Today In Grateful Dead History: December 29, 1968 – Gulfstream Park Racetrack, Hallandale, FL

skeleton&rosesThis short set from the Miami Pop Festival is the Grateful Dead at their thrashiest.

You see, back before they turned into cosmic cowboys, the Dead were turning out loud, slashing space music that often ended in feedback drenched decadence.  That was the late 60’s, baby, when the Dead were truly a dangerous, primal bunch of misfits who showed almost no ability to play “mellow” music, save the occasional dalliance with a jug band tune or And We Bid You Goodnight to bring people down after that Dexedrine blaze of hysterical power that had just spewed forth from one of the best sound systems ever devised (and this was before the band really started tinkering with the electronics).  This was a loud, rockin’ band of the first order, and if you heard them coming, you’d get the hell out of their way.

Since this was a festival set, the Dead didn’t have a lot of time to work through their typical trip, so everything they played today was revved up to full speed, which you’ll hear immediately when the recording cuts in five seconds into Turn on Your Lovelight.  Everybody is already flying straight ahead, and poor Pigpen sounds like he’s having a tough time keeping up.  Twelve minutes later we stop for air before boring down into a shrieking ten minute Dark Star that works really well as a slashing piece of rock n’ roll, but not so well as a “Dark Star” if what you’re looking for is a thirty minute jazz odyssey.  But here, at the Miami Pop Festival, it likely blew minds.

Oh, but all this was just the warm up, for where Dark Star ends St. Stephen begins.  This was back when the Dead were still playing the whole version of St. Stephen with the William Tell hippie poetics tacked on, which, in some interview I read, Jerry said basically drove him nuts.  You’ll understand why it could have when you hear the Dead bust out a blast of incredible, joyous noise only to transition into the pitter-patter trappings of mid-1600’s English folk music.  But that gets cut off right at the roots as the band rears back and just throttles the second half of St. Stephen until it pours into The Eleven, a pretty basic structure that allows Jerry to just keep wailing and wailing over the smashing caveman stomp the rest of the band is laying down behind him.

Drums airs things out for a minute, but then The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment wells up, and if you’ve never heard a particularly angry version of this song, get ready, because you’re not escaping this one.  This is pure nasty, aggressive music on par with anything the MC5 was putting out there.  Don’t let the trippy lyrics dissuade you.

And then And We Bid You Goodnight, because you need it.

Listen carefully here:


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