Today In Grateful Dead History: October 12, 1968 – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThis is a show that I’ve listened to once before, a few years ago.  I forgot about it, which is a problem because had I remembered it, I would never have chosen to listen to it while doing some personal finance related activities on the computer.

Take this as a warning – when the show starts with Dark Star, and that song is the worst song from the show, you know you’re going way out there.  Every song in this show improves upon the one before it until, at the end, you’re left with literally nothing but Feedback.  It’s like the music ate itself.

One note before getting into it.  Pigpen wasn’t at this show.   Now I love me some Pigpen, but without him, you’ve got a lot more room, musically.  And the Dead take full advantage of the space.

So, begin with that Dark Star, which is fine by 1968 standards but nothing to write home out.  Dark Star winds down to almost nothing before launching in St. Stephen>The Eleven, and we’ve immediately gone off the rails.  There’s a pause after the William Tell section where you think everything is just going to stay calm, and then we’re straight into a pounding The Eleven that is everything you’d want it to be.  It’s also apparently everything the band members want it to be, too, because you can hear them screaming for joy during the expanding jam at the end.  Following that, we have a plaintive, massive Death Don’t Have No Mercy, with Jerry wailing the lyrics with all his heart.  And then we take a break before the main event.

I got about three minutes into the second set before I had to get out and go for a walk – there was no way to concentrate on anything other than this band at peak power, performing one continuous piece of music that looks like this: Cryptical Envelopment>Drums>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment>New Potato Caboose>Drums>Jam>FeedbackCryptical>Drums is just a little warning shot before Phil comes crashing down into The Other One.  I’m honestly at a loss of words to describe what goes on here, but there is some rapid fire back and forth between Phil and Jerry and just a relentless marching beat behind the whole thing.  In the second Cryptical Envelopment, after the quite portion, when Jerry sings the “You know he had to die” chorus the third time, everyone explodes together and doesn’t let up for another five minutes.  This section stopped me in my tracks.

Then New Potato Caboose comes in, and instead of shutting things down like it tends to do, it just accelerates them, with the Dead performing the intricate passages as close to the edge as possible.  That closing jam wraps into another short Drums section before the band takes us out on a extra long jam that devolves, eventually, into a haunting seven minute Feedback that tapers out into nothing at all.  And we’re done.

There’s nothing more to say.  This is one of the best of 1968, for sure.  Go listen now:  https://archive.org/details/gd1968-10-12.sbd.miller.86759.sbeok.flac16

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