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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1980 September 6 - Lewiston, ME

Saturday, September 6, 1980
State Fairgrounds - Lewiston, ME
Audience Recording

Strip away time. Erase the day of the week, the month, the year. Tumble into a kaleidoscope of color. Pass through the membrane. Be the membrane. There never was a membrane. You're back at a Grateful Dead show.

When they did it well, it was all about the evaporation of everything that grounded you to the here and now, yet allowed you to slip all the way into the here and now just the same. The Dead's musical muse simply was. It didn't evolve so much as slowly turn, ever-present in the light. A telltale sign that the band was coaxing the muse out came with the strong impression that you were no longer hearing music being played right now. More often, the muse simply sounded like the Grateful Dead, echoing backward and forward, un-tethered to "today."

Here's a show with the opportunity to echo as far forward as it could backward. Played in 1980, it stands at the center of the Dead's 30 year career.  This is too coincidental a reason, I know, but the show is indeed packed with muse-infused moments. On 9/6/80 the music played the band.

Set One: Alabama Getaway > Greatest Story Ever Told, Sugaree, Me & My Uncle > Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Stranger, Fried of the Devil, Far From Me > Little Red Rooster, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Promised Land
Set Two: Shakedown Street > Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance, Althea, Playin' in the Band > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Not Fade Away > The Wheel > Uncle John's Band > Playin' in the Band > Sugar Magnolia E: One More Saturday Night> Brokedown Palace

The entire show is worth all of your ear's time. Yet, there are several highlights that bear mentioning – so many, that I'm quite sure I will overlook a few.

Sugaree plays on and on, Garcia speeding and swirling effortlessly. The band is locked in with him, everyone adding fuel to the fire. It's a healthy, long version, typical of the time period. Feel Like A Stranger is sublime. The jam is tossed into a heavy syncopation after Bobby missteps a "silky silky silky crazy night" line. It's impossible to tell who in the band slips with him, and who stays in the prescribed beat count of the song. But the result is an extremely extended jam that fires flares off in roller coaster streaming arcs for what feels like an eternity. The phrasing is filled with the standard Stranger themes, but it is peppered with so much more. When they somehow manage to pull together for the final refrain, it's like be shaken from an epic dream.

China>Rider had a wonderful tendency to catch fire in the early 80's. After just sort of reappearing in rotation at the start of 1979 (after a 4 year hiatus), the song duo had taken on a more upbeat tempo, and by 1980 it was a pure carnival of light and sound. The China>Rider here on 9/6/80 is flat out perfection. A wonderfully glowing solo section cascades into an I Know You Rider which finds Jerry's tone crisp and clean. He rounds corners and rolls over hills, spraying notes to the horizon. The last solo catches the light of the sun and soars like a bird. We slam into a Promised Land that punctuates the end of the first set with the same elevated energy that has permeated the entire show so far. It will blow your hair back and leave you breathless. And set two is still to come…

Leading off with a rousing Shakedown>Saint of Circumstance>Lost Sailor, the second set gets off to a fine start. But it's the huge meat of the show where the Grateful Dead's muse fills every pore. In case you overlooked it above, this is a very long ride: Playin'>Uncle John's>Drums>Space>Not Fade Away>Wheel>Uncle John's>Playin'>Sugar Magnolia. Within this roughly 60 minutes stretch of music, we find the Dead dipping deeply into the well of creative juices they've been tapping throughout this entire early September run.

Playin' quickly transports the band to no-time. Jerry's rapid staccato lead lines slowly swirling in and out of view are the only hint that it is still 1980. The jam flies down rails of light, banking around hillsides and tunneling through showers of rich watercolor rain. Footing is easily lost as perception is swept up into the buoyancy of music. When Garcia eventually directs the band into Uncle John's it rings with the message that we have arrived. There is a vast opening of hands and hearts here. You can feel it everywhere. The Dead have brought a crowd of thousands to trusted and familiar place. Here, the musical loping is timeless. As the song's joyful bounce tips over into the 7/8 time signature jam, the band is alive with light. Everything dazzles, and the music pulls into great tracks of ascending smoke. Before Drums, form dissolves into pulsing fragments and regressions.

Space is brief, yet bottomless. Phil hurls massive planets, churning with purple lava, over and into the body of the crowd. They take away the space to breathe, as the air is filled with magma over and over again. Suffocating, taffy-like moans expand to fill the fairgrounds.

Not Fade Away appears and ignites the crowd's energy. And while it arrives off of a Garcia hip check into the boards, The Wheel which follows swoons with that unmistakable Grateful Dead vibe. A timelessness is returning, and when they deftly transition back into Uncle John's Band, the segue jamming is sensational. The ever-present underpinning of joy and welcoming arms envelope the audience and it becomes easy to lose oneself in the long spiraling cycles of the music's structure. Another nice transition unfolds back into Playin' to bring things home. The music swirls between the 7/8 and 10/4 time signatures. Themes merge and the Dead's music elevates the senses. The song ends with a few extra refrains during which Jerry delivers some unexpected soloing sparkle just when you'd otherwise expect the song to be over.

Sugar Magnolia closes the set, and things end with a Brokedown Palace encore that further solidifies this show's ability to strike the chord of the timeless Grateful Dead muse. Jerry's short solo floats like starlight through a softly swaying summer breeze. It is enough. We are bathed in the band's pure lore of folk-psychedelic Americana music. It is everything Grateful Dead. Fare thee well.

09/06/80 AUD etree source info
09/06/80 AUD Download

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Under Eternity Blue - Soul Funk

The twelfth installment of the Under Eternity Blue radio program hits the Internet airwaves this weekend on Spirit Plants Radio with two show times: Saturday, July 30 at 11pm EST, and Sunday, July 31 at 11am EST.

It's been a scorcher of a summer so far, and nothing reflects the heat quite as nicely as Soul Funk - that pocked genre of music from the late 60s to very early 70s that was born out of James Brown and had an unmistakable imprint of the dawning of everything we know as Funk today.

After this weekend's airings, this episode will be added to the Under Eternity Blue podcast series and if you are subscribed, you will find this broadcast appearing as a new podcast download then. Information for subscribing can be found at the Under Eternity Blue Music site itself.
Under Eternity Blue with DJ Arkstar
Saturday, July 30: 11pm EST
Sunday, July 31: 11am EST

The full weekend line up (11am PST Saturday - 11pm PST Sunday) is listed on the Spirit Plants Radio page above.

Monday, March 21, 2011

1974 May 25 - UC Santa Barbara

Saturday, May 25, 1974
Campus Stadium, UC Santa Barbara -- Goleta, CA
Audience & Soundboard Recordings

Judged across the entire 30 year span of Grateful Dead music, 1973 and 1974 possess tremendous similarities. However, when viewed in detail they reveal stark differences at many levels.

The explorative playing style in 1974 has an aggressive and intentional bent. The band was pushing in ‘74, whereas in 1973 things seemed more about open discovery. By 1974 the discoveries of ‘73 were well catalogued, and the band spent that majority of '74 working these discoveries to their bidding.

The entire 1974 opus displays this tendency, but the Santa Barbara show on May 25th seems to do so in extreme fashion. 5/25/74 sounds nearly nothing like 1973. It is a show full of an almost hell-bent intensity which pervades the entire performance.

Set 1: U. S. Blues, Mexicali Blues, Deal, Jack Straw, Scarlet Begonias, Beat It On Down The Line, Brown Eyed Women, Me & My Uncle, Sugaree, El Paso, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Around & Around
Set 2: Promised, Ship Of Fools, Big River, Tennessee Jed, Truckin' > Jam > Space > Let It Grow > Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia > Going Down The Road Feelin' Bad > One More Saturday Night, E: Casey Jones

We are treated to both a fine soundboard and an audience recording of this sweet show. Being at an outdoor venue in midday, one can't help but appreciate, yet again, the glory of the Wall of Sound being preserved on tape in the open air. The audience tape, recorded by Jeremy Witt, pulses with a thick and almost suffocating electricity that only 1974 could produce. It is not to be missed.

I'm not keeping tabs on such a thing, but the Scarlet Begonias here on 5/25 may be the fastest one on record. The song's syncopated rhythms stand out like spikes. Scarlet churns like a great ball of fire, packed with the energy of swirling suns and titanic plumes of lightning. In whiplash fashion, the band flies through the song's verses, leading to some Donna wailing that eclipses anything you may have heard in another show. She truly outdoes herself -- the energy of the song possessing her in a way that I've not heard before or after (and I've heard my fair share of Donna wails). It's brief, but she seems catapulted into the air by the rushing music. Jerry follows this up with a rapid solo which rounds into the end of the song so quickly it will make your head spin.

But this barely hints at the intensity found in the China>Rider later in the set. Searing, devastating, nearly brutal in tempo, this China Cat jam will evaporate the air in your lungs. The Dead explode through the descending four chord block section and whirl into I Know You Rider amidst a blaze of glory. Phil is causing continental shifts while Garcia's guitar strings become comets burrowing into the atmosphere, their trailing tails crackling with strobe light sparklers. We reach the end of the song as if it was speeding by like a rocketing freight train. It slams to a stop leaving our eyes as wide open as the horizon.The music is taking no prisoners today.

You won't find too many mentions of the tune Around & Around on these pages, but as if to outdo the entire first set leading up to it, this version steps in and demolishes everything for miles around. Rock-n-Rock all the way. Whoa. They need to stop here just to let the Wall cool down a little.

The May 1974 run is punctuated with four fantastic Truckin's over six shows.Number one can be visited on 5/12/74. Here on the closing day of the run, with the full head of steam this sweltering show has been building already, we launch into another epic rendition.

Out of the final verse great torrents of molten lava and serpent tongue licking fire flood every pore. Melting wagon wheels of imploding light fuse all senses into one avalanche of power. Slowly, the band lets the crushing energy of the music give way to a more liquid and loping landscape. Garcia eases into great rich bell tones and the music slips into the air as if turned into ten thousand multi-hued feathers. The air becomes filled with music streaming and trailing in all directions. Eventually, the ironclad connectivity of sound is broken and the music forms undulating mountains spread across a valley stretching into the distance. Coils and tendrils seethe underfoot coming to grip the terrain more and more tightly. Wind shifts and Let It Grow shimmers into view.

Let It Grow, as one might expect, takes off like a rocket ship. Played as fast as any version I can recall, the surging music allows Garcia to reach speeding staccato notes in his solo while also giving way to great swooning shooting stars. This Let It Grow jamming distinguishes much of the 1974 playing style and stands in direct contrast to 1973. Things just didn't move this fast in that earlier year.

Let It Grow tips over the edge of the world into vast clouds, cascading sublimely into Wharf Rat. The song goes on to brew a deeply entwined tapestry of sound-colors. It latches itself to the pulse of our breathing; the marrow in our bones is awash with the touch of this timeless rhythm. The veil of reality dissolves into infinite details, strumming an ancient and haunting song of the soul. Music becomes water and wind finding its way into every crevice; filling every vessel. Here, again, is the forever beating heart of the Grateful Dead. With no effort, we merge into that which can only be described as something we've always known to be ourselves.

By the time the band pulls out Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, we are back in the direct path of the scorching sun. Billy's drumming dances like a symphony of rainbow refractions out of a crystal seascape. He appears to be coming from every possible direction. Jerry lets fly one fiery solo after another, eventually riding that familiar geyser of swirling light into the sky, illuminating the clouds from within. The show seems incapable of exhausting its source of power, and drives on through a set closing One More Saturday Night, and a decidedly tasty Casey Jones in encore. Whew!

05/25/74 AUD etree source info
05/25/74 AUD Download

05/25/74 SBD etree source info
05/25/74 SBD Stream

note: All photos were taken on 5/25/74, photographer credit unknown.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

1981 March 9 - Madison Square Garden

Monday, March 9, 1981
Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
Audience Recording
The maturation process for a Deadhead tape collector is a very interesting thing indeed. Whether it's in the way one slowly develops an ear to "hear" a year from just a few seconds of a song, or gains the ability to call a tune long before it starts based off of random between-song noodling happening on stage; with more listening comes the perception of subtleties and nuances which can elude other less experienced ears.

One subtle nuance that sticks with me from the time long before I was a seasoned listener myself is that of being able to discern a "really on" show from one that might be considered "normal." "On" refers to that level of play which goes decidedly over the top from what we might consider a regular Grateful Dead performance. It's different than a "good show." It's actually more about a certain extra layer of sparkle, for lack of a better explanation.

This nuance sticks out for me because I distinctly remember having no clue how to discern the "really on" attribute at all. And I recall not caring. I recall feeling like every new tape that passed through my mail box was "really on" as far as I was concerned. In this, my ignorance truly was bliss.

And then I heard 03/09/81.

Shows from the 80's tend to blur together. Maybe this makes it somehow easier for certain performances to stand out -- I'm not sure. Regardless, one song in to 03/09/81 and it becomes abundantly clear that Jerry is on. I suppose recognizing this takes at least having heard enough shows to create a frame of reference, but during his solo in Feel Like A Stranger, when his amplifier tubes are being pushed to the edge of destruction -- an over saturated and piercing tone -- Jerry explodes like a plume of liquid starlight. It's not a long passage, but it's more than enough to make anyone within an ear's distance cock an eyebrow and smile. And this quality proceeds to infuse the entire night's performance. There's something about Garcia all night. He is really on.

Before diving into the show, it's also worth noting that this Barry Glassberg audience recording is quite certainly one of the very best audio documents around. Clear from the first notes, this recording oozes with the power to whisk you directly out of your everyday existence, and land you squarely in the sweetest spot imaginable at a 1981 Dead show.

Set 1: Feel Like A Stranger, Althea > C. C. Rider, Ramble On Rose > El Paso, Deep Elem Blues, Beat It On Down The Line, Bird Song, Minglewood Blues
Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider> Samson & Delilah, Ship Of Fools, Estimated Prophet > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Other One > Stella Blue > Good Lovin' E: U. S. Blues

Highlights tumble over each other throughout the show. Almost no song goes untouched by Garcia's clearly overreaching endeavors. Beyond the riveting Stranger to open the first set, Bird Song contains wonders both great and small. There are lines in Jerry's solo that pierce the air; repeating phrases that echo down miles of mental canyons, forcing the song's dynamics to pull in every extreme. Then there are passages spun into endlessly intricate tapestries with threads as thin as hair; gossamer strands of coiling moonlight. This is a version not to be missed.

A fine China>Rider opens the second set, and within the transition is a deliciously long intro jam to I Know You Rider. It finds Jerry repeatedly allowing himself an extra set of measures, unwilling to step off into the song itself. This forces us to become more and more lost in the moment, and the intoxicating nature of the second set is only just starting. The Rider bounding directly into Samson & Delilah is a nice added delight.

The music expanding out of Estimated Prophet sounds like a slowed down China>Rider groove that slowly undulates, breathing whispers and mysteries. The 7/8 time signature quickly evaporates and every note becomes syncopated upon the last. Soon we are on slow rolling hills with each musician following his own lazy path. Subtly, Garcia massages a key change and the jam slips into Comes A Time territory bringing with it a familiar and joyous opening of the heart. Garcia's notes sing, and we are smiling forever, deliciously lost with the band.

Sun flakes settle, and murmurings echo quietly around us. The music is thinking, pondering its next direction. Like a slowly drawn curtain, Uncle John's Band is revealed. Always a perfect choice, we are swept in, spinning on the trails of Jerry's lightly arching melodies. When we sail into the final section of the song, his solo is a mix of staccato swirls and bursting bird calls. Edges sharpen and Garcia's tone fluctuates between ice and honey. The jam takes on the pure Grateful Dead voice, defying song identification. We are resting close to the music's soul here, and invisibly we pass into Drums & Space.

Treated to a post Space Other One, things can hardly get any more satisfying. As is often the case, the band demands surrender across treacherous terrain. Boulders and lighting, ancient masks and imploding planets -- the rush of sensory overload tips us over the edge. Hopeless to define a myriad of images that pass in great thousand year gusts, we merge with the music completely.

Edges give way, and miraculously we emerge out of the second verse into a gleaming, towering hall of trees lit from within. The music swirls delicately between branches nearly unseen. Jerry's voice appears leading us through a delicate and touching Stella Blue. Once again, the band exudes a tenderness that elevates the musical experience beyond mere Rock ‘n Roll.

Once hearing this show, it might be easier for you to put your finger on nuances that separate the different levels of Grateful Dead performances. This show is a lesson in hearing the energy within the music, and recognizing it in other places forever afterward.

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