The Flying Burrito Brothers
Authorized Bootleg: Fillmore East, N.Y., N.Y. Late Show, Nov. 7, 1970 - Hip-O Select
FILTER Grade: 89%
By Marty Sartini Garner on March 28, 2011
Having just loped through “I Am a Pilgrim,” a traditional re-gussied by Gram Parsons and The Byrds only two years prior, lead Burrito Chris Hillman shakily introduces “Dixie Breakdown,” saying, “Well, I guess you could call it ‘bluegrass.’” In this transmission from the heart of country-rock’s nascence, when Hillman’s hair was too long for country and his voice too twangy for rock, his nerves are forgivable. Forty years down the line, the notion of a group of California longhairs learning flat-picking and the three-finger style has nearly become banal, but when the group launches into torrents of skittering banjo rolls and frenzied mandolin picking, it’s downright revolutionary.
As they would for much of their early career, The Flying Burrito Brothers spend most of this 45-minute set mining the tense, fertile valleys between trail-worn peaks. At the tail end of a culture war, they stood firmly between country and rock, bucking guitar licks from Bakersfield and vocal harmonies from Laurel Canyon. Here, they parlay a Johnny Otis cover into a slow burn through the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” which wouldn’t see release for another year, and defend both draft-dodging and veteran pride in “My Uncle.”
It’s impossible to understate the role Gram Parsons plays in the Burritos’ legacy, and on this set in particular. The country-rock troubadour, whose name and influence have become synonymous with the genre, had departed the group only a few months prior to its recording and either wrote or co-wrote half of its songs. The quality of the songwriting is undeniable; that Hillman, who famously sparred with Parsons over the latter’s drug use, was able to lead his group through such rambling, reverent performances of his former writing partner’s songs makes the set nearly essential.