Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Deadology September 11: Three Legendary Dews

Excerpt from Deadology

The Dead made the third stop of their northeast tour on the campus of William and Mary on 9-11-73. It’s Mickey’s 30th birthday, but he wasn’t a member of the Dead at this juncture. The first set flows nicely until it explodes when “China Cat” is played in the eighth spot. It’s around this time in ’73 that “China Cat” flourishes into a beast. As the band pounces on the heavy “Cat” jam, there’s that wonderful dichotomy of patient, thoughtful playing in the thick of a brewing storm. As the band elegantly skates past the crescendo and works toward the “Feelin’ Groovy” motif, the musical blend is striking—the psychedelic intensity of Haight Ashbury melts in a stream of steaming jazz.
In the penultimate slot in the set, “Mississippi Half-Step” is ripe and bursting at the seams. You can hear the intoxicating effect of the song in Jerry’s vocals and the shuffling groove of the band. It’s inevitable that the instrumentals within would continue to flourish. That’s not as apparent in the second tune of the set, “Sugaree.” As sweet as the Dead shake it, “Sugaree” shows no signs of turning into the masterpiece it would become in ’77 and beyond. The opening set of 9-11-73 ends with another mind-bending ramble through “Playin’ in the Band.”
The first two nights of this tour were in the Nassau Coliseum. On 9-7-73, the latest Weir/Barlow composition, “Let it Grow,” was debuted. Garcia’s garrulous guitar shredding made this a huge success. The following night in Nassau, “Weather Report Suite” was played in its entirety. This Wake of the Flood anthem had already been recorded in the studio, and the album was due for release on October 15. The second set of William and Mary begins with Keith’s contribution to Wake of the Flood, “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” as guest horn players Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis join the Dead on stage for the first time. Martin and Joe were in Doug Sahm’s band, the opening act for this tour.

Fierro and Ellis remain as the Dead break into “Weather Report Suite.” You have to respect the Dead’s thirst for fresh adventures, but more horns equal less Garcia. And the way Jerry nailed that first version of “Let it Grow,” any interruption by any musician, with the possible exception of Miles Davis, was unnecessary. I’m a huge jazz admirer, and this might have worked with the right players, but these talented cats sounded out of place and too loud. Luckily, they were only on board for the first three songs.
“Row Jimmy” returned the Dead to their natural hypnotic flow, and it was the fourth consecutive Wake of The Flood tune. After three more standalones put the band into their element, they rolled out “Dark Star.” For the most part it’s 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 William and Mary, 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.”
A “Sugar Magnolia” rampage turned William and Mary College Hall into a sweaty mess of happy hippies. The 9-11-73 Morning Dew > Sugar Magnolia gives us two of the best versions from a legendary year. The Dead played one of the all-time great “Dews” in Alexandra Palace, London, on 9-10-74. For this narrative, it would have been a nice coincidence if this “Dew” was played at their second performance in Alexandra Palace on 9-11. The first gig with “The Dew,” on 9-10-74, was the better show. However, night two gives us several outstanding performances. 

September 11 offers several elite performances through the years, but the version of “Happy Birthday” by Joan Baez for Mickey Hart on 9-11-81 is one of the best you’ll ever hear. Joan opens the show by belting out a traditional “Happy Birthday” before segueing into a quick riff off the Stevie Wonder interpretation. It’s the best “Happy Birthday” since 5-19-62 Madison Square Garden when Marilyn Monroe seductively sang it for President Kennedy. On Mickey’s first performance with the Dead on his birthday, the band busts into “New Minglewood Blues.” This is opening night of what would be a fabulous three-night residency in the magnificent Greek Theater, and it’s the first time the band has played the Greek since ’68.
The first six songs were typical fare, and then Deadheads in the Greek were thrilled to hear “Cumberland Blues,” the third version since it was returned to the lineup after a seven-year hiatus. Classic tunes getting lost in the shuffle is inevitable for a band with an ever-expanding repertoire. “Cumberland” is followed by three solid Go to Heaven performances, “Althea,” Sailor > Saint, and the set closes with a pulsating “Deal.”
“Feel Like a Stranger” starts set two with that idiosyncratic Dead groove. Garcia plays gorgeous melodic lines through the jam as Weir and Mydland fill the space between with funky riffs and noises. Jerry holds back a bit here, but all restraints vanish as the band frolics into “Franklin’s Tower.” Each solo is attacked with gusto as Billy and Mickey ensure a steady ride with their unshakable rhythm. There’s a perky tone to Jerry’s bubbling leads as this show develops a unique sonic personality.
After a raw “Women Are Smarter,” “He’s Gone” swerves into “Truckin’.” The “Truckin’” crescendo smolders into an “Other One” jam, although that hasn’t been properly documented in Deadbase or other set list sites. It’s more than a tease, it’s a tantalizing three minutes of “Other One,” which is resumed after Drums. The jamming is hot here, but Weir cuts Jerry off by entering the verses too quickly. However, Garcia won’t be denied. He noodles his way into another solo after the second verse, making that a total of four healthy “Other One” solos.
It was that kind of night. All roads are leading towards “Morning Dew” and the crowd howls, yodels, and roars as Jerry smoothly rolls into the opening licks of “The Dew,” only the third version of the year. Ascending into the majestic jam, the drummers push the tempo a little quicker than usual, but Garcia takes control of the intuitive and builds his solo soulfully. Brent’s sweeping organ takes the jam to the next plateau as Garcia’s playing intensifies with the overall volume. The chord-fanning crescendo is fabulous; Garcia seemingly hits on a frequency that’s engrained with that distinctive 9-11-81 Greek sound. Dew > Johnny B. Goode completes a quality set and birthday celebration.

Our next Mickey Hart birthday bash takes us to the high deserts of New Mexico and a place they call Santa Fe. On their second night in Santa Fe Downs on 9-11-83, the first-set song selection was uninspired. There was no reason to believe that a special second set was imminent.
            The resplendent bouncing beat of “Help on the Way” clears a path for glory at the start of set two. More than any other opening combo, Help > Slipknot! > Franklin’s can positively alter the tone of a show. “Slipknot!” is stretched out and explored as it was nine days earlier in Boise. The next time they play this, in Madison Square Garden on 10-12-83, the potential of this Blues for Allah masterpiece is fully realized. In Santa Fe there’s extraordinary individual virtuosity in Slipknot! > Franklin’s, yet, collectively, the band’s execution’s sloppy at times. There are two factors in play here: the furious jamming is too hot to handle, and the band isn’t listening to each other as it had in years past.

            There was no cooling off as the band follows with “Let it Grow,” an apropos choice in the high deserts of Santa Fe, a pleading prayer to the gods. Garcia’s playing is savage here; you can get whiplash listening to this. In the long jam, the band had established a three-pronged attack where Weir signals the transition to each segment. In Santa Fe, Garcia just puts his head down and plows the fields without much regard for structure. More Garcia is always a winning formula, even if it comes off a tad chaotic at times. This doesn’t have the framed brilliance of the 8-7-82 Alpine Valley “Let it Grow,” but The Boys deliver an elite fifteen-minute rendition. And then they collapse into a weary “He’s Gone” that drifts into Drums.
            “Truckin’” segues into “Wang Dang Doodle.” Weir has trouble remembering the words, so the band jams extra-long as Weir recalls the lyrics. This isn’t Madison Square Garden, there’s no pressure. On take two Weir gets it right, and there’s more blues jamming. On the verge of Dead show immortality, Garcia makes the crucial decision to segue into “Morning Dew.” Wang Dang Doodle > Dew has a nice ring to it.
            Although Garcia’s voice is a little scratchy and the tempo’s a tad fast, this had the makings of a killer “Dew.” Garcia develops the final jam nicely, and the band’s playing loud by his side. As they move towards the crescendo, Phil and Brent play like madmen. I expect to hear Jerry rise to the occasion and finish it off heroically, except he whiffs and just ends it, “I guess it doesn’t matter anywayyyyyyyyy!” The band gets an A+ for effort as they follow with Around and Around > Sugar Magnolia. Mickey’s 40th birthday celebration ends with “U.S. Blues.” 

More on other 9-11 shows in Deadology: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History

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