Roger McGuinn - guitars, vocals; Clarence White - guitars, mandolin, vocals; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Gene Parsons - drums, banjo, vocals; Jim Seiter - congas, percussion
Despite being one of the most unstable American bands of the 1960s, The Byrds were also one of the most creative, innovative and influential. Right from the start, the group's music would have an impact both on their own influences like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, as well as on subsequent generations of country and alternative rock bands. The Byrds' striking vocal harmonies and the jangly timbre of Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker guitar would fuel their early hits and become the building blocks of a sound that remains compelling to the present day. Unlike most American rock bands of the era that first established their reputations on stage, The Byrds initially established their reputation in the studio. Over the course of their decade-long career and numerous personnel changes, this would gradually reverse itself.
It is no wonder that this occurred, as Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin had become the most enduring lineup of The Byrds, performing and recording together from September of 1969 well into 1972, shortly before the ill-fated reunion project of the original five members commenced. Both critics and fans universally agreed that this early-1970s lineup was far more accomplished in concert than any previous configuration of The Byrds. They would find wildly enthusiastic audiences nearly everywhere they played, especially in Europe where their popularity had never really waned.
Ironically, as the group became accomplished performing musicians, they would simultaneously experience decreasing satisfaction with their studio recordings. Regardless, the live performances benefited from both old and new music, and The Byrds certainly had a wealth of acoustic and electric material on which to develop their concert repertoire. Performing songs from throughout their wide-ranging career, they were one of very few bands capable of forging both a spiritual and musical unity between the two decades.
Much credit goes to Roger McGuinn for maintaining a vision for the group and putting this lineup together, but the secret weapon was guitarist Clarence White. It was White's innovative stringbending techniques, combined with McGuinn's signature sound, that extended the band's explorations of country music within a heavier rock framework. White was an utterly unique talent with blazing guitar chops, a razor sharp sound and astounding musical sensibilities. He was equally potent in both acoustic and electric settings and possessed the all-too-rare ability to think in terms of a soulful, unified sound. This was a key ingredient to the cohesiveness and strength of The Byrds' live performances during this era.
By 1970, when many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, the double album Untitled redefined The Byrds' sound. Containing both live and studio recordings, all four members contributed material, which displayed a solid group effort. The group's extensive touring schedule during this era helped develop a new legion of fans and The Byrds would finally gain a deserved reputation as a compelling live band.
One of the more memorable nights of The Byrds' 1970 touring schedule occurred on July 7, 1970, when the band performed two concerts at one of the most renowned concert halls in the world, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. VPRO radio was on hand that evening and the 10:30 pm late show performance was recorded and later broadcast throughout Europe. Various configurations of the late show recordings were subsequently rebroadcast numerous times over the years, including in North America, and have since become a prized bootleg staple for all Byrds collectors.
Presented here is the first set of the 7:00 pm early show from that very same night in Amsterdam, which has never before been broadcast or circulated. Although front-of-house sound engineer Dinky Dawson's cassette recording is somewhat deteriorated from the ravages of time, it nonetheless captures another strong performance from the The Byrds shortly after the bulk of the Untitled sessions, when the band was feeling a strong sense of rejuvenation and their concert repertoire featured rich diversity in their choice of material.
The recording begins a few seconds into the opening number, an electrified arrangement of Dylan's Basement Tapes classic, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," which The Byrds first recorded on their groundbreaking Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album. McGuinn and Jacques Levy's "Lover Of The Bayou," which would soon kick off the live half of the Untitled album, follows. Like much of McGuinn's original material from this era, the song was written for an aborted stage show project called Gene Tryp, which was based on Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (the stage show's name was simply an anagram of Ibsen's title). Set during the Civil War, "Lover Of The Bayou" is a character study of a Louisiana voodoo man, with McGuinn serving as its witchdoctor narrator. Threatening and tense, this finds the band in strong form, particularly Clarence White, whose unique touch and expert grasp of distortion are largely responsible for evoking the song's sinister tone.
They lighten up the mood with one of the several dog-themed songs the band would record over the years, serving up the traditional "Old Blue." This provides fine examples of Clarence using the B-Bender that he and Gene Parsons invented, allowing him to make his Telecaster emulate a pedal steel guitar. After this, Skip Battin fronts the group and shares his ruminations on the Vietnam War with "Welcome Back Home," which would become the compelling album closer for the Untitled studio LP. The ecstatic Buddhist chant on the studio recording is not included on this earlier stage arrangement, but it will indeed surface in a surprising place during the Byrds' second set from this evening (also available in the Concert Vault).
The medley that first appeared on the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album surfaces next. They begin with Dylan's "My Back Pages," which had also been recorded by the original lineup. Here, the song serves as a launching point for a brief but ferocious blues jam that skillfully segues into a cover of Jimmy Reed's classic "Baby What You Want Me To Do." Before veering into a few acoustic numbers, McGuinn fronts the group for a sparse arrangement of "He Was A Friend Of Mine," written in the wake of the JFK assassination.
The acoustic portion of this set is a delight, starting with one of the earliest examples of anyone covering a Lowell George song, as Clarence White leads the group on "Willin'" a year prior to the writer debuting the song with Little Feat. White's world-weary vocal is complimented by some particularly nice harmony work from Parsons, conveying that considerable work went into the sweet vocal arrangements here. White's fancy finger-work on acoustic is specifically showcased with the traditional fiddle tune "Soldiers Joy" (AKA "Black Mountain Rag"). The group wind up the acoustic portion with another song destined for Untitled with a romp through Lead Belly's cocaine anthem, "Take A Whiff On Me."
Strapping the electric guitars back on, the group delivers an outstanding version of Dylan's "This Wheels On Fire," bookending the set with another Basement Tapes track. Right off the bat, they establish a loose jam vibe with White's buzz-saw Telecaster leading the way for a minute or so, prior to launching into the song proper. Following the initial verses, a fantastic instrumental break occurs with McGuinn and the rhythm section laying down a deep groove that sends Clarence into the stratosphere, which serves as a teaser for the fireworks in store for the second set. Following another verse and a fiery conclusion, The Byrds segue into the bluesy outro instrumental "Hold It," followed by McGuinn's intermission announcement.
-Written by Alan Bershaw