"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, August 18, 2014

Let There Be Songs To Fill The Air

Today we go back to a pretty monumental show in Grateful Dead history. One where the band debuted four new songs, all of which were on "American Beauty." Yet in the interest, I might mention that none of these debuts may have been their debuts. (Huh?) The only song that we know that they played the night before is "Casey Jones." So all the debuts might have been played yesterday and because the setlist and audio copy is not complete, we might be talking about the second time these four songs are played. Nonetheless download the SBD copy that I have of this night HERE.
In May of 1970, the Grateful Dead officially treated new waters when they released "Workingman's Dead." Although "Dupree's Diamond Blues" and "Mountains of the Moon" where the preformed released on their earlier albums there was still the tinge of psychedelia in the lyrical make up of the songs. "Workingman's" took them out of the "Crazy Kat" and into "the timbers of Fernario." For the first time the band was getting radio success. "Uncle John's Band" was get play on FM radio and reached 69 on the pop music chart dispute the fact that it featured the forbidden word of "Goddamn." The other track that was being played less frequent was "Casey Jones," because there was a blatant drug reverence in the chorus. 
It's important to note that 1970 was the busiest year in their history. Not only did they write and record two studio albums but they played more shows than any other year in their history with 145 shows. 
The acoustic begins with the debut of "Truckin'." In November when an edit version of this song is released as a single, it is their best commercial release to date when it reaches 64 on the top 100 list. That's five spots higher than "Uncle John's Band." In this stripped down acoustic version, the songs upbeat groove is evident but all the piano fills that Tom Constanten plays. The next debut is the song that would be the B side to "Truckin'," "Ripple." It is quite remarkable how the song that is played here is the fully realized version of the B Side. Most songs do not start like that, and take time to mature into the best played version of the song. Like the "American Beauty" album version, the band uses the ending G chord to end "Ripple" and begin "Brokedown Palace." A song that does take time to mature and grow into most-perfect-encore-to-a-show song. Throughout the 70's the band struggles to find placement and comfortably with the song and to the band's credit they don't give up on it the way they did with a song like "New Speedway." The final debut is "Operator." Its why there is only four versions of this song when you hear the crowd clapping along to this song's beat dispute never hearing it before. The set closes with "Cold Jordan/Swing Low Sweet Chariot," two songs that show off the band's vocal abilities and range. I prefer these acoustic set to those of the 1980's. There is something a little repetitive with some of those sets. These sets show how daring the band was then. The acoustic "Bird Song" aside, the band didn't take great leaps. If only they mixed in an acoustic "Fire on the Mountain" at some point.
The electric set is the band flexing their primal muscles. Dick Latvala called "Dick's Picks 4" primal Dead and it is the perfect description for them this year. There isn't the Bobby, Jerry, Pigpen rotation of songs. If they thought it, they played it, and when they stretched it, they really went for it. "Dancin'" and "It's a Man's World" are two of the most monumental reaches from the versions that were being played on AM radio. You might have been able to play the radio version five times before the Dead finished their one. The band filters in two songs that were still developing in "Sugar Mags" and "Attics." Bobby really wants to play "Sugar Mags" and is signaling the intro through the last two minutes of "Cryptical." "Attics" on the other hand is played pretty timidly. The song was usually played this way because it was not in rotation enough. The band then closes the set with their two commercial successes at the time in "Casey Jones" and " Uncle John's." And old school DeadHead criticized the band for encore with "Touch of Grey" at all 6 of the 1987 stadium shows. They have been a band who sent their fans home happy since their primal days.
I: Truckin', Dire Wolf, Friend, Dark Hollow, Ripple, Brokedown, Operator, Rosalie, New Speedway, Cold Jordan, Sweet Chariot
II: Dancin', Next Time, Mama Tried, Cryptical, Other, Cryptical, Sugar Mags, Attics, Man's World, NFA, Casey, Uncle Johns

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Didn't Get To Sleep Last Night

For the third straight year, I find myself publishing a blog on this day. It is the only non-holiday that this has happen with. The first year it was Woodstock, then last year it was the 1991 show, where the band played "Dark Star" in the first set for the first time in 20 years. Now today we go back to 1981, for a show from McArthur Court this year. Download the SBD copy HERE and HERE.
As typical for the good shows from 1981, the first set has a good flow to it. There isn't the 6 minute cigarette breaks between songs for "Tuning." Here they flow from the rocking "Jack Straw" opener to the brilliant "Friend of the Devil" before jumping into the firery "El Paso." Bobby Bobifies "Minglewood." Its interesting to hear him catch the missing lyric as he speaks them instead of screaming. It really shows how much he puts into singing "Minglewood." As always "Peggy-O" is the most heartfelt song of the first set. Beautiful pace to the gem.
The second set opens with the disco funk "Feel Like a Stranger." The song improved greatly over the first couple of months of it's life span, to where the "Go to Heaven" and "Dead Set" version differ eminencely. Then the meat of the set, "Scarlet/Fire." This is quite different from the fluent versions of 1977, this is two very distinct jams. So much that you can hear Garcia holding, holding, holding onto the "Scarlet" jam, before letting Phil drift the band into "Fire on the Mountain." Almost immediately afterwards Bobby drops the band into "Estimated Prophet." This, quite fluently, moves into "Eyes." Although "Eyes" is short it is packed full of excitement. As the Rhythm Devil's take over Kesey, Babbs and Thunder Machine move out onto stage with the boys. "Space" is short, because almost immediately there are "Other One" phrasing that is present in the jam. Then as always "Stella Blue," is the pleasant cool down to the second set. Bobby ends the show with two classic rockers. Before the band ices the cake with a wonderful "Baby Blue," which is the second one since 1974.
I: Straw, FOTD, El Paso, Loser, Minglewood, Peggy-O, Rooster, Deal
II: Stranger, Scarlet, Fire, Estimated, Eyes, Jam, Drums*, Space, Other One, Stella, Around, Good Lovin' E; Baby Blue
*With Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs and Thunder Machine

Saturday, August 9, 2014

His Job Is To Shed Light Not To Master

In the recent Rolling Stone Special Collectors Edition for Jerry Garcia, the magazine ranks the top 50 songs written by Garcia. They rank the top ten as being; 10. Scarlet Begonias 9. Sugaree 8. St. Stephen/The Eleven 7. Wharf Rat 6. Bertha 5. Ripple 4. Friend of the Devil 3. Eyes of the World 2. Dark Star and 1. Uncle John's Band. So it got me thinking of what would be my top ten Jerry penned songs. I love shows like 5/22/77 because the combo of Eyes/Wharf Rat/Terrapin/Dew, 7/13/84 Scarlet/Touch/Fire, 7/29/88 China/Crazy Fingers/Rider, 3/30/90 Uncle John's/China Doll/Terrapin are all shows that I love because of these manic Garcia combos. Although I know that not all these songs were written by Garcia. So I thought that I'd do a video blog of my five favorite Garcia songs. 
I want to remind you that this is a IMHO piece. Jerry has so many great songs that I'm completely heartbroken leaving so many songs off my list, because I really want all of them to be on my list. Feel free to leave your favorite five in the comments below, then you'll see the heartache I suffered doing this. How is Sugaree or St Stephen not on there? What about Dark Star? How??? All things the bugged the crap out of me doing this. 
Wharf Rat. A song debuted less than a mile away from the hospital that I was born at and a song that speaks so clearly to those who have had to resurrect their own life like I did in 1996. 
Eyes of the World. For so many DeadHead around my age, Eyes was a gateway to the band because of "Without A Net." The Branford Eyes smooth sounds shot right through the two CD set and was a favorite of the batch of songs. Ironically, the song had the same effect on people when they debuted it in February of 1973.
Scarlet Begonias. I remember the first time I heard it on a bootleg. I asked for a copy of the tape and played it non-stop. The bouncy beat and the hippy lyrics had me at love at first sound. Then later my sister named her first daughter and my first niece/nephew, Scarlett. And I fell in love all over again.
Touch of Grey. I'm a TouchHead, though not the way that the term was intended. I was ten when my family went to Disney World the first time. This meant cable TV in the hotel room when we weren't in the park. Morning, evening, and night, I watched MTV because it had music videos. I think I saw Touch at least twice a day. At first I resented it, but by the end of the week I loved the song and the skeletons too.
Terrapin Station. Everything the Grateful Dead represented was encapsulated in this song. A mystical journey that you'd never know if you'd return from. Garcia at one point called it the most pain-in-the-ass song he's every written. Even though the legend of Lady With A Fan is that it almost spontaneously hit Hunter and Garcia on two opposite sides of the bay durning a thunder storm. 
When I see Terrapin on a setlist, much like Dark Star, it is usually enough to persuade me to give the show a listen. Although the song didn't always work. The perfect example of this was Nassau on 3/28/91. A pretty ordinary second set was set on fire when they encored with Terrapin. People's feeling about the show complete changed by the song. And just so you are not mad at me Dark Star would have been number 6. 
There is IMHO list. I hope to see all these songs plus a few others tonight at the formerly The Garden State Arts Center at the Jerry Garcia Symphony.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Broken Angel Sings From A Guitar

Today we go back the third accessible show from Jerry Garcia's birthday. Last year we did the 1973 show, the first year we did the 1982 show, and today we do his final Grateful Dead performance on his birthday in 1994. This show comes from The Palace in Auburn Hills in Michigan and the focal point of the show is the spectacular "Stella Blue," which is the best of the 90's and one of the best all time. I have been a fan of this for many years. The Soundboards of this show are not in circulation so download the Audience version HERE.
The show opens with some technical difficulties prompting Jerry to amuse the crowd and himself with the Mickey Mouse Club tease. You can hear Jerry crack himself up with the whimsical tease. Bobby then opens with " Picasso Moon," which is then contrasted by Jerry with a sweet "Peggy-O."  The old blues song "The Same Thing" gets tapped next. The song was originally sung by Pigpen. He did it twice in 66 and twice again in 67, before doing it one last time on NYE 1971. Bobby resurrected the song 1992 and performed it regularly till 1995. The always lively "Stagger Lee" if followed by the third of the shortly lived "Childhood's End." The set wraps up with the always energetic "Music Never Stopped."
The dark "Victim or the Crime" sets up the key for a vibrant "Scarlet/Fire." The "Scarlet/Fire" is 25 minutes of bounce. The song duo has stayed a fixture over the 17 years of its existence and there are not many versions that miss the mark. After "Samba," the band takes on "Estimated Prophet." The post "Estimated," sounds like the band is trying to slip into a "Terrapin," a song the band was due to bust out. Yet the jam never materializes as Mickey and Billy take over.
I don't normally talk to much about "Drums," but if you meditate to music, this is a track you might want to save. Very tranquil and serene sounds that then transfer into "Space," which is more rambunctious. Making it the perfect jumping off spot for "Watchtower," which fizzles into "Stella Blue." Stella oh Blue. Jerry's sweet present to the DeadHeads. It become obvious that it will be special when Jerry's voice sores on the "One," in the "It all rolls into one." The song builds to the end where Jerry sings the crescendo with great passion and vigor, where the crowd and bandmates respond in making the song peak. Watch the fan shot video of this incredible "Stella Blue" HERE. Bobby ends the night with a bust out of "Satisfaction." It's the first one in over two years and would prove to be the final one by the boys. This was also Jerry's last performance on his birthday.
The Further Bus is making the rounds. It is at the Gathering of the Vibes this weekend. I caught it at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester last Tuesday night.
I: Picasso Moon, Peggy-O, Same Thing, Stagger Lee, Childhood's, Music
II: Victim, Scarlet, Fire, Samba, Estimated, Drums, Space, Watchtower, Stella, Satisfaction E: Liberty