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: 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: April 27, 1971 – The Fillmore East, New York, NY


NOTE:  This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site.  It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

Did you know that the Grateful Dead played with the Beach Boys on this day in 1971?

The two bands collaborated on Searchin’, Riot In Cell Block #9, Help Me Rhonda, Okie From Muskogee and Johnny B. Goode, and the Beach Boys played Good Vibrations and I Get Around on their own in the middle of all of that ruckus. Unfortunately, none of it is any good (seriously – it’s a hot mess), but it does represent the first and only time that the Dead played Riot In Cell Block #9, Help Me Rhonda and Okie From Muskogee, so it fills a historical footnote at the very least.

The rest of the show is a fairly typical 1971 performance, with a very high quality Hard to Handle.

Here’s the link to the Charlie Miller transfer:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 14, 1971 – Camp Randall Field House, Madison, WI

stealie It’s Pigpen’s world tonight, so get ready.

The three best songs of the night – a monster performance of Good Lovin’, a horrifyingly spliced Hard to Handle and a soulful It Hurts Me Too – all belong to the Pig, with some serious support from Misters Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh, who both just unload on this show with reckless abandon.

It’s a shame that Hard to Handle is spliced where it is, because the band is just reeling back, ready to fire that fastball straight ahead.  The cut throws everything off, but once you get back into the rhythm of things, you’ll be treated to a very fine, full steam ahead version of this tune that only gets better as the song progresses.

Good Lovin’ is really the signature piece of the night, with a little bit of everything for everyone, including a drum solo about four minutes in, some serious Pigpen rapping and just guitar lick after guitar lick, all of which is punctuated by Phil bombs.  This is the solid stuff here, people.

The rest of the show is fine, but these are the definite highlights.  You should check them out:

Today In Grateful Dead History: February 18, 1971 – Capital Theater, Port Chester, NY

stealie It’s nice to be back from vacation and settled back into the Grateful Dead.

Today’s show from Port Chester, New York in 1971 features the live debuts of Bertha, Greatest Story Ever Told, Loser, Johnny B. Goode and Wharf Rat, so it can realistically be called a historic performance, and that’s even before you find out that it was Mickey Hart’s last night on stage with the Dead until the 10/20/1974 “farewell” concert.  Also, it’s at the Capital Theater, and since there are no bad performances at the Capital Theater, this show is worth your time even without the attraction of the new songs.

Let’s talk about the debuts first.  First off, they all basically sound like themselves, which is somewhat unusual for the Dead, who would often debut a tune and tinker with it for years before arriving at a “definitive” version. (I’m thinking of the In The Dark songs in particular, which were worked out live for years before being officially released).  The one interesting note comes in Bertha, which features a final Jerry solo after the last chorus – this wouldn’t stick around for very long.  The rest are all typical versions.

I think the most interesting musical section of this show takes place here: Hard To Handle, Dark Star>Wharf Rat>Dark Star .  This is a very good but not top tier Hard to Handle, but the combination of Dark Star and Wharf Rat, with a return to Dark Star, is very nicely done.  The band nails the transition from Dark Star to Wharf Rat, but the really awesome part is the truly beautiful playing during the jam out of Wharf Rat and back into Dark Star.  It’s an all-time highlight.

The remainder of this show is a frantically paced rocker, with no more jamming but a lot of your favorite songs well-played.  Strap in and enjoy.

Check it out here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: January 21, 1971 – Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA

stealie This show is a perfect example of an incomplete audience recording that most listeners would probably discount because of the nearly constant talking and clapping right next to the taper.  But throwing this show out on the basis of the crowd noise would be a mistake, since there are a couple of really powerful sections of music here.

Grateful Dead Sources has a couple of interesting contemporary reviews of this performance and the comments section details the history of the recording as far as it goes.  What we know for sure is that the Dead were the last of three bands to perform at this concert, which might explain why the setlist appears slightly truncated.  But when you listen to this show straight through, you don’t get the sense that much is missing in terms of the pace of the performance – it follows the pretty standard 1971 show trajectory.

There are a couple of rare moments here, starting with Pigpen’s harmonica playing on Truckin’, something that pops up from time to time but was eventually shelved.  Also, the ending to Hard to Handle, while again not unique, is undoubtedly different from how the band was playing it a couple of months later when it formed into something a little less harsh.  This version is a monster all its own.  Finally, this would apparently be the last performance of Cosmic Charlie until 1976, and while it isn’t a best ever version, it’s still very enjoyable.

For me, the beating heart of this show, and the bar-none highlight of the night, is The Other One, which starts out with Cryptical Envelopment but rapidly turns into an eight minute drum solo.  This was not the typical way to start this song.  The drums build and build until the full band bursts back into the song with a thrilling slide, the beginning of a great fifteen minutes of music.  There are shrieks of feedback, delicate moments where Jerry and Phil play off of one another, and an aggressive section near the end where Bob and Phil are driving deep into the rhythm like men possessed and then Pigpen’s organ rises briefly into the mix to add that little extra something that pushes the song over the edge.  It’s pretty amazing to hear the effect this has on the crowd – whereas before, everyone was talking over the music, now it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop as the Dead rope the captivated audience in.  (They start talking again as soon as the second part of Cryptical Envelopment starts).  This The Other One is a master class in early 70’s psych rock and shouldn’t be missed.

Please, do yourself a favor and overlook the audio glitches and the missing material, at least for The Other One.  It’s worth the effort.

Here’s the audience recording:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 2, 1971 – Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

stealie Today’s show from the Boston Music Hall in 1971 reminds me a lot of the August 4, 1971 show from the Terminal Island Correctional Facility, in that it’s short on jams but filled to the brim with hard core rock n’ roll and peak Pigpen.

All of your favorite non-jammy early 70’s Dead songs are here, and they are performed with a TON of guitar.  In fact, you can hardly tell if Pigpen is playing at all given all of the noise from Jerry and Bob.  But this is glorious rock n’ roll, and it’s nice to hear Bob higher up in the mix.

The funny thing about this show is that Black Peter, one of the slowest songs in the repertoire, is probably one of the best songs at this up tempo show – it’s as if the band was warming up only to slow things down.  Later on, Smokestack Lightning is a thrilling Pigpen performance and Casey Jones has an interesting ending.

Don’t skip Track 18 – labeled “Tuning”.  This is a very delicate minute-long jam that stops you dead in your tracks, especially given how rockin’ the rest of the show has been.  It’s like a little dose of ’73 popped up here in ’71.  Of course, once this moment passes, we’re back to the rollin’, with a heavy Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Love Light>Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Not Fade Away to end the show.  This isn’t going to win style points, but at this show, it’s all about the feeling, and this show is a party, start to finish.

Here’s the link to the soundboard: