance would occasionally distract her, but the audience could hardly have guessed it. The set began at 11p.m. and 90 minutes later, when Hoyt asked the crowd what time it was, the response was a thunderous "9:30!" The Mary Janes played until 1 a.m. and were called back for an encore, which they said was their first.

Hoyt followed "The Kachina Song" with "Throwing Pennies" from the Mary Janes new album on Delmore, Record No. 1. The song is a reflective, midtempo rocker she says is a reference to the I Ching. While her music is unmistakably rooted in the plains, evidence of yin-yang philosophy is everywhere. Definitive rock rhythms, provided by Mark Minnick on drums and Dan Hunt on bass, are softened by Heather Craig's violin leads and Hoyt's own rhythm guitar washes. Anxious lyrics are lifted by infectious pop hooks, and everywhere love and hope are tempered with pragmatism and real-life details.

Her songs' emphasis on rhythm seems a lesson well-learned from Hoyt's former band, the Vulgar Boatmen. Its role is heightened dramatically on her unreleased material, which has a range digging deeper into rock than that on Record No. 1. The set rocked harder as it progressed, each song balancing the importance of rhythm and melody.

A standout was "Sigh To Signal", which highlights Hoyt's extensive vocal dynamics. Unreleased songs comprised about half the set, which also included a cover of Lucinda Williams' "Greenville"; a Hoyt duet with Renee Giron of the Chicago band J-200; and a raucous, fun cover of the Vulgar Boatmen's "Mary Jane", from which she took her band's name.

By far the most noteworthy aspect of the Mary Janes remains Hoyt's remarkable voice, and her a capella closer showcased not only her expressiveness, but her extraordinary control. She sang an original hymn, "Endless Thread", which she had written for her father, and sung just that afternoon at his funeral.

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