Monday, August 29, 2016

my sweet Clementine

Phil, Central Park 5/4/68
I’ve been beating myself up by listening extra-hard to the newly surfaced 9/12/68 rehearsal tape of Phil trying to teach the rest of the band how to play Clementine, or at least his latest arrangement of it.  Yowzers.  LIA has a comprehensive post on the brief history of this short-lived but very cool song and I’ve commented some down below.  There have been times when my inner air guitarist has fantasized about how cool it would be to play in the Grateful Dead, but this tape isn’t one of those times.  One thing worth saying, though, is how good Tom Constanten sounds on this.  And I appreciate how the band gamely chips away at it for a half hour before blowing off steam with a loud, noisy feedback jam complete with moans, groans, and howls.

I was fortunate to hear the 9/21/68 recording of them jamming on the Clementine vamp, with guitarist Vic Briggs (of the Animals) sharing lead with Garcia while David Crosby comps the rhythm (an interesting story: see here).  It’s very cool indeed, although too short to really make a deep impression -- and it's also telling that, almost a week after that 9/12 rehearsal session, they were grooving away just on the basic vamp without Lesh's challenging arrangement.  For my money, the version to get lost in is the 8/13/68 studio jam that was released only on the Aoxomoxoa expanded cd (ergo not at, but it's on youtube for now).  It’s still just that vamp, nearly 11 minutes of prime float time, and not as fiery or driven as the Dead’s usual ’68 fare, making it more akin (imho of course) to the jazz-rock driftings of Al Kooper & Mike Bloomfield and very much in thrall to My Favorite Things-era Coltrane — delicious stuff for this late summer afternoon while I think pensively about the coming fall.

Friday, August 26, 2016

4/29/77 Help>Slip>Frank

I was playing with Audacity to patch a sbd of one of my favorite ‘unknown’ jams, a forgotten moment from spring 77: the Help>Slip>Franklins from 4/29/77 at the Palladium in NYC.  The show is deservedly overlooked: it’s fine, but nothing to write home about, especially by 1977 standards, and Jerry Moore’s aud tape is still the only circulating recording.  Sbd tape of bits and pieces of the show have trickled out, but really the only must-hear thing is this titanic HSF.  It’s not quite as good as the ones from May or June, but those are the very best of the best.  This one is a major high-steppin’ version and one of my very favorites, and I’m posting it here mostly just as an excuse to gush about how good it is and maybe win some new converts.

An mp3 was posted at the Tapers Section many moons ago, but the first 3 1/2 min are apparently missing from the vault tape.  So after years of bemoaning this to myself, I finally just patched in the aud for my listening pleasure.  It ain’t perfect: the mp3 was @192 kbps and sounds a little thin next to the oversaturated aud, but it blends okay.  Just for fun, I also matrixed a few seconds in Franklin's when Jerry sings “God save the child who rings that bell,” and some dude on the aud tape rings a little bell, which has always cracked me up, and I threw in a few seconds of crowd cheering at the end in honor of this monster version.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

(Finder(’)s) (Keepers)

scan courtesy

I’ve been having myself a fine time digging into those newly circulating Garcia/Saunders shows from late 73.  The ‘new’ 11/5/73 has a stone-cold, stanky version of Finders Keepers that’s doing it for me, with some really outrageous keyboard from Merl.  Finders Keepers is a song that pretty much never fails me.

Finders Keepers is also probably the most misattributed song on official Garcia/Saunders releases.  Recent releases (the Keystone Companions set and GarciaLive #6 7/5/73) correctly give credit to General Johnson and Jeffrey Bowen, of the soul group the Chairmen of the Board, who released it in April of 1973 as a vocal tune with an instrumental version on the single’s b-side.  It was one of the group’s biggest hits and Garcia/Saunders recorded it that July, making it one of the rare tunes in their repertoire that was a more-or-less current hit single.  On all prior JG/MS releases, though, it’s credited either to Saunders & John Kahn (the original Live at Keystone album and on Pure Jerry 9/1/74), or just to Saunders (on his Keepers collection).  The song is called Finders Keepers (with a misplaced apostrophe on the single, though the name of the band also is misspelled), but on G/S releases the title was never quite settled upon: “Keepers”, or “Finders”, or “Keepers (Finders).”  It seems almost like a sly little joke about the incorrect songwriting credit, but it still seems like a questionably shady move (Saunders even named an album after it!).  The song also appears on several of Saunders’ albums from the 90’s-00’s, but I don’t know how it’s credited on those.   Deaddisc generously posits that perhaps the misattribution is because Saunders and/or Kahn rearranged the tune, but they didn’t.  Have a listen:

Merl did overdub a cool, soaring ARP synth part on the original Live at Keystone recording, so there's that -- but, as far as I know, he never tried recreating in performance.  He sure knew how to work the hell out of that clavinet though, as 11/5/73 and many other renditions show.  It turns out Merl was paying homage to one of the all-time greats: that’s Bernie Worrell (RIP) of Parliament/Funkadelic playing the clavinet part on the original.

And, just for fun, here’s the original vocal version, which is giving no trouble to the Soul Train gang:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8/21/80: Uncle John's set

jam and Budweiser?  eww.

Time for a little anniversary shoutout to a favorite under-the-radar show: 8/21/80 at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago.  The acoustic-electric Warfield/Radio City runs define 1980 for many, but, for my money, the band’s best playing of the year happened on the August-September tour.  There are a lot of great shows from that stretch, and I wouldn’t claim that this one is the best, but it has a distinct flavor and a unique vibe that never fails to please me, particular in the dog days of August.

Take your pick between a nice sbd and an excellent aud.  I think the aud is the better bet:

The first set is nothing to write home about: it has a fine setlist and nothing is really lacking, but there’s also nothing that ever much jumps out at me, beyond a nice Peggy-O and a rare late-set Shakedown.  But the second set is one of those magical performances where individual songs are all pieces of a very complete whole, emerging and sinking back into a tapestry that feels as unified as any symphony.  Shades of 7/17/76 perhaps?  I don’t want to get your hopes up, but this takes me to a similar headspace as that classic [disclaimer: 7/17/76 is a much better show].  Mickey and Billy take the stage to start things off unusually with a quiet duet on tar and talking drum for a few minutes before the rest of the band enters softly to join in for a prelude to a long and stunning Uncle John’s Band.  Not your usual opener, and not your usual Uncle John's either, as it jams its way into something that resembles more of a Playin’ jam.  It’s some of my favorite music from that year, and it’s all right there in the first 20 minutes of the set!

I don’t know if the rest of the set necessarily holds up to a blow-by-blow style of review.  There are no ups and downs: the enchantment has been cast masterfully, and the spell isn’t broken until the very end.  They come back to earth for Truckin’, dive back in the pool for the Other One, then the drummers take another turn, and the boys forego any spacey exploration and ease right into the Wheel, jam it back into the end of Uncle John’s in a most satisfyingly symmetrical close to a wonderful 45 minutes of uninterrupted music.  A mere 45 minutes?  Yeah, well, quality over quantity I say, and I’m happy to sacrifice the more standard combinations and set-closing standards for a jam as unique as this.

The whole Uptown run is worth a listen: 8/19 is more well known and probably the “best show” of the run from top to bottom: there's a dynamite Half Step > Franklin’s > Minglewood and a fine Stranger that bookend the first, and the second is a top-to-bottom heavyweight muscle set.  8/20 is rightfully lesser known, but anyone under the spell of the other two shows will appreciate the heavy Space > NFA > Dew at the end.

Have fun!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Jerry Week 2016

Commence Garcia Week!  There's another reason to celebrate Aug 1 as well:

Garcia: …And on my 15th birthday my mother gave me an accordion.  I looked at this accordion and I said, “God, I don’t want this accordion, I want an electric guitar.”  So we took it down to a pawn shop and I got this little Danelectro, an electric guitar with a tiny little amplifier and man, I was just in heaven.  Everything!  I stopped everything I was doing at the time[…]

Reich: Can I ask for the date?
 Garcia: August 1st — let’s see, I was born in ’42 — Christ, man, arithmetic, school, I was 15 — ’57.  Yeah, ’57, there you go, it was a good year, Chuck Berry, all that stuff.

Reich: I wanted to get an historic date like that.
Garcia: Yeah, well that’s what it was, August 1st, 1957, I got my first guitar.
- Garcia: A Signpost to New Space, 1971.

Monday, July 25, 2016

2/15/87: Drums of Petaluma

This show had been languishing on my harddrive forever, and I finally gave it a close listen and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The occasion for the show and tape was a benefit performance by Babatunde Olatunji and his group Drums of Passion, with guest stars Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, and Mickey Hart.  Honestly, I can't say much about the music itself, but I've never seen much comment about this and most setlist information out there seems to be incorrect, so I figured I'd post a little something about it.
ticket pic courtesy Thomas Patrick
I won’t go much into Olatunji’s career here: the short version is that he was a pivotal figure in bringing African rhythm and culture to western awareness in the 1950’s, peaking with his landmark and extremely popular album Drums of Passion, released in 1960.  By the 1970’s, though, his career was in serious decline and was effectively on the skids until Mickey Hart approached him after a San Francisco club performance in 1985 with an offer to produce new recordings and, later, an invitation for him to open for the Dead on New Year’s Eve.  Those recordings, made in January 1986, yielded two albums: Dance to the Beat of My Drum (on the local San Francisco label Blue Heron, later reissued by Rykodisc as Drums of Passion: The Beat) was squarely aimed at a crossover comeback and prominently featured Santana’s guitar; the other, belatedly released in 1989 as Drums of Passion: The Invocation (also on Rykodisc), featured only his core drum ensemble.  Olatunji, who had prefigured the demand for “world music” by 25 years, was back in the public eye and had Mickey Hart and the Dead to thank for it.

On Feb 15, 1987, Olatunji’s group of percussionists and dancers played a benefit in Petaluma, CA for the local World Music in Schools foundation, augmented by Garcia, Santana, Hart, and bassist Bobby Vega.  Hart appears to have orchestrated the whole thing, and the 90 minute PBS special about the show (at youtube) credits the Dead’s crew with holding down most of the technical aspects.  Hamza el-Din opened the night with a beautiful 20 minute solo performance, then Olatunji’s group played for nearly two hours.  I presume Garcia must have rehearsed some for this, especially since he was the only one of the guests not involved with the 1986 recordings.  Although he and Santana clearly aren’t central to the music, they both fit in well and Garcia sounds comfortable and quite good when the spotlight falls on him.  Presumably in deference to him or (more likely) to the fans who were there because of him, the group plays "Fire On the Mountain," which comes off well enough — but for my money, Garcia’s best moment of the night is the solo he rips on “The Beat of My Drum” (d1t08).  Not bad, Jer!  He looks plenty happy in the video but, hey, playing on a stage packed full of master African drummers is probably harder than it looks.  The night belongs to Olatunji, of course, and the bulk of the show is heavy African percussion, which suits me just fine.

Santana, Garcia, and (I think) Sikiru Adepoju.  pic by Jay Blakesberg
From a Garcia-centric perspective, this appearance marks a start to his post-coma period of increased health and a much greater level of engagement with the musical world around him.  He returned to making appearances on friends’ studio projects (starting, probably around the time of this show, with the Neville Brothers), returned to his bluegrass roots with the JGAB, and showed more of a willingness to put himself in unfamiliar contexts, not least being his guest appearance with Ornette Coleman in 1988.  It was the start of the final golden phase of his career, and it’s neat that this one-off appearance with one of the most famous African musicians of the 20th century helped kick it off.  Maybe there are some comments to be made about Garcia's position in relation to the African musical diaspora, but right now it feels like a stretch and I'm tired.

Here’s the video.  Head to 47:50 for some heat:

Charlie Miller’s transfer of Dan Healy’s sbd sounds excellent, but the tracklist (and some of the tracking) is off.  They play all of the 1986 album material and I was able to get some other titles by googling, so here is the best I'm able to come up with:

d1t01 introductions
d1t02 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud + vocal)
d1t03 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud instrumental)
d1t04 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud + vocal)
d1t05 ??? (Hamza el Din: tar + vocal)
d1t06 intro parade/??? ; Akiwowo (acapella intro) ->
d1t07 Akiwowo *
d1t08 The Beat of My Drum *
d1t09 Loyin Loyin *
d1t10 Odun De
d2t01 Ife L'Oju L'Aiye * ->
d2t02 Ife L'Oju L'Aiye * (continued from d2t01)
d2t03 band intros, speaking
d2t04 Yambela
d2t05 Fire on the Mountain *
d2t06 ??? **
d2t07 Se Eni A Fe L'Amo - Kere Kere *
d2t08 Ilere *

Hamza el Din tracks are unaccompanied.
* with Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Bobby Vega (bass), Mickey Hart (drum kit)
** d2t06 Olatunji introduces percussionist Kwaku Dadi (sp?), who sounds like a special guest.

Jay Blakesberg
PS.  During the introduction to the show, the foundation director mentions Garcia's recent appearance in Doonesbury.  If you're curious:

Monday, June 20, 2016

6/20/74 Truckin>space>Eyes

7/31/74, courtesy
Just a little something in honor of the anniversary of this overlooked goodie:
Truckin' starts a little too slow, but they kick it up into gear and are already in full flight by the time they wrap up the lyrics.  I like the upfront, syncopated rhythm figure Jerry plays starting @4:50 that shifts them up into the jam (it's a little similar to the New Speedway Boogie rhythm, but not related) before he starts soloing.  They nail the big E chord peak, keep on chooglin', and after some tentatively suggested changes in direction, they pull out the roadmap after around 13 minutes.  Without missing a beat, Jerry takes off down his own path -- Phil and Billy drop out, and Bob and Keith provide some very sparse accompaniment.  We're out in space now!  It's mellow, spacey solo Jerry, until Phil rejoins the fray and the thorns start growing on the vine.  He immediately gets aggressive, throwing down some nice big chords, as Bob and Keith patiently stir up the weirdness.

At about 5 min into this jam, some form starts to emerge from the ruckus -- Bill, Keith, and Bob all playing fast and jazzy, driving things wildly forward -- but Jerry and Phil are still off on their jag and the push-and-pull tension that ensues is sublime.  Just when Phil seems to be pulled into the rhythm section's orbit, he pokes back out and pulls the tide back with him -- there's a big ol' nasty chord at 7:06 that tips the scales back into chaos.  Wonderful!  Finally, the wave crests, recedes, and Jerry immediately kicks it into an uptempo, brisk Eyes of the World.

To my ears, some of these 73-74 Eyes can feel like they're grinding their gears a little too hard, but this one is kicking all the way through; it's arguably just as good as the lauded Eyes from 6/18 -- not to mention almost 10 minutes longer.  My untested theory is that first set Eyes of this era tended to be a bit more uptempo and energetic than second set versions (though not necessarily better), but this one flies right along in high gear for the full duration.  It's also noteworthy because they keep jamming for a good 5 1/2 minutes after the proto-'Stronger Than Dirt' riff, and Jerry threads in the nascent Slipknot figure that he'd been messing around with intermittently since at least February of that year (it's tracked separately on this copy, but I don't think it should be: it's still the extended Eyes jam, and I don't hear any Slipknot until 2:45ish into the track).

June 1974 was one of the band's best stretches without a doubt, and also one of the few periods when the band was regularly willing to burst into fully spontaneous exploration without warming or precedent -- most of the canonized and beloved jams from this month all center around an unusual jam segment that sprouted up in some unexpected spot.  The spotlight usually (and rightly) goes to shows like 6/18 Louisville, 6/23 Miami, 6/26 Providence, or 6/28 Boston, but this jam from hot 'Lanta is well worth 40 minutes of your day anyday.  Did I mention that this Truckin>Eyes is over 40 minutes long?

Monday, May 30, 2016

11/14/74: Garcia/Sanders, Boston

Happy Memorial Day!  It’s always a good day for some Garcia/Saunders, but the vibe feels especially right today.  So: our heroes check in on the last night of a 3-day stretch at the small Paul’s Mall club in Boston.  I asked a friend who had lived there in the 70’s what the place was like and the first thing he said was, “it had really low ceilings.”  Photos show that, indeed, the ceilings were pretty low.  Here’s the best pic I can find of the stage (from a great Jimmy McGriff/Groove Holmes record):
The Paul's Mall stage.  Watch your head!
courtesy Music Museum of New England
The Jazz Workshop, from what I understand, was essentially the same club, a different room right next door and under the same management.  I remember reading somewhere that Miles Davis always opted to play on the Paul’s Mall side rather than the Jazz Workshop in the 1970’s.  I also appreciate that saxophonist Joe Farrell (formerly of Return to Forever) was playing opposite G&S that week — nice! 
courtesy JGMF

From the sounds of this early show, Garcia & Saunders may have been better off playing next door, too.  The set is unusually heavy on their jazz material: four instrumentals (five if you count the People Make the World Go Round coda) and one Merl tune, plus two Jerry rockers.  The band comes flying out of the gate: Favela is played a little faster than usual, and Let it Rock blows by nearly too fast for Jerry to sing.  There’s a woman near the taper who calls it and seems super-psyched to hear it, though.  Then they ease back into a thick, swampy groove for Merl’s Problems and the show starts really clicking.  This is the kind of stuff that Paul Humphrey did the best with them: Kahn locks in, and everyone else takes their shoes off and gets soulful.  Yes yes yes.  They choogle through Mystery Train, with a mystery female singer adding a little bit to the end: it sounds like someone from the crowd, and they wrap it up pretty quickly after she gets her 15 seconds.  My Funny Valentine is a relatively succinct 14 minute version and sounds excellent (sax-haters be warned, though, that Martin gets a little squonky here) with a small space-out > PMTWGR tacked on the end that's always lovely.  The Meters’ great Just Kissed My Baby is a tune that G&S never seemed to quite get on top of (why didn’t Merl sing the lyrics? it would have been ideal for his voice), but this one simmers over a low flame and I’m loving Martin’s stanky electric effects.  Valdez in the Country sounds about as good as it got, everyone cruising along in the groove, and Garcia sounds dialed in here with a particularly tasty solo.  He could sometimes take a back seat to Saunders and Fierro on the jazz material, but tonight he sounds right on top of it.  A great set, and a very good aud recording by Jimmy Warburton is out there for your listening pleasure — a little muffled, but pretty ideal under the circumstances and nothing you won’t get used to.

The late show is less jazz-heavy with more emphasis on the rock/R&B side of the band.  This recording (from a different master) is also rougher on the ears, another reason why I tend to favor the early show.  They’re playing just as well, but the material is a bit more standard: the one extended “jazz” piece is Wonderin’ Why, great and expansive as always.  Garcia’s more staple vocal tunes (That’s a Touch, Mystery Train, How Sweet It Is, Second That Emotion) are all well done, but not quite where my head is right now.  They wrap it up with Favela again, again taken at the same breakneck tempo as earlier and played just as well.  Not as necessary as the early show, overall, but another fine document of a fine band.

Ultimately, I think this group's most representative recording is the excellent 11/28/74 Bettyboard, though 11/27 and 10/31/74 are also favorites.  I agree with JGMF that this 11/14 early show may be the best set of their east coast tour, and 11/16 is also an excellent performance as well.

JGMF has some written some notes about the night before, 11/13:

and lightintoashes has posted some contemporary reviews:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

new Alexandra Palace '74

There's nothing like a good case of "I need more shows" to jolt me out of my blogging doldrums.  If you haven't seen it already, lightintoashes put out a call for some known-to-exist-but-not-digitally-circulating tapes.  One taper, Simon Phillips, has very kindly uploaded copies of the songs missing from the currently circulating fileset for 9/9/74 and a never-circulated(?) patched version of 9/10/74 (the Dark Star night), neither of which are at LMA or accessible to the masses.  His links expire very soon, but now that they're out there, they shouldn't be hard to find in the future.  I'm happy to pass them along if anyone is reading this too late and missed them.

tbh, the extra 9/9/74 material will satisfy the completionist in you and that's about it, and the 9/10 "matrix" isn't a sbd/aud mix, but a transfer of the sbd with a few aud patches to make the show complete, including the Phil & Ned set.  The true matrix will have to wait, but it's a mouth-watering proposition.  9/11/74, as you may recall, is a pretty tasty show.

EDIT: Goes to show: Charlie Miller has new transfers of all three of these shows now at LMA:

The patches are great to have, of course, and this new 9/11 transfer includes all of the Phil & Ned jam in sbd (prior versions had the first 15 min patched in from the aud tape).

Also, if you want another perspective on these shows, there's this:

Here's hoping that aud tape of 2/24/73 makes it out into the world soon, too!

Monday, March 28, 2016

12/4/87 JGAB/JGB Wiltern Theatre

courtesy dylanstubs
Whenever I think of the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, the iconic Lunt-Fontaine run on Broadway is what comes up first: it’s central to every story about this short-lived group, it sports that wonderfully ridiculous Playbill pic, and the majority of posthumous releases are drawn from those shows.  It’s a little ironic, since the original Almost Acoustic album from 1988 was actually recorded a month later, mostly at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.  Apparently there were union issues about recording the Broadway shows?  At any rate, these Wiltern shows were the ones put down for posterity, and on this night in particular, Garcia rose to the occasion.

Anyone who likes Garcia probably likes any of these JGAB releases.  I enjoy them all, but have paid almost no attention to any of the shows themselves, since they’re mostly so-so auds and, as far as I can tell, basically interchangeable.  The electric sets have never appealed much to me, either.  Garcia was climbing towards his late-era pinnacle, but while a lot of ’87 Dead has that extra “Jerry’s back!” edge, 87 JGB always feels more workmanlike, “more competent than interesting” (per jgmf).  To be fair, though, he was juggling two completely different bands on the same night, a feat he hadn't seriously attempted since 1970 (plus, y'know, there was that whole coma thing).

Outside of the official releases, there’s not much sbd tape of this group, so this show stands out for that reason.  The sbd recording is gorgeous, well balanced and rich (thank you, GEMS folks), but there’s also an excellent audience recording as well (thank you, Mike French), and for the electric set, I’d almost recommend it more.  Take yer pick.  But the music warrants the up-close attention that is afforded by the great recordings.  The acoustic set is as tasty and sweet as any others, but not particularly remarkable save for a guest appearance by dobro player LeRoy Mack, who went way back with some of these fellas — he was in the Kentucky Colonels in the early 60’s with Garcia’s idols Scotty Stoneman and Clarence White.  The electric set, however, seems like a cut above for this period, with Garcia in crushing form for the first few tunes, every note exactly in its right place and a little extra heft to everything.  Cats is great, then he nails I Shall be Released, belts out a really fantastic Mission in the Rain, and leans hard into a wonderful Like a Road.  I'm in heaven here.  What a great four-song run!  The music is pulled back into orbit and with a merely very good Harder They Come and Stoned Me, but he winds up once again with a big ol’ satisfying Deal and sends ‘em home with a quickie Evangeline encore (the norm for these acoustic/electric shows).

Not a life changing JGB show, but a very nice surprise and a fantastic listen, whichever way your pleasure tends.  It’s one of those shows that sounds great from a distance, sounds great up close, and sounds great down between the cracks: the little well-timed smears of guitar feedback, the responsive subtleties of Kemper's drumming, the audible whoops and handclaps from Gloria and Jaclyn, and so on.  Here’s one nice little detail for jgmf’s file on Garcia’s engagement with his audience —  After the gospel weeper “Gone Home,” Garcia tells Mack that he sounds great, he steps back to futz around for a sec, then there’s a swell of applause and someone (Nelson?) chuckles, “well, that’s what they’re waiting for” (Garcia, one would think).  Someone down front hollers “we love you, Jerry!” and Jerry replies with a rare quick “thank you” before they tear off into the next tune.

Monday, February 29, 2016

2/29/80 - an intercalary Masterpiece

Robert Hunter replaced Rachael Sweet, btw
2/29/80 is, I think, the one and only time Garcia played on an intercalary day (or "leap day" for you non-Julian types).  The late show was broadcast on WLIR (Long Island) and a few songs were released on the bonus disc that came with the 2/28/80 After Midnight CD.    I prefer the rawer sound of the broadcast to the official release, though.  Listen to this "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and hold on: the tone of Jerry's Tiger guitar in 1980 is always a thing to behold, but sweet lord, talk about peeling the paint off the walls!  Outta sight.

2/28/80, courtesy

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Love Saves the Day: 2/14/70

Deadheads love dates (remember this one? "you know you're a deadhead when your tapes have nothing written on them besides the date"), and we're never at a loss for anniversaries to use as excuses for celebrating the virtues of a particular show.  Maybe, given how insular this obsession can be, it comes as a surprise when some other musical anniversary overlaps on one of our own canonized dates.  Many rock fans have probably noted that the Dead's legendary 2/14/70 performance at the Fillmore East coincides with the Who's decimation of Leeds University 1000 miles away that same night, but how many deadheads know that the birth of American disco/dance music culture was also happening just across the Bowery, about six blocks away?
a classic by Amalie Rothschild, courtesy

I'm no big scholar of dance music or "club culture," but my understanding is that most of what we associate with those general terms -- and I mean everything from Saturday Night Fever, to frat bros throwing their hands in the air at spring break beach parties, to underground raves in abandoned warehouses -- has roots in the innovations and ideals of one particular DJ, a record collector and Buddhist acid cosmonaut named David Mancuso, who lived a few blocks west of the Fillmore East.  Right around the time that the Dead were probably plugging in for their late show at 2nd Ave & 6th St, the first guests were arriving at Mancuso's loft on 674 Broadway for a party that had been advertised only by a few hundred invitations with Love Saves the Day printed on them.  These parties would eventually become weekly events eventually known simply as "The Loft" and mark one of the beginnings of dance and club culture as we know it today, and Mancuso is regularly credited by pretty much everyone in that scene as the grandfather of the modern-day "underground" club DJ.  He still hosts the occasional Loft party, too.
Mancuso, c Allan Tannenbaum

There was, of course, plenty of nightlife where recorded music served as a soundtrack to sell drinks and allow people to seek people, to see and be seen.  Mancuso had a different idea: his goal was to create a safe, insulated scene where people could lose their inhibitions in music, immerse themselves in a community of like-minded people, and find a little lysergic transcendence while they did so.  As a devoted follower of Timothy Leary, Mancuso had already been hosting get-togethers with friends that were modeled after Leary's League for Spiritual Discovery events, and had been rebuilding his loft apartment into a space for "mixed-media" acid gatherings.  Initially, he created home-made 5+ hour tapes of music to accompany the arc of an acid trip, and these began evolving into more serious (and larger) dance parties, particularly as his sound system became more sophisticated.  A Buddhist soul-searching hiatus interrupted things for a few years, but when Mancuso returned to New York, he began planning  weekly Saturday night/Sunday morning house parties for a larger audience.  He mailed out invitations, charged two bucks, forbade alcohol and the sale (but not distribution) of drugs, served free organic food, and became default DJ as he created the soundtrack for the night's revelries, following the same psychedelic arc of slow liftoff > peaking > freakout > re-entry.  Or, in the words of Buddhism-via-Leary, “the first Bardo would be very smooth, perfect, calm. The second Bardo would be like a circus. And the third Bardo was about re-entry, so people would go back into the outside world relatively smoothly."  Sound familiar?  Garcia, in 1984, on the structure of a Dead show: "our second half definitely has a shape partially inspired by the psychedelic experience, like as a waveform: [...] the thing of taking chances and going all to pieces, and then coming back and reassembling."

Another striking thing about Mancuso's parties was the sound.  His Klipsch sound system was state of the art and remains famous to this day for its clarity and depth -- apparently, circa 1975, devoted clubbers and fellow DJ's had even started referring to it as "the wall of sound."
disco? Mancuso's invitations always featured this image of Spanky & Our Gang -- seriously

The ballyhoo over disco in the 70's/80's has probably faded from many memories these days, but the word still conjures up a very specific image for most listeners of a certain age.  While being the grandfather of the disco DJ may seem a dubious honor to some, remember that in 1970, "disco" as we think of it barely existed.  Mancuso was playing a mix of R&B, rock, jazz, latin, African, anything with a beat that would keep the dancers moving.  His tastes ranged wide, and Mancuso was famous not only for discovering many records that went on to be classic dance singles, but also for making James Brown and The Beatles sound like a perfect match when played together in the same setting.  His Leary-inspired evening structure typically began with a gentle prelude session taking in everything from Tchaikovsky to Ravi Shankar, Sandy Bull, or Pink Floyd.  Mancuso stated that his intention was never to actually DJ, but to act as a kind of musical host, keep the vibes right, and establish communion with everyone else in the room.  The parties apparently attracted an extremely diverse group of both dancers and cosmonauts, from both gay/straight and male/female crowds and a wide variety of ethnic (predominantly black and hispanic) and socioeconomic backgrounds: Mancuso was committed to making sure cost wouldn't a barrier.  Far from the Studio 54 scenesters that we associate with disco now, Mancuso was seeking out his own subculture of fellow heads and creating a small world for them through music, and the world he created has been arguably as influential -- if not more -- than our band from San Francisco who had the same basic idea.

I'd like to think that a few particularly hip heads left the Fillmore East in the wee hours and tumbled over to Mancuso's loft (grabbing some pizza in Cooper Union on the way), but I kind of doubt it.  Still, it says something that two epochal gatherings of freaks from very different sides of the streets was happening so closely and simultaneously -- at the very least, like Garcia said at the start of that very long evening, "nothing's weirder than coming to New York."

Nearly all this info comes from Tim Lawrence's great book on American dance/club culture, Love Saves the Day -- his page has some specific Mancuso info.  A lot of this information is also repeated here, with a particular emphasis on the link between Mancuso and 60's psychedelia:

Here's Mancuso describing the Loft and his intentions in his own words:

PS.  And, totally unrelated, but happy birthday to Merl Saunders! (b Feb 14, 1934).

Thursday, February 11, 2016

it's my bee collection!

You know you're a deadhead when an off-beat article about a strange joke reminds you first of Bob Weir:

As cringe-worthy as they are, I always appreciated when Weir was willing to fill some space onstage with a joke.  He would sometimes affect an ironic tone -- "ok, I guess someone's gotta be Mr. Show Biz right now" -- but just as often as not, it comes across more like a weird dude telling an awkward joke to fill some uncomfortable space.  Of course, intended or not, his jokes probably elicited as many blank stares as they did chuckles or groans.  Weir may have been joking more for the benefit of his bandmates than for his audience, but that doesn't matter -- in my mind, it makes them even better, given the context of a rock star resorting to tell a joke to cover for time in front of a large, expectant audience.

Even in print, the guy in the article tells the bee collection joke better than Bob did (I think, in Bob's version, the bees are in a box), but the effect is still the same.  Might one make the leap to say that much like this joke, the Dead's music sometimes undercuts, subverts expectations, leads us along expected paths into something unfamiliar, expresses the inconsistencies of the heart so succinctly that laughter fades into reflection?  Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke?  Fuck 'em, it's just a hobby.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

July 1976: Orpheum Theatre

edit: I just noticed now (6/9) that there was a post about this run and the Orpheum at lostlivedead a month ago, so I've amended some of the info below.

This is a repost of my reviews that were posted on a now-defunct forum.  There was some more discussion between myself and others involved, but I figured now would be a good time to resurrect these and clean them up somewhat.  

I'm elated over the announcement that an upcoming Dave's Picks is going to be 7/17/76 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.  It's one of my favorite shows, but one that I suspected would never actually be picked for a release: what I like about it feels even more personal and introverted than what I like about other favorite shows, and besides, the next night, 7/18, seems like a far, far more popular choice among deadheads, particularly deadheads who don't like 1976.  Which, from what I gather, is a lot of them.

I won't go so far as to say that 1976 is the band's most polarizing year among fans, but it has enough qualities that make it feel like their most sui generis period.  The contrast between it and its neighboring years is striking: the Dead were a very different band in many ways in 1974, and they had yet to attain the polished, muscular grooming of 1977 (well, as groomed as the Dead ever got, anyway).  Many others have covered this, so I'll spare the explanations, but one standard line is that they needed time to readjust to Hart's return to the band.  While true, I've never fully bought that as the primary reason for the uniqueness of the "1976 sound."  Whereas 1974 had an extroverted, pushed-to-the-limit style of improvisation and a quicksilver responsiveness (helped, to be sure, by having one drummer), most of 1976 feels almost chastened and introspective by comparison.  "Exploratory" is an overused adjective in Dead-dom (guilty!), but 1976 feels like the most appropriate place to use it: a lot of their improvisations do really feel like they're actually exploring something: not so much bravely plowing forward to uncharted spaces, but taking some time to root around in the corners of spaces already charted, maybe now with a more reflective frame of mind.  To my ears, this particular feeling or mood dominates more than almost any other year.  It's like you're listening more to 1976 first, and a particular individual song second.

At any rate, they hit the road in June 1976 for a tour that was different in nearly every way possible, then finally took the stage in their hometown for the first time in 9 1/2 months, a week after the country's bicentennial (apparently a free concert in Golden Gate Park was rumored).  I'm sure the connected local heads had a sense of what to expect, but I really wonder the average fan thought of all this.  I shall, however, limit my speculation and focus on the music itself.  This run of shows, in short, deserves a full-scale box set release, and the happy news that 7/17/76 (and most of 7/16) is coming our way in high quality is only slightly shaded by the fact that we'll probably never get the rest.  Maybe, at least, some upgrades will come leaking through the usual channels?  I sure hope so.  The currently circulating sbds of 7/12-7/17 don't sound terrible, but they don't sound great, either.  7/18 was broadcast (locally on KSAN and nationally via the King Biscuit Flower Hour) and has always circulated in good quality.  Bob Menke taped every other night and his recordings are very good, but I prefer the thicker, more viscous sound of the sbd recordings.
side note: um, the Orpheum?  Any insight from the more knowledgeable heads as to why the band played here?  I know they'd scrapped much of the Wall of Sound and had been touring smaller venues, so was Winterland suddenly too big?  Seems unlikely.  The JGB played a wonderful concert there on 5/21 (released as Don't Let Go) and the Dead apparently rehearsed there a bit for their June tour, so there seems to have been a short flurry of activity, but that was it until Garcia played a string of shows there in 1988-89.

edit: Corry has answered all of these questions and more...

the soundcheck
edit: Corry convincingly argues that this video isn't actually from 7/12/76 or anytime from this run, but from the pre-tour rehearsals in May.  But what the heck:
The week begins with an hour-long video tape of the band rehearsing (the audio sounds like it's sourced from the video), apparently on the afternoon of the first show.  As you'd expect, it's more a curiosity than an inspiring listen, but still worth visiting once.  Besides a long stretch of working through the bridge of Stella Blue, there's very little "work" on this tape, just a string of nearly complete performances with few interruptions: a workmanlike Dancin', a brisk, chipper TLEO, two runs through The Music Never Stopped, and then the highlight, a great, flowering Eyes of the World with the standard '76 arrangement of a very long intro jam and and (presumably) very little at the end: the tape cuts after the last verse, unfortunately.

night one: 7/12/76

The opening night in their hometown, and they start off on the right foot, full of energy and in a tight groove.  A great Music Never Stopped opener (an appropriate choice for their first official home gig in a year and a half!), then BEWomen and Cassidy make a great opening trio, although it doesn't sound like they're ready to push the boundaries much.  Garcia's playing in each is mercurial, creative, and energetic, but also very concise: these are all little gems, but may disappoint anyone looking for the boys to just cut loose and wail.  Listen closely, though, and you'll hear kinds of great left-field little fills and solos cut from fresh cloth. I especially love that little moment of zen in the first TMNS jam.  Bob breaks out Minglewood for the first time since 1971 in a cool, funky arrangement that was dropped by the fall; but listen to Phil going to town on this!  Typical for '76, there's a questionable setlist call of three slow numbers in a row (Candyman/LLRain/Row Jimmy), but take some time to revel in how nice the vocals sound.  Donna really shines in a small room with good acoustics and decent monitors, and the interplay between her and Bob is noticeably more present than in 72-74: there's this great moment in LLRain when he sings, "you were listening to a fight," then emphasizes, "that's right" and she sweetly replies, "yeah."  It's a little detail, but one that makes a real difference.  (serendipity! I just noticed this excellent and long, long overdue post on Donna at lostlivedead.  Hear hear!)

Sugaree is a laid back kick-off for the 2nd set, but you can feel them digging into the groove and seeing what happens when they take the scenic route through the song.  After Bob's nightly Samson, they settle down into a very good Help>Slip>Franklin's, fairly tight (minus that intro) and full of the exploratory playing with dynamics mentioned above -- I can't help but think that a lot of fans seeing this in person would have been confused or underwhelmed (especially if their last experience seeing the Dead was in 1974!), but on tape the subtleties really glisten.  Franklin's pops along with its trademark mellow bounce and some fine Garcia soloing.  Dancing in the Streets is only decent -- even after a month on the road, they don't seem to have figured out how to reliably make this soar yet -- but the following Wharf Rat is excellent, with great vocals and a lovely outro jam that hints at the golden summer glory to come later in the week.  A brief Drums>Wheel>Around and US Blues wrap it all up.

A fine but not outstanding show, and a nice relaxed start to the week.  There's definitely less of a jubilant "welcome home" feel and more of a low key, warming-up/getting-everything-just-exactly-perfect feel to this show, and the real magic was still to come. 
Orpheum rehearsals, Ed Perlstein

night two: 7/13/76

Everyone says they'll take quality over quantity, but the length of shorter sets is such a standard deadhead complaint that I wonder sometimes.  Many folks want a 3+ hour feast rather small portions of gourmet delicacies.  But even though we get barely an hour of music to start with, I remember this night's first set more fondly than almost all of 7/12 as a whole.  This was the breakout for Half Step (last played 10/20/74; it was last song they played that night, actually, before AWBYGN) and much like Sugaree, you can hear them testing how far to extend it and where.  They don't reach the pinnacles that versions from the following years shoot for, but it doesn't seem like they're trying to, either.  Once again, the M.O. is to find the hidden backroads in these tunes and see where they go.  I'm absolutely in love by the time Peggy-O comes around with it's wonderful slow roll and two Garcia solos.  Later versions have a punchier groove to them, but there's an appealing lazy feel to this that fits the back-porch vibe of the song perfectly.  The meat of the set is nearly 30 minutes of Crazy Fingers>Let it Grow, one of the year's unique combinations that works perfectly.  76 was really the only year they took Crazy Fingers as far as they could, and nearly every version is worth hearing.  Might as Well gets its hometown debut before the break.

The second set opens with another TMNS, longer, looser, and more jammed than the previous night.  Roses and High Time glisten as usual, particularly High Time, another treat for the crowd (not heard in San Fran since April 1970).  I like how they keep this sweet and low compared to some of the 77 versions, which to me can sometimes sound a little shrill (I! was! losing! time!) and almost melodramatic.  Then, if the old-timers weren't satisfied, they certainly get what they've been waiting for with the return of St. Stephen to the west coast (last played in SF on 8/19/70!).  This has great energy and the jam jumps right away into a NFA jam with a bouncy, calypso-ish feel to it.  Heads up for some great Fender Rhodes from Keith, who even takes a little solo.  I really liked this jam, which lands in NFA, keeps jamming, tapers down to a quick little Drums back into Stephen.  Sugar Magnolia breaks off for a beautiful Stella Blue, of all things; a little slippery at first, but with a gorgeous solo at the end, then back to SSDD.  Maybe to compensate for the short sets, we get a long Dancin' encore, sounding already much better than the night before.  Garcia even gets on the wahwah for a bit at the end.  Great encore!  Great show!  Folks will naturally complain about the length, but there's really no down spots in this one at all.

night three: 7/14/76

The first set tonight is well done, but most of it doesn't do much to grab my attention.  There's a questionable positioning of a late first set Ship of Fools, but the ending jam more than makes up for all of it, a 35 minutes Playin>Wheel>Playin sandwich.  The first jam stays relatively close the surface before breaking for Drums, then a fine Wheel, whose jam quickly shifts back into a cool Playin' groove.  They drift off into a very long, deep Space that starts pretty sparse, but gets more involved and intense  after a good low-end Phil rattling, then culminates in a very long, wonderfully slow swim back to the Reprise.  It's not as moving a first set as the shorter but much sweeter 7/13, but not at all bad.

The second set, however, is one of the more underrated sets of the year, and given the eye-popping, unique jam segment, I'm surprised more folks haven't happened upon it.  BEWomen was a very rare opener, but I'll take it anyday.  Let it Grow kicks off the jam, one of the better '76 versions, and I believe the only one that dispenses with the drum interlude.  They take the end jam down a nice quiet place, then up into an Eyes of the World that zings along with that perfect elastic snap.  Unfortunately, most of the whole song is missing from the sbd, though Menke's aud makes for a fine patch.  The ending dissolves into maybe two minutes of a quiet, floating jam that's mostly just Garcia completely solo, an early incarnation of the solo theme he played a few times in May '77 that served as a prelude Wharf Rat, and that's what it does here.  Wharf Rat is a soft, gentle version and winds down without much fanfare, but then the band throws a sucker punch with the Other One, another hometown first (and the first one of '76, though on 6/29/76, they got pretty close to it).  Garcia got on slide for the tail end of Wharf Rat and even starts off the Other One with a little bottleneck.  Nice!  Things never get too wild, certainly nothing like 7/17's Other One, but this one simmers along with a quiet intensity that I quite like.  Phil grabs the spotlight for a quick solo at the end, setting up one more unique transition into the Music Never Stopped.  Whoa!  No one thing about this segment really jumps out like a thunderbolt, but taken as a whole, this exemplifies some of the best of the year: everything that makes 76 special put together in a one-time only package.  I say it's must-hear stuff, well worth an hour for the many folks who appear to have missed it.

the night off:I would hope that both the band and the fans all got a good night's rest, but I wonder if any folks took the night off to go see Robert Hunter's short-lived band Roadhog playing at the Shady Grove in the Haight?  There's no digitally circulating tape (edit: Corry says there's a Jerry Moore recording?), but there is a recording of the band from two weeks later if you're curious:

Ed Perlstein
night four: 7/16/76

The Dave's Picks release will be augmented by almost all of 7/16, whose first set is the only set of the run that currently circulates only as an aud tape.  Allowing for differences in quality, this first set stills comes across as nearly ideal for the year.  They must have all gotten a good night's sleep on the night off, because this one seems to have an extra energetic kick -- it's hard to say for sure, but they seem to be pushing a little harder and stretching a little further on stuff like Cassidy, TMNS, and an especially nice bonus Scarlet to close the nearly 80 minute set.  Excellent stuff!

Playing in the Band opens the second set, which is the first of many remarkable things about the next 66 minutes.  Framing a larger, nearly set-length jam segment with both ends of Playing in the Band eventually became a standard practice, but at this point it was still quite rare.  The main song itself has a strong start, but to my ears it drifts away into a fairly nondescript Playin' jam for the first few minutes.  It starts to drift into space, but Lesh pulls it back together with a bassline that's reminiscent of Stronger Than Dirt, but also not too far removed from his 72-74 era nameless "jazz theme."  Labeling this "Stronger Than Dirt" seems like a stretch, but the resemblance is there.  Garcia doesn't seem particularly interested at first, but as he brightens up, the jam starts to cohere more fully.  There's some stunning Jerry/Phil/Keith interplay before the end as Phil cues different chord changes.  Pretty hot stuff!  Jerry gets out his slide and leads the way into Cosmic Charlie, another big moment for the older hometown heads.  Honestly, I've never been all that moved by this tune, either in the 60's or in in '76, but they certainly nail this one.  Here, though, Bob makes a questionable call with yet another Samson.  There's a moment's pause, then they rise back momentarily to the Playin' jam.  Bob, however, seems to have made the faux pas of needing to retune in mid-jam.  Rather than disrupt the flow, they opt for a very quiet space jam, Jerry playing flurries of harmonics either to cover Bobby's tuning or maybe to retune a little himself.  I find myself torn: couldn't they have just taken a break and let the drummers do their thing?  does this disrupt the flow of an otherwise interestingly structured jam, or is it a clever, on-the-fly adjustment?  I've loved it in the past, but this last time through I wasn't convinced.  From here, Bob nudges into the Spanish Jam theme, which I believe is its only appearance between 1974 and Brent's entry in 1979.  Again, it spills back into the Playing/Stronger Than Dirt jam and, amazingly, they're able to immediately find their way back to the same space they were in two songs prior.  Even with a Drums break, they're able to keep the deep groove going on through the Wheel and a particularly beguiling Playin Reprise, and Bob ties it off with Around, maybe thinking that the set was done.

This Playing in the Band sequence is remarkable for a number of reasons, but, unfortunately for me, musically it never quite adds up to something truly special.  There are some really breathtaking moments of brilliance that the band almost unearths by accident, but the meat of the jam just doesn't really get me going.  Those moments of brilliance, however, are the first glimmers of the x-factor that lift the next two nights to their respective ecstatic heights.  Also interesting is that, in this case, the entire jam has a notable lack of Garcia lead vocal tunes.  Cosmic Charlie and The Wheel are his songs, of course, but they strike me more as ensemble performances.  For that reason, maybe, the set keeps going.  After some lengthy tuning, Jerry gets to sing his only lead vocal of the set, a lovely High Time that nevertheless feels a little out of place.  They take another beak to fix the drums, during which Phil wishes a mock happy birthday to Bill Graham, before they close with Graham's favorite Dead tune, Sugar Magnolia.  Another so-so US Blues encores for the second time.

I go back and forth on the merits of this jam.  The first set is great and I'll be glad to hear the sbd on the new release.  I'll certainly revisit the second set, too, but it's ranked behind 7/13's 1st set and 7/14's jam in my mind, and certainly isn't at the level of the next two nights.

night five: 7/17/76

I know I'm reading too much into this one, but Promised Land's travelogue to California is almost a subconscious announcement, "okay, we're home now" to the crowd, signaling a special night to come.  Full disclosure: I have listened to this show more than any other from this run (more than the more famous 7/18), and it's a treasured personal favorite of mine.  The magic starts with Half Step, another a low-key version that stands out for the delicate, lovely interplay between Garcia and Keith during the jam.  Mama Tried, Deal, and Minglewood (again, special note for this short-lived slower, funkier arrangement) all keep it moving in the right direction, then we hit highlight #2, a perfect, slow, soulful Peggy-O.  Big River is a good nudge, but Garcia is already following that fat summer sun and unleashes a wonderful Sugaree.  Part of the smoothness is a result of the drummers easing back and letting Keith and Garcia really drive the groove.  And was this the first time he fans/scrubs the climax as he would do so often in 77 and beyond?  It looks incongruous on paper, but the JBG closer feels like just what's called for.  The opening/closing Chuck Berry combo wasn't unheard of, but it's a nice surprising kick that sets us up for what's to come.

For whatever reason, Donna never makes it back onstage for the second set.  Given my love for her singing in 76, I still can't say I miss her particularly here, since the vocals aren't what stand out about this set.  7/17's jam may not look as outrageous as 7/16's.  It may not twist and turn unexpected corners, but as much as 7/16 seems to exemplify Bob's uniquely twisting turning approach, 7/17 is all Garcia and that sweet, sun-baked, flowing groove.  He starts it off with Comes a Time, a tune we would expect to hear at the end of a set-long jam like this, not at the beginning.  This Comes a Time, though, unrolls before us as the song sweetly fades way, leaving only that beautiful outro.  Why didn't they ever repeat this?  Why did they never again squeeze more than a minute or two out of this jam, and what inspired them to stretch this one as far as they do?  It's not as emotionally charged as other famously beautiful moments like 2/18/71; rather, it just plants itself on that cosmic back-porch of neverending summer evenings and pops open a cold one (in a rocking chair right next to the 6/23/74 Ship jam).  Seeds of future songs start to sprout from this fertile soil: I hear Eyes for a sec, but the Other One wins out.  After a quick minute of drums, they begin in earnest, jamming the Other One with a surprisingly aggressive feel, and jumping fairly early into a longer space.  This, paradoxically, is the darkest they got during the whole run, tucked in the heart of their warmest jam.  Ain't that just the way? 

Space gets noisy, but nothing too crazy, but then they find their way back into a beautiful jam and this amazing slooow transition into Eyes of the World.  This is one of my favorite moments of the whole run, and maybe of the whole year, actually.  Just listen to these few minutes, listen to how subtle everyone's individual transitions are.  Listen to Keith's amazing Rhodes sound, too (how did he get that sound, btw? is it a Leslie speaker?).  Eyes itself crackles and glows in prime style, but this is one of the only versions of the year to feature any substantial jamming after the last verse.  It sounds like Keith returns to a vamp he was playing with during the previous night's Stronger Than Dirt jam, but Phil is definitely still rooted in Eyes, and between the two of them it almost sounds like a half-forgotten variation on the 73-74 Eyes jam.  It peps up towards the end and sounds like it's headed for GDTRFB, but Jerry takes a quick left and pulls the Other One back in for the second verse before turning right back around and zipping into GDTRFB for real.  A bombastic, joyful ending to a most enjoyable sequence, and One More Saturday Night is a preferred Bobby closer for me (and yes, it was a Saturday), so I'm left smiling.  Nothing missing, nothing extraneous.  An absolutely ideal second set.

The usual US Blues encore seems like a pretty paltry offering after all that, but they're not done yet.  They had already played a few standalone Not Fade Away encores that year, so it's not a total surprise, but after the concentrated brilliance of that jam, you'd think they would be ready to call it a night.  And, to be honest, they do sound a little drained as they wind across 14 minutes of this, but it's involved and creative enough to make it a memorable encore for a very memorable show.

This is one of my very favorites, like I said, and one of those Dead sets I'd put above most others.  For a much less gushing review, I direct you to

Ed Perlstein

night six: 7/18/76

By this point, the band was certainly on top of their game.  They don't, maybe surprisingly, sound all that tired or worn out, but it does feel like they're maybe a tad overly conscious of the radio broadcast.  The opening Half Step is a well executed version and probably "better" for many folks than 7/17 in terms of excitement, but to me it seems like they're playing it pretty safe.  The first few songs have that feel, actually.  Scarlet Begonias is the highlight of the set for me, with a long, sweet jam that builds and crests naturally -- a great version, and one of many fine 1976 Scarlets that tend to be overlooked.  The second half of the set kind of slumps for me, personally, with a lackadaisical LLRain-Jed-Loser stretch, though the Music that ends it is probably the best one of the whole run.

A strong Might as Well starts the second, but the Samson and Candyman feel a bit like unnecessary finger food before the main course.  Lazy>Supplication has its usual gooey center that the band work into a hot jam, and Bobby wastes no time in leading the charge into a breakneck Let it Grow.  It's not as hot as 7/14, but still a smoker.  The drums break sounds more juiced up and energized, but the second jam already sounds like they're anticipating the jam to come.  That's usually a good sign, in my book, and this LIG drifts into a smooth, pretty, floating jam for a few minutes that sounds like it could be… I mean it doesn't sound exactly, but… well, I mean they hadn't played it that tour, and the last one was 10/18/74, so it could have been possible, but… is that it? … If/when an aud of this part ever surfaces, I'll bet whatever you want that every meathead in the place was hollering DARK STAR! as loud as he could.  Nope.  It's a pretty spectacular transition to a pretty titanic Wharf Rat.  After a very strong reading, the last three minutes are given over to another Jerry/Keith night flight.  These always are breathtaking little jams in my mind, and Jerry really does us right in this one.  He soars higher and higher, finally climaxing by cascading into the Other One theme, then dropping out for a few seconds for the drummers to properly set it up.  This Other One certainly isn't the ride that the previous night's was, but the energy is right.  Phil sets up Stella, Jerry's not having it, they do the push & pull for a minute, and St. Stephen it is.  Am I being curmudgeonly, or does it feel a little like this Stephen>NFA sandwich was an obligatory one?  It's not as fresh sounding as 7/13's return celebration, but it's still a pretty slinky NFA jam, and the transition back to Stephen almost falls apart for whatever reason.  Garcia throws another curveball with the Wheel with some nice slide on the outro, then Phil abruptly rolls it back into the Other One for a quick return to the second verse for symmetry's sake, then the final kiss goodnight.  This right here is exactly what we want in a Stella Blue, that ideal moment of silent purity, those pinpoint stars that Jerry dots the sky with at the end.  He's most definitely painting the skyline tonight.  Gorgeous, gorgeous.  One of my very favorites, actually.

Everyone gets one final group-hug footstomp through Sugar Mags and one last shoo out the door with JBG.  And so ends a week with the hometown heroes, returned from exile.

Upon reflection, this was a most impressive jam, not least because of it's length (nearly 80 minutes).  Given the setlist, it's almost strange that the most magical parts of it are centered around the Wharf Rat and, while none of it feels like an afterthought, it does feel somewhat tossed together towards the end.  Bonus points for finishing that Other One, though, and for spinning out such a long jam for the radio broadcast.  I'm sure everyone taping at home must have been scratching their heads (and no doubt gnashing their teeth about where to flip!).  Compared with most of the rest of the year, it's a top drawer set.  I'd say that for the run, it definitely takes 7/16's equally eye-popping jam.

7/17, though… man.  7/17…

Saturday, January 16, 2016

3/30/79: Sama Layuca

[edit, Dec '17: FYI, it turns out that the correct date is likely 3/31, not 3/30.  see jgmf.]

I’ve been a bit dormant with the late onset of winter around these parts (reading, family, work, jazz) and not listening to as much Dead or Garcia, but I did want to give some shine to a pretty remarkable gem I stumbled upon from an unknown-to-me Reconstruction show: 3/30/79 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, CA (a very nice aud recording).  Sama Layuca was a McCoy Tyner tune that Reconstruction performed only a small handful of times (only five versions circulate), and while the earliest performances stuck to the usual head/solos/head format of most of Reconstruction’s jazz numbers, two other versions were rare occasions for the band to open up into freer, more uncharted waters.

On 3/30/79, Sama Layuca starts off with Stallings and Neumeister soloing over a tight groove that stays stable but threatens to unmoor itself, and by the time Garcia steps up front, things have started to fray and stretch.  His solo is outrageous, essentially one loud, fiery duel with drummer Gaylord Birch, with Kahn at his heels.  Saunders picks up the pieces, but Kahn’s solo tips things back into loud, noisy Space as Garcia rears back up.  It's all pretty crazy stuff, much more akin to a fired-up GD Space jam than anything Reconstruction usually did.  The only other version (or indeed any other Reconstruction performance) that gets this far out is another Sama Layuca from a few months later, 8/10/79.  Garcia, now rocking his brand-new Tiger guitar, takes it to similar places but winds up drifting away from the song and into a gentle, floating, spacey interlude that segues into Dear Prudence.  Just as sweet, but not quite as demented.

The rest of 3/30/79 is fantastic, maybe one of the better Reconstruction shows I’ve heard, but Sama Layuca is the clear highlight.  It’s definitely worth checking out, particularly for those not sold on the “disco” sound of this group.

btw, jgmf's huge Reconstruction overview a must-read for anyone into this particular side trip of Garcia's.  I have more to say on the significance of this band to the overall arc of Garcia's side career, but that's for another time.

with Reconstruction, 4/23/79, courtesy