Today in Grateful Dead History: February 23, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieOne of the many things that I love about the Grateful Dead is the band’s ability to play together while playing apart.  In the early 70’s, the band’s power to do this reached its height, as the Wall of Sound (and the systems which led up to it) enabled the Dead to not only clearly hear themselves play but to control the volume of each individual instrument without a sound engineer adjusting levels at the board.  When the band was dialed in properly, each member controlled his own destiny (and I say his on purpose here because Donna Jean, notably, was not given this level of control over her vocals or her monitors).  If the stars aligned, and everyone was on his game, the result would be a mind-bending calliope of sound, with all of the band members tuned together around the same basic melody but playing it in totally different ways.

In my opinion, the best shows of 1974 represent the Grateful Dead’s achievement of this ideal in a way that no other year can quite reach.  When things were working right, Grateful Dead shows in 1974 are dripping with this jazzy, profoundly disorienting goo.  When things weren’t exactly dialed in (here’s looking at you, 1974 European tour), it could get messy.  But for the most part, 1974 was the peak of the multi-headed beast of the Grateful Dead.

Tonight’s show was the middle show of a three-night run at Winterland, the band’s first shows of 1974 and sort of a preview of what was coming.  Not everything is going to work well tonight (and how could it during a 28-song marathon performance) but when the band clicks into full 1974 form, heads are going to explode.

You can feel a groove starting to develop right from the very beginning, with a slow burning Dire Wolf leading the way and Sugaree following closely behind it, but nothing truly exceptional takes place.  However, on song number six, everything changes when the band dips into a simply massive Here Comes Sunshine, the Grateful Dead’s last performance of this song until 1992.  They give it a good going away party here, with some swirling runs and a monster, chugging jam towards the end.  They close out the first set thirty minutes later with an absolutely full throttle version of Greatest Story Ever Told that rattles the Winterland rafters.

It’s the second set that really gets out there, opening with a crisp Row Jimmy into a full version of Weather Report Suite and then a fantastic Stella Blue.  But the beating heart of this 1974 evening is He’s Gone>Truckin’>Drums>The Other One>Eyes Of The World, which is every bit as good as you think it’s going to be.  All of the planets align here for one ridiculous hour long journey (yup – just this sequence is an hour long).  So put your feet up and stay a while, because you’re going to hear Phil running around Jerry, with Bob filling in the blanks and Keith providing the perfect amount of color as Billy holds down the beat behind them.  This is the roadmap for what 1974 was going to become – all of the pieces are here and they’re coming together.  Please, enjoy responsibly.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 21, 1974 – Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

stealieWhen I first started listening to this show this morning, I realized that this is the third show that I’ve listened to this week that has also been written about on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide, one of the best sites on the web for learning about individual Dead shows.  Which explains why this week’s listening experience has been uniformly good.

If you read the Listening Guide’s review of this 1974 performance from the Hollywood Bowl, you’re going to get a lot of information about the Wall of Sound, the Grateful Dead’s massive PA system that was used during 1974 and promptly shut down due to cost concerns.  I’m not going to repeat that discussion here.  Long story short, according to the Guide, this audience recording represents a first-class picture of the Wall in action during the Dead’s funky 1974 summer tour.  This description is spot on – as a recording and a representative slice of what the Wall could do, today’s show is excellent.

As a 1974 Grateful Dead musical performance, I think that the first half of this show is basically middle of the road.  But notice that I mentioned the year – a middle of the road show from 1974 is going to blow the pants off an above average show from almost any other year in the band’s history that doesn’t fall between 1968 and 1974.  So even though Sugaree doesn’t really soar here and Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo has no real jam (although it does have a great, quick transition into It Must Have Been the Roses), this first set is worth listening to for the good tunes and the even better vibes from the Wall.  Scarlet Begonias is an exception here – this version is pretty great, even though it’s cut close to the end.

The second set is another matter entirely.  It opens with a slow burning China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that just seems to build as it goes.  As the Listening Guide points out, the transition here, like many during 1974, is the key.  Big River doesn’t do much for me here, but it’s followed by a very powerful Row Jimmy that I encourage you to listen to in its entirety.  I know this is a slow-moving song that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but today’s version really shows off what the 1974 Grateful Dead were about.  Every member of this band is following his own melodic preferences during this tune and these approaches often vary considerably from one another.  Yet, somehow, all of the different lines weave together perfectly and completely envelop the listener. This is the band as a multi-headed single musical unit playing a simple song in an incredibly complicated way.  It’s a perfect example of what 1974 has to offer.

The Dead take this same idea to new heights on the very next song, Playin’ in the Band.  Freed from the strictures of a “short” tune like Row Jimmy, the band explores similar ideas of collaboration and melody over the course of a twenty minute jam that swings wildly from theme to theme.  Sometimes this doesn’t work perfectly – it’s clear that Keith (and Bob, to a lesser extent) really want to move into a Spanish jam, but Jerry and Phil tug the band back and the musical interplay shows off this tension without causing the song to completely break down, as the band plays in and around Keith’s piano.  Near the end of the song, the pace changes (I was thinking that maybe we’d hear The Other One), but instead Wharf Rat appears, and it’s a great version, stretching out beautifully at the end into some very delicate places.  And then there’s a deep switch into a pulsating Truckin’ that lives up to its name before another ten minutes of Playin’ in the Band concludes the suite.  But this doesn’t end the show, which goes on for another 25 minutes, with adequate versions of Ship of Fools, Sugar Magnolia and a U.S. Blues encore.

There are better shows from 1974, but this second set is a very, very good, representative slice of the Grateful Dead at this part of their career and is not to be missed.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 28, 1974 – Boston Garden, Boston, MA

stealieUnfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to review this show tonight.  Fortunately, you don’t need my input here (do you ever, really?) since this one is a good one from start to finish.

The second half of this show was released as part of Dick’s Picks 12 on the strength of several songs – Sugar Magnolia>Scarlet Begonias is a scorcher, with that funky ’74 Scarlet cresting in a pile of bass and sweet guitar wizardry and To Lay Me Down is amazing.

But the classic portion of the night comes during and after Weather Report Suite, which is played in its entirety with Let it Grow at the end.  This is all special music, especially Let It Grow, which rages with pure fire.  But after that, you’d better hold on to your seat because the Dead unleash a 30 minute jam of epic proportions that hints at all sorts of songs, including Dark Star, along the way.  There is a ton of music here, all done up in a unique 1974 way that you’ve likely never heard before and probably won’t hear again.  I’m not going to be able to describe this jam other than to tell you that it’s one of the classics, and that’s why it was immortalized by Dick’s Picks.

As for the rest of the show, it’s 1974, so it’s high quality throughout, but you’re really here for that second set jam.

This audience recording is the most complete copy available, but it’s still missing a few songs at the end.  If you want to hear the whole second set, you’ll need to find Dick’s Picks 12.  But the jam is what you’re looking for, and you’ll find it here:

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: