Saturday, June 04, 2011

On a Jingle Jangle Evening, an Old Byrd Flies High -- Concert Review: Roger McGuinn

Concert Review

Roger McGuinn
Beverly Arts Center, Chicago
June 3, 2011

Roger McGuinn belongs in the same sentence as Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, John Fogerty and Lou Reed.

Although not quite a songwriter--or at least lyricist--on par with the others, McGuinn was the central force and primary singer behind one of the most acclaimed and influential rock bands of the 1960s. As likewise a Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer--for his work with The Byrds--he is, in my book, among the greatest of rock's living legends.

And while, in an age that celebrates transient artifice, Msssrs. Wilson, Davies, Fogerty and Reed may no longer enjoy the type of mainstream mass awareness they deserve, I'm pretty sure that besides those few hundred in attendance and perhaps scant others, the public at large was largely ignorant to McGuinn performing "in town" on Friday night--not at the Chicago Theater or Auditorium--but the Beverly Arts Center at 111th and Western.

Mind you, the BAC--which I had long heard of but never previously attended--is an extremely attractive, comfortable and respectable venue, seemingly holding a capacity congruent with the main stage at Old Town School of Folk Music (where not only has McGuinn performed a number of times, but is the institution where he first learned to play guitar).

And in watching McGuinn deliver a perfectly engaging and educational performance--making the venue where, as at Old Town, myriad classes are offered, all the more fitting--that would have made a great VH1 Storytellers episode (if only he were famous enough), he himself doesn't seem to be bemoaning his relative obscurity.

Walking onstage with the jangly intro of "My Back Pages" ringing out on his Rickenbacker 12-string--few instruments and playing styles are more identifiable with a single musician--McGuinn, appearing for two hours all by himself, proceeded to deliver a musical history lesson.

Deftly switching among various guitars and a banjo, the Chicago-bred artist--whose voice remains a wonderful instrument in itself--led into his songs and those of his influences by giving plenty of spoken-word backstory. He recalled his teenage days at Old Town, shared how hearing "Heartbreak Hotel" changed his life and talked about the years spent honing his talents in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York before meeting up with Gene Clark and David Crosby as the Beatles-influenced Byrds formed in 1964 back in LA...and were named over Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to a hefty selection of great songs that told stories unto themselves--including about a dozen Byrds classics--McGuinn's remembrances were captivating in their own right, as they casually interwove his connections with Bob Gibson (the folksinger not pitcher), Andrés Segovia, Theodore Bikel, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Hoyt Axton, Lenny Bruce, Eartha Kitt, Bobby Darin (for whom he worked), Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison and Peter Fonda, among several others. And much of this occurred by his early 20s.

Now about a month shy of 69, Roger McGuinn was entirely affable and anything but self-aggrandizing as he illustrated how his guitar techniques fueled such masterful Byrds songs as "Mr. Tambourine Man"--which, according to McGuinn, Dylan didn't recognize as his own song upon first hearing the Byrds' unique version--"Eight Miles High" and "Mr. Spaceman."

The man who is largely responsible for originating both folk-rock and country-rock also delivered wonderful renditions of "Ballad of Easy Rider," "Chestnut Mare," "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "All I Really Want To Do" (my partial video below), along with several tunes I didn't know as well but which fit in wonderfully.

Given the relatively low-key vibe of a show with just one man on stage, it would be far too hyperbolic to call McGuinn's performance one of the best concerts I've ever seen. But it decisively earned @@@@@ for being every bit as good as I could have hoped, and then some. Eight Miles High, indeed.

(In mentioning this rare clip that can be found on YouTube--he can be seen playing the banjo--McGuinn coolly told the audience that it was perfectly fine for anyone to film him and post the video. Most of the time I just wanted to savor the songs without holding up my iPhone, but I caught a bit of "All I Really Want to Do," below.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was there with my wife and our friends. He really is an amazing musician and story teller. A wonderful evening of great music.