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 15, 2010
1974-06-20 - The Omni
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