TVD Live: The Long Ryders at Pearl Street Warehouse, 9/20

Before there were labels like alt country or Americana, The Long Ryders were providing the connection between country and rock with a punk punch through their very limited recording years of 1984 to 87. They proved the thread between the pioneering work of the Byrds and Gene Clark (who lent vocals on the first Long Ryders album) and Uncle Tupelo, who wouldn’t release their first album until 1990.

After the encouragement of a few reunion shows, the early lineup is back together with a solid new album, Psychedelic Country Soul, and a tour to go along with it. “It took us 33 1/3 years,” frontman Sid Griffin told the crowd at the Pearl Street Warehouse in DC Friday, making the RPM connection.

Griffin, with his grey Prince Valiant hair and sideburns looking like a cross between Bob Keeshan and patriotic Muppet Sam the Eagle, has been spending his time in the intervening decades as a rock journalist in London. But he still likes to rock out on Chuck Berry style tunes like “State of My Union.” Just as in the old days, his rock instincts are balanced by the sweet country stylings of guitarist Stephen McCarthy, the Ryders’ secret weapon, last seen in town with The Jayhawks, with whom he recorded Rainy Day Music.

McCarthy brings a tasty twang to the proceedings, smooth vocals and decent songs. What’s more, he and bassist Tom Stevens create some fine harmonies, as on “You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong.” When Stevens fronts one of his own songs, though, he both takes lead guitar duties in addition to lead vocals. Drummer Greg Sowders (an ex-husband of Lucinda Williams) looked just happy to be part of the crew once more.

The new songs sounded fine alongside an array of their old classics, which bookended the show, starting with “Gunslinger Man” and ending with “Southside of the Story” and “Lights of Downtown” in the main set, and the classic “Looking for Lewis and Clark” in the encore. Their cover choices were of a high-caliber: the NRBQ “I Want You Bad” they had recorded 30 years ago, and their version of Tom Petty’s “Walls,” which they put on their new one.

It’s not easy making a comeback after so many years (especially when nobody’s been keeping your music alive on the radio or anywhere else in the intervening years), so the club was more sparse than the LA band has been used to (especially in England, where they may be far more revered).

Perhaps due to their inactivity, they were a little rusty up there too, or certainly not as tight as they will likely be if they continue to extend the life of the band. But they were clearly enjoying themselves in town, welcoming Billy Bragg to the soundcheck (but alas, not the show—he had his own to do in Virginia), and a host of relatives—Griffin’s sister as well as a lot of McCarthy’s kin from his Richmond hometown.

Opener Joe Nolan, a talented singer/songwriter from Alberta, Canada, had his connections as well—a fellow Canadian in the band of Mac Demarco playing at the bigger Anthem up the street. After his own set of songs that featured a sure blues sound and a vibe of a young Steve Forbert, Nolan was back on stage with an Anthem all access pass. For his last night on the tour, he was joining in on the encore’s cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Gunslinger Man
You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong
A Stitch in Time
What the Eagle Sees
Gonna Make It Real
State of My Union
I Want You Bad
Molly Somebody
The Sound
Ivory Tower
I Had a Dream
Bells of August
Final Wild Son
You Just Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore
Southside of the Story
Lights of Downtown

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Looking for Lewis and Clark

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