Roger McGuinn - guitar, vocals; Clarence White - guitar, mandolin, vocals; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Gene Parsons - drums, harmonica, vocals; Guest: Terry Melcher - piano, organ (on track 6)
Following the release of a new double album and shortly after Roger McGuinn became the subject of Rolling Stone magazine's monthly interview; October of 1970 would find The Byrds touring the college and club circuit in America to rousing response. When many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, the double album Untitled would rejuvenate the band's following. 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 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, which 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 ability to create 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.
Presented here is the first of two sets performed on the final night of a three-night engagement at the Boston Tea Party, when The Byrds headlined a bill that also featured Mylon Lefevre & Holy Smoke in the support slot. This night is unique not only for the group deciding to play two sets but they seem to be experimenting with their song sequencing. On the previous two nights of this Tea Party run -- as well as most stops of this tour -- the group performed single sets lasting approximately an hour (encores included). Additionally, the band's producer, Terry Melcher, also makes a rare live appearance with the group.
This first set of the evening kicks off with "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star." This crowd-pleasing opener is followed by two of Dylan's legendary "Basement Tapes" compositions, beginning with "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." Unlike the acoustic based Sweethearts Of The Rodeo recording, which The Byrds had recorded two years prior, here the song features electric instrumentation. McGuinn informs the audience about a recent derogatory comment Dylan had made regarding their arrangement of the forthcoming song, before continuing with the band's fiery arrangement of "This Wheels On Fire." This provides a fine example of this lineup hitting their stride and includes a hot prelude jam leading into the song proper and all four musicians vocally contributing to the choruses. McGuinn sounds forceful and engaged. Both he and White take flight into a sizzling guitar jam midway that is one of the early highlights of this performance.
At this point, Terry Melcher joins the band on stage, providing piano and organ accompaniment on the newest song in the band's repertoire, "I Trust." This uplifting new McGuinn original had just been recorded 10 days prior and would be destined for their next album, Byrdmaniax the following year.
Unusual to turn up in the middle of a set (it was normally opened their sets) is "Lover Of The Bayou," the McGuinn/Jacques Levy collaboration that would kick off the live half of the 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 its witch doctor narrator. Right from the start, McGuinn enthusiastically spits out his lead vocal in an aggressive manner. Threatening and tense, this number also 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.
A delightful reading of the country flavored "Mr. Spaceman" comes next, followed by a return to Dylan material with "Positively 4th Street." The only truly acoustic acoustic portion of the performance follows with a showcase for Clarence White's blazing finger work - the traditional fiddle tune "Soldiers Joy" paired with "Black Mountain Rag."
The set concludes with a spirited performance of "Jesus Is Just Alright, which immediately cranks the intensity level right back up. Uncharacteristically, an announcement is made which initially sounds like the show is over, but as the audience clamors for more, it becomes clear that The Byrds will be back for a second set. (Bershaw)