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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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Listening Trail – The Dark Star Garden

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

There is no denying it. Nothing quite describes the Grateful Dead’s deepest level of musical magic better than Dark Star. It’s at once some of the most “cosmic” music the band made, and at the same time the most personal. It’s hardly the first taste of the Dead you’d typically want to give someone, but it’s the one thing that can cement the band’s music into the soul forever onward.

Please note that this is not a list of the Grateful Dead’s best Dark Stars of all time. Far from it. The song defies being stacked up in such a way. Yes, one can have their favorite versions, but I never even set about reviewing shows for the Guide based upon which Dark Stars I find to be “best.” Those on this trail serve to provide a direct path to some of the noteworthy version that have already turned up in reviews here. Nothing more than that. I get the sense that if I was new to exploring the Grateful Dead and found my way to these pages, I might want to easily be pointed to some good Dark Stars. Thus, the Dark Star garden has been created.

Here is a listening trail not for the faint of heart. The entrance isn’t brightly lit near the front of the park, and you might have to make friends with the park ranger before he will trust you to traverse this path alone. But the seclusion and secretive nature of this trail only enhances its enchantments.

So, in swirling mist and a perception of perspective and direction that undulates like heat off a road at its entrance, let’s take a stroll past a few of the GDLG’s current Dark Stars. There is no hope of stacking these up in order of importance, so we’ll just take them chronologically.

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

06/14/69 – I was surprised after posting this review to learn how few people knew about this show. I guess 1969 can be that way in that the entire year tends to blur into one long peak along the Dead’s long strange trip. Here, we come face to face with the cauldron of molten fire which forged the very soul of the Dead’s musical exploration. The review knows better than to attempt a true charting of the musical journey. The music speaks a thousand whispering voices forever.

06/24/70 – You may have bumped into this show already, but if not, you are a sure goner now. This Dark Star weaves in and out of view while also providing the driving force behind some of the greatest musical expression the band ever produced. Dark Star > Attics > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Dark Star > St. Stephen and beyond. There’s a reason this show ranks as one of the best of the best, and it is well captured as this Dark Star ebbs, flows, and explodes.

07/26/72 – By 1972 Dark Star was not only everything it ever had been, but also a great deal more. This colossal version tipping the scale at over thirty minutes delivers everything you could ever expect, and then rushes into a musical adventure which typified the Dead’s most blissful destination of the day. It’s as if it took until 1972 for Dark Star to fully open the doors to an improvisational land where the Dead could romp and dance freely, and their hearts fill to bursting with this Dark Star.

08/01/73 – A liquidly lovely, jazzy jam filled, outdoor summer Dark Star that exudes that certain special flavor that only 1973 could bring. This Dark Star not only demonstrates the best of these elements, but also paints haunted and mournful stories out of twisted night filled landscapes like none other. This is some of the most satisfying music 1973 has to offer, during a time when Dark Star was still king.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Under Eternity Blue - 70's Afro-Highlife

The fourth installment of the Under Eternity Blue radio program hits the Internet airwaves this weekend with two show times: Saturday, August 15th at 7pm PST, and Sunday, August 16th at 7am PST.

This episode is going to spend its time enjoying the subtle hypnotic undertones of the Highlife music that came out of Africa in the 1970's. Somehow more soul-catching than other forms of Afro-Pop, Beat, and Funk, this Highlife fuses African folk music roots into modern instrumentation, and together they produce a wildly intoxicating listening experience. This sliver of the Afro-music movement elevates the mood and warms the spirit, all while remaining very understated and fluid. It's a splendid addition to the rotation of any musical connoisseur's library.

With the launch of this fourth installment also comes the unveiling of the Under Eternity Blue podcast series itself. Now you can subscribe directly to a feed featuring this non-Dead side project of the GDLG. UEB episodes will get added to the feed after the weekend debut of each new broadcast. All three of the previous episodes are already queued up and ready for download and podcast subscription. Information can be found at the Under Eternity Blue Music site.

Spirit Plants Radio
Under Eternity Blue with DJ Arkstar
Saturday, August 15th: 7pm PST
Sunday, August 16th: 7am 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, with the newest Under Eternity Blue episode turning up in its podcast feed as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

GDLG Podcast How-To

This post is here to help you enjoy the Grateful Dead Listening Guide’s Podcast Series. It will occasionally be updated, need be, and currently contains new feed address info for any of you currently subscribed to the podcast.

All podcast can be found via the linked menu on the left side of the site, and also under the label "podcasts."

There are a few different ways to listen to the podcasts. Hopefully one of these suggested methods will make it easy for you to enjoy the listening sessions:

1. Click on the link which leads to the MP3 file of an episode (generally, “Listening Session 001, 002, etc…" in each podcast post) and the file should begin streaming.

2. Right click (in Internet Explorer) on the link to the MP3 file and select “Save Target As…” This will allow you to download the podcast episode directly to your computer. From there you can load it into your player of choice. Other browsers should also provide ways to save the podcast MP3 files to your computer.

3. Subscribing in iTunes (note: new feed address info below):

While the show still remains frustratingly out of the iTunes Podcast Directory, you can still subscribe to the podcast feed in iTunes:

On your iTunes menu bar click on Advanced, then "Subscribe To Podcast."

In the URL field, paste this blog feed address:

This will trigger the subscription and download of the entire series and keep you updated as new episodes appear.

Please note that this feed address has changed and is specific to the podcast series alone. It is not another blog to follow. While the podcasts will continue to be posted here on the guide, the GDLG feed itself is so large that older podcast episodes are slowly falling off the back end, making new subscribers to the podcast miss out on the earliest episodes.

If you have successfully used the GDLG blog feed to pull all the episodes into iTunes already (with the GDLG logo and full file descriptions), my guess is that it will continue to work just fine. If you do decide to switch to the new podcast feed, it will come into iTunes as a new show, triggering the download of all past episodes. A minor annoyance to consider deleting your historical episodes to make room for the same ones under a slightly different name, but it might make sense as one day we may formally divide the two feeds and post podcasts in the podcast feed only.

Again, this post will likely be edited in the future as things may change regarding the GDLG podcast and the iTunes Podcast Directory. Despite numerous failed attempts to work through iTunes Support, a resolution has not been found. Any iTunes Podcast wizards out there? I’d love some help. Drop me a line.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

1973 June 30 - Universal Amphitheatre

Jerry Garcia Sept 26, 1973

Saturday, June 30, 1973
Universal Amphitheatre – Universal City, CA
Audience Recording

Deadheads can stay up late into the night debating several eternal questions. One of these is often goes like this: If you had a time machine, what Grateful Dead show, or run of shows, would you go back to attend? For me, I can pretty confidently say that I’d be setting the dial for the three day run from Universal City, California at the end of June, 1973 to attend the 6/29, 6/30, and 7/1 shows.

I’d be lucky in that it wouldn’t be too crowded – nothing like the time travel pile up going on over around 05/08/77. The ’73 Universal City run is not popular. In all my years of tape trading I’ve never bumped into anyone who shares quite my enthusiasm for the whole Summer of 1973 thing, and the Universal City run is arguably the low point of the summer, given all the fireworks surrounding it. Even after years of getting up on soapboxes in online Dead forums, and clearly taking every opportunity to talk about it here on the GDLG, I doubt very highly that I could fill a room with like-minded folks. Oh, several people are glad that I’ve hipped them to the golden yummies to be found in this period, but enough for these folks to make this selection in the Way Back Machine? I doubt it. And no offense taken, I’ve learned to accept that there is clearly something firing a little differently in my brain when it comes to this stuff. So… I’d have plenty of legroom traveling in time back to these shows.

Of course, the fact that there apparently wasn’t a swarm of future dwellers packing the rafters on 05/08/77 raising their hand held mobile devices in the air, glowing with a somewhat more annoying light than say, a bic lighter (though there would also be some iPhone holders running the zippo lighter app, I’m sure), means that we either never figure out time travel, or that when we do (did), we luck out and find all the Dead shows splintered into an endless refraction of themselves related to our own personal time-space continuums allowing each of us our own “copy” to attend. Each show is actually happening all the time, and our linear experience of them is merely called into our perception at the moment we hop across the continuum and step into the parking lot an hour or two before show time. Oops… digression.

June 30th, 1973 was one of those low circulating and forever “AUD only” shows (all before the passing of Dick Latvala and the ensuing circulation of so many soundboards), and my copy was crusty. While I did luck out in 2001 to bump into a 7” reel copy from the assumed master AUD reel itself, and put it into circulation via my Audience Devotional Tree, for the longest time I had this tape copy that bordered on being of slightly too poor quality to trade. This was a real issue for me because of how deeply the music on this tape was tapping into my heart. That I was able to circulate a better copy which peeled off the layer of off-pitch hissy crust, was an absolute dream come true. After 2001, it was much easier for 06/30/73 to get its point across. And shortly after, when the soundboard started making it around, it almost didn’t matter. The SBD sounds great, yet has absolutely no life to it at all – and this propagated the bad reputation this date lives with.

This show has that familiar brand of 1973 jazzy psychedelia that I’ve been pointing out for a while. Yet where a show like 06/22/73 reaches peaks that nearly bring one to tears as the band finds its way deeply into improvisational transcendence, 06/30/73 is sort of the opposite. This show feels more like on great pulse in the heartbeat of the Grateful Dead rather than something full of peaks and valleys. The show’s highlights swell more that explode, and I think it is because of this that this tape offers another sensational full show experience. This is only enhanced by the fact that the recording quality of this audience tape is nearly unparallel throughout the rest of 1973.

Grateful Dead March 24, 1973 by John PotenzaPutting into circulation another upgraded version of this recording (linked below, as usual) allowed me to converse about and “study” the archeology of this recording a bit more thoroughly. It turns out that the band’s sound crew was making audience tapes directly at the sound board at this time, and supplying them to the band. This newest version confirms that the reel was dubbed in 1979 directly off of Garcia’s own tape stash. As heavenly a lineage as one could wish for. The recording fits in as one of the very best recordings of 1973. It succeeds in not only capturing the ’73 version of the Wall Of Sound perfectly, but also presents an enormous helping of that hard to capture audience energy and spirit. It’s a multi-dimensional experience, and all of this in unavoidable as one listens to this tape.

Set 1: Promised, The Love Each Other, Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Looks Like Rain, Bird Song, Cumberland Blues, Row Jimmy, Jack Straw, Deal, Beat It On Down The Line, Black Peter, Playin’ In The Band

Set 2: Greatest Story Ever Told, Ramble On Rose, El Paso, Dark Star > Eyes Of The World > Stella Blue, Sugar Magnolia E: Saturday Night

1973 is known for a degree of repetitiveness in its first sets. It’s not that the band wasn’t playing a large repertoire of songs. There was plenty of variety there. I think it’s more a widely held opinion among traders born out of having listened to a lot of 1973 shows. I think the first sets are better described as “predictable.” However, perhaps it comes down to distance making the heart grow fonder, but when I listen back to 06/30/73’s first set now, it thoroughly satisfies. There is a powerful sense of ease and enjoyment flowing out of the music. The extremely predictable 1973 Promised Land opener feels full of smiles. They Love Each Other swings, and I have found myself unable to shake rolling the car windows down and playing this tune at full blast on recent summer days. It sets the air alight with dancing energy, and only grows as it goes. Jerry’s solo tumbles out, bobbing and weaving as if it were shaking its hair and stomping its feet. Just as we’re sure it’s over, he takes it around the track again lifting the energy all the more. The sound quality of this recording combined with the close proximity of the audience around the taper serve to create an intoxicating representation of the Dead in 1973 here, and it’s only just getting started.

Mexicali shimmers and is followed by a strong Tennessee Jed containing another solo in which Jerry stirs the energy pot to boiling, aided by Phil’s low end standing as large as the entire amphitheatre. The song crashes out of the solo, and the crowd goes nuts. A thick and warm Looks Like Rain follows, and then we arrive at Bird Song.

It’s early in the show, yet Bird Song casts out an energy much more aligned with precious time spent deep in the heart of a Grateful Dead concert. The music twinkles, as if rising off of a crystalline waterfall bathed in sunlight. In short order, we float out over its edge and begin a weightless journey into Jerry’s solo. It’s a moment that expands in every direction around you, shedding the personal borders of skin and bone, and fusing you to the music’s core. Bird Songs in 1973 were very consistent, and without fail, this one latches on to Dark Star elements wrapped in a slightly more lyrical presentation. Eventually, just before returning for the last verse, Garcia is playing harmonics with Keith echoing and playing off of them on the Fender Rhodes. The twinkling crystal is everywhere unraveling the mysteries of the universe and veiling the answers as quickly as they appear. Out of the last verse, we are set aloft again. This is heart opening music which spreads its own arms wide enough to embrace the entire horizon as a sunset’s light gently swirls like smoke off of a candle’s flame.

After Bird Song we are fully in the zone of a Grateful Dead show. The crowd idly hoots and hollers, while the band lazily puts together the building blocks of the next song. Cumberland Blues is coming as clear as day. This minute or so between songs finds me transfixed every time I listen. Something comes off of the tape which defies my own explanation. I don’t expect you to find it with me – it seems impossible to say, “listen to this amazing space between Bird Song and Cumberland,” so I won’t go out on that limb. In trying to give it a more tangible perspective, I think it’s simply more evidence of how this particular recording breathes with the strongest representation of a Dead Show’s energy, both within and in between the music. Again, the entire tape is like one enormous heartbeat in the pulse of 1973 Dead.

When Phil kicks it in to Cumberland Blues, we are off to the races. One thing that I have no trouble mentioning is my opinion that I find this to be my absolute favorite, and possibly the best Cumberland Blues I’ve ever heard the band play. It is this very recording that sparked and cemented my theory of thematic undercurrents running through the decades of this band. In this Cumberland, Viola Lee Blues is alive and well. Jerry is clearly allowing all the exploration of that earliest of Grateful Dead “jams” to infuse and distil into his Cumberland solo work. Psychedelic Bluegrass to the highest degree. When his solo begins to cycle into a whirlpooled syncopation leading down a twisting rabbit hole, the already clear Viola Lee tendencies come bursting forth causing us to laugh out loud and shake or heads in stark amazement. It’s molten primal Grateful Dead, splashing in every direction. If you play the game with me about which five Grateful Dead songs would you take to a desert island, this Cumberland Blues would be coming with me. The fire within this version provides an anchor to this show, and it spreads out in every direction.

Row Jimmy exudes its 1973 aura beautifully, followed by thoroughly enjoyable versions of Jack Straw, Deal, and Beat It On Down The Line. Black Peter is so perfectly placed in this first set, it can’t be imagined anywhere else. After BIODTL (that’s the old cassette label abbreviation of Beat It On Down The Line, kids. Did you need me to spell that out?) has drawn everyone to their feet for a free for all dance, Black Peter sends us all into the most serene and contemplative spaces of Grateful Dead music. It’s another quite campfire story moment as Jerry weaves his tale. His solo on this song surpasses expectation, bringing a lamenting sorrow onto the wings of eagles. The solo soars and floats, sears and settles directly into your heart. This beautiful version comes to an end and we are back in the zone with the audience in no hurry for whatever comes next. A guy screams out, “Hello, Jerry!” and we laugh lightly with the rest of the people around the mics. It’s another wonderful human layer coming off of this recording – a Dead show being captured in every way.

Playin’ In The Band demonstrates every characteristic which describes the Summer 1973 sound of the Grateful Dead. As the jam opens up, Billy’s drumming spirals out into jazzy riffs and downbeat defying patterns. He is at once fully charged, yet thoroughly laid back in the pocket, forcing nothing. The band on top of him wastes no time dropping completely into a controlled psychedelic wind storm and the tendrils give way, knot, compress, and zig zag back out with a never ending fluidity. The music balances between a looseness and being a daredevil contortionist in ways not fully explored earlier in the year, nor after. Garcia is rearing back and firing off phrases which coil into the air, extending beyond vision. They round corners trailing themselves in liquid never-ending reflections until it appears that all of the notes are made of one pure yet ever-changing voice. Everything is at once fragmented yet showing us precisely how it all fits together. The jam is remarkably too short. Not that it is substantially shorter than most normal Playin’s of the day, but it is clear that this particular version had things growing which could go on for eons. And on the next night, we’d find that Playin’ would not be contained, setting the pace for the song locking into a tradition of going on longer, and exploring much further, as the summer continued.

Set two arrives with Greatest Story Ever Told, and it absolutely nails the psychedelic strut boogie counterpoint that the song was hitting so well in 1973. It’s a fantastic second set opener, and mounts an ever expanding energy climax through the solo until the sound is pressing us back like a gale force wind. The crowd takes a while to simmer down afterwards, and just as it does, Ramble On Rose begins. In every way the epitome of that Europe ’72, American Dead sound, Ramble On Rose blurs the lines between rock and country leaving us with something wholly Grateful Dead. It’s a lot like Mississippi Half Step in that way. And this version shines a polish on everything distinctive about the song. If the tune could ever come off as a bit of a throw away, it isn’t happening here at all. Maybe having a bit to do with that dominant wall of sound that is pressing upon us, and the way Phil’s bass is occupying air to such an extent that we struggle for breath, this song satisfies entirely.

El Paso delivers a cascading cowboy kaleidoscope, spinning so quickly we can’t help but be swept up into a tumbleweed rolling frenzy. The song feels like it’s riding lightning and we can only grab on as tightly as possible not to be lost to the wind. And then a different wind blows in as Dark Star descends.

Like a magician blowing a handful of glittering dust particles out over the expectant crowd, Dark Star gently scatters into the air around us, each dust speck with its own comet trail streaming out behind. They all slowly begin to take alternate paths of flight as the music slowly builds in intention and direction. We veer into that quintessentially mid ’73 jazzy jamming and the music slowly topples in on itself only to spin and return with new colors and patterns extending off of each instrument. We eventually find ourselves in a fairytale garden of chimes and breezes, as breathtakingly gentle coming out of this monstrous sound system as the roaring press had been all consuming just a few songs prior. Now, we are lost in a quiet sea of mists as the first verse forms like a prophet out of thin air. Words are just sound fragments creeping out of the blanket of music around us. They give way, and the sounds settle down to the ground like impossible leaves of electric ivy. But the ground isn’t there and we appear lost in a vast and endless expanse of towering ribbons of music. They begin to twist and coil, talking in a language we can’t hope to absorb. This musical space increases in velocity, and the band is conjuring magic of untold secrets. There comes a massive low note out of Phil which shears off all but our most intimate layer of being. Moments later these sounds whisk out of existence and Jerry is shuffling into Eyes Of The World.

This Eyes is large. But there is never the sense of aimless noodling. Quite the contrary, as the song drives into its most extreme moments there is time and time again the sense that the music is being pushed out of its own skin – beat, harmony, and structure often lose purchase and venture briefly into pockets of chaos. This all happens without the song itself losing step anywhere. It’s more that the band is forcing itself to dare the entire world to implode, unafraid of the consequences, sure that the greater whole of the band will keep things together. The rapids boil and erupt everywhere, and the path of the river is lost, but the water rolls on and on. They slam in and out of the intricate 7/8 theme sections and race over shifting terrain. Eventually the music quiets featuring a trio of mostly Billy, Phil and Keith. Things idle for just a moment and then they rocket one last time back to the 7/8 theme which then launches another deep dive to the outer edges of the song structure. The music flies free and oozes between form and chaos beautifully. Garcia and Lesh are tipping to and fro, often following nearly incomprehensible paths. Finally, we work our way to Stella Blue.

A perfect landing for a big jam, Stella Blue and China Doll seemed to share this role throughout 1973. The crowd settles in, and the quiet reflective story unfolds. Again, the recording brings the musical panorama directly to the tip of our nose, and we sink in as Jerry croons, and plays soft lullaby colors.

Rocketing in the opposite direction, Sugar Magnolia and One More Saturday Night close out the show in a rocking and rolling frenzy. We are left exhausted, but equally ready to set the dial back to the parking lot and experience the show all over again – or perhaps just hang out with new friends until the show tomorrow night.

06/30/73 AUD etree source info
06/30/73 AUD Download

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