Today in Grateful Dead History: September 15, 1967 – Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

skeleton&rosesThis show makes the case for Jerry Garcia as a high intensity guitar shredder of the first order.  Now, obviously, this title could apply to Jerry in any era, but 1967 Jerry was young, fired up and ripping solos of incredible length and power.  I don’t think that there is ever a point where Jerry comes closer to Hendrix than 1967, and this show is the proof.

Before I go any further, please keep in mind that this is an audience recording from 1967.  Not 1976.  Not 1994.  1967.  So the quality is not at all pristine.  Before you accuse me of hypocrisy, I’ll admit that I complained to high heavens about the sound quality of yesterday’s concert in Egypt – a soundboard, nonetheless – but at that show the playing was just as bad as the recording.  Here, the playing is great, so you need to ignore the crappy sound quality.Get over it and appreciate that we have any record of this show at all, especially since 1967 is a notoriously thin year for recorded shows.

Before you start listening, please note that this version of the Grateful Dead does not feature Mickey Hart, who joined the band at the tail end of September.  So you’ve got Garcia plugged in and ready to wail, Bill Kreutzmann as the sole drummer pounding away, and Phil Lesh doing God only knows what all over this recording.  Phil is in another place entirely tonight, and even though he is hard to hear in spots, his presence is always noted, dipping in and out of the music like a jaguar stalking its prey.  Musically, Bob Weir doesn’t contribute as much as the others here, possibly because he’s buried in the sonic boom but more likely because 1967 Bob Weir was, according to Bob Weir, not musically on par with his band mates yet. And then there’s Pigpen, the heavyweight champion of the world, bringing the ruckus with all his might.

Viola Lee Blues is probably the musical highlight of the entire evening and it leads off this show.  This is Jerry Garcia in peak 1967 form.  Jerry’s solos at this time feature a ton of repeated lines, something that he would move away from in the 70’s and come back to, a bit, in the 80’s.  But nothing like here, where the sheer force of the notes seems to propel more of the same in an almost never ending feedback loop.  This is delirious, almost dangerous, music, and it’s like nothing Jerry ever played again.

Cold Rain and Snow and Beat It On Down The Line both cook in the lead up to Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, the first big Pigpen number of the night.  Remember that the Grateful Dead in 1967 were more Pigpen’s band than anyone else’s, and he lets you know it here.  If you concentrate really hard, you’ll hear Phil in the background moving this song forward with a relentless parade of bass, almost none of which has any relationship to traditional bass playing. This is truly out there stuff.

Then Morning Dew.  Pure Jerry, tapping into another level.  This is not a very long version of the song, and it’s not nuanced, but man oh man is it effective.  Once we’ve recovered, it’s back to Pigpen for the show ending Alligator>Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) that will peel your ears back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when you compare the Grateful Dead in 1967 to any other band out there at that time, you won’t find a harder rocking outfit anywhere in the universe.  And you’re never going to hear Jerry play guitar like this anywhere other than 1967.  So tap into the magic, get beyond the crummy sound, and strap in for the ride.

Listen here:


“Today” In Grateful Dead History: January 27, 1967 – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThis site is premised on a fairly standard unit of time, namely the Gregorian Calendar.  Without the calendar, the entire concept of “this date in history” couldn’t exist and this site’s sole guiding spirit would dissipate and scatter on the winds.  A fixed date in history is necessary for this site’s survival.

So what happens when the calendar fails us?  Should we just throw up our hands, accept that time is likely just an arbitrary concept and call it a day?  No.  I think that when the calendar collapses, we shall hide our heads in the sand.  Like our forefathers, we will rely on myth and legend and forge a path forward until we catch up with the cycle of the seasons and the calendar again takes shape.  We shall pray that tomorrow will appear as all January 28ths have over the past millennia and we shall once again be moored on the shores of our manufactured reality.

But that still leaves us with today’s existential crisis: the only Grateful Dead show available on the Archive for this date in history likely didn’t take place on this day in history at all.

Read the comments.  They are detailed.  People are thinking deeply about this show, arguing over whether it is a composite of several dates, whether there are two drummers present, why Jerry sings a certain line in Alligator, whether the caliber of the playing could possible correlate with early 1967, whether the recording quality shifts throughout the show and a host of other variables.  Many people believe that this show comes from much later in 1967.  Some believe that the January 28th date is accurate.  But – and here is the important part – almost no one is claiming that this show (or, if you believe the composite argument, the songs that make up this “show”) didn’t take place at some point 1967 and very few people are complaining about the music.  And since we’ve decided to simply ignore the calendar in the face of this performance that exists outside of time, none of these arguments are going to matter today.  All that really matters, regardless of this site’s founding principal (and subtitle), is the music.  And the music is very, very good.

New Potato Caboose is an unfortunately named vehicle for sonic exploration, but I don’t think that any of the people in the Avalon Ballroom whose minds exited the building midway through this jam cared one bit about what it was called.

Viola Lee Blues.  A simple piece of music when it comes down to it.  But here, the Dead just manhandle it from start to finish, almost 22 minutes of total pandemonium, with some stunning beautiful passages of space trickling through the constantly moving pulse of this song.  There is a ton of feedback here, notes from the universe carried over the air in shrieks of static and indescribable sound.  This could be the best version of this song of all time, were it not for the terrible sound quality.

Alligator>Caution. Not really something that can be described – it should just be experienced, in full, without interruption.  All of the Dead’s musical elements come together here, guitars, drums, organ, bass, all melding together as one and then dividing again, rushing about the room, arriving at the same place five minutes later before diverging once more.  This is massive, heavy music from a very different place than even shows from 1968.  This exists apart from time.


Today In Grateful Dead History: November 10, 1967 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

skeleton&rosesIt took almost 100 posts before we got to a show from 1967, not because this is a bad year, but because there are very few recordings available from this pivotal time in Dead history.  Today’s show from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles is part of the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set and for good reason – it is a stunning psychedelic journey from start to finish, and a great example of what makes 1967 such an interesting year – the band is still experimenting with the sounds and techniques that will make 1968 and 1969 the raging monster years that we’ve come to know and love.

The Dead get off to a huge start with a miraculous Viola Lee Blues.  As one of the commentators on the Archive remarked, this was the Dead’s Dark Star before that song existed, and they push the envelope here with multiple tempo changes and some serious jamming throughout this excellent song.  After It Hurts Me Too and Morning Dew, we’re really off to the races with a monster version of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl that morphs into Cryptical Envelopment and then The Other One.  This entire passage is soaked in psychedelia and strange detours – it appears that the band was treading close to that fine line between hitting all the right notes and total collapse.  This tension, coupled with Bob Weir’s still unharnessed talents as a guitarist, lend just enough messiness to this show to make it really thrilling without sounding off.

After a brief interlude from Neal Cassady (not recorded at this show) the Dead are back with a stunning display of Pigpenitude – Alligator>Caution.  Pigpen still had his pipes back in 1967, and he shows them off with blues howls that rival anything he’d ever done.  His organ also contributes that full 1967 sound that just launches these songs out into space, to say nothing of Jerry Garcia just wailing away behind him.

If, after listening to this, you still don’t get what was going on with the Grateful Dead in 1967, go back to the beginning of the show, turn it up louder and play it through again.  You’ll get it: