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Live at the Basement
Artist: Roger McGuinn
Label:  Voiceprint:  
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 anywhere off-screen.
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.
Derek Walker


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