Today in Grateful Dead History: April 24, 1972 – Rheinhalle, Duesseldorf, Germany

stealieWhy is it that every time I have a show this good to write about, I don’t have the time to do it justice?  I’ve owned this one for years – it was officially released as Rockin’ the Rhein with the Grateful Dead, and it was the first full concert from the band’s famous Europe ’72 tour to be commercially released – and it’s a whopper .  So I could have written this earlier and been more thorough.  Sorry.  If you don’t want to read my random notes, just pop it on any song – it’s that good.

The key takeaways from this show are as follows:

  1.  For my money, this European tour represents the greatest stretch of amazing playing in the history of the Grateful Dead.  Barring a few mishaps, almost every show from this run is incredible from start to finish.
  2. The opening Truckin’ is flavored in so many ways by Keith Godchaux, who just excels tonight.  This is the first of many songs that he simply crushes.
  3. China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  There are no words.
  4. Good Lovin’ is one of the best ever, with a jam through the middle third that is waaay out there and a superb ending.
  5. This up-tempo He’s Gone features a loud Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in total communion.
  6. Dark Star, which is a two-parter separated by Me and My Uncle, is 40 minutes long and goes through every possible Dark Star mutation possible except for the most obvious ones.  You’ve been warned – this is one of the greatest of all time in a year that is just loaded with amazing Dark Stars.
  7. Sugar Magnolia and Not Fade Away are as hyped up as it gets for this band in 1972.
  8. Ditto One More Saturday Night.

This show is the real, real deal.  Unfortunately, the sound quality on the Archive versions is garbanzo.  The good news, for those of you who don’t own it, is that Rockin’ the Rhein is on Spotify and other streaming services, so if you can’t find a copy to buy, you can listen to a much better version there.  For those of you who want the Archive version, here it is:


Today in Grateful Dead History: April 23, 1977 – Springfield Civic Center Arena, Springfield, MA

dancing-bearYou know what the “problem” is with Grateful Dead shows in 1977?  They’re almost all pretty good and the song selection tends to be fairly standard, so in order to give any sort of a useful review of a show, you start focusing on hyper-specific issues with recordings and setlist selection.  This great show from Springfield (one of many reasons why I love having this 1977 “problem”) is a good example of a show that rewards a sharp focus on the details – it might not seem like an over-the-top performance, but there is a lot of nuance here.

The first interesting moment of the night comes during Loser, a song that the Dead played well in 1977 but it often gets overlooked because it’s not a “jammy” tune.  Don’t overlook it here – this one is ruthless.

A little bit further on, the Dead ramp up It’s All Over Now.  You can tell they’re having fun here – even if this isn’t a great tune, it’s a energy boost.  Which leads into . . .

. . . a very rare first-set-closing Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  Please keep in mind that this is only the third time that the boys have ever played Fire on the Mountain, but it is more than fully worked up tonight.  The jam in the transition is very sparse – a beautiful touch that I’ve never heard played this gently before.  And woa boy, the soloing at the end of Scarlet Begonias is awesome.  This is a very interesting version of this song pairing, and it really opens up the second time you run through it and know what to listen for.  Do it up!

The second set opens on Estimated Prophet.  Like the San Bernardino premier a couple of months ago, the Dead are still working out the sound of this tune, which results in all sorts of interesting guitar tones and effects throughout the performance.  It’s a good one.  Bertha chugs into an interestingly-placed 2nd set The Music Never Stops, which is a little ragged but oh-so-good.  After that, the main event of the 2nd set – Help on the Way>Slipknot?>Franklin’s Tower with Keith playing on what sounds like a Moog for part of Slipknot?  Like the transition jam in Scarlet>Fire and the guitar on Estimated, the use of this keyboard on this song is unusual and grabs your attention right away.  It might have been a little too assertive for day-to-day use, but for tonight it’s a welcome “say what?” moment.

After this, we get the power Dead of 1977, rocking out with Around and Around>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away.  If this doesn’t get you moving, I don’t know what will.  And One More Saturday Night brings the hammer down as the encore.

You’re going to like this show, and the little Easter eggs that pop up will keep you coming back to it time and again when you need a dose of the unusual in a year that tends to be a little more staid.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 10, 1971 – East Hall, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA

stealieLet’s face it, fellow travelers.  Despite boasting one of the most unique and innovative rock and roll bassists of all time in Mr. Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead were, at their heart, a guitar band.  And if you really like your guitar playing loud and not neatly placed into a nice, friendly mix of instruments, then look no further than today’s show at Franklin & Marshall College.  Because, for whatever reason, the only surviving recording of this show on the Archive has Jerry and Bob (but especially Jerry) turned way way up, so you’re going to be able to closely study that early-70’s Grateful Dead guitar sound.

And what a sound it was.  This show came right at the point when the Dead were beginning to mellow their tone.  But not tonight – this one is fuzzed out and blasting from start to finish.  And since the vocals are, at some points, almost non-existent, you’d better be ready for riffs, because there are riffs galore here.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of mind-blowing highlights tonight to compliment the guitar wizardry.  Hard to Handle is probably my favorite song of the night – 1971 is the year for them.  And I was really excited by the prospect of a 25 minute Good Lovin’ – I don’t recall every hearing one this long.  However, most of the song is sparse and built around Pigpen’s raps, so there isn’t that full-band cohesive rocking that you’ll find on some of the shorter versions from the late 60’s.  In the Midnight Hour definitely rocks out towards the end of the night, and Sing Me Back Home is really swell.  But overall, the overwhelming force of the guitar here drowns out the greatest part of a “Grateful Dead” performance, which, in my opinion, works best when all of the members of the band can be heard interacting with and playing off of one another.

This does not mean that this show is a waste of time – it’s a great document of Jerry and Bob and their skills at this point in time. But it’s not one that I’m likely to dip back into any time soon if I want to hear some good ol’ 1971 Grateful Dead.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: March 23, 1975 – Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA

stealieOooooooooh boy do we have a doozy today.  The Grateful Dead’s 40 minute contribution to the massive SF SNACK benefit concert is one of the jazziest, purely jammed-out pieces of continuous music the Dead ever performed in concert.  And joining the boys (and it was just the boys – there’s no Donna here, because there’s no lyrics until the encore) on stage are two additional keyboardists – frequent Jerry Garcia collaborator Merl Saunders and Seastones creator and 1974 tour buddy Ned Lagin.  This show is the Grateful Dead at the pinnacle of whatever attempt at jazz fusion they were working on in the mid-70’s – everything funky from 1974 and all of the complexity of 1976 mix together here in a swirling pot of pure bliss.

It’s really hard to even summarize what exactly is going on tonight: the band opens with a fairly pure rendering of Blues for Allah, the first time the band played this piece that wouldn’t actually be released until September, but this quickly stretches out into an almost ten-minute jam centered around the vaguely Arabic-sounding theme.  Soon they transition into Stronger Than Dirt /Milking The Turkey (another premiere).  Although snippets of this jam had shown up in 1974, this was another piece that would not be widely released until it appeared in truncated form on the Blues for Allah album.  Here, the Dead launch a very tightly wound seven minute exploration before Drums intervenes for a few moments.  When the full band resumes the song, everything is much freer – Saunders’ playing, in particular, drives this part of the jam to ridiculous heights.  After nine minutes of almost-but-not-quite Miles Davis level work, the final section of Blues for Allah emerges, with the band “singing” together in harmony.  The crowd goes bonkers.  And then the encore: don’t sleep on this version of Johnny B. Goode – the added keyboard attack boosts this version far above the Dead’s standard treatment.

Keep in mind when you are listening to this that: a) the audience had never heard any of this music (other than Johnny B. Goode) before and b) the band had only been working on this for, at the most, a few months.  Also, not everyone was convinced that the Grateful Dead were going to return as a touring apparatus – they were, after all, on hiatus, and this was their first appearance together since the “final” show at Winterland on October 20, 1974.  So this performance was a “big deal”, and it was a massive change in direction for a band that was still firing off loose versions of classic Dead songs like China Cat Sunflower and The Other One back in the fall.  And it was broadcast on the radio.  So if you were a Grateful Dead fan in 1975, used to the “good ol’ Grateful Dead” and suddenly this monster jazz blast hit you right between the temples, I could imagine that it would have caused a little consternation in some quarters.  But judging by the reaction of the crowd, at least as an in-person experience, tonight was an unqualified success.

So now we’re three-quarters of the way through the four shows of 1975 – as I’ve said before, they are all amazing performances.  When it comes to this one in particular, it’s a great night to keep in your back pocket, when you’re looking for a short (in Dead land, 40 minutes is short) burst of amazing Grateful Dead music to get you through the day.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: March 21, 1972 – Academy of Music, New York, NY

stealieThe Grateful Dead used tonight’s show at New York’s Academy of Music, along with the following six shows at that same venue, as the warm up shows (and funding source) for their much-heralded 1972 tour of Europe, which would start on April 7th.  Since this is 1972, the songs don’t need a whole lot of honing, and the band smokes throughout the night.

Tonight is also the live premiere of Looks Like Rain and The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion), two songs with very different histories.  Looks Like Rain is a Bob Weir staple that was played 417 times in every year from 1972 – 1995 except 1974 and 1975.  It also features one of the worst sets of lines of any rock song ever written: “Did you ever waken to the sound of street cats making love? You guess from the cries you were listening to a fight. Well you know, oh know, haste is the last thing they’re thinking of. You know they’re only tryin’ to make it through the night.”  It hurts just to type it.  BUT, having said that, Jerry Garcia seemed to love ripping frenetic background runs all over this song and it’s often a really good part of the evening.  For tonight’s debut, Jerry is unusually playing a pedal steel guitar and he tears it up.  So don’t skip it.

The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion), on the other hand, is a very rare Pigpen composition that was only played 13 times – 6 times here at the Academy of Music and another 7 performances in Europe.  It was never released on a studio recording.  It’s a searching, soulful blues number that Pigpen really owns every time he sings it.  I wish he wrote it a couple of years earlier – it would have been perfect in the 1970 – 71 repertoire.

The rest of this show is a typical beast of a 1972 performance – there is almost nothing bad about it.  The first set is anchored by a thrilling, 14-minute Good Lovin’, but all of the short songs are awesome.  The main course in the second set is Truckin’>Drums>The Other One>Wharf Rat.  Truckin’ doesn’t get totally out there, instead sitting firmly on the ground and rocking with a tremendous force.  The Other One feels like it is going to follow this same pattern, but midway through the jam really opens up into some abstract playing that is unusual there – the band is completely engaged and fluid, allowing the space to serve as another instrument.  Wharf Rat is typical until close to the end, when the band switches gears and rattles the walls with a power that the Dead rarely unleashed on this tune.

Some of the other nights from this run can only be found on horrific audience recordings or on Dick’s Picks 30, Dave’s Picks 14 and various bonus CD’s, so tonight is a good chance to catch the boys as they gear up for Europe.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: March 7, 1970 – Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, California

skeleton&rosesThis forceful performance from 1970 runs very short and it’s clear that at least one or two songs are missing.  Since the Dead were on the bill with at least one other band tonight (it’s all, apparently, very murky), it’s quite possible that this recording really represents most of the Dead’s performance, but there’s always the chance that there’s a whole other chuck of this show out there somewhere.  So, if you’re reading this, and you have your hands on any other music from this night, I’m begging you, put it out there, because the show that we do have is sweet from start to finish.

This period of 1970 marks such a massive transition for the Grateful Dead, as their raucous, ear-splitting sixties sound was ever so slowly morphing into a somewhat quieter, subtler kind of music.  This shift would take all of 1970 and some of 1971 to come to fruition, so we’re just at the cusp of a lot of momentous changes for the band, changes that really began in earnest with the departure of Tom Constanten in February.

What this means for the music tonight is that you’re still going to get the raw, blistering sound of 1969 Grateful Dead, applied in some cases to much calmer songs like High Time and Black Peter.  If this doesn’t sound appealing, then your mind needs to be slightly adjusted, which this recording will likely accomplish right off the bat, as the aforementioned Black Peter swings through.  Yes, it’s still the same old Black Peter you’re familiar with.  But the tone is rugged.  You’ll know what I mean as soon as you hear it – Jerry and Bob sound like they are trying to tear the strings off their guitars, just pulsing out the chords.  China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is very fast and almost overwhelmingly loud, but stupendous all the same.  High Time is a revelation – the boys are screaming the chorus as if they mean every single word.

After some horrible cuts, we’re dropped into the middle of the rest of the show, which is Not Fade Away>Drums>Good Lovin’>The Other One>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Lovelight.  Crazy, no?  The Good Lovin’ into The Other One is obviously the weirdest thing about this sequence, but, not surprisingly for the Dead at peak early 70’s form, it works great – a throbbing bass line, the guitars join in and then the tempo changes completely to get us into The Other One – this requires everyone to be in perfect sync and the Dead deliver.  This Other One, by the way, is a tour-de-force.  It’s only six and a half minutes long, but that’s because there’s just no way the boys can keep playing this quickly for much longer.  The power never waivers during the transition back into Not Fade Away and then we’re just launched into Turn on Your Lovelight.  The crowd goes bonkers, and rightfully so, as the Dead just continue to wail away on this piece until Pigpen does the Pigpen thing and we reach even greater heights.  Unfortunately, the song (and the show) cuts off before the end, but the twenty-four minutes we’ve got are mind-blowing enough.

As I write this, I’ve already listened to this whole thing twice – I’m considering just leaving it on repeat for the rest of the day.

Listen here (it’s an interesting AUD):

Today in Grateful Dead History: February 26, 1977 – Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA

dancing-bearThe various iterations of this show on the Archive have more than 200 comments attached to them, due, I’m guessing, to the fact that this show is the first show of one the Grateful Dead’s most beloved years and it features the live debut of Terrapin Station (in the opening slot, too), one the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs.  It is also one of the Betty Boards, preserved by Betty Cantor-Jackson, one of the Dead’s sonic engineers, and it widely circulated during the learn years of tape trading until the internet made all of these things like relationships between traders and access to tapes obsolete.  So there’s a little bit of hype attached to this performance, which the show basically lives up to.

But since this is 1977, there are a ton of great shows to come, and while this particular performance stands up very well on its own, it’s far too easy to listen to the various songs and say, “yeah, but they played such and such better on 5/8 and they did this and that better on 5/9, etc . . . ”  But if you want a consistently good night of Grateful Dead music, then this evening in San Bernardino is not going to disappoint.

Shockingly enough for such a complicated song, the Dead manage to play a very effective version of Terrapin Station on their very first live attempt.  They’re not going to take things all the way out of the park tonight, but most of the time when they attempt to do that, things tend to drone on, so this version is nice and to the point.  It remains one of my go-to live versions of this song.

Tonight also marks the live premiere of Estimated Prophet, a song that the Dead played 51 times out of 60 shows in 1977 alone, making it an almost ubiquitous presence during the year.  As such, there are lots of versions to compare it to.  What makes this one rather unique is Jerry and Bob’s work with the effects pedals – for now, there is some serious funk being laid down and as the spring wore on, this would be reigned in a little.  So it’s good to hear some rough, rugged and raw playing right out of the gate.

Beyond these new songs, there is a wonderful Sugaree in the first set and a very long Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower in the middle of the second set.  But two pieces stand out as highlights this evening – the Playin’ in the Band>The Wheel>Playin’ in the Band sandwich that ends the first set and the Eyes of the World>Dancin’ in the Streets near the end of the second.  This Playin’/Wheel combination is a thrilling extension of the great work that the Dead were laying down in 1976.  We haven’t arrived at some of the more fired-up versions of Playin’ from later in 1977, so the relaxed, heady vibe from ’76 still rules the roost here and the transition into and out of The Wheel is awesome.  In Eyes things proceed normally until the Phil Lesh bass solo near that end of the song that knocks everyone for a loop and then moves us steadily into Dancin’.  The first couple of minutes of this tune are as good as any later version that the Dead attempted.  Things settle down a little after that intro, but the rest of the song still thrills.

And the rest of the night is really good too.  You can tell right away that 1977 is going to be bananas, although there is not as much separation from 1976 as there would be by the end of the year (this isn’t a bad thing, coming from an avowed 1976 fan).  So sit tight, enjoy the premiers and keep on dancing.

I listened to the Matrix version today (the soundboard is good too):