Today in Grateful Dead History: July 21, 1974 – Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

stealieWhen I first started listening to this show this morning, I realized that this is the third show that I’ve listened to this week that has also been written about on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide, one of the best sites on the web for learning about individual Dead shows.  Which explains why this week’s listening experience has been uniformly good.

If you read the Listening Guide’s review of this 1974 performance from the Hollywood Bowl, you’re going to get a lot of information about the Wall of Sound, the Grateful Dead’s massive PA system that was used during 1974 and promptly shut down due to cost concerns.  I’m not going to repeat that discussion here.  Long story short, according to the Guide, this audience recording represents a first-class picture of the Wall in action during the Dead’s funky 1974 summer tour.  This description is spot on – as a recording and a representative slice of what the Wall could do, today’s show is excellent.

As a 1974 Grateful Dead musical performance, I think that the first half of this show is basically middle of the road.  But notice that I mentioned the year – a middle of the road show from 1974 is going to blow the pants off an above average show from almost any other year in the band’s history that doesn’t fall between 1968 and 1974.  So even though Sugaree doesn’t really soar here and Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo has no real jam (although it does have a great, quick transition into It Must Have Been the Roses), this first set is worth listening to for the good tunes and the even better vibes from the Wall.  Scarlet Begonias is an exception here – this version is pretty great, even though it’s cut close to the end.

The second set is another matter entirely.  It opens with a slow burning China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that just seems to build as it goes.  As the Listening Guide points out, the transition here, like many during 1974, is the key.  Big River doesn’t do much for me here, but it’s followed by a very powerful Row Jimmy that I encourage you to listen to in its entirety.  I know this is a slow-moving song that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but today’s version really shows off what the 1974 Grateful Dead were about.  Every member of this band is following his own melodic preferences during this tune and these approaches often vary considerably from one another.  Yet, somehow, all of the different lines weave together perfectly and completely envelop the listener. This is the band as a multi-headed single musical unit playing a simple song in an incredibly complicated way.  It’s a perfect example of what 1974 has to offer.

The Dead take this same idea to new heights on the very next song, Playin’ in the Band.  Freed from the strictures of a “short” tune like Row Jimmy, the band explores similar ideas of collaboration and melody over the course of a twenty minute jam that swings wildly from theme to theme.  Sometimes this doesn’t work perfectly – it’s clear that Keith (and Bob, to a lesser extent) really want to move into a Spanish jam, but Jerry and Phil tug the band back and the musical interplay shows off this tension without causing the song to completely break down, as the band plays in and around Keith’s piano.  Near the end of the song, the pace changes (I was thinking that maybe we’d hear The Other One), but instead Wharf Rat appears, and it’s a great version, stretching out beautifully at the end into some very delicate places.  And then there’s a deep switch into a pulsating Truckin’ that lives up to its name before another ten minutes of Playin’ in the Band concludes the suite.  But this doesn’t end the show, which goes on for another 25 minutes, with adequate versions of Ship of Fools, Sugar Magnolia and a U.S. Blues encore.

There are better shows from 1974, but this second set is a very, very good, representative slice of the Grateful Dead at this part of their career and is not to be missed.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 19, 1989 – Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, WI

dancing-bearThis has been a good week for shows, with this explosive 1989 joint taking its place right alongside some good 70’s material from Monday and Tuesday.

Sugaree makes it clear where things are headed tonight – it’s tight, loud and expressive and not at all aimless.  Jerry continues ripping on Althea, too.  Victim or the Crime, not one of my favorite songs by any stretch of the imagination, is really on tonight, with lots of strange melodies and clashing tones.  Desolation Row features some truly nuanced singing from Bob and the set-closing Deal burns the place down.  And that’s just the first set.

The second set of this soggy night’s performance opens with an appropriate Box of Rain followed by Foolish Heart and Looks Like Rain as Bob’s contribution to the weather themed material.  This is a good version for fans of the song .  Terrapin Station comes next and flies high, with a great jam.  After Drums/Space, The Other One>The Wheel is an awesome combo, but it’s just the warmup for a stellar Morning Dew.  Jerry puts everything into it for the brave folks in the summer rain, and the ending sequence of solos stretches on and on for what seems like endless, pleasurable ages.  This is a really good Morning Dew – add it to the roster of heavy hitters.  The party ends with a fired-up Turn on Your Lovelight, one of only six times this tune pops up as an encore, and the Dead make it a good one, stretching things out for over 10 minutes.

None of these recordings is perfect, so I’m going Matrix.  You need to hear it:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 18, 1972 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

stealieTime is short today, which stinks because I could write two thousands words on this excellent show and not sum it up properly.  After further review, I even added this show to my “best of” list because, for some reason, this crappy stadium brought out something extra special in the Dead and why not have three shows from Jersey City in the mix. Anyhows, since there is so much to talk about with this gem, I’ll do a really quick list:

  1. After a whirlwind tour of Europe in the spring, the Dead took some time off before heading out for the summer.  There was a one off show at the Hollywood Bowl on June 17th and then a month before they opened the summer tour in Hartford on July 16th.  So they are rested.
  2. Pigpen was very ill at this point and didn’t come with the band on this tour.  This would obviously completely alter the history of the Grateful Dead.  For tonight’s purposes, it represents a dramatic left turn, song-selection wise.
  3. This is as raw a show as you are going to hear between 1972 and 1974.  It is just all power and very heavy guitar.  If you doubt me, listen to the AUD.
  4. You’re going to hear the first Bird Song in almost a year.  Enjoy that.
  5. Stella Blue debuted at that Hollywood Bowl show in June and was played in Hartford as well, but since this was the 70’s and music didn’t travel via the internet, I’m pretty sure that almost no one in this crowd had heard it before.  (Wake of the Flood didn’t come out for another year).  It’s amazing to hear everyone talking and yelling during the slow start, only to suddenly come under the spell of this completely new song.  Jerry works the mojo throughout in a special version that stuns everyone into submission.
  6. Oh dear Lord, Playin’ in the Band is an all time monster of guitar noise.  One of the best “shorter” versions you’ll ever hear.
  7. If that’s not enough, get ready for Truckin’>Dark Star.  This is not delicate music, and comes as close to rocking as Dark Star will ever come, but it is also totally unique and impressive and gets better every time you hear it.  Again, check out the AUD if you want to hear what this does to the people in attendance and if you want to get the gist of just how much energy was flowing from the band tonight (it’s a lot).
  8. Dark Star segues into a crystalline Comes a Time that, if you were really into that Dark Star, is going to make you cry.
  9. The rest (and there is still a ton before they’re done in this three set show) is quite the party, including an off-the-hook, second-time-played Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and a brilliant, perfectly placed Sing Me Back Home.

I’ve written more than I thought I would.  Since this show is obviously a beast, go from Playin’ in the Band through Comes a Time for the best part and add Stella for an encore.  But it deserves to be played repeatedly and loudly, in full.

Matrix here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 17, 1976 – Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA

stealieTo me, this entire run of shows at the Orpheum Theatre encapsulates the best of the Grateful Dead in 1976 – rested, rehearsed, but still ready to take things really far out there when the occasion calls for it.  And this show is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch – a beautiful, compelling performance punctuated by an unforgettable, web-like second set so good that it required a two song encore.

Let’s quickly set the stage for these shows.  The Dead had not toured during 1975 and the first half of 1976, so they had only been on the road for about a month and a half before this run at the Orpheum.  In response to some of the problems the band had experienced dragging around an enormous sound system and playing for the enormous crowds who came to hear it, the Dead, for the most part, chose to book these opening 1976 dates in small halls over multiple nights, which gave them a forgiving environment in which to experiment with new arrangements of old tunes and to work out the kinks in the new material they had recorded during their time off.  The results were amazing.  The band slowed things down dramatically and the nuances in the music could really shine through.  While the Dead could still rear back and fire off smokers when necessary, these summer 1976 shows were dialed down and intricate (some would say to a fault).

Which brings us to tonight’s show.  The first few songs of the night are tentative but bright and you can sense everyone stretching their legs a little after four shows in five days.  But once we get to Peggy-O, things begin to click, starting with the two gorgeous solos Jerry rips off midway and two-thirds of the way through the tune.  Big River keeps rolling along, straight into a long, jammy Sugaree.  This is nothing like the cocaine cowboy Sugarees of the early 80’s when Jerry would slam off note after note after note for ten minutes with no regard for what the rest of the band was doing.  Here, the music plays the band as they weave an intricate tapestry, highlighted by beautiful piano work from Keith (more on this in a minute) and some never-over-the-top guitar from Jerry.  This song just works perfectly.  This is followed by the set-ending Johnny B. Goode, an eclectic choice that gets the crowd extra fired up for the second set.

And what a set this is.  One of the hallmarks of the summer of ’76, and this run of shows in particular, is the second set jams that weave between songs, often with common musical themes that the band keeps coming back to, much like a classical symphony.  You’ll hear that theme come up for the first time tonight during the opening Samson and Delilah, and it’s going to be Keith who is generating the ideas and moving the band forward.  Now, if you recall your Grateful Dead history, you’ll note that Keith basically pushed himself out of the band two and a half years later by barely playing at all (or aping Jerry’s licks note for note) during significant portions of songs, so it’s amazing to hear him take charge here, something that he did often during 1976 and never really returned to again.  Once Samson concludes, we begin Comes a Time, not normally a vehicle for strenuous lifting.  This version starts out sounding like the Jerry Garcia band (they never played it), with strong work from Keith complimenting Jerry.  But once the main portion of the song ends, everyone kicks in and we’re off into a gorgeous jam for the next five minutes.  My best description of this piece of music is that it sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of a late 60’s / early 70’s action/romance movie (think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid) in the best possible way.  It also sounds like nothing else the Grateful Dead have ever played.

After playing with this idea for a while, you’ll hear the group struggle a little bit with where to go next – The Wheel seems like a possibility, but then we dive deep into The Other One instead.  After smashing out of the gate, things cool off dramatically, and the Dead treat us to a long passage of sparse, almost Space-like music before they enter another musical debate that is resolved by moving into Eyes of the World.  This is a smooth, sexy version of Eyes that never gets lost, winding through that same theme from Samson and eventually signaling the possibility of Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.  But the Dead don’t seem to want to let The Other One go, so they turn the corner and blast right back into it, along with some purposefully atonal clashes between Keith and Jerry and the second verse Bob never sang before the jam turned towards Eyes of the World twenty minutes before.  Once the song ends the band actually does play Going Down the Road Feeling Bad to take us all home happily.

But of course, that’s not it.  One More Saturday Night ends the show proper, and then U.S. Blues comes out for an encore.  But the audience doesn’t want to leave, so the band comes back out for encore number two – a fourteen minute Not Fade Away that burns off the rest of the gas in the tank with some really open, exploratory playing that you won’t often hear the band pull off during an encore.  And that, friends, is that.

This is a really good show, but none of the recordings of it match its power.  Here’s the Matrix, but the Soundboard and the AUD both have the pluses too:

I’m Going on Vacation

I’ll be away next week, but you can listen to Bruce Hornsby give some hints of what’s to come when he sits in as a guest at Carter Finley Stadium on 07/10/1990 or you can check out the only version of the Everly Brothers’ So Sad To See Good Love Go Bad and the first Rosalie McFall from 07/11/1970 at the Fillmore East.  After that, why not slow things down a little with the first night of the Dead’s epic six night run at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco on 07/12/1976?  Let’s get the mid-90’s into the mix with the “good” Highgate show on 07/13/1994 and end the week with a mellow night at the Greek from 07/14/1984.  Sound good?  Good.

See you soon.

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 7, 1978 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

Dancing Skeletons

Today’s show from Red Rocks is tomorrow’s more famous show’s scrappy little brother.  The Dead play really well tonight, but unfortunately, the second set song selection gets in the way of this being a full on classic ’78 show.

The first set, however, is pure thrills throughout.  You can tell everyone is on from the first notes of the Jack Straw opener.  Candyman is fired up.  Me and My Uncle>Big River is lose and silky.  Friend of the Devil is smooth sailing.  Cassidy and Tennessee Jed are both great versions, with some excellent guitar work on Cassidy and Jerry singing his lungs out with added feeling on Tennessee Jed.  The thrilling conclusion of all of this is a red-hot The Music Never Stopped, which ends the set on an upswing.  This song is 1978 made into music – ragged, jagged, close to the edge but still mostly well-played and with some killer crescendos near the end.   You’re probably not going to find a better version of this in 1978.

The Dead still bring their A game for the second set, but the songs, other than Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, don’t allow the band to fully shine, which is why tomorrow night’s show is much more highly regarded.  Here is the setlist for tonight’s second set:  Cold Rain And Snow, Beat It On Down The Line, Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain, Dancing In The Street>Drums>Space>Not Fade Away>Black Peter>Around And Around.  And the double encore is U.S. Blues and Johnny B. Goode.  So there’s a whole lot of rockin’ going on, which must have been fun as a concert-goer, but listening now, it’s just a bunch of take-it-or-leave-it tunes and no jamming.   Contrast this with tomorrow night, where the least of the best is the Terrapin Station encore and you get the idea.

You’re not going to go wrong with the first set tonight, though.  So if you don’t have all day, just listen to that.  Here is the Matrix, which is much better than the mono-only soundboard and the distant AUD: