Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Deadology: Halloween

            Since the band reveled in the art of trick or treat and their fans loved to masquerade, it makes sense that the Grateful Dead turned in many memorable performances on Halloween. Cornell and Englishtown are legendary shows that need no introduction to any Deadhead. Surprisingly, there’s a sensational ’71 Halloween show, released as Dick’s Picks Vol. 2, that’s the Rodney Dangerfield of elite performances. Perhaps that’s because the official release is just a single CD containing set two of 10-31-71 from the Ohio Theatre in Columbus. Or maybe it’s because the show took place under the radar in the Midwest and it didn’t start building its reputation until it was released for public consumption in 1995. Pushing this contemplation aside, here are the facts. The second set of 10-31-71 is rockin’ improvisational perfection personified.
            Dick Latvala was a genius. Although it defied the expectations of Deadheads who clamor for recordings of complete shows, his decision to release this short set as a single CD was ballsy, and it brought glory to a standout segment that deserves to be immortalized. In an interview with Steve Silberman before the release of this CD, Latvala said, “This show was like getting hit with a brick in the face, I couldn’t believe it. I put it on again, and said, ‘Man!’ I must have played it ten times before I could talk.” Believe the man when he tells you how stunning this segment is.
            If you were trying to impress a classic rocker by playing “Dark Star” for them, and this individual had no predisposition for liking the Grateful Dead or jazz, then the 10-31-71 “Dark Star” is the ticket. Right from the opening notes Garcia’s playing is lyrical, hypnotic, and focused. Lesh and Kreutzmann lock into a comfortable and confident tempo. Garcia’s licks sparkle in a series of rolling waves. The music hurls the listener into timeless space travel while simultaneously building anticipation for the first verse. Many of the best “Dark Stars” can disorientate a listener and the musicians themselves. This “Star” brilliantly glides along and unfolds as if it’s a predetermined masterpiece.
After the opening verse goes down, the band goes into one of the longest and hottest “Feelin’ Groovy” riffs of any “Dark Star.” The momentum of the jam seems to fuel some of the great moments to come later in the set. “Feelin’ Groovy” dissolves into a few minutes of cosmic space that rises into a crescendo that gives birth to “Sugar Magnolia.” This is a compelling, fully explored twenty-three-minute “Dark Star” without superfluous noodling.
            The Halloween Columbus show gives us the first Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia combination. I love the way “Mag” is launched in this configuration. And the beast unleashed in “Feelin’ Groovy” rolls in the best “Sugar Mag” jam to date. Europe ’72 would take this cowboy rocker to the next plateau. As Billy lays down the final beats of “Sunshine Daydream,” the rest of the band takes a collective breath prior to the majestic intro of “St. Stephen.”
            Coming after “Sugar Magnolia” instead of “Dark Star,” “St, Stephen” seems to have a new sense of purpose. Little did anyone know that “Stephen” would not be played again for five years. Every lyric and lick matters, and the jam is volatile. Garcia and Weir take off in unison, fanning quicker and quicker until they burst into the final verse: “Saint Stephen will remain. All he’s lost he shall regain. Seashore washed by the suds and the foam. Been here so long he’s got to calling it home. Fortune comes a-crawlin’, Calliope woman. Spinning that curious sense of your own. Can you answer? Yes I can, but what would be the answer to the answer man?”
            The answer was a common but thrilling transition into “Not Fade Away.” There’s an infectious bounce to the beat. The song advances with uncanny bravado, and you can sense that Garcia and company are going to tear this up. Describing listening to this “NFA” jam, Latvala said, “I have to put myself in a seat belt. I start shaking, it’s so exciting.”
            I don’t like to restrain myself when I listen to this “NFA.” I just remove all sharp and breakable items in the room before cuing this up. Garcia’s fingers bend and pick in a blur, and what he does with this jam is silly. It’s easily his best guitar work within the Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road > Not Fade Away framework, which is where this adventure is headed. Every time I listen to a different version of this combo, I pray it approaches what Garcia does in Columbus. It never comes close. Jerry’s out in front of the band, guitar tirades surging to the pulsing rhythm as Garcia refuses to consider the transition into “GDTRFB.” Inexplicably, the jam rotates hotter and hotter, and Jerry makes it seem as easy as unspooling yarn.
            “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” feeds off the swirling momentum. This is a vibrant version with two powerful jams, but it’s only better than about 75 percent of the versions out there. However, the GDTRFB > NFA transition is in the elite stratosphere of the Scarlet > Fire transition from Cornell. Out of the GDTRFB outro, a wondrous jam emerges. The band is conflicted, yet united. Half of the band steps towards NFA, while the other half tinkers with GDTRFB. Garcia’s in full tease mode, alternating soft, controlled playing with rebellious outbursts, and somehow, the rest of the band rides the wave. The “Feelin’ Groovy” energy is permeating the proceedings again. How does the band know what Garcia’s thinking? And it’s amazing how they instinctively respond when they’ve never improvised a segue like this before. Maybe these are the rewards of passing the Acid Tests. This type of spontaneous group synergy is unique to the Grateful Dead.
The return explosion into “Not Fade Away” disrupts physics and gravity in Columbus, Ohio. Garcia’s voice bubbles as he chants the reprise with Weir. As Weir shrieks falsetto screams, Garcia unleashes frenzied riffs. The climactic crescendo is worthy of The Who and an equipment-bashing tantrum. This is the definitive Grateful Dead rock and roll extravaganza.
Oh yeah, they did play a first set in the Ohio Theatre, and it’s a good one. “Playin’ in the Band” rockets for six and a half minutes in the fourth slot. You can hear the creaking of psychedelic expansion. “Tennessee Jed” is more of a tipsy dash as opposed to the Southern marathon it would become. A spirited “Casey Jones” is followed by hyped renditions of “Cumberland Blues” and “One More Saturday Night” to end the opening set. By only releasing set two, Dick framed this masterpiece perfectly.
The year before the Dead stormed Columbus, they played an early and late Halloween show in the Gymnasium at the State University of New York at Stonybrook. The early show begins with “Till the Morning Comes,” an ironic choice since this is from American Beauty, an album that would be released the following morning. This early show was one long set with a clever mix of songs, including “Hard to Handle,” “Cold Rain and Snow,” and “Brokedown Palace.” The evening comes alive when “Viola Lee Blues” is launched. As the jam spirals towards paradise, the band smoothly shifts into the opening riff of “Cumberland Blues.” Being that this is the last “Viola” ever played, it would have been nice to hear it played through to its climactic conclusion. On the bright side, this is the hottest opening for “Cumberland Blues.” The one and done trifecta of Viola Lee Blues > Cumberland Blues > Uncle John’s Band makes for an epic set ending.
“Casey Jones” and “Sugar Magnolia” start the late show Halloween festivities in Stonybrook. The 10-31-70 “Sugar Mag” has a folksy vibe with a bright jam and vocal harmony like the studio track. The show moves along somewhat sluggishly until the Dead close out with St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad > Not Fade Away. The band rocks this full blast. Both Stonybrook shows give us memorable segue jams. The “GDTRFB” outro ramps up as if it may charge into something else, but it eventually dashes back to a “NFA” reprise. This finale foreshadows the mayhem that would be unleashed upon Columbus next Halloween.
The third Halloween, “St. Stephen” was performed in the Marin County Veteran’s Auditorium on 10-31-83. It was the first time it was played on the West Coast in five years, and it would be the last performance of “St. Stephen” ever. It had been many years since I heard this show start to finish, and it’s a set list packed with tricks and treats. Wang Dang Doodle > Brother Esau kicks off the show, and the set ends with an LSD-dosing: Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance > Deal. Sandwiched between the desirable opening and closing combos are “Peggy O,” “Little Red Rooster,” and “Brown-Eyed Women.” This set looks potent on paper, but most of the performances are mediocre. The “Deal” doesn’t have the length or fire of the last two versions from the East Coast fall tour, 10-17-83 Lake Placid and 10-20-83 Worcester.
Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower fires up the faithful in Marin County at the start of set two. This doesn’t compare to the 10-12-83 MSG version, nor the ones from the summer tour, 9-2-83 Boise or 9-10-83 Santa Fe, but it’s still an aural delight. The night of dazzling combinations continues with Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World. Jerry digs in for an excellent second solo and outro in “Eyes.”
Jazz percussionist extraordinaire Airto Moreira joined Billy and Mickey for Drums. This leads to Space, which evolves into a fifteen-minute jam session thanks to the presence of Moreira. It’s rare that the post-Drums > Space is a highlight of a quality show, but this is a must-listen Space. Garcia’s actively improvising over the funky beat with “Eyes”-like noodling. The jam unwinds back into a more typical Space and hints of “St. Stephen.” The tease is no trick as the place goes nuts when the band ascends into the sacred anthem. The tempo of the performance is spot-on, and Garcia’s voice is as sweet as pie. Weir botches a few verses, and Jerry’s guitar work isn’t on par with what he did on 10-11-83 MSG and 10-15-83 Hartford, but this is a fine and historic farewell to “Stephen.” The ensuing Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away was a throwaway, and the Dead finished their State of the Union Address with “Revolution.”
The Marin County ’83 Halloween bash had a best of the fall tour feel, although the band didn’t cook as they had back East. The Dead tapped into the energy created by their rabid East Coast fans, but there are other factors to explain this phenomenon, especially in the 80s. It was easier for Garcia to lose himself in his Persian habit and still make the local shows than it was to travel from New York to Hartford to Lake Placid and play on the road. It takes a certain amount of tenacity, and it was certainly more of a challenge than showing up for a hometown show.
Another factor was that the Dead would heat up as a tour rolled along. Usually the best shows of a Northeast tour would start to manifest on the third or fourth show of the tour. When the Dead played these short runs at places like the Greek Theatre, Ventura Fairgrounds, Frost Amphitheatre, or Marin, the band didn’t have the same opportunity to shake off the cobwebs and build momentum.
When the Dead played their ’84 Halloween show in the Berkeley Community Theater, it was the fourth gig of a six-night stand in the same venue. This had the effect of being a mini-tour and backing my theory. The best shows of this residency were the last two on 11-2 and 11-3. The “Shakedown Street” Halloween opener sets the crowd in hyper-motion. Matthew Kelly blows harp on the opening solo of song five, “New Minglewood Blues.” Deprived of a chance to solo, Garcia opens jam two on fire, disturbing the normal pecking order as Brent and Bobby follow with their solos, and the remainder of the instrumental is a raunchy mix of all of the above. This is a refreshing change of pace from the usual “Minglewood” formula. Kelly stays on board as a speedy “Big Railroad Blues” rolls on down the tracks.
As they had the year before on Halloween, the Dead close set one with LSD. This time it’s Lazy Lightning > Supplication > Don’t Ease Me In. There’s something about Halloween and final performances because, sadly, this is the last go-round for “Lazy Lightning” and the verse of “Supplication.” This performance is a bit disjointed, but Garcia’s smoking all the way through. This nine-minute “Supplication” is among the longest. This electrifying Weir combo was in its prime in ’78 and 79. Even though it was played with less frequency in the years that followed, the exhilaration factor intensified. I can only imagine that the tricky chord changes and the need for precise execution led to its demise. The ensuing “Supplication” jams were always a letdown in the moment, but they sound good on tape.
Set two of 10-31-84 starts with rockin’ fun in the form of Touch of Grey >Samson. Matt Kelly is back for the fourth song of the set as the band works its way into “I Need a Miracle” with a patient blues beat, performing it with a loving feeling. “Miracle” segues into the Dead’s debut of “Superstitious.” With Kelly’s harp playing and the patient tempo, this may be the best rendition of “Superstitious,” which went on to be a first-set staple for a while.
Drums > Space leads to a brief “Mind Left Body” jam and “Morning Dew.” It’s a strong “Dew,” although it’s not as brilliant as the last one played in Augusta on 10-12-84. Garcia locks into a nice lead pattern that he repeats as he works his way down the fretboard. The lack of a chord-fanning crescendo keeps this from being a special “Dew.” Jerry is finished for the night as Weir delivers a kiddie cookout: Around and Around > One More Saturday Night, sung as “One more Halloween Night.” A “Satisfaction” encore concludes this masquerade ball.
The Grateful Dead returned Halloween to the East Coast in 85. After tuning up to “Funiculi, Funicula,” a ghoulish Space filled the Carolina Coliseum. Phil’s howling into the mic and Healy’s working the special effects. It was an exhilarating buildup to “Werewolves of London.” This was the first “Werewolves” since it was played as an encore at the legendary 7-8-78 Red Rocks affair. Garcia fumbled through some lyrics, but the energy in Colombia, South Carolina, was unreal. Jerry’s solos captured the essence of Warren Zevon’s signature tune. Ah hooo!
It had the makings of one of those nights as “Music Never Stopped” followed “Werewolves.” This “Music” had a sparkling jam, especially for this early in the show, and it was one of the best of ’85. After the surreal opening, Weir cleverly proclaims, “Thank you and good evening ‘Music’ [Never Stopped] lovers.” The rest of the show tanked due to short sets combined with meager creativity. That being said, a sweet “Shakedown Street” opened set two. This fall ’85 tour had several outstanding shows with interesting song twists. The Werewolves > Music opening alone makes this show loveable. 

The 1980 Halloween shindig was a historic night in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The Dead decided to televise this show live in sixteen theaters throughout the East Coast and Midwest, making this the first rock and roll closed-circuit telecast of its kind. Al Franken and Tom Davis, of Saturday Night Live fame, hosted the show and engaged in a few quick skits with the band and crew. This was also the last night of the Dead’s twenty-four-show acoustic/electric tour. The acoustic set began with instrumental performances of “Heaven Help the Fool” and “Sage and Spirit,” and then Jerry sang “Little Sadie.” This was the last time the Grateful Dead would perform those three songs. Garcia’s performance of “It Must Have Been the Roses” is hypnotic. Deadheads were elated with the set-ending Birdsong > Ripple, which was included on the Dead Ahead video.
A blazing “Jack Straw” opens the first electric set. Garcia’s lightning licks are highlighted by two surging tirades. Phil bombs Radio City as the band fans “Straw” to a rowdy conclusion. Add another 1980 “Straw” to the elite Top-Twenty Club. Great expectations flow as “Cold Rain and Snow” ensues, and then the band remembers they have business to attend to and the nature of the show changes. The spontaneity and chaos of a Dead show unfolding ceases as the band goes into studio mode, trying to create clean, mistake-free performances for their upcoming electric album, Dead Set. During “Little Red Rooster,” Garcia and Weir focus on making their guitars sound like roosters crowing instead of really cutting loose. “Ramble on Rose” is a clean version, but the perfect “Rose” already exists on Europe ’72.
Set three was doomed as the band decided to promote their new album Go to Heaven to the closed-circuit audience by starting the set with “Don’t Ease Me In” and Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance. Before Drums, the Dead played a standalone “Franklin’s Tower,” and after Drums, they played a standalone “Fire on the Mountain.” These were attempts to garner more material for Dead Set, and the sluggish 10-31-80 “Fire” made the regrettable album. Both “Franklin’s” and “Fire” usually benefit from the momentum of the songs preceding it; consequently, these versions don’t have their natural pizzazz. The actual musicianship in “Fire” is high quality, but the band’s taking no chances. If I were to take the best electric performances of this Radio City run and align them for a compilation CD, it wouldn’t come close to matching the brilliance of the 9-2-80 Rochester show.
Sweeping my critique of the 10-31-80 performances aside, this Halloween show, and the entire tour, was a major success. The acoustic performances that ended up on Dead Ahead are essential footage that has become iconic. Between the video and the release of Reckoning, the music world was turned on to another side of the Grateful Dead, a band with deep folk roots. And with all the hoopla surrounding this show, it signaled that the Grateful Dead were committed to what they were doing while other big rock acts of the 70s were in decline. This was a group with staying power that created its own musical universe. What they were doing was irresistible to a new generation of fans who got on the bus thanks to this Halloween performance. As the band’s popularity soared in the early 80s, it’s clear that the officially released videos and recordings from this tour did more for the Dead’s fame than any albums since Europe ’72 and American Beauty

For more on other Halloween shows, check out Deadology: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Deadology: October 20

Jack Straw may be from Wichita, but the hottest “Jack Straw” is from Syracuse on 10-20-84. On this date in 1974, the Grateful Dead bid farewell to touring for a year and a half with an epic three-set blowout in the Winterland. I’ll save that for last and begin with the Syracuse “Straw,” a performance so astounding that it dominates a strong concert that ended a rousing East Coast tour.
I wasn’t there, and that fact haunts me every time I listen to the Syracuse “Straw,” although I’ve worshipped this version from the first time I heard it. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse was the final stop on the Dead’s East Coast tour for the third year in a row. I knew 10-20-84 was bound for glory. I had caught all ten previous shows on tour ’84 and I was disappointed with the song selection at the last Brendan Byrne gig. On Saturday, October 20, 1984, I attended my brother’s bar mitzvah somewhere in New Jersey, but my heart was in Syracuse.

The Carrier Dome, an indoor stadium with an inflatable roof, was opened in 1980. Its main purpose was to serve as a stadium for the Syracuse Orange football and basketball teams. It also became a major tour stop for concerts, although, based on my experiences there, it was far from being an optimal venue for a Grateful Dead show. Bertha > Greatest Story Ever Told opened the festivities on 10-20-84. The music was up-tempo and edgy, but there were no hints of the madness to come early on.
Effectively altering his guitar tone with a Mu-Tron III envelope filter, Garcia rips a unique “Ramble on Rose” solo during the fifth song of the set. And then Weir implores the crowd to take a step back. The fire marshal was threatening to shut the show down due to the overcrowding near the stage. This was temporarily bad news for those being smashed up front, but spectacular news for those who craved transcendent jams. On several occasions in 1977, the Dead encouraged their eager fans to take a step back, and these masterpieces ensued: 5-8-77 Scarlet > Fire (Cornell), 9-3-77 Mississippi Half-Step (Englishtown), and 11-5-77 Mississippi Half-Step (Rochester). The other common dominator here is the rabid East Coast fan factor.
The next tune for Syracuse is a fine performance of “Brother Esau.” There’s no transcendence there, but the ensuing “Birdsong” touches off the magic. The drummers strike an up-tempo, jazzy beat as Phil’s bass dances in the shadows and Jerry’s axe shreds and shrieks a tune so sweet—Grateful Fusion. Due to my obsession with this “Straw,” I previously overlooked this searing gem.
After “Birdsong” lands, Garcia’s restless fingers suggest “Jack Straw.” The opening licks sound like they could slice and puncture. The budding momentum is staggering as Weir howls, “Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon. Might as well be me…Me!!!” Bone-crunching bass blasts are met with furious guitar strumming. The essence of the Jack Straw character firmly takes hold of Weir as he venomously hollers, “One’s for sport and one’s for blood at the point of a knife! Now the die is shaken. Now the die must fall!” As the song settles into the “Fourth day of July” verse, the upcoming rampage is palpable. Anyone with an ear for the Dead knows they’re about to witness something unforgettable.
Weir ignites the final assault: “You keep us on the runnnn, RUN!” A Lesh bomb that would have collapsed a smaller venue sets Garcia on the warpath. The licks are coming fast and furious as Jerry changes flow by adjusting a few knobs without interfering with the forward thrust. This is a group exorcism as they bash away in unison—physically letting it all hang out. Compressed and controlled pandemonium fills the dome. Jerry Bond 007 blazes away and creates a new guitar language. My friends told me that Jerry leaped in the air during this jam. I think I hear the thud at the 5:47 mark. Ho, ho, ho! There’s no traditional chord fanning as the band has passed the point of no return, and somehow, Jerry keeps the mojo rollin’. Phil’s relentless bass bombs set off seismograph detectors in central New York. This could be the most explosive and primal jam in Dead history. If you pick this “Straw” up mid-stream, it doesn’t sound like the Dead—or any other band. All the anger and evil inherit in the song is unleashed, and the effect on the listeners is cathartic and euphoric as it all rolls back to the starting point: We can share the women we can share the wine.
“We’re going to take a short break. Everybody move back,” says Weir, as if he’s Jack Straw and he’s still pissed-off. The Carrier Dome, which is louder than most indoor stadiums, is deafening. I can only imagine how ecstatic I would have been if I was there. There’s nothing I love more than a crazed “Jack Straw.” Instead, I was dancing the hora and listening to the Murray Fields Band. Goddamn it! I should have been there. With all the hard traveling and touring I put in, I earned that Syracuse “Straw.”

Riding the “Straw” high, the Dead stormed into set two with “Shakedown Street.” Billy and Mickey are pounding percussion devils on this evening. This version’s a cannonball blast that maintains its funkiness. There’s no fiddle-faddle as Jerry steams into the big jam. A volatile “Samson and Delilah” feeds off the “Shakedown” fury. Finally, the Dead return to normal planetary orbit with He’s Gone > Smokestack Lightning. This is the same combo they played in Worcester on 10-9-84. The Worcester performance is pure heart, soul, and spirit. In comparison, the Syracuse combo is merely adequate.
The Dead weren’t finished with Syracuse on 10-20-84. After Drums, they reeled off a lively Wheel > Other One > Black Peter > Lovelight finale. Jerry sang a spirited “Black Peter,” and the outro segued into a captivating “Lovelight.” There was attentive soloing and noodling from Jerry throughout. On his final go-round, Bobby tried to channel some Pigpen mojo, and then decided to bring it on home like the Bobby Blue Band: “Feel alright, feel alright, let your lovelight shine, girl. Owww! Feel alright, feel alright…Owww!” Jerry hits dramatic licks as the band crunches a perfect ending and Bobby chimes in with a final, “Feel alright!” This “Lovelight” is a thriller. Syracuse received “Revolution” for dessert.

Perhaps the Syracuse “Straw” was influenced by flashbacks to the anniversary of the Dead’s 10-20-68 Greek Theatre gig. That performance is a stream of pure heat, start to finish. “Good Morning Little School Girl” set the tone for the show in the opening slot. It’s uncompromising, grungy, and loud. Jerry and Phil are challenging each other and creating at the same time. Bass and electric guitar leads comingle in breathtaking fashion. This is a contender for best “School Girl.” Pigpen has the machismo rolling as he follows by belting out, “Turn on Your Lovelight.” Their approach and style was eccentric, but the Dead could rock as hard as any band on certain nights in ’68.
Garcia has always seemed to have a sense for when not to play, but on this night, his creative instincts surge into overdrive. “Dark Star” takes off like a comet speeding through galaxies. The band’s possessed as they bolt into “St. Stephen.” The song structure can barely contain the psychedelic strikes, and the release into “The Eleven” is divine. Finally, they’ve run into a song with an ideal tempo and flexibility for their intensity level. The Eleven > Caution handoff is flawless. And “Caution” is probably the hottest jam of this blunt yet rambunctious affair. Every second of 10-20-68 is primal Dead.

“The Last One” in the Winterland commences with “Cold Rain and Snow,” a striking performance that serves as the opening track of Steal Your Face. In the brief period before I began to collect bootleg tapes, I was obsessed with this version. The next enchanting performance of 10-20-74 comes in the sixth slot with “Jack Straw.” Jerry’s picking and pecking all the way through, and there’s nice extension in the jam. There’s loud applause as “Straw” touches down. This is the best version to date, and the potential for “Straw” would be realized when “Jack” was returned to the rotation in May ’77. Although nobody could have imagined anything like the obscene Syracuse “Straw” on the tenth anniversary of this Winterland show.
Before a major presentation of Cat > Rider, Garcia sings, “Fare you well my honey.” It’s a rare and fitting placement for “Brokedown Palace,” which would settle into the encore slot when the Long Strange Trip continued. In addition to bidding farewell to touring and their fans, this was the end of a golden era for China Cat > I Know You Rider. It wouldn’t be played again until December 29, 1977 in the Winterland. On 10-20-74, we get the last extended “Cat” jam with the “Feeling Groovy” movement. Garcia does a nice job delaying the “Feelin’ Groovy” surge with a series of dramatic repetitive licks. Set one comes to a reelin’ and rockin’ conclusion with the Steal Your Face “Around and Around.”
The audio of this show has a strange drum reverb that sounds like a sneaker thumping around in a dryer. It’s ironic that Mike Hart joined the band in set two because the sneaker in the dryer analogy has been used to describe the Dead’s two-drummer sound at times. Set two is a synchronized loop: Playin’ in the Band > Drums > Not Fade Away > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Playin’ in the Band. Within the loop there are few jaw-dropping moments, yet it’s a unique and balanced display of subdued virtuosity.

Set three, the strangest of sets, starts with the first “Good Lovin’” without Pigpen. The band is having a blast. Weir is carving out a niche as the guy who could bring back Ron’s tunes with a new twist. Another wonderful Winterland “It Must Have Been the Roses” follows. This show also marks the end of a golden era for the fourth song of the set, “Eyes of the World.” This version isn’t in the same stratosphere as the one from the night before, although Deadheads have one last chance to savor the extended jazzy outro. On this night, the “Eyes” outro briefly unveils the melody line of “Slipknot!” before sliding into “Stella Blue.” Garcia’s soul burns as he croons “Stella.” The “Sugar Magnolia” set-ender, followed by the triple encore of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Mississippi Half-Step,” and “We Bid You Goodnight,” is a generous gesture, although it sounds like the band really needed this break. If any group ever earned a twenty-month vacation, it was the Grateful Dead.

For more on October 20 shows such as Worcester 83 and Winterland 78, check out Deadology: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Deadology: October 19

Most Deadheads wouldn’t instantly think of October 19 as an essential date in the band’s illustrious history, but with six striking shows in a ten-year period, this date features many outstanding live performances. October 19, 1971, kicks off a new era for the band, and ten years later on this date, Jerry Garcia played in the homeland of his ancestors for his first and final time.
            Due to years of hard boozing that led to advanced liver disease, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the group’s blues-singing, harp-blowing organist, couldn’t tour with the band in the fall of ’71. The Dead debuted their new piano player, Keith Godchaux, at the first show of the fall tour in Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis on October 19. Keith and his wife, Donna Jean, were fans of the band. In a serendipitous move, Donna approached Jerry and asked him to give Keith a tryout and Jerry obliged. Although Keith was a jazz-influenced pianist with a limited rock and roll resume, Garcia liked what he heard. Keith was exactly what the band needed as the Dead’s improvisational abilities soared and peaked over the next several years. Keith’s rhythmic playing helped fill the harmonic midrange, freeing the rest of his mates to explore. There were few awkward moments during Keith’s debut in Minneapolis. The right musician had arrived at precisely the right time. Donna Jean joined the band as a vocalist on New Year’s Eve, 1971.

            Strictly analyzing the performances, 10-19-71 is just an adequate show. In the coming weeks on this tour, there were several extraordinary gigs. Keith’s presence revitalized the band’s sound and vision. The other significant development from this concert was the debut of six new original compositions unveiled in this order: “Tennessee Jed,” Jack Straw,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Comes a Time,” “One More Saturday Night,” and “Ramble on Rose.” From this extraordinary batch of tunes that would remain in the live repertoire through the years, Bob Weir’s composition, “One More Saturday Night,” was the standout performance. The music’s rambunctious and Garcia’s solo steams. The first “Jack Straw” was a success, but if one were in attendance that night, it would have seemed as if “One More Saturday Night” was the song with more potential. “Jack Straw” evolved into a revered anthem with an intense and flexible jam, while “One More Saturday Night” eventually settled into its role as a cookie-cutter weekend encore.
            The Garcia/Hunter tunes, “Ramble on Rose,” “Tennessee Jed,” and “Comes a Time,” were solid, up-tempo debuts. Four of these new tunes ended up on Europe ’72, and “Comes a Time” and “Mexicali Blues” landed on solo efforts by Garcia and Weir, respectively. Except for “One More Saturday Night” (written by Weir), these songs were born in the thick of Robert Hunter’s immortal three-year songwriting run—Dylanesque in nature. Inspiration would continue to flow from Hunter’s pen, but the abundance and quality of what he accomplished between 1969 and 1971 is stunning. And with Pig playing his last gig in the summer of ’72, the myriad of new material enabled the band to rage on after his passing. Pigpen could never be replaced, and the Dead never had to search because they were blazing down untrodden paths and there was no turning back. 
            On October 19, 1973, President Nixon rejected an Appeals Court decision to turn over his secret White House tapes for the Watergate investigation. While Tricky Dick was hoarding his tapes, the Grateful Dead were performing at the Arena Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City and creating tapes that would be immortalized as Dick’s Picks Volume 19. Extraordinary effort characterizes this tapes from 10-19-73, which is one of archivist Dick Latvala’s finest picks. The stars of the first set are the up-tempo new tune on the block, “They Love Each Other,” and an elastic exploration of “Playin’ in the Band” to end the set. “Playin’” boils as the band unloads a dump truck of ideas—sinewy metallic runs cascade like spider webs across the aural landscape.

            This Oklahoma City affair was the first show of an extraordinary two-month run for the Dead that commenced in the Midwest, advanced out West for a series of shows, and then finished up with an East Coast tour. Four days before the Oklahoma City gig, Wake of the Flood was released. It was an outstanding collection of songs, but in concert, the band had already mastered superior versions of the album’s best songs: “Eyes of the World,” “Mississippi Half-Step Toodeloo,” and “Weather Report Suite.” One could successfully argue that this period in late ’73 is up there with any elite era in Dead history.
            Set two of 10-19-73 sets sail with China Cat > Rider. Late ’73 through ’74 is the golden age for “China Cat.” In the thick, zesty sound of the jam, inspired individual virtuosity shines in the larger collective brilliance of the music. Garcia’s leads intensify and seemingly regenerate as the band pivots toward the “Feelin’ Groovy” motif. This segment strikes like electroshock therapy within a danceable, old-timey framework—another wonderous jam light-years away from what any other band was churning out at the time.
            Ripe renditions of “Mississippi Half-Step” and “Big River” filled the fourth and fifth slots of the set. These songs worked well together at a few shows in 1977, but at the following show on 10-21-73, they made history inside of this song loop: Playin’ in the Band > Mississippi Half Step > Big River > Playin’ in the Band. This was the first time the Dead segued out of “Playin’” into another song and later reprised “Playin.” This became a signature move of the band, and “Playin’” became a gateway to higher ground. In the OKC Fairgrounds, higher ground is achieved through a Dark Star > Morning Dew, “Sugar Magnolia” second set finale.
            Jerry’s gleaming guitar leads touch off the “Dark Star” voyage. After several compelling minutes, Phil takes over the initiative and the jam becomes scattered. Without a definitive restoration of the “Dark Star” melody, Jerry sings the opening verse. This is not one of the standout versions from an era that provided so many. When the jam seems to drift off course, Phil’s vertebrae-rattling bass wakes up all the aliens in the universe as a “Mind Left Body” jam emerges and the intensity flourishes.
            The segue into “Morning Dew” is understated. All eyes and ears are on Reverend Garcia as he croons the apocalyptical hymn. A swirling whirlwind of an ending jam features an endless flow of speed licks and chord fanning from Jerry as Weir balances the attack with quirky rhythm guitar as bass bombs land as exclamation points. After a few seconds of reflection, the Dead decide to end the set with “Sugar Magnolia.” There’s twangy tone to Jerry’s guitar as the band shakes and bakes a rollicking instrumental.
            The elated crowd demanded more, and their heroes returned for an encore that turned out to be more like a short set. Appearing in the encore slot for the first time was an uplifting “Eyes of the World.” As the outro jam rolls out, it seems like the band wants to wrap it up. Sprawling tunes like this in the encore slot are usually shortened. But Jerry vetoes any quick exit as he noodles along until a rich, full-bodied version segues into “Stella Blue.” What a lovely pairing of Hunter/Garcia tunes from Wake of the Flood. A “Johnny B. Goode” thrashing sent Oklahoma Deadheads home euphoric.

            October 19, 1974, was the next to last show of the band’s iconic Winterland run prior to their brief retirement from the road. Deadheads, and members of the band, were uncertain if the Grateful Dead would ever tour again. Outstanding footage from this Winterland stand is captured in the Grateful Dead movie. One of the film’s highlights is the 10-19-74 “Eyes of the World,” which features intimate footage of the band wailing as their devotees gyrate and whirl to the sonic muse. However, the movie version is missing six minutes of primetime jamming. There’s an excellent version of this “Eyes” in its entirety on the So Many Roads box set with a superb audience recording precisely spliced in to fill the missing gap from the soundboard tape. This eighteen-minute “Eyes” is pure bliss. The band treasures every second, and their palpable joy seems to indicate that maybe this retirement idea is a mistake—a band this hot can’t retire—it goes against the natural laws of physics and reason. This “Eyes,” with its sensational instrumental ending, is one the three greatest.
            Midway through set two, there’s a torrid “Sugar Magnolia.’ The Wall of Sound amplifies the dreamy Cajun bounce and gives this version a distinctive feel. Garcia’s guitar solo is sublime in an understated manner, but it’s not as smoking as the one from the Winterland a year earlier on 11-11-73, or the 12-31-72 “Mag” rampage in the Winterland. This leads to my “Seems like I’ve been here before” theory. Like a flashback, it’s possible Garcia, and the band, recalled past great versions of songs as they played them in the present, as if the spirit of the past jam was alive and residing in the arena. I always found it strange that Garcia played mind-boggling “Sugarees” in Hartford and New Haven, but almost never in Madison Square Garden. It could be an unconscious thing, or maybe it’s an awareness that sneaks up on the band as they’re in the moment—strange déjà vu.
            Gorgeous versions of “To Lay Me Down,” “Scarlet Begonias,” and “China Doll” join forces with “Eyes” to make the 10-19-74 opening set a classic. Truckin’ > Caution jam > Drums Truckin’ > Black Peter is the superb filler jam before the Sugar Magnolia loop is closed with “Sunshine Daydream.” On its own, these four shows in consecutive years confirm October 19 as one of the essential dates in Dead history. The band also performed on this date in ’80, ’81, ’89, ’90, and ’94. On October 19, 1994, the Grateful Dead performed in Madison Square Garden for the final time, and Jerry sent chills through the audience with a poignant vocal performance of their later day masterpiece, “So Many Roads.” Of these remaining October 19 performances, the ’80 and ’81 shows are the standouts.

            A year later in Barcelona, Spain, on 10-19-81, the band delivers a fiery performance with a loaded set list on the last stop of their second European tour of the year. It was an especially satisfying stop for Garcia, who had the opportunity to play in the land of his ancestors for the first time in the gorgeous coastal city of Barcelona. The Dead celebrated the tenth birthday of “Jack Straw” by opening the show with it, but audio difficulties marred this presentation. After segueing into “Franklin’s Tower,” an impressive set ensued. Garcia’s wild imagination and razor-sharp guitar tone imbued “Let it Grow” with majestic power to end the set. Stellar renditions of “Passenger” and “Althea” preceded “Let it Grow.”
There are better Scarlet > Fires than the one that opens set two in Barcelona’s Sports Stadium, but few are as addictive. Over the last five years, I’ve probably listened to this one more than any other. The opening chord progression and tempo of the “Scarlet” is sensuous. The swirling, lush sound of Brent Mydland’s keyboards ignites an uplifting groove. Brent was the best backing vocalist the band ever had, and two years into his tenure with the Dead, his organ playing became a key component of the sound. Jerry blows a lyric early on, but his vocal phrasing is sweet. This was a golden age for Garcia’s singing. In the years that followed, excessive smoking took its toll on his angelic voice.
The “Begonias” outro instrumental is substantial without overstaying its welcome. The last few minutes linger in elegant sophistication. Garcia guides the improv with soft leads in a lower register as the band eases the tempo and softens the volume. Garcia’s licks touch down like drizzling rain as Brent and the drummers attentively play off the Maestro’s direction. It’s a wonderfully subdued jazz moment.
WHOMP! The passive suspense explodes into the glorious groove of “Fire on the Mountain.” The beat pulses along naturally like a healthy heart, and it never could have flourished like this if it weren’t for the “Begonias” foreplay. The Barcelona “Fire” is lean and combustible. At the tail end of the second solo, Garcia unleashes a barrage of piercing notes with extreme velocity—the type of surge that’s impossible to miss, even if you’re listening passively. The tantalizing nuances of the music combined with the rich high-end audio mix of the soundboard infuse the Barcelona Scarlet > Fire with its alluring charm.
The serene opening of “Lost Sailor” sounds exotic on the heels of “Fire.” There’s no place Sailor > Saint would rather be. It reminds me of the studio magic of the classic album Who’s Next. After the rowdy finale of “Goin’ Mobile” comes the soothing, beautiful intro to “Behind Blue Eyes.” When the Dead were on their game, they could create perfect albums on the fly. That’s why I obsess over the pre-Drums segment of 10-19-81.
Perhaps the most impressive portion of the Barcelona performance occurs from the “Saint of Circumstance” jam until Drums. Garcia and Lesh bombard the Sports Palace with an extended “Saint” instrumental that rockets past any previous barrier. The intensity conjures up images of a bull stampede. Following the “Sure don’t know what I’m going for” sing along, Garcia ends the song with an incendiary flourish. Never underestimate the final notes of a smoking “Saint.” Without pause, Garcia noodles on for six minutes against some sparse accompaniment from his mates. I’ll dub this noodling tribute to Garcia’s ancestry, “Ode to Barcelona.”
After Drums, there’s a brief “Spanish Jam.” If there ever was an occasion to get long-winded on this fetching instrumental, this was the time. A hot “Other One” ensues the “Spanish” tease. “Stella Blue” is a poignant choice, although the outro jam is lackluster. This is odd because some of the best “Stella” jams are from this period. For “Stella” fanatics, I recommend the outros from 10-6-81 London and 12-9-81 Boulder.
The Dead shake up the Sports Palace one more time with a full-throttle “Sugar Magnolia” workout to close the set. On this glorious occasion of Garcia’s only gig in Spain, the band encores with “Don’t Ease Me In.” After the grandeur of this concert, the encore comes off like an adolescent prank. For many hardcore fans, “Don’t Ease Me In” was an undesirable selection as an encore. It was an uplifting number, but also the type of song the band could sail through with minimum effort. Song placement is essential. One of the most exciting versions of “Don’t Ease Me In” occurs as the second song of Keith and Donna’s last show on 2-17-79.


  In honor of the anniversary of Music Mountain, here’s chapter two from my latest work, The Grateful Pilgrimage: Time Travel with the Dea...