Pop review

The Lowry, Salford
****

Roger McGuinn bounds onstage, acknowledges the applause with a nod and says, "Thank you. This is a song I recorded for the soundtrack of the film Easy Rider." It is a powerful introduction - one that reminds us of his history and re-establishes his cool.

For the first part of this rare one-man show, however, it's debatable whether the astonishingly youthful figure onstage is the legendary Byrd at all. A black designer suit underlines the impression that McGuinn, supposedly 58, stopped ageing in the 1980s, and is now fighting his own personal battle with the passage of time. Ploughing through his rich recorded legacy, he initially seems edgy, shifting in his seat. His guitar playing on The Ballad of Easy Rider is wonderfully urgent, but faster than it should be. It dawns gradually that, in an intimate theatre, he is implausibly nervous.

This show follows the format established by Ray Davies - classic songs interspersed with tales from the times they were written. In this case, hangin' with Dylan, Mitchell and Parsons. As the audience respond, McGuinn relaxes, loses the jacket, and his performance explodes. Alternating between a 12-string acoustic and an electric Rickenbacker, he soars through the likes of Turn! Turn! Turn! and the Dylan-penned My Back Pages as if they were written yesterday.

Amazingly, his voice still sounds as eerie and earnest as it did 25 years ago. Occasionally, he's unexpectedly funny, although the scars from history remain. It still bugs him that the Turtles, not the Byrds, had a hit with You Showed Me. Once or twice, things dip musically, such as when Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man becomes a sing-song. On the other hand, close your eyes during Goin' Back and you'd swear there are Vietnam protests outside. An hour set is brief, but enough to prove that if a Byrd flies high enough, he need never come down.

• Roger McGuinn plays Camden Jazz Cafe (020-7344 0044), tonight.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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