Today in Grateful Dead History: January 31, 1970 – The Warehouse, New Orleans, LA

skeleton&rosesThe Grateful Dead were busted by the New Orleans PD after last night’s show (the event that led to the famous line in Truckin‘), but the band, troopers that they were, still made it to their show at the Warehouse tonight.  Unfortunately, after playing 8 songs, Phil’s bass amp exploded and the boys were unable to continue playing as a full band.  So Jerry and Bob, with a little Pigpen, played an impromptu acoustic set for another 45 minutes and then everyone called it a night.

Obviously, the acoustic numbers, plus the early-morning arrest story, give this show something of a legendary reputation, but when you evaluate it simply on the music, there’s not a ton going on here, which isn’t surprising since everyone except Pigpen was in jail over night.   There are some serious rarities in the acoustic set, including Seasons of My Heart (5 times played), Saw Mill (first time played out of 8 total) and Old, Old House (2 times played, this is the last), but since these aren’t normal Dead tunes, they aren’t really that great – it’s more like the boys sitting around a room passing the guitar back and forth. (Some of the other songs are more polished and would hang around for a while).  The cool thing about these tunes is the insight they give into the band’s state of mind at the time – this is the stuff they were immersed in while preparing Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty, and the influences are clear on those albums.  But live, and unrehearsed, it’s more a historical document than a great show.

The actual electric portion of the evening shows promise, especially Hard to Handle, which developed over this year into a pure monster of a tune, and Morning Dew, which was not a subtle song back in 1970 but it almost always works.  If you want to hear what could have been had Phil’s equipment not gone haywire, you can check out tomorrow’s show, which features a 40 minute batshit crazy version of Lovelight featuring Peter Green on guitar.  But for tonight, you’ll have to relax and enjoy the coffee house vibe.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: January 30, 1978 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

As some of you long-time readers may know, I listen to almost all of these shows on desktop speakers during the work day.  I fully acknowledge that this is not a great way to experience this music.  In fact, it’s probably one of the worst ways to take in the Grateful Dead, but it’s the method I’ve got and I’m eternally Grateful that I have the opportunity to listen to music in the workplace at all.  That being said, on certain occasions I’m able to plug in the headphones and really tune in to a show, and when that happens, it’s like the fog pulls back and everything becomes incredibly clear.  Or, to borrow a taper analogy, it’s like going from a 5th generation recording to a 1st – everything just pops out.

I’m explaining this to you because today I was lucky enough to switch from crummy speakers to headphones right before Estimated Prophet, and when the “chorus” (or is it a bridge?) kicked in, the power and the coordination of this band brought tears to my eyes.  There was a force to this song which obviously exists on many versions, but it was powerful to be able to hear it in all of its brilliance after hundreds of listens through tin-can speakers at low volume.  And the same could be said for the rest of this show from one of the great venues, Chicago’s Uptown Theater.

For instance, Peggy-O is not a classic version, but hearing Bob Weir play his staccato ramblings behind Jerry’s tale of woe was tremendous.  (After finishing the show, I went back to the beginning to hear the whole thing on headphones).  Looks Like Rain is much the same – pure Bob all over the place.

But for me, the most interesting musical moment of the night takes place late in the second set, when the band plays a spectacular version of Stella Blue and then shifts, very confidently, into Franklin’s Tower.  Not only is the late-blooming Franklin’s Tower unusual, but the Stella>Franklin’s pairing is unique – the Dead never did this before and they aren’t going to do it again.  After killing the transition, the usual Grateful Dead being the Grateful Dead shenanigans take place and equipment problems threaten to derail the whole song, with Jerry laughing through it.  However, with around three minutes to go, the crew irons things out, and, as if to reward the fans for putting up with the weird glitches, the boys rear back and deliver a tremendous blast of energy during the last part of the song, playing so loudly that it throws the speakers off and radio signals start to bleed through.  This is a classic Grateful Dead moment and it’s makes this very nice 1978 show even more interesting for the casual listener.

There are hit or miss parts of this night, so if you’re running low on time, focus on the highlights.  But if you want the full show experience, you’re going to have a fun time with this one.

Listen to the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 29th – No New Shows!

I know I’ve been absent – sometimes when work kicks into to high gear, these things happen.

There was only one Grateful Dead show performed on January 29th, and it’s a hot mess of a night from 1987.  When Drums is the best the band’s got, you know it’s time to listen to something else.

I’ll hopefully talk to you tomorrow.

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 10, 1970 – Golden Hall San Diego Community Concourse, San Diego, CA

skeleton&rosesSorry for the missing days lately – you can comfort yourselves knowing that there were no shows available yesterday and Monday’s wasn’t anything great.

That being said, we’re back today with a very short but scorching show from San Diego in 1970.  You know exactly where the boys are headed from the opening burst of China Cat Sunflower, which just accelerates into a forceful I Know You Rider.  Every other song here is just as hyper – Dire Wolf almost goes out there, Hard to Handle should be slightly reigned in, and Mason’s Children keeps improving over last month’s original performances.

The show concludes (remember we said it was short) with Good Lovin’>Cold Rain and Snow>Turn on Your Lovelight, all of which are dialed way up, especially Cold Rain and SnowLovelight finds Pigpen enhorting the crowd to get up, and with a show this catchy, one can’t understand why he has to ask.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 5th – No New Shows

Good morning folks.  The only recorded Dead show on this day in history was a performance from the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1979.  These are Keith and Donna’s final days and things were about to dramatically change in Grateful Dead land, so this show provides an interesting, end of an era kind of clarity.  You can read my review here.

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 3, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesToday’s show from the Fillmore East in 1970 is a double shot of Dead, just like yesterday’s offering from the same venue.  And just like yesterday’s show, this is a high octane New York City performance with the band in fine, vintage form.

The first show is anchored by an exceptional version of Alligator.  After the initial theme, the song ventures off into Drums for a few minutes before roaring back into a jam of all jams, incorporating Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Caution (Do Not Step on the Tracks), China Cat Sunflower (which would be played in full during the second show) and Mountain Jam, all within a few minutes of intense action.  Not only is every member of the band on the same page through this passage that could not have been planned if they wanted to, but everyone is breathing fire and shooting brimstone as the melodies tumble out one after another.  This is quite the sequence and would make the show worth hearing if it were the sole highlight.

But of course there is a second show and the second show features an amazing Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One that stretches the limits of both songs.  These are intense versions, much better than the ones from yesterday, and it really shows how Cryptical Envelopment works as a song that is unique from The Other One and not just a prelude / postlude.  Another highlight of the late show is a smoldering version of Black Peter that sounds completely different from the laid back, almost throw away versions of that song that would show up later on in the year.  After a cool electric Dire Wolf, the band throws the dance party switch with an incredible combination of rockers: Good Lovin’ and Dancin’ In The Streets with an encore of Saint Stephen>In The Midnight Hour, the only time in Grateful Dead history that those shows would be paired together.  If you want to hear the Dead as the dance band they always said that they were, then this is the show for you, as everything here is free wheeling, foot stomping fun.

Finally, (I should have mentioned this yesterday) this set of New York shows really gives us an opportunity to hear Tom Constanten’s contributions to the band.  For a variety of reasons, TC usually ends up completely overwhelmed in the mix, but during these shows he is really prevelant and his playing adds a lot to the overall sound of the songs.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened had he not left the group at the end of this month, but there’s no need to dwell on hypotheticals – let’s appreciate what we’ve got here.

This night is a long haul of a listen, but if you make it 3/4 of the way, the rockers are going to lead you home energized.  Listen here: