Live at the Basement
Artist: Roger McGuinn
Time: 13 tracks (+ intro)
/ 59 Minutes NTSC
This intimate DVD shows ex-Byrd
Roger McGuinn live at a small Sydney venue in 2001, armed only with his
acoustic and legendary Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitars. Quite what
people make of it will depend to a large extent on age and what they are
looking for. Older viewers will probably find their experience aided somewhat
by nostalgia and re-awakened memories, while younger viewers might find
it lacking in punch. Those who are used to hearing Guns ‘n’ Roses’ version
of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” for example, will find a solo acoustic
version missing a lot of power.
Where does it stumble?
McGuinn comes across as
surprisingly nervous or ill-at-ease on stage, and that discomfort can transmit
through the screen. Similarly, I am not sure that he really gives this
performance all his enthusiasm. It must be hard to maintain interest in
the same few three-minute songs for decades, but for a recording I would
hope for a bit more passion.
Not everything is down to
McGuinn, though. People want the Byrds songs and a couple have not aged
well: “Mr Spaceman” and the embarrassing “Jolly Roger” come to mind. And
it’s not his fault that there are no extras and not even a track-listing
Where does it succeed?
The songs, for a start!
McGuinn takes us through most of what people will expect: “Ballad of Easy
Rider,” which was so important to the Byrds’ career; “Feel a Whole Lot
Better;” the immortal “Turn, Turn, Turn;” and a fine version of “8 Miles
High,” with plenty of finger-picking, that he introduces as having elements
of John Coltrane and Segovia.
Another obvious appeal of
this DVD is McGuinn himself – that distinctive honey voice and his trademark
jingle-jangle 12-string guitar sound.
Where the direction especially
succeeds is the narrative thread that winds through the whole disc. Each
song is introduced either live, or with an introduction or background story
recorded elsewhere in the building. Sometimes we get both intercut. So
we hear how “Mr. Tambourine Man” evolved from Dylan’s version to the one
that The Byrds put out. We also get a story about how Miles Davis’ young
daughter got the Byrds their original record deal. He was also struck enough
by sitting next to Joni Mitchell in the tour bus that he mentions it twice!
McGuinn has put a lot of
work into the Folk Den project over recent years, where he preserves traditional
songs from possible extinction, so I was particularly pleased that this
DVD covers that ongoing part of his work, as well as mining the past.
This is a disc that offers
what it says on the cover: Roger McGuinn live and solo. If that’s what
you want, it is here – the sound and the songs, without frills.