Fifteen years ago the Byrds pulled off the outrageous conceit that they were space cowboys able to unite the oldest and newest in American culture. Their special spirit lives on in the music of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
Unfortunately it didn't live on in the music of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman -- two-fifths of the original Byrds -- at the Bayou last night. The duo seemed like very mundane urban cowboys instead.
Even in their current diluted state, McGuinn & Hillman are better L.A. country-rockers than Firefall or the Eagles. The duo's songs were full of airy melodies and strong three part vocal harmonies (with the help of guitarist Al Perkins). Though the old Byrds tunes they sang were better songs, they did their recent compositions with more heart. McGuinn, the Byrds' leader, seemed like a shell of his former self. He sang faintly, without irony or lust. His old spirit was what this reincarnation lacks.
In the opening set, Jon Carroll led four friends in an informal set of rock and country oldies. Carroll's friends included his wife, Margot Kunkel, and guitarists Mike Cotter, John Jennings and Dexter Hodges. Carroll and Kunkel are half of the Starland Vocal Band, which is taking a "creative break." Carroll's show last night had all the earmarks of a fun but frivolous vacation.