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:  https://archive.org/details/gd71-12-07.sbd.miller.3375.sbeok.shnf

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Today in Grateful Dead History: November 15, 1971 – Austin Municipal Auditorium, Austin, TX

stealieIt’s been a strange couple of weeks here at the Daily Dose when it comes to setlist abnormalities and unusual jams and today’s show from Austin in 1971 doesn’t buck the trend, with the last first-set Dark Star for 20 years (and the second-to-last of all time) and a Not Fade Away jam that defies description.

First, a little personnel recap.  Pigpen could not join the Dead on this part of the 1971 tour due to health problems, and Keith Godchaux had been playin’ in the band for a little less than a month (Donna had yet to join), so the five-piece, Pigpenless band was thinner than it would ever be.  So the boys made up for it by turning everything up to eleven.

Like the November 12th show in San Antonio, tonight’s performance has a focused raw energy – I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when you hear it you’ll know.  Unfortunately, like the 11/12 show, this recording is marred by a crummy soundboard mix.  The good news tonight is that this show was released in its entirety as Road Trips Volume 3, Number 2, which is available on Spotify.  The official release sounds a heck of a lot better than the recording on the Archive, so listen to it elsewhere if you can.

Dark Star is definitely the highlight of the first set, a nice, mellow version with an El Paso dropped into the middle of it for good measure.  The Dead don’t reinvent the wheel here, but it’s still a nice trip, and the last of its era.  There are some other great songs in the first set, like Playin’ in the Band, which, at six and a half minutes, is just aching to take flight.  The pent up jamming here sounds great and hints at better things to come for this song next year.  I also enjoyed the blaring version of Loser.

The second set starts with several “normal” songs in a row, although it bears noting that Garcia’s work during Me and Bobby McGee is especially potent tonight.  Everything after that is very down-to-earth, as if the Dead didn’t know what to do in this slot without Pigpen.  Not Fade Away provides the answer – it’s all systems go here and we get a monster performance focused, once again, on Jerry’s massive solos and Bob Weir’s hints of China Cat Sunflower.  After 10+ minutes of rocking, the Dead move into Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, also uptempo, for some additional variations on the same theme before returning once again to Not Fade Away to round things up.  This jam never gets “out there”.  Instead, it’s one of those rocking jams that typically flow out of Not Fade Away – grind it out, dance-band rock and roll.  But it’s a good one.

If you don’t have your hands on a copy of Road Trips, you can listen to the muddy soundboard here:  https://archive.org/details/gd71-11-15.sbd.cotsman.12438.sbeok.shnf

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:  https://archive.org/details/gd1971-08-15.sbd.130890.MrBill.flac16

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:  https://archive.org/details/gd1971-07-31.132730.sbd.miller.flac16/gd71-07-31d3t01.flac

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 27, 1971 – The Fillmore East, New York, NY

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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: https://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-27.sbd.miller.114461.flac16

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:  https://archive.org/details/gd71-03-14.sbd.cole.6115.sbeok.shnf

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:  https://archive.org/details/gd71-02-18.sbd.stephens.6672.sbeok.shnf