Today in Grateful Dead History: January 10, 1970 – Golden Hall San Diego Community Concourse, San Diego, CA

skeleton&rosesSorry for the missing days lately – you can comfort yourselves knowing that there were no shows available yesterday and Monday’s wasn’t anything great.

That being said, we’re back today with a very short but scorching show from San Diego in 1970.  You know exactly where the boys are headed from the opening burst of China Cat Sunflower, which just accelerates into a forceful I Know You Rider.  Every other song here is just as hyper – Dire Wolf almost goes out there, Hard to Handle should be slightly reigned in, and Mason’s Children keeps improving over last month’s original performances.

The show concludes (remember we said it was short) with Good Lovin’>Cold Rain and Snow>Turn on Your Lovelight, all of which are dialed way up, especially Cold Rain and SnowLovelight finds Pigpen enhorting the crowd to get up, and with a show this catchy, one can’t understand why he has to ask.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: January 3, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesToday’s show from the Fillmore East in 1970 is a double shot of Dead, just like yesterday’s offering from the same venue.  And just like yesterday’s show, this is a high octane New York City performance with the band in fine, vintage form.

The first show is anchored by an exceptional version of Alligator.  After the initial theme, the song ventures off into Drums for a few minutes before roaring back into a jam of all jams, incorporating Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Caution (Do Not Step on the Tracks), China Cat Sunflower (which would be played in full during the second show) and Mountain Jam, all within a few minutes of intense action.  Not only is every member of the band on the same page through this passage that could not have been planned if they wanted to, but everyone is breathing fire and shooting brimstone as the melodies tumble out one after another.  This is quite the sequence and would make the show worth hearing if it were the sole highlight.

But of course there is a second show and the second show features an amazing Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One that stretches the limits of both songs.  These are intense versions, much better than the ones from yesterday, and it really shows how Cryptical Envelopment works as a song that is unique from The Other One and not just a prelude / postlude.  Another highlight of the late show is a smoldering version of Black Peter that sounds completely different from the laid back, almost throw away versions of that song that would show up later on in the year.  After a cool electric Dire Wolf, the band throws the dance party switch with an incredible combination of rockers: Good Lovin’ and Dancin’ In The Streets with an encore of Saint Stephen>In The Midnight Hour, the only time in Grateful Dead history that those shows would be paired together.  If you want to hear the Dead as the dance band they always said that they were, then this is the show for you, as everything here is free wheeling, foot stomping fun.

Finally, (I should have mentioned this yesterday) this set of New York shows really gives us an opportunity to hear Tom Constanten’s contributions to the band.  For a variety of reasons, TC usually ends up completely overwhelmed in the mix, but during these shows he is really prevelant and his playing adds a lot to the overall sound of the songs.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened had he not left the group at the end of this month, but there’s no need to dwell on hypotheticals – let’s appreciate what we’ve got here.

This night is a long haul of a listen, but if you make it 3/4 of the way, the rockers are going to lead you home energized.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 2, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesHappy New Year everyone!

For some reason, I was under the impression that the Dead hadn’t played on January 2nd, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this ferocious blast of vintage Grateful Dead waiting for me this morning.

Today’s show from the Fillmore East is really an early and a late show all in one, and while it’s the late show that holds the 30 minute Dark Star that will peel your ears back, the early show has its moments too, starting with the opening Mason’s Children, which the Dead only premiered a couple of weeks ago.  A couple of other new songs, like Black Peter and Cumberland Blues, still sound like they are being worked out, but these initial, sparse arrangements work well tonight, warts and all.  The big exploratory piece of the first show is Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment, which is not a huge version but it’s very delicate in parts and well done in general.

The second set opens with a very strange, only played twice combo of Uncle John’s Band>High Time which should be heard for history’s sake if nothing else.  After a few starts and stops (and a cut apart China>Rider), the band plays a scorching Good Lovin’ before a couple more throw away numbers like Me and My Uncle and a sloppy Monkey and the Engineer.  But you’re not listening for that, you’re listening for the Dark Star, which is chock full of various familiar themes like the Tighten Up Jam, but it also flows into some very open space that hints more at Feedback than at a solid tune.  Unfortunately, the ending is cut, so we go straight into a rollicking St. Stephen, which, while it isn’t going to be the best one you ever hear, is plenty good enough, and the following Eleven is also a joyous beast.  As if all of that isn’t enough, we’re set for a dose of the Pig, and a massive Turn on Your Lovelight that just seems to get richer and more fun as it goes.  What a second show and what a way to start the year.

Listen to this monster here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 21, 1978 – The Summit, Houston, TX

Dancing Skeletons

Today is the penultimate show on the Grateful Dead’s 1978 southern tour, and, like its brethren, it’s a good one, even if the band isn’t taking things to the limit.

The first set has some very good playing – Peggy-O is amazing and Passenger is at its high-flying best.  Jerry Garcia is playing hot tonight, and, on this very muddy audience tape, his interaction with Bob Weir is about all you’re going to glean from the murk.  While the sound quality is annoying, this allows us to hear how Bob’s complimentary playing really allowed Jerry to pull out all of the stops.  Bob never gets in the way (even on slide), and Jerry works around Bob’s quirky chords like the two guitarists are one player.  It’s interesting to hear.

The second set opens with I Need A Miracle>Bertha>Good Lovin’, which is a ton of rocking to start the second set.  The jamming follows in the form of a beautiful Terrapin Station (like the Dead’s show in Birmingham earlier on this tour, the best parts of tonight’s Terrapin come prior to the “inspiration” section, but tonight the playing at the end of  Terrapin seems a little better) and a great Playin’ in the Band which is missing what seems to be a small section.  Like the other songs tonight, this one is all about Jerry and Bob, who seem to be dialed in and loving life.  After Drums (no Space, yet), we hear a very solid Black Peter.  This is one of those songs that I never skip but I never seem to really get that into, either.  Tonight, Jerry is singing along with his blues solo at the end, thoroughly engrossed in the music and driving things down into that swampy, dirty blues feeling that the late-70’s Dead almost never created.  It’s here to tonight and it deserves your attention.  This devolves back into Playin’ in the Band, but the end of the song is cut.

So, now I’ve reviewed four of the Dead’s shows from this southern swing, and they have all been good to very good performances in a year that is very hit or miss.  You can definitely feel this energy carry over into 1979, a really fun year for Dead shows and, in my opinion, a significant improvement over most of 1978.  But as this project has shown me time and again, you can’t ever make any definitive statements about this band – just when you think you understand them, you get four great shows from December, 1978 to set you straight.

As I said earlier, this audience recording is not great, it’s missing a couple of songs and there are problematic cuts in a few others.  But it’s worth the ride – just play around with the EQ to get things where you want them:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 15, 1978 – Boutwell Auditorium, Birmingham, AL

Dancing Skeletons

Longtime readers of this site know that 1978 is by far my least favorite year of the 70’s.  However, I really liked tomorrow’s 1978 show from Nashville, so I figured that maybe the boys were on a hot streak during this part of the tour and I gave today’s show a shot.  (It was also cool to listen to a very rare Alabama show during this week in politics).  Well, the stars aligned and the Dead, in Donna Jean’s backyard, provided a warm bit of music for a cold cold day here in the Northeast.

This is not a very exploratory show – the songs don’t stretch out much.  But the band plays well and there are some thoughtful bits of music throughout the night and the energy doesn’t flag.

My favorite part of the show comes during Terrapin Station, which is thankfully not an excessively long version.  In this case, Jerry busts out a gorgeous solo prior to the transition into the “inspiration move me brightly” portion of the tune.  It’s unexpectedly moving.  Jerry’s not done with the poignant playing, either.  During Stella Blue, he delivers a perfect closing solo that just shreds the audience.  It’s worthy of hearing twice.

Hidden here is an interesting Playin’ in the Band sandwich, which starts six songs in to the second set, after Terrapin Station, and concludes at the end of the set after Stella and a rocking Truckin’ (plus Drums / Space).  I had almost forgotten that the band didn’t finish the song when they came back to it, and Jerry and Phil tease around a bit before bringing us to the final conclusion. It’s a neat trick that would turn up more and more during the 80’s and 90’s.

In terms of the shorter songs, the big surprise of the evening is how good I Need a Miracle sounds.  I’ve noticed this before about this song in 1978 – it’s still new and the band seems to enjoy riffing on it.  (This would change).  But, for now, enjoy the fireworks as it opens the second set.  Brown Eyed Women is also good tonight, anchoring a first set that opens with Promised Land (and its shout-out to downtown Birmingham) followed by a mellow Shakedown Street.  The boys even let Donna do her thing in front of the hometown crowd with From the Heart of Me.  It’s not a good song (the performance tonight is fine, as far as it goes), but it’s nice to hear her get the chance to sing in Alabama shortly before she would leave the band.

Well, the Grateful Dead have gone 2 for 2 on this 1978 southern tour.  Hopefully there will be more fun in store during the rest of it.

There’s only an audience recording of this show available – if you play with the EQ, it’s going to be fine, but the levels definitely move around a lot:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 12, 1972 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieToday’s show is from 1972, so it’s a good one (haven’t heard a bad one yet).  But the meat of the performance is definitely in the 2nd set, so if you don’t have a ton of time, you can skip the beginning and jump right to Playin’ in the Band, which clocks in at a smooth 17 minutes of psychedelic fun. There’s nothing here that a fan of 1972 hasn’t heard before, but that’s why you’re listening to this show, right?  So dig in.

Right after Playin’ in the Band we get the extended jam of the night, a He’s Gone>Truckin’>The Other One that seems to go on forever in the best possible way.  There are not a lot of wasted notes here and Phil and Billy play off each other for several minutes in the transition into The Other One.  This is high quality 1972 Dead and it flows into a pitch perfect, beautiful version of Sing Me Back Home, with Jerry playing a heartfelt, gorgeous solo that will sweep you away.  The rest of the night is spent rocking, and let me tell you, something must have gotten into Bob Weir, because he brings everything up to 11.5, hollering away at another level.

If you have time for the first set, Box of Rain sounds really good today, as does Bobby McGee.  But, honestly, everything is clicking tonight – you’re going to like this one.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 7, 1971 – Felt Forum, New York, NY

stealieThe New York metropolitan area served as the Grateful Dead’s East Coast base as the band rose from humble beginnings in small clubs to larger venues like this theater in the basement of Madison Square Garden to the big house upstairs and Giants Stadium across the river in the great state of New Jersey.  If there was a consistent thread that linked all of these shows together, it was “intensity”.  The Dead almost always brought the heat in New York, and tonight’s show is one of the hottest ever.

What’s missing from tonight’s show is any semblance of deep space jamming.  This is a pure rock and roll show, fronted by Pigpen (newly returned after sitting out the previous month due to health issues) and played with fire by the rest of the band, including the band’s relatively new piano player, Keith Godchaux.

You’ll pick up on the rock and roll dynamic from the first notes of Cold Rain and Snow, one of the best versions of this song that I’ve ever heard.  Sugaree, usually a slower song, is forceful tonight and it’s followed by a Jack Straw that sounds very similar to versions from 1972.  Since it’s the Christmas season, we also get to hear one of the Dead’s seven attempts at playing Run Rudolph Run.  This is not Springsteen playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but it’s a fun and unusual romp that would only happen during the 1971 holiday season.  To top the first set off, we get a smoldering version of Cumberland Blues that is almost too intense to describe – this is hold on to your seats manic music of the highest order and unlike any Cumberland Blues I’ve ever heard.  This is followed by a Casey Jones set-closer that knocks the roof off the joint.

The real Pigpen magic takes place in the second set during Smokestack Lightning.  This is a slow burner, but oh  boy does it burn.  Between Pigpen on vocals and Jerry whittling away behind him, this is a classic take.  (And yeah, Pigpen ain’t Howling Wolf – he’s not supposed to be, so don’t compare them, ok)?  After a nice Deal, the boys reach into their bag of tricks for Truckin’, which is not an experimental jammed out version but a muscular rock exercise that transitions into a Not Fade Away rave out featuring Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.  This whole stretch is peak 1971 Dead, and even though it’s not exploratory, it’s going to peal your ears back anyways.

This is a great first-timer show to play for skeptical folks who don’t think that the Dead can rock.  The 40 minute Dark Stars can wait.

The Dead released this as Dave’s Picks Vol. 22, but if you don’t have it already, you’re not getting it (it’s sold out), so listen to the great soundboard here: