Sunday, July 1, 1973
Universal Amphitheatre – Universal City, CA
I want to explore a bit more of my favorite portion of my favorite year. Here we will walk the path of one of the earliest 1973 AUDs I added to my collection. The sound quality of this AUD is among the best of the year – recently mastered beautifully by the Mouth Of The Beast team. If there is any knock against it, it is nothing more that the fact that Jerry’s guitar is high in the mix, a fault that no one can bemoan for long. The pure fidelity of the tape reflects just what you might expect from the team of Harvey Kaslow and Craig Todd, who also brought us the legendary 08/06/71 recording. You can luxuriate in this tape.
The middle of 1973 doesn’t get as much love as the more “historic” portions of the year near its end. I’ve explored the contradiction of the mass appeal to my personal preference for the summer shows in the "Getting Seriously Dead" post. So, I will refrain from hopping up on that soapbox again. However it bears mentioning that for the longest time there were scant few pristine soundboard recordings to be found of these summer shows, while November/December offered quite a good number a great sounding tapes. This no doubt impacted (and continues to impact) opinion. That’s just the way it goes. But the Summer shows are the hidden jewel of the year as far as I’m concerned.
This July 1st show in particular is the epitome of a relaxed Dead show as it gets started. It’s far more like we’ve arrived at the Grateful Dead’s house for an afternoon pool party, rather than a mid 70’s rock concert. The energy is mellow – thick with no expectations. As a result, the start of the show can be seen as coming off a little flat. But it’s no matter. The highlights of this show bring it to a level of complete classic 1973 Dead. That this is an AUD, and a darn good one at that, only serves to enshrine the show in my heart as a priceless piece of Summer ’73. This show sits in the shadows of other 1973 shows, and, as with so many others like it from any year, its being regularly overlooked somehow makes it all the more special.
The first set contains a great China>Rider that you won’t want to miss. But it’s the second set that deservers our complete attention. On this night, Playin’ In The Band didn’t close set one. It opened set two. And it is a monstrously large portion of the very marrow found within the bones of 1973. There were a lot of great Playin’s before the summer of 1973, but the song evolved around this time, and perhaps even on this very night. Maybe it was because of the set two placement, but this Playin’ In The Band demonstrates a few characteristics that would follow the song all the way into 1974 - it is enormous (25 plus minutes); it winds its way utterly outside of the semblance of what you could call the song itself; and it finds Jerry hinting numerous times within the jam back at the song’s head long before actually wrapping the song up. These combined elements would follow the song from the Summer of ’73 for years.
The exploration starts off with a prolonged luscious section of jazz-infused jamming which features Jerry changes tone and inflection over and over again. Having Jerry’s guitar so directly in our face, we can fully discern each adjustment he makes in tone and volume. It’s like watching a painter adjust colors on his pallet before applying paint to canvas. Here, instead of the continual adjustments giving a sense of searching and frustration, Jerry is clearly feeling very very good. The jam’s energy grows and the band begins to spiral as if into tightly wound pinwheels of music. After a time things settle way down, and the Playin’ theme appears. Just as it gets pronounce acutely enough to start the crowd clapping in appreciation of a great jam ending, the rug slips out from under everything and we enter an even more slippery jam section of ever-blossoming colors and sounds. We’re hardly ten minutes in.
Eventually they wind through a more aggressive portion of the jam, each member stretching out in multi-directions. Then, as we are bathing in everything there is to love about mid-‘70’s Playin’s, the music frays away completely and we find ourselves in a corner of the universe quite a bit further away from Playin’ than we’d gone before. The music almost completely fractures leaving the focus on Jerry playing an ascending and repetitive five chord pattern over and over again that haunts your heart like some forest of ghosts mingled with a time-imploding ride in outer space. Playin’ is absolutely gone, and we’ve arrived at a destination together with the band that could never be traced back home. The sheer beauty of this place is its own assurance that it will not be found again – a secrete kept by the music itself. This is a measureless landscape of Space. Breathtaking. Gentle. Soul piercing.
From the absolute outer edges of this riveting passage, Jerry tosses the Playin’ theme back into the hall ever so lightly, and it coalesces the band right back into the jazz tinged jamming that so typified 1973. Now we’re following a path down million colored tree lined roads that float in ever-curving arches before our eyes - as if the landscape before us is undulating like a flag in a slow motion wind. That sense of tumbling over one’s step without fully falling is completely prevalent here. This goes on and on and on, over delivering everything known to be idyllic about the band in this year. Finally, the Playin’ theme is back again (for the third time?), and we amble slowly toward what seems to be the end portion of the song. But no. Jerry again drifts the theme out into the most delicate space before finally allowing it to truly return on the gentle breath of sunlight. We hit the song running, and you can’t help but know that this band is the master of their domain, utterly. No one can do what they do.
Later, after a well delivered Truckin’ stomps its way through an energetic post jam, the band hints at Other One before allowing Billy to take a brief drum solo. They come back into Other One proper and immediately the music is slipping deliciously back into that ever falling forward pace, pushed into curves and crevices by Garcia, who can’t seem to hit a bad note. This is textbook 1973 jamming, fluid and syncopated, rolling and spiraling. Along the way they decide to slip into the now well-honed jam that Phil has been nursing all year (something born to 1973 only). It overflows with groovy, jazzy psychedelia. This jam theme took until the late Spring of ‘73 to really pull together nicely. It is very satisfying. Then the Other One returns and the first verse is sung.
Out of the verse, the band tumbles into Space. Again unlike the Spaces later in the year, this is a spectacular chaos of noise and feedback wherein you can tell the band if fully engaged, really working the sound into the fabric of the experience. This is no Space for Space’s sake plopped into a show for effect. They let the noise take on a life of its own, morphing into indescribable, ever-shifting visions. The world forms and reforms before you like a fireball explosion undulating and spreading massive flamed branches and roots in all directions. The Space cools and empties out into an endlessly wide vision of sound patterns. There seem to be light years of space between the individual sounds coming off the stage. Under Jerry’s crooning, lamenting notes, Phil is fluttering against his strings, bubbling as if from just below a still, glass perfect sea. He gurgles and sputters in such a way that leaves you incapable of knowing if it’s him, or your mind playing tricks with the sound. There’s a spiritual majesty to this section – a hush; a calm. It whispers. Its energy has so completely overtaken the musical path, there’s no going back to Other One. Wharf Rat was born for this transition. It picks you up like a shipwrecked survivor who has come to the shore with the tide.
Within Wharf Rat, Jerry’s solo is forever etched into my mind because of his guitar’s unmistakable mimicking of a sitar. The strength of the sound rings like bells and resonates electricity for miles and miles as the solo goes on. You hear him turn up, and then up again. It’s fleeting, yet tremendous and not quite duplicated ever again.
Out of this solo, Me & Bobby McGee appears like a sudden shift in the weather. It doesn’t matter whether you think a cowboy song has a place here or not. What’s to be cherished is Jerry’s solo work. He remains quite locked into the precious Wharf Rat moaning as Bob sings. As he enters the true solo after the first chorus you can’t help but completely sink into his tone again. He threads notes and runs together as if they are sacred prayers that could never be expressed in words. It all comes off as effortless – something that often exemplifies Jerry at his most tuned in moments. The song wraps up the wonderful set two jam – Truckin’ > Drums > Other One > Space > Wharf Rat > Bobby McGee. Wow.
Everyone has a Dead song or two that they don’t really need to hear again. For me it’s those ’73-74 Sugar Magnolias. For others, no doubt, it is Casey Jones. Not me. I dig this tune, and in 1973 it just had a wonderful bounce to it. The set ends with Casey Jones, and the show is feeling very mellow again. It’s the send off for the past three day run at the Universal Amphitheatre, and it completely feels like a friend hugging you goodbye. The Dead were about to mount some of the greatest concert work of their career in the upcoming three show run on the East Coast. But that’s a story for another review…
07/01/73 AUD etree source info