LIVE: Roger McGuinn @ The Egg, 5/19/16
Review by Steven Stock
Roger McGuinn’s solo performance at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre on a recent Thursday evening seemed like a victory lap of sorts. At 73, McGuinn still commands the lovely keening tenor voice familiar to lovers of the Byrds, while alternating between his custom seven string Martin HD-7, a Martin D12-42/RM, a twelve-string Rickenbacker 370/12/RM and a funky old banjo.
It’s a show that McGuinn’s been honing on the road intermittently over the last two years (at least), and he spends an awful lot of time talking between songs. Dylan is a recurring touchstone, whether McGuinn is explaining how the Byrds transformed “Mr. Tambourine Man” from folk to folk-rock, recalling the napkin-scrawled impetus for “Ballad of Easy Rider” or reminiscing about the ’75 Rolling Thunder tour.
Interestingly, though, it was some of the lesser-known material that provided the evening’s highlights. Tunes such as “Jolly Roger,” “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” and “Lover of the Bayou” seemed less like hallowed museum pieces and more like living, breathing entities that engaged both McGuinn and the crowd. Similarly, the two most effective ballads were “Chestnut Mare” and “You Showed Me.”
McGuinn still has plenty of chops, but he favored lean, stripped-down arrangements that didn’t leave much room for displays of instrumental virtuosity – much like the recent work of another masterful guitarist who’ll be at The Egg soon, Richard Thompson. This show favored McGuinn’s songwriting and interpretive abilities rather than his fretwork, but it really shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.
He’s always been a spiritual person – after studying Subud in the ’60s, McGuinn eventually embraced Christianity, and his career has never seemed to be driven by materialism or even ambition. After laying low for much of the ’80s, McGuinn had an impressive comeback with 1991’s star-studded Back from Rio.
Rather than capitalizing on that success, though, he’s since concentrated on bringing old folk tunes to a new audience. A worthy endeavor to be sure, but given how well McGuinn sang and played at the Swyer, I’d love to see him hook up with a younger band such as the Figgs, write some new songs and grab the brass ring one more time. He’s way too young and vital to keep taking victory laps, however enjoyable they may be for all concerned.
ROGER McGUINN SET LIST
Chimes of Freedom (Bob Dylan)
So You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star
American Girl (Tom Petty)
King of the Hill
Dreamland (Joni Mitchell)
Pretty Boy Floyd (Woody Guthrie)
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Dylan)
Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man
Rolling Down To Old Maui (traditional)
I Wanna Grow Up To Be a Politician
5D (Fifth Dimension)
They Hung Him on a Cross (Lead Belly)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Dylan)
MPR Interlude Instrumental
My Back Pages (Dylan)
Wasn’t Born To Follow (Goffin/King)
Ballad of Easy Rider
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Dylan)
Martin Roger McGuinn HD-7 Instrumental Demo
Hard, Hard Times (traditional)
Lover of the Bayou
The Water Is Wide (trad.)
You Showed Me
Mr. Tambourine Man (Dylan)
Eight Miles High
Turn! Turn! Turn! (Pete Seeger)
May the Road Rise To Meet You