Today in Grateful Dead History: August 30, 1978 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

Dancing Skeletons

Today’s show is a very interesting performance from Red Rocks in 1978.  As you might know, the Dead already played two shows at Red Rocks back in July, so the return trip only a month later was quite unusual.  According to Bill Kreutzmann, the Dead scheduled these shows, and especially the one-off Giants Stadium show on September 2nd, in order to warm up for (and finance) the band’s trip to Egypt a couple of weeks later.  Of course, Billy broke his hand before this set of shows and decided to treat it with excessive doses of painkillers and nothing else, so the drumming is more than a little compromised.  In addition, the only complete copy of this show on the Archive is a very average quality audience tape – the soundboard exists, but only for the second set.

So why is a half audience / half soundboard recording of a warm up show featuring a drummer with a broken hand in my least favorite year of the 70’s an interesting show?  Because there are three first-time performances today – Stagger Lee, I Need a Miracle and a very rare (as in three times played, total, rare) If I Had The World to Give.  Chew on that.

Let’s start with Stagger Lee.  The Dead played this song quite a bit over the next couple of years, only to set it aside until the mid-80’s when it re-entered the rotation for good.  Lyrically, it’s another side of an old story about the (likely) fictional murder of a man named Billy Lyons after he stole the title character’s hat.  Of course, this being a Robert Hunter song, he changes the story around, having Billy’s lover, Delia, shoot Stagger Lee in the balls and drag him to jail to be hung since the police are too scared to do it themselves.  It’s a fun song.  At tonight’s debut performance, the Dead rip into this one like they own it – Jerry fairly growls the lyrics as we go on and the guitar playing is great.  They’ll play better versions of Stagger Lee in the future, but not necessarily with this kind of feeling.

Stagger Lee falls in the middle of a pedestrian first set.  Looking at it on paper, you’ll probably be excited by the 18 minute Sugaree.  Don’t be.  No one is paying much attention during this incredibly long, drawn out mess of a song.  Even the set-ending Deal, which usually cooks in this position, is messy.  Blame Billy for all I care, just don’t expect much.

The second set is a slightly different matter, and it opens with our second premiere of the night, I Need a Miracle.  I Need a Miracle is not a great song by any stretch of the imagination, but, because it is a Bob Weir song and there are fewer Bob Weir songs in the Grateful Dead’s rotation, it got played at lot – 272 times from now until 1995.  The most important thing about I Need a Miracle is probably its introduction into the Deadhead lexicon as a term of art when a ticketless fan needed a freebie to get into a show.  So I wasn’t all that excited to hear this one kick off the second set.  However, tonight’s first version of the song is a good one to hear because of two things.  First, Donna’s background vocals are strong.  Second, and more importantly, since the band doesn’t seem to have a clue how to end the song, they just groove on it for an unusually long time, giving Jerry lots of room to tear off solos.  This is a good thing.  At some point, the song actually sounds like it’s going to transition into Truckin’ (which, by the way, it never once did across the next 271 performances, even though, musically, that makes a lot of sense), but it never gets there.  Still, this one is worth a listen for the historical value.

The second set rolls along with a very bright Brown Eyed Women until Jerry forgets a verse after a nice long solo and steamrolls right into the bridge, throwing the whole band off.  No matter, from there we’re into a very nice combination – Estimated Prophet>The Other One>Eyes of the World.  Estimated>Eyes is a pretty standard pairing, but the addition of The Other One in the middle turns this into a special piece, and The Other One is definitely the meat of the sandwich, with a great lead-in and some superb interaction in the middle.  You even hear Phil, which has been a problem throughout this show.

After Drums/Space, we arrive at the most historically significant song of the night, the world premiere of If I Had the World to Give.  This deep cut would only be played on two other nights, both in 1978, so this is a rarity indeed.  Once again (probably because they were in the middle of the recording sessions for it while these shows took place), the band nails this song.  If you’re not familiar with this tune, it’s definitely a keeper, an honest to god love song, sung by Jerry, which is unusual.  Musically, it’s pretty gorgeous, save the two short breakdowns that sound like they were pulled from Shakedown Street (the song) and plopped into it for no good reason.  There are two key solo passages, a sharp bridge solo and the concluding piece, which features some incredibly high speed fanning.  Since you’re probably not going to hear it live again, listen to it twice here.

Since the mood is pretty mellow at this point, the move into Iko Iko is subdued.  In fact, the Dead sound like Little Feat on Quaaludes, which shouldn’t be all that surprising since Lowell George was producing Shakedown Street, the album they were recording around this time.  But if you like slow burning Iko Iko’s, you’ll dig this.  The show concludes with Around and Around (Donna’s entrance is pretty savage) and a U.S. Blues encore.  Standard stuff.

Wow – when I started the day, I didn’t think I’d write 1,000 words on a casual show from 1978.  It goes to show, you never can tell.

Listen to the audience recording for the first set:

and switch to the soundboard for the second:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 15, 1971 – Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA

stealiePhil 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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 4, 1979 – Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA

Dancing Skeletons

Today was a historic day for the Grateful Dead.  Not only did the band premiere two songs – Althea and Lost Sailor – but this was also the debut of Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar, the instrument he would exclusively play for the next eleven years.

Since I (shockingly) haven’t done this before, I’m going to spend the next little while talking about Jerry’s guitars.  If you don’t care about guitars, you’re going to want to skip the next three paragraphs.

Jerry Garcia was “particular” when it came to guitars.  Unlike a lot of major rock performers, Jerry only played one instrument during the course of an entire show (except for the acoustic portions of the 1970 and 1980 tours, which required a second guitar, and a brief time in the late 80’s when he used a second guitar to play Midi components during Space).  In addition, once the early 70’s rolled around, Jerry would choose one specific guitar and stick with it for years.  So if you saw the Dead play at any point between this date in 1979 and New Years Eve, 1989/90, you almost certainly saw Jerry play the guitar he debuted tonight.  (There are some exceptions).

Tiger was custom-built for Jerry by Doug Irwin, who also built Wolf, one of the two guitars Jerry played between 1973 and 1979.  (The other was a Travis Beam aluminum guitar that Jerry used during 1976 and 1977).  Tiger is no joke – it weighs 13 1/2 pounds (for reference, an average Fender Telecaster is around 8 pounds) and has two humbucker pickups and a single pickup at the neck.  The tiger inlay actually protected a battery pack used to power a preamp that was built into the guitar, allowing Jerry to maintain a consistent signal to and from his effect pedals – on a normal guitar, if things aren’t dialed in perfectly, you are going to get a change in power whenever you step on a pedal.  Not with Tiger.

Of course, since we’re talking about Jerry Garcia, the full story behind this and all of his other guitars is a lot more complicated.  In a nutshell, Jerry specified in his will that Doug Irwin would get all of his guitars.  But after Jerry died, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead alleged that the guitars never belonged to Jerry, since they were purchased with Grateful Dead money.  (This episode makes my skin crawl).  Irwin, destitute and living with his mother, had to actually sue the Dead to get his guitars back, as Jerry intended.  You can read all about it in this fantastic story in the San Francisco Gate.  And for more on Tiger and Jerry’s other guitars, you can travel to Jerry’s official website, or you can get all of the tech specs here.

OK, enough guitar talk (for now).  What about the music?  As mentioned earlier, tonight was the live debut of Althea and Lost Sailor (without Saint of Circumstance – one of only five performances of Lost Sailor that don’t immediately transition into Saint).  Both of these songs sound like the Dead have been playing them for years.  While Jerry doesn’t let the line very far out on Althea, he certainly enjoys soloing all over Lost Sailor, which sounds amazing given that it’s a first attempt.   The rest of the first set is peppy but nothing strenuous – a pretty typical Bay Area warmup.

The boys ramp it up in the second set, starting with Passenger and flying from there.  Playin’ in the Band is the highlight tonight – it’s a twenty minute blast of psychedelic fury, waaaay further out there than one would expect in 1979, and it crashes into an amazing Drums.  Stella Blue is powerful too.  So, all in all, a great second set on a historic night.

My one complaint is that the recordings aren’t very good.  Both soundboards are missing the Jack Straw opener, and the volume varies greatly from song to song, as does the volume of the individual instruments.  Unfortunately, the audience recording is muddy and sounds like noise reduction was applied.  So here’s the soundboard: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 2, 1976 – Colt Park, Hartford, CT

stealieI apologize for the puny length of this post – time marched on quickly today.

But honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about this show other than to praise the first-set-ending Lazy Lightning>Supplication, which is great, and to talk briefly about the sweet Playin’ In The Band>Wharf Rat>Jam>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> Playin’ In The Band that represents the heart of the second set.

Like many 1976 shows, this sequence ties together a bunch of unrelated songs with some incredible, thematic jamming running through the entire piece.  For me, the best parts are the transition into Wharf Rat and the movement from there into Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, but the whole thing is a good listen.  If you’re in a rush, just do this part and skip the rest, which is good but nothing to write home about.

Listen to the AUD here (the encores are missing, but do you really need another U.S. Blues or Sugar Magnolia?):

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 1, 1973 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

stealieHappy 75th birthday Jerry Garcia!

If Jerry has taught me anything, it’s that we should embrace all of life’s strange little imperfections.  So, in his honor, I will freely admit one of mine – when I don’t know a lot about a certain subject, I tend to spew gibberish to make up for my lack of knowledge.  (Thank God I didn’t start writing this thing ten years ago)!

There have been many moments over the course of my experience with this band where I said uninformed, dumb things about their music, due, in a large part, to ignorance.  None was more absurd than when I said to a group of seasoned Dead fans, that Space was more interesting, musically, than Dark Star.  (Caveat – I was a true newbie when I uttered these unfortunate words).  After my friends stopped laughing, they put on Live Dead and remedied that little bit of stupidity.  I never bad-mouthed Dark Star again.  But it was this show from Roosevelt Stadium in 1973, which I only heard a couple of years after I made that ridiculous statement, that truly showed me what Dark Star could achieve.

Keep in mind that by the time we get to Dark Star in this show, the band has already played for an hour and a half (and this is after The Band opened the show), so the audience is a little wound up.  Up until this point, the Dead have been firing on all cylinders – the first set features a monumental Bird Song, a lacerating Sugaree and probably my all-time favorite version of They Love Each Other.  (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the pre-hiatus, fast-paced version of this song, stop right now and go hear it immediately).  The beginning of the second set is also sweet, with a great Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and a subtle Row Jimmy.  But then the magic begins: Dark Star>El Paso>Eyes of the World>Morning Dew.  Hold on tight!

It takes almost 14 minutes to arrive at the first verse of Dark Star because, after playing the opening theme, the Dead make a sharp exit into an amazing, exploratory jam that seems to take off from nowhere and ascend to higher and higher peaks for close to ten minutes before gliding back down to the theme and, eventually, the first verse.  And once Jerry is done singing, we still have another ten minutes of mind-bending, freer music to go (at points, it sounds very much like the music from Apocalypse Now – which Mickey Hart, who isn’t present here, had a little something to do with) before saddling up for El Paso, one of those strange Dark Star segues that seem to happen a lot in 73 and 74.  But El Paso is just a little palette cleanser before the 21 minute monster that is Eyes of the World.  Like many longer versions of this song, things get a little repetitive over the course of the tune, but by the end the band locks into things and they stick the traditional, synchronized ending before Morning Dew emerges from the fusion wreckage.  And what a Dew this one is.  There is nothing subtle about this performance – it’s loud and proud, sounding like it belongs in this very stadium during last year’s thunderous show.  Oh boy, does Jerry wail on his birthday here, shattering the audience with blistering leads as everything else crashes and wails around him, concluding one of my favorite hours of Grateful Dead music.

If you are looking for a stellar 1973 show in a summer that is filled with them, and if you’re wondering what all of that Dark Star fuss is about, look no further than this show.  I promise that it will expand your perception of what this band was capable of.

Unfortunately, none of the recordings of this night are pristine.  This Matrix sounds fuller than the soundboard I’ve owned forever:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 31, 1971 – Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT

stealieThis interesting show has hidden in plain sight for years since being used as a part of Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 3 in 2008.  It has a little bit of everything – two premiere performances, an amazing journey of a first set and a second set larded with rockers, all played by the mean, lean version of the Dead with no Mickey and no Keith either.  What’s not to love?

First, the premieres.  This show marks the debut of Sugaree and Mr. Charlie, and they come one after another in the first set after a rollicking Truckin’ opener.  Sugaree is very short, but it’s tight.  On the other hand, the boys sound like they have been playing Mr. Charlie for years, and Pigpen lets it rip like he was born to sing it.  After a couple of casual songs, things heat up quickly with this sequence that made me do a double take: Playin’ In The Band>Dark Star>Bird Song.  Seriously.  In the first set!  Now, none of these songs is going into the outer limits of space, especially Playin’ in the Band, which is well-grounded at eight minutes, but, still.  This is an unusual Dark Star that would be a very nice introduction to the song for a skeptical friend who has a good attention span but isn’t ready for the noise and feedback that often accompany the tune.  It travels in a vaguely straight line, but the guitar / bass work is exquisite and we enjoy every second on the journey.  Bird Song is also interesting, as it hasn’t achieved the delicacy that would arrive in 1972 once Keith was introduced.  Instead, we have Billy thumping away on the drums and Jerry playing around with several familiar themes that would become extended jams next year and in 1973.  After all of this resolves into El Paso, we get a peak Pigpen moment – a thrilling Hard to Handle that holds up against any of the other great versions of the song that the Dead were playing around this time in 1971 (and they were playing a lot of them).

As I said before, the second set of this show is made up almost entirely of rockers, except for Sing Me Back Home.  The change of pace must have had some effect on the band’s performance of this classic Merle Haggard tune, because this is one of the greatest Grateful Dead versions of this song that I’ve ever heard – Jerry’s solo is sublime and you’ll never want it to end.  Most of the rest of this set is typical, great 1971 Dead, with a special emphasis on Not Fade Away>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away which sees the band tear the Yale Bowl to shreds.

This is a really, really interesting show, made all the more so given the song order and the new pieces.  You’ll want to come back to this one again and again.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 28, 1973 – Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY

stealieThe Grateful Dead had a really bad habit of “underperforming” at their biggest shows (see Woodstock for a classic example).  However, on this particular day, on the largest stage they’d ever play, the Dead delivered, with two sets filled with fantastic playing and some otherworldly jamming.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, today’s show was a massive concert in upstate New York featuring The Band, The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead.  According to estimates, 600,000 people attended this show, the largest crowd to ever witness a rock concert.  They were rewarded with a two hour Dead show to start the day, followed by two hours of The Band and three hours of the Allmans before everyone came together for another 45 minutes of jamming.  It must have been something.

After warming up with a legendary soundcheck the night before, the Dead sprinted right out of the gate into an upbeat Bertha and never looked back.  The first set is filled with the usual suspects, all well played.  Box of Rain is one of the highlights for me – this was a always a tricky song for the band to get right, and they played it often in 1973, sometimes to ill effect.  But today it simply sparkles and Jerry’s guitar work floats through the summer air as the band plays on and on.  The set ends with a monster Playin’ in the Band that erupts immediately and never lets up for almost 25 minutes, blowing many a mind along the way.

There are quite a few highlights in the second half, including a great Truckin>El Paso, a classic China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider and an intergalactic Eyes of the World.  The Dead took their time in front of this festival crowd and played it just like a real concert that they headlined, stretching things out and laying waste to Eyes with a psychedelic fury that is probably more fitting for 1972 than ’73.  (I know they didn’t play Eyes in ’72, but still).

And if that isn’t enough for you, this recording also has the closing jam featuring all three bands playing Not Fade Away, Mountain Jam and Johnny B. Goode.  This is not the best recording you’ll ever hear, but the Dead more than hold their own and the Mountain Jam is pretty massive, all things considered.

Well, if you want an example of the Dead blowing another big one, you’ve come to the wrong place today.  This show rocks.  Listen here: