Today In Grateful Dead History: November 12, 1971 – San Antonio Civic Auditorium, San Antonio, TX

stealie Keith Godchaux joined the Grateful Dead in October, 1971 and immediately began a seven and a half year quest to see how quietly he could play a keyboard while still actually playing a keyboard.  This journey was incremental, like all epic pilgrimages, so the fall of 1971 finds Keith Godchaux, new member of the Grateful Dead, at his most assertive.  (In most normal rock bands, the members, even the scrubs, fight tooth and nail to be heard more as time goes on, but in the Grateful Dead, Keith, and then, much later, Jerry Garcia, tried mightily to fade away to nothing.  Contrarians, those Grateful Deads).

At this show, which took place about a month into Keith’s tenure, the band still had no idea how to place an acoustic piano into their live p.a. mix.  As a result, we get this soundboard recording, with Keith front and center and blasting away with a honky tonk sound that became less and less tonk and more and more honky as the 70’s progressed.  This is also a good show for Keith listening because there is no Pigpen to spray organ all over Keith’s playing.

This is not a good recording in the audio sense of the word, but it is a good show, primarily because of the light it sheds on Keith’s playing at the start of his career with the Dead and also for the monster Cryptical Envelopment>Drums>The Other One> Cryptical Envelopment> Big Railroad Blues in the 2nd set.  Obviously, had the show been mixed properly, we wouldn’t be able to hear Keith as clearly as we do here, so I’m thankful they couldn’t dial in the sound, because it gives us an opportunity to really ponder what could have been had Keith stayed this aggressive.

See, for example, the insanity that is El Paso, of all songs.  Here, Keith is plunking away with complicated! lines, sounding like a frontier saloon piano player on meth.  Ditto on One More Saturday Night, which is simply ferocious.

The second set gives us a chance to appreciate the leanest, baddest version of the Grateful Dead that ever existed, with no Pigpen, only one drummer and no Donna.  This comes into play primarily on the aforementioned The Other One, which is pure slashing power from start to finish.  This transitions into the second half of Cryptical Envelopment and then right into Big Railroad Blues, a unique (meaning “the only time these two songs were played together”) pairing of songs that works perfectly here.

As I said, the sound quality is not great here, but Keith is, so check it out:


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