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.

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.