Tuesday, May 23, 2017

9/2/74: it's nice to be back in the park

Quick [edit: ha!] hat-tip to this fantastic show, the mid-74 Garcia/Saunders band playing a one-set outdoor benefit in Golden Gate Park's Marx Meadow, lovingly recorded by Betty-Cantor Jackson.  As tempted as I am to make a big deal of the fact that it's a rare solo Garcia outdoor show, it's probably not that big a deal: Garcia/Saunders had played in the park that April (no tape), at the Santa Barbara Bowl in October (no tape), and at El Camino Park in Palo Alto the following June (tape!).  But Garcia's side bands usually were confined to indoor clubs until he outgrew them in the late 80's, and I suspect that being able to play out in the open would fire him up a bit more than usual.  Another thing worth pointing out is that the contrast between the GD world and "Garcia solo" world is particularly wide here: while the increasingly insular/unruly/semi-dysfunctional Dead organization had been dragging their Walls of Sound (two of them!) around the country and were about to take the whole coke-fueled circus to Europe in a few weeks, Garcia's side band was wrapping up a month's worth of local club and benefit gigs with an afternoon outdoor performance at his old stomping grounds in Golden Gate Park.  I think it's safe to assume that the guy was more than happy to be there.

Wall of sound...
6/30/74, courtesy James Anderson (no hard feelings, I hope)

vs. toadstool of sound?
9/2/74, courtesy Ed Merrin, though I've also seen this dated April 74?
Local color is supplied by this Berkeley Barb review, and amazingly there's a 4 minute clip of video (see jgmf) that reveals a remarkable amount about this gig.  We know for sure that Billy Kreutzmann is drumming (I would bet money that he was also drumming the night before, officially released in the Pure Jerry series, which erroneously credits Paul Humphrey), and that there's a second guest saxophonist that may be Snooky Flowers, and that there's at least one major equipment breakdown, which may indicate why this tape seems to have more buzzes and glitches than the average Bettyboard (given that it was probably a funkier technical situation than the usual circuit of Bay Area clubs?)

Anyway, the music is just wonderful: "simple precision and mountain lake clarity" indeed.  I presume it was a more-or-less 90 minute set, if Second That Emotion was the first tune (it sounds like Betty's getting her mix settled, so I'm assuming it was).  Expressway to Your Heart particularly soars -- as much as I love this song, I find G/S performances of it tend to be a little draggy as often as not, but this one really cruises along at a smooth pace from start to finish, and Garcia is in prime form.  The video reveals that Sitting in Limbo breaks down midway, stopping dead due to some technical issue; on the tape this is edited and sounds like a tape cut, but you can hear Kreutzmann and Garcia restarting the song as it's fading back in.  Until I saw the video, I had never noticed the baritone sax, which is very low in the mix and nearly inaudible at times compared to Martin Fierro, but Flowers(?) is a cool and unusual addition -- this band was pretty open to guests, but as far as we know, those were rarely saxophonists (for whatever reason, mystery trumpet player(s) were less unusual).  He sticks around for Neighbor, Neighbor and Mystery Train, both of which are outstanding versions (Billy K knew how to really swing Mystery Train), and Fierro and Garcia glide through a top-notch La-La, a tune that sounds made for a late summer afternoon in the park.  Jerry drily announces that the permit time is up and closes up with a fast, very energetic How Sweet It Is.

Summer '74 was a good time for this band, and I have to think that the exaggerated contrast between the Dead's unsustainably huge touring setup versus the casual local nature of these gigs must have played a part in that.  The June '74 shows with Tony Saunders on bass are outstanding, and I also particularly like 8/15, 8/30 (another shorter show in excellent sbd), and 8/31.  Then the great Paul Humphrey joined in October-November on drums, which is another story for another post.

3 comments:

  1. Tony Saunders on bass? Are recordings available? Where was Kahn? That is something I need to hear.

    Other than the Garcia/Grisman dates, how many times did Garcia front a band that did not have either Phil Lesh or John Kahn on bass? Not many I would think?

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  2. Hi unknown: Yes, recordings circulate for 6/4, 6/5 & 6/6/74, and I recommend checking them out. Garcia & Saunders also played with Tony on bass on 2/14/75 and 5/9/75 (this was Merl's other band Aunt Monk, though very sim to Legion of Mary), and on the tapes that circulate (mis)dated 7/21 & 7/22/74 (the actual dates are Jan 21-22 1975; I think they were billed as Garcia/Saunders?). Dunno where Kahn was on the June 74 shows, but the other dates were all Merl's gigs. Garcia sat in with Merl's band on 10/3/78, which I presume still had Tony on bass. They are all great performances, and you'll hear the difference: I like John Kahn a lot, but Tony is a funkier player.

    Other shows without Kahn... there's one of the Jan 73 G/S shows with vocalist Sarah Fulcher where the bassist from (I think) Fulcher's own band plays instead of Kahn. Kahn didn't play in the Great American String Band, of which Garcia was briefly a member in '74. There are a couple of shows from March 82 where Dave Torbert covers for Kahn. So you're right, not many.

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    Replies
    1. and also Roger 'Jellyroll' Troy, who played bass with Howard Wales' group (see 1/26/72 Garcia & Wales), and who also occasionally sat in for a couple songs here and there with G/S.

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