Live at Irish Centre on Wednesday, 7th July 2004
I thought I saw some diplomat hawking secret plans in the park
I thought I saw my President walking through Harlem late after dark
In a world of love where they burn like Nero
You write them a check and you then add zero ...
The Long Ryders: Looking For Lewis and Clark
The Prowlers have been playing in Leeds since, well, since ever really. The transistor has now been invented, effects are now digital and the mobile phone has revolutionised communication. Not that this has deterred them at all. They deliberately play on a distorted Mobius-like sense of their own oxymoronic anachronisms, flitting between the flat and the downright maudlin, whilst detachedly, almost reticently, proffer their own peculiar take on the dry, alkaline wit so predominant in the culture they both refer to and mimetically deconstruct. Stripped to the bone they are surfing that quadrant of the siécle that Izzard describes so well, 'Cool, Cool. Dickhead'. They play songs about the tragedy of smashing up perfectly good guitars and I'm reminded of the awesome power that particular action must have impressed upon star-struck audiences. However I get over it.
Solo American Gregg Trooper fills the gaps between the Prowlers and the Ryders with cheeky Nashville professionalism. Considering most of the audience flouncing around the Irish Centre tonight are polite grown-ups his brand of, equally civil left-of-centre alt/country folk, complete with comedy hat, a rather battered Martin and no little amount of songwriter shtick, is simultaneously applauded and disregarded - a symbiotic audience participation that the first band can only admire with gob-struck realisation. His penultimate epic, a sensitive lyric interpolating his own personal and awesome Damascus, received through first-hand experience of the relationship between Muhammad Ali and Christmas, fits well. One can imagine how his new LP, Hanukkah with Billy Graham is sure to grace the turntables of all exemplar Leeds Americana/Tequila nights for the foreseeable future. (This may not be true.) When he is joined by the Ryders' Steven McCarthy (who also plays for the Jay Hawks) on Lap Steel for the last 'sing-along' song the audience grudgingly mumble the words before reaching for their wallets and heading to the Inis na Noamh. Well played Sir!
It's been 16 years since they played together, but this, the original, line-up of The Long Ryders kicks ass. They kick the Prowlers' ass (and lambaste them for over-running their set by twenty-five minutes. Hmmm ... Where's the stage manager then?) they kick their ex-publicists ass ('Thanks a lot you short, bald idiot') and then beat their way through a rather healthy set covering tunes written over the course of their twenty-odd year career, currently released as The Best of The Long Ryders on Prima Records. Singer Sid Griffin, who also plays with The Coal Porters and Western Electric still has a 'Coal not Dole' sticker on his Rickenbaker (ask your dad) which he handles with well dressed finesse (the guitar, not the sticker), his Chelsea boots venturing beyond the monitors and into the groundlings, who watch as his sideburns glisten with mischievous concentration - like the bastard offspring of Eastwood and McGuinn. This may be Agrarian Rock for the post-punk generation, but the Ryders are often accredited with kick-starting the whole contemporary alt/country scene, and judging by the energy here tonight it's easy to see why. This is not Conservative Christian Country, nor is it the Melancholic Trailer Park Disaster Movie Sound-Track of, say, Lucinda Williams; this is intelligent life-affirming Rock and Roll.
All three Ryders' front-men, Griffin, McCarthy and Bassist Tom Stevens sing, and both guitars interweave country licks against Greg Sowders' steady beats - the whole, despite Griffin's stalking presence coming across as a band, Run Dusty Run, I Want you Bad and Gunslinger Man are performed with much gusto. The Light Gets in the Way is one of their best while Ivory Tower, by The Byrds, and the encore songs, Dylan's Masters of Destruction - with Trooper Gregg on vocals and Griffin on mandolin, confirm their credentials with key references. Gram Parsons' Streets of Baltimore leads up to an audience auction for song of choice, with Teenage Kicks going for £15. With a final run-through of the homage to American Cartographic Pioneers that is Looking for Lewis and Clark the band disappears into the wings of the night (or at least the green-room).
They'll be back in Leeds, albeit in different bands, long before another seventeen years have passed. Ryan Adams eat your heart out, The Ryders will steal more than your socks, indeed, nights like this make you want to knock off Music-ground for a Telecaster. Which can't be a bad thing really.