Live At The Fillmore - February 1969

The Byrds

Epic / Legacy Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Roger McGuinn and The Byrds created some of the most beautiful music that came out of the '60s. In their pop days, they took songs and raised them to entirely new levels that even their original composers may never have envisioned. In their later days, The Byrds became one of the prototypes for the blossoming California country-rock sound that The Eagles would ride all the way to the top of the charts.

One would think that the recently-released Live At The Fillmore February 1969 would be the equivalent of discovering the Holy Grail at a flea market. Instead, it shows a band whose time was nearly at an end and who were merely going through the motions.

In a sense, this is a surprising discovery, since Clarence White was a member of the group at the time, and his playing style was one of the highlights of the latter-day Byrds efforts. It's also surprising because this series of dates was the same week the band released my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde; one would have expected McGuinn and crew to be attacking the material they played with new-found gusto.

Instead, what the listener is presented with is almost half-hearted efforts that relied heavily on the Nashville sound the band had been working on around that time. Starting off the show with two quick numbers, "Nashville West" and "You're Still On My Mind," almost gives the impression that the band wanted to blow through this material and go home. The band doesn't feel entirely comfortable with the material - and neither does the audience.

It's not until "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" and the three-song medley of their early hits (read: David Crosby days) that things start to pick up a little bit for The Byrds. For a moment, it seems like McGuinn and crew are going to salvage this show yet.

Alas, it's just not to be. The Byrds quickly go back to the "by-the-numbers" renditions of tracks like "The Christian Life," "Bad Night At The Whiskey," "King Apathy III" and "This Wheel's On Fire" that fail to do anything more than show a shell of a band. Even a blazing-fast rendition of "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star" can't pull off the upset "save of the day".

Two distinct things are missing on Live At The Fillmore February 1969. The first is the rich harmony vocals that were the highlight of The Byrds - and I don't care that Crosby had long since departed the band. When they were on vocally, they were on - sadly, this wasn't one of those shows. Second, there is just no excitement in the lineup; compare this whole disc to the live portion of (Untitled), and tell me which band sounds like they're having more fun. 'Nuff said.

So what went wrong with this particular two-night stand? Frankly, I don't quite know the answer to this question. Maybe McGuinn was looking at an uncertain future for his band, and he was dealing with those pressures. Maybe the band just had an off night or two. I wasn't there; I don't know. All I know is that this is not one of the highlights of The Byrds's discography, and is one that's strictly for the die-hard fans. If you must have a live Byrds performance, pick up the recently remastered (Untitled) / (Unissued), and let Live At The Fillmore February 1969 fall like a bird that flew straight into a plate glass window.

Rating: D+

User Rating: B+


I am admittedly a "die-hard" Byrd fan, so my assigning of a higher rating is to be expected. However, I truly feel that the quality of performance, the achievements of the musicians, are of a much higher level than described by the reviewer. McGuinn, White, Parsons and York were quite a good act live, as demonstrated by this album. What I missed were the wonderful harmonies that were a hallmark of the Byrds from their beginning to the Gram Parsons era. It's too bad McGuinn and colleagues did not give this greater attention, though York on a few occasions here contributed some fine harmonies.

© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.