Saturday, July 7, 2018

4/28/79: aud tape ephemera

4/23/79, by Chris Stone

This is one of those aud tapes that I love more for what's happening between songs than for the actual music itself.  It's a really good pull (taper unknown) of just the first set of a typically enjoyable but fairly unremarkable Reconstruction show.  I was most impressed by Garcia's long solo in Nessa, riding a fierce and very fast groove with aplomb.  I'm also impressed by the amazingly good save during the flub in the transition at the end of an otherwise great I'll Take a Melody, but I suppose that kind of thing isn't technically a highlight (although, seriously, nice save!).  Also, if you're listening on headphones, watch out when Garcia hits that effect pedal for his solo in Struggling Man -- whoa!  But otherwise, there's not much to say about the music itself.

Like 10/24/78, however, there are a couple of little nuggets to savor between the songs, if you find value in this kind of thing.  It starts with a good-natured doof asking after the opener, "what is this? oh, a recorder? [then, in response to his buddy, who was probably like, "no, sherlock, it's a toaster oven, keep talking into it"] I didn't know what it was!"   A minute later, someone (the same guy?) explains, "they were in Frisco and someone told them Reconstruction was playing here, so they got on the bus and came here."  Oh for the days when you heard Jerry was playing tonight and just hopped on the bus.

This is probably more up JGMF's alley, but after I'll Take a Melody a different guy hollers, "why didn't you play last night?"  Hmm.  gdsets lists a 4/27/79 date at the Centennial Hall in Hayward, CA (just across the Bay from Palo Alto) with no setlist, and a setlist for 4/26 at the Keystone in Berkeley (but no tape).   Centennial Hall (capacity 1500) seems like an odd venue for Reconstruction, particularly sandwiched in between two Keystone dates.  Was it canceled?  Or, apropos of the fact that Reconstruction played in Hayward a few months later without Garcia, could it be possible that the comment is just be directed at him?

[edit: can't believe I forgot to mention the bomb-drop whistler.  There's a dude who figures on several Jerry aud tapes from this era who does this persistent whistle like a bomb dropping (or like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff).  I always find him a little irritating, particularly since he seems to amp it up when Garcia is soloing, but it's not bad enough on this tape that you'd even notice it.  I think 12/17/79 is one tape where it's pretty bad.  Anyway.  Who the heck was this guy?  What was his deal?  I think about these things listening to tapes like this.]

Finally, my favorite: just a second before the above hollering, you can hear a guy ask, "you like it?" and a little kid respond, "yeah!"  Go dude for bringing your kid to see Reconstruction!  Sorry, but as a parent of smallish children, this tickles the heck out of me.  See also 1/15/72 (a great tape for many reasons, not least for the little kid who heckles Save Mother Earth in the first set), 9/30/73 (kids playing near the stage as OAITW starts Panama Red, of all things), and an honorable mention to 9/20/76 (I think?) with the baby crying during Russian Lullaby.  Okay, so it's a short list so far.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, June 25, 2018

6/9-10/73: Dead and Allmans at RFK

6/10(?)/73, courtesy Neil Fitzpatrick: "A humid haze hung over the entire stadium."
 Summer is upon me, and I closed out my school year by splashing around in a weekend of music that the Dead and the Allman Brothers Band played 45 years ago.  Like many other deadheads, I had a nice copy of 6/10/73 from way back when, but unlike many other deadheads (contrarian that I am), something about it has never quite stuck with me.  Great show, yes; long show, yes; but not one that ever got into my head as a masterpiece.  But the upcoming Pacific Northwest boxset has prompted me to happily revisit this corner of 1973, and a particularly monotonous work-related task prompted me recently to binge on the whole, um, 13 hours of tape that have survived the decades (the opening sets by Doug Sahm and Wet Willie surely must be out there, but I don't have 'em).

For some local color, I highly recommend this excellent historical account of the weekend at the WETA (PBS) blog.  Grateful Seconds has a few contemporary reviews and musings.

My one real revelation was just how sweet 6/9/73 was, the Dead's afternoon show from the first day.  It's nothing that stands up against the best of the year, but from the very start the band is completely in the groove and the music pours out like syrup.  A couple relistens did nothing to change this impression, and I was surprised at how immediately this one hit me -- that they sustain this vibe is all the more amazing given that they were facing down a football stadium full of drunken rock fans in the middle of a very hot afternoon, a few of whom seemed to persist in trying to climb up on the stage.  Even without any major jamming tunes, the first set glows golden from start to finish: hard to pick any highlights, but check this Loose Lucy, which grooves away its troubles for longer than you'd think, or this Looks Like Rain, where I swear that Fender Rhodes piano sounds a little like a pedal steel.  The second set doesn't sport any titanic explorations into the unknown, but the band loads up on the crowd pleasers: a China>Rider that simmers with an ideal '73 energy (though also may claim the most subdued "headlight" verse ever), a Greatest Story with an almost St Stephen tease, a fine if standard He's Gone > Truckin' that veers into this show's one surprise: Phil takes a solo and re-routes them into a low-key spacey jam that you can file next to 3/26/73 or 10/23/73 in your mental list of magical unexpected digression jams from 1973 (oh, you keep lists like this, too?  I knew it).  Garcia suggests Here Comes Sunshine, but no one bites, and things segue as smoothly as can be into Playing in the Band.  Divine!  Playin' is maybe business-as-usual for early/mid '73, but the second half attains some real lift-off and I couldn't have wanted anything more from this show.  As a final cherry, they throw in a shorter (11ish min) Eyes of the World that's plenty punchy, smooth, and satisfying.

Dickey Betts, determined to out-do the Dead's wall of amps 
 I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed both Allman Bros shows.  I'm a Duane-era ABB fan and rarely stray from the Fillmore East album and a small handful of other shows, but these performances both won me over.  I can't say whether one is substantially better than the other.  The ABB played last on 6/9, then played in the middle of the day on 6/10, but the 6/10 tape seems has more of an exciting edge to it, though I readily admit that may be the tape mix as much as the actual playing.  HARD RAWK fans probably weren't thrilled about pianist Chuck Leavell's new presence as Dickey Betts' primary instrumental foil, but I love him.  The 6/9 Elizabeth Reed really favors his buttery smooth electric piano, and I made myself a note about how nice he sounds in Trouble No More, but he's smokin' throughout both shows and brings a really nice color to the overall sound.  But otherwise, there's not much variation, even in the big jam tunes which closely follow the same arcs both nights.  Both ABB shows are also two sets each, and after they say good night on 6/9, Sam Cutler returns to introduce the encore jam: "This is where the scene gets a little loose and various people from various well-known and unknown outfits will be joining the folks onstage to play a little."  Rock and roll!! ...and the band plays Whipping Post, no special guests, sounding like probably every other Whipping Post, that Beethoven of classic rock jams.  But then, according the text file, Bob Weir and guitarist Ronnie Montrose come out for Mountain Jam.  It sounds like Weir's on the left side of the stereo mix and not very loud, whereas Montrose shows up around 3 1/2 minutes in on the right side, much louder.  This is pretty good!  There's more interactive jamming and less of the one-solo-after-another that I had expected, and it's a shame that Weir's so buried in the mix, since he sounds like he's really cooking and pushing hard.  It's a smidge under 21 minutes, and no word is said (on tape) about either guest.  On 6/10, the ABB encored again with Whipping Post, but this time the tape cuts after a few minutes, and I assume nothing else followed.

see above... not too often that the Dead's gear wasn't the tallest thing onstage?

The Dead take the final leg of the second night and kick off the festivities with -- after four hours of southern rock, before tens of thousands of rowdies who had been partying in the hot sun for almost two days -- Morning Dew.  Bwahahaha.  The first set rolls on with a lot of music, but, for whatever reason, very little of it finds a place in my heart along with the best of the year, as well played as almost all of it is.  I'm not finding that pure summer sun vibe that 6/9 had in spades.  Hey, it had probably been a long weekend by that point.  The first set wraps up with a fine (but not inspired) Bird Song and another vintage (and Rhodes-heavy) Playin'.  They select another unusual opener for the second, Eyes of the World, and stretch it to double the length of the previous night: the last five or so minutes get looser and more relaxed than the usual Eyes jam (though they do return to that Dm riff one final time before the end), then lead it into Stella Blue.  Here Comes Sunshine, like Bird Song, is a fine specimen but not one to stack up against the greats.  The Dark Stars from June may not reach the heights of the spring or fall versions, but there's a relaxed, lets-see-what-we've-got-here feel that I appreciate about all of them.  This one starts strong but doesn't manage to sustain its initial energy; Lesh attempts his recurring jazz theme, but no one bites (unlike the great jam in the 6/24/73 Star), and he solos with Kreutzmann for a bit before trying again.  This time they seem to lock into a shared energy and, even though they seem to flit from theme to theme, the whole thing catches some air and glides along nicely.  A grinding Tiger meltdown/insect space follows the verse, leading into a divinely drawn-out He's Gone.  Jerry ignores all Truckin' nudges and modulates them into Wharf Rat, perhaps a questionable double slow-song setlist call this late in the day, and without much jamming to elevate it.  Truckin' ends things with a bang and Sugar Magnolia puts it to bed.  An unusual jam there, all the more unusual for the band choosing to mix things up at pretty high-profile show. 

The final big encore jam ("third set" doesn't seem accurate) features Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks, and Merl Saunders has always been noted as also being present, though no organ can be heard at all.  An out-of-left-field, warm-up version of It Takes a Train to Cry may be the only indication that he's there?  Regardless, things get cooking between Betts and Garcia on a simmering That's All Right (Mama, to you), though the real stars of this may be the drummers who swing and sizzle like no tomorrow.  The guitarists occasionally find their way into some seemingly spontaneous trademark Allman unison lines, but otherwise Garcia seems like he's politely deferring to Betts, and Betts seems either not totally comfortable, or just fraying a bit at the end of a long day and a longer party (it was after 1 in the morning at this point).  The same goes for the NFA/GDTRFB sandwich, though pay attention to Weir: he's slashing and burning away back there and working double-time to keep this jam moving at optimum speed.  Nice work, Bobby!

Fun stuff, and I'm glad I took the full ride to put this famous show in its context.  The Pacific Northwest shows (and the following three underrated Universal City, CA shows) must have been like a vacation for the band in between this huge weekend and the Watkins Glen and Roosevelt Stadium bashes a few weeks later, and I think that comes through in the recordings we have.  And I cannot, of course, let this end without a mention that Garcia had just come off a little Old & In the Way tour, ending the night before with a little festival gig on a stage set up in Lake Whippoorwill in rural Warrenton, VA, an hour away from the madness at RFK Stadium, where the crew was probably already at work and raising hell, and fans were starting to line up.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

9/30/83: a long day, living in Reseda

courtesy jerrygarciasbrokendownpalaces

Friday 9/30/83 was the start of a long weekend in L.A. for Jerry and the band, sandwiched in between two great Dead tours, and just two months into David Kemper's tenure.  This is a relatively long show for the period with two sets at just under an hour each (a good length for a 2-set show, even out of town; early/late shows tended to be longer).  I'm not apologizing, but ya get what ya get with 1983 Jerry.  Vocals?  The man was living off Camels, coke, and heroin smoked off of aluminum foil.  Tempos?  Fast and sometimes shaky.  Guitar?  Louder than all hell and then some.  Deal with it: this is a hot show!  The one recording is a fine, funky quality aud tape with terroir to spare, and our mystery taper sounds like he was up front with Garcia's amp in his crosshairs.  If this era is your jam, then you have to be down with aud tapes like this: there's a recent batch of newly transferred JGB '83 sbds (not new sources, for the most part) that have reminded me that a funky ol' aud tape is usually preferable to a clean monitor-mix sbd, which have pretty erratic guitar mixes and generally highlight more flaws than strengths.  While I wouldn't necessarily call these aud tapes a guilty pleasure, they're the kind of thing I discreetly turn down when someone who's not a deliriously devoted deadhead enters the room (i.e. wife, kids, in-laws, most friends).

A second/first verse flipflop followed by some sparkling up-high soloing in How Sweet It Is lets you know what kind of night you're in for.  Garcia is crushing it in TLEO and goes through the roof with his second solo in Let it RockLove in the Afternoon, a tune I don't love, is taken way too fast and they're working hard to keep it all together, so Garcia eases back with a nice Mississippi Moon and then, whoa, here comes Tangled Up In Blue.  His second solo is particularly tasty, but the end jam is everything catching on fire at once.  Kemper was still working out the whole "one foot on the brakes, one foot on the gas" thing, and succumbs to the temptation of kicking things into high gear a little too early (though he doesn't push as hard or insensitively as his predecessor Greg Errico could do).  It's exciting at first, but soon adds to a general level hubbub that, amazingly, they all manage to stay on top of.  A joyful noise to be sure, but man, I bet everyone's heads were ringing after that one.

Kemper, however, finds just the right groove for a very nice Mission in the Rain to start the second set.  A lovely (and brisk) Gomorrah is a nice call; Run for the Roses not so much; but Russian Lullaby is a beauty, particularly in Garcia's reentry after the bass solo when Kemper doubles up the time and Kahn shifts into a brisk walking bassline for a little while.  Nice touch, boys!  Dear Prudence's jam dials it way back, with Garcia playing more carefully and sensitively -- was he fading? was he just feeling like a little TLC was in order? -- and it feels a little out of place with the vibe of the rest of the show.  YMMV, obvs, but heads up for a badly timed tape cut, too.  It's nice, however, to hear Deal closing the show rather than the first set.  Like Tangled, they just go balls-out for broke here, but it's the end of a long, loud night and it's not quite as, um, smooth.  It's not the elegant arc of a well-crafted Deal jam, but no matter: I doubt that anyone left standing had much in the way of critical faculties left at that point, and probably neither will you if you've been blasting this through your headphones for the last two hours.  Which I recommend.

postscript: the JGB played here in 1982 (the debut of the Seals/Errico lineup), 1983, and 1984 (famed for its amazing Sugaree).  JGBP reports the colorful history of the place and its owners.  I will take the liberty, though, of quoting Corry Arnold's description of the club, which is just about perfect:
Reseda is near Northridge, Northwest of Los Angeles (off Hwy 101, between Van Nuys and Canoga Park, for those of you who know SoCal). It's probably a nice enough place, but it has a whiff of one of those faceless LA places without an identity--Tom Petty symbolically dismisses it in the lyrics to his 1989 hit "Free Fallin'": 
It's a long day, living in Reseda /
There's a freeway running through the yard 
The Country Club was a popular rock club in Reseda, which was open from about 1979 until the late 1990s (on Sherman Way near Reseda Boulevard). Lots of fine groups played there, but it was not a hip Hollywood club, since by LA standards Reseda was out in the 'burbs' (the empty club was actually used to film much of the 1997 movie Boogie Nights). Initially the 1000-capacity venue was conceived as a country showcase (hence the name) but it became better known for punk and new wave.

Or, in the words of the Karate Kid, I'm from Reseda, you're from the Hills, that's how we're different.  Something tells me that Garcia secretly kinda dug it, man.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

2/24/73: at long last

poster by S. Ross, courtesy

The aud tape for 2/24/73 Iowa City is finally circulating!  Can I tell you how happy this makes me?  I'm really happy that the aud tape for 2/24/73 is finally circulating!  There has always been this mysterious snippet of the tail end of the jam  (/Phil>Feelin' Groovy) which, despite many folks' ravings (including Lavala's) was always hard for me to genuinely enjoy, given what was missing from the front end of it. posted that same fragment plus the Sugar Magnolia closer as part of one of their 30 Days of Dead series.  There's a second sbd fragment from the first set (with a killer Playin', at least), but for a long time that was the most of it.  Frustratingly, there was a gushing review of the whole jam in the first Taper's Compendium, published 20 years ago almost to the day before this aud tape finally reached general digital circulation.  No matter now.  It's here!  Listen!

God, this is good.  They blaze through Truckin' and a nicely developed Nobody's Fault But Mine instrumental/jam, then spiral off towards the Other One.  It seems like they're nearing escape velocity, but right at the moment when it could explode, it implodes instead and they peel back the surface to see the space within.  "Dark Star," says the taper(?), right on cue, but nope: they explore a sparse, darkly melodic space that sounds like it could be a prelude for Stella Blue, if that song existed yet (edit: duh), and Garcia and Lesh spin out one of the most beautiful duets they ever played, Lesh's harmonics pinging out around the arena, while Garcia plays longingly and mournful -- I may be imagining things -- almost maybe like he was thinking about Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground?  (could it be? two tributes to Blind Willie Johnson in the same show!?)  Wishful thinking, I'm sure.  Then a wonderfully timed blast of feedback (Phil?) and it eases itself right into Eyes of the World.  It's almost alarming how tight and fully-formed some of these earliest versions were, and they bite down hard on this one at first.  As they glide into the post-verse jam, Garcia abandons the changes and veers into a spacey tailspin.  There's a small cut at 9:50, the taper reckons this "could be the Other One" (fair enough), but Lesh steps to the fore and starts playing along with Garcia, who backs off and lets him have the wheel.  Lesh solos for a few minutes (our commentator's assessment @12:29: "really hardcore"), and Garcia returns to usher in an utterly joyful Feelin' Groovy jam and a final slam through Sugar Magnolia (always a thing of beauty on an aud tape) which clips unceremoniously a second before the end.

If you're not satiated, then perhaps another listen to 2/19/73 might be in order, another show that belies the expectations you may have for a 'typical' 1973 Truckin>Other One jam.  There are plenty of exciting cat 'n mouse games turn unexpected corners into explosive passages, but none of the brooding melodic spaces of this one.  A very potent pairing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Aug 93: JGB up north and at home

all stubs courtesy

Here are three JGB shows that are worth a look from the summer of 1993; all are pretty overlooked (afaik), but one of them is one of the best shows of the year.  I have some semi-inchoate thoughts on what it means to listen to Garcia in '93, which can wait for now -- but, in short, I think '93 was a great year for the JGB.  Not consistently great, but the great shows are, for me, some really great examples of late-era Jerry at his best, with an incandescence and thoughtfulness to his playing that's not always there in earlier years when he was ostensibly in "better" shape.  I think anyone with an interest in the full scope of his career owes it to themselves to hear the best of these '93 shows.

For now, though: in August '93, the JGB and the Dead had an unusual piggybacking schedule: the JGB played a weekend in the Pacific northwest on Aug 7-8, then at Shoreline on the 14th, and the Dead played Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Aug 21-22 and Shoreline on Aug 25-27.  Garcia had all of July off, so maybe he was well rested and in relatively good shape.  He also had a new axe to test drive: Blair Jackson's GD Gear book (265) reports that his final guitar, the Cripe "lightning bolt," was debuted at Shoreline this month.  But it looks like Garcia was playing it at the GD Eugene shows, so I assume this means the 8/14 JGB show?  The Cripe’s clean, upper-midrange, almost acoustic-sounding tone was and continues to be controversial among many heads (see this blog, however, for an interesting defense), but for whatever reason, Garcia didn't opt to use this tone for any of these JGB shows, nor any from the fall.

8/22/93 with Cripe, courtesy

8/14/93 Shoreline

Two runs at Shoreline, to start and end the summer, were a GD tradition from 1989-95 (Shoreline in Oct '95 seems to have been the final booked GD show), but the JGB only played there three times, and one of those was covering for the Dead in 1990, who canceled after Brent Mydland's death.  The '92 JGB show was part of a 6-day California tour, but 8/14/93 was a standalone, preceding the Dead's August shows by a week.  Although the ticket stub indicates this show was part of the very un-Jerry sounding "Pepsi Music Festival," maybe an ulterior motive of this gig was to test-drive the new guitar?  Part of me wonders if it actually was debuted the week before (see below), but judging from Garcia's playing tonight, he was definitely having fun putting his new axe through its paces.  Everything is unusually well played, with that extra burst of feeling that puts a knowing grin on your face.  '93 JGB shows sometimes either take a minute to get rolling, or fade a bit on the last lap, but tonight is a strong one from start to finish.  Forever Young is a powerhouse version with some outstanding solo work, as is Like a Road, and Strugglin' Man and Money Honey are firing on all cylinders.  But the real surprise is the closer: Lay Down Sally was a rare choice for a set-closer, and Garcia makes the most of it here.  With all due respect to 11/12/93, this is my favorite JGB performance of this tune: unlike most versions that are content to groove along in 2nd gear, this one has an arc to it that really takes off around @6:20 when Garcia stomps on his wahwah pedal (plus some other effect?) and gets pretty cosmic for the JGB.  Yeah!  The old man's still got it, kids.

The Shining Star singalongs seem to have been, not surprisingly, an east coast phenomenon (based on the tapes anyway), so there's no sea of voices here, but this one is elevated again by some particularly thoughtful, lyrical, and assertive soloing.  Garcia could be inclined to wax rhapsodic on this tune (I believe that the longest ever Garcia guitar solo ever, over 10 minutes, is in one of these 93 Shining Stars), but this one is punchy and focused.  Typical throwaways like You Never Can Tell and Wonderful World sparkle like small jewels, The Maker is a typically strong reading, and then comes the real litmus test.  This Don't Let Go delivers, and then some.  Given that this was the signature JGB "jam tune," it's hard for me not to feel a little let down that most 90's versions don't actually vary all that much, save for how much energy is behind Garcia's attack.  Every once in a while, though, Garcia would push the jam off its well-beaten path into woolier deep space, a place he rarely went with the JGB after 1978.  Tonight's one of those nights: space, noise, and feedback (no new-fangled MIDI bassoons here!).  I am a happy man.  The vocal reprise is skipped as he steers on into a truly titanic Lucky Old Sun; what distinguishes one version from the other, for me, is usually the quality of his vocals, but tonight he leans into those solos a little harder than usual and the effect is tremendous.  Midnight Moonlight is what it is, but coming at the end of all that, it's more of a celebratory stomp than a "drink up and go home, folks" last call.

The aud tape is a fine pull by Larry Gindoff, the only source in circulation and a great listen.  I don't know why this show doesn't seem to have gathered the accolades of other great shows of this period, but, imho, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

8/7 Seattle, 8/8 Portland

Neither of these shows hits me like Shoreline does, but they are not without their own highlights.  Given that the JGB hadn't been to the northwest since 1984 and that the Dead's planned 20th-anniversary-of-Veneta shows the year before had been canceled because of Garcia's health scare, I can imagine that the general mood at these two open air afternoon shows must have been as festive as could be.  A dance party with the Jerry Garcia Band!?  Well shucks.

Seattle is strong all around and Garcia sounds like he's in good spirits.  He even introduces the band!  A rare first set Maker is fantastic, Like a Road is another stunning version, and Lay Down Sally is an above-average chooglin' version, but not in the same league as Shoreline.  Shining Star, like Shoreline's, is a really commanding version that belts it out, and Garcia sounds like he's pushing himself on Don't Let Go tonight; there's no spacey digression or anything too out of the ordinary, but it's satisfying nevertheless!  Overall not an outstanding night, but a very good show.

Portland, however, has higher highs and lower lows (in the vocal dept, anyway).  Unusually for the JGB, Garcia is noodling extra hard tonight between songs, lots of futzing and adjusting, which makes me wonder if maybe the new guitar was actually being roadtested tonight.  His playing is really energized, but his voice is in noticeably worse shape than the night before, and it continues to deteriorate throughout.  The first set is excellent.  A totally in-the-groove Cats-Mission opener and some extra soloing in TWLWMYD all bode well, but check out the second solo in Stoned Me and the first solo in The Maker!  So good.  But the usual penultimate Sisters & Brothers ushers in... the end of the set.  Hmm.  The second set sounds like Garcia's spirit was still willing, but the flesh was crapping out: things seem a little shorter than usual, and his voice remains ragged and worn.  TWYDTTYD sports a particularly fine jam (sidenote: '93 versions of this song deserve a separate post), and then things settle into a fun but unremarkable groove until rallying at the end for a powerhouse Dixie Down and a very nice Tangled.  Not a top tier '93 show, but a satisfying complement to the Shoreline show, and the highlights would make for an excellent 'bonus disc' to Shoreline's official release (I'm not holding my breath).  Kudos, too, to Mark Severson who pulled off an excellent recording with some extra flavor between songs courtesy of his buddies, who all seem to be having a fine time.

At some point, it would be fun to do an overview of the fall '93 tour, but who knows when that will happen.  There is one lesser-known show, however, that tops 8/14 Shoreline as my personal favorite, and deserves a post's worth of ravings...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

10/3/80: sing along if you know this one

Going through all the Oct 80 acoustic/electric shows is not a project I will undertake, but I do occasionally enjoy dipping in to see what might be hiding in there.  Tonight, as they start Ripple, Jerry announces "you can sing along with this one if you'd like," and Bob adds, "Jerry wrote this one for his mom."  Ok!  Not things I'd expect to hear from either of them, but there you go.  During the final round of da-da-dada's, someone onstage (one of the drummers?) hollers "sing!" and Bob retorts, "sing, don't howl."  On this aud, however, it doesn't sound like a lot of the crowd took them up on the offer.  C'mon, deadheads!  How many times did Jerry invite you to sing along?  Sheesh.

Otherwise, it's the usual straightforward acoustic set.  Phil seems unusually present in the mix (On the Road Again!), and I always forget what an interesting anomaly these instrumental performances of Heaven Help the Fool were (sans rhythm section).  The only other real noteworthy point, however, is when Mickey can be heard during the lull before Bird Song offering to sing Fire On the Mountain.  Another opportunity lost, I suppose. 

Onto the electric sets.  Excelsior.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

11/12/93: David Murray's blues

by Joe Ryan, via GDAO
This started out as a comment to JGMF's write-up of this show, but it ballooned into a full post's worth of ramblings (lucky you!).  The JGB show on 11/12/93 at Madison Square Garden featuring jazz great David Murray is a popular (or at least very well-known) show, but, while it's historically significant, I don't think it's mostly very good.  While his first time with the Dead two months earlier was outstanding (the Bird Song! the Estimated!) and his 1995 return isn't bad either, this JGB show is redeemed by one out-of-left-field standout performance that belongs on a list of highlights from the year.  Otherwise, this show overshadows some much better but lesser-known performances from '93 while prompting the question of what exactly was going on.

From the start, Murray is playing a lot of saxophone.  A lot.  During Garcia's vocals, during Garcia's solos, just all over the place.  To my ears, How Sweet It Is is a near-trainwreck and Strugglin' Man is the low point, with an unbelievable amount of crossed wires.  What the hell was going on?  Could they hear each other?  TLEO, Forever Young, and Money Honey at least start to get their ducks in a row, but Murray's playing is way over on the abstract side of things and, while the audience cheers every one of his big screaming high-note climaxes, the effect is almost surreal.  But, after strangely starting and stopping Everybody Needs Somebody (the only time I can recall hearing him do that), Garcia cranks up Lay Down Sally and the whole room lifts off -- Murray gets his blows in first, but clears the way for Garcia to take the jam way further than usual.  This is one of the most exciting performances of this tune, and definitely one of the longest.  Um, okay then!  Read into it what you will, but it's a pretty sweet note to end on after a sour first set.  I don't get any sense, however, that Murray "cut Garcia to shreds" (see below) or that Garcia was responding competitively -- rather, it's more like Murray either couldn't hear him for most of the set, or was just going for it without much care, and Garcia kind of shrugged his shoulders and let it roll, before finally belting it out at the very end.  But of course I have no idea what was going on.

The second set is better overall, but at times it's in more of a relieved okay, things finally are starting to go right kind of way.  Depending on your tolerance for Murray's style, Shining Star is or is not kind of a mess, but there's an interesting moment when Murray's solo gets increasingly hairy and Garcia jumps in with some flurrying, high energy stuff to complement what he's doing (this starts around @7:45).  It's a neat moment where Garcia seems to be trying to make something out of a situation that has gone off into uncharted waters, but it's also one of the only moments they seem to actually be engaging with each other.  Maybe Garcia was just out of sorts: his vocals sound completely out of synch with the band on You Never Can Tell, not the first time that night he flubbed his singing, and I wonder if he wasn't also having a bit of an off-night, regardless of Murray's presence.  Murray sits out for The Maker, which provides a bit of a breath of fresh air, although it's not a particularly strong version on its own merits (they were really nailing this tune on this tour).  And then comes the moment that should have attained some real lift-off, Don't Let Go.  Modal vamps!  Open-ended spacey jamming!  Jaaazz!  Murray gets out his bass clarinet and things are sounding pretty sweet.  Garcia hoots and hollers the final round of "hold me tight and don't let go's" and hits on his wahwah pedal right out of the gate.  The stars are aligning!  But... I dunno, it's a fine jam, but Garcia and Murray seem to just play through each other rather than with each other.  Again, I'm wondering more about the sound onstage and whether they weren't able to hook it up for more mundane reasons.  Murray drops out for a minute to switch back to his tenor sax, but Garcia skips the chance to go off into deep space and returns to the vocals instead, and I can't help thinking it was a missed opportunity all around.  Rats.  Fortunately, someone seems to have finally tapped Murray on the shoulder, because his contribution to That Lucky Old Sun is much more fitting, and he actually keeps it relatively within the lines and even plays some suitable horn riffs in the closing Tangled Up in Blue.  Garcia, again, delivers the goods at the last minute, belting out a powerful final Tangled jam that builds to a solid fanning climax that I'm sure left everyone smiling after a pretty perplexing show.

JGMF quotes Gary Lambert in his piece, who relays that no one from Garcia's camp actually told Murray what kind of music the JGB played or what the expectations were.  I can certainly believe it, but I give Murray a lot more credit than that: musicians sit in with other musicians without much advance preparation all the time, and good musicians adjust on the fly -- especially good jazz musicians, who (should) have the ears to pick up on song forms and harmonic patterns relatively quickly and improvise over them.  I don't doubt for a second that David Murray is such a musician.  Jim Powell says Murray cut Garcia to shreds that night, but I don't think so.  Murray plays and plays and plays and, well, he overplays, and imho very little of it sounds "better" than Garcia or even on the same page.  To be fair, Murray seems like he's mixed low for much of the night -- to give soundman John Cutler the benefit of the doubt, I'm sure it was a struggle working with Murray's wider dynamic range (on an acoustic instrument, in a basketball arena) and maybe Murray didn't have much monitor support... but it's also possible that Cutler was mixing him down for other reasons.  I don't know if he had played with singers or pop musicians like Branford Marsalis did, but it seems weird to me that a musician of Murray's stature and experience wouldn't have eased off the gas a bit (see this interview, particularly comment #5, for a number of things Marsalis did that Murray doesn't seem to do).  I don't think that's because no one bothered to tell him that the JGB were essentially an rhythm & blues band.

And, lest you think I'm just not a fan of David Murray: while I can't say I've heard a lot of his work, I have several albums of his that I think are incredible (1980's Ming would be the starter) and I very much like his 1997 Dark Star album.  If you're not familiar with him outside of the Dead, Murray is one of the major jazz saxophonists of the 80's/90's, and was part of a generation of post-loft NYC avant-gardists who made the innovations of Albert Ayler and Coltrane coexist with "the tradition" that so much of the post-Coltrane players had rejected.  Like a lot of those musicians (Henry Threadgill and Arthur Blythe are two contemporaries you may know), Murray was certainly known for a particular sound but could play in a variety of styles very effectively.  To give two then-contemporary examples to consider alongside his JGB performance, try Shakill's Warrior (1991),  a "back to the roots" project revisiting the organ/tenor combos of the 50's-60's [interestingly, this band's guitarist, Stan Franks, was originally slated to play lead guitar in the original 1998 lineup of the Other Ones, but was replaced by Mark Karan and Steve Kimock].  Or try Murray's guest appearance on the Skatalites' recording of his own tune Flowers for Albert (1994; Murray takes the first solo). Neither of these are necessarily representative, but I think they show that Murray could have found something to fit the JGB's sound.  If he wanted to boot it out like Jr. Walker on How Sweet It Is, I am confident that he could have gone there while still sounding like David Murray.

Coming soon: some of the aforementioned much better but lesser-known performances from 1993.

by Joe Ryan, via GDAO

postscript: Murray's spot with the Dead on 9/22/93 was fantastic, but when the Dead came back to the NYC area in 1994, Murray did not appear with them.  While the Dead were at Nassau Coliseum in March 1994, Murray instead sat in with a Dead cover band, the Zen Tricksters, at the good ol' Wetlands Preserve in lower Manhattan (basically a funny-shaped bar down by the Holland Tunnel, if you never went there) for a full 3+ hour show.  It's hard not to wonder what Murray thought about that, but I don't remember anything being wrong with the music at all.  I had the tapes way back when, and I liked them a lot -- but that was over 20 years ago, so I withhold judgment until they appear digitally at LMA.  I would love to hear that again.