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Published: 2004/01/27
by Brian Ferdman

Boston Music Hall 12/5/72 – New Riders of the Purple Sage

Kufala Records 0052

The New Riders of the Purple Sage originally began as a Grateful Dead side
project. The initial incarnation was little more than an excuse for Jerry
Garcia to practice his pedal steel playing with his buddies, guitarists John
Dawson and David Nelson. In time, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh would join the
fray, and the New Riders became fixtures of the Dead scene, making many
contributions to the recording of American Beauty, not to mention
eagerly participating as Act Two of the Dead's fabled three-act tours of
1970. However, the Dead consumed more and more of Garcia and company's
time, and with lead singer/rhythm guitarist Dawson experiencing a prolific
period of songwriting, the New Riders began to take on a life of their own.

The New Riders parted ways with the Dead, and by December of 1972, the band
was rounded out by bassist and American Beauty accomplice Dave
Torbert, former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, and pedal steel
innovator Buddy Cage. Their sound had become a unique blend of country,
honky-tonk, boogie, and psychedelia, resulting in frenetic, crowd-pleasing
performances, such as the one that was captured on _Boston Music Hall
12/5/72_.

Driven alternately by Nelson's speedy staccato leads, and Cage's swirling
pedal steel, the band moves through a series of impassioned originals, such
as the acid-drenched ballad "Whatcha Gonna Do," the gently rolling
"Contract," and the driving rock of "Groupie." In addition, the concert is
highlighted by the New Riders' signature song, "Henry." Beginning with a
na introduction about the possibility of legalizing marijuana in
California by 1976, the band launches into a rollicking version of this
humorously heroic tale of a Tijuana drug smuggler. Nelson and Cage trade
leads with aplomb, and Dryden, Dawson, and Torbert keep the rhythm chugging
to the audience's audible delight.

This concert also features a wealth of wisely-selected covers. "Hello Mary
Lou" is paced by Dryden's pulsating cowbell and is deliciously twisted by
Buddy Cage lines that inexplicably launch off into the stratosphere. Chuck
Berry's "School Days" is the perfect setting for Nelson to show off the
band's penchant for boogie music in a version that stays surprisingly but
satisfyingly true to the original. Later in the evening, the band encores
with the aid of opening act folk-rocker Eric Andersen on his "I Love To Sing
My Ballad, Mama (But They Only Wanna Hear Me Rock And Roll)." This amusing
rocking tune serves as a perfect bookend to the show-closing version of the
Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women." Unfortunately, not every cover is a
gem, as John Dawson's nasal vocals fail to convey the emotion necessary to
sell a tear-jerking ballad like "Long Black Veil."

With such a bevy of musical talent amassed onstage, one would expect this
band to tear off into some exploratory jams, but sadly that only happens on
"Portland Woman" and the raucous "Willie and the Hand Jive." The former is
a song that could easily double as a classic Grateful Dead ballad, and the
band discovers some interesting spaces on this poignant number. The latter
is a ferocious stomper that storms throughout the concert hall in a spirit
that certainly rivals any "Not Fade Away" of its time.

In all, Boston Music Hall 12/5/72 showcases a band that had firmly
become its own entity. Gone were the domineering shadows of Jerry Garcia
and the Grateful Dead, and in its place stood a completely original sound
that meshed multiple genres of music to create a feisty live show. As this
two-disc set demonstrates, December 5, 1972 was a great night for the New
Riders of the Purple Sage, and if the exuberant screams from the crowd are
any indication, the audience surely got their money's worth.

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