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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1979 July 1 - Seattle Center Memorial Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. WOW! Have not heard this one yet, but am blown away, as usual, by your incredible talent at putting the experience of listening to a Dead show into words as no other has. If there is a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for writing about music you are most deserving of it. THANKS Noah!!!

  2. 79 and onwards was always a bit of a mystery to me but I'm slowly learning...many thanks.

    Oh, and the two AUD links are a bit screwed up.

  3. Dr Randy, Thanks very much. I'll fully enjoy your honorary mention in lieu of a formal prize being awarded.

    Iain, thanks for the heads up. Blogger-weirdness -- fixed.


    aud video of the encore!

  5. Noah - you write with the ink of my heart! Words drawn from deep within my soul. I agree with drrandy - this one deserves a Noahbel Prize - beautifully depicted Dead experience!

  6. Two days earlier we were at PDX Speedway. It was a couple of days after Lowell George passed on. I'll always remember a taper giving us some Ellis before this show. We smoked some pot after, and another friend walked up & asked if I wanted to drop & gave me a drop in each eye, & my wife said "Did you forget that we already took a hit from Matt?" I had quite a frigging night....

  7. This show was at Seattle Center Coliseum, not Memorial Stadium. They didn't play Memorial Stadium again until about '95


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