Roger McGuinn, Stubb's, Day Party

Thursday Night


Stubb's, Day Party

There was no mistaking the man in black -- black T-shirt, black jeans, and sharp, black boots. Only the voice was different. Instead of a low, trembling, preacher-doing-battle-with-the-devil baritone, this was a somewhat fragile, crystalline tenor, and it sounded as sweet as 35 years of folk music ringing from a 12-string acoustic guitar. A South by Southwest set nearly as transcendent as Johnny Cash at Emo's: Roger McGuinn, seated centerstage downstairs at Stubb's during a day party thrown by Sony, sang songs heard ad nauseam on the radio for the better part of four decades, only this time that voice was live, five feet away, echoing off the high limestone walls of the Red River barbecue magnet. Echoing around you, inside you, all throughout your person. Even Beatle Bob, standing not two feet away from McGuinn, was transfixed. "Yeah, Beatle Bob," smiled McGuinn, taking his seat at precisely 6:30pm. "We go back a long way." That smile, a warm, heartfelt grin coming as much from his eyes as from his lips, said everything you needed to know about the once-and-forever Byrds frontman: humble, happy, at peace. Opening with Bob Dylan's "It's All Right Ma, (I'm Only Bleeding)," McGuinn radiated serenity, both in his person and music. Like a kindly relation regaling kin with history, the 57-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer introduced most songs with stories; the best was when he recounted how Peter Fonda had screened Easy Rider for Bob Dylan, who scribbled down the opening lines to what would later become the Byrds' "Ballad of Easy Rider" onto a napkin, and instructed the actor to give it to McGuinn. "'He'll know what to do with it,'" chuckled McGuinn on the punchline. Boy, did he ever; McGuinn's 12-string acoustic flowing like the river referenced in the song. For "the first country-rock song I ever wrote," McGuinn pulled out the equivalent to B.B. King's "Lucille,"his 12-string Rickenbacker, and blasted off into "Mr. Spaceman."After aching his way through a Leadbelly song - his eyes closed, smile spreading across his thin lips -- McGuinn announced what had become obvious from his low-key tour de force: "I've come full circle back to my folk roots." With that, he reeled off glistening pins-and-needles versions of Byrds hits that brought folk music to bear on greater pop culture: "Younger Than Yesterday," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Turn, Turn, Turn."Citing John Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, and Andres Segovia as the inspirations behind perhaps the first shot fired during the psychedelic explosion of the mid-Sixties, McGuinn's mostly instrumental take on "Eight Miles High" evinced a palpable afterglow of the era. The Jayhawks, who'd preceded McGuinn with a rather tepid set culled mostly from their upcoming Smile album due in May, were invited onstage for riveting versions of Byrds chestnuts "Driving Wheel" and "You Don't Miss Your Water," Gary Louris harmonizing with the Man in Black (apparently a warm-up for their evening showcase together at La Zona Rosa). That was all the encore anyone needed, closing another 40-minute chapter of SXSW history.

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