Phil Lesh is very high in the mix of today’s show at the Berkeley Community Theater, so strap in and get ready to enjoy a short course in some deep, dense, otherworldly bass. (If you’re bothered by things like everyone else in the band being drowned out by Phil or Bob Weir’s guitar fading in and out of the recording or Pigpen’s organ being basically non-existent, then you’re going to want to avoid this one like the plague).
Tonight’s show features the Grateful Dead at an interesting moment in their history, with no Mickey Hart and no keyboardist other than Pigpen, so we’ve got a five-man fighting force that still manages to produce one hell of a racket. There’s not a lot of nuance during the first set. Instead, the Dead are ripping off rockers one after another, starting with Big Railroad Blues and including the likes of Big Boss Man, Casey Jones and Mr. Charlie. China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is really good, but it also has an unfortunate splice in the middle.
The second set roams farther afield, but none of the jamming goes on for an exceptionally long time. The band gets ripping right away with Truckin’ before The Other One launches us into orbit. This is a thrilling The Other One, and its brevity is a positive, because I don’t think the Dead could have kept things at this level for longer than the 11 minutes they play tonight. Me and My Uncle interrupts the proceedings, and once that’s done, we’re back for an additional six minutes of The Other One related explorations before Wharf Rat. This song, especially the ending, surprised me – the final solo is shockingly light even though the tone running through the piece is harsh. This is a delicate dance that the Dead perform perfectly tonight. After Wharf Rat, we’re putting Pigpen front and center for a standard, solid Turn on Your Lovelight to end the main portion of the show.
There’s an interesting sub-plot to this show regarding Ned Lagin’s participation on the organ. According to this post on Lost Live Dead (the comment section is where the really good discussion goes down), Ned played with the boys during the Berkeley shows on August 14th and 15th. Unfortunately, his playing is undetectable on any of the soundboard recordings and no audience tape exists. So we have a phantom playing with the band, which may have been exactly what Ned wanted anyway. Taking the concept of absence one step further, it’s interesting to think about the effect that Ned’s un-recorded playing might have had on the Dead’s jamming during The Other One, especially in their collective decision to “open up” the space between the notes a little post Me and My Uncle to let Ned in. Of course, this is all speculative, but it’s an interesting thought exercise to work through as you’re listening.
This is a short but sweet ride with the 1971 Grateful Dead. Listen to the soundboard here: https://archive.org/details/gd1971-08-15.sbd.130890.MrBill.flac16