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Younger Than Yesterday

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 10/25/2000

Richard Thompson, Roger McGuinn


It has been at least 24 years since Roger McGuinn made new music that matters, and when he played those old Byrds tunes at Goucher College last week, he rushed through them as if he couldn't wait to be finished. Sitting alone on the Kraushaar Auditorium stage in his black leather jacket, he told the same stories he has told a thousand times--about getting the lyrics for "Ballad of Easy Rider" from Bob Dylan on a cocktail napkin, about hammering a nail into a guitar as a teenager so he could learn five-string banjo parts--as if he were talking about someone else.

For all its flaws, though, there was something surprisingly moving about McGuinn's set. No one else can get that same drone from a 12-string acoustic or six-string Rickenbacker guitar, and no one else can quite match his vocals--that weird mix of high-tenor chirpiness and nasal drawl, as if he were Brian Wilson singing the Dylan songbook. Those sounds are so firmly linked to the Byrds' hits that when you hear them a flood of memory and feeling comes welling up.

This often happens when one sees performers past their prime: The power of the past can overwhelm the limitations of the present. Richard Thompson, the evening's headliner, certainly got caught up in that tide of emotion. Toward the end of McGuinn's opening set, Thompson pulled up a chair and supplied rhythm acoustic guitar and harmony vocals on "My Back Pages," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Eight Miles High." He was beaming. During his own set, Thompson commented, "I love doing shows with Roger, because I get to jump up and do the classics. So the fun's over for me. Now it's back to the drudgery of my own music."

He was only half-joking. After all, he never would have had the career he has had if not for McGuinn. It was the Byrds who provided the model for turning folk into folk-rock, and Thompson merely applied the lesson to English folk music when he co-founded Fairport Convention in 1967. Seeing him and McGuinn together was like watching the reunion of a prophet and disciple. Unlike his mentor, though, Thompson is still making vital new music, and his set was dominated by songs from last year's Mock Tudor and 1991's Rumor and Sigh. He performed on acoustic guitar without a band, but that didn't stop him from bashing out rock 'n' roll changes and roaring through numbers such as "Cooksferry Queen" and "I Feel So Good." Clad in black from his beret to his boots, he picked intricate solos on tunes such as "Shoot Out the Lights" and an especially splendid version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

Every time Thompson's diet of gloomy ballads about dysfunctional relationships became too much, he would pull a wonderfully ridiculous comic song such as "My Daddy Is a Mummy," which offered up Egyptian history as a Chuck Berry song. He even presented the world premiere of "I Agree with Pat Metheny," which turned the jazz guitarist's scathing comments about Kenny G into an English music-hall song.

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