Today in Grateful Dead History: December 20, 1968 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA

skeleton&rosesWe’re getting an early start today because today’s offering from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles is a truncated recording consisting of only a partial version of The Eleven, the debut performance of Mountains of the Moon and a relatively short Turn on Your Lovelight, which apparently represents the last three songs on a night where the Dead shared the bill with several other bands.

If the rest of the Dead’s performance was anything like these snippets, then it must have been a hell of a night, because both The Eleven and Lovelight rage.  The Eleven, which we join in progress, is one of those sixties songs that the Dead discarded as they moved in a different direction, but it always holds up – for a lot of fans of the band, this song (and the Dark Star>St. Stephen combination that frequently preceded it) represents everything pure about the Grateful Dead.  Thrilling, repetitive lines that change ever so slightly as the song chugs along.  Intricate rhythm (when played right).  Swirling interaction between Jerry, Bob and Phil.  Hippie dippy lyrics.  It’s all here and it’s beautiful.

Turn on Your Lovelight was a Pigpen showcase and he almost always delivered, driving the crowds crazy with his improvised raps and clearly feeling the music deep down in his soul.  The song died with Pigpen, only to be revived years later with Bob Weir attempting to fill the Pig’s shoes.  It was never the same.  And while many, many versions of Lovelight tended to stretch on too long, when the Dead got their claws into a shorter version, like tonight, the effect was breathtaking – a take no prisoners assault that never tried to be anything other than a old-school dance number to get everyone up and moving.  But since this was the Grateful Dead, you also get to hear Jerry and Phil race around the fretboards (much like in The Eleven), gleefully playing their hearts out as the drummers punished their kits and Pigpen added flourishes on the organ.

And then there is Mountains of the Moon, a song on AOXOMOXOA that would only be played live 13 times, including one infamous performance for the TV show Playboy After Dark where the Dead dosed a studio audience of Playboy bunnies and male models with what, for the band at least, were hilarious results.  For tonight’s debut performance we’ve got Jerry and his acoustic guitar and that’s it – you have to pump the volume up really loud to hear him at all, and it’s not a very clean performance (the lyrics are impossible), but it’s a first, so listen carefully anyway.

Let’s be thankful that we’ve got this partial recording of what was likely a great 1968 Grateful Dead show that gets the day moving in the right direction.  Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: December 19, 1969 – Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesGrateful Dead shows from the late 60’s usually feature a rotating lineup of the same songs (although a lot of new ones were being added during this part of 1969), and since the performance quality usually ranges from good to exceptional, it’s hard to tell these shows apart.  However, certain days stand out, like today, where Phil Lesh gets stuck in traffic (or so they say) and Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir take the stage alone for a four song acoustic mini-set during which they perform, all for the first time, Monkey and The Engineer, Little Sadie, Long Black Limousine and I’ve Been All Around This World.  Despite the fact that these are all first performances, Garcia and Weir sound remarkably proficient tonight, which leads one to believe one of two things: either the boys were already rehearsing this material in advance of the acoustic sets the band would play in 1970 or these are just a bunch of songs that the two guitarists liked to play with each other and knew inside and out.  Maybe it’s both.  In either case, they all make for good listening and distinguish this show from some of the other performances of this era.

When the full band arrives they pull off yet another first performance – Mason’s Children, a difficult song that, like the material that preceded it, sounds well-rehearsed tonight.  It also takes us in a completely different direction after the acoustic warm up – the sound of the complete Dead in full flight is nearly overwhelming here, especially with this seldom played and never officially recorded tune.  (Apparently, it’s about Altamont – the Dead would premier New Speedway Boogie, which deals with that debacle in a much clearer way, at tomorrow night’s show).

The Dead then launch into a bunch of relatively new songs which all debuted during 1969 – Black Peter, Hard to Handle, Cumberland Blues and Casey Jones.  They are all good, but not great, versions, heralding the progress to come.

From here we’re going to get the full-bore 1969 Grateful Dead psychedelic extravaganza – a blistering The Other One / Cryptical Envelopment, a short Uncle John’s Band and a 30 minute Turn on Your Lovelight that hits all of the usual notes.  When it comes to The Other One, things start slowly, and the lengthy drum solo in the middle is disruptive, but the second half of the song, included as part Cryptical Envelopment here, is where the action happens, with the musicians swirling notes around each other and Jerry and Phil chasing each other down the twisting musical pathways with no worries in the world.  It’s a pure distillation of everything 1969 in ten minutes.

This is an unusual one and portends good things for 1970.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 18, 1993 – Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA

dancing-bearTonight the Grateful Dead managed to put together a really surprising moment during Uncle John’s Band – a tender, truly unique ten-minute jam that features Jerry, Phil and the drummers gently passing musical ideas back and forth as the basic melody of the song guides things from the background.  This comes after a nice Playin’ in the Band that follows a very-close-to-the-edge China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider – Jerry rips through this up-tempo version of the song pairing like it is 1973, but at times the drummers have a hard time keeping the pace consistent.  That’s perfectly fine, since there is a strong energy here and some great soloing, despite the tempo issues.  That this whole sequence comes in the second set of the show following a lackluster Way to Go Home opener says all that you need to know about the factors in play that make people doubt 1990’s Grateful Dead – if you’re tuning into this show and just start at the beginning of the second set, there’s a good chance you might not get further than the first song and you’ll miss all of the good stuff to come.  And if you cash in your chips during Drums/Space, or even the I Need a Miracle that follows it, you’re going to miss out on a subtle Stella Blue, with Jerry playing fast-paced notes of delicate beauty as the song slowly builds to a conclusion.

There’s not a ton of surprises in the first set, but the boys are clearly having a fun night together at this hometown show.  For me, the only song worth mentioning here is Deal, which ends the first set.  Jerry just keeps going and going on this tune, and the whole things stretches out over almost ten minutes – in other words, it’s like getting two 1985 Deals for the price of one, and the pace is vaguely reminiscent of that fast fast year.  So strap in for that one – otherwise, just enjoy the ride.

This is a great audience recording on a pretty interesting night for the Dead.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 15, 1978 – Boutwell Auditorium, Birmingham, AL

Dancing Skeletons

Longtime readers of this site know that 1978 is by far my least favorite year of the 70’s.  However, I really liked tomorrow’s 1978 show from Nashville, so I figured that maybe the boys were on a hot streak during this part of the tour and I gave today’s show a shot.  (It was also cool to listen to a very rare Alabama show during this week in politics).  Well, the stars aligned and the Dead, in Donna Jean’s backyard, provided a warm bit of music for a cold cold day here in the Northeast.

This is not a very exploratory show – the songs don’t stretch out much.  But the band plays well and there are some thoughtful bits of music throughout the night and the energy doesn’t flag.

My favorite part of the show comes during Terrapin Station, which is thankfully not an excessively long version.  In this case, Jerry busts out a gorgeous solo prior to the transition into the “inspiration move me brightly” portion of the tune.  It’s unexpectedly moving.  Jerry’s not done with the poignant playing, either.  During Stella Blue, he delivers a perfect closing solo that just shreds the audience.  It’s worthy of hearing twice.

Hidden here is an interesting Playin’ in the Band sandwich, which starts six songs in to the second set, after Terrapin Station, and concludes at the end of the set after Stella and a rocking Truckin’ (plus Drums / Space).  I had almost forgotten that the band didn’t finish the song when they came back to it, and Jerry and Phil tease around a bit before bringing us to the final conclusion. It’s a neat trick that would turn up more and more during the 80’s and 90’s.

In terms of the shorter songs, the big surprise of the evening is how good I Need a Miracle sounds.  I’ve noticed this before about this song in 1978 – it’s still new and the band seems to enjoy riffing on it.  (This would change).  But, for now, enjoy the fireworks as it opens the second set.  Brown Eyed Women is also good tonight, anchoring a first set that opens with Promised Land (and its shout-out to downtown Birmingham) followed by a mellow Shakedown Street.  The boys even let Donna do her thing in front of the hometown crowd with From the Heart of Me.  It’s not a good song (the performance tonight is fine, as far as it goes), but it’s nice to hear her get the chance to sing in Alabama shortly before she would leave the band.

Well, the Grateful Dead have gone 2 for 2 on this 1978 southern tour.  Hopefully there will be more fun in store during the rest of it.

There’s only an audience recording of this show available – if you play with the EQ, it’s going to be fine, but the levels definitely move around a lot:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 14, 1990 – McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

dancing-bearToday’s show is an unusual one because it’s a rare post-Brent, pre-1992 show with no Bruce Hornsby, so we get to hear a pretty healthy version of the Grateful Dead with just Vince.  And he rises to the occasion.

The first set of this show is a pretty typical 1990 Dead show – the songs are fine, nothing to get too excited about.  The easy highlight of the set is To Lay Me Down, which is a very good 90’s version – Jerry gets the words right, the guitar solo is golden, the harmonies are great, there’s a little something extra on Jerry’s vocals at the end and Vince (yes, Vince) sounds just like Bruce on the piano.  Good times!

The second set suffers a little bit from poor song selection at the start (Foolish Heart works well), but by the time we get to He’s Gone, things are going swimmingly and we hear a dialed in band give the song all it has.  Drums/Space breaks things up and proceeds into Dark Star, which is a continuation of an unfinished Dark Star from the 12th.  The strange thing here is the staccato playing and Jerry and Phil’s back and forth guitar / bass duel, plus some interesting rhythmic choices from the drummers.  This changes into a very energetic I Need a Miracle and Wharf Rat, both worth hearing, and a set closing Lovelight.  All and all, a good but not exceptional, second set.

It’s nice to hear Vince here, on piano, playing his heart out and not being drowned out by Hornsby.  It’s definitely a different Vince from the one you’ll frequently get annoyed at post 1992.

Listen to the audience recording here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 12, 1972 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieToday’s show is from 1972, so it’s a good one (haven’t heard a bad one yet).  But the meat of the performance is definitely in the 2nd set, so if you don’t have a ton of time, you can skip the beginning and jump right to Playin’ in the Band, which clocks in at a smooth 17 minutes of psychedelic fun. There’s nothing here that a fan of 1972 hasn’t heard before, but that’s why you’re listening to this show, right?  So dig in.

Right after Playin’ in the Band we get the extended jam of the night, a He’s Gone>Truckin’>The Other One that seems to go on forever in the best possible way.  There are not a lot of wasted notes here and Phil and Billy play off each other for several minutes in the transition into The Other One.  This is high quality 1972 Dead and it flows into a pitch perfect, beautiful version of Sing Me Back Home, with Jerry playing a heartfelt, gorgeous solo that will sweep you away.  The rest of the night is spent rocking, and let me tell you, something must have gotten into Bob Weir, because he brings everything up to 11.5, hollering away at another level.

If you have time for the first set, Box of Rain sounds really good today, as does Bobby McGee.  But, honestly, everything is clicking tonight – you’re going to like this one.

Listen here: