Today In Grateful Dead History: September 30, 1969 – Cafe au Go Go, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesToday is an important day in Grateful Dead history since it marks the first time that the Dead played China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider back to back in concert.  (For a very thorough discussion of these two songs’ early years, the events leading up to this pairing and subsequent developments in the China>Rider saga, click here).  After tonight, China Cat Sunflower would almost never be played again without its I Know You Rider mate.  (UPDATE: I put out some feelers and have found at least a couple of these Riderless shows.  1/2/1972 has a Good Lovin’>China Cat Sunflower>Good Lovin’, on 3/9/1985 we hear China Cat Sunflower>Cumberland Blues start the 2nd set and on 7/29/1988 the band plays Crazy Fingers in between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider).   So it’s great to hear the genesis of this legendary (in Grateful Dead circles at least) combination of songs, one old and one new, that seem like they were born to be together.

That’s the good news.  Now for the bad.  You’re going to have a difficult time hearing the vocals on this recording since it appears that it might have been taped so close to the stage that the microphone could hardly pick up the vocals from the band’s sound system.  There are also a bunch of issues with tape speed, especially on Alligator, which is wobbly and sounds like it’s way too slow.  This is also definitely not the complete show, since it’s missing, at the very least, Death Don’t Have No Mercy at the end, and probably some other songs along the way.  What we’re left with here, then, is a 30-some-odd minute portion of a historic show in less than pristine condition.

This does not mean that this performance is not worth your time.  The band, while sloppy, is, like they usually are in 1969, plowing through these songs at full bore and the playing is intense.  Drums in particular is something to behold.

So, instead of worrying about sound quality, please check out the first China>Rider we’ve got and bask in that 1969 glow.  Here’s the only copy on the Archive:


Today in Grateful Dead History: September 29, 1980 – Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA

Dancing Skeletons

It’s our first foray into the waters of the Grateful Dead’s 1980 acoustic / electric performances, so a little history lesson is in order.  In September and October, 1980, the Grateful Dead played a series of shows that featured a first set of acoustic music followed by two electric sets.  In all, the band played 15 dates at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco between September 25th and October 14th, two shows at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans on October 18th and 19th and eight nights at Radio City Music Hall in New York City culminating in a live simulcast on closed circuit TV across the country on Halloween.  The San Francisco and New York shows were professionally recorded and released in 1981 as two live albums – the all-acoustic Reckoning and the all-electric Dead Set.  These performances mark the first time that the Dead played acoustic instruments on tour since 1970.

I really enjoy the shows from this run, but it’s hard to review them in relation to one another since the acoustic sets are made up of mostly the same well-played material each night and the electric sets, while more variable, also tend to blend together.  Today’s show is the fourth in the Warfield run and the band has had some time to work out some of the acoustic kinks.  Still, Bob manages to bungle a few lines in Cassidy, which is otherwise a pretty nice version.    Bird Song, which on some nights during this run gets really out there, is laid back here.  My favorite acoustic songs tonight are the ones that were actually written to be played acoustically from the get-go – things like Dark Hollow and Oh Babe It Ain’t No LieTo Lay Me Down is beautiful and the band really nails the harmonies.

Once we get to the electric sets, we pick up on the rock n’ roll energy in the theater, with booming versions of Brown Eyed Women and It’s All Over Now.  The band keeps this up all the way through to the end with the party songs Around and Around, Johnny B. Goode and U.S. Blues closing things out.  In between, we get a great spacey jam out of Terrapin Station that eventually bursts into a rollicking Truckin’ after a few detours in Drums and Space.

Since the band was recording these shows for potential release, they were apparently a lot more anal than usual about tapers, so in a lot of cases, all we have are “interesting” audience recordings of these performances.  If you play around with the EQ on this one, you’ll do just fine:

There is also a soundboard available for this show, but I think the AUD is better.  Compare here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 28, 1975 – Lindley Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA

stealie This short concert from the Dead’s most consistently great year is also one of the best audience recordings you’ll ever hear.  If you want to know a lot more about this show, you can check out The Grateful Dead Listening Guide’s post on it here, but instead of reading everything right now, I suggest that you jump right in.

The Dead get off to a rousing start with Help on the Way and Slipknot!, two very new songs, but instead of jumping into Franklin’s Tower like they usually will, they shut things down.  After a brief pause, we get a terrific, sloppy version of The Music Never Stopped.  You’ll notice that the band is very loose here, which is apparently due to them all being completely off their rockers on acid during the show.  In any case, this show stands out from the other ’75 gigs due in large part to this free-flowing dynamic, which doesn’t let up throughout the entire performance.

Two songs later, we finally get our Franklin’s Tower and it’s another messy delight.  After a couple more songs we arrive at Truckin’.  Now, in his defense, before starting the song, Bob Weir warns the crowd that he’s not going to remember the words, and he makes good on his promise by not only forgetting most of them, but also forgetting to sing part of the second verse at all.  No worries.  The jam is great.  You’ll hear all sorts of things here, including parts of King Solomon’s Marbles, before we get to an out of control Not Fade Away that dumps into a Going Down the Road Feeling Bad that is the polar opposite of its title.

As I said before, this is one of the all-time great audience recordings (not least because a woman is giving birth at the show and the band, tripping out of their minds, is trying to coordinate a doctor and ambulance from the stage) and is thus available for download.  You should do that here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 23, 1976 – Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC

stealie Listen to the Grateful Dead open this show at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  Ok?  We’re good?  Great.  Now, if there is a slower version of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo out there, I would like one of my two regular readers to point it out for me.  Otherwise, I am going to assert that this performance features the absolute slowest version of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo that I’ve ever heard.

There.  That’s out of the way.

This is another one of those pretty darn good shows that gets lost in the shuffle, and I’m going to blame the recording quality, which is “muddy” to say the least.  But put that aside and there are a bunch of great things going on here.

For instance, all of my kidding about the speed aside, the aforementioned Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo is really good.  Crazy Fingers, marred by even worse sound than most of this show, is another first set highlight.   UPDATE:  Upon 2nd listen, this might be one of the greatest Crazy Fingers of all time – it’s a monster, with an 8 minute closing jam.  Holy crap!  But the real goods come during Slipknot!, a nine minute fusion experience that will knock your socks off.  The band is so fired up after this that the Franklin’s Tower actually sounds like it’s picking up speed.

After Franklin’s Tower, we’ve got a few take it or leave it songs, and then the Dead shift it to another level for a masterful and unusual sequence to close the show:  Dancin’ In The Streets>Wharf Rat>Drums>The Other One>Morning Dew.  NO ENCORE.  And who needs it with this tour de force at the end?  Morning Dew is the perfect punctuation mark here – a solid, thrashing version with everyone just wailing away . . . slowly.  Seriously, this one is worth your while.  And it proves that, in 1976, when the Dead wanted to, they could really turn on the jets, even if they were moving slowly.

Here is the soundboard, in all its ragged glory:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 22, 1993 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

dancing-bearSince we’ve been talking about saxophones a lot around these parts, I thought I’d take a listen to this excellent (for the year) show from 1993 featuring David Murray on tenor sax.

Who is David Murray, you ask?  Well, he was a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet, which is enough for me, but he plays pretty damn well on his own, too.  I don’t know exactly how to describe his style, so you’ll have to draw your own conclusions from his playing here, which is pretty cool.

Keep in mind that this is the Grateful Dead circa 1993, which makes the high quality of the performance exceptional.  We achieve liftoff early with a great upbeat version of Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower that does not feature Mr. Murray on the horn.  The first time we meet him is on Bird Song, a relaxed version with some nice solos and peaks.

If you’re here for the jazz, the second set will satisfy you, with pretty spacey performances of Estimated Prophet and Dark Star and a high-quality Space itself.  The Wharf Rat that follows Space is stupendous.  Murray absolutely kills it here.

Once we’re done with the jazz, we’re ready for the blues, which is provided by another guest, harmonica king James Cotton, who sits in for Throwing Stones and Turn on Your Love Light, which are both short but fun.

This show sits near the top of a lot of lists of 1993 performances and its easy to hear why.  Check it out here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 18, 1974 – Parc des Expositions, Dijon, France

stealie Phil bombs, Phil bombs and more Phil bombs!  If you want to know exactly what Phil Lesh was up to during 1974, you need to check out this show, which features Mr. Lesh front and center throughout the entire evening.

This is my favorite full show (to date) of the ’74 European tour. The folks at Dead central agree with me, as they have chosen to include this show in the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set.

Like most shows from 1974, tonight finds the band fully immersed in jazz stylings and the sound is crystal clear.  However, the balance is little bit off, as Phil is incredibly high in the mix.  Which is awesome, because Phil is on fire all night and you can hear (for once) every crazy note.

The Dead get right into it, starting the show with a slow, jammy Uncle John’s Band.  After a few more tunes, we hear a slow, jammy Scarlet Begonias that is dripping with tasty interplay between all of the parties.  Two songs later, we get a very slow, very jammy Row Jimmy.  You get the idea.  The Race is On features a great piano solo from Keith to move things along before we come to the highlight of the show, for me – the huge Playin’ in the Band that ends the first set.  This thing is chock full of incredible passages throughout its 23 minutes and is just a beautiful thing to hear straight through.

The meat of the second set is Eyes Of The World>China Doll, He’s Gone>Truckin’>Drums>Caution Jam>Ship Of Fools.  The He’s Gone in particular merits special attention, as the band really listens to each other during the quiet parts, pushing us towards a beautiful ending that eventually merges into Truckin’.

And these are just the highlights.  In reality, this is a can’t miss show, especially if you want to listen to that bass . . .  Check it out here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 17, 1973 – Onondaga County War Memorial, Syracuse, NY

stealie The Grateful Dead have played with a bunch of horn players over the years (see September 10, 1991 for instance), but did you know that they actually brought a saxophonist and trumpeter out for eight days of a ten date east coast tour in September, 1973?

Lost Live Dead, a wonderful resource, has a great post describing how this happened, so I’m not going to get into the weeds about the circumstances surrounding the hiring of the horns.  Suffice it to say, saxophonist Martin Fierro and trumpeter Joe Ellis, both fairly accomplished players but not exactly mainstream names, played on a bunch of songs at these September shows, typically during the second set during the jammier numbers.

I’m not going to pretend that this arrangement works very well musically, as you can hear at tonight’s performance from Syracuse, but it certainly has its moments.  The first set is a standard 1973 Grateful Dead performance that never really goes “out there”.  However, since this is 1973, all of the songs are well played, the recording does a good job of highlighting all of the instruments, and you get to hear some pretty creepy theremin-esque sounds from Keith Godchaux during Looks Like Rain, something I’ve never heard before.

We’re really here to talk about the second set and the horns.  But before we do, we should also take note of the performance of Let Me Sing Your Blues Away, Keith’s only true lead vocal performance for the Grateful Dead and the sole Grateful Dead song that is credited to him (and Robert Hunter).  Let Me Sing Your Blues Away was only performed six times during this period of 1973, so tonight’s rendition is an even rarer occurrence than the horn section.  I actually really like this song, and it goes to show what Keith could do vocally.  The band, saxophone in tow, really gets into the groove too.

Speaking of saxophones, now it’s time for the horns.  At this show in particular, the horns do a pretty good job adding to the general atmosphere of the songs, contributing neat bumps and interesting lines in Truckin’ and Eyes of the World.  They also do something to the tone of Stella Blue, which I guarantee you have never heard sound like this before.

My problem with the horns is not the atmospheric music, it’s the solos, which don’t add much to what the band is trying to achieve and typically just get in the way of Jerry being Jerry.  You can make your own call, but take a listen to Let It Grow for an example.

So, this show is a weird one.  It’s also a weird one worth listening to, and one of the better shows with the horn section that I’ve heard.  (Caveat – I haven’t heard all eight).  Check it out here: