Friday, December 6, 2019

Dark Stars Over Montego Bay

                                                        Thanksgiving 2019

Vacationing in Montego Bay, Jamaica for Thanksgiving weekend, I embarked on a mind-bending musical rendezvous. I’m currently working on my new book, Deadology Vol.2, a study on the evolution of the Grateful Dead’s essential jam anthems. Since I’d be lounging around at a five-star resort with no sightseeing agenda, this was the ideal time for me to expand my research on Dark Star.

This Dark Star expedition began as I was herded through the rat maze of disorientation heading towards the security checkpoint in Newark Airport. Along the way, I passed the inspection of a bomb sniffing dog. Once through the metal detector, I resumed listening to the 9-16-72 Boston Music Hall Dark Star. After the opening verse, the band breaks into a riff that sounds like the Mission Impossible theme. And then Garcia goes on the offensive with a blistering display of electric guitar virtuosity. If you pick this up mid-stream, it resembles Jimmy Page cooking on a live Dazed and Confused. The post-verse jam is distinctive, and it will be examined in more detail in Deadology Vol. 2. From ‘71 -78, the Dead rocked many memorable performances during their fifteen shows in Boston Music Hall.

I loosened up for the early morning plane ride with a muscle relaxer and a pint of Allagash at the airport bar, and consequently I slipped in and out of consciousness during the awesome 2-27-69 Fillmore West Dark Star (Live Dead). After going through customs, checking in, and napping, I made it out to the beach for my first seaside listening session: the 2-26-73 Dark Star > Eyes from Lincoln, Nebraska. This is a deviation from the more dominant ‘72 Stars. The boundaries are pencil-thin, and the Dead improvises as a jazz band—great stuff, but not an elite version.

Watching waves splash on shore as the sun began to shine over Montego Bay, I started Thanksgiving morn with set two of 7-18-72 Roosevelt Stadium: Truckin’ > Dark Star > Comes a Time > Sugar Mag. Everybody is a star individually and collectively during this D Star. After a rippin’ Truckin jam, the energy regenerates and pulsates into Dark Star. It’s euphoria for eleven minutes and then Jerry cranks it up a notch. Garcia’s in repetition paradise with five runs, each one fiercer than the one that preceded it. This is a contender for best version ever. And then it was off to the gym for forty minutes of aerobics inspired by 11-7-71 Harding Theatre: NFA > GDTRFB > NFA, Johnny B. Goode, Uncle John’s Band.
Breakfast was followed by a Red Stripe brunch on the beach featuring the 8-27-72 Dark Star. It’s a version that somehow matches the intensity and brilliance of Roosevelt Stadium. I followed that with the Not Fade Away, Dark Star > Morning Dew from 9-10-74 Alexandria Palace, London. I have to listen to this incredible Dark Star again, but I know with certainty that the NFA and Morning Dew are elite. I continued to roast in the sun and baste myself with Red Stripe as I listened to the first set of 3-23-86 Philly Spectrum—my 100th Dead show. Oh that Gimme Some Lovin’ > Deal opener, and Candyman! The way Jerry sings “Hand me my old guitar, pass the whiskey round. Wont you tell everybody you meet that the Candyman’s in town” sent shivers up my spine once again, as it did that night.  
There were few reminders of Thanksgiving in Montego Bay, but I ducked into a sports bar to watch the Buffalo Bills embarrass the Cowboys in Dallas. Yes, this was a blessed Thanksgiving. Before heading to dinner with the fam, I returned to Roosevelt Stadium circa ‘74 and heard the undisputed greatest Eyes from 8-6-74. After a pleasant dinner in an Asian establishment without any hints of turkey meat, I concluded a Grateful day of music with a segment from 8-6-74: Sugar Magnolia > He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Other One. I love the plinko/planko chord fanning to end the Mag jam.

Friday was like any ole day in Montego Bay: 85 degrees, Caribbean winds 15 MPH, sunny skies with a few clouds for decoration, and no chance of rain. With my toes in the sand I kicked the day off with Playin in the Band and Morning Dew from 9-16-72, and revisited that immense Boston Music Hall Dark Star. Since the Dead played Montego Bay on 11-26-82, I decided to listen to the entire show on the beach. I swiftly aborted that mission after two flat songs, and after I realized the Scarlet > Fire was under twenty minutes. I’m a fan of the crisp ‘82 sound, but this was an off night. I got my head back on the right track with a Sailor > Saint > He’s Gone > Caution Jam > Spanish Jam from 5-6-81 Nassau Coliseum.
11-26-82 MONTEGO BAY
After recovering from a Red Stripe lunch with a nap, I made it  back out to the beach after sundown for the Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia from Halloween ‘71 in Columbus, Ohio. This electrifying twenty-three minute Star is a compressed amalgamation of the ‘69 and ‘72 styles. If you want to turn a non-Deadhead on to Dark Star this is the vehicle. It’s a focused rendition featuring a Tighten Up jam that magically careened through the Jamaican night. As crickets chatted back in forth in rhyme and palm trees danced in the light breeze, I closed this session out with the bombastic 10-31-71 NFA > GDTRFB .> NFA.

Saturday, my last full day in Montego Bay, commenced with the forty-four-minute Dark Star from 12-6-73 Cleveland. The methodical, hypnotic, intro is tantalizing, as calmly resounding as the waves crashing on the shore. Phil pounds out probing bass in search of life in another dimension. Time rolls on as a jazzy jam eventually splashes into Eyes. I hadn’t heard that Dark Star in years, but it was as impressive as I expected. However, I confess to not knowing this show well. I was blown away by the sixteen-minute Here Comes Sunshine, easily the best version. And the Sugar Mag is a torrid affair, similar in style to the superb Winterland version on 11-11-73. For the most part, I spent the rest of the day basking in these versions and the entire Cleveland show.
On my final morning in Jamaica, I closed out my weekend in paradise with the 4-8-72 London Dark Star > Mag > Caution > One More Saturday Night. These versions were a quantum leap from anything the band had previously done. The brilliance of the Star somehow captures the sweep of European history. Civilizations past and present rejoice. It’s a grand rhapsody, and the flamboyant transition into Sugar Mag is unparalleled.
On the plane ride home, I drifted in and out of dreamless sleep listening to the colossal 2-13-70 Dark Star. On this weekend expedition, I also heard Dark Stars from 4-22-69, 6-24-73, and 11-11-73. I still have research ahead as I prepare to write my Dark Star entry for Deadology Vol.2. But this is a start. And anytime I want to transcend back to Thanksgiving 2019 in Montego Bay, I’ll let the music of 12-6-73 take me there. One Love, one life, let’s get together and feel alright.

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