Green On Red, Astoria, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

At their best, Green on Red were celestial harbingers of dissolute barroom Americana - until the alcohol-laced mania that infected their songs burst into the open. As a piece of rock 'n' roll history it was, on paper, hard to beat.

Back in May 1987, Green on Red were due to play the Astoria, but events overtook them. On stage in Athens, the front man, Dan Stuart, had a spectacular crack-up, leading to his being certified insane. The tour dates were cancelled.

Nearly two decades on, Green on Red had long gone their separate ways. But the organist Chris Cavacas, Stuart and his guitar-playing foil Chuck Prophet, three of the greatest instrumentalists to emerge from America's 1980s roots-rock revival, are more than ready to make amends.

Before they play exactly the set they intended to play all those years ago, Stuart's rambling spoken introduction makes it clear that it was the death of the original member, drummer Alex McNichol, that precipitated this reunion.

The opening "Death and Angels'' springs to life as a tightly coiled barroom wake, dovetailed with a blistering solo from Prophet (a man who once turned down the offer of an audition with The Rolling Stones). Demons aplenty emerge on "Hair of the Dog", Prophet's wolfish and wiry guitar stalking Stuart through an emotional wilderness.

By the time they get to "Cheap Wine", it's evident that Green on Red are matured in the cask - rather than old dregs passed off as a rare vintage. Indeed, with a chorus hammering home a theme of soaring deliverance, it sounds like the sort of music Neil Young gets to make only in his dreams.

Green on Red's influence can be seen in a range of outfits - from Ryan Adams to Wilco. If personal difficulties and other diversions hadn't intervened, they could have made a mainstream American entrée between REM and Nirvana. No band has filled the void left by their absence.

Their range - from the strobe-lit "Keep on Moving" and the noir-infused "Jimmy Boy" to the cowpokery of "No Free Lunch" - is matched by few. A recurring element is a pure gospel strain. It rings through loud and clear on "Clarkesville"- a sanctifying beauty complete with Prophet's gorgeous, cyclical guitar waves and Stuart's "I love you, love you" ad libs.

The mad-eyed killer transformed into a joyous penitent. Bravo! Hopefully they won't leave it 19 years till the next time.

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