Sunday, November 17, 2019

Deadology: November 17

Deadhead Bill Walton was the king of college basketball when the Grateful Dead rolled into Pauley Pavilion, home of the UCLA Bruins, on November 17, 1973. Pauley Pavilion was the house where Walton and his coach, John Wooden, imposed their basketball dominance. Wooden was the great teacher in Bill’s life. When Walton looked for inspiration beyond the basketball court, he was enamored with the music of the Grateful Dead, and “Jack Straw” was his favorite song. The UCLA Bruins had won seven NCAA titles in a row, and they were nearing the end of an 88-game unbeaten streak. The Grateful Dead had recently released Wake of the Flood and they were thriving in their prime. This evening was destined for immortality.

The rare “Me and My Uncle” opener gets 11-17-73 off to a festive yet modest start. The aura of the evening changes with a big hitter in the second slot, “Here Comes Sunshine.” The group harmonies capture the optimistic sweep of “Sunshine,” and Garcia’s guitar soars from the onset. Kreutzmann’s drumming is sublime as he leads the band through various shifts in tempo and volume. This soundboard recording is a treasure capturing the Dead in a state of virtuosic bliss. A luxurious “Here Comes Sunshine” at this early stage was a good omen.

“Looks Like Rain” was a succinct selection performed elegantly after “Sunshine.” The set rolls on in Old Weird America mode for a few numbers. The seventh song, “The Race is On,” features short and tasty solos by Jerry and then Keith. Godchaux’s piano playing was inspired all night long. China Cat > Rider follows. This frisky “Cat” purrs and roars its way into a sublime “Feeling Groovy” detour. The 11-17-73 Cat > Rider gets my vote for best of the year. Crisp renditions of “Big River,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” and “Around and Around” complete a robust opening set.
“Row Jimmy” provides a hypnotic start to set two. It’s the only time the Dead have opened a set with “Row Jimmy.” With the low-pressure yet rare set openers on this night, the band was ascending their way towards greatness. After “Jimmy” there’s a “Jack Straw” for Bill Walton, and the trilogy of songs based on Robert Hunter characters concludes with “Ramble on Rose.” Keith’s piano playing is prominent here as “Rose” rolls with a ragtime feel. A week earlier, they gave birth to the Playin’ > UJB > Dew > UJB > Playin’ loop to start set two in the Winterland. In UCLA, the Dead had created the ideal ambiance for the second performances of the consecrated loop.
Transcendence begins with the start of the “Playin’” jam. It has a different feel and pace than the relentless scorcher from 8-27-72 Venita, but this jam has that same jaw-dropping effect. Garcia dominates Venita. The UCLA version is sophisticated, and there’s more space for Phil and Billy to go off early. Once Garcia starts to unload, he weaves a tapestry of unique riffs and bubbling leads into a spellbinding symphony.
“Uncle John’s Band” casually arises from the “Playin’” wilderness. There’s a royal essence to the sound of “Uncle John’s Band.” It has a surreal feel with evocative vocals and a compressed orchestral ring. This “UJB” can’t be compared to others because it’s serving the higher purpose of the loop. “Morning Dew” is the centerpiece, but even this development’s not bigger than the sweep of the loop.
Jerry’s between-verse “Dew” solo churns, burns, shakes, and shimmies. It’s as if he understands that this performance will be analyzed and treasured, and he needs to make it stand out. Garcia butchers the return to the lyrics with consecutive blown lines—trademark masterpiece imperfection. The ending jam is a swirling whirlwind of group synergy. It’s a hotter “Dew” than the one on 11-10-73, although it must give way to return to “Uncle John’s.” The return to “Playin’” is a gripping journey brightened by fusion fireballs. If you splice together the start and finish of the UCLA “Playin’” you’d have one of the best versions ever.

The Dead played three standalone tunes before the legendary loop, and they follow the loop with “El Paso” and a stunning “Stella Blue.” Set two closed out with Eyes of the World > Sugar Magnolia. The dynamic closing duo didn’t produce top-flight performances, but they were better than average, which is amazing after all the music that went down. “Casey Jones” sent Bill Walton and friends home ecstatic. This was a show fit for the king of college basketball. 

                                    11-17-78 Chicago
The afternoon Rambler Room set is a unique moment in the second act of Dead history. Like their spontaneous performance with rented equipment at the Melkweg in Amsterdam on 10-16-81, this show is a deviation from the chaotic norm of the Grateful Dead Universe. By this time, the band had developed a zealous following that taped their every public breath. They were consummate professionals. Off-the-cuff performances like this acoustic gig in the Rambler Room were things of the past.

Weir opened the acoustic gig with a respectable version of a Hot Tuna staple, “Whinin’ Boy Blues.” Later in the set, Weir belted out “KC Moan,” a 1927 number from the Memphis Jug Band. A line from each of these tunes was later incorporated into “So Many Roads.” Garcia took advantage of this nostalgic evening by playing a nineteenth century murder ballad, “Tom Dooley,” which was a number one hit for the Kingston Trio in 1958. This was a song that Garcia enjoyed in his formative folk years, and his memory served him well during this recreation, which was included on the bonus disc of the remastered Reckoning release (2004). The “Deep Elem Blues” from the Rambler Room is also included on that superb bonus disc.
The music’s raw and unrehearsed, and the stage banter is witty as these ramblers connect with their acoustic past. Weir breaks out a favorite from their 1970 acoustic sets, “Dark Hollow,” and Garcia plays “Jack-A-Roe.” Weir’s ballad from Heaven Help the Fool, “This Time Forever,” is a surprisingly moving performance that has led me to believe that I’ve underrated that album. Our acoustic troubadours pull off a sweet JGB-style “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” in the sixth slot. The other covers from this eclectic set are “Big Boy Pete” and Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy.” When the Dead embarked on their 1980 acoustic/electric run, the material was rehearsed and plotted. The raw Rambler Room performance was true spontaneity, almost an impossibility for Garcia and Weir during their last twenty years of performing under a sea of microphones. Perhaps this show was the impetus that led to the Dead’s acoustic rebirth in the autumn of 1980.
For more on Nov 17 and the other elite dates in GD history check out Deadology

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Deadology Outtake: Nov. 6

November 6: A memorable day which just missed the cut as one of the 33 essential dates of Grateful Dead history.
During 1977, legendary shows came in triplets on successive nights: 5-7 Boston, 5-8 Cornell, 5-9 Buffalo…5-17 Tuscaloosa, 5-18 + 19 Fox Theatre…11-4 Colgate, 11-5 Rochester, 11-6 Binghamton. These last three shows in the heart of New York state concluded the band’s final road trip of the year. The Colgate show was one of the best of the year with a killer “Let it Grow” to end the set. Phil introduced the band as the Jones Gang at the start of set two, and the band played an unbelievably hot and creative set. The following night in Rochester was a rocker start to finish. The 11-5-77 “Mississippi Half Step” is a monster—in the running for all-time greatest status with the Englishtown “Half Step.”
            “Half Step” was one of the most improved, and masterful songs of ’77. Wisely, the Dead decided to work their “Mississippi” mojo again, starting the show in Binghamton’s Broome County Arena with another dazzling rendition. This is the last time “Half Step was ever played on successive nights. It was as if the band knew they had bottled fleeting magic and this was the last time they could pop the cork. I recommend listening to a soundboard/audience matrix of this show, or just a plain ole aud. The soundboard of 11-6-77 is a touch sterile, and it doesn’t capture the magic of the band/audience interaction which is essential to the performance. Garcia’s leads form an intoxicating path to the “Rio Grande” bridge. Just when it sounds like they’re about to sing, the band clamps down on a petrified fanning crescendo, much to the howling audience’s delight. Petrified crescendos became a distinguishing characteristic of this Binghamton show.
            These San Francisco pranksters knew how to impress these college hipsters as “Jack Straw” follows in the footsteps of “Half Step.” The song comes alive—the rhythmic flow is breathtaking, and the group harmonizes with a soulful feeling. Bobby hollers, “You keep us on the run,” and the fuse is lit, a cannonball of sound is fired with signature Binghamton high-pitch fanning to close out the jam. Those crazy New York kids are once again warned again about rushing the stage. The heat of the moment is captured in a tipsy “Tennessee Jed.” Garcia winds the solo up, stutter-steps his way to the peak, and hits all the notes that make you want to yodel and yell, “Yeee-hahh!”

            Mexicali Blues > Me and My Uncle is absurdly exciting. For years to come, Me and My Uncle > Mexicali Blues would be a less than thrilling staple of the live rotation. They got it right in Binghamton. This outlaw partnership sounds better in reverse. A plaintive “Friend of the Devil” is next. After six songs, 11-6-77 has traveled through the vast landscape of Old Weird America…Mississippi, Rio Grande, Texas, Detroit Lightning, Santa Fe, Great Northern, Cheyenne, Tulsa, Wichita, Tucson, Bakersfield, South Colorado, West Texas, Santa Fe (again), Denver, Reno, Utah, Chino, Cherokee. By adding the tales of “New Minglewood Blues,” “Dupree’s Diamond Blues,” “Passenger,” and “Dire Wolf” to the set, the Dead created a potential soundtrack for a classic Western movie. “The Music Never Stopped” rockets the set to a screaming conclusion. The build-up jam is unreal here, and then all speed limits are exceeded as the band batters Binghamton into a state of sweaty elation.
            Set two has outstanding highlights, and a few flat moments. Weir reminds Binghamton that its Sunday night by igniting set two with a biblical favorite, “Samson and Delilah,” and then Donna sings her spiritual number, “Sunrise.” There’s a conscious attempt to slow down the tempo of “Scarlet Begonias.” Everything sounds fine until Jerry forgets a verse but redeems himself with a frisky solo. The music is sparse and trippy as the Scarlet > Fire terrain is navigated. It sounds as if the ghosts of Cornell past have entered the Broome County Arena. The sound of Garcia’s guitar has a dreamy glow as “Scarlet” spins forward. Yet there’s no magic in the transition. Jerry salvages this short “Fire on the Mountain” with a blistering between-verse solo.
            St. Stephen > Drums > Not Fade Away > Wharf Rat > St. Stephen > Truckin’, the next segment of 11-6-77 looks spectacular on paper. However, compared to other ’77 performances of those tunes, the “St. Stephen” loop is inexplicably flat.  But beware of the Binghamton “Truckin’.” The outro jam spirals to its usual crescendo and mysteriously dissolves. The music slowly rises and the band stops, and then they only play in short bursts to accentuate Garcia’s soloing, which takes on a Jimmy Page-like tone. It’s a very cool and abnormal Grateful Dead moment. Pretty soon, Lesh and the drummers are hammering away as the “Truckin’” monster revs up for one last thrashing—an amalgamation of blues, acid rock, and heavy metal to bid farewell to the East Coast.
            Two years later, the Dead were back in one of their favorite East Coast stomping grounds, the Philadelphia Spectrum on 11-6-79. Arguably, this building helped produce more exhilarating performances from the Dead than any other. Through 1986, the Dead had played The Spectrum twenty-five times, and Madison Square Garden only eleven times. Therefore, The Spectrum hosted more brilliant performances than MSG even though the band ended up playing about the same number of shows in both building. The second performance of Alabama Getaway kicks off 11-6-79. These early versions are excellent as Brent stands in there and trades fluid solos with Jerry. There’s a gorgeous “Candyman” in the sixth spot. The set shines like diamonds down the homestretch.
            Most Dead scholars would agree that the band’s best performance year, or years, were somewhere between ’69 – ’77. This doesn’t mean that the band wasn’t getting better, or the songs weren’t expanding. The last three songs of the first set of 11-6-79 support this notion. During one of the Dead’s all-time great first sets, 5-17-77 Tuscaloosa, they played lively Jacks back to back, “Jack Straw” and “Jack-A-Roe.” In Philly the order of the Jacks are reversed and the versions are hotter. Brent’s fluid keyboard tinkering adds to the instrumental elasticity of “Jack-A-Roe” as Jerry whittles away to the funky beat.
            In the next to last slot of the opening set in front of their rowdy Philly devotees, the Dead tear up the “Straw” jam. Garcia’s garrulous guitar gobbling is consistent as Phil’s concussive bass blasts drive the intensity. These fall ’79 soundboards are phenomenal, you can clearly hear the fantastic playing of everyone in the band. Within this jam all contributions are vital and impressive. After Garcia unloads a connected series of quick-picking runs, Mickey, Billy, and Phil pound a foundation for the chord fanning crescendo. Weir and Garcia are strumming madly—it’s a frantic dance and a deadly duel, and Brent’s hanging in, chopping away at his organ is if his existence depends on it. The power of the jam is terrifying, and when the Dead return to the serenity of the final refrain, “We can share the women, we can share the wine,” the crowd’s roar can be heard clearly through the soundboard recording.  It’s a cheer of admiration, and perhaps relief. The jam was that dominant and shocking.
            The following year the Dead returned to The Spectrum and played another elite “Jack Straw” to end the first set on 8-30-80. Both Philly “Straws” would make my all-time top-ten list, with 8-30-80 ranking second behind the 10-20-84 Syracuse “Straw.” The late set Philly Straw from ’80 reinforces my theory on how the Dead, when they were in the act of playing, could pick up off the vibe of what they had created in certain venues during specific songs, as they seemed to do with “Sugaree” in Hartford and New Haven. Getting back to 11-6-79, “Deal” ended the set. Garcia’s twangy leads and emphatic singing are imbued with passion.
            Set two lifts off with the poetic magnificence of “Terrapin Station.” The easy pace and Jerry’s detailed vocal delivery combined with the hypnotic instrumental passages makes this a particularly inspired performance. “Terrapin” fuses into “Playin’”and a heavy, disorientating jam follows. The show never recovers. After Drums the Dead dumped a lazy Black Peter > Good Lovin’ ending on Philly.
            There’s still a Jerry Garcia Band show and a pair of early ‘70s performances to discuss from this date, but the last November 6 Dead show was in the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland. After almost knocking on heaven’s door, 1987 was triumphant, yet exhausting year for Jerry. There was the exhilaration of the comeback tours, the marathon stadium concerts with Dylan, and Jerry Garcia’s multi-week acoustic/electric residency in the Lunt Fontane Theatre that featured afternoon and evening shows. Jerry’s tank was running near empty when the Dead took the stage on 11-6-87, six days after the last Lunt Fontaine show.
            The Kaiser show starts off with a promising “Big Boss Man” that thrilled the crowd despite Garcia’s weary vocals. The train wreck starts with a poorly executed “Feel Like a Stranger” jam. “Cumberland Blues” and “Let it Grow” are desirable selections to end the set. The soloing in “Cumberland” is as short as can be, and “Let it Grow” has a lot of chord-based jamming with Garcia opting just to strum along. Before Drums the Dead offer Scarlet Begonias > Hell in a Bucket, and “He’s Gone.” Oh the horror!
            The Boys try to salvage the show with an ending segment consisting of The Wheel > Gimme Some Lovin’ > Morning Dew > All Along the Watchtower. Garcia’s struggles along and the choice to play “Dew” is surprising. Garcia digs in and emotion carries him through. The last jam has all the promise in the world. Garcia’s layered guitar runs are beautiful. Here comes a major jam! Ah check that, Garcia just pulled the plug on himself. The sudden exit for the final “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” is extremely disappointing.
            There were few disappointments when the Jerry Garcia Band played an early and late show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey on November 6, 1981. I had seen two Dead concerts by this time. These were my first JGB shows. My friend and I each popped a Quaalude before the show. These Rorer 714s hit us like elephant tranquilizers as we staggered through the lobby of the Capitol.  Loosely swaying and playing air guitar near my seat during the early show, I managed to maintain consciousness. My buddy, who wasn’t a hardcore Garcia fanatic, was comfortably zonked out and snoring through the entire show. When he awoke he decided to drive him while he can. I had no choice but to take my chances and stay for the late show. Luckily, I found a ride home before the second show, and Garcia rewarded my tenacity.
My memories from this evening at the Capitol Theatre are vague. A potent Quaalude can make you forget your name. From the early show, I recall the mellow yet evocative “plinkity-plinkity-plank” of Garcia’s guitar during “Mississippi Moon,” and a voracious “Deal” to end the set. My only lasting recollection from the late show was an outrageous “Mission in the Rain,” the song I longed to hear. I howled and yodeled like a lunatic at every climatic note from Jerry’s guitar. I never tracked down a tape from the early show, but I eventually got a late-show tape, and it confirmed my hunch. Jerry sings Hunter’s lyrics with poignant yearning, and then chases it with bubbling, skittling guitar phrasing that never gets redundant. The wistful lyrics. which are a vague portrait of a young Garcia, hit home for Jerry on this tour. The outro jam fuses burning emotion with skillful execution. The only “Mission” that tops this is the one from 11-4-81 Albany.
Looking back to a time when Garcia’s dreams were still riding tall, the Grateful Dead made their first San Francisco appearance with their new piano player, Keith Godchaux. In my upcoming Halloween chapter, I rave about an extraordinary performance six days earlier in Columbus, Ohio. This San Fran show is a snoozer when compared to some of the great shows that preceded and followed it 
The first Dead gig from November 6 comes from Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre in 1970. The night starts off with a typical acoustic set for the time, and the audience recording of it doesn’t do it justice. The ensuing electric sets are raw and rare Dead, primal to the core. Like 11-6-77 Binghamton, this audience recording crackles with chaotic energy which wouldn’t register the same on a soundboard, although it would be a treasure to have a soundboard of this performance.
There are two components to the first electric set: a proud display of the new compositions from their three latest albums, and Pigpen power. The tone of the State of the Union address is set with a cagey “Casey Jones” opener followed by “Me and my Uncle”—these are the tales we like to tell. Pigpen checks in with “I’m a King Bee.” The rest of the band rides Pig’s gnarly vocals and harp playing. The Cap crowd responds to the stinging psychedelic sound waves of China Cat > Rider. And then it’s promotion time for American Beauty which was released five days earlier. The band performs assured versions of “Truckin’.” “Candyman,” and “Sugar Magnolia.” The “Truckin’” jam stirs the loudest reaction from the faithful.
The set ends with an extraordinary segment of music: Good Lovin’ > Main Ten > Good Lovin’. Pig’s singing sets “Good Lovin’” on fire, and without guitar noodling, Billy and Mickey take over for a drum duet that has a primitive tribal feel. This is the start of Mickey Hart’s, “The Main Ten.” When the band joins the drummers, a fetching riff is repeated. The band is mesmerized by it. Pretty soon this riff will be the melody line of “Playin’ In the Band.” The drummers take over and lead the band back to “Good Lovin’” Garcia gets in a solid run here, and the band ramps into a rambunctious conclusion. There would be one more “Main Ten” jam in two days, and then the torch would be passed to “Playin’ in the Band.”
The changing of the guard continues as set two opens with the only performance of Alligator> Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad. “Alligator” was only played once more after this show, at the closing night of the Fillmore East (4-29-71). Since the “Alligator” jam occasionally featured parts of what would become the instrumental of “GDTRFB,” and essentially, NFA >GDTRFB > NFA would replace “Alligator” in the rotation, this was a timeless handshake between the past, present, and future. The “Gator” jam begins with just Jerry and the drummers on stage. This exquisite foray turns into a wild stomp when the rest of the band joins in. Rocking hard and heavy, you can hear bits and pieces of the songs to come as well as jams from the psychedelic past.
The wild tribal energy that fueled the previous set’s “Good Lovin’,” now rages in “Not Fade Away.” The boys hammer the groove at the start of “GDTRFB,” and the sweet wine flows. A brief but thunderous “Mountain Jam” precedes the returm to “NFA.” The Boys are already massaging and milking the segues in the early stages of their latest combination masterpiece. The crowd is ecstatic with the unexpected return to “NFA.” How many bands were doing this kind of thing back in 1970? “Not Fade Away” doesn’t end as much as it gets run over by the ferocious opening of “Caution.” The jamming between Jerry, Phil, and the harp player is unhinged. What a night for Pigpen! His songs and aura dominate. The “Caution” jam boils, erupts, sets off smoke alarms, and morphs into an epic “Turn on Your Lovelight.” After this evening in Port Chester, “Caution” was only played one more time in ’71 before it was rolled out again in Europe ’72. This evening wasn’t the end of an era, as much as it was a launching pad for grand adventures on the horizon. 



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