If Jerry has taught me anything, it’s that we should embrace all of life’s strange little imperfections. So, in his honor, I will freely admit one of mine – when I don’t know a lot about a certain subject, I tend to spew gibberish to make up for my lack of knowledge. (Thank God I didn’t start writing this thing ten years ago)!
There have been many moments over the course of my experience with this band where I said uninformed, dumb things about their music, due, in a large part, to ignorance. None was more absurd than when I said to a group of seasoned Dead fans, that Space was more interesting, musically, than Dark Star. (Caveat – I was a true newbie when I uttered these unfortunate words). After my friends stopped laughing, they put on Live Dead and remedied that little bit of stupidity. I never bad-mouthed Dark Star again. But it was this show from Roosevelt Stadium in 1973, which I only heard a couple of years after I made that ridiculous statement, that truly showed me what Dark Star could achieve.
Keep in mind that by the time we get to Dark Star in this show, the band has already played for an hour and a half (and this is after The Band opened the show), so the audience is a little wound up. Up until this point, the Dead have been firing on all cylinders – the first set features a monumental Bird Song, a lacerating Sugaree and probably my all-time favorite version of They Love Each Other. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the pre-hiatus, fast-paced version of this song, stop right now and go hear it immediately). The beginning of the second set is also sweet, with a great Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and a subtle Row Jimmy. But then the magic begins: Dark Star>El Paso>Eyes of the World>Morning Dew. Hold on tight!
It takes almost 14 minutes to arrive at the first verse of Dark Star because, after playing the opening theme, the Dead make a sharp exit into an amazing, exploratory jam that seems to take off from nowhere and ascend to higher and higher peaks for close to ten minutes before gliding back down to the theme and, eventually, the first verse. And once Jerry is done singing, we still have another ten minutes of mind-bending, freer music to go (at points, it sounds very much like the music from Apocalypse Now – which Mickey Hart, who isn’t present here, had a little something to do with) before saddling up for El Paso, one of those strange Dark Star segues that seem to happen a lot in 73 and 74. But El Paso is just a little palette cleanser before the 21 minute monster that is Eyes of the World. Like many longer versions of this song, things get a little repetitive over the course of the tune, but by the end the band locks into things and they stick the traditional, synchronized ending before Morning Dew emerges from the fusion wreckage. And what a Dew this one is. There is nothing subtle about this performance – it’s loud and proud, sounding like it belongs in this very stadium during last year’s thunderous show. Oh boy, does Jerry wail on his birthday here, shattering the audience with blistering leads as everything else crashes and wails around him, concluding one of my favorite hours of Grateful Dead music.
If you are looking for a stellar 1973 show in a summer that is filled with them, and if you’re wondering what all of that Dark Star fuss is about, look no further than this show. I promise that it will expand your perception of what this band was capable of.
Unfortunately, none of the recordings of this night are pristine. This Matrix sounds fuller than the soundboard I’ve owned forever: https://archive.org/details/gd1973-08-01.123128.mtx.barry.flac