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.
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.)