The Desert Rose Band acoustic show last Friday night (the second of two nights at Iridium) can be summarized in that single word.
But here’s a couple more relating to the gig:
Actually, that was Herb Pedersen, knowing that everyone in the room was wondering where his longtime partner Chris Hillman was–Pedersen having taken the stage with fellow guitarist John Jorgenson and bassist Bill Bryson.
Hillman took his sweet time, but there was no need to rush. He and the other three (DRB’s pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness and drummer Steve Duncan were there “in spirit,” said Hillman) were in no hurry and delivered close to two hours of the finest, purest, realest country music heard in these parts since, well, maybe since they disbanded after the release of their last album Life Goes On in 1993.
Lucky for us, they began performing reunion gigs on a limited basis in 2008, and the Iridium stand showed just how much we’ve been missing.
The comfort level between musicians—and musicians and audience—has already been indicated. The level of musicianship, of course, gets no higher: Hillman, who played bass in The Byrds, excels on mandolin, though so does guitar genius Jorgenson, whom Hillman saluted for his mastery of bluegrass great Jesse McReynolds innovative style.
Jorgenson also played both six- and 12-string guitars, the latter giving Byrds 1960s classics like early Hillman composition “Have You Seen Her Face,” “Eight Miles High” and especially “Turn! Turn! Turn!” their vintage sound.
Bryson was rightly hailed by Pedersen as “the lynchpin of any band he’s in” (Jorgenson first knew him in the Bluegrass Cardinals and Country Gazette), and also proved his lead vocal mettle on Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind.”
Jorgenson sang lead on The Byrds’ “Set You Free This Time,” and related how he was working at Disneyland (“the happiest place on earth!”) when he joined Desert Rose; when the group’s 1987 single “One Step Forward” reached No. 2, he was able to quit his day job. So they performed that hit, along with other DRB staples including “She Don’t Love Nobody,” “Love Reunited,” “Summer Wind” and their great cover of Buck Owens’ “Hello Trouble.”
From Hillman’s legendary Flying Burrito Brothers period with Gram Parsons came “Devil In Disguise” and “Sin City,” but even these were overshadowed by a pair of gems at the end of the set: “Running,” Southern Californian Hillman’s intensely beautiful titletrack about his hometown, from the band’s 1988 album, and Pedersen’s “Wait A Minute,” with the chorus slowing down and diminishing in volume with each ending repetition, the harmonies becoming more and more exquisite.
Not even intermittent feedback marred a truly marvelous evening of combined music history and artistic talent—though Hillman did threaten to “spill a large soda” on the sound man after pleading with the audience not to tell Mayor Bloomberg.
“That’s coming from a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” pronounced Jorgenson, perhaps respectfully.
Not needing to redeem himself, Hillman ended with a happy birthday shout-out to his old Byrds mate Roger McGuinn, who turned 70 that day.
Summing it up again in one word, sweet.
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