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 in a tiny, idyllic Marin County enclave that held all of 150 people.  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, that’s 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 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, Garcia sounds like he’s burning harder than usual.  He’s particular on fire in 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 Sun, 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 vocals that end 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 first tenor solo, but the transition sounds way too fast for it to be Stallings switching horns (it sounds like 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 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 played with Garcia since '74.  She was still involved with John Kahn, but maybe she was 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 must 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

http://www.archive.org/details/gd1982-07-17.fob.nak300.ho.bowen-foster.102172.flac

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 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
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 Kiwanas 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 his of 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 shows a crowd that's clearly hanging on every note, but that's also listening hard and respectfully, with very little of the usual "Jerreee! Casey Jones! Dark Star!" chatter.

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 locations.  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 was able to play 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 dead.net, 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!)
6/16/82


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 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 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.

9/15/76 -- S.S. Duchess, New York City Harbor, NY.  Another Hells Angels party, but this time it looks 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 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 good 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.

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.