Roger McGuinn - guitar, vocals; Clarence White - guitar, vocals; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Gene Parsons - drums, harmonica, vocals
September of 1970 would prove a pivotal time for The Byrds. When many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, The Byrds double album Untitled would rejuvenate the band's following. Containing both live and studio recordings, all four members contributed material, which displayed a solid group effort. An extensive touring schedule during this time also helped develop a new legion of fans and The Byrds were finally gaining a deserved reputation as a compelling live band. It is no wonder that this occurred, as Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) and Skip Battin would indeed become the most enduring lineup of The Byrds, performing and recording together from September of 1969 well into 1972. Much credit goes to 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. They would experience wildly enthusiastic audiences nearly everywhere they played, especially in Europe where their popularity had never really waned. The Byrds were one of very few bands capable of forging both a spiritual and musical unity between the two decades and both critics and fans agreed that this lineup was more accomplished in concert than any previous configuration of The Byrds. Released on September 14, 1970 in America and shortly afterwards in Europe, The Byrds Untitled album conveyed a group whose future also seemed most promising.
Just three days after the release of Untitled, both The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers were booked for a series of six shows over three nights at the Whisky A Go-Go in their home town of Los Angeles. The Whisky only held several hundred people and The Byrds hadn't performed there since October of 1968, so tickets were a hot commodity. Surrounded by family and friends (in addition to having a common fan base), this run guaranteed a three-night party, playing to packed houses for every show.
Logistically, these shows were challenging as The Byrds' P.A. system was designed for much larger venues and because, between the two groups, there was a lot of equipment. Strict time constraints required the downtime to be minimal, so all equipment from both bands (including two drum kits) needed to be squeezed onto the tiny Whisky A Go-Go stage. To accommodate the Byrds' P.A., cabinets were wired to multiple locations around the room. Each 90-minute show was structured with The Flying Burrito Brothers performing a 45-minute opening set, immediately followed by a 45-minute set by The Byrds. This basic format continued throughout the run until the final night, when the two groups hatched a plan for the late show to become an informal jam session featuring members of both bands playing together. (Also available here at Wolfgang's.)
Presented here is The Byrds set from the early show on that third and final night of the engagement. They begin with the standard opener of this era, "Lover Of The Bayou," the McGuinn/Jacques Levy collaboration that kicked off the live half of the new Untitled album. 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 it's 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, which would soon kick off the live half of the Untitled album follows.
The set continues with one of Dylan's unreleased Basement Tapes compositions, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," featuring electric instrumentation, unlike their acoustic Sweethearts Of The Rodeo recording from two years prior. Skip Battin next fronts the group and shares his ruminations on the Vietnam War with "Well Come Back Home," the compelling album closer for the Untitled studio LP. The newest song of the set follows with "I Trust," a fine new McGuinn original that would later turn up on the Byrdmaniax album. The medley that first appeared on the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album surfaces next, beginning with Dylan's "My Back Pages." Here the song is played in truncated form, before skillfully segueing into a bluesy cover of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do." Bass player Skip Battin next fronts the group and shares his ruminations on the Vietnam War with "Well Come Back Home," the compelling album closer for the Untitled studio LP.
The next several numbers blend acoustic and electric instrumentation, beginning with Clarence White taking lead vocal duties on "Truck Stop Girl." While not known for his vocal abilities, this is still an engaging performance and proves the group had a keen sense for recognizing songwriting talent, as this song was written by Lowell George and Bill Payne, soon to be recognized as co-founders of Little Feat. The group continues with Leadbelly's cocaine anthem, "Take A Whiff On Me," which would also be featured on "Untitled." McGuinn again fronts the group on a pair of songs from the soundtrack to the iconic Easy Rider movie. With Gene Parsons contributing harmonica, they begin 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." This serves as a quieter reflective moment, but within the first few seconds of "Jesus Is Just Alright," which follows, the intensity level cranks back up. They take this song at good clip, with Battin and Parsons propelling the action behind McGuinn and White. This segues directly into the set-closer, a fiery rendition of "This Wheels On Fire," Another song sourced from Dylan and The Band's basement tapes; this is just shy of being complete due to the tape stock running out.
Although relatively short in terms of live performances during this era, this recording provides another example of the latter days Byrds lineup just days after the release of their best album. When taken in conjunction with the highly adventurous late show, which was essentially a loose jam session with their friends in The Flying Burrito Brothers (available here at Wolfgang's), this recording helps to complete the picture of this memorable night.