Friday, May 19, 2006


New Riders of the Purple Sage @ Canal Room

Due to their Grateful Dead connections, the New Riders of the Purple Sage need no introduction. Even if they haven't toured consistently in over a decade, NRPS conjure good times in the '70s when they opened for the Dead, with Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar.

Four years ago I organized a full-scale reuinion of the New Riders at BB King's in New York as part of the High Times Doobie Awards. We were able to coax John "Marmaduke" Dawson, who wrote and sang most of the band's songs, out of his bunker in San Miguel Allende, Mexico to join David Nelson, Buddy Cage and Nelson's band (bass and drums). Original drummer Spencer Dryden and "Panama Red" songwriter Peter Rowan were last-minute additions to the reunion. NRPS received a Lifetime Achievement Award and performed a five-song set that included "Glendale Train," "Panama Red," "LA Cowboy" and "Henry" ("going' down the mountain/fast, fast, fast").

The version of the New Riders who performed Thursday night did not include Marmaduke. But Nelson, Cage and the replacement players - Michael Falzarano (guitar/vocals), Ronnie Penque (bass/vovals) and Johnny Markowski (drums) - easily sufficed. Nelson, who "picked" with Garcia in the Wildwood Boys, is a legendary guitarist and certainly the best known, along with Garcia, from that very special scene.

NRPS were pioneers of country-rock, now known as alternative-country, or alt-country. Between the Dead, Poco. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Byrds, the Band, Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline), CSNY, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Stones (Exile on Main Street), even Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection), the New Riders fit right in, mostly because of their pedal-steel style and C&W harmonies.

The three-and-a-half hour Canal Room show was laden with favorites and lengthy jams. Split into two sets, the New Riders peaked early with "I Don't Know You," "Whatcha Gonna Do," "Henry," "LA Cowboy" ("smokin' dope, snortin' coke") and "Louisiana Lady." The second set featured Peter Rowan's stoner classic "Panama Red" ("he'll steal your woman/and he'll rob your head"), "Last Lonely Eagle" (dedicated to Dead roadie Ramrod, who died on Wednesday) and a run of covers ("Willie and the Hand Jive," "Take a Letter, Maria," "Let it Bleed" and the Dead's "Ripple").

NRPS road manager Mark Topazio says Marmaduke is not in proper physical condition to endure a rigorous schedule. The band is currently in the midst of a nine-date tour: their next shows are Saturday in Fairfield, CT at FTC Stage One and Sunday in Albany, NY at The Egg.

May 18, 2006 - Canal Room, New York

Set 1

Dead Flowers
Sutter's Mill
I Don't Know You
Whatcha Gonna Do
L.A. Cowboy
Louisiana Lady
Crooked Judge
Garden of Eden

Set 2
Raga to Jerry
Dirty Business
Last Lonely Eagle
Panama Red
One Too Many Stories
15 Days
Truck Drivin' Man
Portland Women
Willie and the Hand Jive
Take a Letter, Maria

Let It Bleed

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