Listening to everything, so you don't have to

All the new stuff will be here: RatDog, Furthur, Phil & Friends... I listen to the rehearsal tapes that surface on etree, I watch the videos from Dime and Trader's Den. I also occasionally post little research projects on various periods and people that were pivotal in the life of the Grateful Dead.
Everything you never got around to checking out, I did.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

GD: Shrine Auditorium, November 10-11 1967

Just shy of the Grateful Dead's second birthday, they played two shows in LA, soundboards of which exist on Archive. The shows are not complete, in fact it's rare to even find complete setlists from back then. The boys played 121 shows in 1967, averaging one every three days, and the setlists were often repetitive (their repertoire numbered only 32 that we know of). This is a reduction from the previous year; the band had moved away from the popular covers they had been doing previously and were focusing on original stuff like Alligator, Cryptical/Other One, New Potato, Caution, and on stretching out some selected covers like Morning Dew and Viola Lee. '67 marked their first forays outside of the West Coast (aside from 5 shows in Vancouver in July and August '66). They went out to New York twice, including an 11-straight-night run at the Whisky-a-Go-Go in June, and played 3 shows in Michigan and 3 in Colorado. They were settling into their role as ambassadors of the San-Francisco-Psychedelic sound.

While the band (read: Jerry and Phil) was angling towards more thematic, improvisational music, Pigpen held them anchored in their blues roots. The setlists for the two Shrine shows went Jerry-Pig-Jerry-Pig etc. Weir sang very little; his role in the band was pretty low-key. He was only 20 at the time and was not nearly as developed musically as Phil, who had been studying jazz and avant-garde classical music since high school, and Jerry, who had been performing almost daily for years.

The band's overall sound had not yet matured; it was working up to the fantastic 68-69 period. There were, however, some terrific passages, most notably in Viola Lee Blues and Morning Dew (both from the first night); Phil is very prominent and he and Jerry feed off each-other. Pigpen played real well, much better than later (see my Port Chester '71 review). He had some outstanding harmonica leads on Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (second night). Mickey was a recent addition to the band, but he and Bill contributed immensely in the longer jams, most notably on Cryptical reprise and Caution (10th). They also took a four-minute solo during Alligator (11th).

The shows were a bit looser than later. Jerry talked (!); during a break between Morning Dew and Schoolgirl on the 10th, he turned to the crowd: "You can take advantage of this time to... take off your clothes... order a pizza, maybe catch a bus... get high... hoot and jeer at the performers, that's fine..." (to which Weir responded "Hoot! Jeer!"). There was also an interlude when Garcia introduced Neal Cassady; Neal got up and jabbered for a few minutes in his famous fast, nonsensical rap. I have to say that the guy didn't make ANY sense. Not that it hurt the atmosphere any...

There were a couple of variations in the lyrics. I noticed one change in Cryptical: "The breath was cold and baited" instead of "The sky was dark and faded." The Other One had a different first verse altogether (replacing "Spanish Lady...") I couldn't make out all the lyrics, but it went "I woke up this morning [.....]/I would ask them all about it [....]/[....]spell my name[...]/ the heat come round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day."

I found one set of lyrics that might fit what I heard:
"When I woke up this morning the sky was not in sight
I would ask the walls about it, but they vanished overnight
I could not think or spell my name or _?_ the words away
The heat came 'round & busted me for smiling on a cloudy day."

There are some others versions as well: V1:
"When I woke up this morning my head was not attached
I asked my friends about it, try to find out where its at
[inaudible]...came up inside of me, blew the dust clouds all away
The heat came 'round & busted me for smiling on a cloudy day"
"Well the heat down in jail they weren't very smart
They taught me how to read & write,they taught me the precious arts
When I was breaking out of jail I learned that right away
That they didn't need me telling them about smiling first and running _?_"
That last one evidently inspired by Weir's water balloon incident. See here for more information. As Weir told it to David Gans, the final lyrics (sort of about meeting Cassady) came to him out of the blue one night, and the next day, he found out that Cassady had just died.

These shows are worth hearing, for historical reference if nothing else, and the quality of the Archive recordings is excellent for the period. They're not outstanding but they're tons of fun; it's really a different band.

Up next: Berkeley '85. Weir's 80's solo stuff is on hold. I'm going to listen to Brent's album first, and I just grabbed Millers sbds of the '92 Shoreline run. I'll review the Furthur shows whenever they pop up.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Grateful Dead: 1987

(This post was supposed to be about the Calaveras County Fairgrounds shows in August '87. I decided that the year 1987 was highly important in itself and deserved some exploration. As for the two shows, the first was perfectly well executed but unremarkable, and the second was excellent, particularly the second set. Santana played two songs each night.)

On July 10th, 1986, three days after returning from an 8-show run in the midwest and DC, Garcia collapsed. He was found at home and was comatose by the time he reached the hospital. In preparation for a CAT scan, he was given a dose of Valium, to which he was allergic, and flatlined. He was on life-support for 48 hours, and his fever rolled up to a hundred and five (couldn't resist). He spent three weeks in the hospital, during which time he had to relearn the guitar; the band officially cancelled seven upcoming gigs and skipped their east coast Fall tour altogether. They would not play again for over five months, the longest break in ten years.

The band's comeback in 1987 marked several important developments in the life of the Grateful Dead. The most significant, logistically speaking, was Touch of Grey. Mid-June saw the release of In the Dark, the Touch single and the video, which had been recorded after the Laguna Seca show on May 10th. Helped by a heavy rotation on MTV, the single became the only top-ten hit in the band's history, reaching number 9; the album itself hit number six, going platinum shortly after its release. The ensuing spike in popularity compounded crowd problems that had begun to develop by mid-86. Venues had begun to gripe: Shakedown Street had become a venue for opportunistic dealers and merchandisers, leading to rowdy behavior, an increase in petty crime, and problems with itinerant campers and transients after shows. Gatecrashers also made their appearance in the spring and summer of '87. This would make it increasingly difficult for the Dead to book dates, and forced them to seek out new venues.
Their newfound popularity led to a huge increase in the size of the venues they played: from 1985 to '87, the average capacity jumped from 12,700 to 17,800; they played to a little over of 866,000 seats in 1985 - in '87 it was about 1.5 million, a 70 percent jump in sales. They were forced to abandon venues like Red Rocks, a place Phil particularly liked (something about geo-magnetic convergence...). Its 9,000 seat capacity was no longer enough for the crowds the band drew; they began playing much bigger places like Deer Creek (20k) and later Shoreline (22k). It was the beginning of "mega-Dead." If it's any indication, Cherry Garcia ice cream hit the market in early 87. Garcia was not consulted, but he didn't mind: "At least they didn't name a motor oil after me."

The east coast tour (February-March) was a watershed, even before the release of In The Dark. The whole band was playing better and was healthier. There had been an obvious lull in the quality of their performances in the mid-eighties, brought on by both the usual Rock and Roll excesses and the fact that the music had begun to lose some of its relevance: the sixties and seventies were thoroughly over; the psychedelia that had brought them to prominence no longer resonated, and their "disco" reinvention had become anachronistic. By '84-6, they were playing much faster tempos that did not really suit them and that made it difficult to improvise as they once had. The five-month break and their healthier approach made a big difference to the sound. "I can't tell you what it means to have been to the point where it looked like there wasn't going to be any more Grateful Dead, and then to come back like this and to have it be as good as it is now," Kreutzmann said in '88, "We're playing better, we're healthier - all of us, not just Jerry - and we have more energy; I know I do. I feel great! I feel young!"

The biggest change in the sound was the appearance of MIDI. Brent had been using MIDI since the early eighties, but now the drummers began to experiment with it as well. In the wake of Bill and Mickey's astounding work on the Apocalypse Now soundtrack (when they first coined the Rhythm Devils moniker), the Drums segment became more and more intricate. Bob Bralove joined the crew in 86-7 and rigged some MIDI drum pads for Mickey and Bill to use. In the summer of '88, Weir added a MIDI to his guitar, to use during Space, and Phil and Jerry hopped on the bandwagon a few months later (Phil would soon abandon it; the long wavelengths of the bass register made the response too slow).

They also expanded their repertoire: they played 85 different songs in '87, the most since 1980; their repertoire in between had hovered in the sixties. Though probably a dozen of those are accounted for by the Dylan tour, surviving Dylan numbers included, Masterpiece, Queen Jane, Memphis Blues and Heaven's Door. Brent introduced Hey Pocky Way, and the only performances of Good Golly (3 total) and Blue Dress (6) are sprinkled in the '87 repertoire. Finally, the Sunshine Daydream coda returned in March for the first time since '82, Far From Me had been absent for three years, and Schoolgirl came back after 17 years.

The hiring of Cameron Sears in 1987 broke with tradition as well; since the 60's, the Grateful Dead family had been mainly composed of old friends and relatives. Jon McIntire, the Dead's longtime road manager, hired Sears as an assistant; he has previously been a white-water-rafting guide and an environmental activist. Sears would soon permanently replace McIntire; after 1995 he managed RatDog, and in 2001, became President/CEO of Grateful Dead Productions.

Cliche as it is to say so, 1987 was a real rebirth for the Grateful Dead, worth some in-depth-comparison with their previous and later work. I'll get on that.

...eventually. My next post will be on two 67 shows at the Shrine in LA. After that, I'm thinking of looking at Weir's mid-80s work. Or comparing the first and last shows of '76. Or Brent's unreleased solo album. I'm not sure; my backlog's a bit disorganized, to tell the truth.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

So Many Roads - February 1992

In the early 80s, Hunter recorded Garcia running changes on a piano. Finding the tape ten years later he wrote some words, which he gave to Garcia. Jerry didn't like the progression very much but Hunter asked him to try it out anyway. On February 9th, 1992, there was a quick run-through of the changes at Club Front. Jerry seemed happy with it, though he did mention that he wasn't nuts about the words to the bridge. Vince asked if there was any room for harmonies; Garcia told him "Wherever you feel them, man."
On February 21st, with the full band, they sat down to figure out how to flesh out the tune. Hunter, who I believe was at many of their rehearsals, was there with some new lyrics on hand. They started a run-through which Jerry stopped pretty quickly, telling the drummers not to double-time the rhythm: he felt it was already fast, and noted later to keep it nice and relaxed.
Once the first run finished, they had to figure out an intro. Weir suggested a little progression Garcia liked. Intro problem solved.
They ran it again; then decided to hold the C-chord on the bridge twice as long. Third run: Vince tries out some harmonies, singing "so many roads." Fourth run-through: Weir says he thinks the background vocals should be more prosaic. Garcia agrees. Vince: "What does that mean?" Garcia: "Oo-oos, not words." And that was it. Garcia said: "Well hey, guys... New song. Boom." It took a total of five tries to get the song together.
The atmosphere all of a sudden got all jokey. Weir wondered how he was gonna remember all the changes by tomorrow (the song was debuted in Oakland the following day); Garcia said he didn't know how any of them were gonna remember any of it. Bruce said "Fuck it, throw some index cards up there, they're never gonna know." Garcia said "How about cue cards all the way across Bruce's piano?" to which Phil quipped "How about a blonde in a top hat [like at a boxing match]" Garcia: "Yeah right. Verse 1!..."
They decided top run it a few more times to make sure they all had it straight. Bruce spent a few minutes trying to settle on some harmonies so nobody was doubling anyone. Then something about the "kokomo" line got Bruce talking about how he'd seen Chuck Berry a few times "crawling on the floor," all tweaked out on Ketamine. That started a whole conversation about K. Garcia noted how Gary Lyons (producer on Go To Heaven) used to make Weir snort Ketamine by the mound. They all agreed that stuff will throw you for a loop; Garcia "It's like getting paralysis shot into your frontal lobe." Bobby talked about walking into a New Riders session and finding Dave Torbert and Buddy Cage holding onto the soundboard, convinced it was falling over.
They took a break. When they came they noodled around a bit on some old-western-style stuff, then Topsy and It's a Man's World. Phil led the band through the changes to Wave to the Wind. Weir and Garcia didn't have the right changes. Phil told Weir he needed glasses, to which Weir replied: "I do need glasses but I just can't wear them. I'd rather be blind..."
The first run of Wave fades out on the tape.

Both tunes were first performed the next day. Wave to the Wind lasted until December '93 (21 performances). So Many Roads became a fixture for the rest of the band's existence: 55 performances; the last was at Soldier Field.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Furthur, December 2009 - Wallingford and Asbury Park

Sorry for the delay, folks. The Wallingford show only appeared online yesterday (I wound up buying it from Livedownloads, as the only source on etree came with a warning about poor sound quality).

The band was tighter in the second half of the run that on the first two nights, and the sound was noticeably better than at Hammerstein. The interpretations remained standard, though. On one hand, of the six band-members, five have played Grateful dead music for a living for at least 12 years, so naturally, everyone is on the same page, and there are few challenges to the basic structure. By the same token, it can be treacherous. I agree with the assessment that they are under-rehearsed. There were some noticeably sloppy entrances and exits. Greatest Story was most painful in that department, with two false endings going back into the end-vamp. The first was JC's fault, while everyone else continued, and the second was Phil's; he just kept hammering on even though everyone else wrapped up.

On the other hand, half the band is from Ratdog, and it shows. Wallingford set 1 witnessed a few notable RD moments: the "shake it down" stop in Shakedown was followed by a more definite hit than when The Dead did it in the Spring; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl was played the way RatDog rearranged it, and it took Kadlecik a minute to settle in; Loose Lucy got the stop-time call-and-response "Yeah", "yeah!" that Jay worked in over the past couple years; and Minglewood Blues was the RD version, without a chord change on "my number one occupation." At Asbury 2, Wang Dang was very RD-heavy. Finally, at the end of Franklin's, Weir went for the outro and stopped himself, but not before Chimenti had followed him.
The disadvantage to P&F's approach - lots of different line-ups and lots of experimentation - is that Phil has not been able to craft any real reinterpretations of the material, so that in the context of Furthur, Weir has more to contribute in terms of the song structures.

There were a few extended independent jams as well (as opposed to in-song jams), and some of them very interesting. Most notably, the jam into China cat (set II opener at Wallingford), the one into Passenger (set I opener Asbury Park night 1) and one between Terrapin and Help (set II Asbury Park night 2). That one opened with a very jazzy feel, with some of that muted-trumpet-MIDI Garcia liked so much, and got much funkier with a JC lead.
At the same time there's a lot of noodling going on, where nobody stops playing, but nobody's really doing anything either. The sets have tended to start like that, and it occurs in transitions without necessarily evolving into anything.

Kadlecik has a lot to bring to this music. As I mentioned in my last post, he plays in his own style, but he's fast and clear, which fits well. Warren, for instance, did much more slide work, string-bending, long sustains etc, which tends to prevent the other guys from responding or making suggestions. He was more and more prominent as the shows went on, and he led some innovative jams.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the shows. The band can't be expected to reinvent the wheel with nine shows in three months, but they're perfectly competent. Who knows if perhaps not rehearsing too much will leave more space for evolution later. They do all know what they're doing, and I think it's useful to have the RD core; it provides some leadership for the sound so that everybody can be responsive rather than trying to make decisions.

I don't know what to think about the human dynamics involved here. I hope we don't get the Phil v. Bob tension we used to. Business-wise, Phil's in charge, but Weir has a better handle on more material. Phil can be bossy, Weir is stubborn. I'll spare you the internet gossip or my own theories.

I personally can't decide what I'd like to see from this band. I really think it's time for new material, or some significantly revamped songs. If they're going to be together for a few years, it might be possible, but it's going to mean a lot of touring. Word came the other day of some mid-april shows in Florida, suggesting a spring run, and I can't imagine they won't do a summer thing as well. We'll see.

Next up: GD rehearsals in February '92, working out So Many Roads. After that, Angel's Camp '87, followed by two LA Shrine shows from November 1967. As always, suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Furthur, December 2009 - Hammerstein

After three shows in Oakland and a stealth show near San Anselmo, Furthur announced five gigs in the tri-state area, NYE in San Francisco, and a 23-date tour in February-March (East coast, Chicago, Colorado, Portland, OR). Weir and Phil brought in Joe Russo (drums), of the Benevento-Russo duo, Jeff Chimenti (keys) and Jay Lane (percussion) of RatDog, and John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra. The latter went so far as to officially resign from DSO (the word is that he will be replaced by the Tricksters' Jeff Mattson) , which suggests that Furthur will be around for a while. I have also read that the organization has been stripped down. The Dead's tours reportedly had issues related to everybody's management jockeying for position.

The band played two shows at Hammerstein Ballroom on December 8th and 9th, showcasing a newish sound and some newish material, but by and large sticking to familiar territory. One noticeable difference in their sound is a thinner low end. Phil's bass tone is not as spread out as it was but rather more mid-register, and the drummers have neither the freight-car intensity of Mickey/Billy nor Molo's intentional leadership. Nobody really sticks out at all yet. I imagine there will be more texture as the shows go on, but for now, the EQ is a bit flat.
I would venture to guess that Weir and Phil are taking turns writing the setlist like on last spring's Dead tour, though they're not selfish about it. The first night was Phil-heavy: Doin' That Rag, Reuben and Cerise (Cherise?) Cosmic Charley, King Solomon's Marbles, New Potato Caboose, which are not in Weir's repertoire, but also featured Looks Like Rain and Days Between, that Bob does a lot. The second night was the opposite: Bob tunes Stranger, Memphis Blues, Jack Straw, Let it Grow and Sugar Mags, but with Welcome to the Dance and Unbroken Chain thrown in.
Welcome to the Dance is a new Phil tune debuted in Oakland on September 20th, played again at the stealth show. It is the first new original by either Phil or Bob since Phil's very short-lived The Real Thing in '04. Satisfaction is a relative newcomer to the repertoire; The Dead played it twice this spring (Weir had played it twice with RatDog in the late 90s). Also, a new Weir touch on Memphis blues: verse four had a reggae groove to it.

John Kadlecik has drawn a lot of attention in the reviews, mainly because he fills the Jerry slot, and was for so many years DSO's Jerry-part. Although some on the Philzone message board have nicknamed him Fake-Jerry (or FJ), which was bound to happen, he does not ape Jerry's riffs or vocal interpretation. With DSO he played all the signature licks and his singing and soloing were intentionally (even eerily) similar to what Garcia sounded like. With Furthur, he knows where to play and what kind of mood to set, but he plays in his own style. So far he has not been especially featured in the songs, except maybe the Scarlet>Fire from the 8th and Deal from the 9th. He does sing quite a lot. A lot of people have griped about Weir singing Garcia tunes on The Dead tours (although he sings those tunes anyway with RatDog). Someone referred to his "Shatnerization of songs," which I thought was hilarious. Anyway, here, Kadlecik is doing almost all the Garcia vocals: Dire Wolf, Doin' That Rag, Scarlet>Fire, Deal, Crazy Fingers. On a few songs he and Weir share the mic, usually trading verses. On at least two, they even split lines between them (Touch and He's Gone), although it sounds disorganized.

Phil stepped back musically but sings more. He sang on Bird Song and New Potato and got four songs in a row on night 2. Weir does what you'd expect vocally: a little freesyling, a little flubbage. He completely blew three and half verses of Memphis Blues. Musically, he is more prominent in the mix than usual. As one guy put it, it's nice to be able to actually hear him play.

Overall, neither show was outstanding, they sounded pretty cautious, which is understandable. One one hand, it's early in the game for this band, and on the other, the two leaders are in their sixties. That being said, there were some nice moments. Looks Like Rain was lovely, the Other One was interesting, and Days Between had a very cool Chimenti-led out-jam. Kadlecik sounded great on Scarlet>Fire, with Fire maybe the standout of the evening. Stranger>Deal was dynamite to open night 2. I liked Welcome to the Dance, and Let It Grow also had a nice closing jam.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. I'm sure it will take a while to figure out what works for everyone, but the potential is all there. I would like to see some reinventions in the material. I didn't notice any rearrangements so far, except for two jam>buildups on Jack Straw before they come back in and belt "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down!" I'd also like to hear more Kadlecik. The space once filled by Garcia has closed up in the last fifteen years, so it may take some work to open it back up.

I'll review the other three shows just as soon as I hear them, everybody stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Grateful Dead - rehearsals with Keith, Fall 1971

According to the Illustrated Trip, Donna Jean Godchaux approached Garcia after a gig in September '71 (he was playing Bay-area clubs with Merl Saunders, Bill Vitt and John Kahn at the time), and introduced him to Keith. Legend has it that she told him: "This is going to be your new keyboardist." Pigpen's liver problems weren't letting up, and Garcia was looking for a new keyboard player, so he auditioned Keith and liked him.
From September 30th to October 1st, the Dead rehearsed in Santa Venetia (just north of San Rafael), with Keith. He would play his first gig with them on October 19th in Minneapolis, and Donna would join 5 months later during the Academy of Music run.
(I should note that the tapes I have are not quite the same as those on Archive; the song lists and mixes are a bit different).

The sessions.
I picked these tapes up hoping mainly for conversation between tunes. The Other Ones rehearsals in 1998 were full of banter and stories (Weir explaining how Janis "fucked the whole train" during the Festival Express tour, Hornsby saying of Garcia "he was just a fat guy who ate too many burgers," etc.). However, these tapes came out of the board, and only Bob, Phil and Jerry had mics, and not all the time. Whoever released the tapes also edited out what was probably mainly dead air, though it might have had barely audible chatter in the background. The result is that there is only a little talk on the tapes. I also hoped to get a glimpse of the band working out songs and running passages or transitions, like the Viola Lee Blues sessions in '66. That didn't happen much either. Promised Land was the only example; they shortened the intro and closing licks. The tapes are basically straight run-throughs of their material, including some new stuff. It all sounds great, mind you; it's worth a listen just for that.

I was very impressed, right off the bat, with Keith. Having begun, way back when, listening to the later Keith period (76-78), I was never very impressed with his playing; it always seemed rather subdued, competent but unimaginative (though I've always loved that TLEO solo from the Cornell show). In these rehearsals, he really brings some very different sounds to the mix. Tennessee Jed (new song) got a really funky organ groove that everyone got in on. On Mama Tried, he played New Orleans-style fills throughout, El Paso had an "oom-pa-pa" feel, and Deep Elem was full-on boogie-woogie. It's worth noting that, unlike later when he would insist the Dead lug around a grand piano, he played an organ on a lot of these tracks, and quite nicely too. None of that stuff would make it to the live shows - in fact none of it would even make it to the last rehearsal - but having heard it, I think it would be worth checking out the early Keith period, maybe that first tour in the midwest.

New material.
The band was introducing several new songs during these sessions. Garcia brought in Tennessee Jed and Brown-Eyed Women. At the end of the latter song, we hear him ask Hunter if that was okay. Hunter doesn't hear him. When they finally get his attention, Garcia quips "He was thinking about adverbs" Everybody laughs. Weir brought in three new tunes: Jack Straw, Saturday Night, and Mexicali Blues. The first two have differences in lyrics. Jack Straw has a whole other verse: "we can jump the toll gate / save us fifty cents / I'd lend you my last dollar / but it's already spent." They "leave his rings but take his change," instead of taking both. He goes to Tulsa, "two men by his side." Finally, the first bridge "Hurts my ears to listen... / We used to play for silver..." is absent. Saturday Night is only half-finished: there are only two verses, and the first lines are "Went up to the mountain / Like I do from time to time."

Phil introduces Mexicali Blues on the 30th: "Here's one where the bad guy doesn't get it." In those days, the last line was: "And he made me trade the gallows for the Mexicali Blues." Weir argues that this original line indicates that the protagonist goes to the gallows, while Phil maintains that, to the contrary, he trades them in for the Mexicali blues. Personally I agree with Weir on this one: the protagonist already has the Mexicali blues; "... I guess I came to keep from paying dues / Instead I've got a bottle and a girl that's just fourteen / and a damn good case of the Mexicali blues." If he already had the blues and traded them, then it would be for something that he didn't have, namely the gallows. Sometime between '72 and '73, Weir changed the line so that the guy lives ("Now I spend my lifetime running with the Mexicali blues"), so apparently, he eventually saw it Phil's way, which I maintain is the wrong way. Therefore, I'm starting a petition to change it back. Who's with me?

Overall, I didn't learn as much about the band dynamic as I hoped. However, these tapes could constitute a show like any other, and a good one at that: they have some very unique interpretations that never made it into the live canon, and are a nice showcase for Keith. Incidentally, the tapes I heard were substantially cleaner than those on archive; they were posted on etree by Germain on 11/11 and are still up if you want them. Enjoy.

Next up:
I'm currently listening to Phish: someone posted six consecutive NYE shows ('94-'99) and I like the idea of hearing the evolution of their sound at regular intervals. However, since I don't know Phish all that well, I'm not sure I have anything intelligent to say. It looks like I'll wait for the Furthur run for my next post. In the meantime, I also heard a terrific jam session at Mickey's barn in Novato on 8.21.71 with Bob, Jerry, Phil, Mickey, John Cipollina, David Crosby, and maybe some New Riders. It's very laid back, and has, among other things, a dynamite 29-minute Wall Song/jam.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Doors, Europe 1968

In September 1968, The Doors went to Europe. They played in London (two shows), Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Copenhagen (two shows) and Stockholm. We've all heard the albums and seen the Oliver Stone movie, so I'll skip over the basics.

I got the recordings as part of a Box Set posted online (I forget where, probably Dime). It includes what looks like all the available recordings from that period, as well as hundreds of photos and press clippings and book excerpts relating to each show: a huge amount of work. The recordings are not all complete and there are one or two AUD recordings that are beyond atrocious. However there are also several soundboard recordings that were very enlightening to hear, since the majority of the official Doors catalogue consists of studio recordings.

There are a few things that stand out: the first is the almost punk-rock energy of Morrison and Krieger. Morisson howls and screams, in true rock n roll form, straining the speakers and clipping out the recordings. Add to that Robbie Krieger's overdriven, almost punk tone, and there's a rawness and excitement that does not translate in the studio albums.
Manzarek glues the whole thing together with the bass parts, always loud in the mix. I got the impression that he was more assured, that the musicians relied on him, to a certain extent, for cues etc.

A majority of their tunes are relatively straightforward: short and simple. However, there are a number of much longer, stretched out tunes that anchor the sets. Some songs (When the Music's Over especially) have relatively long silent passages with just a basic bass beat (from Ray Manzarek), and the crowd is absolutely silent. The band builds anticipation until the whole thing explodes into loud, screeching madness, everybody howling away. The Unknown Soldier and The End were big closing numbers with big finales.

Contrary to Val Kilmer's perpetually moody, self-absorbed character, Jim Morrison could be quite open on stage. There are a few passages that made me laugh out loud. At one point, during one of the long, near-silent passages, he completely breaks character: "Is someone snoring over here?" Another was before "The End:" he would ask the light man to turn all the lights off. In London, it took a while, with Morrison ribbing him: "Come on... all the way..."

There were a few interviews in the "Box Set." One of these conversations (dubbed "Stoned but articulate" by the interviewer), covered a lot of ground, and seemed genuine. Morrison talks at length about the show as a performance piece, as an art form. He explains how he sees the audience as a part of the performance, and equal but separate element, and he gets upset when people shout out or screw around to stand out without contributing to the experience. One question centers on "Hartford" (I couldn't tell you the date). He apparently pissed off the police that night and they charged him with incitement. I would have expected him to rail against the pigs and the man, but instead he says he was out of character, venting something personal, expressing his own frustration. I'm guessing that the whole thing went down somewhat differently than the movie scene where he takes the officer's hat and taunts him.

Finally, there are a few instances where Morrison would sing different lyrics: Crawling King Snake over Back Door Man, or even Mack the Knike over Alabama Song. I suppose you have to keep things interesting for yourself somehow; they only did about 20 songs.

I don't know that I would recommend anyone go to too much trouble to get a hold of Doors bootlegs. Aside from the occasional goofery or ad-libbed Morrison raps, the songs are arranged and performed just as you hear them on the albums. However, I personally always feel that bands sound better, more energetic, more interesting in a live situation. I will definitely hold on to the SBDs, but I'm throwing those AUDs the hell out (as soon as the share ratio hits 1.000, naturally).

Next up: I'm listening to the recordings from the GD's rehearsals with Keith in Sept/Oct 1971. So far, there's not much on the tapes save the tunes they're running. I'd like to talk about the conversations/banter/discussions etc. that characterized the band's relationship in that period, since I just reviewed Port Chester. If none of that stuff is forthcoming, I'll move onto something else.
As always, suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grateful Dead at the Spectrum, March 1986

Let me start by saying that I have never listened to a whole run from pre-coma 1986. I may have never even heard a whole show. The mid-eighties have a terrible reputation; I remember hearing a few tracks from that period in which Garcia sounded so terrible that I wrote off those years altogether. I have found some great stuff from 84/85, and I assumed therefore that 86 was the year to avoid. '84 and '86 are the only years with no official releases of any kind (from '68 to '93). Comments about Garcia's addiction in the literature, and his collapse in July, convinced me that I ought to concentrate on different eras.

All that being said, I was very surprised by the Spectrum run (March 23-25). I thought they sounded really good. They were very tight, they were quick between songs, not chatting or tuning. Garcia's playing was fast and precise on tunes like Deal, Alabama, Big River, Day Job etc, and real sweet on High Time and Morning Dew, though his voice is showing definite signs of smoke damage. In particular I liked hearing Samson (23rd). I always felt like the solo section was too fast and that he wasn't quite keeping up, but here, he's all over it.

Weir had taken a very forward approach vocally; he does extended raps in tunes like Good Lovin' and Midnight Hour. We also get a lot of Howlin' Bobby in Women are Smarter and LL Rain. He was much more active in that period; aside from the vocals, he would hop to the front of the stage in Sugar Mags or other closers, giving a little showmanship to the crowd, something that would die out towards the end of the decade. I can't help but feel that it might have been compensation for Jerry's unreliability. If Garcia didn't want to be the star of the show, somebody had to step up.

The mid eighties are also the period of Esau and Tons of Steel, a revival of Comes a Time and Midnight Hour, and the beginning of Tom Thumb's Blues and Desolation Row, all present in the run. Phil sang one song a night (Gimme some Lovin, Box and Tom Thumb respectively). Brent only got one song (Tons) the whole run (on the 25th), but had at least one stand-out solo in Big River (23rd). The drumz sections back then were marked by more subdued drum solos. There is a little MIDI stuff, but nothing crazy. Mickey hits the Beam a bit but by and large, it's a far cry from the fifteen-minute all-out jungle-space stuff we hear later with all the effects and bells and whistles and the huge rack-tom beatdowns. Space is much more melodic than later. Garcia in particular plays quick lines up and down the fretboard. The result is that the end of space comes about more organically, more of an ">" than later, when he would pick up a song from out of nowhere.

Some picks. 23rd: Hand Jive was nice, the second of only six performances. Weir set it and the rest filled in. Shakedown, also interesting, though Garcia blew half the words. In set two, The Other One>Comes a Time was a highlight. Weir did some crazy guitar screams in the intro vamp that I've never heard before, Phil was real strong. Garcia laid into Comes A Time immediately after the second verse, and I though it was beautifully played. Day Job was possibly the fastest song they ever played. I couldn't believe it.
24th. Jerry was like lightning on Alabama. I always like Esau, though it was a bit confused (they were still working it out during the Oakland New year's run; Weir apologizes for playing it again "but we need the practice"). It was the last-ever Sailor. I wish I could comment, but there was a problem with the FLAC conversion. The Saint transition was a bit flubby ("just like a swiss watch"), and Weir gave the old " Just exactly what the fuck you gonna do," to the crowd's delight. The closer, right out of Space, was a thunderous Morning Dew that just kept building and building. Absolutely hair-raising finish.
25th:Nice Stranger opener, Tons of Steel was good. Weir introduced it: "This next tune is in the key of F." Weir likes to tell people what key songs are in. It was the very first performance of Desolation Row, with all 112 verses. (I don't know how the hell Weir still remembers all those lyrics. He forgets Saturday Night but nails Desolation Row every time). There was a little flubbage on the changes and the ending was improvised, but I suppose each first-time-played is significant. Set two started off with Scarlet>Touch: rare, surprising, but not unheard of (eight times total since 5.8.84; this was the last). Looks Like Rain was a definite stand-out that last night; Jerry was using the echo effect he used on Althea in the 80s, and Weir was Haaaw-ing away.
They closed out the run with Fare you Well. "Once again, thank you Philadelphia."

All in all, I feel like I've missed out on a whole phase of Dead by ignoring '86; If anyone has any shows/runs they think I should listen to, please let me know.

Next up: not sure yet. I was going to review the Doors' European tour from 68 (somebody posted a "box-set" - collected pics + extant recordings - a huge amount of work to be sure), but almost none of the shows are complete and some of the AUDs are so bad you can't make out the song. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

RatDog's fall tour '09, pt. 2

So I decided to go right ahead and review the last five shows all in one go because they were all in New York, I kinda didn't have anything fascinating to say about the two Grand Ballroom shows on their own, and who the hell wants to read three essays on RatDog anyway.

New stuff:
There were more inter-song jams throughout the tour: 10.19 between Truckin and Ramble On, between Revolution and Ashes and Glass; 10.22 between Milestones and Terrapin; 10.23 between Estimated and Might as Well; 10.24 between Casey Jones and Jack Straw.
Also, they did do some more reprises (not the Cassidy/ Bird Song type, more like tags). We got one after Johnny B Goode at the Grand Ballroom on the 20th, one after GDTRFB on the 22nd, and one after the US blues tour closer (and there was confusion as to which line to sing, like in August)

A word about words:
Weir has been making subtle changes to certain lyrics in a way I find quite thought-provoking. On the 24th, for instance, the line in FOTD became "didn't get to sleep last night/ cause the morning come around" (rather than 'till the morning") It's small but it changes the imagery: instead of getting to bed very late, I imagine a guy who has walked long and hard all night and, at dawn decides that, since it's daylight, he just has to keep going.
In Queen Jane, it's "and your father, to your sister, he complains" (instead of explains) Again, the image changes a bit; the mother sends back all Jane's letters and her father bitches to her sister about her.
Going back a bit further, there was a change in Ship Of Fools in Idaho in August: "the bottles stand as empty as they were filled before." The fact that there are now a bunch of empty bottles makes the narrator seem that much more down.

Show of the tour for this guy was Beacon, night 1. Set one was up and rocking the whole way through, and Odessa got a facelift. It's a straight rocker, lots of fun, but it always lacked something. The solo section was a one-chord vamp, it was a bit slow, it got repetitive. A while back they started doing verse-chord changes over the solo, which was nice. This time around, they took it noticeably faster than usual; then they added some hits in the jam, reminiscent of the ones in Saturday Night. There was a stop-time segment, and they ended it with a long reggae-groove outro into Dark Star jam, into a stunning Let it Grow, maybe the best I've heard.
Set two, also great; rare Milestones, killer Hell In A Bucket despite the infuriating flubs in timing that plague that tune. Wonderful Knockin.
Also good: really fun Mule Skinner (first since NJ PAC 11.11.06, saw that one!) on 10.19, and She Says on 10.24.
Bad: Might as Well. I love the song, but it's out of Weir's range; vocals on Picasso Moon were mediocre as well. I wasn't nuts about Grand Ballroom night 2 or Beacon #2 set 1. Since Weir does so much leading with his voice, the whole band falls flat when he's straining.

Grand Ballroom #2 was the tie-die empire state night; Weir told everyone to go check it out. Also, a balloon popped right next to his mic that night during Desolation Row and he jumped: "He tried to kill me, you saw that."
The Beacon was host to the usual NYC guest crew, Dred Scott and the boys from Alphabet Soup / Band of Brotherz came out for some fun Stuff at Beacon #2; that guy Chris Burger raps pretty good. Also Kenny's sax buddies, George Garzone and Doug Yates
Finally, the Persuasions! Two solo a-capella tunes from them on the last night: Must've Been The Roses and Ripple, plus vocals on the vocal jam at the end of He's Gone. What fun.
The Beacon is always a fun place to see RatDog. Remember the three Franklins two years back (one of which was Band of Brotherz' River Song) and the three Stagger Lee/Stagolees the year before that.

Anyway, good tour; only a few repeats, lots of new stuff to pay attention to. They're taking more risks, Mark Karan sounds great, as does Robin Sylvester. Keep it up, fellas. Can't wait for Jamaica.

Next up; GD Philly '86

Friday, November 6, 2009

RatDog's fall tour '09, pt.1

RatDog (capital D, for some reason), has only played 36 shows this year, but have pulled out 162 songs, a record for any of the Dead/post-Dead bands. On the upside, it means you can listen to a whole tour and only hear a couple of repeats; on the downside it means Weir is going to forget some words. It comes with the territory.

That being said, they came out real strong in the first show of the tour, tight as ever. Help-Slip-Dylan is a common RD opener, but there were three dylan tunes in a row in the first set and two in the second (Maggie's>Baby Blue>Youngblood and Masters>Masterpiece). Weir plays even more Dylan than Garcia did. I haven't checked but I'll wager a buck.
The only vocal hicup was Take Me To The River (first time played in two years), which was consequently a bit lackluster.

The 16th was Weir's birthday which means two things: everybody sang Happy Birthday and the roadies brought out a great big birthday cake; and for the rest of the show, hippie chicks were screaming "Happy Birthday Bobby! Woooo!" at every opportunity.
Set II's Death Don't was really well done; that's one Dead tune they definitely do justice to. Two Djinn opened with a long boogie-woogie-freestyle solo by JC, who's been doing that for about a year (in addition to his traditional intro into Lucky Enough).
Stuff has evolved a bit recently, with Jay taking a drum solo. There have been drum interludes for a while now but an extended solo has only become a fixture this year.

The last surprise of the first night was a reprise at the end of the Franklin's closer. They've been tagging Saturday Night with a reprise for a couple of years and they did it to US Blues in Missoula in August; now Franklin's. I suppose they'll try it out with a few other tunes as well.

The second night in Upper Darby, PA, opened with TNK, on which there has recently been some doubling of the vocals by (I think) Jay. There was a short 2 or 4-bar transition jam between TNK and Playin', which is a first since they usually switch gears instantly.
Deep Elem was hard-driving and marked by a triple solo by JC. Killer.

Finally, something went down in the Brokedown encore I've never heard before. MK went for the solo before the last verse instead of after. Weir yelled at him "Woah" quite audibly. MK aborted and the band picked up on the verse without missing a beat.
I'm glad I bought the sbd (nobody posted the show) because you can hear Mark and Weir talking after the song: MK says "sorry, though I know I heard your intro [to the solo section]" to which Weir replied "You did, ...[indistinct]."
I guess there's no bad blood over it...

Next time: 2 Grand Ballroom shows in New York

PS: I happened to hear the Dead's '93 Cal Expo run. Really not bad at all. The last two shows are mashed up onto Road Trips Vol 2, no. 4.
Also, there is a video torrent floating around of the so-called "oops concerts" in Amsterdam in '81. The quality is pretty good, and the second night (another Weir birthday) has a real nice acoustic 1st set as well as a great Playin' and the only performance of Hully Gully.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Port Chester, Volume 3

In any extended run, no matter how famous or epic or whatever, there are going to be ups and downs. That being said, I can see why these shows have been so talked-about. The band is at a real turning point between the Other One / Lovelight style and the more lyric-driven material that would get them a more mainstream audience in the American Beauty/ Workingman's Dead years.

They pull out fantastic improvisational jams. There are a few Other Ones at Port Chester and they're dynamite; they know the layout, they're comfortable with it. We're seeing the end of the Cryptical years though; they omit it on the 23rd, going straight in from Truckin,' and there is no Cryptical reprise at the end at all. The final Lovelight, closing out the run, is a real treat, as close to "definitive" as I can think of. Pigpen asks about four guys if they are with someone before finding a girl who's alone. He calls her up and finds a guy to join her on stage... As they're leaving together pigpen yells: "Say man, that'll be ten bucks...!"

The new material is a big part of the overall relevance of the run, tunes that would stay in the repertoire for ever. Hearing the evolutions is interesting. Listen to the first and last Berthas, or, even better, each one; there's a real evolution in the arrangement and solidity. The "quasar" line in Greatest Story comes on the fifth night; Playin gets a bit more relaxed...

The repertoire now boasts a diverse selection, and, aside from the Pigpen material, by and large original. From short, conventional favorites like Casey Jones to 20-minute Good Lovin' suites with extended drum solos, there was a lot of room for growth. They played 90 different tunes in 1971 (though down from 119 in '70), a number that would not be beaten again until 1979. Phil wrote that his favorite year was 1971, and this run was really the beginning, barring four West Coast shows in late January. Looking at the geographic spread of '71, one gets the sense they were building and capitalizing on a national audience. There were four separate trip to the midwest, three to the east coast, including a 20-show tour in April, one run to the southwest, and, of course that one gig in French wine-country at the Château d'Hérouville in June.

There are seven other official releases from '71, aside from Three from the Vault; only '77 has more than that. Maybe that doesn't mean anything objective, but I found this run very rewarding. They're young as hell (Weir was 23!) but they've really got a professional thing going on. Owsley and his acid-impaired sound work had skipped town (or been arrested?) and Betty Cantor had taken over. The soundboards are crisp and balanced and a pleasure to listen to, and I don't remember a single technical issue, other than that high-pitch whine that had to be taken out. Things are a bit more professional, around the Dead organization and they sound like they're having a really good time, still joking and bantering with the audience, but serious about developing musically.

I'm really glad I listened to these.

PS: switching gears (a lot), I'm going to listen to RatDog's short October east-coast tour; two nights in PA and five in New York; I'll be posting within a few days. After that, the Spectrum run from March '86 (no idea what to expect). Feel free to request anything else. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Port Chester '71, volume 2

Having said that the 18th was a bit rough around the edges, I should add that the Dark Star is very interesting. I believe this is about the time Jerry decided he was pretty much done with that tune. The same goes for St. Stephen; "the reason we didn't do St. Stephen for 20 years was that Garcia hated the bridge," Weir told his Other Ones bandmates in a 1998 rehearsal (Prompting Hornsby to reply "He's just a guy who drank too many milkshakes, ate too many burgers. Fuck him."). St Stephen disappeared for a while after Halloween 71. It came back for three years, 76-79, and three performances in '83 were the last of it.

Mickey famously left the band after the first night after a long bout of depression and a near-total mental breakdown brought on by his father running off with about $150,000 of GD money. I don't know just how it went down, but Weir told the crowd he was under the weather (three times). His departure did not adversely affect the performances though. It's almost as if having one less drummer simplified everything a bit, leaving more room, taking a cog out of the machinery, as it were.

In my opinion, the 19th and 20th are the best nights of the run, but maybe I'm getting jaded; the repertoire is a bit slim, with nightly repeats of Bertha, Playin, Greatest>Johnny B. Goode, Loser, Truckin' and Casey Jones, and five performances of Sugar Mags, Bird Song, Wharf Rat, and Me & My Uncle. There are also a lot of tuning breaks, sometimes between each tune, prompting a lot of "Dark Star!" and "St. Stephen!" from the crowd. Weir seemed to have the most trouble, notably aborting Ripple on the 21st.

There are some really standout tunes sprinkled throughout. The Wharf Rat from the 21st is very nice. They slowed it down a bit and got the form down pat. The vocal arrangements are a bit tighter together than they would become later, but there's always a nice long "liiiiiiiiife." Favorite Bertha on the 23rd, favorite Uncle John's closing on the 21st (so far, I have not yet heard the last night)

The Pigpen tunes are, by and large, fantastic: Smokestack, killer Good Lovin,' Hard To Handle, Easy Wind is in its prime; my favorite is on the 21st, even though Pig blew the lyrics like you wouldn't believe. His raps during the extended Good Lovin' jams are tons of fun. Aside from the traditional "Pigpen fix-up" where he tells all the guys to get their hands out of their pockets and go harass girls, there are some longer stories and improvs. On the other hand, his keyboard parts can be nice, or awful; check out the Candyman from the 18th for some drunken key-jabbing.

Weir is real impressive throughout. He takes extended solos in Easy Wind and during the China>Rider transition that are some of my favorite passages of this period. But if you pay attention, particularly during Bird Song, he's got some really tasty licks in there.

Phil is particularly prominent on Morning Dew, with (I believe) that great big Alembic-tweaked Starfire with all the knobs and do-dads. He was also singing quite a lot back then, mostly the high-register stuff that would wreck his voice later.

Finally, these were the famous ESP shows: at 11:30 every night, during the second set, slides would be projected behind the band enjoining the audience to try to telepathically beam images to a patient about 50 miles away. The results, published in The American Journal of Psychosomatic Dentistry (!) and Medicine, were "statistically insignificant." Oh well.

I will post one more discussion of the Port Chester run in a day or two.

Port Chester, February 1971

Why not start off with one of the Dead's most legendary runs?

A few weeks ago, germain started posting his '71 collection on etree (see the link at the bottom of his comments on etree for details). He has Betty-boards of the whole Port Chester run, and since I had never heard them, I though I should. The first night is a matrix and the others are (I guess) tinkered Bettys. The main problem with these shows was a high-pitch whine throughout most of the tape, which was painstakingly removed. I should note that the second night comprises "Three from the Vault," in case anyone wants to hear it in "HDCD", whatever the hell that is. Archive also has all the shows.

The first night of the run, February 18th, is Mickey's last night with the band until after the hiatus (although he did play the second set of the farewell show at Winterland). They open with Bertha and it's a disaster; way too fast, ragged and out of tune. In all fairness, it was the first time they ever played it, and since they played it every night of the run, they had a chance to sort it out. It gets slower and tighter over the next week. The show also has the breakouts of Loser, Playin', Wharf Rat and Greatest Story Ever Told. You can hear them talking about what to call that last song on the tape. Mickey's last act as a band member is to dub it Pump Man, "for reasons of his own." I don't know when it lost the name.
The words would evolve a bit: in first line of "Greatest," Moses came riding "up on a guitar". In the next few nights Weir changed it to "up into my car." "Quasar" must have come later. In these early versions of Loser, the gambler only needed one gold dollar instead of ten. Worth noting Garcia also updated Jack-A-Roe in later years: "... if she heard my dollars (instead of guineas) clink." I prefer guineas. More old-timey.
Before the second set is a few minutes of banter and giggling and fooling around, which is a lot of fun, with Weir trying to get the lighting guy to turn on the chandelier in the middle of the ceiling, for ambiance. Personally, I love the on-stage shenanigans.
Overall that first night was a bit rough, although it does feature the only Dark Star and the only St. Stephen of the run - even if the crowd screams for it every night thereafter - and there's a very nice "beautiful jam" between Wharf Rat and Dark Star V2.

That's it for just now; I'll get into the rest of the run in my next post.
Stay tuned!

Hi y'all

Well I've finally decided to put to some use all the listening I've been doing. I'm going to post whatever I feel is worth saying about the performances and the circumstances surrounding them, and maybe the gossip and goings-on of the Deadhead community.
I listen to about 200 shows a year; the vast majority is Grateful Dead and RatDog. I also try to follow what Phil and the drummers are doing, and keep and eye on Phish and Gordon. Occasionally I branch out and take a look at other music; in the past year I listened to chunks of Parliament, the Police, Talking Heads, and maybe some others. I listen almost exclusively to live shows and I get them from etree, dimeadozen, etc.
As far as contemporary shows go, like RatDog tours or the recent The Dead and Furthur runs, I try to hear everything, in chronological order, depending on how quickly the shows get posted. For the Dead, I've been listening to runs instead of single shows, mainly in function of what's missing from my collection.
The point of this blog is partly to keep me from forgetting everything I've heard, partly to keep in touch with the people I don't get to see any more, and partly to see if anyone else out there gives a shit.
See you soon.