Soulful rock belter Mitch Ryder strikes an imposing pose. He sports an all-black outfit, clenches a microphone attached to its stand, slaps a tambourine tightly against his thigh and – this is the most important feature – wears sunglasses at night.
Beyond the appearance, though, is a genuine barroom wailer, one whose voice contains much of the fire found in vintage rock ‘n’ roll. Ryder’s torrid two sets at LincolnFest’s Liberty Stage Sunday night made it easy to understand how a performer like Bruce Springsteen draws inspiration from him.
Ryder’s 35- and 45-minute sets showcased two different playlists, aside from the finale of “Devil With A Blue Dress On & Good Golly Miss Molly.” This medley, a hit for Ryder and the Detroit Wheels in 1966, would be a suitable example of rock music for future generations.
Though the 46-year-old Ryder and his band hit their commercial peak nearly 25 years ago, they pack a fierce musical punch. Ryder limits his between-song banter to a few soft-spoken words, then lets loose when the instrumentals start.
Ryder plucks much of his material from other sources, including his 1966 hit “Jenny Take a Ride!” which borrows significant portions of Little Richard’s “Jenny, Jenny.”
Hardly an imitator, the throaty-voiced Ryder takes cover songs, like the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and bends and twists the vocals until the original is only faintly recognizable.
Sunday’s rendition of Los Lobos’ “Jenny’s Got A Pony” also had an indelible Ryder stamp. The singer’s 1983 comeback attempt, “Never Kick A Sleeping Dog” (produced by John Cougar Mellencamp), may have lacked popular success, but the album contained a stinging version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” On Sunday, Ryder gave the song another enjoyably vigorous workout.
Performing before a relatively small, but enthusiastic audience, Ryder let out shouts not soon to be forgotten. When he screamed “shake,” you expected several nearby telephone poles to rattle.