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.
Monday, February 7, 2011
1978-02-03 - Dane County Coliseum
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