Today in Grateful Dead History: June 12, 1976 – Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

stealie If you like Jerry ballads, then you’re going to love this show, which features not one, not two, but three stellar slow dancers.  First up is Mission in the Rain, the least ballady of the three, and a treat that the Grateful Dead only played during June, 1976, leaving the tune for the Jerry band to hone over time.  This is a nice version, with plenty of Phil-fills to keep everyone honest.

The second great ballad tonight is High Time, a wonderful song that the Dead put on hiatus back in 1970, only to resurrect it six years later at the June 9th Boston show.  This is a perfect version, mournful, with beautiful harmonies and real intricate playing that has the hall rapt with attention.

Third on the list is Comes a Time, which flows out of a memorizing Wharf Rat in the middle of the second set.  This one is also gorgeous, with Keith’s playing shimmering throughout and Donna’s vocals dialed in perfectly before a classic Jerry solo to play us out.

While we’re on the topic, let’s take two minutes to discuss Donna’s contributions here.  1976 is, for me, Donna’s best year.  The smaller venues suited her and the calmer tone of the playing allowed her to relax and sing some really beautiful harmonies throughout the course of the year.  Her contributions tonight really improve all three of these songs.  Likewise, the space in the music gives Keith plenty of room to show off what he brings to the table, and this show is a classic example of how his little fills and improvisations can elevate even the most straightforward tunes into magical things.

Leaving the ballads aside, the rest of this show really sparkles with energy, be it during the show opening Samson and Delilah, Jerry’s attack on Big River or the Dancin’ in the Streets rave up (more really cool Keith licks reside here, too).  There is a ton of intricate playing as well, especially on Lazy Lightening>Supplication and Let It Grow, which devolves at the end into the theme from A Love Supreme before the transition into Wharf Rat.    Even the encore is on point, with U.S. Blues sandwiched in the middle of Sugar Magnolia / Sunshine Daydream.

Lastly, a note on the recording.  The primary non-audience recording comes from the FM broadcast of this show, and it has been merged into a pretty cool Matrix that retains the radio interruptions.  Listen to this something-for-everyone (but especially the ballads fans) show here:

(Some of the material from this show made it onto Road Trips Volume 4, No. 5 as filler: Mission in the Rain, The Wheel, Comes a Time and the encore).

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 9, 1973 – RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

stealieToday’s steller show is the “other” RFK Stadium show from 1973, the laid back cousin to tomorrow’s barn-burner of a show with Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks from the Allman Brothers Band.  The Brothers played on the bill with the Dead today too, but there was no cross pollination.  Despite the lack of Allmans, this is a great show in its own right and it’s a very good audience recording that I believe sounds much better than the soundboard.

The one thing you’re not going to get a lot of today is long, spacey jams.  (At least not by 1973 standards – if they played this way in 1984, heads would have exploded).  Instead, you get most of the standard ’73 Dead songs played really well through an exceptional sound system that allows you to hear everyone at the top of their games.  ’73 was a good year for Box of Rain, and Phil nails it here during the lengthy first set, which ends with a great China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.

He’s Gone>Truckin’>Playin’ In The Band leads off the second set and provides the magic in spades, especially during Playin’ In The Band.  It’s hard to describe what the boys are doing here other than to say that they are dialed in and throwing ideas off each other left and right with endlessly good results.  The remainder of the show features a very nice (and relatively short) Eyes of the World that segues into a beautiful China Doll that quiets the previously rowdy crowd.  (One audience member is really happy to hear Eyes).

If your goal is to cram a bunch of well played shorter Dead tunes into one place, this show is going to be perfect for you.  Sure, there is no Dark Star or The Other One to really take things out there, but Playin’ in the Band is impressive and everything else is simply fun.  

A soundboard exists for this show, but I’m going with the audience recording.  Yes, there is a lot of “color” throughout the tape, but when the boys get going, you’re going to like hearing it this way.  Listen to the audience tape here:

The snobs can hear the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 6, 1970 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesHold on to your heads – this one is loud.

As we always do when we discuss Grateful Dead shows from 1970, we have to briefly talk about the structure of these performances.  Typical Dead shows from this time consisted of a set of acoustic Dead, a set from the New Riders of the Purple Sage (with Jerry and Mickey) and then a set of electric Dead to close out the night.  On this particular night, it appears that Southern Comfort also played in addition to the New Riders, making this a very looong show indeed.  Unfortunately, the full Dead show isn’t public, so we have a few snippets from the acoustic set and then the entire electric explosion, which is all you really need.

That’s not to say that the four acoustic songs aren’t good.  They are, especially Friend of the Devil.  But the magic takes place later.

The band starts off the electric portion of the evening with Morning Dew, which is just the shot of whiskey before things really get moving.  Two songs later, we get the first ridiculous blast of power with a killer Dancin’ in the Streets that gets rocked way out.  This is followed by a soulful Next Time You See Me and a decent China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  Then things start to really take off with a Good Lovin’ sandwich that contains one of four known performances of New Orleans, a song that seems to be a perfect fit for the Grateful Dead (Bobby sings it here but it would have worked for Pigpen too).    Calm sets in with a stellar, all-time good version of Attics of My Life and a fun Dire Wolf.

Not satisfied yet?  Good, because all of this was just the warm up before the explosion that is Alligator>Drums>Jam>Turn On Your Lovelight>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Love Light.  This hour-plus segment, especially the Alligator>Drums>Jam, is a perfect distillation of the ragged, full speed ahead, barely contained but yet somehow a lot “cooler” than 1969 recklessness that was the Grateful Dead in 1970.   Add into the mix a very good Lovelight with some outrageous passages before we even get to Not Fade Away and you have just a stunning display of how good the Dead were during this incredible year.  (And just so that any thorough listeners can’t complain, I know that I’ve said before that I can’t deal with super long Lovelights.  This one is different because, 1, it’s divided by Not Fade Away and, 2, there is a lot of fully formed jamming and not just a ton of endless noodling from both band and Pigpen).  Just plug this thing in and get out of the way.  It’s a top-notch Alligator – probably one of the better ones, and it needs to be played loudly.

You can hear the electric set here: and the acoustic moments here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: May 25, 1977 – The Mosque, Richmond, VA

stealieWay back in 2012, this show was the first installment in the ongoing Dave’s Picks series of official Grateful Dead live releases and for good reason.  This mellow, slow-jammed show from an incredible month of concerts is larded with nuggets that deserve to be heard time and time again.

Compared to some of its more high-intensity cousins from earlier in the month, this night’s performance is calm, almost resembling a 1976 show with its careful craftsmanship and tempos.  But just because it’s slower doesn’t mean that this show is sleepy.  Far from it.

For instance, the second set opens with a raging Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  In a month of incredible versions of these songs, including what might be the greatest ever on May 8th, tonight’s performance stands close to the top.  The transition between the two, in particular, is incredible, with peaks and valleys and blistering heat from both guitarists.  Fire on the Mountain settles into its groove and almost never lets go (Keith blows one part for a second but recovers nicely), transporting you smoothly into the outer limits.  After a very good Estimated Prophet, we get an awesome He’s Gone.  This song fits the mood of the night perfectly, and the Dead dig into it, playing back and forth between verses and nailing the bridge.  As the song ends we dive into Drums, which soon erupts into a very intense version of The Other One.  This is a fifteen minute tour de force that never lets you down until Wharf Rat takes over.  The end of this tune is laced with beauty and short, tinkly runs from Keith and Jerry before we’re back at The Other One again for another three minutes before sliding into a pitch perfect The Wheel with more wonderful keyboards.

The first set doesn’t possess the fireworks of the second set, but it’s filled with great songs.  After opening with an above-average Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo into a good Jack Straw, the middle of the set really does most of the work here, with stellar versions of Cassidy, Loser and Lazy Lightning>Supplication.  All of the songs here are good and it’s a fun listen throughout, even when it comes to the more “basic” tunes like the set-closing Promised Land.

Since Dave’s Picks has been sold out forever, we need to listen to the soundboard version.  I would love to get my hands on the official release, since the sound quality here is a B.  But it’s worth it!  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 19, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieIn October, 1974, the Grateful Dead played five shows at Winterland that were billed as the band’s farewell performances before its year plus hiatus.  Tonight is the fourth of these five shows, and it is canonical.  While the jamming tonight might not reach the heights of the final show on the 20th or the Dark Star>Morning Dew on the 18th, all of the songs from this show (and there are many of them) feature an incredible amount of collaboration and finesse.  So, in honor of this masterpiece, you’re getting my thoughts in list form.

  • This show opens with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  This, translated from Grateful Dead speak, means that it’s going to be a good show.
  • Friend of the Devil sounds like no other version of this song that I’ve ever heard.  It’s got a swing to it that you just assume will stop when Jerry starts singing and brings it back to normal.  This doesn’t happen.  Strange (and great) throughout.
  • It Must Have Been the Roses.  Not a definitive version, but listen to what they are doing with each other, playing back and forth with the melody and counter-melody like wizards.  Pay close attention!
  • Oh boy – this is one loose Loose Lucy.  (Couldn’t resist).
  • When a pre-Fire on the Mountain Scarlet Begonias gets this spacey, you know things are going well.  There are sections of drums / piano / bass here that are going to blow your mind, and the sparseness of the jam is something to behold.  Like Friend of the Devil, this one is unique.
  • Okay – now we have to talk about Eyes of the World.  For my money, this might be the best version ever.  Not so long that you lose your mind, but not an eight minute version either.  The coordinated parts of this song are are played perfectly, and the jam. . .   What can I say about this jam?  When people talk about the Dead being a multi-headed monster, this is what they mean.  There are parts of this song where Keith is playing one note, Bob is playing off that one note and Jerry is playing around that one note, all in time and in tune.  And that’s just one portion.  While Phil’s bass solo is great in its own right, listen to everything going on behind it.  Again, that’s just one portion.  And Billy?  Well, Billy puts on a clinic here tonight.  This is a perfect Eyes of the World.
  • Followed by a great, meaningful China Doll.  Seriously? Can things get better than this?
  • Well, after Big River, we get a crazy Seastones that morphs into Uncle John’s Band.  What a way to start the second half.
  • What follows next is a lesson to not skip the “minor” songs.  All of these tunes are great, especially the very rare Tomorrow is Forever, one of the few times that I think almost all heads can agree that Donna sounded great.  We also get one of the slowest Dire Wolfs you’re ever going to hear.
  • Here we go – He’s Gone>Truckin’>Caution Jam>Drums>Jam>Truckin’.  He’s Gone is awesome, as you might expect, and then there is a short Truckin’ before, out of nowhere, the boys fire into a double-time performance of what is being called the Caution Jam, which is essentially Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) without Pigpen on keys.  This is a monster wake-up call, a straight up assault on your senses, which may have been lulled by the two-plus hours of music that have already been played and the laid back He’s Gone.  And good Lord, does Phil Lesh go crazy on this one.  Drums follows, marking the last time Billy would play Drums on his own without Mickey Hart.  Shed a tear, Mickey haters, and savor this 1:20.  The following Jam back into Truckin’ is very wide open and features a ton of Jerry and not a lot of everyone else until the second half.  Enjoy.
  • I’m not saying that everything else after this is a let-down, because all of these songs are great, but other than an excellent Black Peter, I just can’t get 100% fired up over Sunshine Daydream, One More Saturday Night or U.S. Blues.  That’s okay.

There you have it.  If you wanted to play someone the second set from last night’s show, this entire show and tomorrow’s full performance, you’d probably have enough Grateful Dead music to last a lifetime.  Savor this one for the smaller songs and the Eyes of the World – it’s one of the best.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 4, 1970 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThis show was billed as Quicksilver Messenger Service’s final performance and it featured that band (obviously) along with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.  (The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Hot Tuna were both rumored to have played tonight too, but no confirmation, recorded or otherwise, exists).  Because of the full bill, the Dead had about an hour to perform, so they had to make the most of it.

Short set aside, the most unusual aspect of this show was that it was broadcast quadraphonically – something that had only been done live several times before and might never have been attempted since.  What this entailed was broadcasting the show on two separate radio stations at once and then tuning two separate receivers, each with two speakers attached, to the different broadcasts.  Since each broadcast was in stereo, this allowed you to manipulate all four channels at the same time.  To top this off, the performance was also broadcast on live television, so you could watch the bands and listen to the quadraphonic mix all at the same time.  (For more on the Dead on the radio in 1970, and this show in particular, you can read a great post on Lost Live Dead here).

This recording came from KSAN-FM’s stereo broadcast, so you’re not getting the full quad experience.  This obviously creates an unusual mix, with Phil and the drummers louder than they might usually be.  Additionally, the levels on Phil’s bass keep topping off, creating a semi-distorted tone that you won’t hear very often on normal recordings.  Thankfully, Phil is full of great ideas throughout the night and it’s a pleasure to listen to him.

The rest of the show is filled with shorter songs – the closest we get to “jamming” is during Good Lovin’, which is split by a six minute Drums.  Most of the short songs are all well done, with a very wide open transition between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider and a wonderful, up-tempo (electric) Brokedown Palace.  Historically, tonight is one of only six performances of Till the Morning Comes, all of which took place between September and December, 1970, so it is worth tuning in just to hear that song.  Things begin to break down by the end of the show, with a very sloppy version of Casey Jones turning into a slightly less sloppy shot of Uncle John’s Band.  Still – this is high energy, good-time music.

This show isn’t going to win any awards, but if you want a short, fun listen and you’re in the mood for some serious Phil Lesh, then this is a great bet.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 30, 1976 – Mershon Auditorium – Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

stealieLet’s cap a week of nothing but shows from the 70’s with this hidden gem from Columbus, 1976.

The Dead start off the night with The Music Never Stopped, a relatively new song that attains full flight in 1977.  But tonight the boys launch into a closing jam that differs from most of the usual Music Never Stopped jams.  This little sequence, call the Mind Left Body Jam, was usually played around Truckin’ or The Other One in 1973 and 1974.  So it’s really cool to hear it pop up here, in the opening tune.  This won’t be the last time tonight that the Dead produce amazing results in unexpected places.

Next up on the highlight reel is Crazy Fingers.  In my opinion, 1976 was THE year for Crazy Fingers.  The band was well-rehearsed, the tempos were a little slower, the venues were smaller and the whole group could really dig into this intricate number.  And oh boy do they rip into it tonight.  This song is a whirling dervish culminating in that beautiful, sensuous, feel-good exit jam that just makes you think of summertime.

We were talking earlier about unexpected jams – another one pops up in Scarlet Begonias.  This song starts off a little ragged, but by the time the Dead get halfway through, you know they’ve got trouble on their minds.  The second half of this song swings with an unusual rhythm and the playing follows.  It’s not like the Scarlet Begonias you’re used to.  And all of this, remember, is still in the first set.

The second set opens with a very nice Lazy Lightning>Supplication and then moves into It Must Have Been the Roses and Samson and Delilah.  This is all well and good, but the really cool part gets going with St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Drums>Wharf Rat>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen>Around and Around. Talk about unusual passages – the last three minutes of St. Stephen almost sound like island music, as does the very cool intro into Not Fade Away.  The band is drawn into the typical Not Fade Away rhythm pattern, only to pull back out into a looser beat before finally deciding to start the song.  The transition into Wharf Rat doesn’t reveal itself for a while – I thought they were going into The Wheel until right before the song began.  This hide and seek musical exploration typifies the entire evening.  From there we run back into Not Fade Away before St. Stephen ties everything together again. (Unfortunately, it’s cut on this recording).

But wait, we’re not done with the mysterious.  After Around and Around, it’s encore time.  And tonight’s encore is . . . Morning Dew, a song the Grateful Dead only played as an encore seven times.  (Tonight’s show was the last of the bunch).  So – crazy, unique music all night and an amazing, emotional encore to top things off.  Why isn’t this show more popular?

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of my friends who was instrumental in getting me really into the Grateful Dead was born, in Columbus, on this very day.  Happy Birthday – you got the show you deserve!

I listened to the audience recording of this show – the soundboard recordings need to be stitched together in order to work, and frankly, after some playing around I like the sound here better anyway: