Monday 19 February 2018

The Byrds: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

You can buy 'All The Things - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Byrds' by clicking here


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely!
The Byrds are an interesting case. They're one of the few bands of the 1960s who lasted for any significant length of time and yet never released a full-time live album. Sure there's half a double album of the stuff on 'Untitled' but even that took five years (The Beach Boys were on their third by then!); by contrast almost all the archive material we've had released in the CD age have been live albums recorded but never considered good enough for release at the time. In a way you can see why: The Byrds are one of those rare bands who never actually appeared in concert until just before their first album came out (no years slaving away in Hamburg for them!) and they remained predominantly a 'studio' band in people's eyes thereafter. On record The Byrds were all about cool, poise and sophistication and in live performance they can sometimes be scrappy, raw and slightly unhinged. Famously the band came a cropper during their under-rehearsed European tour in 1965 when fans expected them to sound like the records. However in all eras there's a lot to recommend the band's live work, which manages to add a depth and poignancy to many of the band's songs, as long as you don't treat them as being like the records. As with all the books in this series we've tried to select five gigs that really sum up what this band were all about, from somewhere near the beginning, middle and end, with a few key moments along the way...
1) Where: Ingalls Auditorium, Monterey, California When: February 4th 1965 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown
The Byrds' first professional gig is so obscure and so lost in the mists of time that no one can agree where it was. Many people (including biographer Johnny Rogan) have the first gig at the band's future loyal haunt Ciro's, in Sunset Boulevard, in March 1965 but that seems a little unlikely for a completely unknown act (Ciro's was a big deal, having played host to many famous film stars and even some presidents in its time) and there's enough evidence to suggest that it was a little further down the road in Monterey a month or so earlier. What does seem likely given what's been discussed down the years is that few people turned up - just sixteen according to Rogan - as unusually The Byrds were the only act on the bill rather than a local support group. They had also released just the one single by this point in time - and that under the entirely different name of 'The Beefeaters'. Sadly we don't know what was played at the first gig but it seems likely that The Byrds played a selection of songs from their 'Preflyte' repertoire, with 'Mr Tambourine Man' no doubt given extra coverage having already been picked out as the band's debut single. The band's mixture of fire and ice was apparently already in display according to onlookers, who already guessed that McGuinn was the 'leader' despite his staying stock-still on stage and already peering down his granny specs, while Crosby - not yet wearing a cape - patrolled the stage winking at the audience and Clark tried to hide from the spotlight as best he could. As for Ciros, the band got a shock when Dylan turned up (almost) unannounced to have The Byrds play as his backing band a few weeks later and study them at close quarter before giving them any of his songs, whilst sadly the club closed down in 1972 - more or less the day when The Byrds called it a day too - and re-opened later in the year as 'The Comedy Store'. So the next time you visit a comedian making jokes you might just be visiting the place where The Byrds were born!
2) Where: Stambaugh Auditorium, Oklahoma When: November 19th 1965 Why: Eight Miles High and Eight Hundred Miles From Home! Setlist: Unknown
By now The Byrds were becoming a semi-big name (so much so that I'm surprised that nobody out there ever seemed to write a setlist down of what the band played) and were co-headliners of what was billed as impresario Dick Clark's 'Caravan Of Stars' alongside Bo Diddley. The idea was simple: take a caravan, stick it full of stars and equipment, add a few extra tourbusses and head across America. The shows had been running since 1959 and were generally kept for fading 1950s acts who couldn't fill arenas now The Beatles and co were filling them. The Byrds, though, had signed up to this show when few people knew who they were - and they didn't have a great time it's probably fair to say. While the legend always has it that Gene Clark quit because he couldn't stand flying it seems that being stuck on a tour bus with his four noisy colleagues with no chance of retreat also played a part in him leaving the band. He did, however, find enough peace and quiet one day to write a first draft of [52] 'Eight Miles High', with memories of the band's recent tour of 'rainy town' London still swimming through his mind. He may have been inspired, too, by the cassette tape that McGuinn brought with him on tour and played endlessly - a mishmash of John Coltrane and Miles Davis jazz epics on one side and Ravi Shankar sitar pieces on the other (all of them reportedly taken from Crosby's own collection - typically, though, gadget master McGuinn was the only one with a tape recorder!) The band smoked a lot during these shows and had one incident where they nearly got busted when a policeman spotted smoke at the windows - Crosby somehow talked him out of coming onto the bus and what an 'inconvenience' it would be. Crosby is also said to have laughed for hours when the bus pulled up at a railway siding to wait for a 'coal train' while Coltrane was playing in the background. And they wonder why Gene Clark left...This show is the one listed because it was the first, by the way (nobody knows quite when Gene penned 'Eight Miles High' for the first time) and because the band had a particularly busy day that day, appearing on the TNT Show thanks to the wonders of pre-recording, which must have made the Byrds' fans that day particularly sick (in the days before tape recordings and repeats - though I bet if anybody had a tape recorder back in 1965 it would have been McGuinn!)
3) Where: Monterey, California When: June 17th 1967 Why: Biggest gig? Setlist: [63] Renaissance Fair [61] Have You Seen Her Face? [53] Hey Joe [35] He Was A Friend Of Mine [71] Lady Friend [30] Chimes Of Freedom [60] So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star
The Byrds didn't perform many shows across 1967. Heck, no one did. After The Beatles hung up their touring boots the year before most bands followed suit either through example or relief (The Stones, for instance, used The Beatles as an excuse to hide just how poorly Brian Jones was from their fanbase). So The Byrds' Monterey Pop Festival was their first time for a long time in front of people (barring a homecoming gig for Crosby at Mount Tamalpais High - at about three? - and another music festival at Magic Mountain down the road). You could see why. David Crosby was by now firmly in charge of the band - if only in his head - and decided that The Byrds was a good vehicle to pronounce to the band's biggest and hippest Monterey crowd all sorts of things the world was getting wrong. To be fair his mind had just been awakened by drugs and politics and he felt it his duty to explain to people en masse just what a pack of lies they'd been living. His speeches make perfect sense given what he will do during his CSN career and if I'd been taking that much acid and had that much courage I'd have been trying to look at making the Byrds' biggest show a pulpit for counter-culture ideas too. The decidedly unpoliticised other Byrds, though, weren't happy - to put it mildly. JFK was shot in a number of different directions by a number of different guns and this is your country ladies and gentlemen? Paul McCartney says that if every politician in the world took LSD we'd have world peace and Crosby concurs heartily? Your mother gets high and you don't know it?!? Roger McGuinn, particularly, looks sicker and sicker throughout the show while Michael Clarke tries to down Crosby out with his drums. Things weren't helped by the fact that the next day Crosby re-appeared not with his own band but his pals The Buffalo Springfield and in his colleagues' eyes turned in a much more polished and professional performance (which wasn't what the Springfield said mind!) To the other Byrds this sort of thing wasn't done and looked like betrayal - to be fair, once more, to Crosby, cross-pollination of bands was perfectly in keeping with the times (why compete with a band if you can play with them?) Despite dominating The Byrds like never before here, Crosby will be gone within a few months. With all this political drama going on the music played at the Monterey show is almost overlooked. It's a ragged bunch of songs but brave in the band's determination to sing songs befitting the times rather than their fan-following. The loudest boo of the night comes not when Crosby preaches about drugs or JFK (most of the crowd are with him there, rather than the other Byrds) but when he announced the band aren't going to play their normal 'hits' (not even [52] 'Eight Miles High' which would have been fitting). Instead they mainly play newer songs and a handful of politicised oldies to keep McGuinn quiet, while the finale - the surprisingly acerbic choice of [60] 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star? - features two other festival performers Hugh Masekela and his drummer Big Black. It's not the best Byrds show by a zillion light years, so it's particularly frustrating that it's the only one we have that exists with Crosby and Clarke in the band - but it's a brave one by a band who feel secure enough to risk all, Crosby at least.
4) Where: Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey When: February 24th 1973 Why: Last Gig Setlist: (sample from same period) [136] Lover Of The Bayou [144] Take A Whiff On Me [168] America's Great National Past-Time [30] Chimes Of Freedom [158] I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician [67] My Back Pages [117] Baby What You Want Me To Do? [149] Black Mountain Rag [13] Mr Tambourine Man [60] So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star? [110] Old Blue [48] Mr Spaceman [138] Chestnut Mare [52] Eight Miles High [32] Turn! Turn! Turn! [25] Feel A Whole Lot Better [178] Roll Over Beethoven
By now The Byrds have been through more line-ups than The Spice Girls have partially sighted costume designers. Only McGuinn has lasted from the original Byrds, with Clarence White and Skip Battin playing their last shows alongside him, while the band are still trying to bed in new drummer John Guerin. The band don't announce it to the audience but they know full well that this is the end of the road and that McGuinn already has a group of sessions booked with the original Byrds. At the time the talk is big: they're going to reform for years, make a killer run of albums and play more concerts than they ever did in their heyday. There simply isn't space for the three remaining members - and they couldn't play the folk-rock The Byrds were known for anyway. However there was more oaf  crossover than people assume: the reunion album was out in March 1973 and McGuinn kept his 'other' band alive for as long as he possibly could before disbanding them - the record had already been recorded the previous Autumn (which is when Crosby pulled McGuinn aside and told him to fire Gene Parsons; McGuinn, often easily swayed by other people's opinions despite his legendary stubbornness, simply agreed). The last show sounds a good one, by all accounts, and while this setlist actually comes from another played a couple of days before it seems unlikely it would have changed too much from what's here, high on the rockers and oddly low on the country songs. To date only one song has appeared officially, the final encore of Chuck Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' performed with a slight ironic country bent, which appeared on the second Byrds box set 'Just A Season'. Film footage also exists which reveals a particularly nervous Skip, a rather detached Roger and a typically unreadable Clarence going through the motions but occasionally kicking into gear. 
5) Where: Boardinghouse, San Francisco When: February 9th 1978 Why: Four-Way Reunion Setlist: Hillman: Bound To Fall/It Doesn't Matter. McGuinn: [118] The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Jolly Roger/[138] Chestnut Mare. Gene Clark: Crazy Ladies/Train Leaves Here This Morning. Joint: [13] Mr Tambourine Man/[83] You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/[32] Turn! Turn! Turn!/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Bye Bye Baby/[60] So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?/[52] Eight Miles High/[25] Feel A Whole Lot Better
The Byrds never toured their reunion record, sensing that it was something of a duck rather than a phoenix and sadly the next time all five men from the original line-up was on stage won't happen until the Rock and Roll Hall Of fame induction in 1990. However we got pretty much the next best thing when a new trio by the name of McGuinn-Clark-Hillman started touring with a show on Halloween 1977, playing three shows with their own bands before reuniting for a brief finale. Sadly the shows will quickly become ghoulish, with yet more fallouts and Gene Clark quitting - for a third time! - a few months into the tour. Most fans were also a little disappointed at how little interaction there was between the Byrds even before then and how much their sound had moved on from 1960s groundbreaking adventure to 1970s middle-of-the-road pop. However, there were some high spots - usually when Gene got off the booze and ignored the competition to reach back to his past with some big ballad. The best show of the lot by far was the only time David Crosby rejoined his bandmates for an emotional show in San Francisco. By this time Crosby was struggling himself, with CSN on hiatus and his creative flow slowed by drugs to a trickle and sadly he doesn't get to perform his own show like the others do. There's a nice sense of camaraderie though on this penultimate time that (almost) all the band got back together (Michael Clarke was, against all odds, the hottest property Byrd in 1978 thanks to his work with the band Firefall). A semi-legal (ie nobody can legally stop it but nobody wanted it out either) CD of the show exists and, despite the muddy sound and the short running time, is a good one sure to warm the hearts of all the band's many fans - especially a riveting [52] 'Eight Miles High' that manages to sound like all the many interpretations McGuinn, Clark and Crosby gave to it down the years at once.


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) The Byrds don't get as many cover versions of songs as you might expect though - at least there aren't that many covers of their original songs kicking around (though everybody seemed to do [32] 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and most of their Dylan covers too) and most of those covers (a dozen?) tend to be [52] 'Eight Miles High' covered in a number of different ways. Interestingly most of the covers that do exist seem to be from the 1990s and 2000s when The Byrds were 'cool' again, though most of the selections we've plumped for are earlier than that, with near-contemporary covers of two mini-classics.
1) Human Instinct [63] Renaissance Fair (A side 1968)
I think that maybe I'm dreaming! This version by New Zealand band Human Instinct  is quite subtly different to The Byrds - its simultaneously squarer and hipper. The harmonies are pure Peter, Paul and Mary via The Association while this version lacks the rock and roll explorations of one of Chris Hillman's greatest ever bass parts and an unexpected string arrangement is more Mantovani than mayhem. However, check out some splendid guitar work from Phil Pritchard and Joel Haines that manages to sound about as close to a sitar as any band in the Western hemisphere had managed up to that time and drummer-vocalist Maurice Greer plays the drums with a whallop closer to Keith Moon than Michael Clarke. There are no real changes to form, lyrics or structure but the whole mood of this version is quite different, this Medieval market full of goodies somehow darker and nastier and lacking the delightful bubbling guitar riff that opens and closes the original. Released as the band's fifth single, like all the band's other releases it failed to sell outside the group's homeland.
2) Tomorrow [57] Why? ('Christmas On Earth Continued' 1968)
I adore the band 'Tomorrow', who would have made the AAA list for sure had they not split up partway through the making of just one album. Best known today for featuring future superstar Keith West, you'd never guess from the band's stonking psychedelic rockers that he was about to turn balladeer with the excruciating 'Grocer Jack: Excerpt From A Teenage Opera' in another year. Check out the glorious 'My White Bicycle' (a 'trip' in all meanings of the word) and the acid harmony-drenched story-song of lost love 'Shy Boy' to hear the band at their best. In truth their pick of The Byrds' B-sides isn't quite up to their best work - it tends to ramble around the solo and lacks the sheer muscle of The Byrds' whip-cracking original. However it's a great song well played, as Crosby's breakthrough song gets treated to a treatment similar to that his friends in The Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane would have given the song - languid, laidback jamming fury rather than intense self-kicking masterpiece. Tomorrow split before they could release their studio version (or, indeed, almost all their songs) which to date only exists in bootleg or youtube form, although there's a cracking version doing the rounds from a period concert that's much tighter and tauter than the record. The world should have heard more from this terrific London band - so, why, why aren't they known better? *Sigh* the usual musical disagreements, chart statistics and Mark West's decision to go solo to record that sodding single. The Byrds nearly had an English rival to their freakbeat acid rock sound for a minute there.
3) Crowded House and Roger McGuinn [52] Eight Miles High ('I Feel Possessed' EP 1989)
Many many people seem to have played with Roger McGuinn - in fact I'm waiting for my own personal call any day now as surely I'm next in the queue! However the best collaboration that made it to record must surely be that from a special joint EP released by the Australian acid house band with the lead Byrd (for a joint project with the working title 'Byrdhouse'- ouch!) While the lead track was a new studio song by Crowded House alone the 'bonus' EP tracks all included live versions of McGuinn standards, the others being [13] 'Mr Tambourine Man' and [60] 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?' However the best must surely be a slow and bluesy take on 'Eight Miles High'. Treating the song much like the Spanish flamenco vibe of Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit', this is a slower and less adrenalin-fuelled beast that still manages to snake its way left and right courtesy of some thrilling McGuinn  guitar solo-ing. The vocals are a little shaky and Crowded House are no Crosby-Clark but there's a nice amount of 'space' in this interpretation which isn't in quite so much of a hurry and feels exactly like a 1990s revival of a 1960s classic via the timeless medium of jazz and psychedelia should.

A Now Complete Link Of Byrd Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Mr Tambourine Man' (1965)
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (1965)

'(5D) Fifth Dimension' (1966)

'Younger Than Yesterday' (1967)

'The Nototious Byrd Brothers' (1968)

'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo' (1968)

'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' (1969)

‘The Ballad Of Easy Rider’ (1969)

'Untitled' (1970)
'Byrdmaniax' (1971)
'The Byrds' (1973)

Surviving TV Appearances
Unreleased Songs
Non-Album Songs (1964-1990)
A Guide To Pre-Fame Byrds Recordings
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One (1964-1972)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two (1973-1977)

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Three (1978-1991)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Four (1992-2013)
Essay: Why This Band Were Made For Turn! Turn! Turn!ing
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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