Today in Grateful Dead History: August 1, 1973 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

stealieHappy 75th birthday Jerry Garcia!

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:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 28, 1973 – Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY

stealieThe Grateful Dead had a really bad habit of “underperforming” at their biggest shows (see Woodstock for a classic example).  However, on this particular day, on the largest stage they’d ever play, the Dead delivered, with two sets filled with fantastic playing and some otherworldly jamming.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, today’s show was a massive concert in upstate New York featuring The Band, The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead.  According to estimates, 600,000 people attended this show, the largest crowd to ever witness a rock concert.  They were rewarded with a two hour Dead show to start the day, followed by two hours of The Band and three hours of the Allmans before everyone came together for another 45 minutes of jamming.  It must have been something.

After warming up with a legendary soundcheck the night before, the Dead sprinted right out of the gate into an upbeat Bertha and never looked back.  The first set is filled with the usual suspects, all well played.  Box of Rain is one of the highlights for me – this was a always a tricky song for the band to get right, and they played it often in 1973, sometimes to ill effect.  But today it simply sparkles and Jerry’s guitar work floats through the summer air as the band plays on and on.  The set ends with a monster Playin’ in the Band that erupts immediately and never lets up for almost 25 minutes, blowing many a mind along the way.

There are quite a few highlights in the second half, including a great Truckin>El Paso, a classic China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider and an intergalactic Eyes of the World.  The Dead took their time in front of this festival crowd and played it just like a real concert that they headlined, stretching things out and laying waste to Eyes with a psychedelic fury that is probably more fitting for 1972 than ’73.  (I know they didn’t play Eyes in ’72, but still).

And if that isn’t enough for you, this recording also has the closing jam featuring all three bands playing Not Fade Away, Mountain Jam and Johnny B. Goode.  This is not the best recording you’ll ever hear, but the Dead more than hold their own and the Mountain Jam is pretty massive, all things considered.

Well, if you want an example of the Dead blowing another big one, you’ve come to the wrong place today.  This show rocks.  Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 27, 1973 – Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY (The Watkins Glen Soundcheck)

stealieIn one of the more delightful ironies in a history filled with them, on this date in 1973 the Grateful Dead played one of their most legendary shows at a soundcheck on the night before they performed in front of 600,000 people on a triple bill with The Band and The Allman Brothers Band.

First, a little context.  This soundcheck came the night before Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, an enormous festival that was considered to be the largest outdoor pop festival of all time for many years.  According to Wikipedia (and confirmed by my elementary math), if the 600,000 person attendance figure is accurate, one out of every 350 people in the United States attended this concert.  So, as you can probably imagine, a huge crowd got there early, and The Band and The Allman Brothers Band each played short soundchecks in front of those intrepid souls.  But the Grateful Dead, because they’re the Grateful Dead, didn’t play a short soundcheck at all – instead, they came on, played for about 45 minutes, took a break and then came back on and did another 45 minutes, including the epic jam that made this show famous.

That the jam from this show is considered one of the greatest of all the Grateful Dead’s jams is a little surprising, seeing as how it was not a part of another beloved song like Dark Star, but instead evolved from a cold start and took off from there.  However, the lack of structure works here, allowing the Dead to go in several different directions, free from the shackles of a formal song.  And fly off they do, playing a brilliant 20 minute piece with at least three distinct themes – an opening, jazzier section, a second movement, beginning at the 14 minute mark, that could be the genesis for Fire on the Mountain (which wouldn’t come out for close to 4 years) and then a closing theme that resembles the transition into Going Down the Road Feeling Bad or I Know You Rider.  But, again, I’m just using these songs as musical reference points – the piece stands on its own.  (For much more on the jam and how this particular recording came to be, I strongly encourage you to read up on things at the Grateful Dead Listening Guide.  You can also hear it on So Many Roads.).

So, the jam is the thing here, but it’s not the only awesome musical moment – this is 1973, after all.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the jam, I think that this date would still be pretty well known because of the amazing Bird Song from the first “set”.  This is a very long Bird Song, one of the longest I’ve ever heard, and while it follows a fairly typical Bird Song structure, the playing after the halfway mark is remarkably free for a 1973 Bird Song.  There is also some thunderous bass work from Phil that drives the whole song, and Bob’s rhythm guitar, as usual, flourishes in and around Jerry’s amazing runs.  I love this one almost as much as the PNE Coliseum Bird Song on June 22nd and the much-hyped version from 1972’s all-time great show in Veneta.

Apart from these two songs, which are really all that you need, the Dead play a bunch of shorter material and a pretty good ten minute version of Wharf Rat.  I encourage you to listen to this show from start to finish and not skip around, in order to experience this amazing night as it builds towards that jam, just like the people who were there.

There are lots of recordings of this show – the AUD referenced on the Listening Guide gives you great bang for your buck, but is missing Sugaree.  That’s alright.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 9, 1973 – RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

stealieToday’s steller show is the “other” RFK Stadium show from 1973, the laid back cousin to tomorrow’s barn-burner of a show with Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks from the Allman Brothers Band.  The Brothers played on the bill with the Dead today too, but there was no cross pollination.  Despite the lack of Allmans, this is a great show in its own right and it’s a very good audience recording that I believe sounds much better than the soundboard.

The one thing you’re not going to get a lot of today is long, spacey jams.  (At least not by 1973 standards – if they played this way in 1984, heads would have exploded).  Instead, you get most of the standard ’73 Dead songs played really well through an exceptional sound system that allows you to hear everyone at the top of their games.  ’73 was a good year for Box of Rain, and Phil nails it here during the lengthy first set, which ends with a great China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.

He’s Gone>Truckin’>Playin’ In The Band leads off the second set and provides the magic in spades, especially during Playin’ In The Band.  It’s hard to describe what the boys are doing here other than to say that they are dialed in and throwing ideas off each other left and right with endlessly good results.  The remainder of the show features a very nice (and relatively short) Eyes of the World that segues into a beautiful China Doll that quiets the previously rowdy crowd.  (One audience member is really happy to hear Eyes).

If your goal is to cram a bunch of well played shorter Dead tunes into one place, this show is going to be perfect for you.  Sure, there is no Dark Star or The Other One to really take things out there, but Playin’ in the Band is impressive and everything else is simply fun.  

A soundboard exists for this show, but I’m going with the audience recording.  Yes, there is a lot of “color” throughout the tape, but when the boys get going, you’re going to like hearing it this way.  Listen to the audience tape here:

The snobs can hear the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 8, 1973 – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY

stealieI’ve barely touched 1972 – 1977 on this site during 2016.  (I did re-post a bunch of reviews of shows from these years from my old site).  I’m pretty sure that this happened because it’s difficult to find the time to listen to full shows from the mid-70’s, since they stretch out for so long.  But it’s nice to be here in 1973, where there really isn’t anything but goodness pouring out of the speakers.

Today’s show from Nassau Coliseum features a couple of firsts and a bunch of very tight playing, but none of the extended jams that the band typically threw down in 1973.  There’s no Playin’ in the Band, Dark Star or The Other One in this show, and therefore no huge, twenty-plus minute excursions to Mars.  But the lack of jams gives us the opportunity to focus on some really interesting moments in a couple of often-overlooked songs.

Let’s talk about the firsts first.  Today was the first performance of Weather Report Suite Part I, the part of the Weather Report Suite after the musical Prelude and before the much more common Let It Grow.  The Dead had been experimenting live with the Prelude for some time, and Let It Grow debuted the previous night after Loser, so tonight is actually the first time that the entire Weather Report Suite was played in order.  I’ve always liked Part I, especially the end, and it is great to hear it fully formed here.

There’s a second premiere tonight, Keith Godchaux’s Let Me Sing Your Blues Away.  In keeping with the unusual night of firsts, this is the only live performance of this song (it was only played six times total, all in September 1973) that does not feature a horn section.  This song is not quite there yet vocally, with some serious issues on the harmonies.  Still, it’s good to hear Keith’s very nice solo singing voice – he would have fit right in with the Band.

As I said, the other highlights of the evening come in unusual moments.  The Dead’s version of Row Jimmy is one of the sharpest, most collaborative performances of that song that I’ve ever heard.  Likewise, the quieter moments of Ramble on Rose are amazing, as are the last four or five minutes of He’s Gone into Truckin’.  Finally, there’s Stella Blue, played as an encore for the first time out of a grand total of two encore performances.  (The other was 10/19/73 in Oklahoma City).  So even though there are no huge songs, there are plenty of things to chew on at this otherwise overlooked performance.

Listen to the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 26, 1973 – Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA

stealie 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 September, 2016.

This show is a great example of wonderful instrument separation on a recording. Bob is on the left, Jerry is on the right, and everyone else is spaced around the middle. The levels are well-balanced and you can hear each instrument very clearly.

Because of this, you get a good picture of what exactly Bob Weir meant to the band, which is not always easy to appreciate because 1. he’s usually buried in the mix; 2. a lot of his songs are just played to death and many of them are kinda cheesy; and 3. those shorts (although not in this era). Here, every crazy note that Bob plays is discernible and you’ll hear him do some totally bonkers and amazing things.

I think that this show is probably overrated because it was in circulation for a while and because the song quality is consistently good but not always other-worldly. The Playing in the Band is wonderful (and shows off the Bob moves I’m talking about, especially at the end) and the 3rd set is good but not as transcendent as others from this time period. Still, it’s definitely worth hearing, especially as a clear example of a band that’s obviously listening intently to what its members have to play.

You can hear the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 20, 1973 – Campus Stadium, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA

stealie 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.

1973 is the year that keeps on giving, with massive, high-quality shows that tend to blend together since everything is just so jammed out and well-played. This daytime concert from the University of California Santa Barbara is no exception.

This whole show is very well done, but the versions of Tennessee Jed and Greatest Story Ever Told really highlight the interplay between the band members and stand out among the other short songs from this date. The jam in the middle of China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider is also tasty. Playing in the Band, closing out the first set, is the real winner here, with some exceptional moments. The second set is standard (other than the previously mentioned Greatest Story), but would be a good set to give to someone who really isn’t into the long jams.

The third set (yes, they played three sets for a lot of 1973) consists of Truckin’>Jam>The Other One>Eyes Of The World>Stella Blue>Sugar Magnolia and it’s a long haul, clocking in at over an hour. And what an hour it is. The Jam between Truckin’ and The Other One is a sparse back and forth, Jerry on one side and Phil and Bob completing each others’ thoughts on the other. Unfortunately, the solo out of Stella Blue is short – after this trip, you want one of those three minute beauties that Jerry ripped off in the 90’s but weren’t typical in 1973. Oh well.

Here is the link to the Charlie Miller transfer of the soundboard:

If you’re interested, the Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a post dissecting the third set in great detail.