From 1965 to the early '70s, the Byrds were one of the most influential bands in rock-and-roll, and Roger McGuinn was their driving force. It was his whispery tenor that pulled listeners in, promising confidences and truths even when singing other writers' songs. And it was, of course, his 12-string electric guitar that gave the band its trademark sound.
Both voice and guitar were in fine form Saturday night at the Birchmere, from the opening chords of Dylan's "My Back Pages" to the last ringing notes of "Eight Miles High." In between, McGuinn performed most of the Byrds' hits, as well as some fine new material written recently for an upcoming album. "The Time Has Come" was a particular standout; with a grin, he warned the audience, "This sounds familiar, but it's new," and sure enough, the tale of living through changing times evoked the best Byrds songs but stood firmly on its own.
Another highlight was "You Bowed Down," penned for McGuinn by Elvis Costello. Less successful were his environmentally conscious "The Trees Are All Gone" and his collaboration with Eurhythmic Dave Stewart, "Your Love Is a Gold Mine."
McGuinn's bare-bones approach to the songs showed how timeless much of his earlier work is. His rapid picking was sometimes too fast and busy for a solo act emphasizing the songwriting craft, but it did fill out the sound nicely, and with the audience members supplying harmonies in their heads, they missed a full band almost not at all.