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.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Venue: Rosemont Horizon - Rosemont, IL
Tape History: SBD (AUD by Greg Holtz, download here)
Release History: None
Half-Step -> Feel Like A Stranger -> Franklin's Tower -> Little Red Rooster, When Push Comes to Shove -> Queen Jane Approximately, Don't Ease Me In
Sugar Magnolia -> Bertha -> Playin' In The Band -> Uncle John's Band -> Drums -> Space -> Playin' In The Band -> GDTRFB -> Morning Dew -> SSDD, E: Touch of Grey
12-18-2011: This '88 Spring tour began lifting the band after Jerry's diabetic coma in '86. There seems to be a malaise settling on the band in the few performances in '86 and the overextended '87 tours. In '88, the cobwebs are beginning to be swept away and the energy is reaching for consistency.
Here we are, just past the midway point in the Spring '88 tour. First show of a three-night run at the Rosemont. They waste no time in getting to it by opening with "Half-Step." Although Jerry's voice sounds tired though, his guitar does not. They build to a hard, stirring peak after the coda section. The drums are turned up pretty loud in this recording. The heavy kick drum sound is way up front. You can hear how they and Brent urge Jerry to scale his solo ever upwards by stacking up fills and climbing through the keyboard's register. The drawback to this is that Phil is less clear in the mix. Hearing this level of interaction, wish such an up close sound is magnificent. The crowd appropriately responds with wild cheers to Jerry's "Half-Step" peaks.
They go even more wild as "Stranger" starts up, a perennial early first set favorite in this era to signal great things to come. I love the crowd's reaction at Bobby's line, "Let's get on with this show!" When Jerry takes off near the 4.30 mark, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen. The solo with envelope filter lasts about two minutes, and it's non-stop melodic variations, hitting the changes even though he's creating new phrases and lines on the go. It's an incredible solo that only gets better as he shuts the filter off and goes clean. Bobby's playing under his solo is great too, helping rein him in to end the song. And we go straight into "Franklin's" after this?! Whoever doubted if they were feeling it this night, here's your proof. Unfortunately, the rest of the first set isn't even close to living up to this amazing trifecta. "Rooster," just like "Wang Dang Doodle" or "Walkin' Blues," is a rally killer. It's not that I don't like the blues, but these tunes slow momentum and alter the vibes of the sets they're in. And Bob's grating slide gets on my nerves. Dylan tunes (other than "Watchtower", and especially "Desolation Row") that are not encores have the same effect. I don't know what came over the band!
I get a feeling they're making up fort his with the way they begin the second frame: "Sugar Mag" to open followed by a rollicking "Bertha," that's a way to start! (Note that they did not go into the "Sunshine Daydream" section of "Sugar Mag". It will surely reappear before the show's over.) Although a relatively short version, "Playin'" goes places quickly, with Jerry going into overdrive leading the group to the cosmos and back to Earth to play in "Uncle John's Band." I rarely comment on "Space," but this one is odd and magical. It's basically an unaccompanied Jerry solo, with Bob occasionally chiming in. There are a lot of hints of other tunes in this jam, namely "Dark Star" and "Slipknot!" before the rest of the band enters and they maneuver their way to the conclusion of "Playin'." We get a special treat after a short of but hot "GDTRFB," a fantastic "Morning Dew." Brent and Jerry are completely in tune, using the subtle changes in melody to great dramatic effect. The Rhythm Devils also do a good job, as in "Half-Step", of pushing Jerry to reach higher levels. Take a look at Jerry's central solo, how there are peaks and descents in each line as he's reaching the chord change. Textbook Garcia. They end it with a brief rock n' roll "SSDD" and encore with their hit single "Touch of Grey."
This is the kind of second set that the opening three tunes of the show deserve. Yes, it's an uneven show, as many of them are, but there are great cuts in here and some inspired playing. Just serves as a reminder that even the least obvious shows in the least likely yeas have something to offer.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Venue: Olympia Theater - Paris, France
Tape History: SBD
Release History: Europe '72 Complete Recordings [Sugaree and GSET will be included in Europe '72 Vol. 2]
*Bertha, Me & My Uncle, *Mr. Charlie, Sugaree, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, *China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, BIODTL, *He's Gone, Next Time You See Me, *Playin' In The Band, *TN Jed, Good Lovin', Sing Me Back Home, Casey Jones
*GSET, Ramble On Rose, It Hurts Me Too, *Truckin' -> *The Other One -> *Drums -> *The Other One -> *Me and Bobby McGee -> *The Other One -> *Wharf Rat, *Jack Straw, Sugar Magnolia, *NFA -> *GDTRFB -> *NFA, E: One More Saturday Night
09-04-2011: There are multiple reasons I'm reviewing this massive Europe '72 landmark now. First, I thought it would be a cool idea to celebrate the release of the mammoth tour boxset and the upcoming (Sept. 20th) Volume 2 release. Second, this is my twentieth post (!) and my first for the very special year, 1972. So what better way to celebrate these moments than featuring one of the most underrated shows of the tour.
There are undisputed Europe '72 masterpieces (for me, they are 04-14, 05-11, and 05-26) and then there is the rest, ranging from great to greater. All a matter of taste, really. And hey, why stress about it when there are 22 brilliant gigs to go through? For me, 05-03 is pretty damn close to masterpiece level. The amount of crisp, innovative, on-point playing is just staggering. Five fingers to the fist. In standalone tunes, the jamming is compact and short and the group's playing is supreme. And when the whole band is roaring along at full horsepower capacity ("Truckin'" -> "The Other One"), you should check your face to see if it's still there.
One of my favorite aspects of these '72 shows is the amount of attention they paid to both sets, choosing freely from Bobby, Jerry, and Pigpen tunes. Their focused playing on the standalone tunes are often the most spirited performances of those songs, thought of as the "ideal" cut all others are measured against. Take a look at this "Bertha," with Jerry squeezing squeals out of his axe or the break in the middle of "Mr. Charlie." It's heartbreaking to know that Pigpen was in ill health in this tour. His last show with the band would be their very first stateside gig (06-17) after the conclusion of the European tour. When I think of his best performances, and the many here and throughout this tour, Pigpen performs acts of sorcery. His voice, raps, and attitude would conjure sounds and risks the band wouldn't ordinarily take without him.
The first set, all hour and 45 minutes of it, is a set of continuous highlights. I had to pick the best among the great to recommend in this review. Telling you to check out the five-star tunes that were already included in the original Europe '72 compilation ("China" -> "Rider" and "TN Jed"; "Jack Straw" from set 2) feels ridiculous. We all know how wonderful these cuts are. How about the fifth-ever performance of "He's Gone"? They take a languid approach to the tune, Phil playing counterpoint to Jerry's picking and Bob's chords. Keith and Pig on the keys are creating lines out of Jerry's main melodic phrase. Check out the band's ensemble playing during Jerry's solo. They seem to live in each other's heads, knowing how their playing will fit in with teh others and how what they play next will work with what the rest of the group is doing. Brilliant. For those who want their jams a bit longer, we get prime versions of "Playin'" (love Jerry's wah-wah pedal!) and "Good Lovin'". To end the set a "Sing Me Back Home" for the ages and a "Casey Jones" closer. Are you kidding me?
I don't think they could have picked a better opener for set two. David Lemieux must have thought the same, since "GSET" was chosen to be in the upcoming Volume 2. Jerry's wah-wah flight before the final chorus is swift, while Keith on keys brings a honky-tonk flavor to his chording as Phil urges the band ever forward. The meat of the set goes from "Truckin'" through the three segues into and out of "The Other One" and settling into "Wharf Rat." It's an incredible, ever-shifting section of music. Going form big ensemble jams to standalone tunes back into big jams, cleanly, precisely, as if rehearsed that way. Throw in a textbook "Jack Straw" and a vibrant "NFA" -> "GDTRFB" -> "NFA" sandwich, and you have one of the best shows of the tour. Yep, this listen has firmly placed it among the masterpiece shows of the tour. Essential listening for all Deadheads.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Venue: University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
Tape History: SBD (AUD by Kenny Mance, download here)
Release History: None
*Feel Like A Stranger, *Friend Of The Devil, New Minglewood Blues, Tennessee Jed, *Cassidy, *It Must Have Been The Roses, On The Road Again -> BIODTL, Stagger Lee, I Need A Miracle -> *Bertha
*China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, Lost Sailor -> Saint Of Circumstance -> *Eyes Of The World -> Drums -> Space -> *Iko Iko -> *Truckin' -> *Stella Blue -> *Sugar Magnolia, E: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, E2: Johnny B. Goode
08-12-2011: This is the last show of the July/August summer tour, following a two-day stop at Alpine Valley. In its truest sense, this is a sleeper show. A lot of folks would have skipped this show after Alpine and the preceding shows across the Midwest. It is these kinds of shows where you know the band is likely going to rip and let loose. And that they certainly do with this barn-burning "Stranger" opener. Jerry's leads in the breaks hint that he's ready to go and is just waiting until they unleash him. That they do in the solo section, as he rides the envelope filter, listening sharply to Brent. Together they create a stirring duet plus accompaniment section. An excellent opener, leading us to "FOTD," where Jerry, taking his turn through the end of solo, creates, shining hairpin turns with each line, leading up to the lyric "Got two reasons I cry away each lonely night." The band seems to have a clear grasp on the pace they want for this set. We get notable versions of standalone first set tunes.
After "Stranger" and "FOTD," the most noteworthy are "Cassidy" and the caffeinated closing "Bertha." In "Cassidy," they leave the general structure behind and take off with no flight plan. This is when the Dead are at their most adventurous. Jerry's manning the ship and Bob is urging him ahead with his high register rhythmic strokes. You can feel the big shift coming for the "Flight of the seabirds" lyric, and the longer they keep from it, the more tension increases. In the end, the tension led to a smoothed-edge (not an explosive) transition back. Pairing it with "Roses" is a great touch, and a fine mid-set development. This set illustrates what is so great about 1982. There is plenty of intuitive, sensitive playing, with energy to spare. Phil is invigorated, taking chances and pushing the playing. Jerry and Brent are dialed-in, chasing each other throughout the solo sections. In videos of the band in the '80s, you can see them look at each other and smile when they know they are doing something great. I can imagine that happening here many times. Another note about this first set: this is the second "Stagger Lee" since 1979 (the first was six days earlier), and the last for three years (Greek 1985), before staying in regular rotation.
Here we go, a "China" -> "Rider" opener to get juices flowing and folks riled up. The Dead quickly dispense with the verses and get going with the main jam. Bob and Brent conspire on the lick signaling "Rider" with about a minute left. Bob continues to lead the way, as Jerry mounts up and lo and behold, we're in "Rider." No "Feelin' Groovy" or "UJB Jam" to unite both tunes. Just good, old fashioned Dead magic. Oh, and "Rider" is lively and driven. We get another juicy combo in "Sailor" -> "Saint," establishing a change of pace and allowing Bobby to get two consecutive tunes in after the Jerry-centric opening. Jerry's turn again and here we take off with one of the fastest "Eyes" I've ever heard. Man, they are flying by! I can't believe the kinds of phrases and inventive lines he makes going this fast. The Rhythm Devils are responsive to his phrasing and accent their playing to show that. Just in case anybody ever doubted, the Grateful Dead had the best ears in the business. I can't even remember what verse they were just singing, I just want them to continue playing. The ensemble sections here are superb.
A continuous burst of energy, interrupted only be a stellar "Stella Blue," ends the show. "Iko" and "Sugar Mag" bring the house down. My highest recommendation, and one of the best for 1982.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC
Tape History: SBD (AUD by John Bleich, download here)
Release History: None
*Jack Straw, *Peggy-O, It's All Over Now, *Candyman, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, Picasso Moon, *Bird Song
*China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, Looks Like Rain, *Dark Star -> *Drums -> *Space -> *Dark Star -> *Playin' In The Band -> *Black Peter -> Lovelight, E: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
07-31-2011: Here we are with night two of this memorable spring '91 run. We begin with a truly great "Jack Straw." Jerry is nowhere to be found due to technical issues, so Bruce takes the first solo section. The issues continues as we hear the band supporting whom we think is Jerry, but no Jerry! Eventually, we hear him but turned way low in the mix. It's too bad these tech problems came up, because when they are finally resolved (4.24 mark), Jerry is absolutely tearing things up. If we could have heard what he was playing before! Alas. A sweet, gently "Peggy-O" follows, before the flow is thrown off by "It's All Over Now." It's a questionable choice for that particular spot. It feels like a capitulation sort of tune, something to close a set or be paired with a strong rocker ("Bertha," perhaps) in a rocker-oriented set. Hey, these kinds of things happen.
Jerry pulls out the second "Candyman" of '91 to put proceedings back in order. He delivers with an exquisite solo, as the band responds to the shifting moods he conjures from his guitar. For those who want to hear Phil sing, here's one for you: Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." It stands alongside its first set tune-oriented peers. (All except the closing "Bird Song" [16 minutes] are fewer than eight minutes long.) I feel Jerry had a better handle on the overall atmosphere of the show thus far. Other than "Jack Straw," his choices of "Peggy-O," "Candyman," and especially "Bird Song" contained the most inspired playing of the set. Listen to Phil and Jerry in the middle solo section. They often begin and end each other's lines, simultaneously guiding the band in any direction they want to go. This is the miracle of the Dead, instead of the song falling apart, it soars. An absolute highlight of the tour and year. Possibly the best post-Bren "Bird Song."
The best way to begin a second set is with a bang. "China" -> "Rider" definitely qualifies as a band in my book. The Rhythm Devils's momentum picks up as they near "Rider," with Vince taking a secondary lead behind the Jerry/Phil/Bruce behemoth. (Vince here inexplicably switches to the "choir" synth pad on his keyboard. It is an intolerable sound. I'm happy he ditches it after a few minutes.) We get a nice "headlight" verse from Jerry and company and off they go into another great jam. Bruce is given space to lead the band. He's such a sensitive player, a great listener with stupendous feel for what is happening within the music. He also brought out the very best in Jerry while he was in the band (Sept. '90 - March '92.) (I think he would have been the best available permanent replacement for Brent, but he chose not to commit due to his other projects.) "Looks Like Rain" is a very odd choice here in the second set, especially after "China" -> "Rider." (Can we just point out that the questionable song choices are Bobby songs?) It halts the momentum the set was building and its status as a compact song befits it more to the first set. The echo effect on Bobby's voice is disorienting too. (Healy's decision?)
Finally, all the teases and hints form the night before are now a reality. The first "Dark Star" of the year is a shimmering beauty, full of the melancholy brightness Jerry has been summoning this run. This style holds up until about the midway point; thereafter, midi pads and synths take over. Very '90s. Bruce's chording around the 5.00 mark is pure jazz. The leading melodic notes are correct, but the surrounding notes have a different voice and color and make the chord unusual and also recognizable. Eventually - after "Drums," "Space," "and a "Dark Star" reprise - we end up at "Playin'," which concludes the previous night's unfinished excursion. Where the previous show ended unevenly with two Chuck Berry tunes followed by an excellent encore of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," here we come out of the central sequence of the set to a luminous "Black Peter," a send-them-home-rocking "Lovelight," followed by a beautiful and subdued "Baby Blue" as encore. A much tighter and forceful way to end a show. These shows aren't close to being my favorite from 1991. They have two Dylan covers in the first set and encores; two very big jams in each second set; and some of the best of '91 candidates ("Eyes," "Bird Song".) There are exhilarating highlights in each show and are a great place to dive into this uneven but at points excellent year.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC
Tape History: SBD (Unknown AUD, download here)
Release History: None ("Samson & Delilah" and "Eyes Of The World" were included as filler on Dick's Picks 17)
Half-Step, Wang Dang Doodle, Friend Of The Devil, Queen Jane Approximately, West L.A. Fadeaway, Cassidy, Might As Well
Samson & Delilah, Eyes Of The World -> Playin' In The Band -> Drums -> Space -> The Wheel, Around & Around -> Johnny B. Goode, E: Knockin' On Heaven's Door
07-26-2011: For the longest time I was a pre-07-23-1990 snob. To Deadheads, the meaning is pretty clear: Anything after Brent died I wouldn't even bother with. It took some time and a lot of listening to move away from my prejudice and give it an honest shot. This first show in an exciting two-day run in Greensboro was my first exposure to post-Brent Dead. It took a while to warm up to the different sound and band dynamics, but there is a lot of good, and sometimes great, to be found here, especially the interactions between Bruce Hornsby on grand piano and Jerry.
There are a few vocal flubs by Jerry throughout the show, the first of which is in "Half-Step." Since nobody goes to a Grateful Dead show to hear vocals, it helps that the solo sections are good and so marks a solid way to begin the set. Grand piano has a different sound that seems to bring out energy and creativity from Jerry. For me, the best '90s recordings and shows are with Hornsby. The post-coda section has Vince Welnick on keys piling a thick synth to the band's sound. I don't think it fits very well. I am not a Welnick fan, but I am also not a hater. I think it best to approach his playing as occurring "outside" the rest of the group's; not exactly interacting with or borne of the rest of the band's dynamic. (I.e., the synth trombone in "Wang Dang Doodle," although it replicates the guitars' melodic line, simply does not fit. See also: synth organ solo in "FOTD.") Excluding the wicked groove in "Fadeaway" and a spirited "Cassidy," the rest of the first set doesn't have many great moments. It is about as average a first set you could find. "Might As Well" ends the set with strong energy and a playful vibe, giving us hope that the second frame would pick up and take flight.
Seeing that this was Easter Sunday, their opening with "Samson" is a excellent choice. Luckily, it seems like the audio levels have changed at this point in the show. Vince is less audible and Bob is turned a little down, while Jerry is turned up. You can hear the difference in "Samson," Jerry, full of joy and movement, takes turns through the verses without having to do aural battle with other instruments for space. It appears to have made an impact on Jerry since the next tune he chose was "Eyes," and what a beautiful one it is. The opening jam lasts for several minutes with Jerry going through the changes, as Bob comps on the right side, cleverly hinting at the chords and phrases. (Phil is brilliant in this tune and throughout the second set.) This is almost 23 minutes of heavenly playing by everybody in the band, a sure highlight of latter-day Dead, and in the argument for best post-Brent "Eyes" (06-17, to open the show, is wonderful too.) Listen to how Jerry and Bruce play off each other's ideas, crafting multiple lines in and out of their improvisations, never quite leaving the classic "Eyes" melody behind, but creating variations on melodic and harmonic elements. And this is all before Bruce or Vince even take a turn. You know Jerry's feeling it when he takes another turn himself instead of going into the next verse.
You can also tell when the whole band is feeling it when they move from a 23-minute "Eyes" to spiraling, yet unfinished 15-minute "Playin'." The "Dark Star" teases after the long main jam in "Playin'" must have had Deadheads freaking out. All a tease though, for no dark star would crash that night. They'd have to wait all of one day, for a lovely version the following night, April Fool's Day. They'd also have to wait until the next show for this "Playin'" to conclude.
Ending the set with two Chuck Berry rockers back-to-back is unexpected, especially given the way the previous song flowed and the natural shape the set was taking. I would have liked perhaps a "Wharf Rat" after "The Wheel" and then "Johnny B. Goode," for example. Fittingly, they chose to encore on Easter Sunday with "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," a shimmering take on the melancholy Bob Dylan tune. Overall, a good show, though not great. The first set is merely average and the great high points to begin the second set are met with questionable choices afterward. Still, a worthy component to your Dead collection, and as good a place as any to start with post-Brent shows.
Playin' In The Band
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Venue: Red Rocks Amphitheater - Morrison, CO
Tape History: AUD (by Bob Menke, download here)
Release History: None
Promised Land, *They Love Each Other, Mama Tried -> Mexicali Blues, *Peggy-O, *Lazy Lightning -> *Supplication, Brown-Eyed Women, Looks Like Rain, Althea -> Passenger
*China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, Lost Sailor, Don't Ease Me In, *Estimated Prophet -> *Eyes Of The World -> Drums -> Space -> *NFA -> *Black Peter -> Around & Around, E: U.S. Blues
05-29-2011: We're diving head-first into 1979, and we are not starting with their much-lauded winter shows in January or February. This year rarely gets the love its '78 and '77 siblings get. Nestled into the back of the decade, 1979 doesn't boast the career highlight performances that other years have. But listening closely and searching for gems often reveal high-quality shows. 1979 is no different. This particular show at Red Rocks, their second run after beginning in Oakland, signaled an abbreviated stop. Because the rains were coming down hard during the show, the following two shows were moved to the McNichols Sports Arena. Menke's AUD vividly captures what it felt to be there: the audience's excitement commensurate with the band's playing; the chatting and clapping; the howls of wonder at surprising or inspiring moments. It doesn't hurt that Menke's recording was a front of board (FOB) and was remastered by the Mouth Of The Beast (MOTB) crew. Any time the abbreviations FOB, MOTB, combined with a trusted taper's name (Menke, Bertrando, Wise, Moore, Walker/Scotton), you know are in for a beauty of a tape.
The most striking characteristic of the show is the astounding patience the musicians show. In "They Love Each Other," for instance, Jerry doesn't take the first solo and instead gives it to the ensemble. The crowd claps and hoots when he leads the way the second time around. The lines he crafts are precise and exact; not a whole lot of digging around to find the right notes. The groove remains deliberate and at a somewhat slower tempo than expected. All the more to savor the pace. For those who love hearing Jerry in ballads (who doesn't?!) this "Peggy-O" is just for you. Lyrical, sensitive, masterful, Jerry just doesn't let up, turning and turning phrases and shapes wrenching an unmistakable sense of sadness from the melody. It is a priceless performance. Bob kicks it into high gear when they tear into "Lazy Lightnin'." The band responds mightily with the fiery, shifting jam in "Supplication." Had I mentioned "Althea" yet? Third time played? And the exhilarating "Passenger" to end the set? Whoo! And this is only the first set. Straight fire through and through.
Take a special listen to the instrumental passage between "China Cat" and "Rider" to see how beautifully this AUD works. Phil is prominent in the mix, Bob is up there too, and you can hear Brent pushing the guitarists along. It's such a great mix and equalization; each instrument distinct and intertwined with the others. (I judge AUDs by how they evoke a sense of space at the venue and how the music fills it, and this tape does more than an admirable job.) I love the odd placement of "Don't Ease Me In," especially after "Lost Sailor" and before the centerpieces of the show, "Estimated" -> "Eyes." This pairing is one of the most beloved in Deaddom and this particular performance is singular. This "Estimated" was included in the So Many Roads box set. Props must be given to Brent, taking a rip through the changes before Jerome takes his turn. (Is that a slight tease of "Terrapin Station," to my ears, a few ticks before the 11:00 mark?) The whole ending jam just takes the tune to another plane, Jerry deftly riding the wave clear into "Eyes," and then blowing that one up to the upper reaches after the 7:00 mark. I'm not sure what else to write about the remainder of the set. Stick around for "NFA" and a classic cool-down tune in "Black Peter." Leave with a smile on your face to the sounds of "U.S. Blues." This show is extraordinary. Wave that flag!
Lazy Lightnin' ->
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Venue: Winterland - San Francisco, CA
Tape History: AUD (by Rob Bertrando, download here)
Release History: None
*Crazy Fingers, BIODTL, Deal, Big River, *Peggy-O, Me & My Uncle, *Help On The Way -> *Slipknot! -> *Franklin's Tower
Blues For Allah -> Drums -> *King Solomon's Marbles -> Blues For Allah, Sugar Magnolia, E: *U.S. Blues
03-09-2011: So here we are, friends. Making our way to one seriously misunderstood and often (regrettably) discarded year: 1975. From October '74 to June '76, the Grateful Dead were on official hiatus from touring. So how is it, you ask, that they played anything in 1975? Well, there were four shows that year, this one is the second, and all took place in San Francisco. Two of my all-time favorite shows (08-13 and 09-28) are from this year.
So why begin by reviewing this show? Little backstory first. We all know that the Dead's first (1991) official live vault release was the GAMH show from 1975-08-13. That show served as a celebration and release party for their album Blues For Allah. It would seem an odd choice for a first release, given the number of quality shows to choose from. After multiple listenings though, I find it to be a consummate gig; an apex representation of the band at a mid-decade peak, where they're still taking plunges and not going for an "exactly perfect" sound. To me, the GAMH show is a fleshed-out, more sophisticated version of what we have on tape here. This 06-17 show is the Dead for people who dig their jams dangerous and unpredictable; imperfect but doing exactly what they need to do. And we have master Rob Bertrando to thank for an exquisite AUD tape of the night. There are many sources available on LMA, but the very best is Mr. Bertrando's.
I love Bill Graham's intro. He introduces each member of the band and their respective instrument, and then repeats all their first names as if that were the name of the group. Very funny stuff. I find that most, if not all, of Rob's tapes have a perfect balance between band and crowd, giving you what must be an accurate representation of what it must have been like to be there. We get a serious debut in "Crazy Fingers" to begin the show. Jerry takes two choruses before they head back into the verses. His tone is pure crystalline, and the complex chord changes in this tune highlight Jerry's mastery of melody and phrasing. Take a run through the outro jam to see a band take their leader's cue on how to improvise the dynamics of a song. It's hard to believe that this is the first time they ever performed this song live. The next few tunes are expertly played, but not extraordinary. That's another place where this show doesn't quite compare with the other two stand-outs from this year.
"Peggy-O," on the other hand, is nothing short of brilliant. Before the song begins, two audience members (Rob included?) were talking about what song was coming up, when one said "I hope it's not 'Eyes Of The World.'" This is probably due to the taper having limited tape left and not wanting to lose part of the tune with a tape flip. This kind of banter is priceless for AUD-heads. Other than my absolute favorite 1977-09-03, this particular version of "Peggy-O" is supremely touching. The tempo is slower than usual, and that certainly adds to the pathos of the tune. The group, Bob and Phil specifically, create deep spaces between Jerry's words and his chords. The second solo Jerry takes midway through the tune is simply heartbreaking. How can a man feel so much? I can't say anything else about it.
The open with a debut, and they close the set with a couple more, "Help On The Way" and "Franklin's Tower." (For new readers, click here for a review of the show where "Slipknot!" debuted, 1974-06-20.) "Help" here is in a period of gestation, no lyrics, but groove and chord changes intact. Its confidence and flow is so cool and in control that we could easily prefer a version like this some nights. Seeing the band in the process of discovering itself is a magical experience. Their foray into "Slipknot!" is a pulsating excursion while "Franklin's" takes its time building to a stirring climax to end the set. What a way to inaugurate a fan-favorite trio of tunes!!
The meat of the second set - excluding the general weirdness that is "Blues For Allah" - is "King Solomon's Marbles/Stronger Than Dirt/Milkin' The Turkey." I gave up on the many names and now just call it "King Solomon's Marbles." This is a maniacal, bruising, hairpin tune. The Rhythm Devils and Phil are like a six-armed monster, eating up unsuspecting victims and their unprepared ears. This will get your heart pounding. "Sugar Magnolia" and "U.S. Blues" end the night in a rollicking, party atmosphere. You couldn't ask for two better suited tunes to close the night out. Though there are other '75 shows that I keep on regular rotation and honestly think are better, this is a great introduction to this often unappreciated year.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Venue: Uni Dome - University of Northern Iowa - Cedar Falls, IA
Tape History: AUD (Unknown, download here)
Release History: Dick's Picks 18 (June 200)
Set 1 [missing from tape]
Bertha -> Good Lovin' -> Jack Straw -> Good Lovin', El Paso, TN Jed, Minglewood Blues, Friend Of The Devil, Passenger, Deal
Samson & Delilah, Scarlet Begonias -> Fire On The Mountain, Ship Of Fools, Truckin' -> Drums -> The Other One -> Wharf Rat -> Around & Around, E: U.S. Blues
02-18-2011: As promised, here is the companion piece to the previous post on 02-03. This is a second set-only tape. The audio quality is good, all instruments are fairly well equalized, though Phil is low in the mix. Adjust your equalizers to make up for this sad fact. This set appeared in its entirety in DP 18. There's some raging playing in this winter 1978 tour. I haven't posted my review 01-22 yet, but you can rest assured it's one of the Dead's very best shows between '78 and '80. As we saw with our previous review, the second sets are reserved for blazing jams. This show is no different.
"Samson" opens up the proceedings. Bob apparently forgot the words to the first verse, and Jerry just took off in spite of the song. He gets inside the verse chord structure and spins continuous melodic phrases off of the center. He never runs out of ideas and never repeats himself. It's truly inspirational playing. The story is that a mic broke and was being repaired while the song was going on. They say that Jerry used his guitar to signal the broken mic and then thank the technician, then Bobby yells "Wooo!" to see if it was working, and then the band goes back into the song. And they do, back into the chorus and re-doing the first verse. The minute the opening chords to "Scarlet" resounded, I had a feeling this would be special. And seeing how the set opener went, I felt pretty confident that the band was going to dive head-first into this sequence. And boy do they deliver! One of the very best "Scarlet" -> "Fire"s I have ever heard, easily in my top three. The tempo is brisk and energetic. Jerry takes two runs through before "the wind in the willows" lyric, and the rest of the band, Rhythm Devils notably, get on board the Jerry Train. At this point, the band begins to expand the post-verses section, disposing of the framework but keeping the chords. When the band is on, as they are here, it is wonderful to hear them spontaneously invent a new song. Towards the end of the jam, as they're nearing "Fire," Jerry creates a descending scale that he milks for all its worth, with Keith accompanying him on the Rhodes. What's beautiful about Jerry's way of soloing is that he is always aware of where the song is, so he can still solo as the song and its structure move forward, here irrevocably towards "Fire."
Keith and Phil, followed by the drummers, lead the transition into the second tune of this pairing. It's an invisible segue. It takes about five and a half minutes before Jerry begins singing. The groove here is thick and invigorating. His solos are inventive and dynamic, with his lines containing register contrasts based on modal scales. The chromatic fills and joining notes make his solos potentially never-ending. And with his skill and patience, it is no surprise the way his playing moved the audience. He is at his five star best here. Because the band isn't rushed (opposed to lazy) and they follow their ideas as a collective, they create exceptional moments are heretofore unheard sounds. The ending jam in "Fire" is one of those. When Jerry plays the ending melody across the song's two chords, the band begins to amp up the energy, and watch him go! Jerry again takes off and the band lets loose and follows his lead. Phil is dialed into every note from Jerry's guitar and, like a kite, Bob keeps the tune grounded as the rest of the group flies around him.
After the intensity and emphatic playing of the first part of the set, "Truckin'," a high-energy, rousing tune, feels like a cool-down. After "Drums," we pick up in focus where we left off with yet another superlative '78 "Other One." Here the band gives Jerry a roiling unsteady bottom to frame his solos and lines around. They are circles within circles, or the feeling of tumbling down a hill with your eyes closed. After the verses, there is a manic build to a solar flare of a Jerry peak, similar to the 1978-10-21 version (or vice versa?) A stellar "Wharf Rat" serves as a "everything is going to be okay" song, and then the set ends thunderously with "Around" and "U.S. Blues."
The Grateful Dead were on a roll in their winter '78 tour, with some of the most inspired playing of the year coming in the two nights (so far) reviewed here, 02-03 and 02-05. They are both essential components of any Dead collection. I'm withholding a Stealie for this particular show because it's only the second set; it feels like a great piece of an even greater whole, but the problem is we don't have the whole.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Venue: Dane County Coliseum - Madison, WI
Tape History: AUD (Unknown, download here)
Release History: Dick's Picks 18 (June 2000)
Cold Rain & Snow, Mexicali Blues -> *Big River, *They Love Each Other, *Looks Like Rain, *Loser, Passenger, *Brown-Eyed Women, El Paso, *Peggy-O, *The Music Never Stopped
Good Lovin', Ship Of Fools, *Estimated Prophet -> *Eyes Of The World -> *Playin' In The Band -> *The Wheel -> *Playin' In The Band, E: Johnny B. Goode [missing from tape]
02-07-2011: If there is anything about the Grateful Dead's love for Wisconsin, we need not look any further than their blazing shows at the Dane County Coliseum. Sure, there are some fantastic shows at Alpine Valley, but for me Dane County is where they are basically guaranteed to certifiably rip. For evidence, see the earlier 1973-10-25 post. This show makes up the bulk of Dick's Picks 18, which also includes two tunes from 02-04, and a good chunk of 02-05, which will certainly be reviewed next. This AUD tape isn't the cleanest, but it isn't muddled either. You can hear some audience member's chatting in quiet moments. Thankfully, it is rarely distracting. The biggest drawbacks are that the vocal levels fluctuate in some tunes, that Keith is sometimes completely inaudible when comping, and a big time cut in "Ship Of Fools." If you hate seemingly incessant clapping, that will also be a drawback for you.
For this era, the setlist looks pretty standard. Early February in Wisconsin: "CR&S" opener. They really start gelling in "Big River," and once they hit "TLEO," you can say without any reservation that they are cooking. After Keith takes a run through, Jerry takes the tune for a ride. It is a perfectly crafted solo, each note a precise statement, and all put together a powerful declaration. I could hear this version of "TLEO" and never need another one. (1977-09-03's is way up there too.) One highlight after another soon follow: "Looks Like Rain," "Loser," a driving "BE Women," and a disarming "Peggy-O" round out the highlights of the first set before the "Music" explosion. What a way to end the set! What was an grade A first set was bumped to a surefire A+. Though it starts with subdued energy, it begins to boil once Jerry is given some space to stretch out. Check out his sizzling lines after the lyrics, "No one's noticed, but the band's all packed and gone/Was it ever here at all?" After the main verses are done, we're all aboard the Jerome Express. There is an extended break before they get back to the verse groove. Jerry's is whipping the band into a controlled frenzy, Phil's rising lines hint at the coming explosion, the Rhythm Devils are splashing their cymbals in anticipation as well, the crowd begins to cheer wildly, and when it hits, it's BAM! 200MPH, check yo' head because they're out to slice the building in half. "dcain," one of my favorite reviewers on the archive, calls this version "the power and the glory." Amen.
"Good Lovin'" is one of those tunes that I just can't seem to get into. It was different when Pigpen was alive because his raw R&B singing and they way the band stretched out suited the type of version they were out to create. Without him, it's just lacking in interest. We get our first major audio issue in "Ship Of Fools." There is a cut in about what feels like midway through with no patch to speak of. It cuts and that's it. It's a sure "breaking of the fourth wall," if you will. We are thrust away from our immersion in the show and reminds us that this is a tape; these are headphones; you are just listening to an artifact. That's a huge minus. However, it's more than made up for afterward.
The set-closing sequence beginning with "Estimated" is outstanding. They take off in each tune, chasing their mojos and letting the music take over. The instrumental passages between verses in "Estimated" are mini-snapshots of a band on a mission. Yes, Jerry's got the reins, but the band is all ears and willing to go to wherever he might lead. This includes a high-intensity "Eyes" and a sparkling take on the "Playin"-"Wheel" sandwich. The segue into "Eyes" is so easy and natural it feels like a logical ending point for the song. Jerry takes off in flights through the chords as the band bounces behind him. When they take their time with the intro, as in this version, it is truly blissful. Part me of wishes they'd never go into the lyrics. The crowd's cheer as the first verse begins sure sounds like appreciation to me. You can tell the band is on because Jerry takes multiple verse-lengths in his solos. (Another sign might be the absence of a "Drums" segment.) There is a nice Phil-led jam in "Playin'," where he displays his brilliant gift for playing both lead and rhythm parts simultaneously. Phil takes a few steps back as Jerry comes in, letting him now take the main lead. The band rolls in and around his phrases, joining him when he hits peaks and settling down when he drops away for Keith to take over. When the band is this tight, it is a true gift. I love how the hints of the "Playin'" reprise melody start appearing about five minutes towards the end. They tease it, dance around it, play the same notes while evading the full-on melody. The transitions into "The Wheel" and back into "Playin'" are slick and the ending jam in the final "Playin'" feels like a celebration of what preceded it.
For the first time in two months, I am placing a sure Stealie on a show. This one more than deserves it. It's one of the very best shows of 1978, a much underrated year, and a necessary addition to any Grateful Dead collection.
The Music Never Stopped
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Venue: Kresge Plaza, M.I.T. - Cambridge, MA
Tape History: SBD
Release History: None
*Dancin' In The Streets, China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider, Next Time You See Me, *Morning Dew, *Good Lovin' -> *Drums -> *Good Lovin', Casey Jones, *St. Stephen -> *NFA
02-02-2011: Sometimes the muse hits before it's "supposed to." The Grateful Dead, scheduled to perform on May 7, 1970 at M.I.T.'s Dupont Gym, went ahead with a free concert the day before on the steps of the student center, as part of a rally protesting the deaths of student demonstrators at Kent State on May 4, and played one of their strongest sets of the year. Yes, an impromptu performance still overshadows the official concert.
This is a crunchy sounding tape. I'm not sure how else to describe it. It isn't tape hiss, but an external kind of crunch out there. It may have something to do with the rain that was reportedly falling that day. It's not terribly bad, either; solid B. Word is that the band was freezing, but insisted on playing for the students even though the scheduled gig was the next night. Gotta love it!
The first few seconds of "Dancin'" are missing. Thankfully, that hardly marks a dent in this fantastic version. From the get go, Jerry and company take off and don't settle for anything. This particular version of "Dancin'" ranks with the Harpur College cut four days before (Dick's Picks 8), still one of the very best shows for Deadheads the world over. They push and stretch their playing throughout, with occasional "Dark Star" licks from Jerry and ferocious energy from the whole crew. Near the end of the opening tune, it sounds like an embryonic form of "Eyes" takes shape. A leisurely "Rider" emerges after a very brief "China Cat." In what will become a fan favorite and highlight of too many shows to name, the pairing of these two tunes here is unremarkable. A first rate "Morning Dew" occupies the center of this gig, and you can feel how the "Where have all the people gone?" lyric hung above the audience, with no resolution in sight. "Good Lovin'" - a regular buzzkill tune for me - may well be the peak performance of the show, false start and hilarious bad mic banter notwithstanding. It's analogous to the the "Dancin'" opener, stretching out, reaching, the band certifiably cooking under Jerry's flights. All the while Phil and Jerry are astoundingly in sync. There is an interesting and tense segment in "St. Stephen" when the band seems intent on going into "NFA" after "one man gathers what another man spills." Jerry brings them back with the classic "Stephen" lick and the band then flies into the last two verses. It's a great little sequence, the band making it up as they go along.
Love some of the banter here. At the end of "NFA," Bobby says, "Hey, we're going to split, and we'll be playing for you tomorrow night, but it's just too fucking cold. You know how it is."
Anybody missing a little kid named Frank?
Dancin' In The Streets
(Unknown photo credit.)
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Venue: Santa Fe Downs - Santa Fe, NM
Tape History: AUD (Unknown, download here)
Release History: None
*Half-Step -> *Franklin's Tower -> *New Minglewood Blues, Candyman, *Me & My Uncle -> Mexicali Blues, *Althea, Man Smart-Woman Smarter, Ramble On Rose, *Let It Grow -> *Deal
*Shakedown Street -> *Samson And Delilah, Good Time Blues, *Estimated Prophet -> *He's Gone -> *Drums -> *Space -> *Throwin' Stones -> *GDTRFB -> *The Wheel -> *The Other One -> *Wharf Rat -> *Good Lovin', E: Don't Ease Me In
01-12-2011: From the dawn of 1980 to the end of 1983, the Dead were on a serious roll. Each year had its own first-rate shows and and top-notch tours, but each of these four years were uniformly strong. 1982 is probably the most underrated of these years, and this particular show is the big time gem from the fall of 1982. The most obvious choices for '82 are 07-31 Austin, 08-10 Iowa, and the pair of shows at the Frost Amphitheater about a week before this one. Here at GD Notebook I give equal love to the gems and the stand-outs. Little by little, I'll be filling out the GD years with both types of gigs.
The first set is expertly crafted. "Half-Step" -> "Franklin's" openers are always a good omen, and here they do not disappoint. Jerry overcomes a few vocal flubs in "Half-Step" with sweet leads through the changes. "Franklin's" doesn't hit a peak until near the end of the tune, where Jerry brings it all home while playing off the Rhythm Devils. Following with "Minglewood" makes three it burners to begin the first set. Can't beat it! I love Bobby's comment after Candyman, "We're going to do some local color tunes" to introduce the C&W songs. Jerry takes three turns through "Uncle," using the chord progression to create melodic phrases that shift seamlessly through registers. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the early '80s was the best period for "Althea." This is another tremendous version (forgotten verse by Jerry and cut ending notwithstanding.) Phil, Bob, and Brent are locked into the main verse groove, it really bumps and struts. I always imagined that the Althea in the song had a sultry walk because of this groove. I get the feeling that whenever Jerry forgets a lyric he amps up his playing for the rest of the tune, which carries over to the rest of the set and perhaps show. The band ends the set with authority with "Let It Grow" -> "Deal," a warning to all comers that the second set was going to rip fire.
Opening with "Shakedown" -> "Samson" ought to do it. (As one audience member says after the opener's conclusion, "Wow! Samson!") I consistently come back to this second set. It's one of the best, most resolute sets of the '80s. I can't say enough about it. The only pause they take is with "Good Time Blues." After that, they apparently said to hell with regaining their collective breath. Everything else is superb Dead, rigorous jamming, focused movements through segues, and a completely unyielding post-"Drums" segment. We'd be lucky to get a "Throwin' Stones" and "GDTRFB" and then maybe a "Black Peter" and, for this era, an almost guaranteed "Sugar Magnolia." But instead, they bring a segment from about a month earlier (09-09 New Orleans), and close out with "The Wheel" -> "The Other One" -> "Wharf Rat" -> "Good Lovin'." Incidentally, 09-09 and this gig are the only two times in the Dead's history these four songs were played in the same show, and here we have them in the same sequence, both to end the second sets of their respective shows. I'm telling you, you just can't make things like this up. This is a necessary show in all Deadheads' '80s collections.
Me & My Uncle
(Poster design by: D. Larkins and D. Sawyer)
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Venue: Winterland - San Francisco, CA
Tape History: SBD (AUD by Reinhart Holwein, download here)
Release History: Two songs in Road Trips Vol. 1, #4 bonus disc (Sept. 2008)
Promised Land, *Friend Of The Devil, Mama Tried -> Mexicali Blues, *TN Jed, I Need A Miracle, Stagger Lee, *Jack Straw
*Scarlet Begonias -> *Fire On The Mountain, *Estimated Prophet -> *Eyes Of The World -> *Drums -> *Space -> *If I Had The World To Give, Around & Around, E: U.S. Blues
01-05-2011: First night of a smokin' five night run at the Winterland, and the Dead's first show back from Egypt. These shows were billed as the "From Egypt With Love" shows. Word on the street is that there were pictures from the trip projected onto a screen behind the band as they played these shows. The only reason I'm posting this review before others from the stand is only because it's the first show. Otherwise I would have gone for the much superior 10-21 or 10-22 gigs. But take a look at that second set! Wow.
Before I completely get ahead of myself, let's take a short stop in the first set, even though it's not something exactly to write home about. Keith takes a turn in "FOTD" without sounding spent and bored, which is saying a lot for his musicianship in this era. Jerry's solo is phenomenal. His mastery of melodic phrasing is ever evident, and his signature tone is displayed in absolute glory. I love this cut. Things look unevenly formed for most of this set though, even when the band destroys "Jack Straw" as a set closer (?!). The second set, in contrast, is burning for its entirety. The segue between "Scarlet" and "Fire" is naturally arrived-at with Jerry leading the way and Phil following close behind with his high-register theme. Keith feels the transition close at hand and slowly moves in that direction. It's silky smooth. The transition into "Eyes" is more deliberate, but it still works. Phil's playing in this whole sequence is simply incredible. He plays with the melody and firmly within the rhythmic framework. He's a singular talent. Out of the three times they played "World To Give," this particular version stands head and shoulders above the others. Bob weaves in touching slide chords and lines below Jerry's heartfelt solo, where he stretches the emotive content of the melody. Recommended, but still not a top notch show.