Saturday, August 17, 2019

8/16/80: bring a poncho

My problem regarding this blog is that I ignore the little stuff and get bogged down in the big projects.  I really should do more little hit 'n run posts like this.

I gave this show an anniversary spin yesterday and quite enjoyed it:

No rain check indeed.  The Mississippi River Festival was an every-other-week-or-so summer concert series hosted by Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, a half-hour outside of St. Louis (lots of info here, if you're really curious).  "Maybe 3000 in a small outdoor shed close by the river," recalls an eyewitness at LMA, and "everyone except for the first 10 rows or so got soaked!"  It was was the first show of their late summer 1980 run, and also their first show after the death of Keith Godchaux.  It's a solid 1980 show, all good but not a lot of standout stuff, save for a couple of things that I submit for your consideration:
  • Althea > Looks Like Rain is imho the most exciting thing in the first set.  1980 muscle!
  • This China>Rider, however, is the most exciting thing in the show, a real all-timer.  Sharp as a tack, with everything you want from this vintage: a very energetic but not rushed tempo; a depth-charging, fiery Garcia-led jam with a great peak; a belting "headlight" verse with a huge Phil bomb.  The works, in other words.
  • Joani Walker's aud tape is utterly fantastic all the way through, the work of a real master taper (Noah Weiner wrote a short but sweet ode to it at his great old blog), but the sound of the rain coming down hard, starting around 20 seconds into Ship of Fools, is one of those one-of-a-kind terroir moments that is magical and utterly unique to this recording.  You can almost smell it.
  • Tip of the hat to Brent Mydland for his keyboard work at the start of the Estimated jam.  The sound of his electric piano, with a perfect mix of echo/delay and outdoor rainy ambience, is totally sublime.
Another famous rain show is 6/20/83, and as intense as this recording is, it doesn't quite hit the sweet spot for me like this one does.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

for the good of the order

Some general points for the good of the order:

First, RIP's are due for both Bill Vitt, who powered the first classic Garcia/Saunders lineup, and Art Neville, co-founder of the Meters, one of my all-time favorite groups and a huge cornerstone of my musical taste.  I have a lot more I could say about both, but don't know where to begin.  Vitt was a consummate drummer and a monster player who, moreso than any of the drummers in Garcia's orbit besides Kreutzmann, could move effortlessly from bedrock funk to the outer reaches of jazz exploration.  When I first heard Art Neville and the Meters as a teenager, it took a few listens for what they were doing to sink in -- and then my sense of what music could sound like was pretty much rewired.  [requisite Garcia connection: Just Kissed My Baby].

Also, thanks to continued input from JGMF and Light Into Ashes, I made a substantial update to my run-down on the Mickey & the Hartbeats shows.  Spoiler: I now hear Jack Casady playing on exactly one jam with Garcia and the drummers.  If that got you curious, then dive in:

Also, if you're a fan of Beull Neidlinger's playing in the Great American String/Music Band (and, really, what red-blooded fan of great American music isn't?), then you may find this intriguing: a link to an interview I added as a comment to this older post.  Nine years -- and lord knows how many A-level studio session dates -- after the three tiny club gigs he he played with Garcia, Greene, and friends, and he sounds like he's defending himself in light of his free jazz street cred!?  Amazing.

Friday, July 19, 2019

to the moon, Jerry!

Hi!  I know, I know.

A good excuse to break the silence is to repost this list, which I'm sure my four devoted readers have seen me post elsewhere.  But in honor of everyone's nerd-buzz around the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, here is a handy list of Moon Landing Dark Stars.

Apollo 11 launched on 7/16/69 and landed on the Moon on 7/20.  The Dead's closest gig was a few days earlier in New Yor (7/12), where they did play Dark Star, although you may find it a stretch to connect the two events.  However...

Apollo 12 landed on 11/19/69.  The GD nearly played Dark Star at their next show, 11/21, but pulled up short, likely because of time constraints.  They played a full-blown monster version at the following show, 12/4/69.

Apollo 13 lifted off on 4/11/70.  Dark Star was played that night, with the GD in the unenviable position of following Miles Davis.  Sadly, there is no tape.

Apollo 14 landed on 2/5/71.  Dark Star, with the classic "Beautiful Jam," was played at the next GD show, 2/18/71.

Apollo 15 landed on 7/30/71.  Dark Star was played at at the next GD show, 7/31/71.

Apollo 16 landed on 4/21/72.  That night, the GD played an abbreviated set for German television, but played one of the true all-timer Dark Stars at the next proper show on 4/24/72.

Apollo 17, the final manned moon mission, landed on 12/11/72.  Dark Star was played that night.  If you missed it, Lemieux posted the only uncut sbd copy of it at the Taper's Section a few months ago:

There you go.  That should make a nice little playlist for you.

"Houston, do we have a setlist from last night yet?"

Sunday, August 26, 2018

June '93: this could be the last time (maybe? I don't know?)

I'm on summer hours, once again.  This one has been in the can and just been sitting for a while.

courtesy @fromthelot

Last month, I took it upon myself to listen to all of the Dead's June 1993 tour, which you may understandably think would be a thankless task.  June '93 is occasionally mentioned as being the last consistently "good" Dead tour -- although different folks draw that line in many different places in the 1990's.  While I've heard nearly all of the JGB's 1993 shows, the Dead that year were a mostly blank spot for me, so I figured it would make for an educational contrast, at the very least.  Besides, consistency is ultimately interesting in theory, but what I really want are the best performances and I don't much care if I have to wade through a few middling shows to find the good stuff.  I was surprised, however, that I found plenty of fine performances and that listening to all of these rarely felt like a chore.  Many folks, however, may appreciate some pointers, so here's my take on it.

The specs of the tour have been covered in many other places.  The Modern Deadhead has one good take on what was happening.  But, in brief:

1. This was their second tour with their in-ear monitor system.  The bandmembers were on record as having loved it for providing more detailed, individually tailored, and controlled monitor mixes, and for cutting down a great deal of the noise onstage.  Healy had moved most of their amps under the stage, so nearly all of the sound was coming through the PA system.  The fans were, by most accounts, not as pleased by the change in the sound.

2. Dan Healy was still running their front-of-house sound, but things seem to have come to a head this tour over how he was mixing the opening acts (Sting opened most shows) and, according to the gossip, Bob Weir.  If the circulating sbd tapes reflect Healy's house mix, this doesn't seem particularly to be the case, at least with regard to Weir.  But who knows?  Healy left the band in March 1994.

3. This was Garcia's final tour with his Rosebud guitar (1990?-1993).  The much-maligned Lightning Bolt was introduced in August (see here).

4. Weir's voice was in really rough shape, and he had surgery on his vocal cords not too long after.

5. The other big sticking point for many folks is the raft of new original and cover songs that the band introduced in 1992 and early 1993.  You know 'em, you know how you feel about 'em.  For me, Days Between and Liberty were reliable winners from Garcia, while So Many Roads and Lazy River Road were solid songs that began to feel increasingly over-sentimental every time I heard them.  Eternity and Easy Answers were dinged irreparably by sub-par lyrics, though Easy Answers' groove did begin to grow on me (not an opinion shared by most, I know).  Lesh singing Broken Arrow was charming enough, particularly when it prompted some nice Garcia soloing (see 6/23 for a nice one).

So, children, what does it all mean? 

As much as the narrative of the band's final five years tends to (or used to?) center predominantly on Jerry's health, addictions, and decline, there was surprisingly little of any of that on display here.  For nearly all of this tour, Jerry usually sounded like he was doing just fine.  Comparisons to [insert your favorite era here] inevitably may not hold up to whatever expectations you may have, but you may also be pleasantly surprised: I certainly was not expecting Jerry to sound as good as he did in most of this music. 

As much as that same narrative tends to skewer Vince Welnick, I didn't see much call for that here, either.  Granted, I don't care for his voice, but I can listen around it -- and it's not like anyone else was nailing their vocal parts, either.  Welnick's keyword work, however, was consistently very good, and I heard just as much piano in the mix as his other, more novel MIDI sounds (which, to my ears, were generally no worse than a lot of Brent Mydland's synth patches).  I don't think his playing deserves most of the flack that it gets from critics of this final period.

courtesy Bill Smythe, GDAO

The Jerry was out of it, Vince was no good, therefore the 90's suck line, at least as it relates to these shows, doesn't hold up.  Yet it's hard to deny that this still sounds like a band in the twilight of their greatness, although not quite on their last legs.  Why?  There were a couple factors that get eclipsed by the Jerry/Vince axis of blame, but imho contribute far more to the problematic aspects of these shows than not.  Newer books about the band's last days (David Browne's, Joel Selvin's, Kreutzmann's, and so on) emphasize just how tired of it everyone had become, and also point to the unintended effect of those new ear monitors.  For as much as everyone could fine-tune their personal mixes, they seem to have gone too far in that direction, playing more for their own mix rather than the group dynamic, and further isolating each from the other -- some have claimed that some bandmembers purposefully tuned each other out altogether.  Some listeners put down the "sterile" quality of the sbd recordings, but I didn't find the aud tapes to be all that different, since the band's set-up had become, for all intents and purposes, pretty similar to an actual recording studio: the amps off in isolation and everyone hearing each other through headphones with different personalized mixes.  As a musician, that setup makes it easier to hear what you sound like, but harder to sense what everyone else actually sounds like as an ensemble in real life.  That's what I think was the essence of the problem, moreso than any obvious musical shortcomings.

For my own listening, I went with the sbds, which were generally pretty crisp, pleasant listens.  Again, the general wisdom among some heads is that aud tapes are the way to go for this era, but to my ears the sbds weren't bad at all and reflected the same mix the audience heard (unlike, say, sbds from the early 80's, where a lot of sound from the stage amps didn't make it into the PA mix).  Weir seemed lost in the mix earlier in the tour, but this mostly fixed itself after a few shows and he seemed, if anything, a tad loud for the rest of them (though, to be fair to everyone, I'm sure Weir's style and his various unusual timbres/effects were tricky to mix smoothly with the rest of the band).

The highlights:

6/5, 6/6 - Giants Stadium

The first two shows were the most uneven of the tour, each with some embarrassing trainwrecks but also one major keeper apiece.  6/5 sports a run-of-the-mill Scarlet with short transition jam into a monster Fire on the Mountain that stands up well in the company of many the better 90's versions.  Garcia drops one verse and only plays two solos, so it clocks in at a shorter 11 min, but both are exciting and dramatic, and exemplify thoughtful 90's Jerry at his best.  [edit: thanks to David Leopold for pointing out that I failed to mention the unique debut of Easy Answers in the middle of Music Never Stopped, a strange but effective move that they pull off pretty well!]
6/6 has patches of uninspired playing, but Garcia incites the band to some old-fashioned fury with a titanic Playing in the Band that showcases their "late" style at its best: rather than piling on the turmoil and dissonance until it explodes, Garcia seems more intent on playing more variably with the density and mood here (one great moment is when things start getting hairy, Garcia turns on the MIDI flute, which is both effective and almost funny) and it ends not with a dramatic meltdown but with an opaque variation on the Playin' riff.  Very interesting and very, very good.

6/8, 6/9 - The Palace, Auburn Hills, MI

Overall 6/8 is a solid, much tighter show than the prior two.  A big, high-energy Bird Song with a hot climax is worth hearing (although note the contrast with the also-excellent but quite different 6/26 performance).  Garcia's vocals are particularly good at the end of New Speedway Boogie and in He's Gone, and fans of Standing On the Moon (which I am not) have pointed out that this was the first time he extended the vocals at the end.  The guy must have had an extra cup of tea tonight!  6/9 is also consistently good, but really picks up in the final stretch.  The Drums>Space segments from this period are often praised as being the only real deep diving the band did anymore: I found less variation than I expected, though, with both segments following a pretty regular arc from night to night.  6/9, however, stood out as definitely worth hearing: some haunting churchbell sounds in Drums, a stunning transition (Garcia's melodicism is often on full display in some of these moments, this one in particular), and an exciting Space with a near-Tiger jam and some eerie lines from Welnick to bring it down to a close.  Garcia nails a surprisingly wonderful Wharf Rat with some excellent soloing; and then, of all things, Around and Around surprised me with an extended "jazzy" ending without any vocal reprise from Weir.  Goes to show! 

6/11 - Buckeye Lake, Hebron, OH

This is likely the best known show of this tour?  It's probably the most consistently good one from start to finish.  I didn't feel like its highlights were quite as good as ones from other more inconsistent shows, but this may be the one to pick for a single smooth listen.  The Jack Straw > Foolish Heart > Same Thing combo that begins the night is a great ride, and the second set is in a groove all the way through -- even Corrina gets a nice jam at the end as they slowly pull away from the sructure -- and the Watchtower > Black Peter are both as hot as you want them to be.

6/13 - Rich Stadium, Buffalo, NY

This is one of the clunkers.  Nothing bad happens, but nothing much else happens, either, largely due to an uninspired setlist that is light on the improv.  It occurred to me during the decent Deal jam that Garcia was pushing as hard as he regularly did with the JGB that year, but that the Dead didn't seem willing or able to go there with him.  Days Between always seems to save post-Drumz from mediocrity, as dark and heavy a tune as it was, and this one is a beauty.

6/15, 6/16 - Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY

The first night has a cracklin' Althea that is now on my list of personal favorites, and there's an overall good energy to the 2nd set, although a very gentle, meditative Space and the only Morning Dew of the tour are the only big standouts.  The 16th has another long Foolish Heart that's nearly as good as the more famous one on 6/11, a very hot jam in Saint, and a lovely and focused Stella Blue, but otherwise isn't a remarkable show.

6/18, 6/19 - Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

Both of these were B-level shows for the tour, never rising much above decent.  Still, though, I was impressed how even the most meat-and-potatoes shows were still okay listens, albeit nothing I need to hear again.  6/18 gets the nod for an engaged Playing > Uncle John's and a fine China Doll.

6/21, 6/22, 6/23 - Deer Creek, Noblesville, IN
The first night starts off right with a fantastic Jack Straw, definitely one of the best post-Hornsby versions I've heard, then rolls on through a great 1st set, although nothing much happens in the 2nd.  Likewise, 6/22 kicks off with a doozy: a wonderful Help > Slip > Frank with a really fantastic jam in Slipknot -- seriously, that bit from @1:50-2:30 is unlike anything I've heard them do in a Slipknot jam before -- then features a spirited progression of pre-Drums tune, ending with a very long vocal coda to He's Gone (almost 5 min!).  6/23 has the big jam of the tour, at the heart an otherwise so-so show.  Wave to the Wind, not anyone's favorite new tune, is actually done rather well, giving way to a Terrapin that sports a major jam afterwards, with Jerry taking off a jackrabbit and blazing through 12 minutes of some of the best post-Terrapin jamming that they ever did, any era.  A rare mini Dark Star pops up after Space, followed by a lovely Wheel to end a fantastic segment that may be the best place to start if you're skeptical about an endeavor like this.

6/25, 6/26 - RFK Stadium, Washington, DC

There's a pretty priceless recording of the soundcheck, showing the Dead at their most endearingly dysfunctional: I'll save the blow-by-blow, but it's worth 20 minutes of your day.  Bruce Hornsby sits in for both shows -- on accordion, unfortunately.  I'm an open-minded guy, but the thing seems to clutter up an already full mix and rarely adds much beyond a weezy, monochromatic texture.  6/25 is the better of the two shows.  The 1st set sports fine versions of Half Step, Althea, Cassidy, and Cumberland Blues, and is worth a listen on headphones to hear Garcia's and Hornsby's plainly audible chatter to each other between songs.  Pre-drums is excellent with a smokin' China>Rider, a very hot Saint, a crushing jam in Uncle John's with Garcia taking an extra lap for good measure and then twisting the final riff right into his Corrina lick, which cruises along on the momentum (not often the case), and then Drums sports one of the more titanic Beam segments of the tour.  Whoosh! 

For the last night, Garcia popped in for the end of Sting's set (who had opened most of the shows this tour), sounding off-the-cuff but pretty good, all things considered, with Sting's band making room for him to do his thing.  The show itself is decent, but overall not an inspiring finish.  Feel Like a Stranger, however, may be an all-timer, sans Hornsby and with Garcia playing it to the hilt; dynamic and exciting from start to finish, and Brown-Eyed Women sounds great coming right after.  Bird Song is a more meandering, psychedelic version, a nice ramble through several peaks, valleys, and woods, and Garcia shreds up the ending of Picasso Moon in fine style.  But Hornsby's wheezing around for most of this, and the 2nd set is only saved by a solid Playing jam, slow-burning and pleasantly weird, then a Terrapin that's followed by more of usual hazy, spacey jam with none of the wild energy of 6/23.  Things peter out in the final stretch, and it's all over.

Ups, downs, the Grateful Dead in a nutshell.  Covering whole tours, warts and all, can be a risky undertaking for the burnout factor, and I think it's a testimony to the band that even in the more bland patches, I rarely felt any ennui or boredom.  I may yet work up the energy to give a close listen to the following Aug '93 Eugene shows (yet another "last great Dead shows" dividing line for some), but I left this June '93 tour feeling pretty good about a band that was slowly collapsing offstage and who's end was a scant two years away.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Urobouros Deedni Mublasaron (Jerry Week 2018)

Commence Jerry Week!  I eased into a bleary-eyed morning with 9/11/76 (one of the best later 70's JGB shows), but a moment of satori while listening to this next show inspired me to post:

8/13/75 is my "Barton Hall" show: an early acquisition that's cemented in my mind as the platonic ideal of what the Dead sound like.  Make Believe Ballroom '75 was in the first batch of tapes I owned as a young teenager, full of cuts but magical nevertheless, and One From the Vault was likely the first live release I bought after Live Dead and Europe 72.  I am of the opinion that this is the single best played show the band ever did and, unlike Barton Hall, it's spotless from start to finish.  You probably don't need me to tell you any of this: unlike Barton Hall, I can't recall seeing any argument over the quality of the Great American Music Hall show.

Today it occurred to me that Crazy Fingers from this show is one of the best exemplars of what makes Garcia so special both as a singer and a guitarist.  The whole show, of course, is filled with these, but what stands out about this song in particular is that it's not an expansive, extended improvisation.  His solo here is etched in the purest stone, a perfect jewel of gentle, effortless melodic invention within the four corners of the tune's structure.  The spiraling jam at the end would be taken in different directions in 1976 and beyond, but this one serves more as an extended coda and is a perfect contrast to the solo: Garcia at the center of a kaleidoscopic ensemble wave that could only have been created by the Grateful Dead.

under eternity blue

an unrelated musical event, but a good observation nonetheless

Saturday, July 7, 2018

4/28/79: aud tape ephemera

4/23/79, by Chris Stone

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

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

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

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

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

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, June 25, 2018

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

update (Jan 2019): Light Into Ashes has updated his in-depth history of the relationship between the Dead and the Allman Brothers.  Frankly, he does a much better job analyzing the Allmans' portions of these RFK shows than I did.  This is a must-read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final big encore jam ("third set" doesn't seem accurate) features Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks, and Merl Saunders has always been noted as also being present, though no organ can be heard at all.  An out-of-left-field, warm-up version of It Takes a Train to Cry may be the only thing to indicate (or infer) that he's there?  Regardless, things get cooking between Betts and Garcia on a simmering That's All Right (Mama, to you), though the real stars of this may be the drummers who swing and sizzle like no tomorrow.  The guitarists occasionally find their way into some seemingly spontaneous trademark Allman unison lines, but otherwise Garcia seems like he's politely deferring to Betts, and Betts seems either not totally comfortable, or just fraying a bit at the end of a long day and a longer party (it was after 1:00 in the morning at this point).  The same goes for the NFA/GDTRFB sandwich, though pay attention to Weir: he's slashing and burning away back there and working double-time to keep this jam moving at optimum speed.  Nice work, Bobby!

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

[edit: dunno how I missed this, but OAITW also played the following night, 6/11, at Temple University in Phildelphia, with Doug Sahm opening!]