Roger McGuinn and Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives
It’s always interesting to go to “nostalgia” shows. First they’re often in very comfy places – we like to sit down these days you know – this was at the Christian Pepperdine college in Malibu of all places, and the average age of the audience is usually sixty-ish and they tend to go to the bathroom a lot. I actually have a formula for this – average age of a fan of this band at the time of their fame+(this year-the year of their last hit). In that case that would be 18+(2013-1970 (Chestnut Mare I’m thinking)=62. Which seems about right? The difference today – unlike the Buffalo Springfield shows I saw a couple of years ago – was this wasn’t a nostalgia show. You’ve got a working band – in Marty Stuart and The Fab Supers – and you’ve got McGuinn – who while he’s not that active – he is still playing (mostly solo) and The Byrds style hasn’t dated as much as some due to REM, Teenage Fanclub, Tom Petty, etc, etc…So this wasn’t so much a referential look back but more of a show of joy, and hope; and my God these boys can play. The first thing you notice is that. These guys are amazing players – Marty with Clarence’s Tele, Kenny Vaughn and the smiley bass player and the drummer with the Carl Wilson voice.
I wasn’t sure how this was going to work – would it be Marty and the boys by themselves and then Roger or what? Turns out they mixed it up a lot. Roger was on and off, they hit honky tonk, bluegrass, space and surf rock, gospel, folk and everything else. I also wasn’t sure how much I wanted to hear “the hits” – would they do some of the more interesting stuff off Dr Byrd or Untitled? In the end it was a pretty safe set – but it was like listening to them for the first time (again). Even Mr Tambourine Man sounded fresh, rocking and joyous.
It was obvious throughout that Marty was in music heaven and that he was reveling in bringing Clarence’s Tele out and playing his licks. It was a home coming of a kind.
First off were Marty and the boys honky tonking with Stop the world and Country Boy Rock and Roll and then the fun started. Hummingbyrd has never pretended to be anything but a showcase for “Clarence” and a blatant ripoff of Nashville West. Tonight it’s a tribute and an opportunity to show what Marty and b-bender can do…man he can play (maybe it’s just time to put down my Tele and give up). Then it’s Roger time. Black Ric, silly trilby and the opening, chimes of My Back Pages. Not bad. This is the first real show together so it’s a little ragged but coming together. By the time they hit Baby Blue it’s on fire. This is revelatory. So much stuff going on – and man, these boys can sing too…then Roger’s gone. And we’re back to straight country with Marty’s biggest hit, The Whiskey Ain’t Working. One more of these and Roger’s back on (I guess he’s getting old too and had something to take care of). Now it’s Chestnut Mare time – the last Byrds hit (at least in the UK) and it’s the full version and Roger sounds great. Changing the phrasing, doing something new with it, the Fab Supers harmonies ringing out. This is something special. Then it’s Tele time again for You Ain’t Going Nowhere. And then it’s acoustic time – a bluegrassy instrumental, Pretty Boy Floyd – again really well executed and sounding fresh. And onto gospel – where you hear what these guys can really do. Roger’s hanging out now, not doing much but you can see these guys just love being together doing this. Time then for Tom Petty’s running down a dream – where Marty picks up the Mandolin – where he really is a master, and onto a new song from Roger. It’s a nice, if a little obvious tune called Grapes of wrath. Everyone leaves the stage then for marty to do his show off mandolin bit. There’s a recording on one of his recent albums of him doing something similar when he was 15. He’s in a different world tonight. I know it’s a party trick of his but you won’t see this many places. He just takes off….and then everyone is back on for Mr Tambourine Man, Feel a Whole Lot Better, Turn, Turn Turn and Rock’n’Roll Star and if you close your eyes it’s the Fillmore in 1970 – except these guys might be better. I know, I love those records, and admit I didn’t see the Clarence Byrds live but this is as close as you’ll get and Marty is upping the ante on the Clarence licks – he’s one of the few guitarists out there who can play this stuff note for note and then take it up a notch. And add to it. Thank God that Clarence’s wife had the sense to give this guitar to Marty. There’s no one else close – not your Brad’s, not your Vince’s, Albert’s, James, etc, etc. Marty is the man…
And then it’s encore time – Mr Spaceman (where Clarence finally gets the best of Marty – and Marty has to admit failure), a lilting Easy Rider, the slightly out of place surf rock of Tornado, and closing with Road Rise. Then it’s over. What a show. Maybe the best thing I’ve seen in 10 years. If you get the chance, do yourself a favor and go see this show. Next time they should play the Wiltern – and you young ‘uns out there should come too. It really doesn’t get much better than this….