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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

1980 June 21 - Anchorage, AK

Jerry Garcia 10-25-80
Saturday, June 21, 1980
West High Auditorium – Anchorage, AK
Audience Recording

1980 is a year, like 1979 to some degree, that seems somewhat lost between eras. Not even shunned like 1976 as paling to a nearby year thought to be better, 1980 often doesn’t even draw enough attention to offer up a negative dismissal. It is generally simply forgotten. When Deadheads talk about the early 80’s, the years that come to mind are 1981-1984. Poor 1980 seems always the bridesmaid and never the bride. This is a real shame, because 1980 is filled with many breathtaking moments and some pretty standout historic events, such as the return of Acoustic Dead at the Warfield and Radio City Music Hall. Without even focusing on that highlight (we will in the future), you needn’t look far to find an ample supply of great music from this transitional year. It sounds a lot like the late 70’s and a lot like the early 80’s, and generally it will always surprise you and make you wonder why no one gives it much attention.

Alaska. I know a fair amount of Grateful Dead lore, but I can’t recall exactly how the Dead managed to arrange a trip so far north, and to sell a three night run on top of it at this 2,000 seat high school auditorium. What amazes me further is that we were lucky enough to have seen someone up there taping these shows, and taping them well. In fact, there was more than one taper doing it; in Alaska, no less. It warms this AUD lover’s heart to be able to serve up such a wonderful audience recording here now. This run is regarded as containing some of the best music of the year, and the closing night, 06/21/80, shines the most brightly in my opinion.

Jerry Garcia June 1980 AlaskaWhile it’s well known that the first sets of the early 80’s often could contain a blistering amount of energy and musical excitement which could rival second sets, and any first set output from the previous decade, it is not altogether clear precisely when this first set transformation took place. It seems to have its seeds with the addition of Brent to the band in May 1979, but didn’t really see its groundswell until sometime later. It would be a worthy investigation to try pinning down the first post Keith & Donna show that contained a surprisingly blistering first set. We can at least be sure that by June 1980, the propensity for first set fireworks was well on its way to being a hallmark of the decade.

A fun fact to bear in mind about this show – consider the date and location. The sun never set in the sky while the band played this “night.” People walked out of the concert into daylight.

Right out of the gate, we are treated to a great Sugaree, a song that fully matured during the prior year with the band, as well as in Jerry’s solo band work in 1980. This provides a great start to the show, complete with Garcia reaching some shredding highpoints late in the solo. It is only a precursor for things to come.

The first set continues to deliver the goods, peaking a few different times. Supplication is first to crack open the door to some mind bending psychedelia. Loping along in its 7/8 time signature, Jerry’s fingers fly as the music opens up into great spinning orbits causing everything to cycle through loosely knotted patterns that seem to follow the path of an infinity symbol. A short jam, but fully satisfying. They cool things way down, only to let it all mount up again on electric fingers of fire. Then the set closes with an altogether gooey Feel Like A Stranger. Like huge handfuls of warm, multicolor taffy, the music oozes with complete disregard to anything resembling right angles. Floor, walls, hands, and faces all congeal in a great lava lamp of interwoven wax. Stranger wouldn’t close sets all too often, but here it works oh so well to prime the crowd for what the rest of the night may bring. The jam begins with its fantastic funk/disco high step, only to quickly tip head over heels into a cauldron of stewing colors. Jerry and Brent lose all sense of each other’s beginning and end points as the music follows fractal footprints deep into your mind. You know it’s gonna get stranger.

Grateful Dead 1980As things get started in Terrapin Station, the music sheds all connection to the year in which it is being played. Sounding far more like a slice of 1977, this Terrapin calls to mind that strong sense of being gathered around a campfire as the band tells a story – something generally associated with other songs than this one. Nonetheless, the band is casting its hypnotic spell over everything. Gentle hands with flamed fingers caress our face and beckon us in. The door is shut behind us. We are safe and alone, as a grand journey begins with the solo section marking a point of no return. The music rises and falls on the trails of some great juggler’s balls. They change size and color as they translucently pass each other in the air. It’s a ballet of butterfly music in a dream that defies our ability to concretely retell the story after waking. The song reaches its zenith and crashes thunderously as the melody chases its own tail over and over. It gives nary room for a breath before materializing into the next song, Playin' In The Band.

The Playin’ jam wastes no time stroking the fibers of the Grateful Dead’s adoring musical muse. Its power is awakened like a room instantly filling with a heady incense that reminds our ancient soul receptors of the essence of the eternal. Broken up into a handful of section, the jam begins immediately to unbind the tightly wrapped petals of the musical flower that held the formal part of the song together. It’s like a flower slowly waking to starlight. While the tempo of the song churns along, there is a widening space between the beats, into which cosmic oceans gently lap to the shore. Garcia goes right for his auto-filter wha pedal and calls up a nearly invisible web of energy that drifts and turns in unseen air currents. Everything takes on a distinctly three dimensional aspect on the audience recording, all of the instrumentation finding its natural place in the landscape around us.

After a short while Garcia’s pace quickens, and he’s running staccato lines in a musically choreographed dance of twirls, swoops, and back bending joy. The energy of the band tightens around Jerry, and everything takes on the sense of wild horses galloping across moonlit countryside, not unlike the energy we hear in Playin’s from 1972. We flow endlessly over hills which quietly rise and fall at random intervals like the deepest ocean shedding a storm’s energy reserves. What seems like hours later, the band emerges into a more subtle pasture where sounds begin to crackle and shimmer like the air around us is condensing into sporadic forms just out of reach. Slowly these sounds, which could have previously tricked our mind as not possibly coming from the musicians, fill all of our aural space, and we’ve somehow been cast a million miles away from whatever concert we thought we were attending. Great suns are rising and setting. Clouds form into mountains, then into lightning, then into thousands of turning flowers. And on and on it goes.

Jerry Garcia 09/25/80A molten lava-like creature is stirring. It’s skin ripples with glass sharp scales as it transforms to fill our entire field of senses. Blaring a white hot cacophony of wicked colors which gush out like an uncapped torrent, the band drives deeply into a completely frenzied expression of Space, and leaves us powerless to defend anything as we slip into Drums.

The Space which then returns after Drums is breathtaking. It’s as if we have walked right back into the pre-Drum chaos. Nothing sounds done out of routine, whatsoever. By no means is the band just playing some weirdness because this is where it fits in the show. The music is doing things which defy all the laws of physics completely. Steal your face right off your head, indeed. There’s little sense in trying to describe things more accurately. This Space leaves you completely transformed. As it fades off, Phil can be heard hinting at Dark Star (no WAY!). Instead, the band turns on a dime into Truckin’ and the entire concert has returned around you. As if from a wormhole in another dimension, we are dropped back into something far more familiar to our human experience. There are people clapping along, hooting and hollering. The music dances. The band is playing back on a steady 4/4 beat. My God, where were we?

Truckin’ over delivers in most every way imaginable. When they hit the big power chord after the long triplet ramp up section, a shock wave erupts over the crowd. Just before this note there is a fraction of silence, which is common to all Truckin’s at this moment of the song. But it is somehow more this time. Perfectly executed, the entire band absolutely stops together, and hits that chord in perfect unison – a classic moment where we can hear more in the space between the music, than in the music itself.

The show closes with a Brokedown Palace which brings a spiritual serenity to the entire evening’s experience. In taking you to this quiet spot of personal grace, it actually succeeds in returning us all to a harmonious union; one to which we often don’t pay enough attention…

"Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul..."

06/21/80 etree source info
06/21/80 AUD Download

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Listening Trail – Unsung Heroes

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

This is probably my favorite topic of them all, and I could (and probably will) fill many listening trails with shows that fall under this category. Everyone likes to be turned on to a great show that they’d never otherwise give a second glace. With a music collection as big as the Dead’s, there are bound to be hidden gems hiding under rocks and around corners all over the place. Finding them is a challenge all its own, and in large part makes up a sizable portion of the inspiration for the Listening Guide in the first place. In many ways the entire guide is often one long unsung heroes trail.

It’s an extra special pleasure to give someone a show that they’d never thought of before and watch their eyes light up as the music takes over. Certainly one of the more exciting trails to follow, bumping into the unsung heroes among Grateful Dead tapes makes for some of the most satisfying musical experiences we can seek. I hope everyone can find a least a few eye openers while travelling along this trail.

We’re going to stick to the ‘70’s on this trail. Don’t worry. We’ll head down many different unsung heroes trails before it's all over.

Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.

05/07/70 – This show scores a perfect 10 on both the acoustic Dead scale, and the raging psychedelic beast scale. From the nose to toes, this is one of the greatest Dead shows of all, yet it is so often overlooked. From the amazingly welcoming energy of the acoustic set (my favorite, by far), to the many worlds travelled in the electric set highlights, this show can’t be missed. Wood, organic, Grateful Dead.

03/18/71 – Worthy of the highest of praise, this show gets nearly no attention. Sandwiched between the long standing popularity of the month before and after, this gem from March, ’71 boils over with everything indicative of the Dead’s mastery at this stage of their career. A perfect slice of 1971, and the last known rendering of “Feedback.” The true end of the Primal Era? Let’s not start the debate here.

07/01/73 – I’ll happily talk to no end about my love of Summer ’73 Grateful Dead. A stellar AUD recording with one of the best Playin’ In The Band’s from the year, and a fantastic, deeply explorative set two jam, it makes me wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t share my belief that it doesn’t get much better than everything that this band played in the Summer of ‘73. Shorter lines for me, I guess, when we perfect time travel and can go back to see some shows.

10/03/76 – The latter half of 1976 was always the hardest to come by in tape trading circles, and with most of the year’s best music hiding there at the back end, it’s no wonder 1976 struggles to get its props; that, and big old 1977 coming right after. Hearing this show’s second set changed everything for me regarding 1976, and set me on a path to find every drop of nectar from this year. Multiple moments of inspired improvisation, and wickedly subtle psychedelic interplay throughout, make this show a constant favorite of mine, always one to share.

07/01/78 – Another year where the Summer seems to suffer from a lack of appreciation. The Red Rocks shows from a week later show up on everyone’s list, highly circulated soundboards. I find digging a bit more deeply into the first week of the month pays off even better dividends. No soundboards at all. No reason to worry. You won’t hear this one getting a lot of talk, but I find it to be a perfect stop in 1978.

In finishing this list, I find myself thinking of many many more shows that could be on this trail. No doubt, we’ll be back for more.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Listening Trail - Best AUDs Ever

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

In the world of Grateful Dead tape collecting, we could debate which audience tapes have the best sound quality until we grow too old to press the play button. The list of “Best Grateful Dead AUD tapes” goes on and on. However, there are a few recordings (some of which have been featured on the Guide already) which stand the test of time as tapes that can stop you in your tracks and make you say, “Wait a minute. That’s an audience tape?” Often, these recordings serve well in warming one’s ears to the medium of audience taping itself.

And while they’re at it, these tapes also do a good job of dispelling the myth that all audience recordings from way way back in the 70’s (gasp!) pale to what more “modern” taping equipment can produce. Yes, caveats should be given for certain technical limitations of the day. But, with these tapes, we can absolutely gain an understanding of how amazing the Dead really sounded way back when (and even not so way back).

Rather than ranking them against each other, they are listed simply in chronological order below. This is a subject that will easily allow for the future creation of more than just this one trail. But, this first one is surely one of our most well worn paths. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.

05/03/69 – It’s almost unfair, and like something from another dimension. Audience tapes in 1969 don’t sound this good, ever. Vocals-shmocals, the mics on stage miss the PA speakers that carried the vocals, so the singing is a bit buried. It’s 1969. Get over it.

08/06/71 – Perhaps the most famous Grateful Dead AUD tape of them all. Your ear will quickly acclimate to the sonic landscape and be rewarded with some amazing 1971 magic. Set two will leave you giddy.

09/28/75 – Again, like stacking the deck, we learn that if you can pull off setting up directly on the lip of the stage, the Grateful Dead will reward you many times over. Quite possibly, this is the outdoor recording of all outdoor recordings. Portions can also be heard in podcast listening session 001.

05/13/83 – Score the perfect seats, in the perfect row, at the perfect outdoor venue, on a perfect day. It’s all gravy from there when the Dead deliver a soul quenching performance. Portions can also be heard in podcast listening session 001.

09/19/90 – A tip of the hat to the progress of taping technology! The stars line up here to completely shatter the limitations of any preconceived notions you might have around audience tapes, even if those notions were already pretty good.

Listening Trail - Best Grateful Dead Shows

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series.

It is understandably natural to want to find your way to the best Dead shows ever when first exploring Grateful Dead music. The band was famous for playing a lot of concerts, and always known for being better live than they ever were on studio albums. However, we are heading into treacherous waters when we try to claim which Dead shows were the best of all time.

None-the-less, that doesn’t seem to change the fact that people are always looking for them. Our goal here will be to call out some performances (from those that have already made it into the Grateful Dead Listening Guide) where the band reaches the golden ring deep inside – shows that truly do stand out for containing extra special musical moments.

A wickedly hard list to compile (and one often fraught with personal opinion), we’ll start below with just a few shows listed chronologically, as truly ranking things in order of greatness is a foolish venture, indeed. No doubt, there will be more “Best Show Ever” trails to come. This first pass is intended to include shows that our entire community could probably agree are true standouts.

Try to forget the “best ever” name of this trail, and see it as a walking tour of some shows that highlight the Dead going over the top musically; hitting musical satori like a bell. These are shows where the Dead’s musical muse is aflame with light and creativity.

Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.

06/24/70 – Stop here, and don’t pass Go. The sound quality of this tape might be hard on first time listeners (more on that in the review itself). Deadheads may disagree on the topic of “best ever,” but most will agree that it rarely got better than this. Dark Star > Attics Of My Life > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Dark Star > Saint Stephen > China Cat Sunflower > Jam > I Know You Rider. Words can not express… Perhaps one of the longest stretches of pure flowing X factor we have on tape.

07/27/73 – The Watkins Jam. So famous, we often forget just how mesmerizingly special it really was. There was nothing quite like it before or after. This is something for the ages. Note: it’s the audience tape addressed in the review, not the version you might have heard on the So Many Roads boxset. The AUD is fantastic, and a bit of it is featured in podcast listening session 001.

08/06/74 – From a year of knock out performance after performance, there’s something somehow a cut above happening during this day’s first set stand alone Eyes Of The World, and Playin’ In The Band > Scarlet Begonias > Playin’ In The Band. Hold on tight.

05/08/77 – Damned if I don’t include it on a “best ever” list, and perhaps equally damn if I do. Everyone owes it to themselves to figure out how they feel about the most famous Dead tape of them all.

Listening Trails

When this site started in February, 2008, I likened the collection of Grateful Dead recordings available online to a vast sea in which folks needed help navigating. The Listening Guide was conceived as something of a combined compass, rudder, sextant, and ocean map, all aimed at helping people navigate the waters.

Over time, this site itself has grown into something of a sea of its own. And I can’t help but wonder if, despite the handy label cloud of tag links and the personal hand holding fun of the Podcast Series, newcomers arrive here with a sense of uncertainty regarding where to step first, let alone, second. Since these steps were precisely the inspiration which lead to the creation of the Grateful Dead Listening Guide, I’ve decided to add a new layer to site’s information, aimed at easing confusion and making the first steps, and those thereafter, somewhat easier: Listening Trails.

Working with the vision of the Dead's vast music collection as more of a National Park than an ocean of water, it seems appropriate that visitors to the park should be handed a map of trails to consider following. Just as is found when visiting most any natural wonder, we typically are encouraged to follow some well worn, and satisfying paths that have given previous visitors pleasure, rather than just being cut loose to tackle a mountain side, waterfall, or forest rather blindly. And, there should be the occasional park ranger found along the way to point out particularly pleasant viewing stations here and there.

Some listening trails you could walk in a day, while you might find it best to walk others over the period of weeks, camping out at particular shows for extended introspection. However you travel, my hope is that these trails will serve folks well, and always make the daunting task of confronting the Grateful Dead’s musical collection less, well… daunting.

As the trails are built, I’ll try to keep a list of them within handy arm's reach of new (and old) comers. I have a good handful of trail subjects in mind to get started which I believe will help visitors make the best use of the Grateful Dead Listening Guide. I’m sure more will be built as time goes on, and as the GDLG “park” continues to expand.

You’ll find all the trails filtered under a new label link in the cloud called: Listening Trails. Here’s to some enjoyable travels.

Friday, February 6, 2009

GDLG-002 - Golden Rings & Secret Spaces

Listening Session 002: Visiting some classic well known musical moments as well as some more obscure gems from the history of Grateful Dead live recordings, complete with the occasional story and insight adding color along the way.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary

The Guide celebrates having one year under its belt today. In the first year we’ve logged 70 show reviews. If viewed as being a brand new tape collector, that’s a pretty nice collection of shows to have gathered in a year’s time. Not an overwhelming number, but enough to start causing our non-Deadhead friends to think very seriously that we have some kind of problem, just the same.

In the old days this would represent something on the order of 160 cassette tapes – definitely time to start building some nice wooden cassette racks for the wall! Spread out over a year, we might not even have noticed that we dropped something on the order of $425 on our new cassette habit (to say little of stamps and bubble envelopes). Also worth recognizing is the fact that we would have probably spent a good deal of time sending a fair amount of this music out to other like-minded traders, turning other folks on to some amazing music.

That’s one thing about the Grateful Dead tape trading scene – it resonates with, and follows the laws of balance in the universe. There is a built in regulator switch to tape trading that makes it almost impossible not to share out at least as much music as you accept in. And the more you give, the more you get. It is (was) not uncommon to be gifted tapes pretty regularly, and this then would inspire us to do more of the same. Whether it be adding an extra tape or two in a trade just because you really wanted to share some show that wasn’t part of a trade request, or the handing out of tapes to strangers at a gas station when you see with a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on their car, this sort of stuff went on regularly in tape trading.

I know we touched on this a while back, but it’s also worth recognizing that after a year of this trading, our significant other has not been blind to our new found zeal for something having altogether nothing to do with said “other.” We’re probably spending a bit more time than could be rationalized under headphones, or in the basement. Does she/he know about that $425 bucks!?! And to be sure, we are catching grief for always exiting the normal activities of life every 46 minutes to go flip a tape – and I mean always.

The fact that we seemed powerless to stop these things was a telltale sign that we were in the right place. And I suppose that while the onset of our “digital age” has changed the very nature of our trading community forever, we can be thankful that so much music is now so easily accessible in forums such as this and others across the net. And the give and take is still alive and well. I can’t express how much pleasure I get from knowing how appreciative folks are about the content of this site. That’s what I’m getting in trade – the knowledge that I’m achieving a bit of my intended goal for the guide. Thank you all for that.

If the first days are the hardest days, we shouldn’t worry now about our ability to explore more great music in year two of the Grateful Dead Listening Guide. Whether you started reading a year ago, or have only recently stumbled into our corner of the web, I’m glad to have you along. The wide readership, responses, and always positive feedback are constant reminders that starting this thing was a good idea. I look forward to continuing to explore the music and musical spirituality that inspires me to write and share my thoughts with you all.

You can always blame that grizzled old Deadhead that lives across the street when your friends look at you with an air of confusion. Listen to the music play!

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