16 August 1997
Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder, CO
In a recent interview, Roger McGuinn was quoted as saying that he likes to release an album and go on tour every once in a while to remind people that he's still alive. Prior to this year, Roger's had released only one studio album in the previous 15 years, his 1991 Back From Rio.
This time around, Roger is in the middle of a worldwide solo tour. But, this solo tour is unique in the sense that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is taking on the role of storyteller. That is, between songs, he's describing, first hand, his uniquely interesting 35-year career in the music business.
Opening for Roger was another folk singer/songwriter, Louden Wainwright III, best known for his 1970's Top 20 composition "Dead Skunk (In The Middle Of The Road)". His stage appearance is best described by Rolling Stone as "comic & rubber faced". Between lyrics, he couldn't ever resist the temptation to stick out and wiggle his tongue wildly. ??? Themes within his songs included suicidal tendencies & divorce. After one song, Louden appeared visibly parched, and asked for water. After about 30 seconds of awkward silence, Roger McGuinn himself brought a bottle out to him. The audience participated in one of his songs during the chorus of "Oooh Ahhh, Oooh Ahhh, Oooh Ahhh.....". Very strange performer, but resultantly likeable.
After a brief intermission, Roger hopped out to a front and center chair. Decked out in black jeans and black t-shirt, Roger strapped on a Roger McGuinn signature Rickenbacker 370 12-String, and launched into the immediately-recognizable Bach-inspired opening riff of "Mr. Tambourine Man." After a nice round of applause, Roger honored the 20th anniversary of our loss of the King of Rock and Roll with his acoustic version of "Heartbreak Hotel".
In the middle of this Elvis tribute, a Colorado thundershower began dumping rain on the wood-structured Chautauqua Auditorium. In a strange way, the sound created a unexpectedly likeable background to his music, almost as if one were sitting under shelter during a campground singalong. So loud was the rain that the audience could tell that Roger got distracted in the middle of the song--Roger looked up and grinned, not missing a strum or a word. Afterwards, he commented, "I think that's the first time I've ever been upstaged by rain!"
In storyteller mode, the Chicago-born artist described his early influences, including Elvis, Bob Gibson, and Pete Seeger, who wrote two of the evening's selections, "Bells of Rhymney" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!". Roger also covered his tenures with The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and Bobby Darin. In Roger's early days, Darin hired him to listen to the radio and write songs that could potentially be "commercial". In that spirit, Roger once took a stab a surf music with his "Beach Ball", which, in true humility, he performed for humor sake more than anything else.
McGuinn played a nice acoustic version of "You Showed Me", a song he wrote in 1964 that became a huge hit for the Turtles four years later.
Interesting was McGuinn's eloquent description of how all of his influences (Bach, Seeger, The Beatles.....) melded together to produce the unique signature sound that eminates from his 12-string. He performed "Mr. Tambourine Man" two more times. Once like Bob Dylan's 1965 demo, and subsequently one in Byrdsy fashion. This truly showed how his genius tendencies permitted him to turn folks songs into rock songs, and thus initiating the dawn of the "Folk Rock" era.
McGuinn's storytelling often made friendly jabs at his Byrds bandmates. He mentioned, "This chubby little guy came up to us and added a beautiful high harmony--his name was David Crosby." Later, he commented, we needed a drummer, and we saw this long-haired guy who looked like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. We said, 'Him, we gotta get him'. His name was Michael Clarke--he didn't know how to play drums be he learned how to later." Of course, McGuinn dug into his Byrds catalogue, and performed "Wild Mountain Thyme", "Mr. Spaceman", "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star", and "Eight Miles High". Prior to the latter song, he innocently described how, after meeting the Beatles, bandmate Gene Clark composed the song at 37,000 feet on a flight back to the States.
Jolly Roger finished his set with an acoustic version of his 1991 hit with Tom Petty, "King Of The Hill", and an encore of a brand new song he wrote with his wife Camilla, "May The Road Rise", which sounds a little like the 1990 Byrds song, "Love That Never Dies".
Roger McGuinn began by playing coffee houses. Today, he has, to a large extent, gone back to those roots, but now with an amazing 35-year story to share with his dedicated fans. A nice evening camping trip!
[****] - Steven T.
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