The Times UK

Green on Red

David Sinclair at the Astoria, WC2

Never the most reliable team of performers in their day, Green on Red have nevertheless turned out to be men of their word. Having failed to play a show at the Astoria in May 1987 - the point at which the singer and guitarist Dan Stuart was declared clinically insane and the group fell apart - the group finally returned to honour the booking on Tuesday night. They even played the same set of songs that they were planning to feature 19 years ago.

With so much water having passed under the bridge, Stuart felt obliged to preface the show with a lengthy and often comical monologue at the end of which he apologised for "all this reunion s***". This was nice, but unnecessary. For if ever there was a band that always conducted its affairs with a cavalier lack of concern for tactical or business considerations, while performing music that came straight from the heart, it was Green on Red.

The band, which originated in Tucson, Arizona, pioneered a heroic brand of Americana music before the term was even coined. They released a succession of brilliant but commercially neglected albums in the 1980s, which fused elements of country, blues and rock, while blazing an erratic trail around the concert halls of Europe. Their shows could either be a display of transcendental genius or a very earthbound shambles.

The core line-up of Stuart, keyboard player Chris Cacavas, bass player Dan Waterson and guitarist Chuck Prophet was joined by Jim Bogios, replacing the original drummer Alex MacNicol, who died last year. Older, wiser and somewhat more wizened they may be, but the years rolled away as they embarked on an opening sequence which included the perennial drinking song Hair of the Dog. Stuart, all gruff snarl and gargoyle eyes, spat out the lyric, while Cacavas leavened the mood with a jaunty honky tonk piano part.

Stuart was an amiable frontman but it was Prophet who stole the show with a succession of elegant, dramatic and tightly scripted guitar solos, most notably during the slow, bluesy Jimmy Boy and the soaring finale of Sea of Cortez.

While the danger and unpredictability that was part of their original appeal had given way to a more seasoned professionalism, it meant that the songs actually sounded better than ever. And when Stuart sang the familiar chorus line, "Time ain't nothing when you're young" from his new perspective, there was a genuine surge of affection for these unlikely survivors from another era. Let's hope it is not so long before their next outing.

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by David Sinclair on January 12, 2006 COMMENTS • Filed under Live Reviews