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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

1981 February 26 - Uptown Theater

Jerry Garcia 1981
Thursday, February 26, 1981
Uptown Theater – Chicago, IL
Audience & Soundboard Recordings

Let’s go back to the Uptown Theater in Chicago. The band played a total of 17 shows at this venue from 1978 to 1981. Early on, we visited the first run from May ’78. Now we will visit the last, from February ’81. Consistent with the sentiment that there was never a bad show played at the Uptown, the Dead’s final stand at the Uptown proves the point yet again. And, while there is little trouble bumping your ears into any of the music from this three year span at the Uptown today, it was not always the case. The Uptown runs were generally not on lists, and with minor exceptions, lurked just out of circulatory sight for most of the years leading up to the great high-speed Internet explosion.

Uptown Theater Grateful Dead Poster February 1981This final stand from Feb 26th to 28th ranks as some of the best of the entire 17 show catalog. I feel a particular affinity to the first show of this run, in large part due to the musical highlights, but also because it was one of the more cherished rarities on my, or any tape list. This show just wasn’t around much at all. It’s this element that influences my desire to share it with you first over the other two nights of the run. There’s a ton of good music throughout. But 02/26/81 is somehow extra special.

The show blasts right out of the gate with Feel Like A Stranger, and the stage is set for a good time. The song flows out with its funk-disco snaking heart, and Garcia is immediately locked into the groove. It’s a bit easier to experience in the AUD, since the SBD finds this jam as a period of level setting – all worth it, as this SBD ends up sounding “just exactly perfect” when it’s all said and done.

The Bird Song on this night is spectacular. The solo section is propelled into a whirlwind of melting colors and throbbing suns. Music, direction, and downbeat are all consumed in an avalanche of flames, interlocked in a fractal weave. The music overwhelms here, contradicting any “first set” assumptions we might have brought with us out of the 70’s. We have been unexpectedly thrust into a peak moment of psychedelia, where even as we shut our eyes against the madness, the visions of endlessly turning patterns glowing with lights from within consume our full attention. There is no backing away here. Jerry soars, arching over the music bed with solar flare intensity. He finds lines that arch over head for a million miles. Rolling on and on, the jam absolutely outdoes all expectation. There is so much packed in here that when the actual song returns it feels far too soon. We’re left feeling utterly spent, and only four songs into the show.

The rest of the first set delivers more and more of the crackling energy which drove Bird Song to such gripping heights, rounding out with a Music Never Stopped that consumes the entire theater in its swirling and twirling patterns. The mid song drop into Garcia’s solo feels like riding the tightly wound strands of a braided rope made of light. Deeper and deeper, tighter and tighter, the coils spin in on themselves. Then the shift back to the main song theme is quickly overrun in a blazing fire of sound – colossal, shimmering, cart wheeling, impossible angling music, all capped by some massive Phil bombs in a thunderous finale. This is a prime example of how the band was hitting sensational heights of energy in the early 80's, rivaling those of the prior decade.

Jerry Garcia under stage 1981Returning for set two, the band opens with China>Rider. Slowly growing, the transition solo eventually finds its way into the lightning crackle of energy that threw sparks all over the first set. Garcia winds his lead lines into great turning wheels which storm the summit, drawing the entire band with him. We land on the other side, loping along into I Know You Rider, with that familiar Dead groove born out of the acoustic-folk leanings which we generally attribute to 1970-1971, but truly can trace all the way back to the band’s very dawn. This music is a pure embodiment of the Grateful Dead. They played into countless musical styles, but this was truly their own. As we find so often at Dead shows, there’s a timelessness to the music here. Despite every indication that we are listening to an early 80’s show, this music reflects and projects itself through more than the linear time stream in which we hear it play out. It draws energy from this expansion, and the ride is fantastic.

The focal point of this second set is the improvisational jam out of He’s Gone. These He’s Gone jams came to be fairly expected from 1979 on, always a showcase for the band’s creativity. On 2/26/81, right at the eleven minute mark, the band streams out in nearly Dark Star like grace – a sea of starlight slowly undulating underfoot, with forever expanding ripples set off by each step we take into this ocean. The jam takes form, leaning at once toward Other One, and then backing away. Garcia is wrapped up in a triumphant march of emotion, casting one soaring line after another, most of them tagged with their own embedded echoing of phrase after phrase. Again Other One comes roaring in, and the music swells with energy. Then, as if emerging from a dark forest, the music opens onto a musical plain with hills receding over one another for as far as the eye can see. Gently, the power of the empty spaces between the music takes on its own energy. Quickly, the multi-colored pinwheel pervades our visual field again, and the music shifts into a romping Aiko Aiko/Not Fade Away cadence which eventually gives way into Drums.

The post Drums portion of the set continues to entertain with more deep weaving solos and high energy output, capping off another fabulous night at the Uptown Theater on the northside of Chicago, just about a 20 minute walk from where I was growing up. I missed this show (a fistful of years before I understood the band was something more than the unappealing country rock-ness I heard while listening to the songs Sugar Magnolia and Casey Jones on the radio). I do distinctly remember walking the halls of Lane Tech as a freshman, eying a bunch of people in Dead concert shirts (probably just after this run) and completely scratching my head as to why on earth anyone would dig these guys. Ahh.. youth.

The show is available in both a beautifully clear soundboard, and a well recorded audience tape - thanks, Barry Glassberg, for coming to town for this run.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

1973 November 17 - Pauley Pavilion

Jerry Garcia 10/25/73
Saturday, November 17, 1973
Pauley Pavilion UCLA – Los Angeles, CA
Soundboard Recording

When I think back to some of the most pleasurable aspects of tape trading from back in the pre-high speed days, little compares to the anticipation of getting home to check the mailbox, coupled with finding it crammed with padded envelopes full of tapes. Opening the envelope, seeing what a trading partner may have included in the way of tape covers and extra info, setting up to taste test each tape for little 20 to 30 second listening samples to see what sound quality was going to be like – all of this stuff made up a lot of the personal joys in tape trading.

Deadbase IXAnother fond memory was the time spent pouring over my copy of Deadbase IX, reading over set lists and show reviews in an effort to figure out which shows I was going to go after in my next trade. Mostly, there are well worn, finger smudged page edges covering the 1973-1974 section of my Deadbase. I spent a lot of time there. I remember first landing upon the concept of the "Playin’ Sandwich" while reading some review, thinking about how cool it must be to hear the band slip from one song to another, and another, only to slip back in reverse order again. How cool must that be?! And the first sandwich I got my hands on was this classic from 11/17/73.

At the time, only a partial second set circulated. It was a one-tape-wonder picking up with its famous Playin’ sandwich: Playin’ > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’. This is a classic Grateful Dead tape; another that most everyone would or will get their hands on eventually. And it lives up to all expectation, defining everything that was characteristically Dead in the closing portion of 1973.

Dropping right over the edge into the jam, Playin’ In The Band immediately finds itself in a liquid and flowing river of music. By late 1973, the Dead had mastered what we typically think of, or hear as, the 1973 sound. The loose and lazy jazz-like leanings of the Summer had given way to something more tight, and intricately driven. The band was sounding more in control, and at ease with all that 1973 brought to their playing style. Billy and Jerry personify these qualities together as we listen to the jam unfold. Things are hot, but not bristling with electricity. The impression is one of a river coursing quickly over boulders low enough in the waters not to create white caps or rapids across the surface. But the undercurrent’s speed is unavoidable. As the jam moves along, the river comes to fill not only the space below you, but all levels of perception – in nearly no time, the music fills all experience. Eyes shut tight, we corkscrew and coil through an endless landscape of swiftly breathing shapes and borders. When there is time to perceive the parts of the whole, you can’t help but be amazed at how closely the band is listening to one another. Phrases pass back and forth, volume swells and recedes, and all things demonstrate that the band is far less a five-piece, and more undeniably one single expressive force bound eternally together.

Grateful Dead 09/26/73The fluidity of how the band makes its decision to head toward Uncle John’s Band approaches the miraculous. So softly at first, then disappearing, then coming fully into view. Landing at the softly lapping riverside of Uncle John’s is heartwarming. As the song begins, you can barely believe it’s happening, coming out of the amazing segment beforehand. It makes it all the more enjoyable. UJB plays on, and is filled with that timeless presence so true of many Dead songs. There is a comfortable familiarity and joyfulness to the song. The music moves into the 7/8 time signature section, and again the fluidity returns as the river pulls you back in. Dropping slowly away, Morning Dew begins.

1973 Morning Dews are a luscious breed; so warm, and so tender at times. With this one, Jerry’s vocals are riveting. You feel like he’s singing out his tale with you sitting right at his feet – a sensation plentifully common throughout the Dead’s concert history. Again, there is a certain sense of safety and comfort playing out of the music. Garcia’s solo in the middle of the song is forcefully triumphant, matched toe to toe by Phil’s enormous thundering of notes. It is then particularly entrancing to hear them exit this section into the last verse, playing as softly as mist over mountains. The haunting beauty of Jerry’s final “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” lines, followed by the intensely delicate build of the final solo are forever burned into my brain. There’s a single note where Jerry rides the volume knob just a bit. It penetrates to the bottom of my heart. Then the music floats and sparkles its way further and further along a path leading us higher and higher. As Morning Dew gives way, making a sharp turn back into Uncle John’s Band, the experience is breathtaking, good enough to offset the fact that we don’t reach the always appreciated climax of the song itself.

Uncle John’s returns and finishes off the vocals, cart wheeling almost immediately back into the deepest and most gooey rich sections of a Playin/Uncle John jam on the shoulders of Garcia’s wha wha pedal. The following section is pure 1973 satisfaction. Jerry’s notes cry out in expressive emotions, lifting the music into a swirling dance of inspiration. While there’s little denying that we are firmly fixed in a Playin’ jam, it is still as freeform and improvisational as you could imagine. Eventually energies being to explode and erupt around us, towering jets of musical power pushing to the edge of what we call music, hinting at complete meltdown, but never giving way. We are perfectly balanced between two phases of the Dead’s musical growth during this period. We can fully hear the lush and breezy playing style of 1973, layered over the mounting energy of crafty musicianship that would bend and turn at more mind numbing angles as 1974 took form – a great window into the band as it was ever evolving and pushing personal boundaries. Playin’ returns to cap off the sandwich perfectly, and we come away almost unable to believe it all just played out this way. Just wonderful.

Phil Lesh 10/25/73The entire show now circulates, and there is plenty to enjoy, including a great Eyes of the World with its swiftly swinging tempo and rich rolling jazzy explorations. But this date will forever be most famous for containing one of the best Playin’ sandwiches of its age. Whether you’re hearing it for the first time, or ready for a long overdue return visit, this is vintage Grateful Dead in top form.

There are a bunch of different sources floating around for this tape as well, and I’ve picked what I feel to be the most clean – not in the sense of sound quality (the SBD is A quality, and always has been), but more from the processing side. I’m not a big fan of tapes that are run through EQ and sound processing enhancements. That’s just me. So, rather than opting for a copy that has been enhanced in any way, I’m sticking old school here. Plenty of pure bliss to go around just as it is. Enjoy.

11/17/73 SBD etree source info

Thursday, December 11, 2008

1993 December 18 - Oakland, CA

Grateful Dead 1993 Oakland

Saturday, December 18, 1993
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – Oakland, CA
Audience Recording

Expectations simply had to change as the years progressed.

There is no denying that fans of the Grateful Dead grew to nearly unthinkable proportions over the course of the band’s final ten years. And as things progressed into the 90’s, the Dead were privileged to have nothing short of a rabid fan base that would have found something to cheer about even if Garcia could manage nothing more than to plug in his guitar once in a while. But, deep down, it seems unlikely that anyone would inflict such self-blindness such to say that the last years were filled with stellar musical adventures, one after the other, run, after run, after run. Expectations simply changed, and that’s okay. And whether the band’s late-stage output fully supports the “It Was All Downhill After 1966” opinions of some is beside the point. At the time, with realistic expectations, we were able to stay engaged enough knowing that occasionally we would land squarely back in the heart of the muse which drove the Dead for 30 years. And getting there, infrequently or not, was always worth it.

I find that there is a special pleasure to be found in these later year shows when one can combine these muse-heart rides with absolutely stellar audience recordings. It happened enough, such that I can confidently share some shows from the last years which prove satisfying at the deepest level – perhaps after just a bit of expectation resetting on the listener’s part.

One of these shows comes from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 18th, 1993 (side note: one of the infrequent times the band played on my birthday). Circumstances aligned with just the right synchronicities on this day to produce a wonderful show, a wonderful recording, and the technology which would bring that recording, 15 years later, to our ears so easily.

Jerry Garcia 1993This recording is dynamite, and it displays what should be considered something of a high watermark for Garcia and the sound of his guitar rig. Here, his sound has matured to the point of emulating a pure acoustic guitar on nearly all the tunes. So bright, so clean, so glass-like clear. It’s not the sound we associate to all the years past, but it can certainly be heard as the natural evolution of his personal “ear-vision” coming into true sonic form.

The show is strong, opening up with a Jack Straw that clearly demonstrates that Jerry has “shown up” this evening. Now, I’m not going to kid anybody - for me, the first set song list is pretty much a couple of nice bookends (Jack Straw and Deal) framing a set of tunes whose performance I could take or leave. But we aren’t really here for the first set. After the set two opening Way To Go Home, which really isn’t all that unpleasant, we reach the portion of the show that shines. It’s also worth pointing out that the “crowd” track at the start of set two contains some wonderful taper talk – always a treat.

On China Cat Sunflower the energy is bubbling and infectious. Jerry’s acoustic sound is piercing and sharp, and more importantly, he is focused and purposeful. Really, it was the presence of these attributes which would stand out as common indicators of the potential for an engaging listening experience in the later years. Garcia’s solos through China Cat, and on through I Know You Rider, are very nicely done - intricate lines trumpeting out in multiple directions. The entire band really does come off as a “calliope of sound.”

Playin’ In The Band follows, and as the jam unfolds, Jerry soon sets aside his acoustic clarity for a more spongy electric wha-infused tone. From here the music taps into quintessential Dead imagery for me, drawing forth familiar interlocking and pinwheeling galaxies of light and color -hundreds of wheels with crisscrossing orbits in infinite dimensions. There is a lurking dissonance to the jam, mostly at the hand of Vince on keyboards, and just as it seems to be infusing the entire pallet of color, Jerry returns to his acoustic tone and a veil of beauty and grace settles over everything. From here there is then a wonderful ebb and flow between this graceful state and the more chaos-born energy as the music finds itself firmly hinting its way into Uncle John’s Band. In quite fine fashion, the song appears.

Jerry Garcia They roll through the song nicely, and Jerry’s solo through the 7/8 time signature section finds his tone building in distortion and energy. His picking speed continually picks up and the dissonant chaos from Playin’ slowly infuses this music as well. Out of a swirling turmoil of color the Uncle John’s pattern returns, is dismantled, and returns again. Finally the last verse is delivered, and the song passes into a long jam that winds its way on into Drums beautifully.

There is a lot going on in this jam, which quickly becomes more of a Space Jam with the drummers playing much more freely, and Garcia sampling through his midi box of tricks, lending colors and textures, flavors and emotions, all flooding our vision like a dream cast over an epic landscape. A lot of the jam finds the Dead tapping into what sounds like the early electronica musical flavors we might have heard from a David Sylvian or Robert Fripp at this point in the 90’s. The tapestries and patterns continue to slither and implode until the edges of music and Drums proper are hopelessly blurred. Even Drums itself is flooded with musical overtone, becoming Space all the while. The AUD source featured here rightly doesn’t even make the attempt to place a track ID between Drums and Space. It’s all one long involved ride.

We come out of Space into I Need A Miracle, which you might find something of a take or leave performance. But the Stella Blue after it, once you get past the nearly completely cashed singing voice of 1993 Jerry Garcia, leads us to an exit solo section that makes getting to the end of the show thoroughly worthwhile. The music trickles over you like a waterfall flowing with the consistency of honey, its great droplets formed of diamonds which catch the light in a dance of prism refractions. Light pours out in softly fading feathers, like a thousand spinning mirrored balls passing before you. These were the moments from shows in the last years that you just wanted to bottle up and save forever.

We’re treated to a Box Of Rain encore, which is always welcome. Then, Phil bids the crowd “Goodnight, and God bless you all.” I can’t recall the Dead ever referencing spirituality or divinity in concert except for one show – 08/27/72 Veneta (perhaps a review for another day to come), where there are multiple references of this sort. So, this caught me completely off guard. Then there’s a final track of six plus minutes of crowd and taper talk that is a wonderful listen.

All-in-all, this show from 1993 glows more than one might expect, especially when you go into the year with some realistically set expectation.

12/18/93 AUD etree source info
12/18/93 AUD Download

Friday, December 5, 2008

1986 March 27 - Cumberland County Civic Center

Jerry Garcia 1986
Thursday, March 27, 1986
Cumberland County Civic Center – Portland, ME
Audience Recording

There are few things more frightening to most Grateful Dead tape collectors than shows from 1986. Okay, a lot of 1994-95 Dead shows may rank above ’86 for pure fright factor, but that’s a story for another time (though certainly related).

His health failing, 1986 was the year where the road, and a heroin addiction, seemed to catch up with Jerry Garcia, landing him in a diabetic coma in July of that year. There were many shows during this downward spiral that could, at best, be described as “phoned in” with few, if any, stellar moments. The band relied heavily on Garcia’s ability to shine, and when he was compromised, the entire band suffered. Beyond the last years of this band’s saga where Garcia’s drugs and health would continue to see-saw the band’s output , 1986 might be the most difficult year to traverse when looking for spectacular shows. And the overabundance of “lowlights” are a constant reminder of the darkness that was slowly emerging. The theory of many old Deadheads, who claimed it was all downhill from the beginning, is fully supported by the time we reach 1986. This is not a year you want to set up on a roulette wheel and give a spin. You are likely to crap out more often than not.

1986 probably doesn’t appear on anyone’s top ten list of Dead years. In fact, conversely, it probably tops nearly everyone’s list of worst year of the 80’s overall. Most certainly it is the low point of the first 21 years of the band’s history. Yet, for me, this makes the 1986 diamonds in the rough that do exist all that more meaningful, and worthy of hearing. True to the more and more inconsistent output of the band, there are some high points in 1986 that completely belie the reputation that the year rightly carries. 1986 has a lot of flashing orange warning lights and “enter at your own risk” signs on its door. In a strange way, these cautionary messages seem to hide some moments of real beauty.

The entire concept of the Grateful Dead Listening Guide is at play here as we step into 1986. Everyone ought to put some of this year under their belt, and I will attempt to point out some moments that buck the trend. You can then feel free to spin the wheel and listen to more on your own in an effort to understand what seemed to be going wrong in this year.

Here on March 27, 1986, as could often be the case in the 80’s, we have a show that stands out with a powerful first set. The band absolutely erupts with energy throughout set one, and they even get off to a tremendous start in the second set. As things move along, the energy settles a bit, yet the entire show is still satisfying. Note, we are talking about 1986 here. The expectations are set pretty low. In a year that gets a deservedly bad reputation, it can be mesmerizing to hear the band completely at the top of their game. Low expectations aside, the highlights here measure up to much of the 80’s nicely.

Jack Straw leaps out of the gates, and everything is bubbling. This was one of those general admissions shows with no chairs on the main floor – just lots of happy ‘heads spread out on blankets. The energy is warm and welcoming. Jerry is flying, pushing the opening song higher and higher, and the crowd loves it. Paul Hogan’s AUD is spot on in its ability to capture the music and energy. The powerful opening tune sets the stage for a great evening. 03/27 also contains the one and only rendition of Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues. The music was written by Phil and Brent and the lyrics came from Bobby Petersen, a beatnik poet who was one of Phil's old friends. Petersen also wrote Pride of Cucamonga and New Potato Caboose. He died in 1986 and Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues was the last song that he contributed to the Dead. This leads right into Bertha, and we can sense that Jerry is warming up even more.

I’m a big fan of the song Big Rail Road Blues. I like it because it often served as an ignition point for Jerry to really explode – in the same fashion as Big River. This night's version is no exception, and Garcia rides the song’s wave deeply into a sizzling explosion of energy and dexterity. Just as you think he’s wrapping things up, he bursts forth with another round of fire from dizzying heights. It’s this sort of thing, hidden in a show from 1986, that adds to the pleasure lurking in this year. It defies the logic of what we would expect from ’86, and thereby increases the enjoyment.

The Supplication Jam is born out of silence, Bobby working the theme as the rest of the band slowly joins in. Again, more crackling energy pours forth, and there is lightning shimmering off of the stage in smoke-like tendrils. It’s a ferocious energy that slowly expands as if being seen under water – electric neon colors bleeding together and drowning everything. Garcia tears things up, and Bobby absolutely cooks. This jam contradicts everything most people think about when they ponder a year like 1986, and it is precisely why we should be so careful not to prejudge; to always be open to magic at every turn. The band sounds so at home in this jam, really pushing the rhythms intricately along. Then, as icing on the cake, the band transitions beautifully into Promised Land. It takes a bit of time, and just as the music’s own decision making process could teeter into a potential train wreck, it saves itself perfectly. Promised Land, then, delivers a sensational end to the set.

Easily matching Big Railroad Blues, Promised Land explodes. Firing on every cylinder, when we get to the final lead section and hear Garcia shredding notes in rapid succession, we can’t help but be elevated into the soaring energy of the crowd around the taper. The set ends on a fantastic high, back in that wonderful Dead space of smiles all around.

Set two opens with China>Rider. This is another one of those tunes (albeit two) like Morning Dew that defies a solid time stamp. It has a certain timelessness to it, carved deeply into the tissue of the Americana-folkloric legend of the band. It’s part of a select group of songs that came to typify the Grateful Dead throughout their career. It’s part of a top five list of tunes that do this, though I’d be hard pressed to want to firmly call out what that list of five were without sparking a huge debate among fellow deadheads. So, I’ll leave it at that for now. Generally, it is tempo which bares the most era-specific identifiers to China>Rider, and in the 80’s the tune’s tempo ran fast. Here on 03/27/86, the song draws on all the burning intensity that capped the first set. The songs brim with energy. The transition solo finds Jerry crazily mounting an accent in his playing as the band corkscrews and geysers into a rippling light bath fountain of energy wiping away all ability to stand apart from the music. In a mostly indescribable display of energy, the band purely outdoes all expectation. Breathlessly, we drop into I Know You Rider.

The tempo is ramped way up, and while it might not be cooking at its original tempo of 20 years earlier, it is darn well coming close. Jerry’s leads burble out, like the water music of a drinking fountain, notes flowing endlessly after one another in their own game of follow the leader. Showers of sparks and exploding flower petals stream out in all direction. We couldn’t be in a better spot right now, leading off set two. The show could end here and already I’d regret forever not forcing you to leave with this tape in your arms way back when you first visited my listening room.

Estimated Prophet good, if slightly overshadowed with the Bob Weir cheese factor. This describes Bob’s growing tendency throughout the 80’s to play heavily to the crowd through his vocalizations. Here in Estimated he over sings/shouts a lot of the vocals and then treats the crowd to a rousing “Heh-HEY” screamfest toward the end, complete with long delay on his vocal mic. Through it all, and after it all, Jerry is there coiling leads slowly and surely on the way to Eyes Of The World.

By the time the song actually gets going, Jerry is in fine form indeed. The tempo rolls at a blistering pace, and Garcia’s ability to skip along notes like dancing across grass blade tips as he plays is very nicely done. Before going much further though, I need to warn you about Bob being horrifically out of tune. His screams from the last song clearly drove his D or G string into cowering flatness, and it takes him the first three minutes of Eyes to work it all out. After that, the song flows beautifully, and as the jam extends itself (this is a long, nearly 15 minute version), we find Jerry briefly floating lightly in a broad orbit around the music. The band traverses mountain sides, and cloud patched skies together, whirling on lazy winds. The winds ease the band into a wide valley where the music settles like dew, and the segue into Drums begins. While the rest of the band leaves the stage to the percussionists, Jerry remains for nearly three minutes playing amidst the feet of the slowly approaching, towering drum giants. His guitar drifts further and further out into an echoing space, eventually leaving the drummers to their work.

Space leads nicely into a Spanish Jam, and the tune casts its haunting psychedelic shadows around the music nicely. It then segues easily into Truckin’. It’s a bit of a textbook version, complete with Bob messing up lyrics. It ends with Jerry pushing toward Black Peter before changing direction into Wharf Rat. Sweetly emotional vocals, and strong solo work from Garcia, make this a very nice version for 1986.

Sugar Magnolia rocks very nicely. The band has enough gas in its tank to lift the song, and the crowd back up to a peak of energy. Bobby then absolutely mangles the vocals on the lead-in of the Sunshine Daydream end jam. He laughs at himself, more than once, and it all lends to that wonderful Grateful Dead vibe (only our Bobby could blow the lyrics to Sugar Magnolia). All in all, the set ends on as high a note as could be hoped. Day Job is the encore, one of the most unliked songs in all of Deaddom. If you don’t dislike it, it might just be that you just haven’t been subjected to it from more of the 57 times it showed up between 1982 and 1986 . This night would mark the second to last time it was played. Most deadheads say, good riddance. I'm not really sure why. I don't find it as off-putting as some tunes.

So, we can call this a very safe and satisfying entry point into 1986. The show speak to the quality that lurks around one of the darker stretches in the Dead’s musical journey. From a listening standpoint you absolutely can’t go wrong with Paul Hogan’s recording – for everything up to, and including, China>Rider. For whatever reason (a miss flipped Dolby B switch, more than likely, during the tape transfer to digital), the rest of his recording transfer suffers from heavy noise reduction. While I implore you to start with his recording, you’ll want to switch to the other circulating AUD for Estimated through the end of the show. I know this means downloading the show in parts from two sources. Please trust me, the Hogan AUD makes it worth it. There is also a SBD of this show. But SBDs in the 80’s were getting mastered onto cassette, and this, along with a myriad of EQ and mix issues leaves many SBD recordings from this period somewhat lacking, the SBD from this night among them. So, please follow this listening order for maximum effect:

Estimated Prophet through end of show:
03/27/86 Koucky AUD etree source info
03/27/86 Koucky AUD Download

and if you're curious:

Friday, November 28, 2008

1990 September 19 - Madison Square Garden

Jerry Garcia July 4, 1990
Wednesday, September 19, 1990
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
Audience Recording

Epic runs can be found in most every era of the Grateful Dead’s recording history, even as the years wore on toward the end. One latter day run that will forever live in the history books came in September 1990 at Madison Square Garden. If you find yourself to be one of those folks for whom late era Grateful Dead holds little to no interest (whether that be shows post 1985, post 1977, or maybe you just don’t touch the 90’s at all), this run will surprise you. It’s not that you should be listening to the entire catalog of music from years you typically don’t reach for, but rather, that there is occasional magic happening in these later shows that your early years loving ears would love to hear – music that will satisfy your soul in precisely the same way you have come to enjoy whatever your favorite year is all along.

With whatever credentials you might attribute to the volume of writing contained in these pages, I humbly offer to you my recommendation of 09/19/90. If you trust the Listening Guide when I feature a show from 1970, and immediately reach for the mouse to download something musically spectacular, I can honestly tell you this show from 1990 is equally deserving of your attention. Don’t pass it up on preconceived notions. You will not regret this. Please, enjoy with me...

Brent Mydland died on July 26, 1990, just five days after I had seen him play with the Dead at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park, IL . I was dumbstruck. We all were. The Dead were on such a high. The music was so good. It had been getting so much better over the last two years. We were basking in the beauty of our band almost assuredly delivering the goods any night we saw them (something that couldn’t be said of the handful of years prior to 1989). And then this.

Vince WelnickIn retrospect, the fact that the band was able to continue this surge of creativity and growth so soon after Brent’s passing is a lovely testament to his memory. After replacing Brent with Vince Welnick, the Dead got right back on tour, and headed east. In New York, they were joined by Bruce Hornsby on piano, and a new line up of the band was born. Drawing energy from a number of inspirational points, the MSG run in 1990 was like a phoenix rising out of ashes. For me, the September 19th show is a glowing example of the tremendous power and energy that infused this stretch of shows.

This show also provides us the opportunity to listen to an audience recording of the absolute highest order imaginable. Tom Darian managed to capture the entire run from right around the 15th to 20th row center every night. The 19th, recorded from row 18, might be the crowning jewel of this MSG recording collection. The quality of the recording matches the music, and that is an incredible statement to be made, as the musical performance scores an 11 on a 0-10 scale.

Preferentially speaking, the set list on 09/19 is a clear winner in my book. Tending, as I do, to gravitate toward earlier year performances, 09/19 is an awesome snapshot of a set list that could almost be something pulled out of the intricately weaving sets of late 1976. For me, the stars align with this date – set list, show quality, sound quality; all in perfect form.

With so much to comment on, I will attempt to focus on some highlights. Right out of the gate we get a blazing Jack Straw. Jerry just tears it up. His solo ignites the entire house, and it is clear that we are in for something special. The rest of the set is strong, solid first set material – Bertha, Big River, and It Must Have Been The Roses all delivering the goods. And then we reach the closer, Help>Slip>Frank. This version could have been grafted out of 1977 and inserted here thirteen years later. It just has that picture perfect feel to it. The Slipknot highlights Garcia working phenomenal magic with his leads as the song begins to expand out and awaken the phosphorescent hues of candy colors lying in wait in the expectant crowd. He swirls in snaking lines all around the music, riding his slightly buzzed guitar tone deliciously through the rhythms. He then gives way and Hornsby takes a piano solo. He’s been with the band for only a matter of days, but he instinctually knows exactly how to work things. He pushes the music into luscious field of dissonance and tension, which Jerry immediately latches onto, and rides into the air. The music pushes out of bounds beautifully here, with worming knots of energy sliding everywhere. And then comes Franklin’s Tower.

Really, if you didn’t know any better, you could think this performance was happening in 1976 or 77. They nail the energy and tempo of this song so perfectly, that I can’t call to mind many a Franklin from back in its heyday (1976-79) which exemplify the song’s own ideal any better. And, my God, Garcia’s leads throughout are so jubilant. The entire band is riding a joyous wave, and the crowd is right there with them. This Frankin’s Tower is an endorphin rush end to end. We couldn’t be in any more perfect a spot to wrap up a Grateful Dead first set. Matching Jerry toe to toe, Hornsby again lifts the entire proceedings with an outpouring of perfectly suited energy. This is just plain wonderful music all the way through. As the lead sections return to verse, you can’t help but find extreme joy in that you are nestled in the middle of a wondrous ride – deep within, and nowhere near the end. When the set does end, it’s all smiles.

Set two wastes no time opening with Playin’ In The Band. The jam blossoms with Phil hopping and bopping, and Vince swirling wet B3 organ chords. It’s a smooth ride as the music billows out in long extended waves, cresting and falling in slow random intervals. The band is fused together, and you can hear it in the way phrases dance from instrument to instrument. Everything follows long rolling tunnels and turns, and you can easily lose the definition between yourself and the music as it casts a deeply hypnotic spell. Edges start to fray beautifully, bringing us to a wonderful open and quiet vista where Ship Of Fools emerges, manifested directly out of the slow turning colors in our eyes.

Jerry Garcia 1990It’s a wonderful version, full of gospel undertones. And on its final notes the band effortlessly slips back onto the vista out of which Ship Of Fools emerged, and the Playin’ jam is back filling our vision with the slow turn of multi-hued sunsets. Here we are treated to a wonderful segue jam on the way to Uncle John’s Band. It appears, and the crowd welcomes it with open arms. The entire Garden sings along with the band, and it’s another of those most precious intimate moments between band and fans, unmistakably vibrating off of the tape. Before the final a capella section, Phil drops a huge low note that comes though nicely on this perfectly recorded tape. In the exit jam, Jerry transitions into his synth sound which adds great effect, not overstated in any way. And this rolls effortlessly into Let It Grow (making its first set two appearance since 1986!). The transition is wonderful. The entire song sparkles.

Let It Grow dissolves like a tree losing its leaves, and then its branches, in sunlit breezes. A gentle world of interplay featuring Jerry, Bobby, Vince, and Bruce takes place, all tinged with the memory of Let It Grow themes. Eventually Jerry ushers in a more intense jam wherein he can even be heard to toss in a few riffs from Loose Lucy. It’s a free cascading jam that plays itself out nicely, eventually finding the drummers returning as all musical form drops away, and Space infuses everything. A seriously mind twisting passage leads the way into Drums proper.

Space gives way to Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad which lifts the house to its feet. By no means a throw away version, everyone is doling out and feeding off of energy at every turn. And then there’s the majestic Stella Blue. This song had the ability to reach all the way down to the center of your heart, and with Jerry’s singing and solo on this one, you just couldn’t ask for anything more. Perched as we are on the shoulders of the taper sitting in the perfect spot, it’s one of those “Jerry was playing right to me” moments. As the song plays out to its end, the pure bliss factor of the Dead rolls out over you.

This recording is just plain wonderful. Enjoy!

09/19/90 AUD etree source info

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1985 June 30 - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Jerry Garcia 1985

Sunday, June 30, 1985
Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD
Audience & Soundboard Recordings

1985 has an interesting reputation. Being the 20th anniversary of The Warlocks, the band seemed somehow inspired throughout the year, elevating their game with such sparkle (and a few tremendous breakouts) that most folks consider 1985 to be the highpoint of the 80’s. Regardless of that statement’s validity, ‘85 certainly holds a reputation of completely outshining the few years prior to it, and it is this attribute that feels somewhat strange to me. While clearly possessing something of an extra punch in energy, 1985 isn’t really something so staggeringly different than 1983 or 1984 that it could discredit these years as something less. But there’s no denying a certain sense of rebirth in the outpouring of music in ’85. And, while at times the extended jamming can seem to be getting cut short, 1985 has plenty to offer.

One show that has come to typify everything great about the year is 06/30/85 at the Meriwether Post Pavilion. There is an undeniable fun-loving vibe to this show, which then turns around and delivers some of the most intensely psychedelic journeying of the year. The show scores on all counts.

Grateful Dead 1985The first set is wonderfully upbeat, filled with a great stretch of songs. Things don’t go too over the top anywhere, but still, all in all, the music is satisfying. Set two, on the other hand, roars.

Shakedown Street gets off to its standard bluesy gate, strutting around in a high-stepping dance that opens the second set with a great Dead show energy. As the jam progresses along, Jerry lays down some nice leads, then Bobby gets off a great solo himself. This is followed by the music starting to surge in pulsing fractal pinwheels outward. Something has begun to infuse the music, and it sheds the garments of a straightforward song, leaving them to coil and eddy into vapor. Brent starts a slow organ swell, and the entire band bursts through the clouds, melting all colors into pure white sunlight. This pushes beyond itself as the drummers roll on their snares while the entire pavilion drops away in the burning light of music. This blistering crescendo sets this Shakedown into the “listen to this again” pile easily.

A rockin’ Samson & Delilah follows, and the entire place is hopping and bopping with the band. Next, another 1985 hallmark: the return of Phil to the mic. Okay, he actually started singing Gimme Some Lovin’ at the end of 1984, but another feather in 1985’s cap is Phil singing again. It’s really quite good, and very nice to feel the band really having so much fun of their own (another trademark of 1985).

Jerry Garcia 1985After this, the show is sitting at an absolute precipice of energy and power as we head into the meat of set two, starting off with He’s Gone. You’d expect the slow tempo of the song to bring the energy to a crawl, but far from it. He’s Gone is such a classic Dead tune by this point in 1985, that the entire audience is locked into a beautiful comfort with the music here. It allows for a breath, to be sure, but there’s no loss of attention.

As the song nears the end, after Jerry soulfully croons out the “nothing’s gonna bring him back” section in tandem with his lead lines, he flows into a lovely and lazy solo passage that eventually finds him playing the opening guitar refrain to Cryptical Envelopment again and again. Hearing it woven into He’s Gone is magical. Anticipation of the song coming mixed with how beautifully it threads its way into He’s Gone is a wonderful experience. *This* song (or, the return of this song, to be more accurate) really puts the icing on the 1895 cake. It’s hard not to be completely taken in by the return of the melodic lines of this old classic (it was last played on September 23, 1972, before returning, 791 shows later, on June 16, 1985). The short and darkly poetic story rolls itself out and is quickly whisked into Drums.

The Space on this night is extremely fine and worth a close listen. It’s an onslaught that leaves no footing whatsoever with which to remain upright. In fact, upright isn’t even on the list of options here. Sound comes at you from every angle, pushing and pulling perspective wildly in and out of your field of vision. It’s as if everything you see and hear is being reflected in a hall of mirrors, where all the mirrors rush toward you and recede in random patterns. Lights explode from behind the corners of your eyes like fires darting from view again and again. The pressure subsides and space opens up as things continue to breath and turn around you. Slowly the sea settles and then Garcia is working the volume knob while Bobby is groaning deep distorted chords. Phil walks bass lines around the stage in quiet circles, and Brent plays music box colors. For a time it is as if order is condensing and dissolving over and over out of chaos, the music being written at the hands of passing time’s fleeting interest. Then Garcia is hinting at Other One as everything begins to swirl up to a higher pitch. It’s daunting and magical as the music slowly but surely works its way closer to the song. This is one of the finest transitions out of Space you’re likely to hear. The Other One’s energy seems to have been there the whole time as the song draws its rhythms out of the primordial muse of musical expression.

The drummers return and immediately the pressure builds around them. We find ourselves fully locked into the song now, and it becomes an intense storm filled with rippling, rolling phrases which interconnect on and off most every beat. The first verse appears, and is gone. From here, titanic spinning wheels of fire consume the air around you. As the music reaches what seems like a natural summit, another wave drives itself up and out through the heart of the peak, raging into the crowd, whipping the musical energy higher still. Breathless and blinding, we find that the musical climax is an ever-moving, always expanding expression of energy with no end or beginning. It forever feeds back into itself, and here in Other One we come face to face with the highest cycles of this loop. Pushed further than we could ever expect, this Other One goes down as one of the most memorable moments of the year.

Stella Blue appears out of the chaos, and lightly wraps the crowd in loving arms. Keeping in step with most of the show, Jerry’s mid-song solo brims with energy. His exit solo find the band back in the most familiar of cool and gentle places. The family-like energy that pours out as the song closes is unmistakable Grateful Dead music. Like flags waving in bright sunlight, the music trumpets its own victory within your heart. All is good.

This show can be enjoyed in both SBD and AUD, and even in Matrix (SBD/AUD blend). There are actually quite a few versions to wade through. I would recommend the following:

06/30/85 Oade AUD etree source info
06/30/85 Oade AUD Download

06/30/85 SBD etree source info

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

1974 July 31 - Dillon Stadium

Grateful Dead Wall of Sound 07/31/74

Wednesday July 31, 1974
Dillon Stadium - Hartford, CT
Audience Recording

Billy Degen ate some mushrooms.

Undoubtedly feeling no regret over possibly eating them a little bit earlier than might have been prudent for the task at hand, it is this that left him unable to navigate the complex diodes, plastic coatings, and vibratory electrical fields of his recording gear, each of these competing for attention as the 07/31/74 Dillon Stadium show began. That and the full-on pleasure of a Grateful Dead show getting underway while he sat in a very sweet spot indeed. While he made attempts to get the tape going and recording correctly, it wasn’t until he eventually found an opening where the slowly shifting panes of his mental kaleidoscope glass came into something of a focus, that Bill was able to pull all the elements together and get the tape going in time for Mississippi Half Step.

Grateful Dead 07/31/74What he managed to come away with was one of the most multi-dimensional AUD recordings we have from 1974. This tape runs the gamut of audience tape clich├ęs, for good and bad. There are rowdy people chattering all over the place (including a classic where someone inches from the microphone quietly asks if it is a microphone), shifting winds saturating the mics, the sound of trucks rushing along the highway that borders the stadium (they tend to sound like prop planes flying over head), people bumping into stuff, the mics changing positions (often more than once in the same song), the odd tape cut here and there – yet on top of everything, this recoding is also one of the best documents of the Wall Of Sound captured out-of-doors in 1974. At times (especially when it really counts) this recording manages to transport the listener deeply into the pure heart of the legendary sound system. This tape does what only a few from the year pull off well – it demonstrates precisely how loud the Dead were in 1974, and really manages to grab the highest highs and lowest lows that billowed off the stage. The music roars and the energy soars in ways that most other tapes, even good ones, only wish they could emulate.

It was these latter, more positive aspects of the tape the drew me to choose it specifically to be featured on Grateful Dead Hour radio show #751 when host David Gans reached out to me with the idea of featuring a 1974 Wall Of Sound AUD tape on the program. As hard as it can be to decide just what show to review next on the GDLH, picking the right tape for the Grateful Dead Hour back in 2003 was truly painful. As much as it made sense to pick what might be one of the best AUDs ever, Jerry Moore’s 06/23/74, we decided to go for an outdoor recording since it would remove any worry over hall ambience, and thus translate a bit better to the compressed wavelengths of radio. In the end, I was very happy with the way this choice translated to the radio show.

For kicks, I have posted a MP3 version of Grateful Dead Hour 751 for those of you interested in hearing my interview as the online, banner waving, audience tape lover that I was (am).

What kept me from lofting this tape up as one of my first posts on the blog is the same thing that saw me hold off a bit on 06/24/70. The less than savory aspects of this recording could be construed as off-putting to one not somewhat ingratiated into AUD tape listening. So, by now, anyone who has found his or her ears warmed to the ups and downs of AUD tapes will have no problem panning for the gold on this tape. It is there in plentitude. Some moments shine through more than others, and without a doubt, this entire Summer ’74 show is filled with great versions of many songs (three sets worth). I will focus on some of the moments forever burned into my brain.

Jerry Garcia 07/31/74With Eyes of the World, the absolute majesty of this tape fully comes through. The crowd is almost immediately drawn into full attention, the ambient hoots, hollers, and conversations all but fading completely out of the field of Bill’s microphones. And straight off of the intro soloing, we can feel Jerry Garcia choosing his lines with great lyrical care. He seems more intent than usual in expressing distinctly voiced phrases.

After Phil’s solo, the song seems to tumble over an edge, unraveling itself into multiple shifting paths. It expands at several different angles causing our footing to give way into sweet confusion with no idea which direction comes next. The music eventually turns a corner as the band runs through the 7/8 time signature theme that adorned all Eyes in ‘73-‘74, and then glides effortlessly into China Doll. Here, the Wall Of Sound finds its way so deeply into your head as to turn it in on itself. You sense the enormity of the physical crowd and sound system, while feeling that the entire musical experience is yours, without outside ambience. This is the hallmark of a wonderful outdoor audience recording.

This show also has what might rank as my all time favorite Let It Grow. The jamming sections on this one find the band at the peak of their 1974 tightness. There is never any sense that the jam is just going along seeking for a foothold. It is endlessly locked in, constantly blossoming into new colors and textures, outdoing itself by ascending to a gorgeous peak in the final section where the Bobby and Phil begin lightly shredding their notes as Garcia soars higher and higher. It’s a beautiful crescendo, not repeated in any other version of the song anywhere.

Grateful Dead audience Dillon Stadium - Hartford CT July 31, 1974Then, of course, there is the mammoth Truckin’ jam from this show. Filled with a Mind Left Body Jam, into Spanish Jam, back into Mind Left Body Jam *after* the Truckin’ itself goes for 18 minutes, this set three jam is one for the ages. Two things always spring to mind for me with his tape. First, there’s the guy who shouts “Yeah, do it!” during the second or third verse of the song. For some reason, this is my favorite on-tape audience member moment of them all. It’s perfectly timed, and brimming with energy. Second is the mid jam Truckin’ rev up. You know, it’s that part of the song where Jerry starts circling on a triplet that climbs up the guitar neck, as the rest of the band joins him. This one from 07/31/74 has nary any equal, finding Jerry taking things up even higher on the neck that you can imagine, all while Phil is zigzagging notes at rough hewn angles in chaotic tempo. As it boils over you, it’s one of those moments of audience tape rapture – all this going on around you as a sea of people lock into the music in a vast outdoor stadium, in the Summer of 1974, while our intrepid young taper, Bill Degen, manages to reap the rewards of overcoming all the challenges that tapers faced – navigating deck, batteries, tape flips, levels, and paying attention to all of it during a Dead show.

The jam goes on and on from there, and despite the odd tape cut or two, the musical experience is well worth it. It’s great to hear how this overly rowdy audience can settle into near silence and attention as the band deeply explores the jam. And late in the improvisation, Phil reflects back to the gentle shredding done in the Let It Grow. It’s a wonderful tie in, bringing these tendrils back together late in the show.

Phil Lesh 07/31/74At the time that I circulated Bill’s tape, the only SBD of this show was very subpar, and not in heavy circulation. So much so, that this date got no attention what-so-ever. And even now that the full SBD circulates, Bill’s AUD brings something far more special to the listener. First put into digital circulation via the Audience Devotional Tree in January of 2002, it is a true pleasure to share this tape again with you now.

And a special thank you needs to go out to Bill Degen. Bill, you were largely responsible for my coming to appreciate AUD tapes from the start, having sent me copies of 07/01/73, 08/06/74, set two of 06/23/74, this 07/31/74 tape, and so many more. In a true example of the good side of the Internet trading community, we met in an AOL chat room of all places, and became fast friends and trading partners from there. As the years moved along, you even trusted me with your precious 7” reel copies of your master tapes that fell victim to your house fire many years ago, so I could transfer them and set them into digital circulation. I wouldn’t be here without you.

07/31/74 AUD etree source info
07/31/74 AUD Download

Audience Devotional Tree Round 9 – January, 2002

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Downloading Dead Shows From The Guide

It’s been asked of me a few times to provide some guidance around how one acquires the music being reviewed on this blog. Here is a straightforward walkthrough that will help you get your ears on the music.

First, the gentle reminder that while both SBDs and AUDs can be streamed online for listening enjoyment only the AUD tapes reviewed here can be downloaded for personal consumption away from the Internet. The Grateful Dead Listening Guide does not provide, nor link to, SBD files for download or trade.

There are a couple of tools (applications) you will need to get which then help you render these shows into a listening format. These are freeware, and protected from viruses, etc. You can safely download these and run whatever install wizards they trigger when you click on their set up or .exe file.

WinRAR: You will need this to unzip the song files if/when you download a MP3 version of a show in zipped format.

Traders Little Helper: You will use this handy gem if/when you want to create WAV files out of the music files you download for burning to Audio CDs.

That’s it. Just two. Get them now. Go on. It’s easy.

Now we are going to walk through the process of getting shows downloaded in two ways (it just comes down to the type of file format you want to end up with). Not being well versed in the Mac platform, I’m only going to cover the basics in Windows (XP in particular). I’m pretty sure that this walkthrough should turn on enough light bulbs such that a Mac user could figure things out.

First we will walk through getting the show in a good quality MP3 format, ready to load onto your iPod or player of choice. MP3s are a “lossy” format, called such because in compression of the original files there is some sonic degradation. It’s minor, and up to you whether you care at all. Speaking as a guy who swore up and down that lossy MP3s were the work of the devil back through the years when I was transferring masters and seeding shows online, I can tell you that for my own listening pleasure I only deal in MP3s. My ears are perfectly happy with this format for casual listening enjoyment. Since returning to the Dead, and starting this blog early in 2008, I’ve only listened to shows in the MP3 format on my iPod. I haven’t burned a single disc for listening.

Second, we will step through getting the files onto your computer in a “lossless” format (SHN, FLAC), and what you’ll need to do from there to listen. Lossless will provide you the exact music files as they came to digital. Pure pure pure.

1: MP3 Downloads

At the bottom of every audience tape show review’s post, you will find a link that always reads something like this:

07/27/73 AUD Download

1. Click On The Link – Clicking on that link will take you to the corresponding page on where that show is waiting for you. That’s all there is to step one for downloading a show.

Now you will be at the website, on that show’s particular page. On this page are a lot of links that you could click on. We are going to concentrate on just one. In the upper left side of the page is a box/section with a Steal Your Face logo at the top, labeled “Listen to audio.” It looks like the image to the left.

2. Right click on the link that says, “VBR ZIP” under “Play / Download." If you are using the Mozilla Firefox browser, select “Save Link As…” If you are using the Internet Explorer browser, select “Save Target As…” A navigation window will open up allowing you to decide where you want to save the file. Perhaps this would be a good time to create a folder in your “My Music” folder that you call “Grateful Dead Shows.” Regardless, click “Save” or “Okay” (depending on browser)and allow whatever time is needed for you to get the file saved on your computer.

3. Once saved, you need to find the file wherever you saved it, and right click on the file itself. You will notice that the WinRAR program I had you install at the start has provided some selections for you in this menu. Select “Extract Here” from the drop down menu:

This will unzip the file directly in the same folder you're in, and produce a folder containing the entire show in correctly named, individual MP3 tracks ready to be added into your favorite music library management application.

4. Listen to the music.

2: Lossless FLAC & SHN Downloads

Again, at the bottom of every Audience Tape show review post you will find a link that always reads something like this:

07/27/73 AUD Download

1. Click On The Link – Clicking on that link will take you to the corresponding page on where that show is waiting for you. That’s all there is to step one for downloading a show.

Now you will be at the website, on that shows particular page. On this page are a lot of links that you can click on. We are going to concentrate on just one. In the upper left side of the page is a box/section with a Steal Your Face logo at the top, labeled “Listen to audio.” It looks like the image to the left.

2. Now, the FLAC or SHN files are not zipped. You can actually see them all on the main page with clickable links denoting file size under a column labeled “Shorten” or “Flac.” You could start right clicking on these links directly to pull down each file individually per the instructions above in MP3 Downloads. Or you could click on the bottom-most link in the “Listen to audio” box that says “HTTP.” This will take you to a simple page that shows all the files on the page you might want to download. In Internet Explorer, right clicking on each SHN or FLAC file will allow you to save them one at a time, or in Firefox, you might want to make use of the DownThemAll! Plugin to make this a faster experience. Save all the files into a place you can easily get to when finished downloading – perhaps a folder you name with the date of the show.

3. Once you have all the files saved on your computer you’re just about ready to listen. FLACs can be played in many different applications as is. SHNs, not as many. If you want to burn the files to Audio CD’s, you’ll first need to us the Traders Little Helper to convert the files into WAVs which can then be burned to CD via a myriad of applications including Windows itself. Traders Little Helper is extra intuitive. You shouldn’t have too much trouble using it after the first try or two.

4. Listen to the music.

I hope this helps. Let me know if it doesn't. The Listening Guide is no good if you can't LISTEN.

Friday, November 7, 2008

While The Music Plays The Band

What is it about this group? Why is it that they can strike such a resonate chord in the pit of my being? How is it that this then illuminates a spidering out of interconnections with music from all over the globe and all up and down the time continuum? Sometimes the Grateful Dead make too much sense to me.

As one example: Knowing what we know about this group, it’s a fair assumption that they were not intentionally calling upon the sacred music of the 12th century to infuse the deep reaches of their improvisational feedback-induced psychedelia. But while listening to early show feedback compositions where sounds weave together in something not quite chaotic or cacophonous, I hear the melodic lines of haunting and beautiful music composed nearly one thousand years ago. It is no mistake, nor over statement, to say that time and time again, the Dead’s music feels like a sacred, church-like experience.

It is this sacred element which goes a long way in separating the Grateful Dead from being just another rock act. Yet, it can be quite incomprehensible to those who might not otherwise have a Dead-based frame of reference from which to see this characteristic. As one explores this facet of their music, it is not uncommon that its validity takes a kick in the leg because of the social climate which gave rise to the generation of Psychedelic Rock music in the first place. If you aren’t “one of us,” it becomes quite conveniently easy to write off any esoteric philosophizing about the Dead due to their obvious pigeonholing within that “late 60’s rock thing.” I would venture to say, however, that this expression of musical sacredness appears across all music throughout time, and its recognition within the Grateful Dead is no less valid than the form it took centuries earlier. Indeed, it is much more hidden in modern music, and therefore easily missed, or dismissed as the case may be. That said, this is one of the deepest layers of the Dead’s music we can discuss.

This somewhat hidden sacred element of music’s expression is only part of the great many other things we call Grateful Dead music. This speaks, in part, to the rapid evolution of music across the second half of the 1900’s. There was so much going on, so quickly, that music’s own sacred expression found itself woven in as only part of the musical fabric, rather than a single thread easily held apart and recognized. The condensed rapid evolution of music in which the Dead found bedrock-like footing, predicated that we would have a more complex musical form to examine, explore, and discover. Their music was a cauldron of ingredients – Bluegrass, Psychedelic, Rock, Funk, Country, Blues, Gospel, Tribal, Avant-garde – different things to different people. And as much as we sometimes ponder what it would have been like to see the Dead take the stage and play a solid two and a half hours of feedback, this would not have been the Grateful Dead. Even in the earliest years, they were more than one thing, most all the time. Unlike sacred music composers of centuries past who spent lifetimes channeling the rich power of music’s ability to communicate directly to the soul, the music’s power seemed to find new, more complex paths to expression in the pallet of modern-age music. Thereby, it came to reside between notes and lyrics, working at an almost subconscious level. And it took up residence in the quiet still waters of the Grateful Dead.

This sacred element is a descriptive manifestation of a far more indescribable truth lying deep within the Dead’s music – in fact, within music itself. Being a primal and universal language that can affect mood and alter the pulse rate of all listeners, music, when rendering a sense of something “spiritually beautiful,” calls the listener into a serene stillness of being – a truth that blurs all lines between our individuality. As found in the Garcia quote that currently adorns the right-hand sidebar of this blog, Jerry describes truth to be “ those moments when you're playing and the whole room becomes one being -- precious moments..” This describes the fulfillment of music’s highest goal – to bring us to these moments of oneness. That’s what we paint as church-like, and refer to it as feeling sacred. But these words veil the truth of what’s going on with too much of their own connotation. You’ve heard it (or need to hear it) in many of the musical selections featured on these pages. Strip away all the baggage that may accompany your ideas around these words, and recognize nothing more than the feeling you get from the musical experience - drop the description of the feeling. This reduction of a self-editorial backdrop can heighten the experience and foster a deeper connection through the music into Oneness.

It is often at the times when the Dead are *not* deeply exploring the outer reaches of improvisational interplay that they conjure up some of their most serene and sacred moments. In Jerry Garcia’s hypotonic setting to music of Robert Hunter’s lyrics, we find some of the most beautifully quiet contemplations drawing us in. Never trying to force a message, Hunter’s words whisper at concepts both highly personal and widely universal all at once. In performance, these lyrics often find themselves surrounded by the softest sunlight; slight music sparkling in tender tears and lazy breezes.

In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me
from "Attics Of My Life"

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

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