Today in Grateful Dead History: October 19, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieIn October, 1974, the Grateful Dead played five shows at Winterland that were billed as the band’s farewell performances before its year plus hiatus.  Tonight is the fourth of these five shows, and it is canonical.  While the jamming tonight might not reach the heights of the final show on the 20th or the Dark Star>Morning Dew on the 18th, all of the songs from this show (and there are many of them) feature an incredible amount of collaboration and finesse.  So, in honor of this masterpiece, you’re getting my thoughts in list form.

  • This show opens with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  This, translated from Grateful Dead speak, means that it’s going to be a good show.
  • Friend of the Devil sounds like no other version of this song that I’ve ever heard.  It’s got a swing to it that you just assume will stop when Jerry starts singing and brings it back to normal.  This doesn’t happen.  Strange (and great) throughout.
  • It Must Have Been the Roses.  Not a definitive version, but listen to what they are doing with each other, playing back and forth with the melody and counter-melody like wizards.  Pay close attention!
  • Oh boy – this is one loose Loose Lucy.  (Couldn’t resist).
  • When a pre-Fire on the Mountain Scarlet Begonias gets this spacey, you know things are going well.  There are sections of drums / piano / bass here that are going to blow your mind, and the sparseness of the jam is something to behold.  Like Friend of the Devil, this one is unique.
  • Okay – now we have to talk about Eyes of the World.  For my money, this might be the best version ever.  Not so long that you lose your mind, but not an eight minute version either.  The coordinated parts of this song are are played perfectly, and the jam. . .   What can I say about this jam?  When people talk about the Dead being a multi-headed monster, this is what they mean.  There are parts of this song where Keith is playing one note, Bob is playing off that one note and Jerry is playing around that one note, all in time and in tune.  And that’s just one portion.  While Phil’s bass solo is great in its own right, listen to everything going on behind it.  Again, that’s just one portion.  And Billy?  Well, Billy puts on a clinic here tonight.  This is a perfect Eyes of the World.
  • Followed by a great, meaningful China Doll.  Seriously? Can things get better than this?
  • Well, after Big River, we get a crazy Seastones that morphs into Uncle John’s Band.  What a way to start the second half.
  • What follows next is a lesson to not skip the “minor” songs.  All of these tunes are great, especially the very rare Tomorrow is Forever, one of the few times that I think almost all heads can agree that Donna sounded great.  We also get one of the slowest Dire Wolfs you’re ever going to hear.
  • Here we go – He’s Gone>Truckin’>Caution Jam>Drums>Jam>Truckin’.  He’s Gone is awesome, as you might expect, and then there is a short Truckin’ before, out of nowhere, the boys fire into a double-time performance of what is being called the Caution Jam, which is essentially Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) without Pigpen on keys.  This is a monster wake-up call, a straight up assault on your senses, which may have been lulled by the two-plus hours of music that have already been played and the laid back He’s Gone.  And good Lord, does Phil Lesh go crazy on this one.  Drums follows, marking the last time Billy would play Drums on his own without Mickey Hart.  Shed a tear, Mickey haters, and savor this 1:20.  The following Jam back into Truckin’ is very wide open and features a ton of Jerry and not a lot of everyone else until the second half.  Enjoy.
  • I’m not saying that everything else after this is a let-down, because all of these songs are great, but other than an excellent Black Peter, I just can’t get 100% fired up over Sunshine Daydream, One More Saturday Night or U.S. Blues.  That’s okay.

There you have it.  If you wanted to play someone the second set from last night’s show, this entire show and tomorrow’s full performance, you’d probably have enough Grateful Dead music to last a lifetime.  Savor this one for the smaller songs and the Eyes of the World – it’s one of the best.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 21, 1974 – Palais Des Sports, Paris, France

stealieI encourage all of you who bash Bob Weir to listen to this show immediately.  Unfortunately, Bob’s guitar is almost completely absent from this recording, which makes the rest of the Dead sound like a very hollow version of the Jerry Garcia Band with a better bass player.  If, after listening to this show, you don’t immediately come to appreciate the absolutely crucial role that Bob’s guitar played in the Grateful Dead (and believe me, when I first started out, I made this same mistake), then there is no hope for you.

Other than the missing Bob Weir, this show, musically, is not nearly as bad as some would lead you to believe.  Yes, the Dead were burning out on this European tour, but it’s still 1974 and there isn’t a lot of bad music being made during that year.  The first set, in particular, cooks in that “only in 1974” way.  In addition, Keith and Phil are turned way up and Phil is on fire throughout.  Keith’s playing is also a lesson in that special something that he brought to the band, although in this case, he may be a little too high in the mix.

There aren’t a ton of highlights today – Eyes of the World is good, but the Playin’ in the Band that anchors Set II is mediocre for 1974.  Don’t get excited for the 17 minute Morning Dew, either.  It’s as if the band runs out of steam but has too much momentum to not keep plowing through the tune well after they should have ended it.  Again, many of these problems can be traced to the lack of Bob’s guitar, but on the whole, the Dead aren’t giving us their best effort tonight. Stick with Set I and you’ll be a happy, but Bob-less, camper.

Listen here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: February 24, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealie I’m going to keep this review short and sweet – this show features one of the greatest Dark Stars the Grateful Dead ever performed.  Period.

If you don’t have time to listen to an above-average three-plus hour 1974 concert, just skip right to Dark Star, turn down the lights, turn up the volume and disappear for 45 minutes –  you’ll need half an hour for the Dark Star and another 15 minutes for the great Morning Dew that follows it.

This Dark Star has everything you could want in a Dark Star, from very open, spacey sections to one of the most melodic crescendos you’re ever going to hear.  Bear with this piece – the first ten minutes don’t seem like they are going anywhere, but when you’ve heard the whole thing, you’ll know why the Dead were playing that way at the start.

Once Dark Star concludes, we’re treated to an exceptional version of Morning Dew that is the icing on the cake.  Don’t skip the Dew.  It’ll rattle your windows.

These two songs are all you’re going to need from this show, but there is also a good Playin’ in the Band, a nice Weather Report Suite and, in my opinion, a great version of CandymanChina Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is also top shelf.  But, honestly, tonight belongs to Dark Star>Morning Dew.

Go.  Listen.  Now.  Here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: February 22, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealie The Grateful Dead began 1974 in the same place they would end it – Winterland.  This show, the first of the year, has almost everything that makes 1974 great – long, gooey, jazzed up versions of great songs with a ton of room for improvisation.

1974 saw some of the longest Grateful Dead shows ever performed, and this three set monster is a good example of the format.  There are great versions of songs of all lengths here: short songs like U.S. Blues and the fast (i.e. good) version of They Love Each Other, medium ones like Wharf Rat and Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and the show highlights, Playin’ in the Band and Truckin’.  In between these tunes, there is still another two hours of music.

Let’s talk about Playin’ in the Band for a minute, because this is one of the first times that I remember Slipknot making an appearance as a motif in a Grateful Dead jam.  This comes 2/3 of the way through an expansive, dialed in Playin’ that amazed me given that this was the band’s first show in a couple of months.  Later on (like almost an hour later on), Truckin’ also goes far out there, like many good versions of the song did in 1974.

The Dead would get crazier and crazier as 1974 progressed and things like Seastones started to happen, so this relatively laid back affair is a fantastic introduction to 1974, a hell of a way to start the year, and it features an all time great Playin’.  Check this one out.

Listen to the soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 20, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealie This was the last show that the Grateful Dead played before their year and a half hiatus and it’s a smoker from beginning to end.  However, listener beware.  This show (like all of the shows from this Winterland run) is notorious for the terrible sound of the recordings.  This problem is not limited to the Archive selections, but includes the actual live album that was generated from these shows and released in 1976, Steal Your Face, which is consistently considered one of the worst albums the Grateful Dead ever put out.  In an attempt to rectify the problems with that album, the Dead have since released a box set documenting this run, called The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, with slightly better sound.  (Yup, these shows were also filmed for the eventual Grateful Dead Movie).  So when it comes to the recordings on the Archive, nothing is going to sound very good if you are interested in well-mixed shows.  On the other hand, Phil and Bill are incredibly high (in the mix) throughout this performance, and it’s a great chance to hear them in their glory.  There is also something really  funky about the sound tonight, probably due to all of the fuzz and the huge bass tone, that just makes everything sound like a party.

And what a party it is.  Remember, when this show took place, it was being billed as the potential final performance by the Grateful Dead, so everyone was in a nostalgic mood.  Hell, Mickey Hart even showed up and played with the Dead from the start of the second set through the end, marking his official return to the band.  To add to the atmosphere, Ned Lagin also sat in throughout most of the second half, although it’s nearly impossible to hear him on the recordings.

The shows begins with the first Cold Rain and Snow since December 1973 and we’re off from there, with thrilling versions of the typical canonical songs.  Tennessee Jed and El Paso, in particular, shine here, along with a smoking hot China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  The second set (of three) is where the most intense jamming takes place – it’s one huge Playin’ in the Band sandwich with a ridiculous The Other One>Wharf Rat in the middle along with Not Fade Away for good measure.  The band is just on fire here, playing their jazzy 1974 best.  If I were there, I would have been pissed to think that a band that was playing this well could potentially be calling it quits after tonight.

The third set begins with the first Good Lovin’ since Pigpen last sang it on May 25, 1972, and it’s like no other Good Lovin’ you’ve heard, with a fascinating jam in the middle and some bizarre rhythmic passages that are probably due to Mickey’s un-rehearsed return, but they sound great.  This version is a unique keeper.  The rest of the third set is basically good, especially It Must Have Been the Roses, but it serves as kind of a denouemont after the second set fireworks.  In honor of the occasion we do get a three song encore with Johnny B. Goode, Mississippi Half-Step (maybe the only time it was ever played as an encore?) and a rushed And We Bid You Goodnight to end things.

And just like that, the Grateful Dead called it quits, walking away at the height of their powers.  The Dead only played four shows in 1975 before coming back in the middle of 1976, tanned, rested and raring to go.  Savor this show – they’ll never sound quite this jazzy again.

Here’s one version on the Archive – remember, they’re all pretty bad:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 18, 1974 – Parc des Expositions, Dijon, France

stealie Phil bombs, Phil bombs and more Phil bombs!  If you want to know exactly what Phil Lesh was up to during 1974, you need to check out this show, which features Mr. Lesh front and center throughout the entire evening.

This is my favorite full show (to date) of the ’74 European tour.  The folks at Dead central agree with me, as they have chosen to include this show in the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set.

Like most shows from 1974, tonight finds the band fully immersed in jazz stylings and the sound is crystal clear.  However, the balance is little bit off, as Phil is incredibly high in the mix.  Which is awesome, because Phil is on fire all night and you can hear (for once) every crazy note.

The Dead get right into it, starting the show with a slow, jammy Uncle John’s Band.  After a few more tunes, we hear a slow, jammy Scarlet Begonias that is dripping with tasty interplay between all of the parties.  Two songs later, we get a very slow, very jammy Row Jimmy.  You get the idea.  The Race is On features a great piano solo from Keith to move things along before we come to the highlight of the show, for me – the huge Playin’ in the Band that ends the first set.  This thing is chock full of incredible passages throughout its 23 minutes and is just a beautiful thing to hear straight through.

The meat of the second set is Eyes Of The World>China Doll, He’s Gone>Truckin’>Drums>Caution Jam>Ship Of Fools.  The He’s Gone in particular merits special attention, as the band really listens to each other during the quiet parts, pushing us towards a beautiful ending that eventually merges into Truckin’.

And these are just the highlights.  In reality, this is a can’t miss show, especially if you want to listen to that bass . . .  Check it out here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 11, 1974 – Alexandra Palace, London, England

stealie Parts of this show were included on Dick’s Picks Vol. 7, but in my humble opinion (and in the opinion of most of the commentators on the Archive), they were the wrong parts.  The craziest, most interesting portion of this performance from the Dead’s brief 1974 European tour is the extended Phil & Ned / Seastones performance, followed by an epic Eyes of the World.

For those of you who don’t know, Phil Lesh and experimental musician Ned Lagin used to perform a feedback laced piece of electronic music during what would normally be the intermission of a bunch of Dead shows in mid-1974.  Sometimes called Seastones, the title of Phil and Ned’s album together, this performance typically went way beyond way out there.  Almost completely atonal, with no real beat and lots of high pitched screeching, this particular piece is probably the most often skipped song in the Dead’s repertoire.  At its best, it’s a challenging beast.

At tonight’s show, Jerry and Bill actually sat in with Phil and Ned, which added a lot to the performance which stretched out over almost 45 minutes.  At the end, they transition into a massive 20 minute Eyes of the World, with Ned remaining on organ throughout.  This Eyes of the World is as close to fusion as the Dead would ever come and is an amazing display of the band at the height of its jazz powers.

There is a further 10 minute very free and spacey jam out of Eyes of the World that eventually leads into a great version of Wharf Rat that explodes for a while before petering out at the end.

Since this is 1974, there are other treats all over this show, including the also-very-jazzy Playin’ in the Band that caps the first set (and which is included in Dick’s Picks Vol. 7).  This 23 minute behemoth is a spiritual cousin to the Eyes of the World that follows – free and jazzy throughout, with a ton of swing from Billy.  The show opens with an unusually jammed out Scarlet Begonias that is marred by some technical problems but is well worth your time.

The rest of the songs included on Dick’s Picks, Beat it on Down the Line, Tennessee Jed, Jack Straw, Brown Eyed Women and Big River, are all fine, but they miss the experimental, jazzy heart of this show, which is found elsewhere.

Lots of copies of this show circulate.  Here’s one soundboard: