Today In Grateful Dead History: January 21, 1971 – Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA

stealie This show is a perfect example of an incomplete audience recording that most listeners would probably discount because of the nearly constant talking and clapping right next to the taper.  But throwing this show out on the basis of the crowd noise would be a mistake, since there are a couple of really powerful sections of music here.

Grateful Dead Sources has a couple of interesting contemporary reviews of this performance and the comments section details the history of the recording as far as it goes.  What we know for sure is that the Dead were the last of three bands to perform at this concert, which might explain why the setlist appears slightly truncated.  But when you listen to this show straight through, you don’t get the sense that much is missing in terms of the pace of the performance – it follows the pretty standard 1971 show trajectory.

There are a couple of rare moments here, starting with Pigpen’s harmonica playing on Truckin’, something that pops up from time to time but was eventually shelved.  Also, the ending to Hard to Handle, while again not unique, is undoubtedly different from how the band was playing it a couple of months later when it formed into something a little less harsh.  This version is a monster all its own.  Finally, this would apparently be the last performance of Cosmic Charlie until 1976, and while it isn’t a best ever version, it’s still very enjoyable.

For me, the beating heart of this show, and the bar-none highlight of the night, is The Other One, which starts out with Cryptical Envelopment but rapidly turns into an eight minute drum solo.  This was not the typical way to start this song.  The drums build and build until the full band bursts back into the song with a thrilling slide, the beginning of a great fifteen minutes of music.  There are shrieks of feedback, delicate moments where Jerry and Phil play off of one another, and an aggressive section near the end where Bob and Phil are driving deep into the rhythm like men possessed and then Pigpen’s organ rises briefly into the mix to add that little extra something that pushes the song over the edge.  It’s pretty amazing to hear the effect this has on the crowd – whereas before, everyone was talking over the music, now it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop as the Dead rope the captivated audience in.  (They start talking again as soon as the second part of Cryptical Envelopment starts).  This The Other One is a master class in early 70’s psych rock and shouldn’t be missed.

Please, do yourself a favor and overlook the audio glitches and the missing material, at least for The Other One.  It’s worth the effort.

Here’s the audience recording:


One thought on “Today In Grateful Dead History: January 21, 1971 – Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA

  1. I love this article because of the comment about McKiernan’s volume through the Leslie. Somehow, I managed to appear to be part of the crew that night..( 16 year old roadie?) and was onstage at this show the entire time. I stood right behind Ron McKiernan’s Leslie cabinet.


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