Site Sponsor

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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1979 July 1 - Seattle Center Memorial Stadium

Sunday, July 1, 1979
Seattle Center Memorial Stadium – Seattle, WA
Audience Recording

I don’t think it matters what goes on moving forward, 1979 is one of those years that is forever going to reside a bit in the shadows. It’s okay. Some Grateful Dead years are meant for a more quiet and lurking seclusion. They serve an interesting purpose for collectors. For many folks, getting deeply into 1979 comes long after scouring other years that first drew the eye and ear. And once this exploration begins (like when you tell yourself, “I need to collect that entire run leading up to New Year’s Eve,” or, “I have to hear Brent’s first tour with the band. I’ve heard that May ’79 was hot.”), there is the pleasure of discovering a whole universe of music that seemed to have been hiding from you. More amazing Grateful Dead! Why didn’t someone tell me?! Well, it just doesn’t work that way, and that’s okay. Part of the mystique and draw here is how we all grow into the music of the Dead. It’s definitely the journey and not the destination. The music can only be experienced in real time, and one show at a time. And that recognition that there may have been an entire year of music you overlooked is part of the journey. It enriches the enjoyment, and probably all Dead tape collectors have shared that experience. So, 1979…

Not only is this a year that bleeds and fades into the crossover between decades (kinda can’t avoid it on the calendar and all), ’79 is also the first year where I start to hear that element of the Grateful Dead that displays a real timelessness. Certain songs in 1979 call back to many years earlier, and defy being described as 1979 versions. More than this, many classic tunes begin giving off a reflection to the wonderful history of the Dead. In 1979, songs like Uncle John’s Band, Stella Blue, and Half Step not only feel timeless, but they draw beautifully from the past, making their present experience all the more sweet – a feeling like, “they’re still my good old Grateful Dead.” This feeling isn’t there for me prior to 1979. Before that year, they simply were that good old Grateful Dead, and didn’t need to “still” be them. Does that even make sense?

Jerry Garcia 1979On July 1st, 1979 the Dead played a wonderful show that is ripe with this reflective power. It overflows with that special timelessness. The song selections often enhance this, and make for an extra enjoyable ride. There are actually a lot of shows like this somewhat lost in 1979. July 1st is only one of them. There’s a lot of gold to be mined out here (you just don’t hear much about Summer 1979). This show offers us a great path into these backwaters because the recording is fantastic, and I still tend to use audience recording quality as a bit of a guiding light as I pick shows to review. As I’ve said before, a good show matched with a good recording makes for an ideal listening setting. So, in hunting around the summer of ’79, July 1st stood out as a logical choice.

“Hey, God damn it! Get up there and play!”

This audience tape opens up with nearly four minutes or so of pre-show chatter, leading off beautifully with a guy screaming admonishments at the band to get the show started followed by folks near the taper offering their opinion of this guy – precious AUD tape moments. Idle chit-chat around the taper continues, including talk of the previous night’s show, and a request for a copy of tonight’s recording. It’s a nice set up for the music which follows.

Set 1: Half Step > Franklin's Tower, Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues, Peggy-O, Minglewood, Stagger Lee, El Paso, Brown Eyed Women, Passenger

Set 2: Don't Ease Me In, Samson And Delilah, Sugaree, Terrapin > Playin’ > Drums > Space > Stella Blue > Truckin’ > Around And Around E: Shakedown

Opening with a Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodleloo is always a treat. The song casts out a beautiful bird’s eye view as it paints the Rio Grande gently snaking across a sun dappled landscape. The song tends to strongly point back to the years of its inception, 1972-1973, wiping away associations to the actual date of its performance as it lopes along. And here in ‘79, it serves to instantly bring us to that island which was so much the Grateful Dead – converse to most of the popular cultural and musical trends by the end of the 70’s. Half Step gives off this “sound of the Dead” – something more than a straight up cowboy song, and yet not flamboyantly psychedelic by any means. It’s more “American Dead” than anything. Sliding into Franklin’s Tower, the crowd ignites as the music swirls. The mix is a little Bobby heavy at this point in the show, but given his extremely strong and creative playing there’s little to complain about. And the mix will soon even out into lovely AUD bliss. Half Step>Franklin’s show openers were always great at getting the party started, and by the end of this one the audience is left frenzied and wide-eyed.

The first set continues to roll along, angling in and out of true cowboy territory, and finally closing the set with Passenger which could often rip it up, and this set closer is no exception. Garcia’s slide soloing is an incredible blend of teeth clenching intensity blurred with a dizzying melodic line. All in all this song goes from hot to blistering as Jerry continues to solo without his slide and fires bullet after bullet all over the place, picking faster than we can keep up. Breathlessly, the song ends, wrapping up the first set.

The second set wastes no time in continuing to blur the time stamp on the show as they open with Don’t Ease Me In. Side note: let’s all thank the taper for catching that something was wrong with the left channel mic input. We almost ended up with a horrifically flawed recording of the second set. So, it’s good times out of the gate with Don’t Ease, prancing and dancing a carousel ride all the way.

Out of the space between songs, the drummers begin hammering out a tribal groove and we get treated to a rather exceptional Samson And Delilah. This takes quite a bit for me to say, as Samson is a pretty regular throw away for me. But Mickey and Billy draw you in, and the song comes off without a hitch.

And then Sugaree manages to both take us back and catapult us forward. When Sugaree first made the scene it was never a 13 minute monster. But by 1979, the song had become a showcase for Jerry, and a staple favorite working its way solidly into the line up both with the Dead and Garcia’s solo projects. This version gets started and seems to push and pull like forever reaching and receding waves lapping at the shore. It breathes and pulses, and the solo sections slowly build to blur the lines of the music’s coming and going. Eventually, in the third solo, Garcia reaches his rapid staccato picking and fingering and a slow plume of energy begins to cascade across everything, as if the tops of mammoth redwood trees have turned to molten showers of fireworks and streamers of light. The second set is going very nicely at this point. And then Terrapin.

Gilded columns and archways recede beyond our vision above us as the haunting and regal mystery of Terrapin Station consumes the air. As 1979 moved along, Terrapin grew and grew. The mid section solo here on 7/1 extends its reach into softly pinwheeling suns, clouds, and mountains. This section of the song was really starting to find its legs in the summer of ’79, and here we encounter some of the most delicious passages of music very much cut from the current Grateful Dead cloth. Terrapin truly paved new ground for the Dead, while drawing at times on the haunting grace of so much that they had always done. Eventually fitting in like as if it was always meant to be, Terrapin moves into Playin’.

Playin’ In The Band is an absolute joy to behold. Hard to find much to disappoint in any Playin’ jam, here the music expands and quivers in and out of pools which pull our vision deeply within, never failing to find more and more intricacy and detail the longer we look. Soon, the music begins rushing at us like gusts of wind rippling through a flag, casting everything into an endless undulation. The pulsing and rushing of the music climbs in intensity; much of which comes at the hand of Bob doing unbelievable things with his strumming hand. Eventually, things appear to simmer down, and Garcia’s guitar begins to sing like a bird pocketed between more of his staccato snaking brilliance. Sound gathers into rapidly blooming flowers which fragment off at impossible angles, first by the handful, then filling every space of our visual field. The Dead have rolled out a tapestry which weaves through the hearts of all in attendance. As was often the case, we are brought to a selfless moment of connection to the music. As it sings its song we are as much the voice as the instruments playing. Somehow Drums begins…

Space takes us to strange science fiction terrains, where inverted laws of physics and multi-mooned skies baffle and confound our senses. While this world swirls around us, leaving us only able to desperately try to stand still and hug the wall, hoping the air itself won’t grab us by the shirt and toss us into a boundless maze of confusion, Stella Blue forms around our toes. It starts completely woven into the pattern defying chaos and soon soaks into everything around it. We come out of Space into a Stella Blue that can stand as a defining version. The Dead and the Jerry ballad – something that would always serve to separate them from being “just some psychedelic jam band.”

Stella Blue is delivered on delicate wings, and brings the entire musical experience directly into the Dead’s common “church-like grace.” The abundantly raucous and vocal crowd is gone, and for every one of the thousands in attendance it has become a one-on-one session with Jerry Garcia. His earnest vocals whisper for you to take heed, yet offer enough time bound weariness that he seems caught singing the song as much for his own ears as yours, and this only serves to draw us in further.

Then, as is often the case, it is Jerry’s soloing which catapults Stella Blue into the heavens and down to the fiber of each cell in your body. Finding more room than you’d think possible to draw on emotion, Garcia’s guitar work communicates untold volumes of expression. He towers over lofty mountain peaks, filling the sky with song, and draws to a delicacy that could rock a baby to sleep, all continually conveying heartfelt lyrical emotion. The end solo climbs on and on, and eventually Jerry is layering in the opening refrain to Truckin’, letting it weave into the slow back and forth rocking of Stella Blue’s chord structure.

You need to know that this audience tape has what we in the trading community have long come to call a “Cut Of Death” occurring exactly at the worst possible time in the music. Back in the day, this would be followed by having to stand up and go flip the cassette, or at minimum suffer through a few seconds of blank tape hiss. Here the cut, which tears the heart out of this Stella>Truckin’ transition almost completely, is stitched end to end, but is not much less painful for it. There is just enough of the transition on each side of the cut to make us both appreciate it and cringe for having missed this bit of music – just a few measures, really. Boys and girls, this is life in the world of tape trading. The best thing you can do is warn your friends when you are about to play this wonderful tape for them (as I am clearly doing now). It is far better to know it’s coming than not.

So, Truckin’ explodes and the crowd is set ablaze once again. The version is hot and contains a really nice treat in that it segues into a Nobody’s Fault But Mine Jam. It isn’t all that long, but it has all the high step strut we could ever ask for. The way Around And Around appears from within is also very fine with Jerry finding fragments of the song’s opening and allowing them to coalesce into the traditional hard-stop transition for which the tune is so well know. From here the set cruises to a hard rockin’ close.

A cherry on top in the highest degree, the band returns to the stage to deliver a Shakedown Street encore which is a true rarity. While it doesn’t expand out into an extended jam, it is still a decidedly enjoyable way to bring an end to a Grateful Dead show.

Enjoy this show for the window it can provide into the deeper recesses of the Grateful Dead’s concert history. May you find yourself drawn down side roads and into gullies. It’ll be good to see you there.

07/01/79 AUD etree source info
07/01/79 AUD Download

Monday, July 20, 2009

GDLG-006 - A Grateful Effervescence

Listening Session 006: Examining the Grateful Dead's hard to pin down underlying theme of uplifting joyfulness. Hear how it was often more than psychedelic improvisation which defined this “band beyond description.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Under Eternity Blue - Early Dub Reggae

The third installment of the Under Eternity Blue radio program hits the Internet airwaves this weekend with three show times: Saturday, 7pm PST, and Sunday, 6am PST and 6pm PST.

This episode will explore dawn of Dub Reggae music coming just before the true explosion of the genre in the mid-70's. If you aren't all that familiar with Dub, or are a long time fan, this "heady" style of Jamaican instrumental production is a natural crossover for any Deadhead. This show explores the earliest years of Dub, which have their own unique flavor as Reggae itself was forming out of the more upbeat stylings of Rocksteady before it.

Now that there are a few UEB shows under my belt, I will be creating a podcast subscription feed for this "non-Dead" project very soon. You can currently stream past shows (Ambient Electronica, Psychedelic Folk). Soon moving forward, each show will be released as a podcast (earlier episodes retroactively included) some time after the original weekend airing on Spirit Plants Radio itself.

Spirit Plants Radio
Under Eternity Blue with DJ Arkstar
Saturday, July 18th: 7pm PST
Sunday, July 19th: 6am PST & 6pm PST

The full weekend line up (11am PST Saturday - 11pm PST Sunday) is listed on the Spirit Plants Radio page above. If you can’t tune in live, all shows become listenable via archive streaming after the show ends Sunday night.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Gold Ring Down Inside

History knows the Grateful Dead. They are most universally called the pioneers of the Psychedelic Hippie Rock Music movement. If you think back to most passing mentions you might have read about the Dead in print, or heard on the evening news, some variation of this quick summary is likely to be what you encountered as one news segment or another introduced a piece that had something to do with the band. This quick elevator pitch calling card was created more by our media than the band themselves. And the quick association stuck. Pretty much anyone, fan or foe, would rightly place this crown on the Dead’s head (ha! No pun intended). But while there is no denying the hypnotic draw of the band’s ability to turn time and space in on themselves through improvisational adventurism, the actual power of the band which draws listeners in like an irresistible force of gravity may be something else entirely. Their crowning achievement, and reason for going down in the history books of not only music, but of our culture, might actually stem from something far less easy to pitch into a 15 word sound bite.

There is another consistency to this band’s output which laces and weaves its fingers throughout much of what was created over its thirty year span. This particular element is something that appears to run at an even deeper level than the psychedelic fireworks which draw justifiable attention. Through it all, the Grateful Dead continually were expressing a heartfelt joyfulness which may best be described as simply uplifting and smile producing. It may sound corny, but the ties that truly bind one’s heart to this band’s music seem to come more from the musical passages that bring us floating and buoyant onto a sea of weightless, timeless pleasure.

Something purely effervescent, as in a sunshine skipping Eyes Of The World, or the blue skied cantering lilt of I Know You Rider forming out of China Cat Sunflower, made for some of the most enchanting musical experiences. It was in moments like these where the audience was just as likely to dissolve from individuals into a singular shared perception and expression of the music, as they were while in the grips of a star exploding Dark Star or Other One. This effervescence traverses the early psychedelic meltdowns, Americana acoustic folk, and tribal-disco beat dance parties which pepper the landscape of the Grateful Dead’s cannon.

It might be said that we went back to shows to fill up on this elixir as much as anything else; to draw again from the well that most silently bound us together. Away from the music, deadheads exchange subtle unspoken looks which act as a secret handshake, confirming allegiance to this hard to pin down soul lifting musical journeying. With a look, we know we “get it” and have “been there.” This is music’s deep seeded heartbeat of expression through the band, and us, which often eludes our description due to its sheer scope – like quantifying the oxygen around us or our place in the cosmos. It’s nearly so completely everywhere that we fail to recognize that it’s there at all, influencing and drawing us in.

While I have often aimed at discussing the thematic undercurrents which ran through and evolved in the Dead’s musical history, it has been a difficult challenge. I often question the validity of the dots I connect between songs (Viola Lee to Cumberland? New Potato Caboose to Bird Song?). And now more than ever, I believe it was the scale, or depth of this overarching soulful theme which caused me to struggle. The Dead’s own universal predilection for letting the music lift the collective audience (band included) into a heartwarming rapture reveals a nearly invisible network of connective tissue which binds all of their musical themes. Sure, there are more focused recognizable manifestations of undercurrents floating across the years of the band’s music. But, from a 10,000 foot view, a new clarity takes shape.

Intertwined, but somehow also existing side by side with this effervescent element, there is also the undeniable undercurrent of what Deadheads universally refer to as a “church like” experience within the Dead’s music. Those musical passages tinged with that quality often described on these pages as being wrapped in the most protective arms possible, rocked like a baby, or hauntingly drawn into a song’s story ‘round the campfire – this element did as much to cement the Dead with its audience as any other, latching into the same soul level resonance attained when the music set you soaring, smiling, beaming. In many ways, this church element works a similar uplifting magic upon the listener’s experience.

In 60 plus years, when people are looking way way back upon the life and times of the last half of the previous century, perhaps these deeper undercurrents will drive the conversations when people reflect on music’s ability to transcend time and communicate through the ages. The Grateful Dead left an indelible mark on the almost imperceptible mechanics of our ability to be moved, shaped, and transformed by music itself. By this may history truly know the Grateful Dead.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

1970 December 28 - El Monte, CA

Jerry Garcia 1970

Monday, December 28, 1970
Legion Stadium - El Monte, CA
Audience Recording

Music can change your mood, brighten your day, and transport you to far away lands. The Grateful Dead were good for all of these things, and sometimes a bit more. Sometimes the Dead’s music could even change the weather on you, causing the sun to burst through a cloudy day, or even change the season from winter to summer. Such is the case with 12/28/70. Firmly planted in what nearly anyone would call the middle of winter (okay, just seven days in on the calendar), this show ushers bright green grass, sunshine, and warm breezes into the coldest and darkest of days. It’s really something pervasive to what could be called the Dead’s 1971 sound – a folk and country tinged psychedelic rock that emanates a deep relaxed and joyful ease. And here at the doorsteps to 1971, we have a recording that brings this to our ears beautifully. Good time, summertime Grateful Dead.

12/28/70 was another tape which came to be a fixture for me as my appreciation of audience recordings grew over the years. As yet another recording by the same duo responsible for the infamous
08/06/71 tape, as well as the wonderful recording of 07/01/73, on December 28th, 1970 Craig Todd and Harv Kaslow managed to come away with a recording that stands right up there with the gems they would produce in years to come. With beautiful range and surprisingly impressive stereo separation, this tape defies the standard pigeonholing that many people attribute to old Grateful Dead audience tapes.

Phil Lesh 1970Musically, 1970 becomes a difficult year to stack shows against shows, mainly because the truly phenomenal nights claim an unfair advantage over other shows which are good in their own right, yet perhaps don’t exist on the same “truly phenomenal” plane. While 12/28/70 isn’t one of these shows that can be called “best ever,” recognizing it as a good 1970 show coupled with its being preserved in spectacular recording quality given the time period, offers a quality inroad to the world of great AUDs. It’s a quiet and unassuming date tucked into the tail end of 1970. Overall it sounds a bit more distinctly like 1971, aided by the set list featuring tunes which would come of age in that following year. All of this combines to make for a fine addition to anyone’s collection. As your ears come to acclimate to the frequencies and ambience of the recording you should easily find a spot on the floor with the crowd, relaxing and flowing with the evening’s proceedings; summer breezes flowing through you.

The show’s set list also delivers an interesting chronology across the Dead’s repertoire, inserting highlights throughout, rather than building to a single explosive climactic moment. In so doing, the entire show plays out with a very nice energy. And while the over all feel is relaxed, there is just enough intensity and edginess intermingled with more standard material to make for a fine end to end listening experience.

Set One: Cold Rain And Snow, Truckin', It Hurts Me Too, Me And My Uncle, Beat It On Down The Line, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > Other One > Cryptical Envelopment > Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones

Set Two: Smokestack Lightnin', Big Railroad Blues, Me And Bobby McGee, Deep Elem Blues, Cumberland Blues, Morning Dew, Good Lovin' > Drums > Good Lovin' > Uncle John's Band

The show offers up a wonderful string of tunes out of the gate, complete with the opening Cold Rain And Snow, a stand alone Truckin, and fine China>Rider which unfolds like a spiraling flower with infinite petals. China Cat Sunflower throbs, filling every beat possible, and Garcia’s solos ring out beautifully. The road opens up before us as they coast into the transition jam. Bobby solos nicely as the band shifts effortlessly around bends and over hills. When Jerry picks up the lead, and Pigpen the tambourine, they have locked into the epitome of everything sublime in 1970-71. I Know You Rider flows out from the stage, and you can feel the crowd locking in, soaking it up, and gelling into synch with the music. The recording quality here shines as brightly as ever, and we are placed in a spot from which we have no desire to leave. From here the show feels like it could never end. Some prolonged equipment troubles sort of squash this vibe until we emerge on the other side into Cryptical Envelopment. It’s early in the set still, yet the band is casting its full spell over us, picking up directly off of the energy which trailed out of I Know You Rider.

Jerry Garcia 1970This Other One suite doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The great haunting storytelling ensues as Jerry spins Cryptical’s twisted tale, and the song reaches out with arms of unavoidable beckoning like dangerous craggy seashores luring sailors with songs of mermaids hidden in the wind. Drums follow, and then Other One itself. The deeply tribal rhythm resonates throughout as the music swirls in a sea of incomprehensible vines intertwined into an Escher-like landscape leaving no safe place to tread. There is darkness licking like flames all around as the band folds into and out of the beat, occasional returning to the driving pulse while often letting go into a soup of frothing confusion. With shifting syncopations the music resemble how the band’s jamming in 1973 could feel like it was just on the edge of tumbling head over heels down a mountain while running downhill. The song crackles into the final verse and then breaks like the sun over the horizon back into Cryptical Envelopment.

As is so often the case, the final Cryptical brings us to the voice within the inner sanctum of the Dead’s musical muse. As Jerry lightly solos over the slow churning gurgling riverflow of music, a serenity pervades as the song captures the most elemental being at the band’s core. This is remarkably simple music, wanting for nothing, pushing nowhere. And as Garcia sings out the last refrains of “You know he had to die,” the music goes on to fold in on itself, bending all perception into a center of pure musical satori, once again fusing us to nothing but perception of the moment.

We drop directly into Sugar Magnolia which has fully matured since it appear earlier in the summer. This is long before Sugar Mag evolved into the heavy rocking set two closing standard (a tune that I’m unashamed to say I skip more often than not). Here, the song is full of its original intent, and a good time is had by all. I particular enjoy hearing the guy near the taper after the song who comments, “Amazing what you can do with two guitars.”

Bill KreutzmannA lot like 03/18/71, this show seems to shine in some unsuspecting spaces. Tucked away in this set are thoroughly wonderful renditions of Big Railroad, Deep Elem, and Cumberland Blues. Deep Elem Blues and Cumberland stand back to back, and exude a pure Grateful Dead American rock-n-roll that is deeply intoxicating, in much the same way that I Know You Rider and Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad was in this time period. The music is unforced and relaxed, hypnotically drawing the listener in. When Morning Dew follows Cumberland the edges are beautifully blurred into that Americana-Folklore-Psychedelia that stands as the figurehead for this band’s musical persona. As Jerry opens up into the final solo section there are diamond raindrops hovering all around, swirls of colored smoke crystallizing from glass into spider webbing, all eventually exploding into a cascade of star showers as the song climaxes. Out of the dust, Good Lovin’ appears and everyone shakes their bones.

Not necessarily a hall of fame version, this Good Lovin’ demonstrates some fine improvisational rockin’ and a nice little segment deep in the jam where Bob and Jerry fall back into the song’s thematic key while the rest of the band continues to churn in the more bluesy groove. For a brief time Jerry is cartwheeling his solo in a slightly more St. Stephen and Eleven fashion which overlays the rest of the music nicely.

Good Lovin’ spills directly into Uncle John’s Band which closes the show with more of that pure Grateful Dead warmth and inviting energy which, once again, brings us to a place from which we have no need to consider leaving. Time could stop here and we wouldn’t care why.

12/28/70 AUD etree source info
12/28/70 AUD Download

Blog Widget by LinkWithin