Sid Griffin said he shouldn’t but couldn’t resist jumping anyway during the Long Ryders’ finale and signature song “Looking For Lewis & Clark” at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C.
Not even the suspenders that held up Griffin’s Levi’s and a bad knee could keep the lead singer of the Long Ryders earthbound for a few celebratory seconds.
When Griffin hit the stage, it seemed like he landed with the weight of history that stretches back to the mid-Eighties when they came out charging with their debut State of Our Union. This year, with a slew of reissues keeping their legacy alive, the Long Ryders reunited. The pioneers and progenitors of roots rock brought it all back home with their nod to ancestral spirits of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, the “Dead Flowers”-era Stones, updating their sound with new mix of what they call psychedelic country soul. (Coincidentally it’s the title of their new album.)
Griffin and his compatriots—-Greg Sowders (drums), guitarist Stephen McCarthy and bassist Tom Stevens—were in Washington, DC for the first time in what Griffin said was 33 ⅓ years.
“Get it?” Griffin asked seemingly amused and happy to be strumming his Les Paul and twelve-string Rickenbacker and delighted that old friend Billy Bragg had dropped by earlier to say hello. The band opened with the propulsive punkish energy of “Gunslinger,” followed by the chestnuts “You Don’t Know What’s Right” and “Stitch In Time.” Bassist Stevens and guitarist McCarthy switched off on instruments and alternating vocals and sides of the stage.
“Lets go,” the enthusiastic Sowders shouted out before a new song “What The Eagle Sees.” In basketball parlance, he was the band’s point guard with Griffin acting more like the power forward. Griffin, whose guitar play intertwined with McCarthy to create fluidity, pulled out a harmonica from his left pants pocket and wailed during “Gonna Make It Real.”
The frontman who mugged like Elvis at times and pointed his Les Paul skyward, had with him a set of laminated lyric cue cards that he routinely tossed aside one by one as the set went on, forming a growing pile behind him by drummer Sowders.
The band drew rousing cheers when Griffin strapped on his twelve-string Rickenbacker and introduced an NRBQ cover of “I Want You So Bad.” That led into seven songs, including “Walls,” one of the new album’s songs and prefaced by Griffin’s notation that Petty once bought a ticket to see the band. On “Ivory Tower,” a request from the Native Sons album, the band invoked the memory of the late Byrd Gene Clark who played on it.
It was hard to believe that three decades had elapsed. Nothing seemed dated and if anything the Long Ryders were as contemporary as anyone and within a genre they helped pave the way for and create before it was called Americana. Perhaps the only nod to time was Griffin’s references (and delightful howls) to the legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant in “State of Our Union.”
The band played two encores starting with a version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door,” Griffin, the author of several Dylan books and liner notes for The Basement Tapes box set, called up Joe Nolan, who had opened the show earlier playing in white socks on his acoustic guitar in a set of intense, introspective songs rounded out by his wry sense of humor.
By night’s end, Griffin headed to the merch table with promises to tell tales of the Bangles. (Debbi and Vicki Peterson both guest on the cover of “Walls” on the new album.) Sowders came offstage smiling ear to ear, handing out drumsticks and set lists to those of us gathered upfront.
The band is heading back to its native California come early October before heading to Europe. Griffin led everyone in a congratulatory celebration to their soundman who was heading out with the band’s friends Jeff Hanna and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
With the band spread out between Indiana for Sowders, McCarthy in Virginia and Stevens the only one left in California, the London-based Griffin teed up the possibility of more shows next year but left their future ambiguous.
“We’ll see what happens.”