Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo At The Ace | Lefsetz Letter

It was astounding.

If you want to know what it was like in ’68, if you want to steep yourself in the concert experience from way back when, go to this show.

First and foremost it was in a theatre. Hard to believe, but the acts lamented the move to arenas at first, because of the SOUND! It was muddy, still is. Sit in the back and if you don’t know the words by heart, you’re in trouble. And with fewer people it felt more intimate.

And everybody sat.

I don’t get the standing thing. I think it’s just a way for promoters to make more money. But once they got rid of the chairs, the whole encounter changed. It used to be a religious experience, sitting in your seat, letting your mind drift. Then it became about a hang, a social scene.

But tonight was a trip to church, or synagogue, and even if you’re not a believer, you would have bowed down to the music emanating from the stage.

On the surface, this is 1 + 1 + 1 = 4. That’s right, Roger McGuinn’s been singing the same old hits for eons, if you wanted to hear them live, you already have. And although Chris Hillman has experimented musically, he’s in even less demand. But if you add in wild card Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, you end up with something you didn’t anticipate, the whole enterprise is lifted to another level. OF MUSIC!

We’ve gotten so far from the music it’s crazy. If you make hits, it’s about the trappings, your stardom, curating your social media feed is part of your act, what’s on stage is often canned, on hard drive, it’s just a celebration of the rest of your career. But the truth is recordings are dropping in influence. It’s what’s done on stage that counts. And when you get it right, like the assembled multitude did tonight, it’s TRANSCENDENT!

I didn’t expect it to be a Byrds concert, I didn’t expect it to be a celebration of what once was and still can be.

The show started with “My Back Pages.”

Wait, they weren’t immediately going to go into “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” and play a few hits and exit thereafter?

And there were stories before each number, they gave context, not too long, but just right. And the second song was a cover of Porter Wagoner’s number “A Satisfied Mind,” sung by Marty. I never heard it, never knew it, but instantly I loved it!

Marty Stuart, the guy with the big hair who never crossed over to rock. His locks are white these days, but he’s younger than me. He’s lived in a parallel universe, and our paths have not crossed. But tonight!

The thing about these country players is they’re TIGHT! You get the idea they play every day, whether there’s an audience or not, they’re cohesive, and strong, the sound is AMAZING! It’s so weird to hear what once was and now still is again. There was nothing on hard drive, plastic surgery was not a factor, these were old guys who were still young.

Chris Hillman had to sit in a chair at times. McGuinn never doffed his hat. But when the band fired up it was just as vital as way back when. But curiously, there was no nostalgia factor, at least not until they paid tribute to Tom Petty at the end of the show.

You know, you go to hear the oldies, to trigger your memories. Hell, Journey is not the only band with a faux singer. It’s about the songs, they’re now ours. But these players owned the material, it was as fresh as today, you reveled in the sound, you expected them to come back next year with a new album.

But they won’t. Because no one wants to hear it, that’s not how it works anymore. Used to be you had to go to hear the new stuff, otherwise you might never hear it again. But now its just old nuggets, again and again.

But “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” never gets play on stage.

But before that, in the first half, they toured their career, it was an Evening With.

And it wasn’t just hits. Sure, we heard “Mr. Tambourine Man,” amazing how McGuinn can still pick those notes, but there were obscurities, like “Time Between” and “Old John Robertson” and exquisite takes on “Wasn’t Born To Follow” and “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man.”

As for the second half…

That’s what people came to hear.

The bass player switched to pedal steel, Marty picked a mandolin when he wasn’t wailing on Clarence White’s guitar, and after a couple of Marty and band songs, it was…

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

I didn’t buy “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo,” at least not in ’68, but in the fall of ’70, I went to visit my high school buddy Marc at the first year of Hampshire College and he picked it out on his guitar, I was immediately hooked. Funny how the hits fade and the album cuts persevere.

“Life In Prison” had meaning beyond the original.

“Blue Canadian Rockies” had visions of mountains hovering in front of your eyes.

“The Christian Life” made you a believer.

And “I Am A Pilgrim” united the audience, we’re all searching for song.

And then another take on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” with the audience singing along, half the melody, half the harmony, and…

Even if you were not a fan of “Sweetheart,” even if you didn’t know the material well, you got it tonight, that’s the power of music, that’s the power of sound, that’s the power of playing, that’s the power of BEING THERE!

After twenty three numbers I wasn’t sure there’d be an encore. And then they played “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” after McGuinn said most people think it’s a Petty song…

They went into Petty. McGuinn played his cover of “American Girl,” which just made me miss Tom.

But then Hillman performed his cover of “Wildflowers,” the same, but different from the original, and you almost weeped, for the loss, that’s when I got nostalgic, for what once was and forevermore will never be. Aren’t your elders supposed to die first? Not that they shouldn’t live, but in the natural order of things shouldn’t Tom be paying tribute to the departed Byrds?

But then…

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’

Whoa! What? That’s right, Marty Stuart was singing RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM! I thought back to buying “Full Moon Fever,” that amazing run of songs on the first side, can those days ever come back? I’m not sure, as Tom is gone, but I’m still here and the band on stage was fully ALIVE!

The finale was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and then they were gone.

To everything there is a season.

And we lived through it, the assembled multitude, no one under forty, most over sixty. When McGuinn wore his granny glasses on national TV, when we followed the personnel changes and stopped paying attention to sports, when there was a new exciting act on a regular basis, just like there was a new exciting app half a decade ago. We lived from one musical moment to the next, hopping along in ecstasy.

And then it ended. We loved that the young ‘uns embraced Zeppelin and the Doors, but then melody went out the window and it became about melisma whereas subtlety used to have a place. And the oldsters sit around and bitch, wishing the old days would come back…



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