There must be some residual ownership of the Flying Burritos name that prevents this band from dropping the “Tribute to” part of their billing – on the face of it this line-up has about as much right to be called by that illustrious name as any of the many line-ups that have been put together and taken out without a single original member. Gregg Harris, who heads up the band on guitar and fiddle and the majority of lead vocals, at least played in a version that included Sneaky Pete Kleinow, as well as sometime New Rider, sometime Byrd, Skip Battin. So there’s a real touchstone to the band. This tribute is fleshed out with a frequent collaborator of David Crosby, talented lead guitarist and pedal steel player Jeff Pevar (he’s also the P in CPR – Crosby-Pevar-Raymond) along with drummer Richard Newman and bass player Tony Morley who have connections into European touring line ups with Jefferson Starship and Live Dead ’69.
Warming up with a couple of big hitters – ‘Christine’s Tune’ and ‘White Line Fever’ – they loosened up the half-full main room at The Stables, but also showed up some problems in preparedness – with Tony Morley talking over Harris in his attempts to get some vocal out of his monitor. Add in later discussions about the setlist – which got some last minute finessing as Harris told Morley “watch my fingers” when they played an apparently unrehearsed tune – and Pevar’s frequent “oh, it’s that song now ?” quizzical smile and one might think this was a band that was not really paying attention. However, they were also clearly a band that was having a lot of fun, and that certainly communicated itself to the appreciative audience.
It soon became apparent that this would not be a Burritos only zone as they played a very Byrds sounding version of Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages’. No problem with that of course – Dylan with a touch of The Byrds, what could be better? Well, the perfectly nostalgic ‘Hickory Wind’ seguing straight into ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ was inspired.
As the songs got away from a very straight and steady beat the rhythm section got to show off their own prowess alongside Pevar’s superb guitar and sweet pedal steel playing, while Gregg Harris was no slouch on guitar either, and the fiddle he played on ‘Louisiana Man’ was as upbeat and Cajun as anyone could want although the high speed vocals did tend to disappear into a buzz of unclarity. Not a problem that would occur on a soulful ‘Wild Horses’ which pulled out the feeling of every note and ‘Hot Burrito #2′ which was a genuine tour de force with everyone pulling out the stops. Amongst other Burrito classics – ‘Streets of Baltimore’, an extended ‘Six Days on the Road’ which made up the rousing encore, and ‘Sin City’ – there were also further Byrdsisms such as ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ and, somewhat of a surprise, ‘Bugler’ – a song that doesn’t earn itself many outings these days.
At times ‘Tribute to The Flying Burrito Brothers’ were a really good bar band, but there were also times when they were truly inspired – it’s easy to forget what an influential band the Burritos were, and a careless mind can forget what a fine song catalogue they had. Worth catching for that reminder.