Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Long Ryders at the Bowery Ballroom

In 1981 in Los Angeles, California, Kentucky-born guitarist Sid Griffin left the Unclaimed, a 1960s-styled punk band, after jamming with former Boxboys drummer Greg Sowders. Intent on forming a band, they advertised for musicians in a local newspaper and connected with Stephen McCarthy, a country music lover from Virginia who was new to L.A. Several bassists later, they settled with Tom Stevens, an Indiana native who was a former candidate in the NASA “Right Stuff” space program in Houston, Texas. The Long Ryders, named after the Walter Hill film, The Long Riders, recorded three punky Americana and alt-country albums, then split in 1987. The Long Ryders periodically regrouped for brief reunions (2004, 2009, 2016) but have released only reissues and live albums since the 1980s.

The Long Ryders headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom tonight was the band's first New York appearance in 29 years. Although the venue is largely a stand-up venue, several older fans pulled chairs onto the dance floor. Armed with a front line featuring three harmonizing vocalists, the songs swept from jangly pop-country (primarily led by McCarthy) to rustic roots rockers (led by Griffin), much of it with a twist of garage psychedelia. Beginning with "Tell It to the Judge on Sunday" and ending with "Looking for Lewis and Clark," the set included the band's best known songs but also included deep cuts from the band's catalog. The set also included covers of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," Buffalo Springfield's "On the Way Home" and Mel Tillis' "Mental Revenge." McCarthy played twangy lead guitar riffs and searing slides on his steel guitar, and at one point Griffin played an uncommon 12-string Rickenbacker. Rather than simply mining an old sound, the band instead indulged their pop songs with an appreciation of American roots music. Pop songs sound so much better this way.

Visit the Long Ryders at