Live Review: The Long Ryders + Autumn Saints, 229, London – 20th May 2023

Photo: J. Aird

A gig by The Long Ryders is always going to be an event, that goes without saying, and anyone who thinks that this writer is going to be approaching such an event without a keen anticipation is clearly not thinking straight. But remember, those who admire a band are often the hardest critics. So here’s the short version – right now The Long Ryders are on fire, their last album – different from their Eighties material though it is – is excellent. ‘Psychedelic Country Soul‘ was also a fine album. They’ve taken a hit from the passing of Tom Stevens, but they took the decision to carry on playing this music that is both the bedrock of Americana and also has, and always had, a good following who, sure, of course, want to hear the old stuff but just as importantly are invested in the future of the band. And so the band turned to Murray Hammond of the Old ’97s to form their current touring line up as a classic four piece – delightful frills and fripperies that decorate the newer albums having been left at home to leave what is a hard-hitting rock band.

Photo: J. Aird

A rumbling guitar intro erupted into the instantly recognisable ‘Tell It To The Judge On Sunday‘ with Sid Griffin making the first rebel declaration of the night – a song which declares that if this so bothers you, go tell it to the judge because, frankly I do not care.  This was an attitude further underscored by the rejection of rules and restrictions by the voice of one pushed just a little too far on ‘You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong.’  And here was The Long Ryders at full power from the outset.

Photo: J. Aird

With the raised stage at 229 draped with several Ukrainian flags Sid Griffin explained the several delays that this gig had experienced – the little matter of a global pandemic and then finding that the originally planned venue was the property of a Russian oligarch – who could have guessed?  But third time was indeed the charm.  Through the night, stage centre Sid Griffin would do most of the talking – revelling in his role as the brash frontman of the band – and when not talking or singing would take up a series of rock star poses utilising speakers as foot rests, and striking the ever popular vertical guitar power chord strum position.  The dapper Stephen McCarthy did his talking with a series of guitar solos interspersed with lap steel whilst Greg Sowders powered along seemingly unstoppable at the back.  Murray Hammond looked happy to be here, and added the bass lines with a calm precision.

Flying Down‘ was the first of  the new songs from the new album ‘September November‘, others included the trumpeting ‘Seasons Change‘ and the title track itself – songs reflecting on time passing, on ‘meeting again when the road comes back around‘, looking forward with the occasional glance over the shoulder at what has gone, what has been lost.

Photo: J. Aird

The Long Ryders always did include a few covers, ‘(Sweet) Mental Revenge‘ is as cathartically caustic as ever, but there was also a sense of dues paying with the inclusion of ‘Mr Spaceman’, with Murray Hammond on lead vocals, in the encore a masterful ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece‘ and a song which Sid Griffin introduced as being by someone who came to see The Long Ryders twice “and he paid the first time.”  A blissful rendition of ‘Walls‘, marking it out again as surely the best thing that Tom Petty ever wrote.  Sitting alongside other similarly jangle rich songs as the sublime ‘Ivory Tower‘, written by early band member Barry Shank which once again made the strong argument to be the greatest Byrds-esque song ever (and yes, that does mean it beats out ‘American Girl‘), and the strident better than REM ‘Capturing The Flag‘ the point was eloquently made that, first time around, The Long Ryders were just too good to be properly appreciated.  This, then, was making for a gig that would deserve inclusion in our Night To Remember series – and that’s quite an achievement for a band who are, let’s face it, a little older than when we first encountered them live in the eighties.

Taking up the band’s more country-rock with a side of Clash style punk there was a timelessness to ‘Gunslinger Man‘ – a put down of braggarts and worshippers of false idols: “He used to be feared for the length of his gun / Today he’s known for the strength of his tongue” can’t help but bring to mind certain politicians and notorious liars.  Similarly the inevitable final encore ‘Looking for Lewis and Clarke‘ just highlighted that, you know, for some sections of society things never really change, do they?

And with Greg Sowders throwing his sticks into the audience that was, definitively, it  – for this time at least,  but there’s another tour in the Autumn, and sometime around Christmas – before or after – the opportunity to again purchase ‘Native Sons‘ this time in a full 3CD deluxe edition.  That’s the future though – in the present there was the opportunity to reflect on what had been a flawless gig, finely balanced between The Long Ryders’ first creative phase and their newly productive incarnation and with the band having the grace to acknowledge their inspiration without the braggadocio to harp on about what an influence they have been themselves.  Sparring guitar players, multiple great songwriters within the band, two lead singers of distinction – this is not your everyday band.

Opener, The Autumn Saints, brought their own powerful take on Alt-Country.  With frontman Britt Strickland prowling the stage and playing aggressive bass rhythmically supported by drummer Martin Gallagher, David Ireland adding a more decorative lead guitar and Nick Bennett mostly on keyboards, but adding additional guitar they do make a sound that draws, as Strickland claimed several times, on the kind of proto-Americana of The Long Ryders.

Photo: J. Aird

About Jonathan Aird 2746 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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