Today in Grateful Dead History: February 14 ,1968 – Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesLike yesterday’s show at the Fillmore East, tonight’s show from the Carousel Ballroom (soon to become the Fillmore West) often appears on lists of best Grateful Dead shows, and with good reason – the Alligator>Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks) from the second set of this show encapsulates everything that was brilliant about the Grateful Dead in the late 60’s.  It’s a raunchy, exploratory experience of such pure bliss that it’s hard to find its equal in the catalog.

But there is so much more going on with this show than just this one segment.  For starters, while the Dead played the Carousel Ballroom once in 1967, this was their first show at this venue since they decided to run it as a collective with Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company.  So, obviously, the boys wanted to blow the hinges off the doors at their debut performance, and they succeeded with flying colors.   Second, the band was using material from this show (among others) to assemble Anthem of the Sun, their second album, so they were likely trying hard to capture a certain “something” for the album.  What that something became, apparently, was parts of the Alligator found on Anthem, but not a lot more.

Getting into the actual music, the opening combo of Morning Dew>Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is a powerful way to begin.  Schoolgirl, in particular, accelerates for what seems like hours until everyone comes together in one enormous blues explosion near the end.  After a short Dark Star, the band plays China Cat Sunflower into The Eleven, a combination that the Dead only attempted a few times during the first months of 1968 (and once in May 1969).  This is an exciting transition, especially if you’re not looking for it, and it could have held up on its own over time if the band had kept it intact, although I’ll take China>Rider and St. Stephen>The Eleven over this any day.

The second set is just one long exercise designed to push the audience’s sonic framework to as close to the breaking point as possible without actually shattering minds.  It opens with a mighty The Other One>New Potato Caboose and then this twists and turns through Born Cross Eyed and into an elaborate Spanish Jam, which begins sparsely and ends up sounding like Metallica playing Grateful Dead tunes for one of the longest Spanish Jams I can remember.  All of this pinwheels into the aforementioned Alligator and then things really hit the stratosphere.  Suffice to say, the Dead leave nothing on the shelf here – this is unbridled playing, uninhibited by anything or anyone – the music is truly playing the band.  After almost ten minutes of what is called Feedback (it should really be called Deep Space) Pigpen comes back out to lasso the crowd with In The Midnight Hour.  The band is gassed at this point, but the song manages to hold together until, finally, they bring things to a close ten minutes later.

If you are not used to 1968 Grateful Dead shows, this one is going to shock the senses.  The band’s tone is so much rawer than it would ever be again (even in 1969) and the energy is through the roof (see Jerry’s first short “solo” on Midnight Hour as a classic example).  But once you hear this, you can never go back to who you were before.  This is ear-altering stuff.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: December 20, 1968 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

skeleton&rosesWe’re getting an early start today because today’s offering from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles is a truncated recording consisting of only a partial version of The Eleven, the debut performance of Mountains of the Moon and a relatively short Turn on Your Lovelight, which apparently represents the last three songs on a night where the Dead shared the bill with several other bands.

If the rest of the Dead’s performance was anything like these snippets, then it must have been a hell of a night, because both The Eleven and Lovelight rage.  The Eleven, which we join in progress, is one of those sixties songs that the Dead discarded as they moved in a different direction, but it always holds up – for a lot of fans of the band, this song (and the Dark Star>St. Stephen combination that frequently preceded it) represents everything pure about the Grateful Dead.  Thrilling, repetitive lines that change ever so slightly as the song chugs along.  Intricate rhythm (when played right).  Swirling interaction between Jerry, Bob and Phil.  Hippie dippy lyrics.  It’s all here and it’s beautiful.

Turn on Your Lovelight was a Pigpen showcase and he almost always delivered, driving the crowds crazy with his improvised raps and clearly feeling the music deep down in his soul.  The song died with Pigpen, only to be revived years later with Bob Weir attempting to fill the Pig’s shoes.  It was never the same.  And while many, many versions of Lovelight tended to stretch on too long, when the Dead got their claws into a shorter version, like tonight, the effect was breathtaking – a take no prisoners assault that never tried to be anything other than a old-school dance number to get everyone up and moving.  But since this was the Grateful Dead, you also get to hear Jerry and Phil race around the fretboards (much like in The Eleven), gleefully playing their hearts out as the drummers punished their kits and Pigpen added flourishes on the organ.

And then there is Mountains of the Moon, a song on AOXOMOXOA that would only be played live 13 times, including one infamous performance for the TV show Playboy After Dark where the Dead dosed a studio audience of Playboy bunnies and male models with what, for the band at least, were hilarious results.  For tonight’s debut performance we’ve got Jerry and his acoustic guitar and that’s it – you have to pump the volume up really loud to hear him at all, and it’s not a very clean performance (the lyrics are impossible), but it’s a first, so listen carefully anyway.

Let’s be thankful that we’ve got this partial recording of what was likely a great 1968 Grateful Dead show that gets the day moving in the right direction.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 21, 1968 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesHow do you properly evaluate a Grateful Dead show from 1968 when they often played the same bunch of songs (give or take a few) every night at a consistently amazing level?  Well, I guess you can tell a bad 1968 show if you hear one, but, at least so far as it comes to this site, I’ve never heard a bad one.  I’ve never even heard a mediocre show from 1968.  They’re either otherworldly or really, really good.  This one is otherworldly.

The whole show is one big highlight reel – there aren’t any clunky moments at all.  Certain instruments stand out today – Phil, Jerry and the drummers in particular – especially the drummers, who are dialed into some other realm from the moment the recording kicks off, midway through Cryptical Envelopment.  The drumming in the brilliant Alligator is also ferocious, and what to say about where Jerry goes during that song?  You’ve got to figure it out for yourselves because my description ain’t going to work.  Phil, meanwhile, is everywhere, doing everything.

And this is only the first part of the show.  The second set has a gooey Dark Star (we had to listen to Dark Star on a day with a total American eclipse) and a St. Stephen>The Eleven that will melt your face, especially The Eleven.  Just when you think things can’t get any more intense, Jerry lowers the boom with a skull-burning Death Don’t Have No Mercy, and then it’s time for Pigpen.  And oh boy, do the boys let it rip behind Pigpen tonight, with a huge Lovelight (truncated on the tape, unfortunately) and an In The Midnight Hour encore that really brings Bob Weir’s guitar front and center for a time, which is unusual in 1968 recordings.

This is the real deal – play it loud:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 20, 1968 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

skeleton&rosesTime is of the essence today, so I’ll keep this relatively short.  This is a normal 1968 show, so it’s good.  We open with Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, and the levels are all messed up, with Phil drowning out everyone in the mix.  But, you get to hear Phil lay it down with authority, which is a wonderful experience.  Phil levels off after this, but there are still problems hearing the vocals and Bob’s guitar throughout the show.

Turn on Your Lovelight is good in places but doesn’t overwhelm, and this Dark Star is a generic 1968 Dark Star, which is, again, very nice indeed.  On to St. Stephen, and, more importantly, The Eleven>Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks).  This is the meat of the show – a very spirited The Eleven and a huge Caution that carpet bombs the audience with sound.  Caution fades into Feedback to end the show.

As I’ve said before, when you’re dealing with the Dead in the 60’s, most of what you’re getting is good, and this show is no exception.  I disagree with the commentators who say this is one the best (UPDATE: The folks running the Grateful Dead corporate show agree with the commentators – this is the 1968 show in 30 Trips Around the Sun), but it’s a good 1968 show, and that makes all the difference.  (It’s also the last time that the Dead will play the Greek until 1981, so there’s that, too).

Check it out here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 18, 1968 – County Fairgrounds, Santa Clara, CA

skeleton&rosesNOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

This show is a very short blast of 1968 Dead at full throttle: Alligator>Drums>Alligator>Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)>Feedback. When you need a 40 minute, high tempo, screeching fix, this is what you should reach for. (It also contains a very well-rendered Mountain Jam, so if you’re searching for one of the sources of the Allman Brothers’ song of the same name, look no further).

This show was taped by Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen either on or right next to the stage and the sound quality is not great. In fact, it’s pretty crummy and you can hardly hear the vocals at all. So why post it? I’ll let the Grateful Dead Listening Guide explain it for me. Enjoy.

Here’s the link to the audience recording:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 29, 1968 – Gulfstream Park Racetrack, Hallandale, FL

skeleton&rosesThis short set from the Miami Pop Festival is the Grateful Dead at their thrashiest.

You see, back before they turned into cosmic cowboys, the Dead were turning out loud, slashing space music that often ended in feedback drenched decadence.  That was the late 60’s, baby, when the Dead were truly a dangerous, primal bunch of misfits who showed almost no ability to play “mellow” music, save the occasional dalliance with a jug band tune or And We Bid You Goodnight to bring people down after that Dexedrine blaze of hysterical power that had just spewed forth from one of the best sound systems ever devised (and this was before the band really started tinkering with the electronics).  This was a loud, rockin’ band of the first order, and if you heard them coming, you’d get the hell out of their way.

Since this was a festival set, the Dead didn’t have a lot of time to work through their typical trip, so everything they played today was revved up to full speed, which you’ll hear immediately when the recording cuts in five seconds into Turn on Your Lovelight.  Everybody is already flying straight ahead, and poor Pigpen sounds like he’s having a tough time keeping up.  Twelve minutes later we stop for air before boring down into a shrieking ten minute Dark Star that works really well as a slashing piece of rock n’ roll, but not so well as a “Dark Star” if what you’re looking for is a thirty minute jazz odyssey.  But here, at the Miami Pop Festival, it likely blew minds.

Oh, but all this was just the warm up, for where Dark Star ends St. Stephen begins.  This was back when the Dead were still playing the whole version of St. Stephen with the William Tell hippie poetics tacked on, which, in some interview I read, Jerry said basically drove him nuts.  You’ll understand why it could have when you hear the Dead bust out a blast of incredible, joyous noise only to transition into the pitter-patter trappings of mid-1600’s English folk music.  But that gets cut off right at the roots as the band rears back and just throttles the second half of St. Stephen until it pours into The Eleven, a pretty basic structure that allows Jerry to just keep wailing and wailing over the smashing caveman stomp the rest of the band is laying down behind him.

Drums airs things out for a minute, but then The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment wells up, and if you’ve never heard a particularly angry version of this song, get ready, because you’re not escaping this one.  This is pure nasty, aggressive music on par with anything the MC5 was putting out there.  Don’t let the trippy lyrics dissuade you.

And then And We Bid You Goodnight, because you need it.

Listen carefully here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 21, 1968 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

skeleton&rosesThis is going to be a short review of a short show that has a little bit of everything for everyone.  Do you like your Pigpen rave ups?  The show starts with Turn on Your Lovelight.  How about your psychedelic late sixties Dead experience?  There’s an epic The Other One.

But the bar-none highlight of this whole little affair is Alligator>Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks), which rips down that sonic highway with pure 1968 power.  This is the real deal, folks, and worth the price of admission.

After all that, you need a palate cleanser, which the Dead provide with a nice, long And We Bid You Goodnight that ends with Bob Weir leading a sing-along with the crowd.

This show rewards multiple listens, which you’ll be able to do since it’s only about an hour long.  Enjoy the soundboard here: