Monday, June 10, 2019

Eleven Elite Morning Dews

Everybody loves an elite Morning Dew. There’s are many praise worthy versions, and I apologize to fans who love the pre-Keith “Dews,” 1967-1971. Those renditions rip, but I have a predilection for “Dews” from the Keith and Brent eras when the song became Jerry’s Holy Grail. Everyone’s favorite “Dew” list will look different, but here’s elven “Dews” guaranteed to blow your mind.
Elite Dews
1. 9-2-80 Rochester: There’s bedlam in the War Memorial as “Iko” segues into “Morning Dew.” This is one period in Dead history when the “Dew” was truly a scarce commodity. It was only played once in both ’78 and ’79, and twice previously in 1980. The entire show was building to this moment, although nothing was predetermined. Garcia sang each line as if it were Holy Scripture, and his voice could heal and comfort the survivors of apocalyptical tragedies. Bobby’s striking rhythm, Phil’s bass bridges, and Brent’s solemn organ grinding all fall into place. Jerry only belts out: “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” twice. The last one is as heartfelt as any he’s ever sung. The emotional control, temperature, and texture of this performance makes this one of the most gripping “Dews” to listen to.
All ears are on Jerry as he pinches his guitar strings to produce the sound of a lonely robin singing, and Weir strikes a chord that finishes one of Jerry’s thoughts—the group mind flourishes. The band knows where Jerry’s going and exactly what needs to be done, even though this is a unique improvisation. Garcia’s runs are delivered with maximum feeling as they maintain a mathematical quality. The escalating tension is almost unbearable as the band rises to the crescendo. Garcia unleashes a wild torrent of speed licks as the band rolls into chord fanning mode, and then Jerry joins the thundering madness which ends with a mighty bass blast and a final “Guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” blessing from Reverend Garcia. There’s something about this “Dew.” Every note, lick and vocal embellishment is perfectly pitched with precise emotion—this scores a perfect ten on the “Dew” scale.
2. 9-10-74 Alexandria Palace, London: Of all the elite versions, this one from Dick’s Picks Volume 7 is the Rodney Dangerfield of “Dews.” The London “Dew” rises solemnly out of “Dark Star,” the next to last time these two anthems would hookup. The hypnotic crawl is redirected by a beguiling solo that wobbles and trembles. Weir’s fine strumming stands out against Garcia’s barrage. It’s a conversation they will pick up in the next jam.
Heading into the BIG jam, Keith’s rare electric piano playing sets the stage like heavy humidity before a thunderstorm. Garcia’s early leads are authoritative and patient, north/south and east/west. The waves of escalation are remarkable as Billy the drummer orchestrates. Jerry turns up the heat. As his lava-like leads flow, Weir’s smoking and inspiring Garcia to the next plateau. It sounds like dueling lead guitarists as Bobby challenges Jerry with rapid chord strumming. Garcia accepts the invitation and obliterates what’s possible at the speed of sound. My brain gets whiplash listening to this showdown. It’s the best Weir/Garcia guitar moment side by side. And then this monster “Dew” bounces and pounds to climax. This is the best jam in any “Dew,” but by a hair, the overall presentation ranks second behind Rochester.

3. 5-8-77 Cornell: Jerry’s purposeful noodling leads back to a “St. Stephen” reprise. Jerry, Bobby, and Donna harmonize the immortal final lines: “Can you answer? Yes I can. But what would be the answer to the answer man?” Garcia strikes the Holy Chord signaling “Morning Dew.” Barton Hall erupts into pandemonium as lucky Deadheads experience the only St. Stephen > Morning Dew the band would ever play—a distinguishing characteristic that hurls Cornell towards instant immortality.
The Cornell “Dew” is emotionally and artistically intense. Jerry’s first solo is subtle, as if he knows the mayhem that will be released later. After singing, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” Garcia offers shrill lead guitar as the band restlessly thumps behind him. What ensues is perhaps the longest “Dew” jam with the finest group effort in Grateful Dead history. As the instrumental escalates, there are six Garcias in sync. It’s an all-out blitz—scientifically precise, yet wild—an earthquake of a performance that’s tough to comprehend. Jerry cries out a final, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Framing the magnificence of “The Dew,” the Dead end the set, and then they come back for an anti-climactic “One More Saturday Night” encore.
4. 12-31-76 Cow Palace: As an instrumental “NFA” fanfare rings out, Phil hits the unmistakable blast announcing, “Morning Dew.” “Walk me out in the morning dew, my honey.” Jerry’s voice covers the Cow Palace like a velvet blanket. The patient commitment of the band is admirable bordering on heroic. At the end of a marathon performance, the band digs in and commits to each note with heart and soul. Keith’s piano playing sets the sacred tone. They say it takes ten years to truly master your craft, and perhaps that explains how brilliant this “Dew” and the ensuing ’77 versions sound.
This Cow Palace “Dew” is a steady barrage of unrelenting magic that places it in the pantheon of killer “Dews.” This must be the longest “Dew” jam as Garcia taps into all his creative genius and the band reads his thoughts. Jerry scurries along, slicing and dicing like a hibachi chef. If you like lobster meat, that’s what Chez Garcia is serving. As the jam boils, Cow Palace is enchanted, engaged, and fully under The Dead’s spell. Jerry concludes the ceremony with a final sigh, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” and the set is closed with a thunderous instrumental exclamation point. The one thing that this “Dew” is missing is an incredible closing crescendo like Cornell. Yet the Cow Palace “Dew” is elite. And like Cornell, the “Dew” closes an immortal set.
5. 9-11-73 Williamsburg: For the most part the William and Mary “Dark Star” is a delightfully understated journey, atmospheric and embracing. Seventeen minutes pass before the first verse. Phil takes command of the next jam, and early on I hear hints of “The Dew.” As Phil carpet-bombs Williamsburg, the rest of the band seemingly cowers in fear and prepares for the inevitable. This bass-driven jam is as much a “Morning Dew” prelude as it is a continuation of “Dark Star.” William and Mary College, the second-oldest American institution of higher education, founded in 1693, was about to experience an aural sensation and molecular transformation that couldn’t be explained in any lecture hall.
The musical terrain has been eviscerated, and out of the rumbling ruins of Phil’s bass, “Morning Dew” is born. Jerry’s solemn voice sings respectfully, as if he’s comforting survivors of a nuclear holocaust. It’s eerie, and ultimately moving as Garcia connects with the spirit of the lyrics. Suspense is born out of the stillness of this version.
Keith and Jerry carefully walk out in the morning dew to Phil’s sobbing bass. Garcia’s emotional playing comes through in soft, rolling waves. The band’s executing in conjunction with their leader, and the music swirls and intensifies naturally—the laws of physics are in play. Yet, the thickness of the bass and the temperature and velocity of these guitar notes can’t be charted. As the shit’s about to hit the fan, the soundboard recording cuts out, as if it couldn’t handle the heat. Luckily, a Deadhead is out there making a decent audience recording, and this is wonderfully spliced in—not one note is lost. Garcia’s guitar runs squeal like sirens and then he pulls back as Keith bangs away and thunderous bass clears the way for the final run. Jerry’s chord-fanning sequence climbs the high-frequency ladder faster and faster, with Weir matching him in a lower register every step of the way until the last remaining voice sighs, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” 

6. 6-7-77 Winterland: “Terrapin Station” winds down and rolls into the Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” This is the last “Dew” of ‘77, and it’s the final Terrapin > Dew ever. Garcia’s not messing around as he shreds the mid-song solo—kinetic energy compressed in a succession of shrill notes. Billy, Mickey, and Phil simulate a musical heart attack, pumping away as they keep pace with Garcia. It’s the best opening solo of the ’77 “Dews.” Great versions have distinguishing characteristics, and another tell-tale sign of the 6-7-77 “Dew” is that Jerry only sings “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” once before the ballistic ending. Jerry’s calling the shots and escalating the urgency of the jam. It’s as inspired as it is technically flawless. In rolling climax mode, the band chases Jerry in unified bursts. It’s a brilliant “Dew” all the way, and it challenges the Cornell version for ‘77 supremacy and bragging rights. Yet Cornell weaves a mystical tapestry of strange magic that gives it the edge over this Winterland masterpiece.

7. 9-18-87 Madison Square Garden: I was there. “Watchtower” fizzled into a few seconds of no man’s land. If the next song was “Black Peter,” “Sella Blue,” or “Wharf Rat,” it would have been a letdown. The moment demanded the Holy Grail. Garcia had no path but the “Dew,” and he bent a warning note before striking into the sanctified anthem. To be in the thick of that audience and to experience the collective ecstasy is the realization of the ultimate power of music, which is beyond anything from any other realm. It was as if New York was healing Garcia, and Jerry had just announced that everyone had a winning lottery ticket.
Jerry sings soulfully and spiritually, bestowing “The Dew” upon his devotees like a soothing prayer. This is where the enthusiastic wisdom of New York Deadheads factors in. They know every nuance of the song and treat it like a religious anthem, only expressing their joy in response to their spiritual leader. You can hear a pin drop as Jerry growls, “Where have all the people gawwwwn TODAY!” And then the silence is parted by the unified roar of his flock. “Morning Dew” was more moving than ever before for both the singer and the audience in the aftermath of Garcia’s comeback from a near-death experience.
Phil’s bass rattles the arena as Garcia leans forward and shreds a shrill solo between verses. Singing from the heart of humanity, Jerry croons: “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” four times, each cry more sorrowful than the last, and each ensuing eruption from the audience, louder. Madison Square Garden was shaking from the last roar as it never had before. It was as if a Knick just hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the NBA Championship.
Usually Garcia builds his “Dew” solo deliberately, but due to the overwhelming emotional explosion, he went for the jugular—down on the lower part of the fretboard, a blizzard of notes. Standing there fifteen rows from Jerry was surreal. To make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I bent over and slapped the cement floor with the palm of my hand three times.
How is Garcia going to execute and extend this jam when he started with a climactic tirade? Simple. He invents pathways. At one point he makes a circular motion with his hand, as if he’s waving a magic wand, and then seemingly discovers a frequency that never existed before, hitting the highest possible notes on the fretboard and peeling them off with speed and precision before the band joins in for the final fanning blitz.
8. 9-21-72 Philly Spectrum: Bob and Jerry strike up a groovy riff and suddenly there’s a jazz jam on Mars. Kreutzmann steers the ship for a while as Phil and Keith ping-pong leads back and forth. About twenty-minutes into “Dark Star,” Jerry starts to channel a dark disturbance as Keith slashes electric piano riffs and Phil furiously thumps away. The Dead are sounding like a Miles Davis fusion group as the music spirals round and round like a cyclone tearing far into another universe. They take it to the limit, and then the jam floats around in a vacuum of timelessness—sparse music trying to find a way back home. The Dead rise into a jam that loosely resembles “Feelin’ Groovy,” and for the next five minutes they ride an intergalactic trail. This is September 21, 1972, and the show must go on, so the bamd nonchalantly tumbles into “Morning Dew.”
            It’s a concert once again as Jerry’s soulful singing stirs deep emotion alongside his mates’ astute playing. The band is relaxed and bold as they play in one of the major East Coast sports venues as the main event for the first time. The final “Dew” jam is a steaming wave of cascading heat—pure aural paradise and the best version of the year. This is a D Star > Dew for the ages, and the set is still only slightly past the halfway point.

10. 6-24-83 Madison, Wisconsin: On the other side of Drums, the “Truckin’” jam peaks and casually unwinds into “Morning Dew.” Everything is as it should be. Madison’s going nuts, Phil’s blasts rock the Dane County Coliseum, and the first solo sets the table for a dramatic final jam that’s as unique as it is long.
The expedition starts deliberately. Tension builds as Phil’s bass shakes the foundation underneath Brent’s swirling chords. Usually Jerry goes for the emotional jugular at this point, but as the cyclone spins, he pauses to let Brent lead him to another plateau, as he did earlier in “Deal.” The band is all ears as Jerry lets Brent set him up for guitar strikes that are fiercer with each round. Garcia masterfully extends the funnel cloud portion of the jam as he juggles intensity and creativity. It’s an exhaustive performance, and the best “Dew” of 1983. Yes, it’s better than 6-18-83 Saratoga, another special “Dew” that I had the opportunity to witness.
11. 7-10-89 Giants Stadium: An adventurous “All Along the Watchtower” that veers between rock, jazz, and anarchy follows “Iko Iko.” Out of nowhere, the Dead were on the verge of salvaging an uneventful evening. The Neville Brothers provided the impetus, and the Dead were eager to show them what it’s like to stop time in its tracks in a football stadium with 80,000 witnesses as they rang the bell for “Morning Dew.”
            When the Dead played the first Watchtower > Dew in Madison Square Garden on 9-18-87, it was the most thrilling live moment of my years following the Dead. The next one I saw at Oxford, Maine, on 7-2-88, was almost anti-climactic. Seeing the “Dew” was always colossal, but in the late ’80s, this once rare anthem had become commonplace. Garcia’s vocals are engaging on the 7-10-89 “Dew.” The middle solo rises like a tsunami and folds back into Giants Stadium. Garcia finishes the last verse and shrieks: “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” four times. What happened next was absolutely brilliant—the last mind-blowing solo I’d hear from Jerry (I only saw four more shows in the ’90s).
            The majestic jam emerges with frisky licks that cascade through the swampy Jersey night. At the 9:10 mark, Jerry strikes a chord that rings out as if he’s punching a time clock. The creative direction of the solo changes as Garcia’s fingers scramble through scales, east and west, north and south, and then he retraces his footprints in reverse. It’s a stunning sequence, unlike anything in any other “Dew.” Garcia easily slides into the climactic crescendo, but the musicians are a step behind. Perhaps they were induced into a trance by the Bearded One’s virtuosity. As Garcia rams this across the finish line with rapid chord fanning, I envisioned myself paying my taper friend a visit the following day to dub a copy of the show. I knew that this was a solo I’d cherish. Since 7-10-89, I’ve listened to this solo at least 1,000 times.

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