Fortunately a bootleg recording – of decent sound quality – of The Byrds’ 7 May performance at the Piper Club has been doing the rounds since the 70s. Given some versions include clips of a Dutch radio announcer introducing the show it likely originates in the recording which Wim Noordhoek described making for Dutch radio station VPRO in his Witheek article.
Joined by banjoist Doug Dillard, the set is a fascinating glimpse of a band in transition. Standards like Mr Tambourine Man, Turn Turn Turn, Chimes of Freedom and Mr Spaceman are performed up-tempo, due in part to Bartlett’s snappy banjoing and the gusto of McGuinn and Hillman who both excel (contrary to perceived wisdom that the pre-Clarence White Byrds were no great shakes live). Parsons takes the lead on three tracks: You Don’t Miss Your Water, Hickory Wind and The Christian Life all three destined for release two months later on Rodeo. Slower and lacking some of the vitality brought to the album versions by the pedal-steel, fiddle and electric guitar playing of Nashville session musicians Parsons’ lead vocals are nonetheless crisp and soulful while McGuinn’s and Hillman’s harmonies work well live (arguably not so on the chorus of Hickory Wind though). There’s even a jam at one point (with Parsons’ organ just audible). The 10-song set ends abruptly with McGuinn professing the band “were just warming up” before wishing a fond “arrivederci” to the crowd (which Noordhoek estimated at an only half-appreciative 800 people).
If you’d like to hear part of the show for yourself, VPRO featured You Don’t Miss Your Water and Hickory Wind from the Piper Club gig (besides several other Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers numbers) in a 2002 ‘Byrds Familie Special’ which you can access on their web site: http://3voor12.vpro.nl/programmas/afleveringen/5260810. It’s a short but sweet sample with better sound quality than on the bootleg version (which begs the question ‘why doesn’t someone give the entire performance an official release?’). (TV footage of Pink Floyd performing in Rome has also surfaced, likewise snippets of The Byrds miming to Mr Spaceman at the Colosseum appeared on the 2004 BBC documentary ‘Fallen Angel’ about Gram Parsons, and a Piper performance of You Ain’t Going Nowhere is also rumoured.)
The Byrds . 1968. Roma.Folk.Rock.