Today In Grateful Dead History: October 30, 1970 – Gym, SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY

skeleton&rosesThe New Riders of the Purple Sage were contemporaries of the Grateful Dead who played a much more country tinged blend of music than the Dead ever did. (Think Flying Burrito Brothers).  They also happened to share Jerry Garcia, who played pedal steel guitar for the New Riders until 1971.  (Sometimes Phil or Mickey also played with them).  Quite a few of the 1970 Grateful Dead dates were also New Riders of the Purple Sage performances – sometimes the Dead would play a set, then the Riders, then the Dead, or sometimes, as is the case at today’s show at SUNY Stony Brook, the bands would play an early show and a late show, with the New Riders opening and the Dead headlining both shows.  This means that Jerry was on stage for four sets tonight – two with the New Riders and two with the Dead.  What’s great about this recording is that it includes both New Riders shows and both Dead shows, giving us the full concert experience.

This site is devoted to the Grateful Dead, not the New Riders of the Purple Sage, for a reason – the Grateful Dead are (in my humble opinion), much better than the New Riders.  So I’m not going to focus on the New Riders’ portion of these shows, other than to say that you’ll hear some pretty good country rock and your foot will definitely tap at points.  You’ll also get the chance to check out Jerry’s pedal steel chops.  But beyond that, we’re not journeying into the depths of space with the New Riders.

The Dead’s portion of these shows is pretty typical 1970 Grateful Dead.  1970 and 1971 marked the transition from the heavy hitting 60’s into the more mellow sounding 70’s, but there is still a lot of tension between the two eras, which leads to some great music.  The first thing you’ll notice here is the tone, which is thin if you’re used to pristine soundboards.  Fortunately, most of the members of the band are audible on this recording, with the exception of Pigpen.  Caveat – I listened to this through pretty crummy computer speakers, but it’s almost impossible to hear Pigpen’s organ at all in either show.  Which stinks to high heaven, because it would have definitely added some depth to this sound.  But if that’s my only complaint about the sound on a 1970 soundboard, then we’re doing just fine.

The early show is rushed, since the holders of the late show tickets were apparently trying to bash in the doors of the gym and the band needed to clear out the first audience quickly.  The highlights of the early show are Truckin’ (a slow roller), Sugar Magnolia (a raver) and a smokin’ Cumberland Blues.  The late show is longer and jammier, with another Truckin’ that’s not as good as the earlier version.  Things pick up with Dancin’ in the Streets, which features what is known as the Tighten Up jam (if you don’t know it, you’ll recognize it when you hear it).  This leads into Big Railroad Blues, followed by St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad (a wonderful version)>Not Fade Away>Turn on Your Lovelight.  This sequence is explosive, and shows off that wonderful 60’s sound that still percolates up throughout 1970.

This is not the best 1970 show you’ll ever hear, but it is very representative of what was going on with the Dead and the New Riders and the end of the late show is worthy of a listen.  You can do that here:


Today In Grateful Dead History: October 29, 1985 – Fox Theatre, Hotlanta, GA

dancing-bear 1985 is the Mr. Hyde to 1976’s Dr. Jkyll.  Both are truly unique years musically – nothing else sounds like ’76 or ’85 – but where the 1976 shows have the reputation for being slow burners, 1985 is the crystal meth version of the Grateful Dead – 110 mph at almost all times.

I won’t belabor the comparison between 1976 and 1985 because it’s too much of a contrast.  Instead, let’s compare the show opening Mississippi Half-Step>Franklin’s Tower from yesterday’s 1979 show from the Cape Cod Coliseum with today’s 2nd set opening 1985 version of that same sequence.  In 1979, the Dead played those two songs for almost exactly half an hour.  In 1985, we’re down to a combined 14 minutes.  And that is 1985 in a nutshell.

Now even though the length of the songs has shrunk, this does not necessarily imply that the performance is worse, but I think that the pacing belies the real problem with a lot of shows from 1985, which is a tendency of the band to rush through things.  At today’s show, for instance, there is literally no solo before the “across the rio grande” portion of Mississippi Half-Step.  None.  And at the conclusion of a very nice Wharf Rat, which follows a four minute The Other One (also good), the band shifts gears immediately, with no transition to speak of, into Johnny B. Goode.  The only places where things get stretched out here are in Drums / Space, which has some cool, eerie passages, and on Bird Song in the first set, which is very well done and worth your time.

The most frustrating thing about this show is that you can sense the power in the band, waiting, behind all of the drug problems and burn out, to be unleashed.  Jerry can still rip off great solos.  Brent sounds fantastic throughout the night.  The drummers are into it.  But nothing really takes off.  It’s like you’re revving the engine of a Corvette and then you peel out at 35 mph.

Don’t get me wrong – 1985 is a fun year, and I like this show – it’s a good one for the time period.  I just wish there was a little more to it.

Here’s the soundboard:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 28, 1979 – Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth, MA

Dancing Skeletons

Today’s show is the second of two nights at the Cape Cod Coliseum in 1979.  Last night was a barn burner and the Dead pick up right where they left off with another thrilling performance that, as a whole, might be even better than the previous night’s show.

The band begins the evening with a ripping Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  The jamming here is not overwhelming, but everyone is playing nicely within the space of the music and there are some really subtle passages.

Last night, the band performed a blistering Franklin’s Tower in the second set that is a candidate for my favorite Franklin’s of all time.  They clearly weren’t done with that tune, because today they segue straight back into it out of Half-Step.  Where last night’s Franklin’s was laced with riffs upon riffs, tonight the band takes its time and lets the jam build, keeping things a little more open and pretty.  So between last night and today, we’ve got almost 40 minutes of Franklin’s Tower, and not one minute of it is wasted.

The rest of the first set moves along nicely until a ragged but cool version of The Music Never Stopped ends the first half of the show.  The Dead don’t lose their energy over the break and come out swinging with a forceful (but sloppy) China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  After Samson & Delilah and Ship of Fools, the band fires off into Playin’ in the Band, and it’s an amazing odyssey, with Brent taking the lead for large portions of the song and blazing away with psychedelic fury.  I don’t recall hearing him drive this particular tune like he does here, and the rest of the band responds, pushing the envelop deep out into space and beyond into Drums / Space.  Once everyone comes back to earth we’re treated to a tender Stella Blue and a couple of perfunctory closing songs.

So let the debate begin – was tonight better than yesterday’s more popular show?  I think that the first part of the second set of last night’s show is probably one of the best passages of music the band performed in 1979 (that I’ve heard), but today’s setlist is more to my liking and the Playin’ in the Band is fantastic.  Although I tend to lean towards today being the better of the two Cape Cod shows (the only time the Dead ever played on the Cape, I believe), you’re not going to go wrong with either one.

Check out of the Matrix here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 27, 1979 – Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth, MA

Dancing Skeletons

Today is the second day in a row that I’m writing about a show that is featured on the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set.  This time, the show is one that I’ve listened to for a while and am very familiar with – the Dead’s 1979 performance at the Cape Cod Coliseum.

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter – the ridiculous sequence of songs that begins the second set:  Dancin’ In The Streets>Franklin’s Tower, He’s Gone> Jam>The Other One>Drums>Not Fade Away.  This is the Grateful Dead at the height of their 1979 powers, with a completely charged up Brent, an on fire Jerry Garcia and two drummers who are ready to knock the hell out of anything in their path.  Dancin’ in the Streets is the band at its funky best, and you can tell right away that Phil Lesh is ready to throw down with some incredible bass licks.  But then the Dead drop the bomb on the Cape, a 20 minute bonanza of a Franklin’s Tower that just keeps going and going and going through measure after measure of Jerry guitar solos so liquid and so fast that your head is guaranteed to spin.  This is one of the epic Franklin’s of all time, if not the ultimate version.

After that thunderstorm, the boys decide to slow things down for a little while with a great version of He’s Gone, however three quarters of the way through that tune, everyone decides that enough is enough and they end up jamming their way right into a furious The Other One that tears the roof off the place.  Things are going so well that Phil sits in with the drummers during Drums and guides everyone back in for a ripping Not Fade Away.

And that, friends, is all you’ll need from this show.  As some of the negative Nellies on the Archive have pointed out, the rest of the second set is take-it-or-leave-it stuff, and the first set, while well played, is not going to win any awards, either.  But I don’t care.  For about an hour of the second set, the Dead are playing as good as they will ever play in 1979, and that’s a pretty high bar.  (For instance, tomorrow’s show at the same venue is also off the charts).

If you’re interested, the Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a nice essay about this show.  Otherwise, get right to it with this exceptional Matrix:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 26, 1989 – Miami Arena, Miami, FL

dancing-bearI’ve been away for a few days – it’s nice to come back with this classic 1989 show that was selected to be a part of the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set.

If you read the comments on the Archive, you’ll find out very quickly that this show was considered a “spooky” show with a really menacing vibe in the arena that apparently freaked a lot of people out.  It’s hard to pick up on that vibe on the recording of the first set (it starts with Foolish Heart, a relentlessly upbeat – at least musically – song and ends with Don’t Ease Me In), but the second set certainly has a dissonant feeling, due in large part to the very spacey 28 minute Dark Star.  This song meanders along for a while before exploding into a very atonal experiment, with sound effects galore and several incredibly heavy passages with screeching feedback, crazy piano thumpings and drum fills.  Add to this stew Jerry’s slurred, tired-sounding vocal delivery and you have a very dangerous Dark Star indeed.  The last fifteen minutes could very easily be called Space because we’ve lost all semblance of the Dark Star melody, but whatever you choose to call it, it’s an intense piece of music, and probably my favorite Dark Star of the year.

The second set has several other “freaky” sounding bits.  Before we even arrive at Dark Star, we hear a pulsating Estimated Prophet that leads into a super pissed off version of Blow Away, with Brent swearing at the world and the whole band smashing along behind him.  Fortunately, after Drums/Space >The Wheel>All Along the Watchtower (also kind of creepy sounding)>Stella Blue, we get a thrilling Not Fade Away that brings everyone back to earth before And We Bid You Goodnight as an encore.

So there it is – an intense South Florida show that deserves repeated listening, if you’re in the mood for something a little angrier than your typical Grateful Dead concert.

Here is a matrix version, which I think picks up a little more of the vibe than the soundboard:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 20, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealie This was the last show that the Grateful Dead played before their year and a half hiatus and it’s a smoker from beginning to end.  However, listener beware.  This show (like all of the shows from this Winterland run) is notorious for the terrible sound of the recordings.  This problem is not limited to the Archive selections, but includes the actual live album that was generated from these shows and released in 1976, Steal Your Face, which is consistently considered one of the worst albums the Grateful Dead ever put out.  In an attempt to rectify the problems with that album, the Dead have since released a box set documenting this run, called The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, with slightly better sound.  (Yup, these shows were also filmed for the eventual Grateful Dead Movie).  So when it comes to the recordings on the Archive, nothing is going to sound very good if you are interested in well-mixed shows.  On the other hand, Phil and Bill are incredibly high (in the mix) throughout this performance, and it’s a great chance to hear them in their glory.  There is also something really  funky about the sound tonight, probably due to all of the fuzz and the huge bass tone, that just makes everything sound like a party.

And what a party it is.  Remember, when this show took place, it was being billed as the potential final performance by the Grateful Dead, so everyone was in a nostalgic mood.  Hell, Mickey Hart even showed up and played with the Dead from the start of the second set through the end, marking his official return to the band.  To add to the atmosphere, Ned Lagin also sat in throughout most of the second half, although it’s nearly impossible to hear him on the recordings.

The shows begins with the first Cold Rain and Snow since December 1973 and we’re off from there, with thrilling versions of the typical canonical songs.  Tennessee Jed and El Paso, in particular, shine here, along with a smoking hot China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  The second set (of three) is where the most intense jamming takes place – it’s one huge Playin’ in the Band sandwich with a ridiculous The Other One>Wharf Rat in the middle along with Not Fade Away for good measure.  The band is just on fire here, playing their jazzy 1974 best.  If I were there, I would have been pissed to think that a band that was playing this well could potentially be calling it quits after tonight.

The third set begins with the first Good Lovin’ since Pigpen last sang it on May 25, 1972, and it’s like no other Good Lovin’ you’ve heard, with a fascinating jam in the middle and some bizarre rhythmic passages that are probably due to Mickey’s un-rehearsed return, but they sound great.  This version is a unique keeper.  The rest of the third set is basically good, especially It Must Have Been the Roses, but it serves as kind of a denouemont after the second set fireworks.  In honor of the occasion we do get a three song encore with Johnny B. Goode, Mississippi Half-Step (maybe the only time it was ever played as an encore?) and a rushed And We Bid You Goodnight to end things.

And just like that, the Grateful Dead called it quits, walking away at the height of their powers.  The Dead only played four shows in 1975 before coming back in the middle of 1976, tanned, rested and raring to go.  Savor this show – they’ll never sound quite this jazzy again.

Here’s one version on the Archive – remember, they’re all pretty bad:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 19, 1973 – Oklahoma City Fairgrounds Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

stealie This show was released as Dick’s Picks Vol. 19, and I’m going to assume that the great Dark Star>Morning Dew and the Eyes of the World>Stella Blue encore was the reason why it was selected , because the rest of the show, while awesome like most 1973 performances, isn’t really any more or less awesome than a bunch of other shows from this time period.

But the highlights are highlights indeed.  Dark Star, especially the closing Mind Left Body Jam, is very nice.  The opening portion is quite spacey, even for 1973, and the ending jam is really melodic.  The contrast works well.  This moves into a thoroughly intense Morning Dew that sucks you right in and spits you out 12 minutes later after some vintage Jerry shredding and interesting organ work (Keith sounds very Tom Constanten like) that you’ll have to strain to hear on this recording.

After a second set closing Sugar Magnolia, the band comes back for a three song encore made up of Eyes of the World>Stella Blue and Johnny B. Goode.  In my limited research, it appears that Eyes of the World was only played as an encore four times (today and three times in 1974) and Stella Blue was an encore only twice, so this pairing is incredibly unique.  The band makes the most of it, with a perfectly timed Eyes of the World that is neither too long nor too short and a pretty Stella.

As I said before, this show has been released in its entirety as Dick’s Picks Vol. 19 and based on the couple of tracks that I listened to from that source, the sound is much better on Dick’s Picks than it is on the Archive, even when condensed.  So maybe you should locate a copy of Dick’s Picks and buy it, because the sound quality on the only version of this show available on the Archive is nicht so gut.  And Johnny B. Goode is stuck in the middle.  And Big River is missing.

Sounds issues notwithstanding, check out the second set and encores immediately: