New Riders of the Purple Sage still rockin’

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There are many bands from back in the day that are still touring with their hits from the 60s and 70s, but if somehow you’ve missed crossing paths with the New Riders of the Purple Sage since their 2005 renaissance, then you need to understand something. This is not a band of tired, tie-dyed troubadours seeing out their later years, going through the motions and rehashing their greatest hits. These guys are still full of life, fire and music.

NRPS began as a part-time spin-off from the Grateful Dead. Started as a side project by Dead members, they were a country-rock band with a psychedelic edge. Their initial sound was a kind of country-acid rock, somewhat twangier than the Dead’s usual work and without the Dead’s successful forays into experimental jams. What hooked listeners was the combo of the Bakersfield country sound with the psychedelic rock and foreboding Americana favored by the Dead as it began a shift from the spaced-out late 60s into the “Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty” era of the early 70s. Although the band featured elements of fierce rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass’ energy and precision, in its best formations it had the musicianship of a finely tuned C&W group crossed with a rock adventurer’s taste for improvisation. It worked.

Given all this history, it’s often a surprise that the New Riders, in 2013, are going strong, even with 70-year-old David Nelson, the lone original member. Throughout the years, Nelson has managed the seemingly impossible. He has remained true to his musical vision and integrity without becoming outdated or archaic in the process.

Remarkably, they not only solidified as a live unit rehashing the classics, but felt invested enough after a few tours to tackle original material. Each successfully evokes the New Riders’ classic era — sturdy cowboy songs swathed in folk, blues and psychedelic rock, chugging with rhythm and with ample room for guitar-led exploration. NRPS blends blues, country, jam and psychedelic rock in an array of colorful covers and originals.

Traveling through the decades this band has taken in the scenes while experiencing their fare share of creativity, line-up changes and musical challenges. Fronted by Nelson on guitar and vocals with Buddy Cage on pedal steel, the chemistry of the current NRPS goes further than just the band personnel and they continue to enjoy a musical revival that started back in 2005 with a reconstituted lineup that includes Michael Falzarano (guitar, vocals), Ronnie Penque (bass, vocals) and Johnny Markowski (drums, vocals). Each member brings a wealth of experience and talent to the mix. Falzarano acts as the liaison between the rhythm of the engine room (Markowski and Penque) and the pickers in the wheelhouse (Nelson and Cage). In short, this is no oldies band. It is live, fresh and happening.

The New Riders jam is as capable as most bands with a fifth of their road miles and grit without danger of the meandering improvisation that can space a segment out and leave it formless. Most acts this age keep their sets short and close-cropped, but NRPS still delivers a full bodied show featuring material from both recent albums mixed with ancient New Riders staples, all the while fusing the soaring three-part harmonies and twangy pedal-steel guitars of country with the power chords and driving back beat of rock, creating a hybrid that, today, dominates country radio.

With their rich legacy of rock and jam, New Riders of the Purple Sage are the perfect marriage of old and new and are still going strong more than five decades later.

New Riders of the Purple Sage play the Crystal Bay Club Friday, Nov. 29, at 9 p.m. For more information, call (775) 833-6333. For more information on New Riders of the Purple Sage, visit thenewriders.com.

Friday, Nov. 29  |  9 p.m.

$17 advance  |  $20 day of show  |  21 & older

Crystal Bay Club Crown Room  |  Crystal Bay, Nev.