Roger McGuinn - guitars, vocals; Clarence White - guitars, mandolin, vocals; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Gene Parsons - drums, banjo, vocals; Jim Seiter - congas, percussion (on tracks 10 & 11)
Recorded in Amsterdam 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. Following numerous personnel changes throughout the late 1960s, the Byrds had sustained a consistent lineup for nearly two years by 1971, a major accomplishment. When many of their contemporaries had broken up or were nearing the end of their creativity, the double album Untitled, released the previous year, had redefined the Byrds' sound. White, Battin, and Parsons all contributed material during the sessions, which displayed a solid group effort, rather than being an overt vehicle for McGuinn. The group's extensive touring schedule during this era developed a new legion of fans and the Byrds had finally gained a deserved reputation as a compelling live band.
This was due in no small part to the contributions of ex-Kentucky Colonels guitarist, Clarence White, whose innovative stringbending techniques, combined with McGuinn's signature sound, extended their exploration of country music elements 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 group's live performances during this era.
The recording begins a few minutes into the standard opener of this era, McGuinn's "Lover Of The Bayou." They continue with one of Dylan's unreleased Basement Tapes compositions, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," with full electric instrumentation, unlike the version featured on the Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album several years before. Next up is the first of two songs where Clarence White assumes lead vocal duties, "Truck Stop Girl." While not known for his vocal abilities, this is still an engaging performance and proves White had a keen sense for recognizing songwriting talent, as this song was written by Lowell George and Bill Payne, soon to be recognized as the founders of Little Feat. A quick truncated rendition of Dylan's "My Back Pages" is up next, which transitions directly into a hot little jam that becomes Jimmy Reed's classic, "Baby What Do You Want Me To Do." This initial electric portion ends with Clarence White again taking lead vocal duties on Jackson Browne's "Jamaica Say You Will." Browne, then relatively unknown, would soon see this song close the forthcoming Byrdmaniax album. Yet another example of Clarence's keen sense of recognizing talented songwriters.
The group then does a complete turnaround and become more intimate with a three-song acoustic set. The begins with an instrumental, "Black Mountain Rag," featuring outstanding acoustic guitar picking from White. This is followed by a rare acoustic rendition of the Dylan song that first established the Byrds reputation, "Mr. Tambourine Man," which is delightful in this context. They wrap up this acoustic diversion with Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd," featuring crowd-pleasing banjo pickin' from drummer Gene Parsons.
When they resume playing electric, it is in a far more aggressive manner than earlier in the set. Within the first few seconds of "Jesus Is Just Alright," it is obvious that the intensity level has been seriously cranked up. They take this song at a hyperdrive tempo, with Battin and Parsons propelling McGuinn and White. The contrast with what proceeded it is extraordinary and after such a sizzling performance, they head straight for the stratosphere into "Eight Miles High." An improvisation begins from scratch and before you know it, the group has created a scintillating raga-oriented jam. For the next 10 minutes, they venture deeper into psychedelic territory that features a propulsive bottom end by Battin and Parsons and McGuinn and White blazing away on their guitars. Eventually, McGuinn and White drop out allowing the rhythm section to solo, which here is augmented by their road manager, Jim Seiter, adding additional percussion elements. Unlike the great extended live version on Untitled, this performance does not contain a lengthy drum solo and is all the more engaging for it. Instead, Battin, Parsons, and Seiter solo as a unit and the results are impressive throughout. Around the 11-minute mark, White and McGuinn begin feeling their way 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 few 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.
When the recording resumes, the encore is underway, with the group providing a preview of "I Trust," one of the tracks soon to be released on Byrdmaniax. This is followed by a hot take on, "So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star," which segues directly into "Hold It" once again, to signal the end of the show.
However, the ecstatic Amsterdam audience refuses to let the band go and after demands of more, they again return to the stage for a second encore. This final sequence begins with a delightful reading of "Mr. Spaceman." A fully electric version of McGuinn's "Chestnut Mare" follows, a song which did alright in America, but was actually a Top 20 hit in Europe around this time. Then uncharacteristically, McGuinn, White, Battin and Parsons forgo their instruments altogether to perform "Amazing Grace" a cappella, which brings this remarkable performance to an end.
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