Under The Bridge
A band out of time, that’s how The Long Ryders appeared to me in the mid-1980s. As an 18 year old who’d immersed themself in the first four Byrds albums, I dismissed Sid Griffin and his band as Roger McQuinn copyists who, you got the impression, regretted the fact that they’d reached the height of their powers in 1985 rather than 1965. The British music critics tended to agree, as documented on a flexi disc track called “Encore From Hell” which features Sid Griffin reading reviews of their second album, “State Of Our Union”, at a gig in London in December 1985. “If these guys are at the helm of west coast rock then abandon ship!”, quotes Griffin from the Northern Echo.
So how is it that 30 years later I find myself in the bowels of Stamford Bridge eagerly awaiting their latest reunion tour to support a four CD career retrospective box set? Well may be I’m slightly less blinkered than I was in my youth and having become a fan of Americana as well as “Sweet Heart Of The Rodeo”, (it took me a long time to get past those first four Byrds’ albums), I realise that The Long Ryders really did have something different to offer.
The band went their separate ways in 1987 with drummer Greg Sowders becoming a record company mogul at Warner Brothers, Griffin moving to the UK to form The Coal Porters, bassist Tom Stevens devoting time to his young family and Stephen McCarthy keeping a low profile apart from a couple of years at the beginning of the new millennium contributing guitar, pedal steel and banjo to The Jayhawks. The band have reunited on two or three occasions over the last 20 years, their most recent UK tour being in 2004, which I missed.
Today Griffin may be slightly thicker of girth, but sporting white Levis and having recovered from a sore throat, he kicks the set off with a raucous “Run Dusty Run”, egging the crowd on to participate in the chorus. One of the band’s strengths is that lead vocals are shared between Griffin, McCarthy and Stevens. Tom Stevens still sporting the same, albeit slightly greying, bowl cut he modelled on the cover of their first EP, gets his chance to sing on the third song in with “A Stitch In Time”. The Byrds inevitably get referenced via “Ivory Tower”, as it gives Griffin the opportunity to reproduce some jangly riffs on his 12 string Rickenbacker and to mention that the late, great Gene Clark provided backing vocals on the original studio recording.
After racing through 18 or so songs the band depart briefly before returning for a brief two song encore. The gig culminates with “Looking For Lewis And Clark”, the nearest the group ever got to a hit single. During the gig Sid quipped that their next reunion tour will be in 20 years’ time; however, he assures us that unlike tonight all the venues will have wheelchair access. Let’s hope that they don’t leave it quite that long.
The usual – mainly male and middle aged – with a smattering of hirsute hipsters thrown in to help to lower the average age significantly.
It made me think..
May be The Long Ryders really did help to pave the way for Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, The Jayhawks et al., after all.