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 second set of the 7:00 pm early show from that very same night in Amsterdam, which has never before been broadcast or circulated (the first set of this Byrds concert is also available in the Concert Vault). 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 second set begins with McGuinn leading the way through a pair of songs from the now iconic Easy Rider movie soundtrack. With Gene Parsons contributing harmonica, they begin with Dylan's "Its Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," followed by a lovely read on McGuinn's "Ballad Of Easy Rider." When they resume playing fully electric, it is in a more aggressive manner than most of the first set. Within the first few seconds of "Jesus Is Just Alright," the intensity level cranks back up. They take this song at a good clip, with Battin and Parsons propelling the action behind McGuinn and White. A number from McGuinn's aborted stage show, Gene Tryp, surfaces next with a fine harmony-laden read of "All The Things;" this track would also eventually appear on the Untitled album.
Clarence White next leads the group through a pair of high-energy country pickin' numbers by pairing up the instrumental "Buckaroo" with his own barnburner, "Nashville West." A showcase for both guitar and drums, this features White tearing it up on his Telecaster and Parsons laying down some propulsive rhythm. Surprisingly, the Buddhist chant on the studio recording of "Welcome Back Home" briefly surfaces as a vocal addition to the end of "Nashville West"!
To close out the show, The Byrds dive into a string of vintage hits beginning with "Turn, Turn, Turn" segueing directly into "Mr. Tambourine Man," both now marked by a heavier approach and featuring tight interplay between White's sizzling Telecaster and McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker. Upon the last ringing notes of "Mr. Tambourine Man," they head directly toward the stratosphere with "Eight Miles High." Within a minute or so, the group is in the midst of a percolating modal jam and, for the next eight minutes, they venture into intense psychedelic territory. Eventually, McGuinn and White drop out allowing the rhythm section to solo, which is here augmented by their road manager, Jim Seiter, adding additional percussion elements. Battin and Parsons solo as a unit and the results are rarely less than impressive. Following this drums and bass jam, White and McGuinn tear right back in and with the group sizzling again, start to maneuver into "Eight Miles High" proper. McGuinn's Coltrane-influenced opening riffs signal the transition and they finally segue into the first verse of this legendary song. However, the group is still cooking so hard that they blaze right off again, never returning to the lyric. After another minute or so of burning interplay, this "Eight Miles High" jam comes to a close, followed by the band's signature outro instrumental, "Hold It," to end the set.
The Amsterdam audience demands an encore and The Byrds oblige by returning to the stage and delivering "So You Want To Be A Rock N' Roll Star," rocking harder than it ever has before, just prior to the tape stock running out with the song still in progress.
Over the course of 1970, this lineup of The Byrds would deliver many powerful performances and in September they would issue the most well-received album of their later career, Untitled. This performance captures The Byrds at a most interesting time, when the band's most enduring lineup was beginning to fully jell and their future looked most promising again.
-Written by Alan Bershaw