Today in Grateful Dead History: June 12, 1976 – Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

stealie If you like Jerry ballads, then you’re going to love this show, which features not one, not two, but three stellar slow dancers.  First up is Mission in the Rain, the least ballady of the three, and a treat that the Grateful Dead only played during June, 1976, leaving the tune for the Jerry band to hone over time.  This is a nice version, with plenty of Phil-fills to keep everyone honest.

The second great ballad tonight is High Time, a wonderful song that the Dead put on hiatus back in 1970, only to resurrect it six years later at the June 9th Boston show.  This is a perfect version, mournful, with beautiful harmonies and real intricate playing that has the hall rapt with attention.

Third on the list is Comes a Time, which flows out of a memorizing Wharf Rat in the middle of the second set.  This one is also gorgeous, with Keith’s playing shimmering throughout and Donna’s vocals dialed in perfectly before a classic Jerry solo to play us out.

While we’re on the topic, let’s take two minutes to discuss Donna’s contributions here.  1976 is, for me, Donna’s best year.  The smaller venues suited her and the calmer tone of the playing allowed her to relax and sing some really beautiful harmonies throughout the course of the year.  Her contributions tonight really improve all three of these songs.  Likewise, the space in the music gives Keith plenty of room to show off what he brings to the table, and this show is a classic example of how his little fills and improvisations can elevate even the most straightforward tunes into magical things.

Leaving the ballads aside, the rest of this show really sparkles with energy, be it during the show opening Samson and Delilah, Jerry’s attack on Big River or the Dancin’ in the Streets rave up (more really cool Keith licks reside here, too).  There is a ton of intricate playing as well, especially on Lazy Lightening>Supplication and Let It Grow, which devolves at the end into the theme from A Love Supreme before the transition into Wharf Rat.    Even the encore is on point, with U.S. Blues sandwiched in the middle of Sugar Magnolia / Sunshine Daydream.

Lastly, a note on the recording.  The primary non-audience recording comes from the FM broadcast of this show, and it has been merged into a pretty cool Matrix that retains the radio interruptions.  Listen to this something-for-everyone (but especially the ballads fans) show here:

(Some of the material from this show made it onto Road Trips Volume 4, No. 5 as filler: Mission in the Rain, The Wheel, Comes a Time and the encore).

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: June 8, 1969 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesToday’s show is a mysterious beast with several special guests, a partially missing Jerry Garcia, the final performance of a classic song and two one time only tunes – just the right kind of off kilter 1969 show to keep this project interesting.

Theories abound (and are dealt with in detail in this great post on Lost Live Dead), but many people believe that this is the show that Phil Lesh was referring to in his book when he described a night when the band (other than Pigpen) was dosed with such a strong batch of acid that it was lucky that they ever made it onto the stage at all.  Several facts about this show support this conclusion.  First, Jerry isn’t on stage for most of the second set, leaving Paul Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Elvin Bishop to play lead guitar during the thirty-five minute Turn on Your Lovelight as well as two blues numbers that the Dead only played on this one night – The Things I Used to Do and Who’s Lovin’ You Tonight.  Second, Bob Weir appears to drop off for most of Lovelight too.  Third, while Phil manages to stay onstage, his playing – and remember, it’s his book that sparked this discussion – is way out there, even for Phil.  In addition, Wayne Ceballos, the lead singer of a Bay Area band called Aum, sings Lovelight, not Pigpen, who instead appears towards the end to introduce Ceballos.  Ceballos later confirmed that “we were ALL pretty toasted!” Think about it – while all of this makes for a strange night, the first three songs of the second set are some of the only lengthy non Drums/Space moments of recorded Grateful Dead that you’re ever going to hear that don’t feature Jerry Garcia.  Which makes this show pretty unique in and of itself.

The first set of the night, before the drugs presumably kicked in with gusto, is actually a really high quality performance that starts off with an exceptionally engaged and pulsating Dancing in the Streets.  The solos here soar and Phil plays right along with Jerry throughout.  This leads into a sublime He Was a Friend of Mind, a delicate tune that is lightly played, a nice antidote to all of the heavy music before and after.  China Cat Sunflower leads into the fourteen minute final performance of New Potato Caboose, a very complicated song that the band would never play live again after tonight.  This is one of the best versions, with a spaced out jam session midway through and some incredible bass work from Phil.

This is a historic night, with some excellent playing mixed in with a whole lot of chaos, which is just the way the Dead liked it.  Hopefully you do, too.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 7, 1991 – Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN

terrapinCacophony n. 1. Frequent use of discords of a harshness and relationship difficult to understand  see also 6/7/91

The Grateful Dead circa 1991 were a massive band – two guitarists, two drummers, two piano players and Phil.  They could be slightly discordant at times.  Tonight’s show at Deer Creek was one of those times, as evidenced by the above referenced cacophony that blasts us right out of the gate during Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  There is just too much going on here for anything to work well, but somehow the Dead pull things off without going completely off the rails.

That’s the story for the entire night.  Lots of noise, lots of Bruce Hornsby (who is turned up very high in the mix), lots of conflict.  But sometimes, the conflict breeds interesting results, like during Loser, where Jerry plays off of Bruce, or in the transition between Truckin’ and New Speedway Boogie.  However, even the relatively quiet moments get the Wall of Sound (Phil Spector version) treatment, for instance, Standing on the Moon, which is solid but burdened with a lot of extra background notes.

This isn’t to say that this is a “bad” show.  But the mix of instruments never really works and we’re left with a somewhat muddy evening of good Dead tunes.  Perhaps if Bruce wasn’t so loud, I wouldn’t complain about this so much, but that’s what we’ve got.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 6, 1970 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesHold on to your heads – this one is loud.

As we always do when we discuss Grateful Dead shows from 1970, we have to briefly talk about the structure of these performances.  Typical Dead shows from this time consisted of a set of acoustic Dead, a set from the New Riders of the Purple Sage (with Jerry and Mickey) and then a set of electric Dead to close out the night.  On this particular night, it appears that Southern Comfort also played in addition to the New Riders, making this a very looong show indeed.  Unfortunately, the full Dead show isn’t public, so we have a few snippets from the acoustic set and then the entire electric explosion, which is all you really need.

That’s not to say that the four acoustic songs aren’t good.  They are, especially Friend of the Devil.  But the magic takes place later.

The band starts off the electric portion of the evening with Morning Dew, which is just the shot of whiskey before things really get moving.  Two songs later, we get the first ridiculous blast of power with a killer Dancin’ in the Streets that gets rocked way out.  This is followed by a soulful Next Time You See Me and a decent China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  Then things start to really take off with a Good Lovin’ sandwich that contains one of four known performances of New Orleans, a song that seems to be a perfect fit for the Grateful Dead (Bobby sings it here but it would have worked for Pigpen too).    Calm sets in with a stellar, all-time good version of Attics of My Life and a fun Dire Wolf.

Not satisfied yet?  Good, because all of this was just the warm up before the explosion that is Alligator>Drums>Jam>Turn On Your Lovelight>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Love Light.  This hour-plus segment, especially the Alligator>Drums>Jam, is a perfect distillation of the ragged, full speed ahead, barely contained but yet somehow a lot “cooler” than 1969 recklessness that was the Grateful Dead in 1970.   Add into the mix a very good Lovelight with some outrageous passages before we even get to Not Fade Away and you have just a stunning display of how good the Dead were during this incredible year.  (And just so that any thorough listeners can’t complain, I know that I’ve said before that I can’t deal with super long Lovelights.  This one is different because, 1, it’s divided by Not Fade Away and, 2, there is a lot of fully formed jamming and not just a ton of endless noodling from both band and Pigpen).  Just plug this thing in and get out of the way.  It’s a top-notch Alligator – probably one of the better ones, and it needs to be played loudly.

You can hear the electric set here: and the acoustic moments here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: June 5, 1993 – Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

giantsstealieI went out on a limb and chose a hometown show from 1993 over what looked to be better options from 1980, 1970 and most definitely 1969 and was rewarded with the live debut of Easy Answers.

I’m only half kidding.  Easy Answers is pretty terrible, both here in its first incarnation and in each of the subsequent 43 versions.   To make things worse, the band drops this premiere right in the middle of what sounds like an OK version of The Music Never Stopped.  As in, as soon as Bob Weir sings “The music never stopped”, the band plays the three note bump, bump, bah, and then we’re treated to the opening notes of a new and almost universally loathed tune. So . . . strike two.  But after the boys work their way through this ragged performance, they transition very smoothly back into The Music Never Stopped, where Jerry gets to let his frustrations out with a ripping solo as if nothing had ever happened, which is a pretty cool way of dealing with things and makes for a interesting and unique listen.

As most devoted listeners know, the Dead really began slipping in 1993 and the success of the shows seemed to depend almost entirely upon which Jerry showed up – strung out Jerry or engaged and enthused Jerry.  Well, tonight’s Jerry came to shred, which he does with unfettered abandon for almost all of the 11 minutes and 45 seconds of Fire of the Mountain, a scorching bit of playing that stacks up very nicely against a lot of the fast moving earl 80’s Fires that we all love.  But that’s not all.  Tonight’s show also boasts an above-average-for-any-era Sugaree (clocking in at over 14 minutes) and a nicely done Candy Man.   There is also an Estimated Prophet that appears with a thud after a good Crazy Fingers.  This Estimated features some good keyboard atmospherics and a mid-song, full-band crescendo of sound that wells up out of nowhere and disappears a little while later having induced a double-take.  Near the end, the band even displays some beautiful jamming out of Space and into a chugging The Other One.

In fact, as far as 1993 shows go, this one seems to be pretty darn cool, which is surprising if you read most of the comments on the Archive, which focus on the rain and one particular guy who apparently jumped off the upper deck (and survived).  Someone purporting to be the jumper actually comments on the show – he’s still all about the music!  Unfortunately, none of the audience recordings are any good and the soundboard appears to be the monitor mix, with Vince turned up really high throughout.  Still, if you’re looking for ’93 Dead, this will satisfy and more.

Listen here: