Roger McGuinn, Leeds City Varieties, 1.11.2011

Bit of a tough one, this. I have been a Byrds fan since I first heard ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, and it’s only beaten into 2nd place in my all-time fave singles list by ‘God Only Knows’. Mr McGuinn puts on a really good show, especially if you are interested in late 50s/early 6os music.  The venue is so cosy that if you can manage to get a box, it’s like watching him play in your front room!

Starting out on his 12-string Rickenbacker with ‘My Back Pages’, McGuinn leads us through his intro to folk music, meeting Crosby, getting Dylan’s ‘Tambourine Man’ acetate and other Byrds -related anecdotes.

But the main problem is that he has being doing basically the same show for at least 15 years. Same banter, jokes and only slight changes in songs. I checked my 1996 ‘Live  From Mars’ cd just in case. It’s brilliant for anyone the first time, although other web-sites have reviews that indicate fans go year-in, year-out.

In these days of anyone being classed as ‘diva’, ‘icon’ or ‘legend’ on the grounds that he/she has been on X Factor, it is, however, great to see a bona-fide legend still treading the boards when he’ll be 70 next. I just wish there could be a bit more variation eg tales about the Clarence White era or, better still, going out as a 4 piece electric unit. How about coaxing the multi-talented Gene Parsons away from his Stringbender business to go out as a duo?!

Lots of Byrds songs (though no ‘Rock n Roll Star’ this time) and it makes you realise what a fantastic body of work they produced when ‘Feel a whole lot better’, ‘Drug store truck driving Man’ and the underrated ‘Just  a Season’ all feature even though they could all only ever make it onto a B side!

His peers such as Stills and Young can still cut it solo without having to be repetitive but I suppose the format of McGuinn’s show is restrictive i.e. he can’t alter events, can he? Also, he comes across as a very shy performer, hence his word-perfect banter. The Byrds early days had Gene Clark as a typical tall, dark, Beatle-browed lead singer (and songwriter), plus Crosby who could talk a glass-eye to sleep, and it seemed that the No 1 single suddenly thrust Jim McGuinn to the fore.

Go and see him, it’s a really good couple of hours , but beware about second helpings!


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