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, March 9, 2011

1975-06-17 - Winterland

Venue: Winterland - San Francisco, CA
Tape History: AUD (by Rob Bertrando, download here)
Release History: None

Set 1
*Crazy Fingers, BIODTL, Deal, Big River, *Peggy-O, Me & My Uncle, *Help On The Way -> *Slipknot! -> *Franklin's Tower

Set 2
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.