For a number of years I've been keeping a Grateful Dead notebook. Eventually, I began writing impressions and capsule reviews of shows I have in my collection. I've adopted the style Dead archivist Dick Latvala used for the sake of organization, but also as a small tribute to the man. This blog will be an online version of that notebook. Feel free to leave comments or to email me. I want this space to be an open forum for all Deadheads.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Venue: JFK Stadium - Philly, PA
Tape History: AUD (Unknown, download here)
Release History: Crimson White & Indigo (April 2010)
Hell In A Bucket, *Iko Iko, Little Red Rooster, Ramble On Rose, Memphis Blues, *Loser, *Let It Grow -> *Blow Away
Box Of Rain, *Scarlet Begonias -> *Fire On The Mountain, Estimated Prophet, Standing On The Moon -> Drums -> Jam -> *The Other One -> *Wharf Rat -> Lovelight, E: Knockin' On Heaven's Door
12-29-2010: The excellent mix in this recording led it to be mislabeled as a Healy matrix, when it is actually an unknown taper's AUD. The band is up front, especially Brent, with a pulsating, in-your-face sound. 1989-1990 is up there as far as my favorite Dead eras go. John Kadlecik, the man on axe in Phil and Bobby's band Furthur, said that Bob told him that his favorite Dead period was '89-'90. I'm not sure what that says, but at the very least, it begs for more listening. For me, '89 doesn't really get started until the summer. It's true, there are some good shows in the spring (04-16 comes to mind), but there also a lot of lulls in the tours. Once they hit the big stadiums on the East coast, things started getting real.
I'm partial to the previous show this tour, Fourth of July show at Buffalo (documented in the "Truckin' Up To Buffalo" CD and DVD), more than this particular gig. The individual parts here, however, have an old-school yet forward-looking flavor, which led me to review it for the site first. Talking about first, "Bucket" and "Iko Iko" are raging. Jerry dives into the deep end in "Iko Iko," relishing the rhythmic cadence of the verses, and concentrating on Brent's Mardi Gras festival organ. Moving on to Bob's tunes, I feel exhausted. And not in the best way. I know I may not accrue much favor by saying this, but some of tunes Bob sings are intolerable. "Little Red Rooster" and "Wang Dang Doodle" among them. It may have something to do with the screeching slide playing. The ending couple of "Let It Grow" -> "Blow Away" rides a furious wave, Jerry pushing the band ahead with his quicksilver leads and solos. I love hearing Brent's harmonies in the background in "Grow." He takes an impassioned lead in "Blow Away," my favorite version of this Built To Last track. (This take was included in the 2004 reissue of the album.) A memorable end to an otherwise up-and-down first set.
Smoking "Scarlet" -> "Fire" after a lovely "Box Of Rain" doesn't make up for the odd setlist construction. Still, Jerry is burning the joint up in this sequence. "Estimated" has some meaty leads by Jerry with a very prominent Brent in the shotgun seat. It loses steam towards the end and doesn't live up to its promising potential. They segue into "SOTM," which just perpetuates the up-and-down nature of this show and somewhat stagnated energy just waiting to blow up without self-restraint. Thankfully, the old-school closing trifecta more than satisfies. The signature Phil "Other One" lick doesn't come in until the three minute mark of the tune, a good amount of frenetic jamming preceding. "Wharf Rat" and "Lovelight" end the show with a strong punch.
I don't think this one deserves a Lightning Skull, given how this early July stadium tour went. You could say that this show and 07-04 are the no-doubt highlights of the stadium run, but they don't come close to matching the Alpine Valley 'Downhill From Here' gigs a few weeks later or the Hampton 'Warlocks' shows or Miami night two or Bob's birthday gig. Those are locked-down Lightning Skulls for sure.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Venue: The Omni - Atlanta, GA
Tape History: SBD
Release History: None
U.S. Blues, BIODTL, Brown-Eyed Women, Mexicali Blues, It Must Have Been The Roses, Jack Straw, Scarlet Begonias, Me & My Uncle, *To Lay Me Down, El Paso, *China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, Around & Around
Big River, *Ship Of Fools, *Truckin' -> *Eyes Of The World -> *Slipknot! -> *China Doll, One More Saturday Night
12-15-2010: [First things first: "Slipknot!" debuted at this show. More on that below.] So here we are. In my favorite year and month in GD history. June - August '74 may very well be my favorite era overall, but June takes the cake. I know I've already reviewed 02-24, but like I said before, that show feels like a continuation of fall '73. There are so many exceptional performances throughout the abbreviated '74 tour schedules (only 40 shows that year, compare that to 72 shows in 1973 and 85 in '72) leading to their hiatus in '75. So why review this show first from the golden period of this year?
I don't think it's an archetypal performance for this period. In fact, the first set is mostly underwhelming, excluding the gorgeous reading of "To Lay Me Down," a heartbreaking Jerry ballad. When they work up some steam in "China" -> "Rider" it is already nearing the end of set. And whoever relied on "Around & Around" for momentum? The second set, on the other hand, contains what '74 is all about in a nutshell, which is why I think this is a great intro to this special year: concise, impacting standalone tunes; head-first dives into adventurous open-ended jamming; sharp hairpin turns in tempi and jamming styles within songs; and supreme focus while jamming and segueing to and from songs.
It is unclear whether "Big River" is actually the second set opener. Since we don't have good evidence to suggest something else, we're leaving it in that slot. It doesn't contribute much, to be honest. Following with "Ship Of Fools" looks odd, but they pull it off with sensitive, patient playing, especially by Keith. (Miami three days later has a flawless jam leading into the second set opening "Ship." That show is priceless and will certainly be reviewed in the future.) Actually, all the ballads played in this show display the Dead's ability to nail this type of playing. From this point forth, all bets are off. "Truckin'" ceremoniously rips, with Jerry towards the end of the structure-based jam unleashing a variety of lead ideas and phrases that push the band forward. The intro licks pop up as Phil climbs the register and Keith meets him there, before they crash back into the verse section. All this movement happens naturally and confidently. One thing that I cherish about this period is that they're just plugging in and playing. No frills, no pedals (save for a wah-wah for Jerry), no effects, it's streamlined Dead. A clean sound pervades this era and allows the listeners to hone in on the specific instruments that make up the glorious whole. Score one for the Wall Of Sound sound system. Too bad it was so expensive and impractical in the long run that it had to be let go.
Before long, all semblances to "Truckin'" disappear and we are in the middle of a boogie/shuffle jam, before the band drops out and Jerry improvises solo. A few moments later, he steps on the wah and we're off to space. After the initial jarring sequence of instruments piling on top of each other, Keith strikes a little lick that Bob picks up, and a short, aggressive jam takes place. Slowly the instruments dissipate, before Jerry brings them all home with the opening chords to an astronomical "Eyes." A lot of scary moments, with soaring flights up and down the fretboard by Jerry. Long solo too by Phil, given ample space to move around. The pre-hiatus minor chord jam in "Eyes" is a sure clue as to how "Slipknot!" developed. How they end up in a chilling "China Doll" after the breakneck pace before is unbelievable.
Let me sum up what you must listen to: "To Lay Me Down," "China" -> "Rider"; all of set 2.
To Lay Me Down
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Venue: Fillmore East - New York City, NY
Tape History: SBD
Release History: None
Morning Dew [missing from tape], Me & My Uncle [missing from tape], G.M. Little Schoolgirl [missing from tape], Cold Rain & Snow [missing from tape], Easy Wind [missing from tape], Sugar Magnolia [missing from tape], *Dark Star -> *St. Stephen -> *NFA -> *Darkness Jam -> *China Cat Jam -> *NFA -> *Lovelight
12-07-2010: There is a ton of intrigue involved with this show. Apparently, there are mislabeled tapes circulating under the previous day's date with music from this show. According to deadlists, there were three sets played on 09-19, and the one above is part of the second set and all of the third. I am not sure what is what so I'll only address what I have. I treasure this incomplete tape (search nugs stash...) more than some great full-length shows I keep in rotation. The main reason is this perfect "Dark Star." I'll take a risk and say it's a top three version for me. Maybe 09-21-72 and 11-11-73 are the other two. But this one is right up there, and some days, is the only one there. A+, five stars.
It begins slowly, sullenly, and then starts climbing towards the stratosphere, shedding layers of sound while traveling in zero gravity, vulnerable, then reforming at light-speed with Jerry staffing the ship of the Dead towards certain explosion. Jimi Hendrix died the night before, and it seems to me as though the band is playing their respects to him through the luminous feedback bursts throughout the set and the crazed, prickly guitar lines Jerry creates. After the quiet section, Bob's rhythm work establishes a firm ground for Jerry to take off from. Unexpectedly, the band dips into the "Feelin' Groovy" jam (or "UJB Jam," if you prefer) about 16 minutes into "Dark Star." Five minutes later, they're back to the main theme. Jerry's guitar is melting throughout this section, evaporating, ceasing to be a physical object and instead uniting with the spirits to create one consciousness. I can't overstate how special this "Dark Star" is. The tape is worth a Lightning Skull for this tune alone. Not surprisingly, the rest of the set is exceptional too. The three-way harmony in "St. Stephen"'s key riff is awesome to behold. The jam leading to "NFA" is so high energy, you wonder how they could keep it up. The "NFA" burns and the transitions into and out of the "Darkness Jam" and "China Cat Jam" and back to "NFA" are mind-blowing. Leave it to Pigpen to close the show with his signature R&B rave-up, "Lovelight." A must-hear, necessary component to any Dead collection. One of my favorite 1967-1970 tapes.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Venue: Alligator Alley Gym - Gainesville, FL
Tape History: AUD by Jim Wise [Charlie Miller transfer] (download here)
Release History: None
*Alabama Getaway, Promised Land, *Candyman, New Minglewood Blues, Row Jimmy, Mama Tried -> Mexicali Blues, *Althea -> Lost Sailor -> *Saint of Circumstance -> Don't Ease Me In
*Shakedown Street -> *Franklin's Tower -> *Estimated Prophet -> *He's Gone -> *Truckin' -> *Drums -> *Space -> *The Other One -> *Stella Blue -> Good Lovin', E: Casey Jones
12-04-2010: There a number of tapers that are known as the best of the best. Rob Bertrando, from the previous 1971-08-06 post, is one. Jerry Moore and Jim Wise complete the trifecta, for me. There are others, such as Bob Menke, Rango Keshavan, and Joani Moore/Paul Scotton, whose tapes we will be reviewing too. This particular Wise tape was transferred by Charlie Miller. If that name doesn't mean anything to you, just know that he began taping in 1983 and is entrusted with choice AUD and SBD tapes from great sources (including the ones mentioned here), and he gives the tapes a new transfer using modern equipment. Any time you see his name on a tape, trade for it immediately. Many times I've gotten rid of old tapes that have new Miller transfers. The sound on the recordings he works on is clean, you can feel the space of the venue, and in the most inspired tapes, you can hear the notes reverberate and reach the mics. In SBDs, the music goes straight to your headphones. Here, the music is in the venue, among the crowd, filling the space. The best AUDs are able to convey this.
Which brings us to this wonderful audience recording by Jim Wise. Miller's notes say that Wise's mics were set up at the soundboard. It's a good distance away from the stage, and it captures the numerous nuances coming from the musicians. I love hearing how wide-open space sounds in this recording. We have the music, of course, it's a fairly immediate sound, but the individual components of it unfold and develop in front of our ears, if you will, as if we'd be standing next to the soundboard that Saturday night. At the same time, you can hear the crowd's cheers beneath the music, some clapping, and, most importantly, you can feel the energy of the crowd when jams really get going. It's an amazing tape, one of the most fun, and multi-faceted AUDs I've heard.
This is also the first Brent Mydland-era tape I post up on the site. I always felt like bringing in Mydland was an attempt to regain what they lost when Pigpen died. During the Godchaux years, we only had the Fender Rhodes sound and no vocals from that seat. With Brent, the organ is back in play, as are synths and other keys, and his rough voice blends in sweetly with the rest of the band's voices. Here he doesn't contribute as much as he would in later years, since he had only been with the band for a little bit more than a year. The first set is a table-setter for the explosion that the second set provides. "Alabama Getaway" is a nice dig at the U. of FL's rival. Jerry takes tremulous leads in "Candyman," and slows the tempo considerably for a bottom-shaking "Althea." It's a memorable take on this great song, and Jerry's first run through the solo section, although short, is melodically impeccable. Good thing there's an ending solo! The "Sailor" -> "Saint" is well played, and the "Saint" has a good peak, but overall they are average versions.
Second set "Shakedown" opener. Oh yes. You have a pretty good shot of getting a stellar set when this happens. We get the expected crowd-clapping. Not annoying, but somewhat grating. Phil is way up front with his bass fills, as are Brent's keys. The slight disco beat we get from Bill and Mickey keep the band playful and energized. I thought I heard a "Feel Like A Stranger" quote from Jerry. A nice transition into "Franklin's" leads to a spirited climb, with Jerry milking every note from his axe. I love hearing the crowd clap a 4/4 beat during the "Estimated" intro (the whole song is in 7/4), and then give up as soon as Bob starts singing. What a raging version! What year is this, '77? Phil and Jerry whip the band into a frenzy let groove just ride without getting in its way. I love hearing the band playing in this way, three, four minutes of this kind of jamming is much better than obtrusive, self-conscious playing. "He's Gone" -> "Truckin'," a great pairing that began in 1972, serves as a deep breath and a big dive back into the fray. "The Other One" -> "Stella Blue" is one of my favorite Dead combos. Here Phil rips a hole in the gym roof with his intro and Jerry fills the void with lightning. "Stella" always feels like heartbreak, and Jerry and Phil (see the pattern yet?) bring it home with their special playing. Other than "Good Lovin'," this set is remarkably well constructed, great song placement and inspired jamming throughout. A singular gig and a top show for the year.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Venue: Hollywood Palladium - Los Angeles, CA
Tape History: AUD by Rob Bertrando (download here)
Release History: Dick's Picks 35, SBD of The Other One to end (June 2005)
*Bertha, Playin' In The Band, *Loser, Mr. Charlie, Cumberland Blues, Brokedown Palace, Me & Bobby McGee, *Hard To Handle, Casey Jones
*St. Stephen, *Truckin' -> *Drums -> *The Other One -> *Me & My Uncle -> *The Other One, Deal, Sugar Magnolia, *Morning Dew, Lovelight
12-01-2010: The last two shows I reviewed can be considered gems. This tape - my first AUD - is most certainly not. It is one of the top shows of the year, and to document it we have one of the greatest AUD tapes in Dead lore. Rob Bertrando is one of the best known Dead tapers, and his tapes are always must-hear affairs. This particular audience recording is known as the best AUD. The sound is rich and full, the audience noise does not overpower the band. Actually, the level of interaction between the band and the crowd, they way they feed off each other's energy, is immediately palpable. I think that quality is what makes great AUDs superior to great SBDs. And this AUD is beyond great; it is a necessary component to any Deadhead's collection.
The "Bertha" opener is easily one of the best openers I have ever heard. It's not uncommon for this song to rip from the get-go, and this version does not disappoint. The crowd erupts with the first notes, and you can hear their joy when Jerry takes the solo. And what a solo it is! His tone is so sharp, it's amazing that he can play with such a strong melodic sense. (3.40 - 4.10.) A textbook Jerry solo, using the melody to create phrases that dip, rise, and dive again, and usually hit peaks that cause the crowd to freak out. Really special. The "Playin'" that follows finds the band in the midst of figuring out what the song will become. They play it straight through with no jamming. Matter of fact, most the jamming in this show takes place during Jerry's solos. (There are a few exceptions to this ["St. Stephen," "The Other One"], but this is generally the case here. As proof, there are only two songs above 10 minutes, "Morning Dew" and "Lovelight.") The rest of the set is played as expected, albeit with supreme focus, energy, and the conviction not to waste a single note. Forceful, compact statements are the hallmark of this show. That and barely controlled intensity. "Hard To Handle" supplies that part. Other than 4-29-71, it is the best the Dead ever played. Phil's big bottom end goes up to a higher register to meet Jerry's solo. There's so much passion and movement in this version. Their transition back to the verse section is perfect.
I can't say enough about the second set. "St. Stephen" bristles as "Truckin'" hypes the crowd into a frenzy as Jerry teases the rhythm to "The Other One." A short drum interlude serves as a mild breather only to be shocked with a ripping "The Other One." The jam into "Uncle" is hard, serious Dead. I wish they could have kept that going longer. Very cool thing happens here. In the jam out of "Uncle," there is a "WRS" tease years before it would become a song. The "Dew" is beautiful and Pigpen brings it all home in "Lovelight." One of the best shows from '70-'71. Some would say one of the Dead's greatest.
Hard To Handle