Monday, July 24, 2017

4/9/83: quickie check-in

https://archive.org/details/gd1983-04-09.mtx.seamons.97109.flac16

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 all get moments 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 particular on fire during a breathtaking tear through Another Star — very fast, but precise, and totally synched up with the horns’ accompaniment that structures 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 fast 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

1/13/77, 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