“There are no STARS on the stage this evening” announced Mitch Ryder as he wiped sweat from his forehead with a bright white towel mid-set at the Harmonie on Sunday night, before adding: “But believe you me, ALL these guys up here with me are great musicians!”
Many younger people might ask ‘Mitch who?’ Those of a slightly older disposition know better though. Take Bruce Springsteen: ‘The Boss’ is a big Ryder fan, and has even been known to slip in a medley of Ryder numbers at an arena gig. Bob Seger and Ted Nugent are also fans.
Back in the late 60’s Ryder was heading for superstardom with hits like ‘Devil with the Blue Dress on’ but it never quite worked out and now in the USA Mitch Ryder is more likely to be put out on an ‘Oldies but Goldies’ Tour. which would be a travesty of talent and justice and is surely part of the reason that he’s played here in Bonn 13 of the last 14 years – Europe knows a great musician you see. It’s not obsessed with the next big discovery or the latest winner of a song contest. It’s one of the reasons I love the concert scene here. A good song yesterday is a good song today and will be a good song tomorrow – and there’s a packed house at the Harmonie to prove it.
With a career that started in the sixties there’s no shortage of material to play, and before the show I compare the set-list taped to Ryder’s monitor with one from a previous show held by the man next to me. He is rather professorial; sporting a beard, thickly glassed spectacles and a folder of A4 notes on the main man this evening. I’m reminded of the woman at Bob Dylan’s concert a few years back who could tell you which guitar he would play for which song and made notes every time he took his hat off. This level of ‘fandom’ is earned over many years. At any event there are not many song matches – hopefully Ryder’s backing band ‘Emerling’ know them all.
Ryder will be seventy this month. “The average age expectancy of an American male” he points out – before adding with a touch of black humour “So enjoy the show this evening – you never know…”
I will cut to the chase. I missed the man from Detroits previous 13 shows in Bonn for one reason or another and I haven’t had time to acquaint myself with the songs on offer. I’m enjoying what I’m hearing though. Ryder moves around the stage in the manner of Van Morrison: Like it’s familiar territory, and it’s his territory. For most of the first part of the evenings show he leaves it to the band to punch the music out. Songs like ‘Rock n Roll’ (Lou Reed allegedly preferred Ryder’s version to his own) and ‘Long Hard Road’ roll out smoothly and it’s clear that this is indeed a fine band of musicians. The song ‘Terrorist’ is an early stand-out and as Ryder sadly relates “an old song that is sadly more relevant today than ever”. I loved too the soulful ‘All the fools it Sees’ with a beautifully shimmering voice to polish up a gem of a song. Followed up by ‘Ain’t nobody white can sing the blues’. “After what we just played, a bit of a contradiction!” The Man beams from behind his trademark dark glasses.
I’m somewhat taken aback late in the show when Ryder apologies for his voice tonight. “I had a jab from my doctor that he proudly told me would save me from no fewer than thirteen different viruses. I came over here and immediately found a fourteenth!” It’s only when we are well into the home run at the end of the evening and the ‘the voice’ is truly let off it’s leash that I realize what’s been missing – and it really is one of the best in blues-rock. Just thinking about the vocal on ‘Freezing in Hell’ gives me goosepimples. A word here too for the band. Engerling from Berlin have been around a while themselves – it’s their 40th year currently. Wolfram Bodag was excellent on keyboards but even better on bluesharp during ‘Soul Kitchen’. Solid rhythm from Manne Pokrandt on bass and drummer Hannes Schultz. Who won the ‘guitarman’ prize? Engerling’s Heiner Witte reminded me very much of Mark Knopfler in his smooth playing style – but Gisbert Piatowski just had the edge on the night in my book, literally, with an extra sharpness to his sound.
Ultimately though of course we are here to hear THAT great voice, and some fine rock n roll n blues. Even without classics like ‘Devil with a Blue Dress’, ‘Jenny Take a Ride’ or ‘C C Rider’ it was a pretty formidable set of songs. I could see why Mr Springsteen was enthusiastic, and why John Mellencamp liked him enough in the 80’s to produce Ryder’s ‘Never Kick a Sleeping Dog’ record. For me though Mitch Ryder remains something of a paradox. He has fans that write down his every set list, yet Facebook and Websites that have barely changed in two years. He’s been raved about by the likes of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen yet remained very much in the shadows in his home Country.
Europe though, as previously noted, knows a good thing when it hears one and Mitch Ryder is very much a good thing where great RnB music is concerned. Despite the Man’s onstage warning about the hazards of reaching seventy, 2016 already has a day at the Harmonie penciled in. I will certainly be out to make it ‘two shows in a row’ – aspiring even one day to have a heated discussion on set lists and guitarists with the ‘experts’.