Sunday, July 21, 1974
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
There is no denying it. The Grateful Dead’s sound system in 1974 was a sonic masterpiece. As the stories go, experiencing the Wall Of Sound wasn’t something of being completely flattened by some tidal wave of music. Rather, folks who were there describe how the music wasn’t overwhelmingly loud - you could converse with the people around you. But the music was extremely powerful, and breathtakingly clear, invoking not the slightest amount of ear fatigue even when the band would roar. And on the subject of roaring power, there was no shortage of it fueling the speakers themselves. The 75-ton Wall ran with 26,400 watts of power, and could maintain its optimal sound quality at a distance of two football fields length from the stage, and “acceptable” sound quality at a distance of a ¼ mile, with wind being the only enemy over great distances. More tasty spec info can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the Wall.
It’s from Wall Of Sound tapes that I first began to cement my firm belief that there is no better way to enjoy a good AUD tape than when it’s an outdoor recording. When you combine a good audience tape, with the great outdoors, and the Wall Of Sound, you find yourself primed to experience some of the finest examples of live music field recordings out there.
The Wall Of Sound came and went quickly, only used throughout most of 1974 (though 1973 was also spent with a prototype sound system based on a similar premise). Until we master time travel, the best way to relive the Wall’s existence is through the AUD tapes that have been preserved since that year. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but, don’t be fooled. Soundboard tapes from 1974 are not the Wall Of Sound. In order to get as close as we can to its pure electricity and the luscious warm glow of tone, let alone the quadraphonic amplification of Phil’s bass, we simply must slip in an AUD tape, and let it roll. And let it roll loud.
1974 delivered a few more handy gifts beyond the Wall itself. It also saw the band absolutely peaking in their ability to stoke the fires of their musical muse, molding it like clay into whatever direction and shape they wished. The sound system was privileged to back a library of music that knows nearly no equal. That, and 1974 saw a very convenient upsurge in actual audience tapers who had really mastered their craft over the last few years. All across the country, there were people armed and ready with the equipment and skills to step up to the Wall and bring a slice of the listening experience back home with them. Lucky us.
Now, let’s visit the Hollywood Bowl for the show on July 21st, 1974. For this show we currently have no soundboard in circulation whatsoever.
[Hey, quick side note: This is not the first time that the GDLG has featured a review of a show for which no soundboard circulates. And in two of these other instances (07/31/71 and 08/06/71), the soundboards have actually made it into circulation (commercially, even) since the penning of their reviews. I don’t mean to start a trend here, but I’m just sayin’…]
Actually, the lack of a SBD tape is of little matter for this date, because we had Rob Bertrando in attendance with his Sony ECM-22P mics and TC-152SD deck on hand (let alone all the blank tape, batteries, and cables) sitting up close - certainly well within two football field’s length ;-), ready to preserve the event.
It’s Summer 1974, and there’s little not to like from the Grateful Dead at this time. The entire show is a wonderful aural experience, culminating with a massive Playin’ In The Band sandwich in the second set featuring some unique song pairings and packed with typical 1974 jamming that demonstrates the full range of talents the band had mastered by this juncture. Set one contains a sweetly delivered Mississippi Half Step > It Must Have Been The Roses, always a well matched pair. The transition into Roses is lovely. And probably one of the coolest additions to the Dead’s playlist in 1974 was Scarlet Begonias. This evening’s rendition is no slouch, providing a great example of the way the band could twist their personal brand of psychedelic rock into mid-70’s funk. The trade off for having this entire fantastic tape is the inevitable tape flip six and a half minutes into the song. We end up losing what was likely another four or five minutes of jamming at least. The set wraps up with Around & Around, and then comes Seastones.
Like it or not, you’re going to have to ingest some Seastones if you’re going to call yourself a Dead tape collector. Phil Lesh, and Ned Lagin (pronounced “Lay-Gen” as in “generation”) would fill what amounted to a set 1.5 with their improvisational electronic soundscapes throughout 1974. About as foreign sounding as one can imagine, Seastones pushed the Wall Of Sound into the outer space of experimental music completely. This AUD tape provides a wonderful document of the piece, complete with ample crowd chatter trying to come to terms with what the heck was coming off the stage for 13 minutes.
Set two opens with China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, the Wall giving off its sensational spectrum of frequencies as the crowd welcomes the old favorite. 1974 was a year of wonderful China>Riders, most all of them seeing a large amount of transitional jamming from one song to the other. This version is well performed and features the lovely four chord step down theme just before they make it into I Know You Rider, always a highlight in the China>Riders from ’74.
As if the AUD doesn’t sound good enough all the way through, as the Playin’ jam begins, the sound spectrum seems to open up in all directions as Bobby flips on his phasing/flanging effect. It’s as if some veil we couldn’t perceive at all has been whisked away. Weir’s tone and chord voicing here is absolute perfection. The rest of the band paints a picture under his delivery, and eventually Garcia rises over the top, soon allowing his wha-wha pedal to work at full force. Dynamite 1974 yummies raining down from everywhere, the music-scape tunnels, spirals, and dances.
The jam goes a long way in demonstrating the development of the band to its point of mastery in 1974. Not only do they flow from passage to passage lending a sense of slow turning panes of thick stained glass which reshape and redefine the entire landscape before us, but again and again there rises and recedes the trembling chaotic space so often found in 1974, as if the music is teetering over the edge into complete deconstruction. Throughout the jam, this space never fully washes everything else away. Rather, it ebbs and flows in and out of consciousness, like a mystery occasionally revealing its truth to us, then vanishing again. The way this threads itself in and out of the otherwise musical improvisational explorations of the band shows just how on top of their game the Dead were here. And the sound quality of the tape throughout is stunning, pure full-range power surging through the air. Twenty one minutes pass and we’ve travelled to many a land.
Playin’ edges into Spanish Jam at Bobby’s lead, but never fully forms, quickly redirected into Wharf Rat. From here there’s the unique pairing segue into Truckin’. About one minute into Truckin’ there’s a tape flip which, if you listen real close in the right channel, you can hear coming as Bertrando and a buddy discuss pulling it off. Truckin’ lifts the crowd energy and thunders along into a nice bopping exit segment which then turns into a sultry Nobody’s Jam, and then back to Playin’ In The Band. Nice.
This tape makes easy work of coming to appreciate the Wall Of Sound and outdoor audience recordings of the historic sound system. The recording has been in circulation forever, but the transfer from December 2007, done at the hands of the MOTB team, elevates the sound quality more than ever before. Enjoy!
07/21/74 AUD etree source info