Today in Grateful Dead History: September 30, 1976 – Mershon Auditorium – Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

stealieLet’s cap a week of nothing but shows from the 70’s with this hidden gem from Columbus, 1976.

The Dead start off the night with The Music Never Stopped, a relatively new song that attains full flight in 1977.  But tonight the boys launch into a closing jam that differs from most of the usual Music Never Stopped jams.  This little sequence, call the Mind Left Body Jam, was usually played around Truckin’ or The Other One in 1973 and 1974.  So it’s really cool to hear it pop up here, in the opening tune.  This won’t be the last time tonight that the Dead produce amazing results in unexpected places.

Next up on the highlight reel is Crazy Fingers.  In my opinion, 1976 was THE year for Crazy Fingers.  The band was well-rehearsed, the tempos were a little slower, the venues were smaller and the whole group could really dig into this intricate number.  And oh boy do they rip into it tonight.  This song is a whirling dervish culminating in that beautiful, sensuous, feel-good exit jam that just makes you think of summertime.

We were talking earlier about unexpected jams – another one pops up in Scarlet Begonias.  This song starts off a little ragged, but by the time the Dead get halfway through, you know they’ve got trouble on their minds.  The second half of this song swings with an unusual rhythm and the playing follows.  It’s not like the Scarlet Begonias you’re used to.  And all of this, remember, is still in the first set.

The second set opens with a very nice Lazy Lightning>Supplication and then moves into It Must Have Been the Roses and Samson and Delilah.  This is all well and good, but the really cool part gets going with St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Drums>Wharf Rat>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen>Around and Around. Talk about unusual passages – the last three minutes of St. Stephen almost sound like island music, as does the very cool intro into Not Fade Away.  The band is drawn into the typical Not Fade Away rhythm pattern, only to pull back out into a looser beat before finally deciding to start the song.  The transition into Wharf Rat doesn’t reveal itself for a while – I thought they were going into The Wheel until right before the song began.  This hide and seek musical exploration typifies the entire evening.  From there we run back into Not Fade Away before St. Stephen ties everything together again. (Unfortunately, it’s cut on this recording).

But wait, we’re not done with the mysterious.  After Around and Around, it’s encore time.  And tonight’s encore is . . . Morning Dew, a song the Grateful Dead only played as an encore seven times.  (Tonight’s show was the last of the bunch).  So – crazy, unique music all night and an amazing, emotional encore to top things off.  Why isn’t this show more popular?

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of my friends who was instrumental in getting me really into the Grateful Dead was born, in Columbus, on this very day.  Happy Birthday – you got the show you deserve!

I listened to the audience recording of this show – the soundboard recordings need to be stitched together in order to work, and frankly, after some playing around I like the sound here better anyway:


Today in Grateful Dead History: September 29, 1977 – Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

dancing-bearThis is a very laid back Pacific Northwest performance that shows off a lot of Bob Weir’s guitar range but never really gels as a full-band experience, even though a couple of really fun songs manage to take flight.

Part of the problem is the recording.  Keith is completely MIA, Bob is very high in the mix and Phil comes and goes.  So there is a lot of missing space that sucks some of the life out of the performance in places.  But beyond that, it appears that the band’s attention comes and goes, which makes this show sound even more uneven.

Uneven does not mean that there aren’t a bunch of highlights – there are.  First, Bob plays really well tonight, which is good because you’re going to hear him a lot more than the other band members given the mix.  No one plays like Bob Weir, and even after all of these years of listening, he still manages to surprise me whenever I can really hear him on a recording.

Second, Let It Grow comes roaring out of nowhere (actually out of a low-key Sugaree) and takes over the room.  It’s as if the band suddenly “clicked” on – everyone is focused and Jerry just wails on the guitar.  This is a pure power version of Let It Grow, which is all the more shocking given how tentative everything else has sounded before it.  Truckin’ sounds like it wants to get to this same place, but other than a two minute burst near the end, the song never really gets there.

Third, after Let It Grow the band gives us a 17 minute Franklin’s Tower.  I’d argue that we’d be better served with a 10 minute version, but that’s nit-picking.  17 minutes of Franklin’s Tower is always a good thing, even if there are sloppy moments like there are in this version.

Fourth, although He’s Gone is nothing special, it’s great to hear Bob, Jerry and Phil play together in balance, with the drummers and Keith well in the background. This is one of those slow rollers that just makes you really focus on what the guitars are trying to do with one another and shows off Bob’s exceptional ability to run in between Jerry and Phil.

This show is not going to rank high on my list of 1977 performances, but it’s worth hearing, especially in the sweet spots, for Bob Weir’s contributions.  You can listen to the soundboard (with several significant cuts) here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 28, 1972 – Stanley Theatre, Jersey City, NJ

stealieThe Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a perfect post describing this show and the Dead’s September ’72 output in general, so go there and read that.

I don’t have much more to add.  This show is a beast throughout, with the highlights being Playin’ in the Band and The Other One, as they often are in 1972.  I will note that The Other One is based around a lot of space – there are times where it goes very far out there and the distance becomes almost untenable.  But the band brings it back in by the end.

Seriously, just read the essay on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide and enjoy.  I’ll be more thorough tomorrow (today, since this is being posted late).

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 27, 1976 – Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY

stealieI wish I had more time to talk about this incredible show from 1976, especially since it’s the first one from 1976 that I’ve reviewed this year.  But I don’t have time.  So here’s the most important part:

Slipknot!>Drums>The Other One>Wharf Rat>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower

Yup, you read that right.  Drums, The Other One and Wharf Rat in the middle of Slipknot!  Splitting up this combination of songs only happened (by my limited count) two other times in Grateful Dead history, and one of those times was just Drums in the middle, not two epic songs like The Other One and Wharf Rat.  Oh, and did I mention that Franklin’s Tower is 18 minutes long?  Yeah, it’s as cool as it sounds.

The rest of this show is pretty darn good too.  First set highlights include Looks Like Rain (1976 was a good year for this song) and Lazy Lightning>Supplication.  This is prime 1976, folks.  Dig in.

I like Matrix recordings in 1976 – this one is really pretty light on the soundboard.  But it’s still more dynamic than the board:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 26, 1972 – Stanley Theatre, Jersey City, NJ

stealieWhen last we spoke about 1972, I warned you that September was chock full of incredible Grateful Dead music.  Exhibit A – tonight’s show, the first of three nights in a row at the Stanley Theatre (people in Jersey can’t spell too good), is the worst of the three and it’s still amazing from start to finish.

Things get off to a fast start with The Promised Land, Cold Rain and Snow and Me and My Uncle, but it’s when the boys slow things down on He’s Gone where you really start to get the sense that something is in the air.  In later years, the band would lean heavily on dirgey vocal improvisations at the end of this song, but during 1972, and at this point in 1972 in particular, the closing jam was all guitar, with Jerry and Bob lashing back and forth while Phil scurries around on the notes in between them.  Tonight’s jam strikes that tenuous balance between fragile and fractured that makes the best He’s Gones so gripping.

Skipping ahead to Deal, you hear just how confident everyone is.  This isn’t the best version you’re going to hear, but Jerry rips off several tight solos and lifts the band with him.  Big River, sometimes just a vehicle for tight bursts of Jerry’s manic guitar wizardry, chortles down the tracks like a train on a schedule, with everyone pulling their weight and the engine in perfect time.  The first solo in Sugaree comes in hot, almost feeding back, but when Jerry pulls it together, it’s a brilliant thirty seconds of music.  It’s interesting to hear it in its raw state.  Ditto Around and Around, which had not been played too much yet.  It sounds amped up yet cautious, as if the Dead are still figuring out the best way to make it their own.  (Maybe they should have stuck with this version).

We’re missing the second set opening Bertha, one of several flaws with this recording including major cuts in Cumberland Blues and The Other One.  But nothing is missing from Playin’ in the Band tonight – it’s a twenty-two minute barn burner that achieves great things three quarters of the way through.  (And if you think this one is good, wait until the 28th).   A few songs later, we get one of the Dead’s ten versions of Tomorrow is Forever, and a good one at that.  This tune really shows off Donna’s ability as a background vocalist and is much more in her range than most of the other songs that she sang with the Dead.  The second major piece of the second set is Truckin’>The Other One.  It’s not possible to write about these extra long segments of music without listening to them ten times, and I don’t have the capacity to do that.  So just plug in and enjoy the ride on this one – it gets better as it goes, that’s for sure.  At the end of The Other One, we end up with It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, which fits in perfectly here.  The Dead had played this tune off and on in 1966 and then again in 1969-70, but they would only play it twice in ’72 and once in ’74 before setting it aside until the 80’s.  So enjoy it while you’ve got it.

The next two days of music are even better than this one, so if I don’t make it back to 1972 this week, and if you have the extra time, sample those shows, too.  Otherwise, enjoy this one here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 22, 1991 – Boston Garden, Boston, MA

terrapinToday’s show falls smack in the middle of the Grateful Dead’s six night run at the Boston Garden on their 1991 fall tour.  As was their want on this tour, the Dead settled into the building for multiple nights in a row, trying not to duplicate many of the songs.  While the approach rewarded the fans who bought tickets for every night of the run, you could definitely get stuck with a strange setlist if you only showed up for one night.  Take the second set of tonight’s show, for example:  Samson And Delilah, Iko Iko, Looks Like Rain>He’s Gone>Nobody’s Fault But Mine>Spoonful>Drums>Space>The Last Time>Stella Blue>Sugar Magnolia E: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.  This is probably not many fans’ dream concert.  Thank God the Dead rock out hard tonight, because this one had stinker potential written all over it.

The boys get things moving with an energetic (and short) first set.  The highlights are both Dylan covers – It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and Maggie’s Farm.  Let It Grow closes the set and is filled with the lovely little examples of interplay between the band members that make this tour so solid.  Bruce Hornsby, as always, gives this set the extra oomph.

Now for that second set.  This is a really dynamic Looks Like Rain that stacks up well with any version from any era.  He’s Gone sticks to the basics, but then it devolves into what I thought was going to be the Nobody’s Fault But Mine jam.  Instead, Jerry actually sings the lyrics to the Blind Willie Johnson song. I can find a couple of shows where this happens after today’s show, and one from 1985, but this is a rare occurrence indeed and it segues into a cool Spoonful, which has a very similar feel, so we’ve got ten minutes of blues in as pure a form as the post-Pigpen Dead are ever going to play it.  Drums/Space>The Last Time are normal, and you think that Stella Blue is going to be pedestrian too, but then Jerry launches into one of those 1990’s Stella Blue solos that just rings perfectly true and brings the house down.  It’s a keeper.

Lesson from tonight’s show – don’t judge a show on its setlist alone.  This one is a good one.

Listen to the soundboard here (this one has more high end than the other versions – the more popular version is muddier but has better Phil):