A stitch in time…
West London venue Under The Bridge was a perfect platform for the Long Ryders first gig in the capital since 2004. While the band rolled back the years, the venue’s 9m wide, 10mm LED screen behind the stage, sourced from XL Video, showed images underlining their history and their sense of humour. Nic Howden reports.
A part of LA’s Paisley Underground, the Long Ryders are the credited catalyst for what we know now as alt country, but their legacy is even greater than that. Sharp, clued-up songwriters, fusing Steinbeck-style reportage with emotive Byrds/Buffalo Springfield/Merle Haggard/Clash/X -flecked soundscapes, they were one of the most exciting live bands and no slouches in the studio either.
“We connected the dots between what came before and what we were hearing at the time, the musical events and the political events,” drummer, now music publisher at Warner Chapel, Greg Sowders, tells me before doors. “It was simple, direct, very honest and it still holds up.”
Touring on the back of bristling Cherry Red box set, Final Wild Songs, the Under The Bridge set drew about equally from band’s three LPs, Native Sons (1984), State Of Our Union (1985) and Two Fisted Tales (1987).
“Bass player Tom Stevens is a bit of an archivist, Cherry Red was really cool, and the [collection] started to look nice,” Sowders says. “Alongside our studio output, it’s got rare stuff, live stuff, photos and shiny things around the edges. It came out to great reviews and we thought, ‘let’s go and play some shows’.”
Unlike so many reunion tours, where drawn out banter/breathers between every song can crush the dream, the Long Ryders rip through their catalogue, the three songwriters, lead guitarist Steven McCarthy, Stevens and rhythmist/”point man” Sid Griffin sharing vocal duties.
The run of consecutive dates from Spain to the UK, ahead of the London leg, had taken its toll on Griffin’s throat, Sowders warned me, but the performance, and the sell-out crowd’s rapturous response, proved a perfect cure. From opener Run Dusty Run to scorching closer Looking For Lewis and Clark, the Long Ryders gave it everything, passion, and politics, undimmed. Griffin’s Rickenbacker still bears the Coal Not Dole sticker I spotted when I first saw them 30 years ago and the perception/education/persuasion of the songs hasn’t aged a bit. ‘Sure they’re closing up the factory, they’re closing up the town, I’ve heard there’s jobs in Corbin, we’d better look around’ (Two Kinds Of Love).
“We were never afraid to shoot ourselves in the foot and we weren’t afraid to shoot at them either,” Sowders smiled beforehand.
Roman Abramovich hit the gig as the lights went down, ahead of the first non-stop, no troughs 90 minutes he’s seen at Stamford Bridge for a good while. Here’s hoping the resurgent Long Ryders come back for more.