Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Royal Roosevelt Stadium Rhapsody

8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City: 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 understated flavor of the groove.
            In an instant, the intensity surges as Bobby and Donna join in on the chorus. Weir’s voice leads the way, and Donna never sounded better. Billy and Phil are locked in tight, and Jerry’s the Maestro, filling solo one with sublime perfection from the opening note. For sixty-six seconds, the musicians backing Jerry are inspired, performing in brilliant synergy. Garcia finishes this sixty-six second 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 “Eyes” verse solo 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. Sometimes when a band is on a roll, the greatness of what’s to come is evident in-the-moment. The only intrigue is how it will unfold. As solo two emerges, Jerry pauses for a second, and the silky-smooth leads flow as he expands on the ideas from the previous solo. This ninety-four second instrumental unfolds like this: 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 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 Stronger Than Dirt riff resonates. Jerry’s rampaging as Weir strums madly. Rampant genius is grounded in stone cold musical logic. The tornado of sound dissipates as Eyes hits the eighteen-minute mark. Garcia’s guitar sobs in disbelief. This is a major masterpiece. One that grabs my attention all the way through, and never fails to deliver a transcendent thrill. 



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