This interesting show has hidden in plain sight for years since being used as a part of Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 3 in 2008. It has a little bit of everything – two premiere performances, an amazing journey of a first set and a second set larded with rockers, all played by the mean, lean version of the Dead with no Mickey and no Keith either. What’s not to love?
First, the premieres. This show marks the debut of Sugaree and Mr. Charlie, and they come one after another in the first set after a rollicking Truckin’ opener. Sugaree is very short, but it’s tight. On the other hand, the boys sound like they have been playing Mr. Charlie for years, and Pigpen lets it rip like he was born to sing it. After a couple of casual songs, things heat up quickly with this sequence that made me do a double take: Playin’ In The Band>Dark Star>Bird Song. Seriously. In the first set! Now, none of these songs is going into the outer limits of space, especially Playin’ in the Band, which is well-grounded at eight minutes, but, still. This is an unusual Dark Star that would be a very nice introduction to the song for a skeptical friend who has a good attention span but isn’t ready for the noise and feedback that often accompany the tune. It travels in a vaguely straight line, but the guitar / bass work is exquisite and we enjoy every second on the journey. Bird Song is also interesting, as it hasn’t achieved the delicacy that would arrive in 1972 once Keith was introduced. Instead, we have Billy thumping away on the drums and Jerry playing around with several familiar themes that would become extended jams next year and in 1973. After all of this resolves into El Paso, we get a peak Pigpen moment – a thrilling Hard to Handle that holds up against any of the other great versions of the song that the Dead were playing around this time in 1971 (and they were playing a lot of them).
As I said before, the second set of this show is made up almost entirely of rockers, except for Sing Me Back Home. The change of pace must have had some effect on the band’s performance of this classic Merle Haggard tune, because this is one of the greatest Grateful Dead versions of this song that I’ve ever heard – Jerry’s solo is sublime and you’ll never want it to end. Most of the rest of this set is typical, great 1971 Dead, with a special emphasis on Not Fade Away>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away which sees the band tear the Yale Bowl to shreds.
This is a really, really interesting show, made all the more so given the song order and the new pieces. You’ll want to come back to this one again and again. Listen here: https://archive.org/details/gd1971-07-31.132730.sbd.miller.flac16/gd71-07-31d3t01.flac