Today in Grateful Dead History: July 31, 1971 – Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT

stealieThis 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:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 28, 1973 – Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY

stealieThe Grateful Dead had a really bad habit of “underperforming” at their biggest shows (see Woodstock for a classic example).  However, on this particular day, on the largest stage they’d ever play, the Dead delivered, with two sets filled with fantastic playing and some otherworldly jamming.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, today’s show was a massive concert in upstate New York featuring The Band, The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead.  According to estimates, 600,000 people attended this show, the largest crowd to ever witness a rock concert.  They were rewarded with a two hour Dead show to start the day, followed by two hours of The Band and three hours of the Allmans before everyone came together for another 45 minutes of jamming.  It must have been something.

After warming up with a legendary soundcheck the night before, the Dead sprinted right out of the gate into an upbeat Bertha and never looked back.  The first set is filled with the usual suspects, all well played.  Box of Rain is one of the highlights for me – this was a always a tricky song for the band to get right, and they played it often in 1973, sometimes to ill effect.  But today it simply sparkles and Jerry’s guitar work floats through the summer air as the band plays on and on.  The set ends with a monster Playin’ in the Band that erupts immediately and never lets up for almost 25 minutes, blowing many a mind along the way.

There are quite a few highlights in the second half, including a great Truckin>El Paso, a classic China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider and an intergalactic Eyes of the World.  The Dead took their time in front of this festival crowd and played it just like a real concert that they headlined, stretching things out and laying waste to Eyes with a psychedelic fury that is probably more fitting for 1972 than ’73.  (I know they didn’t play Eyes in ’72, but still).

And if that isn’t enough for you, this recording also has the closing jam featuring all three bands playing Not Fade Away, Mountain Jam and Johnny B. Goode.  This is not the best recording you’ll ever hear, but the Dead more than hold their own and the Mountain Jam is pretty massive, all things considered.

Well, if you want an example of the Dead blowing another big one, you’ve come to the wrong place today.  This show rocks.  Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 27, 1973 – Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY (The Watkins Glen Soundcheck)

stealieIn one of the more delightful ironies in a history filled with them, on this date in 1973 the Grateful Dead played one of their most legendary shows at a soundcheck on the night before they performed in front of 600,000 people on a triple bill with The Band and The Allman Brothers Band.

First, a little context.  This soundcheck came the night before Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, an enormous festival that was considered to be the largest outdoor pop festival of all time for many years.  According to Wikipedia (and confirmed by my elementary math), if the 600,000 person attendance figure is accurate, one out of every 350 people in the United States attended this concert.  So, as you can probably imagine, a huge crowd got there early, and The Band and The Allman Brothers Band each played short soundchecks in front of those intrepid souls.  But the Grateful Dead, because they’re the Grateful Dead, didn’t play a short soundcheck at all – instead, they came on, played for about 45 minutes, took a break and then came back on and did another 45 minutes, including the epic jam that made this show famous.

That the jam from this show is considered one of the greatest of all the Grateful Dead’s jams is a little surprising, seeing as how it was not a part of another beloved song like Dark Star, but instead evolved from a cold start and took off from there.  However, the lack of structure works here, allowing the Dead to go in several different directions, free from the shackles of a formal song.  And fly off they do, playing a brilliant 20 minute piece with at least three distinct themes – an opening, jazzier section, a second movement, beginning at the 14 minute mark, that could be the genesis for Fire on the Mountain (which wouldn’t come out for close to 4 years) and then a closing theme that resembles the transition into Going Down the Road Feeling Bad or I Know You Rider.  But, again, I’m just using these songs as musical reference points – the piece stands on its own.  (For much more on the jam and how this particular recording came to be, I strongly encourage you to read up on things at the Grateful Dead Listening Guide.  You can also hear it on So Many Roads.).

So, the jam is the thing here, but it’s not the only awesome musical moment – this is 1973, after all.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the jam, I think that this date would still be pretty well known because of the amazing Bird Song from the first “set”.  This is a very long Bird Song, one of the longest I’ve ever heard, and while it follows a fairly typical Bird Song structure, the playing after the halfway mark is remarkably free for a 1973 Bird Song.  There is also some thunderous bass work from Phil that drives the whole song, and Bob’s rhythm guitar, as usual, flourishes in and around Jerry’s amazing runs.  I love this one almost as much as the PNE Coliseum Bird Song on June 22nd and the much-hyped version from 1972’s all-time great show in Veneta.

Apart from these two songs, which are really all that you need, the Dead play a bunch of shorter material and a pretty good ten minute version of Wharf Rat.  I encourage you to listen to this show from start to finish and not skip around, in order to experience this amazing night as it builds towards that jam, just like the people who were there.

There are lots of recordings of this show – the AUD referenced on the Listening Guide gives you great bang for your buck, but is missing Sugaree.  That’s alright.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 26, 1994 – Riverport Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MO

terrapinThe fact that I still enjoyed this show despite the presence of Childhood’s End, Easy Answers and Victim Or The Crime>Samba In The Rain means one of two things.  Either I’ve become acclimatized to the Dead’s unfortunate mid-90’s song selections or this was a pretty good show despite those four duds (and an I Fought the Law encore).  I think it’s a little of both.

The most noteworthy song of the night is the 19+ minute Estimated Prophet that anchors the second set.  The Dead were typically playing 11 – 13 minute versions of this song in 1994, with the occasional outlier thrown in, but tonight appears to be the longest version of the year (followed by a 17 minute one on August 1st at the Palace).  This song starts tight and quickly flows out into free jazz territory while never quite tipping into Space – you can always hear Estimated Prophet in there somewhere.  While not all of the musical ideas take full form, this is still an interesting piece of music with only a couple of brief noodling passages to bore you.

Backtracking a bit, the first set is ok.  Jerry doesn’t botch lyrics too badly, and some of his songs, like Lazy River Road and Friend of the Devil, are good, straightforward renderings.  There is some interesting call and response work at the end of Queen Jane Approximately that makes it worth hearing as well, and this Deal is a good 1994 version.

The China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that opens the second set seems pretty sleepy, and things don’t get any better when we move into the aforementioned Victim or the Crime.  However, coming out of Space, the boys put together a very pretty transition into the Wheel, and Attics of My Life is surprisingly well-sung.  As if to acknowledge that the second set has probably not gotten a lot of butts out of their seats and dancing, the band closes the set with Sugar Magnolia, which probably did the trick.

This is a good AUD – listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 25, 1982 – Compton Terrace Amphitheater, Tempe, AZ

stealieWhen Jerry forgets the first line of the first song of the show (Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo – the title is the most difficult thing about it), you know you’re going to be in for an interesting night.  When the second song is Franklin’s Tower, more lyrical problems are coming, and, sure enough, Jerry mixes up the verses with aplomb.  The rest of this first set coasts by with minimal issues, and Bird Song even manages to rise up pretty high, considering the beginning.  Still, by halftime, this show is pretty standard.

Most of the second set is fine – nothing to write about in detail, but nothing you’re going to regret hearing.  The one exception is Estimated Prophet, a 17 minute spaced-out mind-warp of a tune that goes so far afield that I wondered if the boys had skipped Drums and plopped right into Space.  This is the real deal, folks.  Listen to it.  Oh, yeah, this is only the second Crazy Fingers since 1976 – it was busted out a week earlier in Ventura.  It isn’t as sloppy as you’d expect, but it won’t peal your eyelids back, either.  It’s just that kind of night.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 21, 1974 – Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

stealieWhen I first started listening to this show this morning, I realized that this is the third show that I’ve listened to this week that has also been written about on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide, one of the best sites on the web for learning about individual Dead shows.  Which explains why this week’s listening experience has been uniformly good.

If you read the Listening Guide’s review of this 1974 performance from the Hollywood Bowl, you’re going to get a lot of information about the Wall of Sound, the Grateful Dead’s massive PA system that was used during 1974 and promptly shut down due to cost concerns.  I’m not going to repeat that discussion here.  Long story short, according to the Guide, this audience recording represents a first-class picture of the Wall in action during the Dead’s funky 1974 summer tour.  This description is spot on – as a recording and a representative slice of what the Wall could do, today’s show is excellent.

As a 1974 Grateful Dead musical performance, I think that the first half of this show is basically middle of the road.  But notice that I mentioned the year – a middle of the road show from 1974 is going to blow the pants off an above average show from almost any other year in the band’s history that doesn’t fall between 1968 and 1974.  So even though Sugaree doesn’t really soar here and Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo has no real jam (although it does have a great, quick transition into It Must Have Been the Roses), this first set is worth listening to for the good tunes and the even better vibes from the Wall.  Scarlet Begonias is an exception here – this version is pretty great, even though it’s cut close to the end.

The second set is another matter entirely.  It opens with a slow burning China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that just seems to build as it goes.  As the Listening Guide points out, the transition here, like many during 1974, is the key.  Big River doesn’t do much for me here, but it’s followed by a very powerful Row Jimmy that I encourage you to listen to in its entirety.  I know this is a slow-moving song that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but today’s version really shows off what the 1974 Grateful Dead were about.  Every member of this band is following his own melodic preferences during this tune and these approaches often vary considerably from one another.  Yet, somehow, all of the different lines weave together perfectly and completely envelop the listener. This is the band as a multi-headed single musical unit playing a simple song in an incredibly complicated way.  It’s a perfect example of what 1974 has to offer.

The Dead take this same idea to new heights on the very next song, Playin’ in the Band.  Freed from the strictures of a “short” tune like Row Jimmy, the band explores similar ideas of collaboration and melody over the course of a twenty minute jam that swings wildly from theme to theme.  Sometimes this doesn’t work perfectly – it’s clear that Keith (and Bob, to a lesser extent) really want to move into a Spanish jam, but Jerry and Phil tug the band back and the musical interplay shows off this tension without causing the song to completely break down, as the band plays in and around Keith’s piano.  Near the end of the song, the pace changes (I was thinking that maybe we’d hear The Other One), but instead Wharf Rat appears, and it’s a great version, stretching out beautifully at the end into some very delicate places.  And then there’s a deep switch into a pulsating Truckin’ that lives up to its name before another ten minutes of Playin’ in the Band concludes the suite.  But this doesn’t end the show, which goes on for another 25 minutes, with adequate versions of Ship of Fools, Sugar Magnolia and a U.S. Blues encore.

There are better shows from 1974, but this second set is a very, very good, representative slice of the Grateful Dead at this part of their career and is not to be missed.  Listen here: