Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Deadology: June 9

Featuring remarkable performances from ’76 and ’77, June 9 almost made the cut as one of the 33 essential dates of Deadology. As for Deadology the book, June 9 is a historic date because I was interviewed by David Gans and Gary Lambert last Sunday on Tales from the Golden Road (6-9-19). Here’s the interview, and notes from an almost essential date in Grateful Dead history. 

                                               Tales from the Golden Road 6-9-19

Outtake: An almost Essential Date from Deadolgy, JUNE 9
            The Grateful Dead created an indelible legacy with a run of spectacular shows in May ’77. The band enjoyed a week off before returning To California for four shows: one in the L.A. Forum, and three in the Winterland. A week off and a change of scenery didn’t cool the band off. All four shows smoked as if it was May all over again, and the final night in the Winetrand on June 9 was one of the elite shows of a revered year.
“Mississippi Half Step” and “Jack Straw” provided a desirable opening for 6-9-77. These versions only rank as average for ’77, but there’s never anything ordinary about catching those tunes to open a show. There’s a sultry performance of Donna’s “Sunrise” mid-set. As they fight through technical difficulties, the Dead serve up quality versions of “Cassidy,” “Deal,” Looks Like Rain,” and “Loser.” The mojo’s rolling as “The Music Never Stopped” is launched like an atomic pinball. The band surges smoothly during an extremely enjoyable jam, and as they attempt to land, Jerry vetoes that idea and takes the jam to a higher plateau concluding a strong first set. But like 5-8-77 Cornell, the best was yet to come.

            A searing “Samson and Delilah” sets an aggressive tone to start set two. There’s not an ounce of fat or misguided noodling on this number, or anywhere during this set. The band had been battling equipment snafus all night. After “Samson,” Weir announces, “Our highly efficient and trained crack equipment team is busy at work making sure everything is just exactly perfect.” This leads to the band’s new tuning jam, “Funiculi Funicula.” Technical difficulties never sounded so sweet as the band waltzes through two instrumental rounds of this buoyant number. When the Dead are riding a mystical wave, tuning forays can become essential listening. “Funiculi Funicula” is a joyful bridge between “Samson” and “Help on the Way.”
            Paradise waits. On a crest of a wave her angels in flame. Like a heart skipping a beat, “Help on the Way” strikes an infectious groove. Garcia croons Hunter’s haiku soulfully, and the solo boils. “Help on the Way” doesn’t get better than this. The ascension into “Slipknot!” is a mesmerizing voyage where only jazz legends roam. The Winterland transforms into Birdland as Garcia and Lesh bounce off each other like Coltrane and Mingus. The sound is robust, simultaneously dark and smooth as time disappears in a vacuum of virtuosity until the intricate transition into “Franklin’s Tower” is elegantly executed. Seventeen minutes of acrobatic aerobics ensues amongst the faithful. This is a supreme Help > Slip > Franklin’s—overwhelming consistency, quality, and length.
The overwhelming final segment of 6-9-77 launches with “Estimated Prophet.” Garcia’s in wah-wah heaven as he scuba-dives through the Rasta/jazz outro. Although it’s different in structure and key than “Slipknot!” the resolute flow of the music is similar, as if “Slip” and “Estimated” are cousins. As the “Estimated” solo winds down it shakes hands with the opening notes of “St. Stephen. The transition is understated but the band explodes into the intro as the Winterland is enthralled with a vibrant taste of early Dead.
            Estimated > St. Stephen is a fabulous duo and natural pairing that probably would have been explored more frequently if “St. Stephen” weren’t dropped from the rotation. The Dead skid down an icy runway yet they are in full control as they rage through the instrumental portions of “St. Stephen.” The band dives into “Not Fade Away” and things heat up until its preempted by Drums.
            On the other side of Drums, the “St. Stephen” reprise segues into “Terrapin Station.” This lacks the breathtaking magic of the 5-8-77 St. Stephen > Morning Dew, in part because “Terrapin” is a new tune. It’s a routine version that picks up steam and shines as the band storms through the instrumental coda. The last stop of this distinctive segment is “Sugar Magnolia, and the band crushes it. After a draining set, Deadheads receive a double encore of “U.S. Blues” and “One More Saturday Night” from their heroes. “U.S. Blues” is phenomenal.  Due to its frequency, it was an encore that many of us took for granted in the ‘80s, but Jerry really pours his heart and soul into some of these versions from ’74 - 78. This last night of their three-night June run embodies the ’77 sound better than any other show, and it’s an awesome display of the Grateful Dead’s musical muscle.

            A year prior to their Winterland spectacular, the Grateful Dead arrived in the Boston Music Hall on June 9, 1976. After their twenty-month touring hiatus, the Dead played two West Coast shows before a four-night stand in Boston’s historic and intimate music hall. One of the great rewards of undertaking a project like this book, is discovering brilliant shows and performances. I don’t believe I had ever listened to 6-9-76 Boston Music Hall before, which is surprising, because 6-12-76 Boston Music Hall was one of the first dozen live Dead bootleg tapes in m collection.
            All one must do is look at the first six songs of the first set of 6-9-76 to realize that this is a distinctive show unlike any other. In between the “Cold Rain and Snow” opener, and the sixth song of the set, “Big River,” the Dead reel off four of their most beautiful recent creations: “Cassidy,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Music Never Stopped,” and “Crazy Fingers.” In the mid-70s the Grateful Dead brought into existence a distinctive genre of music all its own, and these songs personify that concept. It’s a unique recipe pulling from a blend of sources, influences, and inspirations. These four tunes would all grow and carve out their own niche and place in the flow of a show. Yet, on this night, they simply sparkle as they lay side by side early in the set. Out of this dreamy segment, “Scarlet Begonias” shines the brightest.
            As the Grateful Dead’s live archive flourished, certain Deadhead favorites fell out of rotation. One of the first iconic tunes that Deadheads yearned for was “St. Stephen,” which was last played on 10-31-71. When the band returned from break in Boston Music Hall on 10-9-76, the band greeted fans with “St. Stephen.” It’s a crisp return and the band launches an adventurous probe after they sing, “One man gathers what another man spills.” Early on it appears as “Not Fade Away” is imminent, but that notion is scraped as the band works with the “Stephen” theme—noodling, exploring, dissolving, and finally rebuilding a lead in back to the final verse. It’s a unique interpretation, and at over eleven minutes in length, this is probably the longest “St. Stephen.” 
            What would be the answer to the answer man? As the final line touches down the Dead whirl into “Eyes of the World,” and there is no rush to sing the first verse as they cast an enchanted spell over their devotees. The intro spins forward briskly. After several satisfying minutes, Phil delivers a few lines as if he’s leading the band into what used to be the long ending of “Eyes.” And like “St. Stephen before it, the jam simmers before it’s brought to boil again. I believe this eight-minute jam before the first verse is the longest they would ever do. It was as if they were kissing goodbye and paying tribute to the majestic ’74 versions of “Eyes,” because moving forward, the extended and brilliantly developed ‘Eyes” outros were cut. On the bright side, the early solos of “Eyes” soared.

            “Let it Grow” continued the improv barrage. As was the case with many ’76 versions of this tune, there was a brief drum interlude in the middle. The last “Weather Report Suite” was played on 10-18-74. The Dead established “Let it Grow” as a major song in their repertoire when they revamped the structure late in ’77. However, the serene and gorgeous prelude and opening portion of “Weather Report Suite” would be missed. Set two takes an odd turn as the band played a batch of songs, most of them better suited for the opening set. Within this segment, the band busted out “High Time,” last played on 7-12-70. After closing the lengthy set out with Dancin’ > Wharf Rat > Around and Around, “Franklin’s Tower” made its debut as an encore. Obviously, this is a powerful song on its own, but “Franklin’s” always had more momentum on the heels of Help > Slipknot, or “Mississippi Half Step.”
            The Grateful Dead made their RFK Stadium debut alongside the Allman Brothers on June 9, 1973. The band would play fifteen shows in the home of the Washington Redskins, including two before Jerry’s 1986 coma, and two during their last tragic summer tour. There’s a plethora of venues where the Dead created improbable magic on multiple occasions; RFK Stadium is not one of them in my opinion.
            To analyze a show, it has to be placed in context within the era it emerged from. Listening to 6-9-73 will be a pleasurable experience for any Deadhead, but by lofty ’73 standards, this show gives us little reason to get excited. The first set has juiced versions of “They Love Each Other” and “Loose Lucy,” and set two has an extraordinary “Playin’ in the Band.” Unfortunately, set two never takes off, and most versions are shorter than usual. “Eyes of the World,” as enjoyable as it maybe, is only eleven minutes before it fuses into “China Doll.” It’s almost impossible to go wrong when picking out a ’73 show to listen to, but there are many better options than the Dead’s debut in RFK. The next night in JFK is a gem.
            There are five shows on this date between 1990-1994. The most compelling of these affairs is 6-9-91 Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, Ohio. Bruce Hornsby was in the band on this night, and this venue is where he first joined the Dead on stage three years earlier, playing accordion on “Sugaree.” They played “Sugaree” again on 6-9-91, a version that once again lacks lead-guitar assertiveness from Jerry. Towards the end of the set, there’s a sweet “Reuben and Cerise.” This is the last of four Dead performances of this brilliant number from the only Jerry Garcia Band studio album, Cats Under the Stars. There’s spirited keyboard work from the tandem of Hornsby and Welnick throughout. The highlight of set two is a Crazy Fingers > Playin’ > He’s gone combo. Jerry’s spiraling Finger’s outro is guaranteed to satisfy.
            The Dead played the Cal Expo Ampitheatre three times on this date. The diamond in the rough from these gigs is 6-9-84. After a vibrant I Need a Miracle > Bertha to open set two, there’s a “Playin’ in the Band” loop that looks like this: Playin’ > China Doll > Playin’ jam > Drums > Space > Playin’. The jamming is exuberant as the band moves towards “China Doll.” Jerry had vocal issues throughout ’84, but his singing is reasonably clean on this night, although this “Doll” doesn’t have the poignancy of the one from Saratoga on 6-24-84. Jerry rips a nice “Doll” outro that melts back into the “Playin’” theme with a “Let it Grow” tease.  Six minutes of edgy improv gives way to the drummers, and the Space > Playin’ reprise is fifteen minutes of riveting music. As an improvisational loop, this segment isn’t all that different from what the Dead were doing inside of a “Dark Star” or Playin’ in the Band” in their prime.
            Iko Iko > Hell in a Bucket provides a ripping one-two punch to open 6-9-84 Cal Expo. It’s apparent the band is well-rested and in good form as they kick off a tour that will roll through Red Rocks, cross the border into Toront0, swing East for a few dates, and conclude in the Midwest in Alpine Valley. The first set of 6-9-84 is only seven songs, but the band is ripping. “Cassidy” smokes, as does “Dupree’s Diamond Blues if you can overlook a few vocal flubs. Riding the momentum, Jerry closes the set with a ferocious guitar outburst.
            A tight groove is established as the band maneuvers through “Deal.” The extended ending jam was at its best between ’83 and ’85, and the 6-9-84 “Deal” rampage is up there with any rendition. The band hammers the blues as Garcia rolls out a succession ascending scales with aggressive efficiency. It’s a stunning display of virtuosity, the type of segment that can validate the rigors of a long road trip to see a band beyond description fronted by the greatest guitarist on the planet. After a generous and gripping exploration, the band moves towards a chord progression that will lead to the last chorus go-round, but Garcia, the Energizer Bunny on this night, undermines that effort with a sly surge that leads to one more volley of fireworks. 


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