A New Riders of the Purple Sage Concert Set from 1976: Review

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New Riders of the Purple Sage, which began in the late ’60s as a Grateful Dead spinoff band, hasn’t enjoyed much commercial success in the last half-century, and most of their original lineup has been out of the picture for about that long—most, in fact, are deceased. Since the early 1990s, however, the group has issued more than a dozen live albums culled from its classic early and mid-’70s heyday, including Thanksgiving in New York City, Field Trip and Lyceum ’72, all featuring shows from 1972.

Now we have Hempsteader: Live at the Calderone Concert Hall, Hempstead, New York, June 25, 1976, which as its wordy subtitle indicates, documents a 1976 Long Island, New York, gig. At the time, the New Riders were running out of steam when it came to producing noteworthy original material; an eponymous LP released that year was their last to dent the charts, and all but one of its songs were covers. Some key members remained on board, however, including co-founders John “Marmaduke” Dawson and David Nelson on vocals and guitar, Buddy Cage on pedal steel and Jefferson Airplane alumnus Spencer Dryden on drums. And, as evidenced by Hempsteader, the band could still raise a ruckus onstage with its psychedelia-tinged country rock.

The 18-song, nearly 80-minute set—released April 19, 2024—includes energized readings of a few of the group’s best-known early numbers, such as “Glendale Train,” “Henry,” “Portland Woman,” and “Panama Red.” You’ll also find a motley assortment of party-ready covers drawn from the group’s then-recent studio albums, among them the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song,” Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” and Richard Wilbur’s “Little Old Lady,” which features some yodeling.

This album, and others from NRPS, are available here.

Related: Our Album Rewind of NRPS’ debut 

Jeff Burger

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