Friday, August 7, 2020

8-7-82 LET IT GROW


 

Thirty-eight years ago today, I witnessed a remarkable show in Alpine Valley. This was my first major road trip to see the Dead (eighteen-hour drive). My heroes greeted me with an unprecedented opener, Music Never Stopped > Sugaree > Music Never Stopped. Those were two of my three favorite songs. Towards the end of set two I was rewarded with my other favorite, Morning Dew. However, the real stars of this show were the greatest Let it Grow known to man, and meaty versions of Cat > Rider and Playin’. These performances are featured in my new book, DeadologyVolume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems.

 

LET IT GROW

8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: Alpine Valley sounds like the type of place where the Grateful Dead would rip a memorable “Let it Grow,” and Deadheads reaped a bountiful harvest on 8-7-82. From the opening riffs to the final chord, this is as perfect as live improvisation gets. Weir’s on top of his game singing with conviction and Brent is a major improvement over Donna on background vocals, especially during “Let it Grow.” In 1982 the Dead tended to play cocaine crisp, and this hyped rendition is the best of that milieu. The between-verse solo is streamlined virtuosity that carries on after Weir howls, “Seasons round, creatures great and small, up and down, as we rise and fall.”

            The life sustaining joys of planting, plowing, and harvesting surge through glistening sonic streams—photosynthesis at the speed of sound. The scary thing about this alpha jam is the smoothness of the segues. The machine plows effortlessly. Phase two takes flight. Crops take heed! The temperature and intensity of the rhapsody is on the rise.

            Moving into phase three is a cross between ecstasy and a nightmare. Bob’s orchestrating, and Brent’s pounding the fertile fields. It’s all silky smooth. Garcia’s guitar overboils, and Brent’s there to pound out the warning on his keys. Alpine Valley, beware! Here comes the Great Garcia with a climactic run, wrapping it up with a bold lightning strike run. The boys stick a perfect landing as they ease back into the melody line. All the crops of Alpine Valley stand proud and tall. 

            The focus is uncanny as Weir leads his mates through the chorus reprise, and Garcia blazes from the last sung words,” Listen to the thunder shout I am, I am, Iam…I am!” The jam is astounding without overstaying its purpose. There’s not a sour note anywhere in this performance. They duck back into the final melody line as Garcia and Weir’s guitars sigh in unison. Garcia approaches the last chord by striking each string individually, and then he digs in for the mother of all final chords—one gorgeous strike packed with fertile heart and soul. Let it Grow indeed! 

 

 

CHINA CAT > I KNOW YOU RIDER

8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: On a beautiful summer’s eve in the Midwest, set two opens with the confident “China Cat” strut—Jerry’s thick opening riffs cushioned by organ mounds of Brent sound. Second set “Cats” from this era have a patient vibe, it’s the start of an adventure as opposed to a closing statement when it was played at the end of set one. Jerry’s line of attack is focused. Expressive and focused leads pour from his Tiger into the Alpine Valley night. This version is technically perfect, one of several fine performances from this show which is immortalized on Volume 32 of the Dick’s Picks series. The extra-curricular activity makes this a standout Cat > Rider. The band is slowly heading toward “Rider,” but Jerry is having “Cat” flashbacks. We must be in segue paradise—the Dead are playing both songs at the same time. “Rider” stands tall as the band sizzles two lyrical instrumentals.

 

PLAYIN’IN THE BAND

8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, Wisconsin: “Playin” is the fifth song of a terrific second set. And as it would happen at many shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jerry led the band into a noodling extravaganza that crashed into Drums. The jamming is above average, but the star here is the reprise. On the other side of Drums, Space spins into “The Wheel.”  The Wheel > Playin’ transition is dreamy and mesmerizing. Weir emphatically preaches the virtues of being a rock star as the band rams this home. Jerry’s wailing, Weir’s strumming and the drummers are pounding. This goes past all normal reprise barriers. The only “Playin” reprise I would rate ahead of this one is 10-12-84 Augusta. But on that night, there was just a “Playin’” reprise inside of a “Uncle John’s” loop. The beginning of “Playin’” never took place. Back in Alpine Valley, the fiery reprise leads to the Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” 

DEADOLOGY VOLUME II: THE EVOLUTION OF 33 GRATEFUL DEAD JAM ANTHEMS 

 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

ODE TO 8-6-74 ROOSEVELT STADIUM

As I researched for my latest critical study on the Grateful Dead, the enormity of this 8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium affair surprised me. I now know that it’s undoubtably a contender for greatest concert ever. Four performances from this show made it into Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems. To be a Deadhead in the New York City/ Jersey City area those days must have been quite a thrill. Roosevelt Stadium is one of the quintessential shrines of Grateful Dead folklore. Happy 46th birthday to 8-6-74.

EYES OF THE WORLD

8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: In the middle of this twelve-song first set, the Grateful Dead played a standalone “Eyes of the World” tucked in-between “Jack Straw” and “Promised Land.” It’s almost unprecedented for a royal rhapsody of this magnitude to emerge at this point of a show. Out of the post “Straw” stillness the “Eyes” groove emerges naturally, almost understated. Jerry’s sweet vocals match the subdued flavor of the groove.

            Intensity surges as Bobby and Donna join in on the chorus. Weir’s voice leads the way, and Donna sounds sweet. Billy and Phil are locked in tight as Jerry’s fills the opening solo with sublime perfection from the first note. For sixty-six seconds, the inspired musicians are one with the universe. They are the eyes of the world. Garcia finishes this surge dramatically, a piercing string of aural adrenaline. Following the last euphoric twang of Garcia’s guitar, the infectious rhythm of “Eyes” returns in all its understated glory. You can hear Roosevelt Stadium roar through the soundboard recording.

            That opening solo would be far and away my favorite between-verse solo of an “Eyes” from this era if it were not for the ensuing solo. “There comes a redeemer, and he slowly too fades away.” Jerry’s really belting it out now. This wheel’s on fire and the greatness of what’s to come is evident before it materializes. The only intrigue is how it will unfold. As solo two emerges, Jerry pauses for a second, oh how he plays the silence! The silky-smooth leads flow as he expands on the ideas from the previous solo. This is how the ninety-four second instrumental unfolds: stutter-step > loading the cannon > fireworks galore > spooling yarn finale. Kreutzmann’s drumming fortifies and fills the sonic landscape. There would be longer between-verse solos as the structure of “Eyes” changed in 1976, but the compressed creative genius of the 8-6-74 solos is unmatched.

            Phil’s in lead bass heaven and the band swings loosely behind him as the “Eyes” outro ascends. After a year-and-a-half of improvising on this “Stronger Than Dirt” motif-jam, the intricate chord changes are crisp and perfectly timed. Intent listening and the instincts of the group mind combine as the Dead segue to a series of careening chord progressions. Garcia’s leads whirl like a spinning top as the force of each new riff resonates. Jerry’s rampaging as Weir strums madly. The Grateful genius is grounded in stone cold musical logic. A tornado of sound dissipates as Eyes hits the eighteen-minute mark. Garcia’s guitar sobs in disbelief. This is a major masterpiece that grabs our attention all the way through, and never fails to shine a bright light on what this band was capable of when they were in peak performance mode.

SUGAR MAGNOLIA

8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: This is an understated gem, rich in ambiance and texture. The band pumps out a solid groove, and Garcia opens with sophisticated runs as he seems to revel in the warmth of the Wall of Sound. Everything’s lined-up for a mighty outburst like on the 11-11-73. However, Jerry works up a unique chord progression, a shuffling staccato pattern that mesmerizes—a reggae-like plinko/planko stream. And when Jerry strikes gold, he knows how to milk it. The ending of this jam is glorious, and perhaps the most danceable thing I’ve ever heard.  Jerry was still in pretty good shape these days and I’m sure he had to be hopping and bopping as he played this. The band skillfully latches on to this moment. Usually “Sugar Mag” comes off as a definitive rock and roll statement. On this occasion the band taps into the pure pleasure of the rhythm minus the aggression.

UNCLE JOHN’S BAND

8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey Stadium: As I research for this project, my affection for this Roosevelt Stadium show continues to soar. Set two opens with a masterful performance of “Uncle John’s Band.”  It’s a joy to hear this anthem through The Wall of Sound. There’s also a unique motif to Jerry’s playing on 8-6-74. This “UJB” seems to unfold like brush strokes touching down on a masterpiece in progress. It’s mesmerizing to hear Phil and Jerry create individually as the music meshes harmoniously. As the final jam heads toward the chord ending sequence, Jerry takes a detour bound for euphoria. This is an impressive eleven -minute version, and another notch of greatness for 8-6-74.

PLAYIN’ IN THE BAND

8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: Prior to this endeavor, I probably wouldn’t have considered this show as one of the greatest ever. That might be because I often listened to Dick’s Pick’s Vol.31 which contains segments from this show along with portions of the previous two nights in Philadelphia. And that means I rarely listened to 8-6-74 start to finish. The opening set features the best “Eyes of the World,” and ends with Playin in the Band > Scarlet Begonias > Playin’. This is a meaty sandwich that was only played one time. “Begonias” benefits from this configuration, but let’s focus on “Playin’.”

            It’s a good thing that the “PITBs” from this period are long. It gives the listener time to recover from Donna’s primal screams. They are brain rattling on this rendition. The jam lifts off in explosive fashion as Jerry’s spiraling leads take this out of the realm of musical theory. The jam hits a jazzy plateau as Phil, Keith, and Billy guide this towards something that sounds Coltrane influenced. You can hear traces throughout of “Mind Left Body.” Like most 1974 “Playin’s,” the flow becomes odd and experimental, but it’s not at all long-winded. Keith gets into a groove on electric piano as the jam shifts into a funky motif prior to the “Scarlet Begonias” handoff which occurs twenty-minutes in. The “Playin’” reprise is not as long as others from this era. The Dead makes up for the brevity with an authoritative finish. This is the most focused “Playin’” of the year.

DEADOLOGY VOLUME II

 

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Deadology outtake: April 29


After thirty-eight spirited performances in Bill Graham’s Filmore East on Manhattan’s lower east side, the Grateful Dead and their zealous fans bid farewell to this hallowed venue in April 1971. The Dead were a Bay Area phenomenon, and before they become a beloved American band with the releases of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in 1970, they developed an East Coast fanbase hungry for Haight Ashbury hippie culture. As the war in Vietnam continued to tear the nation apart, the Grateful Dead experience provided a distinct hedonistic escape, especially for peaceful souls in liberal strongholds like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. There was a swirling liveliness in the band’s music that struck a nerve with East Coat fans. And the band tapped into the combustible energy and enthusiasm of their Eastern devotees to elevate their music to higher ground. The Fillmore East was an essential breeding ground for the Dead’s massive popularity. The last concert in the Fillmore East was on June 27, but the Dead’s last stand in Uncle Bill’s Church was a five-night run that ended on 4-29-71.

            In stark contrast to the band that played mind-melting jams and primal blues during their six-song Fillmore East debut in June of 1968, the Dead played thirty-one songs on 4-29-71. The opening set features a pair of stellar Pigpen performances, “It Hurts Me Too” and “Hard to Handle.” April ’71 was a sensational month for the Dead’s version of Otis Redding’s tune. It went from being an enjoyable cover that didn’t distinguish itself from the other Pigpen songs, to emerging as a showstopper—the most explosive rock jam on many nights, as it was on 4-21-71 in the Providence Civic Center. The “Handle” solos became longer and more intense as they band constructed a groove with movements where Garcia could build a dramatic crescendo. This “Handle” from the last night at the Fillmore flows with consistent energy. It was one of the hottest solos of the night, but it didn’t explode like the one from Providence.
            In the opening set of Fillmore farewell, the band rolled out some of their finest new compositions, “Truckin’,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Casey Jones,” and “Ripple.” It was the last time “Ripple” was played until the Dead opened their acoustic/ electric run of the Warfield Theatre in 1980. This eclectic evening of song also featured the final performances of “Alligator” and “Second That Emotion.” Jerry Garcia Band would later revive Smokey Robinson’s “Second That Emotion,” and perform a more soulful and substantial version than the Grateful Dead.
            Set two commences with a crisp “Morning Dew” and is followed by the last performance of “New Minglewood Blues” until 1976. “Minglewood” became a regular in the rotation again, but it never regained the reckless nature of the song’s early days—Weir’s fiery vocals, and the urgent rush of the music. This 4-29-71 “Minglewood” is a firecracker that reminds me how exciting this song could be.

            Out of Alligator > Drums the jam teases “The Other One,” “Not Fade Away,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” and “St. Stephen,” before splicing into a GDTRFB > Cold Rain & Snow combo. The evocative mix of songs continues with Cat > Rider and Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B. Goode. The triple encore of “Uncle John’s Band,” “Midnight Hour,” and “We Bid You Goodnight,” finished the Dead’s final Fillmore East jamboree and signified the end of a musical era for the band. With the impending addition of Keith Godchaux, the sonic terrain of a Grateful Dead concert was completely overhauled and raised to another level by the time they played the Musikhalle in Hamburg, West Germany, a year later on this date.

            The first set of 4-29-72 Hamburg is typical for Europe ’72. On this tour, typical equals excellent. Tight versions of “Mr. Charlie,” “Big Railroad Blues,” China Cat > Rider, and a Pigpen powered “Good Lovin’” set the stage for “Cassy Jones” to end the set. The following set is light on tunes but there’s an abundance of high-octane improvisation. In ’71 “Greatest Story Ever Told” was a nice addition to the lineup, but the revamped version that launches set two of 4-29-72 is outrageous. Phil’s jackhammer bass lines combined with the screeching genius of Garcia’s solo turn “Greatest Story” into a rock and roll dream. The fourth live rendition of “He’s Gone” follows and clocks in at a quick seven-and-a-half minutes. It’s a refreshing change of pace to hear these snappy versions.
            “Dark Star,” Musikhalle’s masterpiece, exquisitely lifts off to explore the cosmos, and eventually eases into an early “Feelin’ Groovy” jam, a rarity prior to the opening verse. Time is suspended as the band melodically noodles its way back through the cosmos until Jerry sings. It seems masterfully orchestrated as if the band’s playing from sheet music. This sophistically executed improv was indigenous to the Grateful Dead. They didn’t adhere to musical rules as much as they were obeying the natural laws of physics in the universe.
            A frisky tone arises as the Dead soar into the next segment of “Dark Star.” The mood’s heavy as Jerry, Phil, and Bill play with intense patience on the same frequency. Kreutzmann’s stunning drumming at the same time supports the band and leads the voyage in new directions. This dark jam carries on until it unexpectedly leaps into “Sugar Magnolia” at the twenty-nine-minute mark. The segue into “Sugar Magnolia” isn’t as lengthy or euphoric as the one they played in London three weeks earlier. The Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution trifecta was played in that order three times on the Europe ’72 tour, and the tour also features two other combinations that include those songs in slightly altered variations. Pigpen, who was ailing throughout this tour, sings boldly on the 4-29-72 “Caution (Do Not Stop On the Tracks),” and as always, the jamming on this number is incendiary. This cocktail of connected Dead is as sublime as anything the Grateful Dead created. The premier Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution is 4-8-72 London, which will be dissected in the chapter on that date. 
            Jumping from Europe ’72 to the most revered East Coast tour of them all, the Grateful Dead began their five-night residency at The Palladium in New York City on 4-29-77. The show opens with their latest triple shot pride and joy, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower.” It’s a strong rendition with a gripping transition into Franklin’s Tower that enthralls the New York City faithful. And here lies the problem of truly enjoying this show. The best existing recording of 4-29-77 is a noisy audience tape, making this an ugly duckling amongst the beautiful Betty Boards of ’77. Betty Cantor’s splendid soundboard recordings from this year set the standard for dynamic sound and listening pleasure. The rough sound of 4-29-77 will keep this performance from receiving its fair share of praise, but that doesn’t diminish what they did. The opening set ends with a resounding version of “The Music Never Stopped.”


            There’s good news from set two of 4-29-77 because soundboard recordings of three tunes were released on Volume 10 of the Download Series which features the entire concert from the following night at The Palladium. One of the salvaged songs of 4-29-77 is a stunning version of “Sugaree,” during which, each succeeding solo eclipses the previous one in length and intensity. It’s one the best “Sugarees” in a year when that tune blossomed into a masterpiece. The other soundboard treat is a rare Scarlet Begonias > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad. It’s an interesting choice because the band had just discovered the joys of Scarlet > Fire.  However, there’s a rebelliousness to the Begonias jam that steered it away from a segue into “Fire.”
            On 4-29-80 the band executed a professional show in Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Everything about this show ranges from mediocre to good.  The playing’s crisp and there are few vocal flubs, yet there’s no reason to get excited about the performances. This makes for a compelling contrast for the next April 29 show.

             On the thirteenth anniversary of their farewell to the Fillmore East, the Dead were back in the New York area playing at a much larger venue, the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. 4-29-84 Nassau was the next to last show of their East Coast spring tour, a tour I witnessed in its entirety. Garcia’s physical appearance was troublesome. His ashen skin, rotund stomach, swollen legs, and unkempt frizzy beard and mane should have been extremely alarming, but by 1984, Deadheads were used to seeing Garcia put on ten pounds and age three years each tour. His guitar virtuosity contradicted his appearance, making him seem like the grandfatherly Buddha of rock and roll.
            There’s impressive soloing from Garcia on the first two numbers, “Feel Like a Stranger” and “Friend of the Devil.” Jerry’s voice was diminished all tour, and this night his singing is stronger than it had been at the previous shows in Providence. “Birdsong” makes a surprise appearance in the fourth spot, and Garcia’s guitar work is mechanically prodigious. It’s undeniable that Jerry’s appetite for smoking Persian was poisonous to his wellbeing, and consequently, his woes trickled down to the health of the band, but on occasions like this “Birdsong,” Garcia would meander endlessly and create unbelievable music. And then a song or two later he might just plod ahead in a robotic stupor. After a lackadaisical middle segment, the opening set concludes with a hot but disorganized “Let it Grow.” The second set was a nice workout for the band and audience as the Dead served typical second set treats, although they didn’t build or sustain much momentum along the way.
            There are several shows from the fall tour that are better than 4-29-84 Nassau, yet there are worthy jams sprinkled about. Communication and comradery between band mates may have been at an all-time low, but their collective virtuosity was intact, and unmatched in the world of music. At its best, the jamming from Nassau is more advanced than the last night at the Fillmore East, but you can’t compare the overall quality of the performances. The Dead were masters bogged down in a muddy quagmire in 1984. On their final night in the Fillmore East, the Grateful Dead kissed goodbye to a shrine that was an essential part of their rise to fame. Groundbreaking innovation beckoned. 


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8-7-82 LET IT GROW

  Thirty-eight years ago today, I witnessed a remarkable show in Alpine Valley. This was my first major road trip to see the Dead (eightee...