Let’s face it, fellow travelers. Despite boasting one of the most unique and innovative rock and roll bassists of all time in Mr. Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead were, at their heart, a guitar band. And if you really like your guitar playing loud and not neatly placed into a nice, friendly mix of instruments, then look no further than today’s show at Franklin & Marshall College. Because, for whatever reason, the only surviving recording of this show on the Archive has Jerry and Bob (but especially Jerry) turned way way up, so you’re going to be able to closely study that early-70’s Grateful Dead guitar sound.
And what a sound it was. This show came right at the point when the Dead were beginning to mellow their tone. But not tonight – this one is fuzzed out and blasting from start to finish. And since the vocals are, at some points, almost non-existent, you’d better be ready for riffs, because there are riffs galore here.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of mind-blowing highlights tonight to compliment the guitar wizardry. Hard to Handle is probably my favorite song of the night – 1971 is the year for them. And I was really excited by the prospect of a 25 minute Good Lovin’ – I don’t recall every hearing one this long. However, most of the song is sparse and built around Pigpen’s raps, so there isn’t that full-band cohesive rocking that you’ll find on some of the shorter versions from the late 60’s. In the Midnight Hour definitely rocks out towards the end of the night, and Sing Me Back Home is really swell. But overall, the overwhelming force of the guitar here drowns out the greatest part of a “Grateful Dead” performance, which, in my opinion, works best when all of the members of the band can be heard interacting with and playing off of one another.
This does not mean that this show is a waste of time – it’s a great document of Jerry and Bob and their skills at this point in time. But it’s not one that I’m likely to dip back into any time soon if I want to hear some good ol’ 1971 Grateful Dead.