Site Sponsor

Not Sure Where To Begin?

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

1970 December 28 - El Monte, CA

Jerry Garcia 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Grrrrreat Review. Your writings have really led me to love audience recordings. I look forward to giving this a good hard listenin'.

  2. This one is a true jewel, the recording perfectly captures the energy and ambiance of the experience. Great review!!

  3. IMHO, Bob Weir's playing was really special during 1970 and 1971. His tone was beautifully full and clean and his rhythm work helped drive and center the band. I have a great memory of being in high school and listening to "Skull and Roses" on a car stereo that only had one speaker; during the NFA>GDTRFB I recall being absolutely blown away at how interesting and varied Weir's guitar work was.

    Nice show, great review.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin