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Concert Reviews:
Roger McGuinn fills Ann Arbor night with songs, stories

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2015

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ANN ARBOR -- One night after Bob Dylan played in Detroit, he was very much on the minds of those at the Michigan Theater -- and the guy on stage there.

Dylan is a big part of Roger McGuinn's back pages, so it was appropriate the Byrds co-founder and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer began his storyteller-style solo show on Saturday, May 16, with the band's arrangement of Dylan's "My Back Pages" and laced plenty of other Dylan songs through his two-hour and 15-minute (including intermission) performance. There's more to McGuinn's story than the myriad Dylan connections, of course, but those were certainly among the most potent and attention-getting of the many tales he told between songs.

And when McGuinn related that "Ballad of Easy Rider" began with lyrical notes Dylan scrawled on a napkin for actor Peter Fonda and told him "give it to McGuinn, he'll know what to do wtih it," the references were clearly more than impressive name-dropping.

Over the course of 24 songs, McGuinn gently and good-naturedly established himself as a musical innovator, whether it was creating the folk-rock form with the Byrds by morphing Dylan's then-unreleased "Mr. Tambourine Man" into a Beatles-style pop song or laying the groundwork for country rock with the group's landmark 1968 "Sweethearts of the Rodeo" album, from which he drew the nimble picking of Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd." Switching between his trademark Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar, his custom-made seven-string acoustic, a 12-string acoustic and a five-string banjo, McGuinn talked about playing in the Greenwich Village folk scene, hanging out with the Beatles and Rolling Stones in England, playing with and writing for Bobby Darin, and being part of Dylan's famed Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76.

He also told stories about asking Joni Mitchell for any "extra songs" for one of his solo albums (she gave him "Dreamland") and followed the Byrds' "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," which he joked many younger listeners know as a Tom Petty song, with Petty's "American Girl" and talked warmly about their friendship -- including a writing collaboration on "King of the Hill" for McGuinn's "Back From Rio" album.

McGuinn dug into his roots for the skiffle favorite "Rock Island Line" and folk songs such as "Randy Dandy Oh" and "Willie Moore." He rolled out "Beach Ball," a Beach Boys imitation he and Darin recorded as the City Surfers and also offered up "The Grapes of Wrath," a brand new song inspired by the John Steinbeck novel that's slated to be part of a project called "Sweet Memories." He demonstrated adapting folk into rock before his rendition of "You Showed Me," which was popularized by the Turtles, and his discussed how "Chestnut Mare" -- perhaps the night's most moving performance -- was conceived for a Broadway musical adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt."

The net result was a show as educational as it was entertaining, and fans could only walk away from the theater knowing that McGuinn is a) an excellent songwriter -- and guitarist, b) an equally exceptional song interpreter and c) someone with a huge legacy who, even at the age of 72, seems far from finished.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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