Shockingly, the members of the Grateful Dead did not spend a lot of time in jail over the years. There were several busts when they were all living together in San Francisco, the infamous New Orleans fiasco documented in Truckin‘ and Jerry’s arrest in Golden Gate Park for heroin possession, along with a few other scraps along the way, but none of these incidents resulted in any real time served. However, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the band’s benefactor, soundman and one of the largest suppliers of LSD in the world during the late 1960’s, did end up spending significant time in the joint once the feds lost patience with him. And lo and behold, Bear just happened to be incarcerated at the Terminal Island Correctional Facility when the Dead showed up to play a free concert for the inmates there on August 4, 1971.
This show is basically the polar opposite of yesterday’s violin and saxophone assisted riot. Most of the songs here are very well played and the “jammy” songs are quite short. For instance, Playin’ in the Band lasts a whopping 4:48 and Turn on Your Lovelight goes for a mere 14 minutes. But man oh man is the band tight. Hard to Handle, which was really being played in high gear at this point of the year, rocks, and Mr. Charlie establishes a tight groove. Lovelight (which follows a great Going Down the Road Feeling Bad) is interesting – since they’re in a prison, Pigpen can’t do his normal rap about grabbing all the ladies and taking them home, so he has to dial it back a bit and the band fills the void with lacerating chords and beats. It’s great.
If you’re a fan of Phil Lesh, this show also offers a very loud bass track, to the point where it becomes a detriment to the overall recording (if you’re looking at it objectively), often drowning out the other instruments and fuzzing horribly during the second half of the show in particular. But that’s a good thing in my book, as it’s all to often difficult to pull Phil out of these muddy recordings. Lay back and enjoy the clinic Phil puts on.
This is not the show to put on if you want spaced out jams, but it more than holds its own and would probably be a good show to play for someone just getting into the band since it doesn’t go too deep into uncharted waters. Here’s the only available recording: https://archive.org/details/gd1971-08-04.sbd.miller.95308.sbeok.flac16