Despite the fact that I’m a die hard Byrds/McGuinn fan, I have to admit that I was surprised by the choice to release another live album. “Live from Mars” (released in 1996) was an interesting presentation of McGuinn’s career, with songs from his early folk and Brill building days…the Byrds hits…and finally, his post-Byrds solo career. Filled with anecdotes about how each song came to fruition, it was a revealing look at McGuinn’s influences. “Live From Spain” (recorded during a 9/12/2004 concert at the Azkena Rock Festival) expands on that career retrospective in some unusual ways. Yeah, it focuses on the Byrds’ “greatest hits” (come on---how would you feel if you had to perform “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, and “8 Miles High” for the ten thousandth time?), but there are also a number of lesser-known Byrds chestnuts that McGuinn has not routinely included in his live performances over the years. “Wasn’t Born to Follow” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” feature some lightning folk licks that would have made the originals better.
An electric Rickenbacker version of “Lover of the Bayou” has some of McGuinn’s best vocals in years. The highlights are the rarely performed “Jolly Roger” (by the end of the song, you can picture McGuinn swinging in the rigging with a cutlass between his teeth), and an electric version of “5D”. There’s a fun aside where Roger basically acknowledges that he has been mispronouncing the title town in “The Bells of Rhymney” for the last forty years or so (based on advice from a local in Wales, he has remedied the situation). There’s an expanded version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to close the disc.
This live performance has some “warts” that are interesting in that McGuinn has always been known as a perfectionist. There’s a slightly out of tune break on “My Back Pages”, but frankly, it gets the spirit of the song across more effectively, and is noted because Roger has generally left the break out of his concerts in recent years. Roger has lost some of the edge on those high notes, and has cut some verses from a few songs (purists beware), the concert is noticeably short on any new material, and, while “May the Road Rise to Meet You” is a wonderful song…we probably didn’t need another version on this CD (There are acoustic and electric versions on the “Mars” CD, and superior version on his recent “limited Edition” CD, that features a short Clarence White riff at the end.
Despite some of the shortcomings, I think this live CD makes sense. McGuinn travels around the world with his wife Camilla, playing mostly small venues, but keeping the spirit of folk music alive. You might want to check out the blogs at his website McGuinn.com
. He’s becoming a 21st Century Pete Seeger, and clearly, the Byrds music we grew up on will be considered folk music by our children. If Roger is redoing this, perhaps he might be encouraged to release a couple of live CDs featuring songs from the “The Folk Den” a website dedicated to American folk music where you can download a new recording for free (it’s been around for over 10 years now!), and another that features the most obscure Byrds material (“I Come and Stand at Every Door”…”We’ll Meet Again”…”Get to You”…”She Don’t Care about Time” etc. While we’re at it…how about some of that unreleased material from the 80s that has never seen the light of day---true fans should hear a version of “The Tears” by Starbyrd on their website.