Sunday, December 31, 2017

June 1974 with Tony Saunders

your blogger's old cassette.  Oh, for the halcyon days of tape cuts and mislabeled songs.

Yeah!  Managed to slide in one more before 2018!  JGMF did the work years ago to establish the historical particulars of these gigs, so I won’t rehash those too much: here are his listening notes on 6/4/74, 6/5/74, and 6/6/74.  Notably, all three of these shows feature Merl’s son Tony Saunders on bass instead of John Kahn.  From a historical standpoint, Tony’s presence puts these in a grey area regarding the persnickety issue of “what band is this?,” a question blurred by the fact that Garcia was an apparently frequent guest at Merl’s own gigs around this time.  The particularities probably won’t be teased out any further than JGMF has already teased them.  I’m still tickled, however, by the image of Garcia rolling up to some bar with his guitar and amp in his trunk, then a week later playing at the Oakland Coliseum.

I wish I could find some older pictures of Tony and Merl, btw.  His first paid gigs as a teenager were with Garcia & Saunders.  This little pic of the two at Fantasy Studios is all I could find, from Tony’s site:

Gigs at the Lion’s Share were more laid back and off-the-beaten-path: most tapes of the few circulating shows there all have that flavor, and 6/4/74 may have the most of it, with a rich warm Betty Cantor recording to capture it all.  The uniqueness of some of the material is likely what marks this show for most folks, but the expansive nature of the playing earns its place on the list of the best of Garcia/Saunders 1974 shows.  Darben the Redd Foxx was a tune by saxophonist James Moody that seems to have had some pull with jazz musicians in the 1960’s but nevertheless seems like a totally left-field choice for this band.  They lay down a smooth, straight-down-the-middle midtempo swing that rolls along for 17 luxurious minutes; Garcia understandably sounds a little tentative at first, but he digs in and is on top of things by the time his second solo comes around.  Many heads don’t appreciate Martin Fierro’s playing and while he did have a tendency to overblow theatrically at times (which I imagine was probably much more effective in person than on tape), there’s none of that here: Fierro is totally in his element, unraveling cool, focused lines through his solos.  A very cool and unusual sound for these guys.  Tony and Bill Kreutzmann (I’m pretty sure it’s him) lay down a supremely bouncy groove to start Expressway, but halfway through they all fall into the trap of cycling endlessly through that descending chord progression “jam” with increasingly less and less to say, with Fierro and Garcia repeatedly deferring to the other and noodling around to no great purpose.  The rhythm section wins again, however, on a great Second That Emotion, better than most from this time.   Even better still is the magic they conjure on Merl’s Wonderin’ Why.  I always like the feel of this song, but this one is particularly satisfying as Garcia and Fierro weave circles around each other in the first main jam; their interplay here makes this one of the best versions I know.  A bluesy, blustery Soul Roach ends the first set.

To underscore the jazz club ambience, they pull out another rarity in Miles Davis’ classic All Blues, and Garcia et al follow the form of the tune, each taking a few choruses over the simple, timeless changes, at first resisting the urge to stretch.  But after returning to the melody, Garcia and Fierro start wandering off the page as Merl tries keeping it rooted to the changes, resulting in a gentle freeform tug of war that sounds great.  Martin brings it back home with another blues melody at the end: I can’t tell if this just some standard blues riffing or another actual tune, but it’s a neat twist to end another long, relaxed jam that only could have happened at the Lion’s Share.  Local blues guitarist/singer Alice Stuart comes up to sing New York City (an “original” that’s not too far removed from Jimmy Reed) and the band sound great chomping down on a straight 12-bar blues.  The Harder They Come has a choppy, funky groove that works well, and they do better than usual with this one until a little “when/how do we end this?” snafu at the end. Then Dixie Down ends things on a soulful note.  It has its ups and down, but I’ll forgive a show like this its warts: much like 7/5/73, it may not rise to the tighter standard of other ‘best’ shows of the period, but its perfectly realized vibe and groove make it a real stand-out of the year.

City magazine June 1974, courtesy @joyatri_vintage
6/5/74, another fine Bettyboard, is missing its first set (the full tape seems to exist since we have a tantalizing setlist from, I presume, Rob Eaton).  Alice Stuart returns for the second set, this time with her guitar in tow — I wonder if she was the opening act for these two nights?  But, first, things get off to bumpy start: Fierro does no one any favors by test-driving some extreme electric effects on his flute on La-La which is, frankly, unlistenable.  The wahwah pedal was a component of his sound in 1974-75 (he, along with numerous other saxophonists, followed Eddie Harris’ example of using electric effects on their acoustic horn), but the effects really don’t work here.  Ouch.  Stuart evidently arrives onstage midway through Finders Keeepers: you can hear Betty adjust Garcia’s guitar in the mix @6:37 and Stuart takes the final solo.  It’s nothing all that inspired (and probably not what she usually played), but hearing another lead guitarist onstage with Garcia in this era is most unusual -- let alone a female lead guitarist at all -- so this certainly deserves a nod for historical importance.  Stuart doesn’t sound totally familiar with Dixie Down either, but she dishes it out on the blues chestnut Kansas City, adds a nice chicken scratch rhythm and some nice licks to another fine Harder They Come, and is in her element holding her own with Garcia on That’s All Right Mama.  Ultimately this set is more a curiosity than a must-hear, but this must be one of the last times on tape that we hear Garcia casually trading leads with another guitarist like this.  With some big doings on the horizon with that other band of his, Garcia must have been having a blast.

PS: after all this, I realized that there’s a video of Alice Stuart and her band at Winterland from 2/2/74 — haven’t checked it out yet, but I’m looking forward to.

On 6/6/74 they were back at their homebase in Berkeley, with Tony still subbing for Kahn.  Rather than a Bettyboard, we are most fortunate to have a top-notch Louis Falanga aud recording that’s one of the best he made, with mics set up right by Garcia’s monitor (the soundman’s voice is audible a few times) yet capturing the whole band with a nice balance.  After some atmospheric banter about a buzzing light dimmer, a loose and somewhat sloppy Someday Baby lazily gets thing rolling, and Expressway follows a similar trajectory as 6/4, although Garcia leans into it harder as things start to sag and drives it home with a forceful ending.  From there on, however, it’s all gravy.  He Ain’t Give You None sits happily in a fat, wide groove, and My Funny Valentine (which is prefaced by Garcia, off mic, “we haven’t done that in a little while”) is a picture-perfect textbook version of this band’s signature jazz tune  without a stumble or any hint of dissonance or weirdness — not that I mind it when they took this one outside, but they really seem focused on getting the most from the material here.  A heated Second That Emotion (check Garcia’s final solo!) ends the first set.  The tape cuts back in with some spacey fooling around and Garcia chuckling loudly at Fierro’s noodling before the real bombs drop.  Merl’s My Problems Got Problems, only ever played a handful of times, was never done better than this: the groove is incredible right from the drop, and by 10 minutes it becomes so unmanageably funky and I won’t detail the kind of moves I’m making while I listen.  Talk about a stone cold killer!  21 minutes compared with the puny 8 minute version from a few weeks later.  As they futz around afterwards, Jerry says “oh hey, let’s do that, Tony… let Martin start it” and off they go into Darben the Red Foxx again, but with a different, more march-like, staccato rhythmic feel (more like the arrangement on various jazz records) and a tense, edgier feel overall.  Unlike the more leisurely 6/4 performance, Fierro brings it back to the melody after 11 minutes, then they float off into spacier realms, flirting with all-out dissonance over a terse, sparse groove for another 7-8 minutes before they play the melody again and end it for good.  A hare-brained and high-energy How Sweet It Is rounds out the night.  Incredible!  As tasty as the whole show is, the 40+ minutes of Problems/Darben is some of my favorite playing this band did during that great year.

Then, y’know, like 36 hours later, Garcia was at it again with the Dead throwing down one of the most bananas Playing in the Band jams of all time (and, incredibly, Louis Falanga was on the scene again -- the man deserves a medal!)  But I’ll leave you to peruse that one on your own.  All in a day’s work for 1974!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Side Trips vinyl

I am not usually one for vinyl fetish commodities (hey now), but I couldn't resist snagging a copy of this Garcia/Wales Side Trips 2LP Record Store Day special on a trip to NYC this weekend.  There's not one smidge extra that wasn't already on the old CD (released, um, 19 years ago).  Nevertheless, four long jams over four sides feels like a more satisfying vinyl recreation than most of the awkwardly lopsided LP reissues of archival live Dead releases.  I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.  Shout-out to the cool dude at Academy Annex in Greenpoint who steered me to this pristine open copy instead of the sealed ones that apparently arrived heavily warped.

There's an interview with Howard Wales, incidentally, that was posted a couple weeks ago at Aquarium Drunkard.  No huge insights, but hey, you were there but only in the moment, right?  I appreciated getting some background info on his early days.  Also: he was invited to join the band for Europe '72?  Really?  I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around that one.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

professionalism: solved

Apropos of the last two posts: there's lots to muddle over regarding the Dead and Garcia and notions of professionalism and to what degree they exhibited it.  Mid-muddling, I remembered Neil Gaiman's advice about what artists (including musicians) need in order to find work, keep a gig, whatever (from his popular "Make Good Art" speech)

People keep working [...] because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time.  And you don't even need all three.  Two out of three is fine.  People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.  They'll forgive the lateness of your work if it's good and if they like you.  And you don't have to be as good as others if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Sometimes the Dead and Garcia maybe had all three.  But two out of three usually did the trick.

Monday, December 4, 2017

12/4/73: a little sound and fury

I have been listening to bits of this, a show that's known for (if anything) being the runt of the last leg of the fall '73 tour: 12/4/73 at the Cincinnati Gardens, a shorter show due to the band's lateness and apparently some big dust-up with the local promoters.  Strangely, part of it was released as a bonus disc with the November 73 Winterland box set.  It's not as bad as some reviews indicate, although it's not particularly great.  Abbreviated playing time notwithstanding, Phil seems particularly ornery and really takes it out on his bass (not always bad thing, necessarily), and, as gamely as Garcia tries to soldier through, the rest of the band seems distracted or out of sorts.  The musical standout is a big Eyes of the World that, unusually, wanders out of bounds and into a Phil-led meltdown that's cut from the same cloth as the 12/2 Playing in the Band and the 12/6 Dark Star.   You may have seen this less-than-impressed contemporary review floating around online (thanks gratefulseconds):

Cincinnati Enquirer, 12/6/73

Well.  To be fair, I wouldn't be too enthusiastic about a show either if I had to spend over two hours watching the crew assemble the PA beforehand (on a Tuesday night, no less), but “lots of sound and fury, little else”?  Yow.  How exactly did the manage to be late coming from Boston with a full travel day (12/3) between shows?  Is it a coincidence that the first Boston show a few days prior (11/30) was also delayed and extremely late in getting started?  What was going on with the promoters, who apparently both Bob and/or Phil were griping about onstage (according to some eyewitness reviews)?  5000 people in a place that held 12,500?  Yikes.

What gave me a smile, though, was this glowing piece by the same reporter about a Neil Young concert from earlier that same year (quoted from here -- I'm not finding the original Cincinnati Enquirer piece anywhere easily online)
You couldn't possibly have squeezed one more person into Cincinnati Gardens Wednesday night [Feb 14, 1973]. Not after slightly more than 12,500 had already traffic jammed their way down Seymour Avenue to pack the hall. All that for Neil Young, one of rock's superstars and Linda Ronstadt, who isn't quite a superstar, but ought to be. Ronstadt opened the show with what had to be one of the most thrilling performances in Gardens' history. Such a fantastic, beautiful performer. People may have been their primarily for Neil Young, but Ronstadt gave all the 12,500 their money's worth. And then Neil Young gave them more than their money's worth. Appearing behind a bank of amplifiers and a row of lights (it took three semis and a 22 foot van to get it all there. The van was equipped with a 32 track recording studio and a closed circuit TV system on which the concert was taped). Young began with some of his acoustical stuff, just him and his guitar. It was received madly. Wildly. Lovingly. Young kept his voice quiet, almost folksie and painted a very peaceful picture. With a slight twang, maybe even a slightly nasal quality, he came off quite relaxed. And then came the rock and roll. Neil Young's rock and roll is a carefully blended mixture of country sounds, folk sounds and soft rock sounds. His work comes off very controlled and sophisticated. It's hard to say just how beautiful he was, so thoroughly professional, so completely competent. It's easy to say that in over five years of concert going (that's a lot of concerts), his show was one of the best. Very easy to say it.  - Jim Knippenberg, Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb 15, 1973.

My dorkdom is nowhere near as fine-tuned for Neil Young as it is for the Dead, but I do know that this show is from the middle of Young's three-month tour behind the hit Harvest album when he started breaking down from the ravages of booze, drugs, money squabbles, fame, expectations, pressure, and all that.  The live album from this tour, Time Fades Away, was later nearly disowned by Young (quotes galore here or here), who refused to reissue it for over 40 years.  I love this whole “dark” period of Young's, but I'm not sure by what metric you would call it very controlled and sophisticated, thoroughly professional, or completely competent.  To each his own, of course.  Funny that Knippenberg didn't seem to notice all of the new songs Young was playing that apparently delighted very few in the crowd.  Young did also play some of his hits, at least.

Anyways, apropos of playing time (see last post), another thing strikes me.  12/4/73 is just over two hours of music and seems short only when compared with, um, other Dead shows.  12/2 Boston is about 3 hours 10 min, 12/6 Cleveland is just over 3 hours 20 min, 12/8 Duke is nearly 3 hours 40 min.  There's a low quality aud tape of this Neil Young 2/14/73 Cincinnati Gardens show out there (got mine here, if you really want it).  It's missing a couple of songs from from the electric set, but what's on tape isn't even 70 minutes long -- so figure maybe 90 minutes or so for his whole show, plus another hour maybe for Linda Ronstadt's opening set?  Jeez, even starting 2 1/2 hours late, the Dead still played for over two hours, not counting a (hopefully short) setbreak.  Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

10/24/78: floundering in the snow

This is a fantastic aud tape of a Keystone show that you could probably get along fine without ever hearing.  Just being honest.  But there a couple of things:

First, go John Angus and Scott Hart!  They put down a few other JGB shows on tape that month, and this one is a particularly sweet specimen: rich, full, balanced sound with just enough depth and flavor to really please these ears.

Second, the band is actually playing quite well, just content to cruise along in a lower gear.  Keith sounds like he’s in particularly good fettle, foreshadowing the wonderful interplay between him and Jerry in the more well-known 10/28/78 Seattle show.  Everyone sounds fine tonight, locked in and focused, but it's still a mellow, slippers-and-sweatpants kind of show.  There's not really much to review, actually.  Highlights, if you’re looking, would be a surprisingly tasty Love in the Afternoon (surprising since I generally dislike that song), a very nice Mission in the Rain, and the neat curiosity of Lee Oskar blowing some discrete harp on Gomorrah and Midnight Moonlight.

Third, and this is what struck me about the tape, there’s a telling little moment at the end of the first set.  This was a shorty warm-up gig tucked in between the Dead’s big “return from Egypt” Winterland run and a little JGB jaunt up to the Pacific northwest.  After a big Winterland blow-out a few days earlier, I’m guessing that only the most hardcore Keystone Social Club regulars had it in them for another JGB show (the fourth one that month, btw, plus two more in Palo Alto).  Were expectations high?  I really doubt it.  All of those shows had been short, mostly each with well under two hours of actual music, but tonight someone wasn’t having it.  After Jerry announces the break, Angus & Hart let the tape roll for another minute (inadvertently, I assume, since they’re pretty tight with the pause button between songs); someone hollers out, loudly, “You’re floundering in the snow! That was too short!” (at least, I think that’s it), prompting a couple more cries of “too short!” and “play more!”  At least one sage stoner intones, “it’s great, it was perfect, no problem.”  Then side B of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken comes on the PA (“Fool Yourself”) and I’m wondering who was fooling who.  JGMF has written at length about the economics of Garcia shows w/r/t professionalism and bang-for-your-buck, with some particular attention to some pretty skimpy 1985 shows from a pretty low time in ol’ Jer’s personal life (see here among others).  I was a little surprised, though, to hear someone calling Jerry out on this in 1978.  Then again, though someone calls out “boring!” during a languid Russian Lullaby, so maybe it’s a case of the food was awful and the portions were too small that's at work here. 

Fourth, I’m realizing the the narrative has always put Oct-Nov '78 as a pretty low point for all concerned parties: burned out and tired, the Dead embark on an east coast tour that is cut short when Garcia is hospitalized, the Godchauxs’ marriage implodes, Keith's playing continues to go downhill, and then Keith is apparently fired from the JGB for dipping into Jerry’s stash (per Kahn).  Yet, on paper, a bunch of interesting things were happening: not only does Lee Oskar pop up at a couple of those Winterland shows (plus again on New Years Eve) and at this JGB show, but so apparently does Will Scarlett at two Keystone shows that we don’t have circulating tapes for (see for 10/11 & 12).  Two harmonica players in one month?  Earlier in October, before all this, Garcia reunites with Merl Saunders for a one-off gig with Merl’s band (which, in addition to being apparently a dry-run for Reconstruction, also sports some of the hottest playing Garcia did that whole month).  Then, as I assume you may already know, two of those Pacific northwest shows, 10/26 and 10/28, are among the best of the year and also happened to be shared gigs with Bob Weir’s band, whose keyboardist Brent Mydland was being keenly watched by all concerned parties (meanwhile, with Keith’s playing on 10/28 being widely praised, I wonder if he felt like he was essentially auditioning for his own job?).  And then there's the JGB show on 11/3/78 that's famous for its totally out of left field and out of character performance of Miles Davis’ So What. [edit: also can't forget the first acoustic GD performance in eight years that happened pretty off-the-cuff in Chicago on Nov 17].  That’s a fair bit of extracurricular activity for what I tend to assume must have been a pretty dreary time for all involved parties, but hey, maybe it was that post-Egypt buzz making them all try a little bit harder.

And hey, I’m listening to 10/24 yet again while I type this, and y’know, it’s actually not a bad little show.  Maybe it’ll grow on you.

What the heck does "floundering in the snow?" mean, anyway?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Feb 94 JGB: one last flash of greatness

"Very late era" (94-95) JGB is a corner that I'm guessing most listeners don't wander into.  '93 JGB usually never fails to ring my bell, but by most accounts the big guy's final decline came hard and fast, so I tread cautiously in those final years.  While there's a kind of dark beauty in the brief flashes of inspiration that broke through the fog at the very end, it's a game of diminishing returns for me to dig academically through shows that warrant, at best, a response like "this doesn't sound too bad given the shape he was in."  Time, strength, cash, and patience, ya know.  To be fair, some of it really isn't bad, but some of it is just awful.

I recently stumbled upon a real keeper, though.  Having run out of fall '93 JGB shows to listen to (um, other folks also have this problem, right?), I dug into his next run of Warfield shows in Feb of 1994.  These were the first nights out for new drummer Donny Baldwin, after David Kemper's dismissal.  Frankly, another thing that this gives this final period an unpleasant whiff is Kemper's inexplicable firing, after 10 years of exemplary work in the engine room (more info).  All I know about his replacement Donny Baldwin is what I've heard of him on these JGB tapes (and, um, the other stuff you can learn from Wikipedia).   But, to be honest, he sounds great: if anything, he doesn't sound different from Kemper in any major way, but -- as Kemper himself pointed out -- just keeping this particular engine running was more challenging that it looked ("one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes" is still one of the best descriptions of this band's sound that I've heard).  The rehearsal that (I presume) was called for by Baldwin's arrival clearly did Garcia some good that weekend.  His singing and playing is pretty strong for all three of these shows.   As JGMF has noted, Garcia seemed to be paying more attention to his singing in this era, compensating for his raggedly worn chops with some extra attention to his phrasing and inflections, and it shows throughout these three shows, even with his voice past its late-period prime.  Three stellar quality aud tapes by Warfield super-tapers Chuck & Linda Vasseur exist, and (unusually) there are circulating sbds for 2/5 and the first set of 2/6.  Stick with the Vasseur auds, I say (although, see below).

2/4, the first night, is a pretty strong show, though not much jumps out as amazing or worth revisiting.  They sound tight, and any slight tentativeness seems to come, understandably, from everyone letting Baldwin settle into his groove.  The one major high point is a steaming Lay Down Sally jam:  Garcia's chugging along, sounding fine, and then decides to hit his distortion pedal and something clicks into place.  The audience feels it, Garcia responds, and you get one of those brief moments of aud-tape perfection as everything clicks into place.  Nice work, old man!  I also quite liked Strugglin' Man and Stop That Train.  He doesn't sound like he has it in him for Deal, though (either on this night or the next), and the second set mostly never gets into high gear.  It does seems like a bold move to break out Don't Let Go on Baldwin's first night, but his comfort level with turning the groove loose isn't there yet, so it stays pretty earthbound.

2/5 is more up-and-down.  There's nothing bad, but the inspiration doesn't seem to be there.  Notably, Garcia breaks out the first I'll Take a Melody since 1990 (which he would play only more time) and does a decent job with it.  He works up a good froth in a surprisingly hot Get Out My Life Woman and, later, in Tore Up, and sings wonderfully on a fine Lucky Old Sun.  Any lover of ol' man Jerry really going for it should check out how he belts out "lift me up to paradise!" around 3:25 in.

2/6, the final night, is what I would strongly recommend to the skeptical.  Is this the last great JGB show?  Garcia sure comes out swinging and doesn't let up.  His setlist choices play a big part my feelings for this one, as he's pushing himself and avoiding the obvious.  There's a fine jam in Cats, a transcendent first solo in Mission (and notice how Garcia takes more control over the tempo at the beginning), sharp stuff in Let it Rock, and a near perfect Like a Road.  Even Breadbox, a tune whose jam doesn't usually do much for me, gets a very strong, focused work-out.  The closing Everybody Needs Somebody blazes by at a faster past than the '93 leviathan versions, but not a note is wasted.  Amazingly, the energy is kept up for the whole 2nd set -- even some of the more powerful '93 shows tended to peter out in the last lap around, but not tonight.  Nice Harder They Come, a wailing Money Honey, and a textbook example of how sweet that pitch-shifting effect could sound in The Maker, which goes an extra few feet for good measure.  Lazy Bones was one of those late-era left-field cover choices, but even this is taken at an ideal tempo, with Kahn's extra long bass solo as the only blemish of the show, unfortunately.  Don't Let Go appears again, and although Baldwin still hasn't loosened up enough to let it soar, Garcia blazes through 17 minutes of it, tearing things up on his old wah-wah pedal.  I'm not enough of an effects geek to know for sure, but he seems to have brought it back in late '93 (see 8/14/93, another blog-worthy show that's coming someday), and he usually meant business when he turned it on.  He means it tonight!  A rare Gomorrah is a great call for the final ballad and Tangled Up in Blue is the perfect close to an excellent night.

There's always an element of added excitement at hearing the old man working with a full tank of gas this late in the day, but speaking as objectively as I can, I still say 2/6/94 is a fantastic 90's JGB show.  One last little moment to savor: on the sbd of 2/5, after a less-exciting version of Breadbox, one of the backup singers whoops out, "I love that song!" and Jer cheerfully responds, "yeah, that was great, man."  Maybe they weren't nailing every song, but they sure sound like they were having fun -- by 1994, I get the sense that that just wasn't the case very often, so it feels special to hear.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thelonious Monk centennial

Monk, 1959, by W. Eugene Smith

I'm a few days late (no surprise), but it does seem appropriate that I'm posting on Friday the 13th.

I was a little disappointed that global media wasn't exploding with accolades and tributes for Thelonious Monk's 100th birthday on October 10 (Google's doodle for the day, if that's any indication, was for Fridtjof Nansen), so I'm doing my part in my tiny, barely-functional corner of the internet to salute one of the Giants of 20th century American music.  The influence of jazz on the Dead owes far more to the John Coltrane lineage, which held to a very different set of priorities than Monk's (despite the fact that he spent a few very important months playing in Monk's band), and while I would hope that some or all of the Dead were lovers of Monk's music, I don't know of any direct connections that exist.

My own exposure to Monk came young, courtesy of my father's record collection. His music didn't evoke the same states of heightened emotion inspired by Coltrane, Miles, and Mingus that appealed so much to me as an adolescent, and it took me a while to work out what was so appealing about it.  I am loathe to repeat all of the tired "ugly beauty" cliches about Monk, but there was certainly an element of that.  It wasn't music that I could immediately put my finger on, with its off-kilter rhythms and abrupt melodic about-faces that sounded both slick and archaic at the same time.  It didn't have much in the way of dynamic variety, but I came to really like how it ambled along, seemingly unconcerned with whatever else it could have sounded like.  The "eccentricities" of it -- really, the whole unique architecture of rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic elements -- always informed rather than distracted from every aspect of Monk's music.  Sui generis in the most literal and very best sense of the term.

In that sense, I suppose, maybe the Grateful Dead are kindred spirits.  I have been in a stage of not listening to much Dead or Garcia, but whenever I come back to their music, I'm struck by the ways that it contrasts with anything else I listen to.  The Dead's unique rhythm is, I think, the standout characteristic of their music that goes the least discussed, and it's maybe the most immediate thing that separates them as a band from their contemporaries or followers -- you can imitate Garcia's style, but no one's come close to really imitating the Dead as a unit.  They were a rock band, of course, and so they played with the dynamics and emotional range befitting a rock band, but there was always a kind of clunky element to their rhythm.  I don't mean clunky in a negative way, although I do think it's something that stands out prominently to people who don't like the Dead -- my wife, who prefers the JGB, once commented that the Dead sound like one guitar player and a bunch of drummers, and I've heard the joke more than once that the Mickey and Billy sound like sneakers in a dryer.  Garcia was always the most rhythmically centered of the band -- Phil and Bob, on the other hand, had some real clunk.  I think that the band's change from the rhythmic and sonic density of the "primal Dead" era to the more stripped-down sound of the early 70's made more room for Bob and Phil to develop their own particular kinds of of clunk.  Mickey's return in 1975 served to clunk up the sound even more -- again, something that many deadheads who strongly prefer 1971-74 can't always get down with.  None of this is meant to imply that the Dead didn't groove or swing: they most certainly did, but what reliably makes them recognizably the Dead is that there are always rhythmic hiccups and bumps jutting out at odd angles, that sense of something a little chaotic always churning down in the engine room.

In a direct musical sense, there's nothing particularly Monk-ish about it (and, going back to Coltrane, even Bob's clunk comes partially from McCoy Tyner).  I think it's interesting, however, that both Monk and the Dead were defined in part by their unique approaches to rhythm in their respective musical genres -- both were iconic figures in those genres and both are still, I would argue, relatively misunderstood given how famous their music is.  So many of Monk's songs are deeply embedded in the common repertoire of jazz, but much about his music remains misunderstood and misrepresented.  So too with the Dead, whose music contains dimensions that are misunderstood (or not engaged with?) by so many who claim their influence.   Both carved out paths through the landscape of American music, the kind that makes music better even for those who aren't fans of their music.  So in that sense, Monk and the Dead maybe aren't as far apart as you might think.

Then again, maybe I'm just having fun with this thought exercise.  But that's no reason not to go and listen to some Monk.  If you didn't get to it this week, that's cool: you have all of this centennial year to catch up.

bonus: one of my favorite jazz writers, the pianist Ethan Iverson, posted an unbelievably thorough overview of pretty much all thinks Monk: the recordings, the tunes, the critical writings, major tributes, and more.  Any Monk fan who wants to dig deeper couldn't ask for a better roadmap than this:

edit: Thanks to lightintoashes for reminding me that Monk did play the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco on May 3-5, 1968, right in the middle of the short period that the venue was being managed collectively by the Dead and the Jefferson Airplane (I think Ron Rakow was doing the actual managing?).  Columbia Records and Monk’s management were looking to boost Monk’s low sales by courting the white rock market (his then-current album Underground was being heavily marketed accordingly), so Monk was booked to play a hip rock venue in addition to his usual Bay Area club and festival appearances.  Robin D.G. Kelley, author of the definitive Monk bio, has a good piece about this failed crossover bid here.  I wonder why Monk didn’t play the Fillmore for Bill Graham instead — maybe it was too last minute, maybe Monk didn’t want to be an opening act, maybe the Carousel paid better, who knows?  It’s not much of a musical connection, since the Dead were in New York and couldn’t even see Monk play (though lightintoashes points out that Bear did tape the Monk shows), but it’s worth noting.  Maybe someone from the band may fondly remember that their short-lived venture produced this unique Monk gig.

by Rick Shubb, with some info at his website

Sunday, August 27, 2017

9/29/77: two things for your consideration

…so, given what Garcia said in the interview about this show, of course I couldn’t resist checking it out: 9/29/77 at the Paramount Northwest in Seattle, a brokendown old 4000-seater that the Dead had also played in ’72.  What the bandmembers reportedly liked or didn’t like doesn’t usually line up with what I like or don’t like, but I can never resist checking out a left-field recommendation like this, particularly when its a show I had ignored in the past.  Overall, it’s a lovely Bettyboard tape of a solid ’77 stomper, nothing too fancy, save for two remarkable things:

The first set closes with an unusual powerhouse trio: Sugaree, Let it Grow, and Franklin’s Tower.  Um, whaat?  The Sugaree is marred by a nasty cut in the second jam which axes some prime moments of excitement, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.  Let it Grow is a nice exemplar of their fall ’77 strengths, and is remarkably good given that they hadn’t played it in almost a year (the last time was 10/2/76).  That's no small feat, but they must have been feeling good enough to roll out another 17 minutes of Franklin’s Tower!  It bounces and rolls along like the gentler ’76 versions rather than the raging spring ’77 ones, but it’s such a nice surprise and they sound so fully locked in that I loved every minute of it.  Despite some long cruising stretches, there are plenty of moments to treasure: try Jerry crooning around 13:30 over Donna’s and Bob’s soft backing vocals.

The first half of the second set is unremarkably well played, but the post-drums segment is worth a look and imho is the highlight of the show.  Truckin’ had recently returned to duty at Englishtown a couple of weeks prior, so it’s a little stiff at first, but they open it up into a strong jam with two nice peaks, then change gears and ease down into a great Stella Blue as smoothly as can be.  Stella is beautifully executed, with a gorgeous solo and a final jam that begins with Garcia on slide for a bit, then slowly brings up the intensity for another surprising yet silk-smooth transition into GDTRFB — the effect is similar to the more famous Stella>NFA from 12/19/78, if somewhat less powerful.  They’re flying high now, and after a satisfying AWBYGN coda they break off a final Johnny B. Goode and a sweet Uncle John’s encore, two songs that I hold to be signs that the band was acknowledging that something unusually special had just happened. 

There are plenty of ’77 shows that most anyone would understandably reach for before this.  But if — like me — it’s taken you this long to catch up with this one, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by how sweet the band sounds during that last lap around.  According to Garcia, so was the band.

10/2/77: "I'd be back here talking to the walls"

I was checking out the recording of a backstage “interview” with Garcia from 10/2/77 (Portland, OR), looking for info about his guitar strings, and I wound up listening to the whole thing.  It's about 36 minutes and actually not much of an interview, more like Jerry waiting around and making small talk in his dressing room with a couple of guys and a woman, who sound maybe like they’re music students at Reed College.  They’re all doing coke and swapping stories about cops, travels abroad, food, and so on.  One of the guys wants to book the JGB at Reed but can’t get a hold of Richard Loren, which Garcia doesn’t bat an eye at: “He’s a lot like me, he doesn’t want to know about anything, he doesn’t want to work fundamentally.”  There’s some talk about the upcoming Egypt trip, which at that point sounds far from definite and seems to be kind of a finale to their planned European tour (also, “Bill Graham’s trying to hustle a scene where we’d play for free in Red Square in Moscow”!).  Garcia is dismissive of their rusty playing at Englishtown, but says that the band -- unusually -- loved their performance in Seattle on 9/29.

There were two things really stuck with me, though.  The first is some of the guitar talk.  Garcia says that he's playing his newly-returned Wolf guitar instead of his Travis Bean.  Deadbase notes that the last time Garcia played the TB was on 10/16/77, so I had always assumed that the Wolf came back into action for that final Oct-Nov leg (and may have been a contributing factor to those mostly particularly amazingly hot shows).  But apparently not.

Then they get on the subject of guitar strings.  For a good bit of the conversation, Garcia is restringing and tuning his guitar while he talks.  He tells them he's playing pure steel strings (Vinci’s), so they rust quickly and need to be changed every show, sometimes twice a show.  “Jeez, I hate this,” he gripes. “This is really the most miserable part of music, tuning.“  A few minutes later, while he’s still working at it: “I hate this, this is so fucking boring.”  I’m sure most every guitarist out there would agree with him.  But what rock star of Garcia’s caliber changes his own strings?  Isn’t that what guitar techs or roadies are for?  I’d think that would be the first thing you would hand off to a crewmember, but nope, here’s ol’ Jer twisting away and bitching about what a pain in the neck it is to change your strings.  Hmm.

The other thing is how casual Garcia is about the whole encounter.  Again, I don’t know who these folks were, but Jerry doesn’t seem to know them very well, yet is perfectly happy for the company.  This was a guy who, by all accounts, was pretty constantly swamped by hangers-on, friends-of-friends, and every other character who had something to get off his or her chest or needed something from him (remember the "do you give banjo lessons?" lady).  Eventually he’s summoned for the soundcheck, and his guests take their cue to leave.
JG: This has been great fun.
?: Thank you very much for your time.
JG: Yeah, it’s cool.  My time is not… I mean, y’know, I’d be back here talking to the walls if I wasn’t… you guys don’t have to leave if you don’t want.

He sounds completely genuine, and offers more than once to get all three of them on his guest list so that they can stick around backstage.  Between that and the guitar strings, he really comes across as the antithesis of any kind of celebrity or even professional musician.  That probably comes across as no surprise to anyone reading this blog, but still, it’s intriguing to hear it unfold in real time, particularly given what we know about the nature of band’s behind-the-scenes scene, what it had already resulted in, and where it would all lead him.

edit: jgmf once posted a comment made by Bob Weir about the nature of Garcia's life offstage w/r/t celebrity, ca 1980.  I assume it couldn't have been all that different three years earlier, yet Garcia doesn't seem guarded or even put-out in any way in this (admittedly maybe non-representative?) exchange with some fans.

Monday, July 24, 2017

4/9/83: quickie check-in

Just a quick snapshot of a fun second set that got me through some tedious home repairs today.
  • the first show of the April east coast tour.  Hampton.  Yes.
  • the east coast breakout of Help>Slip>Franklins.  Baboom!  I like how Phil drops a giant bomb @3:17 in the Slipknot jam to avert a possible trainwreck as they stumble into the closing melody.
  • the jam after Truckin has very clear Spoonful and Smokestack Lightnin’ teases, then finds its way into an Other One jam, Jerry bails early, and Brent picks up the ball with some weird electric piano sound — nothing far out, but his tone reminds me of Sun Ra for some reason.
  • the same kind of thing is happening in the Throwing Stones mid-song jam: 80’s keyboard haters won’t like it, but I think it sounds pretty cool.  Go Brent!  Nice climax here.  Then it ends with a little transition jam: at 7:46, Jerry starts playing a little chromatic thing that sounds like a mini-Mind Left Body jam, though it’s probably just a clever way for him to get into Black Peter.
  • a post-drumz Jerry twofer with Black Peter > GDTRFB.  Well played, sir.
 Fun set.  The China>Rider that closed the first set was mighty nice itself.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

4/17/79: we in church today!

wrong Nicasio gig, but I love this poster

Good gravy, this place was tiny!  According to jgbp, the Rancho Nicasio was a resturant/bar that held all of 150 people, in a tiny, idyllic Marin County enclave.  Their site has some nice pictures (funny coincidence, but Peter Rowan and the Rowan Bros are playing there tonight.  Anyone got an extra (plane) ticket?).  I assume the place was far enough off the beaten path that most Bay Area heads wouldn’t have bothered (I get that sense from posts like this about west coast deadheads’ willingness to travel in the late 70’s).  But thankfully taper Phil Jaret did, and his recording is the only one that we’ve got at the moment (the newer transfer is pitch-corrected).  It’s a pretty good, upfront recording that sounds fine on headphones.  Not pristine, but it hits all the right spots and is plenty satisfying, and the music makes it well worth it.

The main reason to sing its praises is another (heretofore unknown to me) version of the mighty Sama Layuca, mislabeled in both filesets as Welcome to the Basement.  It’s not quite as wild as the nutso 3/30/79 performance (ahem), mainly because only Ed Neumeister and Garcia take solos (Ron Stallings, Merl, and John Kahn also all get a turn in the 3/30 version).  But holy moley, they throw down hard here.  Garcia’s chomping at the bit, but Neumeister goes first.  The band grooves hard underneath him, slowly loosens their grip, lets it get wild and hairy, then locks it back down, then loosens up again, and so on.  I don’t know if Stallings was having a problem with his horn, but there’s a bit of float-time after Neumeister’s solo until Garcia steps up to bat and just nails it.  After the same wild back-and-forth, it spills into some loud noisy space — listen close to how seamlessly Gaylord Birch snaps back into the groove of the song as the return for the ending.  He’s such a fantastic drummer: over a very fast tempo (like 175 bpm), he easily shifts from tight control to unhinged freer playing with nary a stumble.  Impressive!  I associate him mainly with funk and R&B, but he more than holds his own in a freer context like this.

The rest of the show is pretty hot, too.  Less than a week before the Dead debuted with Brent Mydland [edit: there's a long rehearsal tape that circulates dated 4/16/79], Garcia sounds like he’s pushing harder than usual.  He’s particularly on fire during a breathtaking tear through Another Star — very fast, but precise, and totally synched up with the horns’ accompaniment that frames the solo.  He comes to a great (and perfectly timed) climax, then basically starts over immediately for a second go-round!  He also seems pretty fired up for a long Soul Roach, not a song that usually registers for me, but he’s really belting here.  Linda Chicana, Mohican and the Great Spirit, Long Train Running; all the instrumentals sound great, and they dig in pretty hard on the vocal rave-ups Lovely Night for Dancing and Make It Better.  After the a cappella ending to Lovely Night, Merl says something like, “yeah, we in church today!”  Amen to that, Merl.

postscript: if you're inclined, take a close listen to Ron Stallings' sax solo in the show-closing Long Train Running.  That sounds like a soprano sax after his tenor solo, but the transition sounds way too quick for it to be Stallings switching horns (he does play soprano in Sama Layuca, though).  Could it be a guest musician?  Jaret's aud tape is tightly edited between most songs, so if something was said, we don't have it.  It's no big thing, but it's worth noting.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

7/3/77: throw the windows open wide

Jan 13 12, 1977, courtesy David Brady

While 1977 was a storied year for the Dead, the JGB wasn’t hitting the same stride.  There seems to have been some experimentation with personnel — pedal steel guitarist John Rich was apparently offered a spot in the band and played three gigs with them in Dec 1976 (he turned down the offer), and there is an unknown rhythm guitar player who plays at a few shows in early ’77.  Keith was also experimenting a bit with a Moog synthesizer, which didn’t last for long (he also played it intermittently on some of the earlier GD spring tour shows).  The Dead were working on Terrapin Station in Los Angeles and playing their typical amount of shows, and Ron Tutt was also on the road a lot with Elvis in the first half of ’77.  My guess is that they just weren’t in their usual groove, and I think this shows in a lot of earlier ’77 JGB shows, most of which leave me pretty cold.  Given how up in the air things seem to have been, I can see why there weren’t a lot of sweet spots.

Not that there aren’t any: the 6/23/77 benefit gig and the first Pure Jerry release from July 1977 have their moments, and I’ve always been partial to 8/7/77 (this older source).  For the past couple of days, I’ve been relistening to 7/3/77 at the Keystone Palo Alto, a wonderful Bettyboard tape of the second set, and it’s as sweet as can be.  It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot going for it, particularly if your summer priorities are pretty modest.

It's five songs in just under 70 minutes.  The Harder They Come is a tune that doesn’t always do it for me — more than other songs, it often seems to reveal the weaknesses of whatever lineup was playing it — but this one is, oh yes, just exactly perfect to my ears.  Ron Tutt must been brushing up on his reggae chops and sounds excellent here, throwing down like, well, not like Kingston’s finest, but about as well as a first-call Nashville session guy in 1977 was going to sound on this stuff.  Jerry and Keith are both in top form, and, unusually, Maria Muldaur appears to be providing the sole backing vocal.  I believe Donna was recovering from an illness and didn’t make the band's brief east coast trip a few days later, and she appears to have skipped these two Palo Alto gigs as well (July 2 and 3).   Muldaur was no stranger, of course, but I don't think she had sang onstage with Garcia since '74.  She was still involved with John Kahn, but maybe she was also returning the favor for the band's appearance at her recent benefit?  I wonder if her presence did something to inspire them tonight.  Simple Twist is also a cut above: again, Tutt rises above his usual excellence, keeping things dynamic and interesting, and Jerry gives it his all vocally (check the “he woke up, the room was bare” verse).  Mystery Train chugs and simmers like the best ’77 GD Big Rivers in slow motion.  Knockin’ is the only blemish: it sounds like they were still ironing out the kinks in the newer arrangement that the JGB played for the rest of their career (straight tempo verses > reggae chorus), and, like most other versions, it doesn’t really need to be 16 minutes long, but all is forgiven when Jerry starts pouring out his heart in those solos.  An early Tangled closes the night, with a much lighter feel than later versions, and some quietly strong solos that are hitting the spot for me today.  Three Dylan tunes out of five?  That may be some kind of record.

Did I mention that this tape sounds fantastic?  Thanks again, Betty!

Muldaur's then current album

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

7/17/82: a little beach music

This isn't exactly a rave review, but this show's setlist inspired some curiosity while I was puttering around at work, and, frankly, I'm ready for the beach myself.  The FOB aud quality is very, very good.  And who doesn't like their Dead with some palm trees in the background?

courtesy Airplane Life

1982 shares the dubious honor with 1986 as being my least favorite year of the Dead’s “early Brent” pre-coma period.  Unlike other fallow periods, there’s nothing egregiously “wrong” with it, but -- for me -- most of the performances occupy a kind of gray zone between the sharp, creative playing of 1980-81 and the ragged, hare-brained (and, yes, hirsute) intensity of 1983-84.  Jerry was still keeping it together, Phil wasn’t quite back in the saddle yet, Brent ditched his older electric piano for a faux-acoustic one, and it all sounds, I dunno, a little too polite; I don't want to say autopilot, but there's not a lot of sweat in the music.  There are certainly a few shows that prove me wrong, but they’re outliers.  And yet, perversely, I’m periodically drawn back to it, partly to see if I can pin down what exactly I don’t like about it (who has time for that? I do, apparently) and partly just for the pleasure of rooting around for some undiscovered gem.  This show, sporting an attractive setlist, isn’t exactly that.  But it’s a nice show.

The first set is model '82: no clams, no shamefully bad vocals, a decent performance all around, and almost none of it stuck on me.  Althea has a heavy groove, but the only other standout was the surprising (unprecedented?) call of Truckin’ as the set closer.  Huh?  Not only that, but they rock it for almost 11 minutes and, a couple of slips notwithstanding, it's pretty strong.  Towards the end it almost feels like they’ve forgotten that they’re not deeper in the 2nd set, before yanking back for a big explosive finale.

To be fair, they did get creative with some setlist choices in 82, often structured around Playing in the Band.  Here’s a vintage example of a “Playin’ sandwich” kind of set: they forego an opening rocker and dive right in, swim around in it for a bit with an airy, vaguely ominous feel: clear and nicely textured yet shallow waters, perhaps.  It sounds like China Doll is coming, but Jerry switches things up with China Cat instead, another very unusual selection.  Not bad!  The guitars are way up in the mix here, making for an extra changly jam, and Phil seems sufficiently roused by the time Rider comes around.  Ol’ Jer belts out a good “headlight” line, and at the end they make a well-timed drop right into Estimated.  Not much to note here; it’s a typically fine one with one flub coming out of the bridge (“like a swiss watch,” Bob quickly quips) and a decent jam that trails off into the early 80's standard Jerry-less jam with Bob and Brent (and briefly Phil) splashing around for a few miunutes.  Not bad as those things go.  A brief Drums, a briefly noisy Space, a long Wheel complete with lengthy prelude and a pretty outro (an ideal groove for this show, actually), back into Playin’, then a goofy Bob closing twofer, and it’s all over now, baby blue.

This music, like a lot of the year, wafts by pleasantly without really getting its hooks into me; it’s got toes but no claws.  Or, to borrow from Thom Gunn, “the music comes and goes on the wind / comes and goes on the brain.”

I’m ready for summer.

(these shows, incidentally, were the first of several years' worth of "weekend at the beach" shows in Ventura)

Monday, June 5, 2017

hirsute heroics

A Monday morning moment of zen, courtesy of an old NYT article (on a free Airplane/Butterfield/Dead show in NYC's Central Park on 5/5/68) that I dug up at lightintoashes' behest.

The other chuckle is that many of the hippies in attendance were apparently throwing "lollipops" onstage to show their appreciation.  Crazy kids.

Kifner, John.  "6,000 in Park Rock to West Coast Sound."  The New York Times, 6 May 1968.  Web.

In hirsute pursuit of virtuosity: at Columbia two days earlier; courtesy Rosie McGee

Friday, June 2, 2017

July 74: nothing's weirder than coming to New York

July 74, Bottom Line, unknown
[edit: apparently this dating has been hotly debated]
I had been meaning to give these two July 1974 Bottom Line shows a relisten for a while, but was prompted to do so both by an unknown comment asking about Garcia's performances without Kahn and also by a small discovery that turned out to be pretty well-documented already.  The Garcia/Saunders band came to New York for the second time on July 1-3, 1974, at the tail end of a Dead tour; the first time in Sept 1973 was similarly affixed to a larger Dead tour, but otherwise it wasn't typical for Garcia's side projects to piggyback like this on the Dead's road schedule.  My understanding was that these 1974 shows were booked because Garcia had just released his Compliments album a week earlier, and that that making the gig happen was relatively easy: the Dead's tour ended in Springfield, MA on 6/30, so Garcia, Kreutzmann, and the crew could scoot down to NYC for a couple more gigs; Kahn was already in the area performing with Maria Muldaur, and Saunders had to hop on a plane.  Martin Fierro was either still a too-casual addition to get the call, or he was engaged elsewhere (he doesn't play on the band's next two July gigs in San Francisco either, but he's on every other recording from the year).  But I had overlooked the fact that the Dead's tour wasn't actually over: they had another show booked at the University of Wisconsin, a planned Fourth of July blowout with Eric Clapton and the Band.  Panicked locals shut it down, and the remainder of the band and crew spent four days running up hotel bills, getting up to no good (see Ned Lagin's entry for 7/4/74 here), and scandalizing the local Kiwanis Club.  It makes no real difference in the big picture, but it does paint a slightly interesting picture of Garcia and Kruetzmann heading out to work while the rest of the band was waiting around in a hotel in Wisconsin, but anyway.  Given all that, you might think that these would be big shows in the minds of many listeners, but my sense is that they aren't.

Some more sources fill in some more coloful context.  Thanks to JGMF's detailed reading notes from manager Richard Loren's book, I learned second-hand that
"On the Fourth of July weekend, the Garcia-Saunders Band was playing in New York at the Bottom Line on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. The Dead had just finished an East Coast tour, and Jerry's Compliments album had been recently released. The owners of the Bottom Line had contacted me back in February, offering a four-show engagement for the Garcia-Saunders Band, and we'd accepted. I arranged for John Kahn and Merl to fly in, and John brought along his girlfriend at the time, Maria Muldaur, who was riding high on her hit single "Midnight at the Oasis." She sat in as a guest vocalist, and the group was hot. Word got out, and lines stretched around the block for every show. The Bottom Line was the happening place to be in the city, and all sorts of people were showing up."
and I found this review in the New York Times [1]
"Last Friday [June 28] it was announced -- on radio only -- that something called Merl Saunders and friends would be at the Bottom Line Monday and Tuesday [July 1-2]. The place was immediately sold out, another show added late Wednesday, and security guards engaged to repel the hordes. Scalpers reportedly enjoyed a field day outside the door. For Dead fans know that Merl Saunders and friends include not only Mr. Saunders, a first-rate organist, electric pianist, and synthesizerist with an impressive jazz background, and John Kahn, an excellent bass player, but also Bill Kreutzmann, the Dead's drummer and Mr. Garcia on guitar."
stub courtesy lostlivedead

Unlike later Bottom Line appearances (in November '74 and April '75), these July gigs weren't early/late show arrangements.  Steeleye Span headlined the early shows, and "Merl Saunders & Friends" had the late shows.

The music is good, but most of it (with one notable exception) doesn't do it for me the way that a lot of '74 Garcia/Saunders does.  Part of it, admittedly, has something to do with the recording: given the circumstances, Jerry Moore's tapes of 7/2 and 7/3 are about as good as it was going to get, but it's still a recording made with mics hidden on a tabletop in a packed nightclub.  I also miss Fierro.  His playing polarizes a lot of listeners, but I think he was a talented player who fit well with the music and added some welcome color to the front line.

The Bottom Line was, at the time, the premiere rock & roll club in Manhattan, and, while I'm sure that a vaguely billed Jerry Garcia show (vaguely promoting an album on his own independent label) wouldn't have been the industry feeding frenzy that other Bottom Line showcases were, I'll bet that a whole mess of freaks came out of the woodwork.  I think the Bottom Line and the Keystone were roughly the same capacity rooms (400ish?), but the difference in atmosphere was probably night and day.  As Corry put it, "it was actually on the East Coast where the Dead became really huge, and Garcia became larger than life... the Dead could headline Madison Square Garden, and a few weeks later Garcia would play this bar [in Berkeley] where he had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage."  In addition to a hearty number of rabid heads who hadn't seen a local show in a while, the NYC chapter of the Hells Angels must have also been out in full force, not to mention anyone else who wanted a piece of Jerry (hell, John Lennon showed up drunk and belligerent when they came back in November).  So while it wasn't the Wall of Sound, I doubt it was a real relaxing time, either. Maybe all that's projection or conjecture that's unfairly coloring my impressions of this tape?  My impression is that they hit some high moments but don't really settle into the kind of sustained groove that was easier to conjure on more relaxed home turf, that vibe that carries the music along with it, until the second set of the final night.

We have no recording of the first night, and although there's a setlist, I wonder if any official tape exists -- Kidd Candelario had been taping the Dead's shows, but he probably would have been with the crew in Wisconsin, and I don't think Betty was working this tour at all.  For what it's worth, the NY Times review (above) liked it:
"The early show on Monday fulfilled the wishes of most of the Dead's fans present (and the late show that night apparently went even better). Mr. Saunders was satisfying virtuosic [sic], Mr. Garcia unleashed his customary brand of introverted and extroverted blues guitar, Maria Muldaur bounced onstage for a song, and in general the group blended jazz, blues, country and Dead funk in satisfying proportion." [1] [note: I think he means first/second set instead of early/late show]

7/2, the second night, has its moments, but I find it to be an inconsistent performance.  The first set is mostly strong but unremarkable.  My Funny Valentine gets the frothiest: after a fairly tame start, they get looser and woolier as they roll through its 23 minutes, but there's a bummer of a cut as Garcia is moving to the top of one his solos (@11:40ish).  Still, they slowly unmoor themselves from the song itself and boil to a spacey, tumbling climax, with Garcia trilling heatedly before walking down neatly back into the melody.  Very nice!  Roger "Jellyroll" Troy appears in the 2nd set to sing How Long Blues.  As far as guests go, he was an infrequent regular: we have tape of a couple of earlier sit-ins, and he was in the Howard Wales group that Garcia toured briefly with in Jan 72.  I'm not a big fan of Troy's singing style or his more aggressive bass playing (it reminds me a little of Jack Casady), but he was clearly a strong musician who was welcome onstage with some heavies (I see that Troy also guests on a Mike Bloomfield/Al Kooper Bottom Line recording from a few months earlier).  Garcia peels off a really nice solo in It's Too Late,  but nothing else in the set does much for me: After Midnight seems to never get off the ground, and My Problems Got Problems feels good but is much shorter than most other versions.  Garcia introduces Troy again at the end of the set, so maybe he's also sitting in for the closing How Sweet It Is?  A word for the audience, though: Moore's recording captures a crowd that's clearly hanging on every note, but is also listening hard and respectfully, with very little of the usual "Jerreee! Casey Jones! Dark Star!" hubbub.

Roger Troy 1/29/72 - courtesy GDAO
The last night, 7/3, is where something special happens.  The first set kicks off in high gear, but fumbles a bit at the end with a fairly leaden Mystery Train and a pretty sloppy but spirited Harder They Come with Maria Muldaur chipping in (I'm not hearing any second female vocalist like some setlists note).  The second set, however, is pretty unusual for the year, and is worth hearing both on its own terms and as a complement to some of the Dead's June 74 music.  Roger Troy returns for two more blues numbers, again with some questionable (imho) vocals but with ample space for Garcia to dig into some heavier blues, which sounds excellent.  But then Troy launches into a more upbeat bassline, kicking off a freeform (though not particularly spacey) jam that everyone pounces on.  The G/S band weren't strangers to exploring uncharted waters, but by '74 it had become less of a common practice, so this stands out as a late example of Garcia being willing to push the limits -- not surprising, given how often the Dead were doing this over the preceding weeks.  For as outsized as Troy could be on the straighter blues tunes, he's a great fit for the funky but less structured expedition here, just as he was on the 1/26/72 tape of the Wales/Garcia group.  While it's not at the superhuman levels of many of the Dead's June 74 improvisations (ahem), it's not just a funky blues vamp either, and they take enough twists and turns over the next 17 minutes to keep it interesting and consistently engaging; Garcia and Saunders pass the baton back and forth, Kreutzmann gets a solo, and after all of them dive back in for more, Garcia ends it masterfully by threading everything into an uptempo instrumental Summertime, a rarity that we have no recording of him playing since Jan '73.  How Sweet it Is closes the night again, this time with Muldaur joining on backup vocals and wishing everyone a happy Independence Day once it's done.  I can't tell if John Kahn returns to the bass or not, but either way, it's very unusual to hear nearly a whole set without him, particularly given how exploratory a lot of the playing is.
Garcia & Troy, 1/29/72, courtesy GDAO

For as far from the Keystone or the Lion's Share as they were, it's fitting that Garcia managed to end what must have been a pretty grueling tour with a return to the unstructured, after-hours club vibe that gave birth to this band in the first place.  Like the guy said years earlier, "nothing's weirder than coming to New York."

A final bit of color: here's another nugget from the NY Times on the Bottom Line, from a slightly later puff piece on the club's classy amenities and high-end sound system.  "Big acts like Jerry Garcia or Leonard Cohen have been guaranteed from $5000 to $7500,” reports the Times (not bad for a 400 seat club?), who also reserve a few words for the Bottom Line's kitchen. "For West Coast rock and roll, like Jerry Garcia, ordering will be heavy on pizza, french fries, and Heinekens." [2]

[1] Rockwell, John. "Dead's Fans Know Who a Friend Is."  The New York Times, 5 July 1974. Web.
[2] Walker, Gerald. "The Rock Road Leads to The Bottom Line." The New York Times, 4 May 1975. Web.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vitamin D JGB (Jerry outdoors)

Like I said in my my last post, Garcia's various solo endeavors didn't get outdoors very often for most of his career.  The magic of the outdoor show is a big part of Grateful Dead folklore and iconography (Haight Street, Veneta, the Frost and the Greek, and so on), but Garcia's side projects usually kept to far less idyllic locales.  But still, upon drawing up this little list, I was surprised just how few outdoor gigs he played during the Keystone era (1970's-1987).  In 1987, Bill Graham took over Garcia's solo bookings and he started playing some bigger outdoor venues both in California and on tour.  Before that, though, I think this is it:

10/3/71 -- Frost Amphitheatre, Palo Alto, CA.  Garcia/Saunders were on the bill at the Pamoja Jazz Concert (a benefit, I think?) with jazz artists Big Black and (wow) Bobby Hutcherson. (no recording).  Note that Garcia apparently also played later that night with the NRPS in Berkeley.  [see jgmf].

6/8/73 -- Warrenton Bluegrass Festival, Lake Whippoorwill, Warrenton, VA.  Old and in the Way.  Jerry Moore taped it and reported that the stage was a platform set up a few feet out in a lake.  Garcia's gig the following day also happened to be outdoors: a little shindig at RFK Stadium with the Dead and the Allman Brothers.

9/5/73 -- S.S. Bay Belle, New York City Harbor, NY.  Garcia/Saunders at a Hells Angels party.  No recording, but there's a brief clip of them in the Hells Angels Forever doc (starting @25:30ish; nsfw), and it looks like they're playing outside on the deck.

4/11/74 -- Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.  Garcia/Saunders.  I wonder what the occasion was? (no recording)

4/27&28/74 -- Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival, San Rafael, CA.  Garcia played both with Old and in the Way and the Great American String Band.  jgmf has a series on the entire festival.

5/25/74 -- Campus Stadium, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.  The Great American String Band was one of the opening acts for the Dead (apparently unbilled, along with the NRPS and Maria Muldaur).  How many times after 1971 was Garcia a part of his own opening act?  How did that banjo sound, pumping through the Wall of Sound?
5/25/74, source

9/2/74 -- Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.  Garcia/Saunders played the finale of a three-day People's Ballroom concert series (so, presumably, some sort of a benefit).

10/13/74 -- Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA.  Garcia/Saunders with Maria Muldaur.  No recording, but the sky is visible in this nice picture:
10/13/74, courtesy Merl Saunders Jr. via jgmf

5/30/75 -- Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.  Garcia sits in with the Diga Rhythm Band (Zakir Hussein, Mickey Hart, et al) who were opening a free concert by the Jefferson Starship. [see lostlivedead].
5/30/75, via, courtesy Ron Draper?

6/8/75 -- El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA.   "The Institute for Non-Violence Presents, A Day in the Park" on a Sunday afternoon with Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia (technically not the Legion of Mary, since Ron Tutt was MIA) and Kingfish.  David Gans' photos of G/S are here and one of Kingfish here.

10/17/75 -- Concord Pavilion, Concord, CA.  JGB with Kingfish and the Keith & Donna Band.  A very similar bill had played Winterland four months earlier (there was no JGB yet, but "Jerry Garcia and Friends" headlined).  It turned out to be a surprise Dead show, so I'm sure everyone in the pavilion was salivating tonight, but no dice.  I don't know what the occasion for this was, but all three bands were touring the east coast shortly after this show, so maybe this was a convenient way for everyone to road test some gear in a larger venue and make a little more money than individual local club gigs would bring?

8/12/77 -- Pier 31, San Francisco, CA.  A Greenpeace benefit, with some well-known photos but no circulating recording.  This was may also be the last gig that Ron Tutt played with the JGB until 1981?
8/12/77, under a blue blue sky

9/7/81 -- Concord Pavilion, Concord, CA.  KMEL-FM's Labor Day concert [see lostlivedead].  A buck to see Jerry on Labor Day?  Might as well, might as well.  I think this show is very good, better than average for the period.  Kruetzmann was (briefly) back on drums and is really kicking things along here, and Garcia responds accordingly.

6/16/82 -- Music Mountain, South Fallsburg, NY.  JGB on tour with Bobby & the Midnights.  This is a rightfully well-known show, one of the very best from the 1981-82 lineup.  Attendees report a sunny evening during Jerry's set and a downpour during Bobby's (and look at Kreutzmann's little kit in front of Billy Cobham's monster setup!)

10/30/82 -- Mesa Amphitheater, Mesa, AZ.  Another JGB/Bobby split show (the Midnights played first this time): a solid, workmanlike set by the new lineup on the first night of their southwest/east coast tour, but nothing to write home about.  Judging from pics of the venue online, this is definitely outdoors.

7/24/83 -- Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley, CA.  JGB at the Sierra Sun Music Festival.  Another excellent, high-energy show, and one of David Kemper's first as a bandmember.  The Dead also played here two months later.
The Band gets top billing; they would open for the Dead on NYE that year

5/18/84 -- Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, Irvine, CA.  This show is smokin', but it was an unusual venue for the JGB to play in '84.  The Dead played here regularly in the mid 80's, and the JGB played here again in '89, '92, and '94, but what was the occasion for this particular show?  Robert Hunter opened, and it was also a radio broadcast.

8/11/84 -- Caldwell College, Caldwell, NJ.  "Concerts on the Hill."  While this JGB tour definitely had its moments, imho this show was only okay -- but it was outdoors.  [see jgmf].

8/18/85 -- Dunsmuir House & Gardens, Oakland, CA.  Garcia & Kahn acoustic.  No comment about the music, but this lovely photo reveals it to be both outdoors and quite sunny.
8/18/85, courtesy Tim Schonholtz

That's 19 times [more?*] in over 15 years, though I'm sure there are a few more from the early days that we don't know about.  In August 1987, the JGB played two back-to-back shows at venues that were both about as idyllic as it could get -- French's Camp on the Eel River and the Greek Theater -- and a new period began.  Call it the era of Vitamin D JGB?

* some questionables:

7/7/74 -- Shorebird Park, Berkeley Marina, Berkeley, CA.  An uncertain Great American String Band gig at an event that either never happened at all, or the GASB didn't play, or something else.  [see jgmf].

3/3/76 -- Lane County Fairgrounds, Veneta, OR.  Unlike another certain faire ground in Veneta, this one appears to have indoor facilities, so I assume it was inside.  But I don't know. [edit: the poster advertises the venue as the Lane County Fairground Auditorium Building, so that answers that question.  Note, however, that this is another Acidophilus Productions/Springfield Creamery show that, as far as I know, has gotten next-to-no notice in the GD/JG world.  c'est la vie.]

9/15/76 -- S.S. Duchess, New York City Harbor, NY.  Another Hells Angels party, but this time it looks pretty clearly like they're playing inside [youtube].

8/10/84 -- Rocky Glen Amusement Park, Moosic, PA.  I don't know if this was an outdoor venue or not.  There was a Rocky Glen Music Hall in Moosic, but there was also an outdoor music venue at the local amusement park too (or at least there was in the 1950's-60's, thanks to this old footage).  fwiw, unlike the next night, I think this is a strong show with some standout performances.  Stump your friends at your next GD Trivia Night with this one: name two adjacent years where Garcia played at an amusement park.