Strumming the first chiming notes of "My Back Pages" backstage before walking out with his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker, Roger McGuinn led, like always, with the music.
In a two-set show with songs spanning his Byrds career and solo work, McGuinn also played the part of storyteller. While fascinating, he stuck to a matter-of-fact tone, casually mentioning his "friend's low-budget motorcycle movie" and the "chubby little guy" (David Crosby) he picked up to sing harmony.
Dressed in all black—from fedora to cowboy boots—McGuinn took a seat after "My Back Pages" and told of how Peter Fonda pitched Bob Dylan on writing music for Easy Rider, only to be sent to McGuinn with a cocktail napkin that contained a snippet of what would become "The Ballad of Easy Rider."
Alternating between his custom 7-string Martin, a 12-string acoustic guitar, and banjo, McGuinn played a string of Byrds classics, "Mr. Spaceman" ("the first country-rock space song I wrote"), his country flat-picked version of Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd," a crowd sing-along on Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," "Drug Store Truck Driving Man" and "Fifth Dimension." Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" closed the first set.
McGuinn opened the second set with a run of songs he wrote with Jacques Levy, intended for a country-rock musical, including "Lover of the Bayou" and a gorgeous version of "Chestnut Mare."
His later career has turned largely to folk music, a devotion that has turned into a decade of Folk Den and sea-shanty albums. Smiling, McGuinn played those shanties with a youthful glee.
Talking more about the Byrds' early days led McGuinn to the show's end: "Eight Miles High," with mesmerizing guitar leads between the verses, and then the classic "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
The encore represented both halves of the night—and McGuinn's career: Byrds hits "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" led into the old sea-shanty "Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her," and then a newer composition, "May the Road Rise To Meet You," written with his wife from an old Irish blessing.
His tenor still strong at 69, McGuinn is a treasure in concert.