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Friday, October 31, 2008

1971 March 18 - Fox Theatre

Grateful Dead March-April 1971

Thursday, March 18, 1971
Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Soundboard Recording

Time for another thoroughly rewarding journey into a thoroughly forgotten corner of the Grateful Dead’s concert history. Pretty much the last month one thinks about when contemplating 1971 is March of that year. Bookended on one side by the infamous February ’71 shows where Mickey left the band and what seems like 50 new songs were introduced, and on the other with the historic month of April ending with the closing of the Fillmore East run, March has had almost everything going against it, not the least of which was the number of dates that simply didn’t circulate at all from this month, for nearly ever. 1971 also tends to end up near the bottom of the list when folks stack all the 70’s against each other, right there next to the woefully disrespected 1976. So, shows from this year can often gather dust.

I remember hooking up with this great older deadhead trader years ago who turned me on to many wonderful shows. In one of our trades he included a complete 03/18/71 which was so under-circulating at the time, I assumed it might have to be mislabeled because there was simply no information on this show anywhere I looked. Even to this day, many online information archives (, still do not list all the accurate information about this particular date. As it turned out, I had come into possession of a 1971 show that redefined nearly everything I thought I knew about the year. You see, I fell prey to the not too uncommon sentiment about 1971: it isn’t 1970, and it sure as hell isn’t 1972. So it got overlooked and undervalued.

Grateful Dead March-April 1971Well, because this pigeonholing is in large part unfair, it makes for fertile ground in finding great music to listen to and recommend. March 18th, 1971 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, MO intensifies this tendency because it is so completely unthought-of. Well, no more my dear friends. Cue it up. Turn it up. Open up. This show has both the fully satisfying highlights you would expect at first glance, and a number of highlights you might not expect.

Sound quality of soundboards seemed to go up a notch with Mickey’s departure. Clearly a lot of mics and mixing space freed up for Bear with the exit of an entire drum set. That, and here 28 days after Mickey’s last show, the band had comfortably found ways to fill in the gaps. Billy, being the amazing talent that he is, probably had the least trouble adjusting. All that said, it is really cool to hear the new cadence given to all the music now that they were back to the original Warlocks lineup. On both the old and new songs, the band seemed to take this roster adjustment in complete stride and come out on the other side all the better for it. This tape sounds fantastic. Also worth noting for the guitar gear enthusiasts out there, this show appears within a small stretch of time during which Jerry was playing a custom built guitar (very likely from the folks at Alembic), and while he didn’t stick with it long at all, this guitar sounds very very very good. Wowie wow wow. You can’t miss it. This guitar is seen in the photos featured with this post.

When it comes to this show in particular, all of that is just the background. 03/18/71 is an absolute rocket ship (especially set two). The energy beaming out of the band on this night leaps off the tape. The stories of how Bear would be brewing up his electric Kool-Aid (typically orange, and set about a theatre in large containers for casual consumption) run rampant well into the 70’s decade, and the band and crowd seem to be completely flying as this show moves along, captured on tape not only in the music, but in the energy of the often ample between song banter going on between everyone. By set two, this show just resonates with that “vibe.”

Jerry Garcia March-April 1971Set one is the epitome of “good old Grateful Dead.” The band is relaxed, in the groove, somewhat cocky, and completely enjoying themselves. The tape picks up moments after the start of Casey Jones, and we swing through a great set of tunes. Everyone is getting comfortable. By the time we reach China Cat Sunflower, the band is tuned in nicely. Jerry’s guitar is sounding gorgeous. Bobby takes a really nice solo on the way down the road to I Know You Rider, with Jerry demonstrating for us how, beyond being able to stop the world with his lead guitar playing, he was also a most consummate rhythm player. From the sound of it, he’s very much enjoying the feel of this new axe. There’s a reel flip that isn’t too painful (not the last one we’ll encounter on this night), but other than that, this is some wonderful stuff. Phil, Jerry, and Bobby harmonizing with Billy shuffling along the beat, and Garcia’s mellow lead lines filling the gaps between words is sweetly satisfying. The set ends prematurely when a string is broken in Cumberland Blues and Jerry suggests that they take a ten minute break.

As if to repent for cutting the first set off at the knees, the band opens set two with a great jam of Truckin’ > Drums > Other One > Wharf Rat. You can feel how much the energy is bursting forth while listening to Jerry’s boulder crushing power chords out of the “Get back truckin’ on!” section. It’s one of those moments so intense that you must pause and take notice, smiling and shaking your head a little. Wow, Jerry. Feeling it much?

Other One hints appear and usher in Billy’s drum solo, and then the band returns to mount an intense, spidery, and darkly emotional Other One that seems to explore an old abandoned mansion full of dark and dusty rooms. Directions change, vision blurs, and all the while, Garcia’s tone burns with his hallmarked yearning and crooning intensity that so typified Other Ones from '71. The Wharf Rat that follows is still young and finding its legs. For me, what follows all of this is some of the most enjoyable music of the year.

Phil Lesh March-April 1971You will be making a monstrous mistake if you pass on listening to the next three songs all the way through. Sugar Magnolia gets started amidst Bobby being teased by the rest of the band, in a wonderful humorous mood (Jerry scolds him for going too fast while someone else tells him to go faster, and then someone is impersonating the girls who call out his name from the crowd. Bobby can even be heard telling the band to shut up). The song is then absolutely nailed. With Jerry’s wha-wha on the entire time, the song demonstrates this new found psychedelic foothold the band had reached in its rock-folk leanings born over the last year or so. Again, the energy pours out of the music more powerfully than one might expect. And a special nod needs to go to Jerry’s backing vocals. His treatments are really nice.

As if to outdo what is already shaping up into more than just your average Dead show, the band decides to do a song pairing next (after minutes of debate, and the crowd egging them on) of the then very new Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B Goode. Greatest Story is awash with more wonderful wha-wha work from Garcia. The song boils over with psychedelic over and under tones. The music throbs with this power, and you can feel it breathe and pulse in front of you. When they quite nearly explode into Johnny B Goode as if the two songs have been joined together since birth, you can’t help but be completely laid out by the intensity. Fire leaps off the music.

Another broken string inserts a brief pause before we head down the home stretch. While it doesn’t take any extreme chances in exploring alternate themes, Not Fade Away is a textbook version, and it leads the way into the same beautifully bubbling rocking-along shuffle found earlier in I Know You Rider as it rides the transition into Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad. This tune was a new addition only six months earlier (discussed in the review of 10/23/70), yet by now they had fully baked it into the rotation, and it exemplified the maturity of this entire push the band made into their folk/acoustic leanings. This is pure Grateful Dead-ness from 1971, and it can warm the blood in your veins with its easy going nature. Once again, the band is finding ways to rewrite the rules of what could be psychedelic music. A brutal reel flip wipes out what might have been a large portion of music, returning as the band is headed into the final sections of the song. But fear not, we have the rest of the show preserved nicely.

Pigpen March-April 1971Instead of headed back to Not Fade Away, Jerry queues up Caution (its only appearance in 1971), and the rest of the band latches on. Pigpen pulls out his harmonica and the band is fused into one of their most wonderful thematic undercurrents of all – where Bluegrass meets Viola Lee Blues, Caution, and Cumberland Blues. It’s a swaggering bluesy journey, and Pigpen proves yet again that he’s not quite made for the politically correct world of today. Under his storytelling, the band turns like a ball of fire. The music ever so slowly dismantles itself further and further into a sea of chaos which eventually tips over the edge into Feedback.

Not only is this the only occurrence of primal Feedback in 1971, this would actually be the very last time Feedback showed up like this in a set list at all. Given a fitting send off, the world spirals out of anything remotely recognizable into a deeper layer of reality spun by cavernous moans and shattering starlight. In many ways the Dead’s Feedback portrayed reoccurring voices throughout the late 60’s and into 1970, each band member returning to their own personal pallet of sounds which they would then cast together and allow to comingle and develop into a type of “found music.” We find most all of these voices here on 03/18/71, and they touch the deepest notes within us, resonating and waking a certain sense of our interconnectedness.

While the band would use feedback time and time again as the years went on, they certainly turned a page here - never really allowing the chaos symphony to finish off a show like this again. After it ends, they slowly tune back up and give the crowd an extra treat in playing Uncle John’s Band. Here again the Dead strike the beautiful balance between psychedelia and their new breed of Folk-Rock songwriting. The song Uncle John’s Band is among the best at bridging these two genres into one. This truly is exactly what the Grateful Dead are in 1971. This show beautifully pushes each extreme, and thus manages to satisfy on every level. Enjoy!

03/18/71 SBD etree source info
03/18/71 SBD Stream

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

1972 September 28 - Stanley Theatre

Grateful Dead 1972

Thursday, September 28, 1972
Stanley Theatre – Jersey City, NJ
Soundboard Recording

Pockets of fabulous Grateful Dead music are everywhere. As the number of shows you’ve heard increases, and you start filling in gaps, you come to find that sometimes distinctions can be made between the music this band was playing down to a month by month basis. Similar to the way I've often noted the characteristics tied to Summer ’73, there is a distinct aura to the music the Dead were playing in September 1972. In a tour running across the East Coast, the band played 11 shows over the final 16 days of the month. Part of that tour included a three night stand at the Stanley Theatre in Jersey City, NJ. There is so much fantastic music contained just in that three show stop, let alone the rest of the tour, that you can blindly grab any of these shows and always come out with some of the best Grateful Dead moments ever. You end up having to judge these shows against each other based upon how consistently hot the first set numbers were on each night – the set two jams being too consistently stellar to merit any level of heated debate.

Jerry Garcia 1972The September run provides a lovely example of the band morphing between playing styles. The Europe ’72 and Summer ’72 shows are recognizable for their enormously psychedelic jams that cook with a certain loping grace and intensity. That intensity boiled up come the Winter of 1972 such that in November the jamming could approach a teeth clenching, skin frying fervor, most notably evident in some of the late ’72 Playin’ In The Bands. But September finds the band both in transition, and settled beautifully into a quintessential version of itself – the version that, regrettably, did not include Pigpen in the lineup (already falling ill and unable to tour) – a version that wasn’t as extreme in its raw-fire playing of the end of the year, while also an entirely mature and extended version of the magic born in the Spring of that year.

The September 28th show at the Stanley Theatre opens with a Truckin’ (always a good sign!). It’s missing from the SBD, but patched in from an AUD here. After overcoming some SBD mix issues, this soundboard recording settles in nicely, and we are treated to a stretch of lovely first set tunes. The band sounds relaxed and focused. It’s a large show (running time of the tape pushes three and a half hours), and it remains a personal favorite because of its consistencies and beautiful highlights. Big River also had just debuted on this run, and it’s very fun to hear a early rendition tucked into a first set full of well developed songs.

Playin’ In The Band spent the better part of 1972 maturing, slowly edging its way into a longer and longer jam. It wasn’t until September 1972 that the song reached the 20+ minute mark for the first time. The 9/28 Playin’ jam starts lightly, with everyone but Jerry laying the foundation of the groove. Garcia soon flutters in and begins to extend the coils of his great peppering staccato lead lines above the band. These 1972 Playin’s are a thing of beauty. Not the same as the Playin’s to come in the next year, these ’72 versions feel somewhat more concentrated. This one comes at you like a torrential rain, thick with colors bursting to fill the air around you, built upon the tightly wound interplay between the band members. The tempo isn’t any faster than it would come to be in 1973, yet everything has a more intensified resonance to it. 1972 Playin’s had this wonderful “speeding through canyons on horseback” feel to them, and 9/28/72 demonstrates this beautifully. The jam goes on and on, and every band member is delivering a top shelf performance. It’s not the first or the last time on this night that you will be blown away, in particular, with Bob Weir’s contributions.

Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir 1972He’s Gone has this sweet, slow dripping jam where Jerry lobs his lead lines into the sky, allowing them to traverse mellow arching paths between the clouds. Bobby’s 1972 tone is probably as good as you could ever wish to hear it. His amplification and effects are full of splendid colors and rippling reflections – not the sometimes muted and buried mid-range restrain that his contributions could sometimes fall prey to on tape from this era. The delicate exist jam pours like sunlight beaming through thickly colored stained glass, turning the light at lazy dust-lit angles. Eventually Phil gets a solo, which winds its way into Other One.

Other One appears, and it is one of titanic proportions, nearing 29 minutes *not* including the Me And Bobby McGee tucked within. It leads off with the band spinning an intricate weave of patterns, all tucking in and out of each other like an Escher-drawn knot. But what makes this Other One so special for me comes from the portions of the song that are not directly built around Other One at all. After the first three minutes, the majority of this jam reaches deeply into the same glorious structure easily recognized from “Truckin’ on the LP “Europe ’72” (actually from the 05/26/72 show). That Truckin’ exit jam, and what gets labeled on the album as “Epilogue,” are purely 1972 Dead music, and this jamming is fully explored here on 09/28/72.

You just don’t hear this exact same playing style in other years. 1972 has so much going for it, but for me, of all its wonderful facets, nothing brings me more pleasure than this particular loose, buoyant jamming. It’s a rolling hills in a rich oil painted sky type of music . It has a certain ability to uplift my soul – truly joyous music. It’s interesting to note that there’s also no force or push by the band to make this jamming particularly psychedelic. It *is* psychedelic music, to be sure – Bobby works crazy phrasing that darts in and out of your head, Phil leaps throught notes as if weightlessly jumping from rock to rock across a river, Jerry carves spiraling, lyrical wheels of music that syncopate against everything else, Keith punctuates the underbrush perfectly, and deep in the jam makes tremendous use of his own wha-wha pedal on piano, and Billy nimbly drives the beat while allowing accents to escape in feathered refractions against his own steady path – but none of this comes across as contrived. It’s all far more natural. 09/28/72 delivers this most treasured jamming in spades.

Jerry Garcia 1972What makes this music so intoxicating is the clear sense that the band is allowing the music to settle itself exactly where it wants to go. In this place, the music finds its most rooted connection to inspiration. There is no call for sharp turns, or thematic heads, or death defying feats of cosmic acrobatics because this isn’t showmanship rock-n-roll. This is music of the heart which stretches across years and decades. We are listening to the living pulse of the Dead’s creativity. As the band’s music matured and evolved over the years, this was the doorway into their purest musical spirituality during 1972. You can feel the natural purity of the experience in the unforced playing. This jam had no starts or stops. In fact, it points to what is probably one of the most complex thematic undercurrents of the Dead, and one that I've yet to explore in writing: the slow evolution of their simply “playing” together. When we actually hear it, as in this Other One, we get the sense that we’ve managed to step passed a curtain revealing a precious place that’s always been there. It is because of this that the music can pull us so intensely in. It draws us to our own core as much as to the band’s. This is musical satori of the highest degree.

As the music rolls along, the band slowly meanders directly into a nearly fathomless space. Sounds begin to stretch out quietly around us as Jerry plays a light solo line into the night under enormously protracted bass notes. From here, the Other One theme reemerges, and the music slowly mounts in energy through a fantastic few minutes of Other Onely-ness until reaching the first verse some sixteen minutes after the song started. It then drops right back into the beautiful theme based jam that came before the verse, and slowly edges its way down a twisted and thorny path. Taking this concentrated portion of the entire track as the real “Other One” song, it could easily be held up as archetypically perfect.

The music starts to creep out of the corners at you, as if lightning soaked vines and mist are appearing out of thin air. All the while the deeply soulful jam is making itself known again, turning the music to and fro. Then there comes a shift into a sea of quaking lights and angles as the band delves into a corkscrewed space. After an onslaught of chaos which rends time and space from all moorings, setting reality adrift on a sea of clashing lava waves, the music settles and turns a corner into Me And Bobby McGee. This is another version tucked into an Other One that sees Jerry’s solos tinged with a heightened energy pulled from the deep psychedelic proceedings. Also wonderful on this version are Garcia’s backing vocals. The brief respite from the complete meltdown is short lived, as directly out of the song we are dropped back into Other One for a solid ride through rhythms which turn on themselves like a ride through a rapidly turning kaleidoscope – all patterns feeding into each other, colors bleeding as if pushed by wind through leaves; the music courses into itself like a sea of snakes. This is textbook 1972 Other One here, rounding its way to the final verse of the song.

If you’re going to fall head over heels in love with 1972, this is probably the show that will make it happen. It’s another poisoned arrow that will pierce willing flesh and bone, infusing the mind for life with a magic elixir. You’ll marvel that you hadn’t been exposed to this in all your currently accumulated years, and quickly come to surround yourself with as much of the stuff as you can.

09/28/72 SBD etree source info
09/28/72 SBD Stream

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1977 May 8 - Cornell University

Grateful Dead - May 17 1977

Sunday, May 8, 1977
Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Audience & Soundboard Recordings

5/8/77 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY is heralded as the best Grateful Dead show of all time. How does one even attempt to put this tape into perspective? If you do any research at all (heck, you might have just found this writing here by doing just such research), you will quickly come to realize that May 8th, 1977 holds a very special place in the hearts of Deadheads. But it’s far more than that. This tape (not the show, but the tape itself) is the living breathing example of a sum being more than its parts. While many people might think it’s the show, it is actually the tape that holds all the star-like status.

First things first: 5/8/77 is without a doubt a very very good show. There is magic going on in Dancin’, Scarlet>Fire, NFA, and Morning Dew that make it a must to be heard (thus its inclusion in the GDLG). But, as a show, it’s not necessarily the best ever. It's not light years beyond the music that surrounds it in May of 1977. May ’77 is simply blessed as a pinnacle tour for the Grateful Dead. Much like the Fillmore run of February 1969, or the string of shows from June 1974, each show within each of these runs is a critical piece of the puzzle that reveals the excellence of these multi-show stretches. That said, and all props understandably due, the Cornell ’77 show is far more an example of being in the right place at the right time, than of existing completely above the level of all other performances. Yet, 5/8/77 holds a stature which points to it being far more than just the really good Dead show it is. Its legend has reached mythic proportion. In reality, it’s the tape, and its historical place in our tape trading community, - not the show itself - that holds the true honors associated with this date.

5-8-77 Cornell Grateful Dead PosterHere’s the thing, the 5/8/77 tape was one of the earliest “A+” quality soundboards to get into mass circulation, and not even too many years after its performance. From a tape trading perspective, Ithaca ’77 was like a banner carrying sojourner who travelled hundreds of miles from home representing the monument of music that was May 1977. The sojourner had good reason to set off on the journey. 1977 is very impressive. For many, May 1977, the most impressive month of a year that is perceived as the best year of them all. It’s somehow cosmically fitting that a tape from this run managed to leak out of the vault very early on, allowing the mythical story of the Grateful Dead to have one hell of a soundtrack. But the truth is, when you stack May 8th, 1977 against the rest of the month, it is simply another shining example of what was happening musically around it at the time. In fact, you can only really gain a full appreciation of what was so special about this month by hearing the rest of it.

With such a large songbook, you almost always do best to look at the Grateful Dead across multiple shows. It’s not enough to simply hear Dancin’ In The Streets and Scarlet>Fire from 5/8 in May '77. You need to hear what the band was doing with Help>Slip>Franklin’s, Playin’ In The Band, Eyes of the World, Other One, etc.., let alone all the first set song magic going at this point of their career. Now, I know this immediately sounds like something only a tape trading freak would say. After all, you don’t *have to* hear the rest of the month to know how great the Dead were in 1977 - 5/8/77 demonstrates this amply. The point is, most people give so much credit to this date, that it makes one think it may have been a startling stand out of a show. It was not. It was just a really nice glimpse into a historic portion of the Grateful Dead’s evolution as a band.

Because this tape went into circulation early, and in such high quality, it literally ended up everywhere, pervading everything. Much like our own solar system’s sun shines so brightly in the sky as to block out the light from the other billions of suns no more or less its equal, Cornell ’77 is like our sun in the daytime sky of Dead tapes. You can’t miss it, and it’s so dominant, that just about everyone refers to it as a shining example of what being a sun is all about. It’s a false, yet understandable perspective.

Jerry Garcia 19775/8/77 is the most easily recognizable example of Dead tapes there is, and being such a good show, people have come to call it the best ever. This happened, not because the show was something so much more amazing than any other, – it wasn’t picked to be exactly the one 1977 SBD to get into early circulation in pristine quality because someone decided it was really the best show ever – it just happened to be a show that got into this level of circulation. The power of the Dead’s mythical, Americana, Folk-Freak Psychedelic underground subculture took over from there, and because the show was “very good,” and the tape quality was “very good,” it was swooped up in the collective energy of our entire societal subset and slowly attained the accolades that make it even more than it was. It is in this way that the show came to embody the sum of parts associated with not just the music, but the recording of the music, the nature of the music being played at the time, and the rising development of the Dead tape trading community all at the same time. Make no mistake, there is some palpable mojo connected to this show – nearly everyone has a story about it. But it’s not the best Dead show ever.

It’s like trying to definitively answer an unanswerable question of existence. Grateful Dead tape collectors would not spend hours, days, and years debating which show/run/year was the best ever if there was actually an answer staring us in the face. There is no answer. But, you gotta hand it to 5/8/77; it brought a whole slew of neophytes into the debate, sparking an obsessive love for the music of the Grateful Dead. Barton Hall, Cornell College, Ithaca, NY 1977 was in the right place at the right time.

Musically Speaking:

My story around Cornell ‘77, which I’ve referred to a few times now, was that of having this tape (Dacnin’ through the end of set two) left in my car after going on a road trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see my first Dead show in April of 1989. My then new-ish Deadhead friend, Fritz, brought along this tape and set one from 06/23/74 for the ride up, so we could get our ears wet. The very first Dead bootleg I ever heard was Cornell ’77. Burned into my brain forever is the view of driving up US94 while Jerry bore his wha-filtered Dancin’ In The Streets solo into my heart. Fritz forgot those tapes in my car. I made copies almost immediately, and hand painted some water-color tape labels to go with them. That this was the most popular Dead tape ever didn’t even become clear to me until the Internet brought me in contact with so many people and tape lists, and I began to recognize a trend – nearly every tape list, no matter how small – had Cornell ‘77 on it. The unseen energy that fostered this passionate adoration of the Dead had somehow seen to that.

Bob Weir 1977It wasn’t until a few years ago that Jerry Moore’s audience recording of the Ithaca show got into wide circulation. And while there are now even better quality soundboards of 5/8/77 all over the place, I can’t help but point listeners to another top quality Moore recording from 1977.

If you’ve never heard the show, you’ll do best to just dive on in and let yourself experience this most famous show ever. However, there are a few wonderful moments along the way worth noting.

At right about the mid-point of Dancin’ In The Streets (at exactly 8:23 on the Jerry Moore AUD track), Garcia hits a short string of notes that seem to both explode and implode with electricity and power. It’s a transcendent bird chirping sound that grabs me completely. The entire solo is fantastic, but when I heard this small portion again after years and years and years, it brought me right back into the car ride from 1989.

Probably the most famous element to this show is the invisibly smooth transition from Scarlet Begonias into Fire On The Mountain. The Dead did this well in most years, most of the time. But one thing that can indeed be handed to Cornell ’77 is that it has probably the most seamless Scarlet>Fire transition of them all. So subtle is the movement from one song to another, the archived Moore AUD wisely leaves both songs as one single track. To have placed a track marker in the middle would have only served to raise a debate around whether it was placed correctly at all. Do Deadheads really have nothing better to do than argue these points? Also not to be missed are Garcia’s solos in Fire On The Mountain. They build beautifully, going from a subdued energy to an all-out blaze of guitar power. Great peaks are reached again and again.

Barton Hall Cornell UnivNot Fade Away finds Garcia pushing the limits of energy again, soaring through and burning up the air around him. Late in the jam, the drummers discard the traditional NFA thumping beat and the music slips into a more rolling cascading rhythm that hints a bit at Other One. This allows the music to get nicely *out* from the NFA theme, as beats begin to fold in on themselves like flower petals. NFA returns as its own beautiful reminder that this was the song being played in the first place.

Then there’s Morning Dew. This is an all-time version, not only because the entire song is so expertly delivered, but because it contains a crescendo of all crescendos. The shredding that Jerry pulls off at the end of the song, quite literally blows the roof off the hall. The crowd is left absolutely beside itself in joy afterwards.

AUD or SBD, you can’t go wrong with this show. Whether it introduces you to May 1977, or serves as something worth a long overdue re-listening, it’s hard not to appreciate the music contained on what is easily the most famous Dead tape of them all.

05/08/77 AUD etree source info
05/08/77 AUD Download

05/08/77 SBD etree source info

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

1966 July 16 - Fillmore Auditorium

Grateful Dead 1966

Saturday, July 16, 1966
Fillmore Auditorium – San Francisco, CA
Soundboard Recording

You know the way you can’t see the apple tree when you look at the apple seed? You know a fully fruited tree is completely held within the seed, but if you’ve never seen one grow, it can seem like a wild stretch of the imagination to go from point A to point B. 1966 Grateful Dead is like possessing a secret eye in the soil that caught a seed as it sprouted the roots and trunk of what would eventually grow into one twisted psychedelic monster of an apple tree.

In large part, the Dead in 1966 sounded like electrified Bluegrass, in the same way that Dylan was electrifying Folk one year earlier. But while being a well put together Country-Grass-Rock-Blues combo, this 1966 rock act from San Francisco could set a fuse to the sun, bringing forth an explosion of color, sound, and energy that literally wrote the book on Psychedelic Rock. The Dead spent the year honing their earliest image as a band to be reckoned with, taking their place at the top of the food chain. Even in 1966, the Dead *were* Psychedelic Rock. Tapes from each segment of the year display a band in wildly rapid development of playing style and tone. By the middle of the year, they were already a well oiled machine.

Haight Ashbury street signsTo a present day listener, who can easily form a mental picture of the Grateful Dead before ever even traveling down the road of tape collecting, 1966 can sound completely foreign to that picture. The music sounds very different than that of most any of the following 29 year. Generally, the easiest inroads to 1966 come from the band’s psychedelic masterpieces of the day, Viola Lee Blues, Cream Puff War, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, and Dancin’ In The Streets. These tunes reflect forward to the band that was still to come a year or so later, and we tend to latch onto them as examples of the Dead we love back at the beginning.

But in equal parts, an enormous degree of magic resides in the band’s “singles” – songs like Don’t Ease Me In, Cold Rain & Snow, I Know You Rider, Beat It On Down The Line, Sitting On Top Of The World. These songs burst with a mountain spring purity, rich with the same intoxicating minerals that were being set aflame in the longer “jams” of the day. So much a part of the fabric were these songs, that it should come as no surprise that we saw them all return in full force at the end of 1969 when the band “went acoustic.” Once you are able to tune your ear to the thematic undercurrents being first explored here at the beginning, the music from 1966 opens up like a magic land before you, undeniably connected to all the years after.

Personally, I speak form a perspective pretty far down the listening road. But I’m happy to tell you that I had my own trouble really getting into 1966 when I started trading. It wasn’t that the music wasn’t good. It was more that it seemed so different from the genre of Grateful Dead music I was really thirsting after. It should be known that it can take a fair amount of willing listening to break through and see all the interconnected dots and pleasurable connections between 1966 Dead and all the years after. But it’s worth it, and I’ll offer you an easy in here.

Grateful Dead & Jefferson Airplane July 15th-17th 1966 PosterJuly 16th, 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium. This show, nestled in the center of the year, typifies 1966 Dead beautifully. Good bits are featured in Birth of the Dead, the 2-CD set included in the Golden Road Box Set official release. As was the case for most nights in ’66, the Dead split the night with one or more other acts. They would play an early set, and then return much later in the evening to close things out. Both sets on 07/16 are top shelf. But there was often an undeniable difference in energy between these split sets, and 07/16/66 demonstrates this tendency. Set one is tight, and well played, reaching peak after peak of the Dead’s special brand of Psychedelic Bluegrass Rock. But set two is a white hot blast furnace, defining the West Cost psychedelic scene in 1966. It operates at a level above the first set, which was already pretty high to begin with. Listening to the second set, you can completely hear how dangerous this band was – forging a mesmerizing does of life altering music into the hearts and minds of the Fillmore audience. It is this music that demonstrates the rationale held by those oldest ‘heads who say that in many ways, it was all downhill after 1966 (explored a bit more in depth in “Primal Dead – The Early Years").

One of the things that gave this band such strength goes largely unrecognized, and it was sitting behind everyone else the whole time. The music of this band rides on the back of its drummer - Bill Kreutzmann. Billy showed from day one that he is one of the most unsung rock drummers of all time. In this particular 1966 show, he and Bob Weir hold the band together, driving a powerhouse of energy and control, while Phil and Jerry veer and slide into every nook and cranny possible. This is evident across the entire show, and really shines in the first set on tunes like I Know You Rider, Beat It On Down The Line, and Cream Puff War. In the latter, Jerry and Phil are given total freedom under Billy’s rock solid foundation. The song finds the group bathing in psychedelic fire, burning pure white ribbons of sound out into the crowd.

1966 Fillmore Auditorium dancingViola Lee Blues shows this beautifully as well. Billy is just so solid, as Jerry goes way way out – completely free to lose every ounce of the song and chord structure while the rhythm section pounds and pounds along. Phil somehow walks the line between remaining keyed in with Bob and Bill, while stirring his own pot of cosmic colors with Jerry. Garcia gloriously breaks entire chapters of the Rock-n-Roll Guitar Rule Book written by one of his idols, Chuck Berry. He allows his footing to become lodged in great fields of misty star light, caught on one note phrases which pulse like quasars, looping in on themselves like climbing vines. With each passing moment, Jerry gets further and further detached from the constructs of the music. All the while, there isn’t the overwhelming sense that the band is pushing themselves to get “out there.” It seems more that they are still in the discovery phase of what “out there” actually meant. It isn’t until they turn on a dime back into the closing portion of the song, that you fully appreciate just how far out they went. “Far out, man!”

As great as it is to hear Viola Lee here as it is starting to take on the form that it would fully explore into 1967 (we don’t reach the searing whiteout of noise this early in the Dead’s career), it’s actually songs like Don’t Ease Me In, Sitting On Top Of The World, You Don’t Have To Ask, and Cold Rain & Snow that shed light on how this band that could reach the highest of highs. They had this down! Viola Lee thoroughly satisfies. But it is after that set two opener where the music really takes over. Don’t Ease Me In possesses every ounce of power culled up by Viola Lee, and it never lets up from there. And while it is period music – the Dead were key figures in the casting of a musical movement that came to power the Summer Of Love, so there’s no denying this sounds like the mid 60’s psychedelic rock that it was – there is clearly the sense of something enormous lurking behind the band on 07/16/66 as it fires on all cylinders through every moment of their second set. It’s less in the music being played, and more in the undeniable creative energy that fuels each of the short songs that fill out the show. You can taste the strength as the band rides its own wave.

Pigpen 1966Schoolgirl features Pigpen completely defying our ability to believe he is just some 20 year old kid, belting out the blues. Garcia’s solos get all the way into the same mind bending eddies and whirlpools we would come to associate with his playing over the next two years. Near the end, Billy plays masterfully, driving the rhythm back and forth at times between measures, while the song edges into its more swinging tempo. Somehow feeling that we want the tempo to stay in that alternate swing, he lets it fly for an extended batch of measures, and it’s wonderfully satisfying. This, all happening under Garcia’s swirling blues licks. Great stuff.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue is hypnotic. We could listen to Jerry sing this song for hours. The tempo is 1966 fast, but the song emanates a certain aspect of ’66 Dead like no other.

Closing out the tape is Dancin’ In The Streets. Dropping into the solo, Jerry immediately starts playing the Eastern tinged scales, and pushes the tone of his guitar in direction after direction. Of course, Billy is once again playing a solid beat under everything. Bobby’s rhythm guitar has a throaty moan to it, and the entire song begins sounding Velvet Underground-ish at times. Then, proving that no year was immune to it, we start hearing the tape approach its final coil around the spool. The tape ends with a harsh cut long before we could have ever wished the band to stop playing.

1966 Grateful Dead is at once a creature unto itself, as well as the clear germination point of everything this band would become over the years. It provides a critically important layer of musical information needed in every tape collector’s listening pile. We connect a lot of dots throughout the years. For this five piece band, many of the connective lines begin with points in 1966.

07/16/66 SBD etree source info

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lyrics & Dates – “Sakes Alive, I’m Dead!”

How do you know when your membership pin arrives in the mail? What is the tipoff that you are a little bit more obsessive compulsive about this band than your “normal friends?” They can honestly say they like the Grateful Dead, but you know it’s not that way *you* like the Grateful Dead, and you can prove it! When should you admit you have a problem?

Well folks, there are some telltale signs that you have stepped a little over the edge. These examples are time tested over the last 40 plus years. See how many of them apply to you. If you find your head nodding up and down while reading the following points, you may officially be a tape obsessed Deadhead.

1. Grateful Dead lyrics flow from your brain to your lips to explain nearly everything around you.
Have you noticed that a good handful of the non-show review posts on this blog use Dead lyrics in their title? It’s not that I’m trying to find cutesie ways to infuse my posts with Dead related themes. It’s because my brain thinks of these things as if they are thoroughly commonplace.

Do you find the lyrics of Hunter or Barlow popping to mind to provide the perfect summation of a given event or person in your daily life? If the phrase “one man gathers what another man spills” has replaced the deeply ingrained human mantra “different strokes for different folks” in your brain, you are getting seriously Dead.

2. Does every day’s date remind you of a Grateful Dead show?
It’s October 18th, as I write this post. Aren’t you thinking about 10/18/72?!?! Me too!

Any time you write a check or date a paper or proposal; my God! – when you look at the calendar hanging in your kitchen! – Are you seeing Grateful Dead show dates everywhere?? Me too!

3. What time is it?
Honestly, the first 31 minutes of nearly every hour of every day are really just there to remind you of a Dead show. It’s 9:03 right now. Remember that show from 09/03/80?? A Jim Wise recording as I recall. Oh look, now it’s 9:14. The Dead were touring Europe again in 1974. They were in Germany on 09/14, right? The Eyes of the World encore, right? Cool. It’s no wonder it becomes nearly impossible to pick something to listen to when staring at your tapes, CDs, or folder full of shows.

4. You’ve been given up on as a lost cause.
Does your significant other, who isn’t really into the Dead, not even try understanding what this whole Dead trip thing your on is all about anymore? Has he/she come to offer up a well worn look of bewilderment when seeing you back at the computer doing your “Dead freak” thing. “Are you reading the GDLG, again!!!” If they’ve stopped trying to bring you back, or probe you for a reason why, it’s over. You membership pin just arrived in the mail.

There are other telltale signs, I’m sure. But these above are some of the classics. Take comfort in the company of others like you, my friend. Welcome to the ever growing support group. We’re here to help - or to make sure you stay thoroughly beyond help, whichever the case may be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It All Rolls Into One

The Grateful Dead’s music has carved a permanent spot in hearts of many people. For those of us deeply immersed in hundreds, let alone thousands of hours of their music, we tend to gain an ability to listen to more than the song or jam at hand coming out of the speakers. It is true that the experience of this band’s music is quite different than just any other rock and roll act. Not only is there generally far more live music circulating from the Dead than most other bands of the era, but their music is far more varied, explorative, and just plain evolving over time. This all gives way to a more granular listening experience.

After collecting and listening to a lot of Dead music, we start finding ourselves able to hear the sound of whole tours while listening to mere songs. You start being able to connect many unseen dots. An example of this is how I’m always going on about the Summer 1973 shows and their special flavor. They aren’t just 1973, they are Summer ’73. This level of listening is everywhere, evident from most any tour to tour, season to season, or even year to year perspective. Another example would be how, after listening to all this stuff, you can “hear” the way 1979 became the literal musical bridge between what we call 70’s Dead and 80’s Dead. There comes a point where simply listening to nearly any song from ‘79 affords you the ability to catch certain tell tale elements that live exactly in between the things we know to be more 70’s and/or 80’s like. 1976 Playin’s do the same thing tying 1974 to 1977. It’s all in there, and it’s a whole different level of music appreciation and enjoyment.

We come to actually hear the passage of time. By immersion, we gain a certain extrasensory perception: hearing into the past and future all within one moment. It’s this sort of perception that guides a tape collector more deeply into nooks and crannies of the Dead’s musical history. It’s this perception that sparks conversations at what we might think of as the graduate level of Dead tape collecting. And there’s really only one way to get into that class – Listening. Listening a lot. The course work is for the truly obsessive, to be sure. Luckily, the entire reading list is stored online at the grand communal library of

And then there’s even more. With this deeper level of perception, comes an ability to hear into the living heart of the music’s actual energy itself – let’s call it the nearly personified muse of the Grateful Dead. This living muse used the band as a vehicle of physical expression over its 30 year history. In no uncertain terms, the music absolutely played this band.

Where do you hear this muse? Where does one recognize that there might well have been something at play that lived slightly above the talents and experimentation of the members of the band? You hear it in the deeply connective tissues created by certain musical themes that fuse the years together. There are certain themes, or maybe better put, musical vehicles, that string themselves all the way through the Dead’s many changing musical faces over the decades. I’ve touched on this once or twice so far, talking about the similarities between New Potato Caboose, Cryptical Envelopment, and Bird Song, in the reviews of 09/07/73, and 08/04/74.

This classic theme of musical expression often explored by the Grateful Dead is something I can only describe as a buoyant march of joy. It’s a theme that can be found pouring out of the Cryptical Envelopment that bookends what we commonly call Other One from Anthem Of The Sun, placing its origin as early as late 1967. A few years after its introduction, it finds itself returning squarely in the driver’s seat of the song Truckin’. And throughout the band’s history of music, the theme continued to blossom, finding a deep rooted home in the grooves of Franklin’s Tower and even Eyes Of The World.

It wasn’t until I was digging back into 11/05/79 that this last fact struck me - how this theme was a glue between not only such early jam structures as Cryptical evolving into Truckin’, but that it also found roots in Eyes and Franklin’s years later. I had always thought of these as somehow different altogether, that the Eyes and Franklin’s themes were born in the early-mid 70’s and represented a whole new evolutionary leap of sorts. But looking back now, I can see that I referenced this theme almost without noticing it while exploring a passage in my review of 06/04/77:

“Then like an army of troops cresting over a hill in the distance, the triumphant march of Franklin’s appears out of the mist.”

It’s a theme overflowing with happiness and safety - high stepping barefoot soldiers, smiling broadly as the pennants snapping in the breeze sing their own song harmonizing with the wind rustling through the trees on all sides; the gold-green of the grass laughing its way into the undertone rainbow colors that adorn the troop’s uniforms as they flow in step down the hill toward victory. Everybody’s playing in this heart of gold band.

So, the more I see (hear) this archetypical muse theme rearing its head across the years, the more I know it’s really there, acting out its own will through the band. The muse is far more timeless than the passing musical history of the band. To the muse there is no Primal 60’s Dead, no Mid-70’s, no Early 80’s. The muse isn’t as bound as we are to our measures of time. The Dead’s music was only a passing expression of its creativity, rather than 3000-odd nights of shows played over 30 years.

The more deeply you get into listening to the Grateful Dead’s music, the more you can see it from something of a stellar distance. Experiencing the subtle musical migration over a week of shows, or a month, year, or decade, enables the viewer to perceive the totality of the music more acutely, and fit the pieces together into a more singular expression. With this nearly 360 degree vision, it starts to become one long show, with far fewer songs being played than one would guess from a look at the Dead’s full repertoire. It comes down to these muse-like themes. I’ve stumbled upon a handful of these themes through many years of my own listening: the Viola Lee/Cumberland/Bluegrass theme, Cryptical/Truckin’/New Potato/Bird Song, Other One/Deal, Dark Star itself, the Cowboy Song theme. There may be a few more (I don’t see Scarlet>Fire on that list), and I’ll try to explore each of them in more detail over time.

In the end, it appears that it was the expressive musical energy itself which picked up this band in the mid-sixties and strummed its own song. All of the variations over the years are merely the wonderful swirl of resonating notes and vibrating strings from a few beautiful chords played on a far more grand instrument than can be easily seen with the eyes and ears alone.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

1979 November 5 - Philly Spectrum

Grateful Dead 1979
Monday, November 5, 1979
The Spectrum - Philadelphia, PA
Audience Recording

Here’s another show that falls into that category of slightly unknown gems that go somewhat unnoticed. Famous from a statistical standpoint – it has one of the longest Eyes Of The World on record, clocking in at 23 minutes – the show lives a bit in the shadow of some other stellar performances from the days before and after. Captured here in a very nice above average AUD that only needs a bit of time to warm up sound-wise, the show is strong from start to finish, as most are from this portion of 1979. Treated to a show opening China>Rider, the stage is set for a special night of music.

While it seems patently obvious, the sound of the band from this period is a fabulous example of the transition from the late 70’s into the early 80’s, and this AUD captures it perfectly. This applies to not only the manner in which the band was playing, but also the actual sonic output of their sound system. There’s no end of good songs to discuss here, but I want to concentrate on what causes this tape to remain in my mind as one of the very first I grab whenever I’m thinking about 1979: the epic sized portion of the Eyes>Estimated>Frankin’s in set two.

Phil Lesh - Jan 20, 1979This jam ends up forever in my mind not because of tremendous peaks and valleys filled with hairpin turns, but more for its ability to strike a chord that resonates so deeply into the pure pleasure of Grateful Dead music. As I’ve said before, there is often more power in the way this band would sometimes do nothing more than settle comfortably into one of its elemental grooves than the times when they crafted and pushed the music into mind numbing acrobatics. Here, we land in the elemental groove zone and it goes on for the better part of a solid hour.

Eyes flips on like a switch, and Jerry’s opening solo quite literally goes on forever. He stretches out into the unending reaches of comfort provided by Eyes, and allows himself to wander the foothills of his own magic valley, never worrying for the sun to rise or fall, beautifully lost in the pleasure of a fully open-ended moment. He often returns to the core rhythm of the song where he seems bound to step to the mic and sing, yet turns away only to go more deeply into hidden grottos that sing to him with the secrets of the earth itself.

This audience recording is of high enough caliber that we feel ourselves only a heartbeat away from Jerry’s guitar as he rolls completely back off the treble knobs, mixing the colors of his sound into deep earth tones of dark green and orange. His voicing of notes goes beyond the tune itself, speaking in a language we’ve at once never heard, yet our souls speak fluently. And it goes on and on and on...

Jerry Garcia - Dec 30, 1979A verse comes and goes, and Jerry again trails out into the boundless garden, down a seemingly infinite number of wandering paths. We are joyfully lost with him, swept along in his wake of delicate exploration. The verses continue to come and go, framed by Jerry’s continually long solos, each one toying back to a verse only to fly out again for more circuits around the hillsides.

By the time we get into Estimated Prophet, the band is navigating deeply into a psychedelic ocean of music. The song throbs and shimmers with spectacular motion, like a fountain tossing sound into the air which then coils and floats like smoke around you. Beautifully, Franklin’s Tower peaks its head around the corner before fully bounding into view. The energy picks up and the joyous march is back in full swing as Jerry’s guitar peppers the air with its lyrical dance.

As is consistently the case, Franklin’s Tower ignites the crowd and everything elevates into a jubilant atmosphere. The archetypical Grateful Dead groove pushes the song beyond anything categorically 1979 by tapping into the undercurrent of music that binds all Dead shows into one. There are no highlights needed as the band and audience are comfortably settled into such familiar territory. Until the end of the song...

After the last chorus is sung, the horizontal axis of the Philly Spectrum begins to tip at odd angles, slowly back and forth like the deck of some enormous ship at sea. Bobby alters his chording while layering on a phase shifting effect, and his sound sprouts multi-hued flames and feathers. Phil’s bass lines begin to growl like a storm approaching, and Jerry casts his lines into the swirling wind. Bringing the entire crowd into this ever-tilting landscape, the band pushes through a barrier with some heavy block chords that leave the music completely unraveled. Deep groans and swells open before you as the flat ground beneath your feet spreads into endlessly deep canyons. Footing is no longer necessary as gravity disappears and burns the remnants of musical structure away completely. A feverish space jam ensues, overwrought with Caution-like leanings as the drummers pound along like a speeding train. Eventually this dissolves into Drums, closing out an amazing three song jam that tops 55 minutes.

I remember getting this show in trade on cassette with no fanfare what-so-ever. I recall popping it into the deck and letting things roll on Eyes Of The World. As the song never stopped opening up in front of me, I fell completely into the music. 1979 just has a certain way of doing this. You never really see it coming, and thereby it sneaks it’s way deeply into your musical soul, lighting a fire you never want to see go out. Let it shine, let it shine, let it...

11/05/79 AUD etree source info
11/05/79 AUD Download

Saturday, October 4, 2008

1973 July 27 - Watkins Glen

1973 Watkins Glen

Friday, July 27, 1973
Grand Prix Racecourse – Watkins Glen, NY
Audience Recording

There are Grateful Dead tapes that often become guideposts in a collector’s journey into tape trading. For me there is no doubt that the 1973 Watkins Glen tapes were just that. The shows from 07/27 and 07/28/73 have played critical roles in my tape collecting life, from sparking my initial desire to trade heavily, to becoming my first, and easily my most effective ever, trade bait in generating inroads to the world of the “huge tapers” - guys with 3000 hours of music. Watkins Glen carves the deepest vein in the landscape of my tape collecting life, and can be seen touching more branches and tributaries in my tape collecting than most any other shows. So personal did these tapes become for me, that I’ve often worn the alias of “Glen Watkins” in online forums, cast upon me by friends who couldn’t help but poke friendly fun at this aspect of my obsession.

1973 Watkins Glen SantaStepping into my own personal Wayback Machine and setting the dials for the early 1990’s lands me squarely within a stone’s throw of the first time I ever heard the 07/27/73 Watkins Glen Soundcheck Jam. Oddly, unlike my many other experiences of hearing a passage of Grateful Dead music that would be forever burned into my soul, I can’t quite manage to call up the memory of the first moment I heard this tape. I find that somewhat strange, but in a way it leaves the sense that the music on this tape might have always been there, defying time and space, and thereby eluding the ability of a pinpoint landing when I look back. Given the powerful music at play, it doesn’t surprise me.

I do know that this was one of those five tapes that my good friend Fritz handed me after I got the sense that I needed to hear more of this band. Fritz was my Deadhead friend who had collected lots of tapes. He was the same fellow who *forgot* his tapes of 05/08/77 Cornell and 06/23/74 Miami in my car after our road trip up to The Mecca in Milwaukee during the Spring of 1989 to see the Dead. Almost by accident, this provided my very first steps down the road into Dead bootlegs. Looking back on that list of five tapes (he gave me 07/27/73, 03/24/73, 08/27/72, 12/06/73, and 02/24/74), I can only imagine the knowing smile that must have appeared on Fritz’s face as he left me with that pile of music. This was still some years before I actually started trading in earnest myself, so this music served more as deeply planted seeds and growing roots, than it did as beautiful flowers to pick from a garden – as Fritz is fond to say about certain shows he holds dear, these tapes did some “major imprinting” on my psyche. I listened to them a lot. They touched me at a deeper level because they weren’t commercial releases – there was no other way to come in contact with this music apart from knowing someone who had tapes. Up until this point I really thought that I could be fully satiated by whatever the then brand new Dick’s Picks series would offer up. That changed with this pile of tapes.

1973 Watkins Glen crowd at soundboardEventually immortalized commercially in the So Many Roads Box Set, the Watkins Jam is probably one of the most widely circulating Dead tapes of them all, not trailing too far behind the 05/08/77 Cornell tape. And while I will save the discussion around the way some of the most famous “best ever” Dead tapes reach such status simply because they happened to make it widely into trading circles in stellar sound quality, this particular 1973 tape is deserving of the highest honors. In this case, the music lives up to the historic accolades. This one really should be in everyone’s collection, and maybe that’s why it is.

Because I knew all too well that many seasoned tape traders would be stumbling upon this site early on, I had to resist coming out and touting the glory of this show right away, because to do so would understandably cast a suspicious eye on the touter’s tape cred. I would absolutely have been skeptical myself if I stumbled upon a blog like this, and found the first post centered around the Watkins Soundcheck. So heavily circulated is this show, I would have had to wonder if the person writing about it even had more than 10 tapes at all. So, I suppose getting to this now is all part of my grand plan. Not to mention, did you notice that this show date lands squarely in the middle of the period of 1973 I hold as the greatest ever? Neat, huh? Chances are that you’ve already heard this show, and the big jam therein. Chances are also that you haven’t heard it in a long long time. And even more so, perhaps you’ve never listened to the AUD. Now’s the time.

1973 Watkins Glen crowd dancing in mud and rainSo, what’s it all about? What’s the deal with this jam, anyway? The easiest way to describe it would be to say the Watkins Jam is one of the most prolonged musical satori experiences in all of Dead tape history. The band drops into the zone from the first notes, and remains there for a solid 21 minutes, all while allowing the music to change direction and color many times over. The jam demands repeated listening, as the opening spacey noodling only reveals its intricate connection to the rest of the jam after you hear where it leads, how it returns, and where it leads again. In the sections of the jam that are up tempo, there is the full embodiment of the 1973 Jazzy Dead jamming going on. Yet, there’s much more.

One of the coolest things about this jam is that it isn’t any of the classic 1973 jams at all. It isn’t a Playin’ jam. It isn’t Dark Star-ish; not Other One-ly. It isn’t even that wonderful Phil-inspired jazz jam that we only hear in 1973. Not only is it not any of those, it’s not any of those twice. There are two distinct jam sections in the Watkins Jam and both defy anything that was stereotypically 1973, the second one even more so than the first – Keith’s amazing lead off to the second jam always sends shivers up my spine. These jams embody the fluid acrobatic and lyrical dancing of Jerry Garcia’s playing style in 1973. And coupled with the rest of the band locking in and playing such intricately inspired counterpoint, it is easy to see how this jam somehow becomes one of the greatest musical events of the band’s entire existence. But, I’m not interested in starting up a debate around the best Grateful Dead show ever. What happens on this night is extremely unique. The themes in this jam never happened before, and amazingly, the band did not immediately work them into every show that followed.

1973 Watkins Glen Summer Jam - speaker towers in rainThe Watkins Soundcheck is made even more special for a number of reasons. This really was the sound check for the next day’s concert, not a scheduled show by any means. The set of music could have stopped at any time, although the band was clearly willing and interested in playing. They hadn’t played a concert since July 1st, and the setting was pretty grand. The fact that the big jam is so utterly unique unto itself also makes it so much more special, especially for any of us who have pretty much heard the complete canon of music from the entire year. It just defies everything.

And the jaw-dropping, spine tingling, continually expanding inspired flashes of musical oneness that go on and on and on, serve to fuse your heart to this music completely. The entire jam exhibits how this band could become five fingers on one hand. By the time they majestically angle into the quasi-Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad jam toward the end, you’re at a point where there is little else in existence beyond the bliss of the musical moment. Nothing beyond the Now has been going on for such a long time that as the psychedelic kaleidoscope of music forms into the carefree 1971-like romp of Goin’ Down The Road, it starts to boarder on more pleasure than one can take in. Yet the music is so heartfelt and so beautiful there is no worry of overload. This entire jam strums the strings of an instrument that is more than simply Rock music. In its ability to intertwine formless spacey improvisation into spiritually and physically uplifting move-your-body music, into a good old country-folksy-rocking homegrown underground Americana jam, this musical journey goes beyond. It transcends.

So, this soundboard recording has essentially always been in circulation. As I said, this tape typically turns up in every collection. It sounds fantastic. The entire set is a good time, Bird Song in particular is phenomenal. Phil’s repeated references to this being a test, being clever androids – it all lends to the fun. Then the big jam appears and burns away all fabric of reality, revealing the hidden truth of Grateful Dead music.

1973 Watkins Glen taperAs I’ve referenced a few time now, I was lucky enough to be trusted by older tapers via online forum and e-mail relationships. Bill Degen was one of the first older tapers I met online, and he warmly shared his music with me (Bill taped quite a few classics including 09/16/72, 11/30/73, 07/31/74, and even Watkins Glen 07/28/73). Bill sent me his reels (all of his masters were lost in a house fire), and on one reel B-side was the Watkins Glen Soundcheck from 07/27/73. I paid it absolutely no mind because I had it in some freshly circulating SBDMR lineage, and of course, everyone had that date already. Why even bother listening to a reel copy of Watkins from back in the 70’s? It couldn’t offer any form of an upgrade at this point.

Eventually I found myself checking out the reel more closely (probably while transfering whatever was on the A side) when I noticed that in the hand written set list for 07/27/73 the Me & My Uncle was listed. That was odd, because this tune was missing from the circulating SBD. So I queued it up, fast forwarding my way to where I could hear the Me & My Uncle. But I went too far, and ended up a few moment after the song, a few minutes into the classic Watkins Soundcheck Jam itself. But something was different. I landed right where Phil’s bass hits its long droning notes that completely over saturate the SBD, overdriving every other instrument right off the tape. But that wasn’t happening here. Phil’s bass was droning, but not driving the tape beyond its ability to capture the music accurately. Interesting.

1973 Watkins Glen - crowd at stageI listened a bit farther up to the point where the band kicks into the first true jam section, and I heard people in the crowd shouting and clapping at the transition. Now realize, at this point my ears understood what I was listening to as a SBD recording, one that was somehow alternately recorded as to have Phil at a different recording level. But the clapping and shouting were unmistakably the hallmarks of an audience tape, and in this case, one hell of an audience recording that sounded clear enough to mimic an old soundboard recording. I was already a good long way into my love of audience recordings by this point, so for me, this was a star aligning, synchronistic, “what did I do to deserve this?” moment. I had just stumbled upon an AUD of the Watkins Glen Soundcheck. An AUD?? Unheard of! I remember stopping the tape right then and there, not wanting to hear one minute more until I could arrange my listening experience into an optimal setting – this was all probably happening late some Tuesday evening after we had just gotten the kids to bed, etc.. and it wasn’t the right time to turn the stereo up to ten and melt into the music. I called my good friend Fritz and told him what I had found. A day or two later we had Fritz and his wife over for dinner, and somewhere between the main course and dessert Fritz and I made our way to my basement listening room and took the whole thing in together. Audience tape nirvana.

Right up to the taper getting busted by the gigantic roadie named “Tiny” as he screams into the mic, this a good five to seven minutes before the actual end of the jam. Somehow, this great taper bust being captured on tape in the middle of an amazing recording of one of the most amazing jams ever, made this tape even more special. I included this as filler on the first tape tree I even ran (The Watkins Glen 25th Anniversary Tape Tree), because I just had to share this amazing recording with anyone who would listen.

1973 Watkins Glen - crowd shotYears later, I was contacted by the actual taper of the Soundcheck (Bill’s reel copy of the date was not of his own recording. He didn’t arrive until the next day for the show proper) after he read my Watkins Glen story online somewhere. Man, the Internet is wonderful for that kind of thing. The taper, Jeff Siniawsky, hooked me up with his own master copies of both the 27th and 28th and I got them into circulation via the gdADT. But I’ll save the Siniawsky story for my review of 07/28 down the road.

More years later, again due to the Internet’s ability to connect us all, I was sent another audience recording of the soundcheck altogether – this time a stereo recording, not busted by Tiny, who was busy making trouble for Jeff. This new recording was even better than Jeff’s, yet of unknown lineage and taper. It beautifully feeds the mystery that exists even to this day of who was at Watkins and Roosevelt Stadium for both 07/31 and 08/01 always sitting way up front with this great recording rig. I’m still waiting for these masters to make their way out of the dusty past. They will, I’m sure.

It is this stereo recording, also seeded on the Audience Devotional Tree, that I want you to hear now. Frightfully clear and upfront, with incredible stereo separation of all instruments, this outdoor AUD recording easily battles for the top spot of best Dead AUD of 1973. The small amount of hiss speaks only to the fact that the mystery of this unknown taper still exists to this day. Worth noting here as well is the fact that these tapers went ahead and recorded on 07/27, when they had only come to record the next day. Realize that tapers had to prepare blank tape and battery supplies gauged to the event they were coming to tape. So, this was an unscheduled addition to the taping event, and they went for it. This without the aid of a 24/7 convenience store right across the street from the venue where they could restock on tape and batteries for the next day.

1973 Watkins Glen outhousesLiving in the shadow of the big jam, yet not to be forgotten from this date, is the sensational Bird Song. Easily one of the longest of the year, this version exudes a psychedelic energy that overtakes the audience and provides the first hints that far more than a friendly extended soundcheck is happening. Billy’s drumming is fantastic, coming at you as if played by more than one single person. It’s a perfect example of where the jazz elements of 1973 were anchored. Phil leaps from note to note, playing his own lead lines throughout. And Jerry’s leads emanate that glorious 1973 characteristic of a bird swopping out of tree canopied shadows into the crystal clear diamond sunlight above again and again. But here it all happens in prolonged slow motion, as if on the back of a giant bird with massive wingspan causing it to take more smooth extended arcs as it sings its triumphant song to the sky. Bird Song seems to have matured many times over while the band wasn’t playing shows in nearly a month’s time. The band seemed to be bursting with the desire to play back into the magic center of their own musical experience on 07/27/73.

So take some time and let yourself settle into this audience recording version of a true classic. It provides every gift we ever look for in an AUD recording, and breathtakingly launches you down an unforgettable journey of Grateful Dead greatness.

07/27/73 AUD etree source info
07/27/73 AUD Download

And if you're interested in hearing the Siniawsky AUD with the taper bust, it is here:

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