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.

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!