Wednesday July 31, 1974
Dillon Stadium - Hartford, CT
Billy Degen ate some mushrooms.
Undoubtedly feeling no regret over possibly eating them a little bit earlier than might have been prudent for the task at hand, it is this that left him unable to navigate the complex diodes, plastic coatings, and vibratory electrical fields of his recording gear, each of these competing for attention as the 07/31/74 Dillon Stadium show began. That and the full-on pleasure of a Grateful Dead show getting underway while he sat in a very sweet spot indeed. While he made attempts to get the tape going and recording correctly, it wasn’t until he eventually found an opening where the slowly shifting panes of his mental kaleidoscope glass came into something of a focus, that Bill was able to pull all the elements together and get the tape going in time for Mississippi Half Step.
What he managed to come away with was one of the most multi-dimensional AUD recordings we have from 1974. This tape runs the gamut of audience tape clichés, for good and bad. There are rowdy people chattering all over the place (including a classic where someone inches from the microphone quietly asks if it is a microphone), shifting winds saturating the mics, the sound of trucks rushing along the highway that borders the stadium (they tend to sound like prop planes flying over head), people bumping into stuff, the mics changing positions (often more than once in the same song), the odd tape cut here and there – yet on top of everything, this recoding is also one of the best documents of the Wall Of Sound captured out-of-doors in 1974. At times (especially when it really counts) this recording manages to transport the listener deeply into the pure heart of the legendary sound system. This tape does what only a few from the year pull off well – it demonstrates precisely how loud the Dead were in 1974, and really manages to grab the highest highs and lowest lows that billowed off the stage. The music roars and the energy soars in ways that most other tapes, even good ones, only wish they could emulate.
It was these latter, more positive aspects of the tape the drew me to choose it specifically to be featured on Grateful Dead Hour radio show #751 when host David Gans reached out to me with the idea of featuring a 1974 Wall Of Sound AUD tape on the program. As hard as it can be to decide just what show to review next on the GDLH, picking the right tape for the Grateful Dead Hour back in 2003 was truly painful. As much as it made sense to pick what might be one of the best AUDs ever, Jerry Moore’s 06/23/74, we decided to go for an outdoor recording since it would remove any worry over hall ambience, and thus translate a bit better to the compressed wavelengths of radio. In the end, I was very happy with the way this choice translated to the radio show.
For kicks, I have posted a MP3 version of Grateful Dead Hour 751 for those of you interested in hearing my interview as the online, banner waving, audience tape lover that I was (am).
What kept me from lofting this tape up as one of my first posts on the blog is the same thing that saw me hold off a bit on 06/24/70. The less than savory aspects of this recording could be construed as off-putting to one not somewhat ingratiated into AUD tape listening. So, by now, anyone who has found his or her ears warmed to the ups and downs of AUD tapes will have no problem panning for the gold on this tape. It is there in plentitude. Some moments shine through more than others, and without a doubt, this entire Summer ’74 show is filled with great versions of many songs (three sets worth). I will focus on some of the moments forever burned into my brain.
With Eyes of the World, the absolute majesty of this tape fully comes through. The crowd is almost immediately drawn into full attention, the ambient hoots, hollers, and conversations all but fading completely out of the field of Bill’s microphones. And straight off of the intro soloing, we can feel Jerry Garcia choosing his lines with great lyrical care. He seems more intent than usual in expressing distinctly voiced phrases.
After Phil’s solo, the song seems to tumble over an edge, unraveling itself into multiple shifting paths. It expands at several different angles causing our footing to give way into sweet confusion with no idea which direction comes next. The music eventually turns a corner as the band runs through the 7/8 time signature theme that adorned all Eyes in ‘73-‘74, and then glides effortlessly into China Doll. Here, the Wall Of Sound finds its way so deeply into your head as to turn it in on itself. You sense the enormity of the physical crowd and sound system, while feeling that the entire musical experience is yours, without outside ambience. This is the hallmark of a wonderful outdoor audience recording.
This show also has what might rank as my all time favorite Let It Grow. The jamming sections on this one find the band at the peak of their 1974 tightness. There is never any sense that the jam is just going along seeking for a foothold. It is endlessly locked in, constantly blossoming into new colors and textures, outdoing itself by ascending to a gorgeous peak in the final section where the Bobby and Phil begin lightly shredding their notes as Garcia soars higher and higher. It’s a beautiful crescendo, not repeated in any other version of the song anywhere.
Then, of course, there is the mammoth Truckin’ jam from this show. Filled with a Mind Left Body Jam, into Spanish Jam, back into Mind Left Body Jam *after* the Truckin’ itself goes for 18 minutes, this set three jam is one for the ages. Two things always spring to mind for me with his tape. First, there’s the guy who shouts “Yeah, do it!” during the second or third verse of the song. For some reason, this is my favorite on-tape audience member moment of them all. It’s perfectly timed, and brimming with energy. Second is the mid jam Truckin’ rev up. You know, it’s that part of the song where Jerry starts circling on a triplet that climbs up the guitar neck, as the rest of the band joins him. This one from 07/31/74 has nary any equal, finding Jerry taking things up even higher on the neck that you can imagine, all while Phil is zigzagging notes at rough hewn angles in chaotic tempo. As it boils over you, it’s one of those moments of audience tape rapture – all this going on around you as a sea of people lock into the music in a vast outdoor stadium, in the Summer of 1974, while our intrepid young taper, Bill Degen, manages to reap the rewards of overcoming all the challenges that tapers faced – navigating deck, batteries, tape flips, levels, and paying attention to all of it during a Dead show.
The jam goes on and on from there, and despite the odd tape cut or two, the musical experience is well worth it. It’s great to hear how this overly rowdy audience can settle into near silence and attention as the band deeply explores the jam. And late in the improvisation, Phil reflects back to the gentle shredding done in the Let It Grow. It’s a wonderful tie in, bringing these tendrils back together late in the show.
At the time that I circulated Bill’s tape, the only SBD of this show was very subpar, and not in heavy circulation. So much so, that this date got no attention what-so-ever. And even now that the full SBD circulates, Bill’s AUD brings something far more special to the listener. First put into digital circulation via the Audience Devotional Tree in January of 2002, it is a true pleasure to share this tape again with you now.
And a special thank you needs to go out to Bill Degen. Bill, you were largely responsible for my coming to appreciate AUD tapes from the start, having sent me copies of 07/01/73, 08/06/74, set two of 06/23/74, this 07/31/74 tape, and so many more. In a true example of the good side of the Internet trading community, we met in an AOL chat room of all places, and became fast friends and trading partners from there. As the years moved along, you even trusted me with your precious 7” reel copies of your master tapes that fell victim to your house fire many years ago, so I could transfer them and set them into digital circulation. I wouldn’t be here without you.
07/31/74 AUD etree source info
07/31/74 AUD Download
Audience Devotional Tree Round 9 – January, 2002