Bob Weir: This is sort of a get the bugs out night, that’s why we’re here.
Phil Lesh: Of course, if you’ve been following us for any number of years at all, you’ll realize that this happens every place we go, every time we play . . .
Bob: But if it irritates you, tonight’s gonna get you crazy.
Consider yourselves warned.
This show, the first of 1973, represents a trial run for the Alembic sound system that would eventually morph into the gargantuan Wall of Sound that the Grateful Dead would haul around during 1974. And, of course, when you say the words “Grateful Dead” and “trial run”, you know that things are going to be glitchy at best. Just to give you an example – about ten seconds into this show, half of the speakers blew up. Seriously. But the band kept playing on.
On top of the new speakers, this show also marks the debut of seven new songs (out of a total of 28 tunes), so, from a historical perspective alone, it’s one of the great ones. Add into this the fact that the Dead were starting one of the best years of their career and you’ve got the recipe for one monumental show. But is it any good? Hell yes, it’s good.
But – and there’s always a but – the issues with the sound system definitely break up the momentum of the show. There are also numerous cuts in the tape and not all of the instruments are well balanced throughout the night. You’re going to have to put up with these hiccups in order to properly enjoy what this band is laying down. Clear away your frustrations and let the music play.
I’m not going to give you a paragraph-long description of each of the new songs that the Dead busted out at this performance – if you listen to the band at all, then you’re probably very familiar with most of these, since they are all long-term staples: Row Jimmy, Loose Lucy, Here Comes Sunshine, They Love Each Other, Eyes of the World, China Doll and Wave that Flag (which would soon turn into U.S. Blues). But the surprising thing about this night is that all of these versions are really decent, and some are downright amazing, like Loose Lucy and They Love Each Other, which the band jams the hell out of, and Eyes of the World, which I’ll talk about in a bit.
But before you get to that Eyes, the Dead blast the joint with an 18 minute Playin’ in the Band that hits every right note. You can already hear the effect of the new sound system, which allowed the band, as well as the audience, to hear each other much more clearly. The interplay during Playin’ is unlike anything the band has done before, even on those masterful 1972 versions. This isn’t to say that this night’s version is better, but it’s definitely evolving, and it would reach tremendous heights during the next two years.
The second set opens with one of the best China Cat Sunflowers>I Know You Riders you’re ever going to hear. This isn’t the longest or most jammed out version, but it’s incredibly tight and everything about the playing is perfectly charged and in-sync.
After a few more songs, we’re into Eyes of the World. Keep in mind, this is the first time that the Grateful Dead ever played this song live (they would play it another 380 times), and it is, in my very humble opinion, one of the top five versions, if not the best. The boys simply attack this song from the very first note as if they have been playing it for ages. All of the members are highly dialed in and engaged – there is no meandering noodling or rhythmic variations – it’s a straightforward, highly intricate performance that clocks in at over 18 minutes, none of them wasted.
From here, there is a smooth transition into China Doll, another new song. In context, it’s a perfect choice and the vocals are spot on, with the band rising powerfully behind the singers as they come to a close. We even have a nascent version of that beautiful closing guitar solo that Jerry would perfect as time goes on. Almost perfection.
The final fifth of the show is filled with up-tempo rockers (plus Ramble on Rose and Box of Rain) and is a very, very long play down from the highs of the middle portion of the night. As time would go on, this closing segment of a typical Grateful Dead concert (the time from the end of the really jammy stuff until the end) would contract significantly, but for tonight, I’m sure everyone enjoyed the opportunity to boogie their butts off after being seared by an hour + of pure lysergic lightning.
Sometimes these super popular shows are a little overrated – they became popular because you could actually find tapes of them, not because of the quality of the playing. (Like many, this was one of my first tapes, and probably the first show I heard from 1973). However, in this case, all of the praise heaped upon this night is clearly well-deserved. You have top notch playing and a bunch of new songs. What more could you want?
Listen to a recording that is much better than the copy I owned here: https://archive.org/details/gd1973-02-09.sbd.ashley.12571.shnf