Saturday, November 17, 1973
Pauley Pavilion UCLA – Los Angeles, CA
When I think back to some of the most pleasurable aspects of tape trading from back in the pre-high speed days, little compares to the anticipation of getting home to check the mailbox, coupled with finding it crammed with padded envelopes full of tapes. Opening the envelope, seeing what a trading partner may have included in the way of tape covers and extra info, setting up to taste test each tape for little 20 to 30 second listening samples to see what sound quality was going to be like – all of this stuff made up a lot of the personal joys in tape trading.
Another fond memory was the time spent pouring over my copy of Deadbase IX, reading over set lists and show reviews in an effort to figure out which shows I was going to go after in my next trade. Mostly, there are well worn, finger smudged page edges covering the 1973-1974 section of my Deadbase. I spent a lot of time there. I remember first landing upon the concept of the "Playin’ Sandwich" while reading some review, thinking about how cool it must be to hear the band slip from one song to another, and another, only to slip back in reverse order again. How cool must that be?! And the first sandwich I got my hands on was this classic from 11/17/73.
At the time, only a partial second set circulated. It was a one-tape-wonder picking up with its famous Playin’ sandwich: Playin’ > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’. This is a classic Grateful Dead tape; another that most everyone would or will get their hands on eventually. And it lives up to all expectation, defining everything that was characteristically Dead in the closing portion of 1973.
Dropping right over the edge into the jam, Playin’ In The Band immediately finds itself in a liquid and flowing river of music. By late 1973, the Dead had mastered what we typically think of, or hear as, the 1973 sound. The loose and lazy jazz-like leanings of the Summer had given way to something more tight, and intricately driven. The band was sounding more in control, and at ease with all that 1973 brought to their playing style. Billy and Jerry personify these qualities together as we listen to the jam unfold. Things are hot, but not bristling with electricity. The impression is one of a river coursing quickly over boulders low enough in the waters not to create white caps or rapids across the surface. But the undercurrent’s speed is unavoidable. As the jam moves along, the river comes to fill not only the space below you, but all levels of perception – in nearly no time, the music fills all experience. Eyes shut tight, we corkscrew and coil through an endless landscape of swiftly breathing shapes and borders. When there is time to perceive the parts of the whole, you can’t help but be amazed at how closely the band is listening to one another. Phrases pass back and forth, volume swells and recedes, and all things demonstrate that the band is far less a five-piece, and more undeniably one single expressive force bound eternally together.
The fluidity of how the band makes its decision to head toward Uncle John’s Band approaches the miraculous. So softly at first, then disappearing, then coming fully into view. Landing at the softly lapping riverside of Uncle John’s is heartwarming. As the song begins, you can barely believe it’s happening, coming out of the amazing segment beforehand. It makes it all the more enjoyable. UJB plays on, and is filled with that timeless presence so true of many Dead songs. There is a comfortable familiarity and joyfulness to the song. The music moves into the 7/8 time signature section, and again the fluidity returns as the river pulls you back in. Dropping slowly away, Morning Dew begins.
1973 Morning Dews are a luscious breed; so warm, and so tender at times. With this one, Jerry’s vocals are riveting. You feel like he’s singing out his tale with you sitting right at his feet – a sensation plentifully common throughout the Dead’s concert history. Again, there is a certain sense of safety and comfort playing out of the music. Garcia’s solo in the middle of the song is forcefully triumphant, matched toe to toe by Phil’s enormous thundering of notes. It is then particularly entrancing to hear them exit this section into the last verse, playing as softly as mist over mountains. The haunting beauty of Jerry’s final “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” lines, followed by the intensely delicate build of the final solo are forever burned into my brain. There’s a single note where Jerry rides the volume knob just a bit. It penetrates to the bottom of my heart. Then the music floats and sparkles its way further and further along a path leading us higher and higher. As Morning Dew gives way, making a sharp turn back into Uncle John’s Band, the experience is breathtaking, good enough to offset the fact that we don’t reach the always appreciated climax of the song itself.
Uncle John’s returns and finishes off the vocals, cart wheeling almost immediately back into the deepest and most gooey rich sections of a Playin/Uncle John jam on the shoulders of Garcia’s wha wha pedal. The following section is pure 1973 satisfaction. Jerry’s notes cry out in expressive emotions, lifting the music into a swirling dance of inspiration. While there’s little denying that we are firmly fixed in a Playin’ jam, it is still as freeform and improvisational as you could imagine. Eventually energies being to explode and erupt around us, towering jets of musical power pushing to the edge of what we call music, hinting at complete meltdown, but never giving way. We are perfectly balanced between two phases of the Dead’s musical growth during this period. We can fully hear the lush and breezy playing style of 1973, layered over the mounting energy of crafty musicianship that would bend and turn at more mind numbing angles as 1974 took form – a great window into the band as it was ever evolving and pushing personal boundaries. Playin’ returns to cap off the sandwich perfectly, and we come away almost unable to believe it all just played out this way. Just wonderful.
The entire show now circulates, and there is plenty to enjoy, including a great Eyes of the World with its swiftly swinging tempo and rich rolling jazzy explorations. But this date will forever be most famous for containing one of the best Playin’ sandwiches of its age. Whether you’re hearing it for the first time, or ready for a long overdue return visit, this is vintage Grateful Dead in top form.
There are a bunch of different sources floating around for this tape as well, and I’ve picked what I feel to be the most clean – not in the sense of sound quality (the SBD is A quality, and always has been), but more from the processing side. I’m not a big fan of tapes that are run through EQ and sound processing enhancements. That’s just me. So, rather than opting for a copy that has been enhanced in any way, I’m sticking old school here. Plenty of pure bliss to go around just as it is. Enjoy.
11/17/73 SBD etree source info