The Rock n Roll hall of famer took to the stage of the Capstone Theatre and Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman went along to see if there’s life in the old Byrd yet.
Playing to a crowd a little shy of 300 when you’re widely accepted as a musical icon might be seen by some to be a sign of underachievement but as a beaming Roger McGuinn strides onto the Capstone Theatre’s stage, strumming that distinctive 12 string guitar, it’s impossible not to revel in the glories of a remarkable career.
Despite recently entering his eighth decade, McGuinn is an effervescent and enthusiastic host as he takes an appreciative crowd on a wonderful trip through one of the finest back catalogues in rock history.
A gorgeous My Back Pages sets the tone before McGuinn casually tosses aside the likes of I Wasn’t Born To Follow and the Ballad of Easy Rider. Switching between acoustic and electric, McGuinn’s finger picking is exemplary with the beautiful clear tones of the 12 string accompanied only by the singer’s toe tapping or occasional hand clapping from the audience.
A version of Woody Guthrie’s Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd is the first selection from McGuinn’s extensive treasure trove of traditional folk songs and it’s obvious this is where his real passion lies today, almost 50 years since The Byrds emerged as America’s first real answer to The Beatles.
The likes of Turn! Turn! Turn! and an ecstatically received Chestnut Mare would be career highlights for lesser artists but it’s some of the lesser gems which really stand out as the evening progresses.
A cheeky rendition of McGuinn loyalist Tom Petty’s American Girl and a passionate reading of Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door both delight while McGuinn even goes back to his pre-Byrds career to resurrect 1963’s ultra-rare Beach Ball – a song he first performed with Bobby Darin as the City Surfers.
A mention of fallen Byrds hero Gene Clark receives an appreciative roar from the crowd before a lovely version of early McGuinn / Clark collaboration You Showed Me.
It’s while reliving his Greenwich Village days that McGuinn reveals himself as a gifted and amusing story-teller as he recounts his time as a Brill Building jobbing songwriter and tells a typically Californian anecdote about his wife being hit by a frisbee at a Heartbreakers gig.
Even his muso musings on tuners and how his specially made guitar has seven strings entertain as does his revelation that is was Miles Davis who got the Byrds signed to Columbia Records.
But it’s the songs that remain indelible and closing salvos of Mr Tambourine Man and an extraordinary avant-jazz version of Eight Miles High are simply some of the best tunes ever written. Now that’s an achievement.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh.