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, to 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 nearly decade-long career and numerous personnel changes, this would gradually reverse itself. By 1970, when many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, the double album Untitled, had 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. It is no wonder that this occurred, as Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin had indeed become the most enduring lineup of The Byrds, performing and recording together from September of 1969 well into 1972. Much credit goes to Roger McGuinn for maintaining a vision for the group and keeping this lineup together, but the secret weapon was guitarist Clarence White. It was White's innovative string-bending 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 Both critics and fans universally agreed that this early 1970's lineup was far more accomplished in concert than any previous configuration of The Byrds. Ironically, as the group became accomplished performing musicians, they would simultaneously experience decreasing satisfaction with their studio recordings, a reversed scenario of the group's most commercially successful years in the 1960s. Regardless, the live performances benefitted from both old and new material 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. Their studio projects may have become less satisfying, but it mattered little to those attending their concerts as their most inspired and innovative moments now almost exclusively resulted on stage. They would experience wildly enthusiastic audiences nearly everywhere they played, especially in Europe where their popularity had never really waned. A prime example is the recording presented here, taped by sound reinforcement pioneer Dinky Dawson in Rotterdam during the European leg of The Byrds 1971 tour. This previously unheard recording captures the group just a month prior to the release of Byrdmaniax and three days after the officially released Royal Albert Hall concert. Recorded on the 3rd day of their highly publicized two week tour of the Netherlands, where the band remained wildly popular, it would be the group's second appearance at this venue, where two nights prior they had performed before one of the most wildly enthusiastic audiences of their career. An afternoon concert booked at the last minute, this performance is intriguing, not only for being structured differently (it was intended to be a shorter truncated version of their normal concerts), but for the fact that the Dutch audience encourages The Byrds back for an unprecedented three encores, totaling ten additional songs, nearly doubling the length of the core performance!
Unlike most of their concerts on this tour, this performance is not structured in three parts, beginning and concluding with electric material, with an acoustic set sandwiched in between. Instead the band forgoes the first two sets entirely and begins with material usually reserved for the concluding electric set. With Gene Parsons contributing harmonica, they begin with two of the songs from the massively popular Easy Rider movie soundtrack, starting with a haunting rendition of Dylan's "Its Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." Upon the songs conclusion, McGuinn recreates the sound of a motorcycle crash before continuing with a lovely "Ballad Of Easy Rider." Within the first few seconds of the "Jesus Is Just Alright" which follows, the intensity level is cranked way up. They take this song at a hyperdrive tempo, with Battin and Parsons propelling McGuinn and White. Next up is Roger McGuinn's "All The Things," a new ecologically minded composition featured on the Untitled album. Of particular note is Clarence White's highly sensitive guitar playing here, which decorates and compliments McGuinn's vocal on each and every verse. The set continues by pairing up two high-energy instrumentals, "Buckaroo" and "Nashville West." White's electric fingerpicking is dazzling here and the rhythm section provides outstanding propulsion. Those familiar with the live version of "Nashville West" on Untitled may notice this has expanded a bit. Here it features a new vocal coda with the band utilizing the ecstatic Buddhist chant found on the end of the studio recording of "Well Come Back Home" to nice effect.
Intended to close the afternoon set, The Byrds kick into a three-song medley of vintage hits, beginning with "Turn Turn Turn" and "Mr. Tamborine Man" and concluding with a sizzling performance of "Eight Miles High." An improvisation begins from scratch and before you know it, the group is deep into a percolating raga-oriented jam. For the next several minutes, they venture deeper into psychedelic territory that features a propulsive bottom end by Battin and Parsons and McGuinn and White both blazing away on their guitars. Eventually, McGuinn and White drop out, leaving the rhythm section, augmented with road manager Jim Seiter on congas, to develop a jam of their own. It takes a minute or two to fully coalesce, but Battin and Parsons soon lock in, taking off into a propulsive jam of their own. Approximately 5 minutes later, both guitarists join back in, with McGuinn reinforcing the rhythmic groove, while White provides sizzling leads. As McGuinn starts maneuvering the jam into "Eight Miles High" proper, using his Coltrane-influenced improvisations to signal the transition. After several minutes of intense interplay, this "Eight Miles High" jam comes to an explosive close, followed by the band's signature outro instrumental, "Hold It," to end the set.
The Dutch audience refuses to let the band go, and clearly inspired by such a rousing response, The Byrds return to the stage for an encore comprising half a dozen songs. Kicking it back off with another classic-era hits, "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star" and following that with the countrified flavors of "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" and "Mr. Spaceman," The Byrds then treat the audience to the remaining Easy Rider soundtrack song not yet performed, their definitive cover of Carole King's "I Wasn't Born To Follow." To conclude, they forgo playing anything familiar and instead McGuinn leads the group through raggedly harmonious renditions of "O Mary Don't You Weep" and "Amazing Grace" to end the performance.
Still, the Dutch audience refuses to let the band go and entices the group back for a fully engaged reading of Dylan's "Chimes Of Freedom" and the McGuinn/Levy penned gem, "Just A Season." Despite playing eight encore songs already, this ecstatic audience demands more and Roger McGuinn, obviously delighted by such a rousing response, obliges by returning to the stage alone. A fine rendition of "Chestnut Mare," which became a top 20 hit in Europe, is served up next. The most popular track from Untitled, this soon has White, Batton and Parsons joining back in to great effect. To end this remarkable performance, The Byrds treat the Dutch audience to a preview of the forthcoming album, Byrdmaniax, by performing it's lead-off track "Glory Glory" finally concluding one of the most unusual shows from what many consider to be their single greatest tour.