Monday, August 31, 2015

the burdens of being an usher

(third track in)

There's a new transfer at LMA of one of the legendary Marty Weinberg’s recordings from the Capitol Theater on 11/7/70.  It's just the tail end of the 2nd set and all of the (short) 3rd set.  In my (and most everybody else’s) opinion, the 7th is the weakest show from this famous run (lightintoashes is on the case as always!), but this fragment is worth a listen for a little impromptu "interview" with an extremely laid back usher (not Ken Lee, I presume).  Nefarious fire chiefs and undercover cops notwithstanding, being an user apparently isn’t a bad job at all — if you don’t have to hassle anybody.  “The Dead is the worst one [concert] for hassling people… everybody smokes.”  Then we get a demonstration of said hassling: “Don’t smoke that joint!  Pass it around!”  Everyone's gotta make a living, I guess.

After some talk about police busts, plus an argument about which night has been the best so far, the interview closes with the revelation that the usher is sporting a bootleg Dead t-shirt (two bucks, “go to Flushing, Union Street”).  He refuses Marty's offer to buy any Dead tapes, though.  Professional!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ain't Got You > U.S. Blues?

Apropos of just posting a review of a July 4th show: the other night I'm sitting on the porch with a good friend and "U.S. Blues" comes on.  He casually remarks, "you know they totally stole this from Jimmy Reed?"  Oh really?  See what you think:

For you non-blues fans, Jimmy Reed's the guy who wrote "Baby, What You Want Me To Do," "Big Boss Man," and "It's a Sin."  Pretty foundational stuff for the Dead and for rock & roll in general.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

LOM 7/4/75 Great American Music Hall

Man, it's been a nice, long summer, and my work ethic is clearly on vacation.  But I've got some ideas trying to gell into a postable state, and this one was the easiest to wrassle into shape.  I've been on a bit of a Legion of Mary kick (a good soundtrack to match my work ethic) and had been paging through Howard Weiner's new-ish book Positively Garcia.  It's not without its problems, but it's still currently the only book devoted to the non-Dead side of Garcia, and it's also not trying to be any kind of in-depth history: Weiner picks his 13 favorite Garcia shows and reviews them in depth.  He's an early 80's man all the way, and only three 70's shows make the cut: 2/6/72, 6/30/72, and 7/4/75.  The first two get no argument from me, but the '75 pick surprised me (particularly because Weiner doesn't seem to much like Legion of Mary very much in the first place).  I knew it, but hadn't ever given it a critical listen, so what the heck?

a month earlier, in Palo Alto.  Not many LOM pics out there!
We are lucky to have two great sources, a Bettyboard and a fantastic Reinhart Hohlwein aud tape (which sounds like a stage mic recording, like those great Falanga/Menke tapes).  There's also a matrix, but personally I'd go with either of the pure sources in this case (an overview of the different available sources is here).  I listened to the sbd and was most satisfied.

Like most LOM shows, this one has its up and downs, but I do think this is more consistent than most.  The first set starts strong, but doesn't really hit it's stride until midway through.  I'll Take a Melody is a nice opener (it's missing from the sbd, though), then we get a slooow paced Feel Like Dynamite, even slower than most others.  Tutt and Kahn keep it tight and grooving, but it's still really slow and lagging a bit energy-wise.  This kind of deliberate extreme slowness is something I wonder about, but will save for a future post -- I know it's off-putting to many folks, but I'm fascinated by it even when it doesn't particularly work for me.  Someday Baby is one of those tunes that always seems like a good sign: not a staple of the repertoire, and not a real rarity, either, but it seems to me that it tended to make an appearance when Garcia was feeling a little spunky.  Then we get some lift-off: That's All Right Mama wasn't a common LOM tune (only one other version circulates, from two weeks earlier), but this really sizzles: unlike most other Garcia performances, Tutt and Kahn give this one a funkier rhythm, more akin to "That's What Love Will Make You Do," and less of the usual chugging rockabilly "train" rhythm.  Mississippi Moon is a song that I feel was done much better by later Garcia groups, but this one might be the best Saunders-era performance I've heard: it floats along just like it should, and Tutt throws in these nice snare rolls that remind me of Levon Helm on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."  Boogie On Reggae Woman finishes up the set on a high note: unlike Merl's first slowed down selection of the evening, this one is actually played a little more uptempo than usual.  They're cooking now!  I particularly like Martin Fierro's sax solo, which sounds pitched up higher than a tenor sax (he's playing through a Varitone or some other electric effect, I think; I'm pretty sure it's Fierro and not a guest).  The saxophone is another thing some folks don't appreciate about this era of Garcia, but I think Fierro was usually a good stylistic fit, and this is an A+ example of that.  It sounds like we lose a chunk of Saunders' solo in a reel flip, but this is still a top drawer version of BORW before Garcia announces the break.

Tough Mama splices in to begin the second set and things are still riding high: this version was released on the Legion of Mary official release, and I'd be hard pressed to find a better one (though TM fans should check the "4/12/75 early show" version, too).  Little Sunflower is good, but not great; I appreciate the diverse nature of this group, but I don't think jazz was really their strong suit.  Tutt and Kahn could really work wonders as a rhythm section, but not always on the jazz material.  This one, at least, finds a groove and floats along pleasantly, so no complaints.  Garcia gets everyone's priorities back in order with a strong Tore Up Over You, breaking out his slide for a little bottleneck action near the end that sounds pretty strong; then he eases back into a wonderful Every Word You Say, really shooting flames in that excellent final solo.  Merl's My Problems Got Problems is a solid one, not quite stirring up the the voodoo soul stew like the best 74-75 versions, but plenty satisfying.  I've never been a huge fan of It's Too Late but Garcia breaks out the slide once again and this one may be as good as they got on this tune.  Similarly, I also don't have a lot of love for these Tutt-era Harder They Comes, which tend to plod along and never get off the ground.  As tight as they are tonight, this one didn't feel much different -- it's a little bit of an anticlimax, perhaps, but they do kick up the energy for a flashy loud finish, which I appreciate.

Ups, downs, definitely more than just another night at the office for this band, but I don't know that it makes it into my own imaginary list of the greats.  For my money, Legion of Mary doesn't get much better than 5/21/75, and 5/15/75 is up there as well.  Still, 7/4/75 is a strong one and it's held up to a few repeat listens over the past few days.  Unfortunately, this July 4th weekend run of shows (the 4th, 5th, and 6th) was also the last stand for this group: Saunders and Fierro were left aside, apparently with little warning or explanation, and Garcia, Kahn, and Tutt began the first official Jerry Garcia Band a few months later.  This has always been a blurry spot in Garcia's history (and not one that reflects well on Garcia), but from a musical standpoint I think it makes a good amount of sense: without speculating too much, I don't think it's a stretch to presume that lumbering funk jams and jazz tunes weren't what Garcia wanted to play anymore, and I suspect he didn't see the band as ever going in a substantially different direction.  Weiner asserts in his book that Saunders' tunes don't "successfully co-exist" with Garcia's, and that Saunders and Fierro hold back the x-factor that flows freely whenever Garcia steps up for a solo.  I don't buy that explanation myself: there are nights, particularly in some of the fall '74 Garcia/Saunders shows, where Saunders and Fierro are totally on it while Garcia seems like he's treading water, and I tend to side more with the JGMF school of thought that Garcia playing challenging and unusual material tended to bring out more positive dimensions to his playing.  On the other hand, it could feel at times like Garcia was more like a sideman in the Saunders/Fierro band, though, and I can see why that would have naturally ran its course.  Other reasons (economic ones certainly) certainly came into play, but I don't see much mystery in why Garcia parted company from Saunders for the time being.  They did go out on a high note, at least.

Some final thoughts:

Check your hard drives and see if you agree, but I think the fileset circulating as 6/18/75 is a duplicate of this show: it's a different, lower quality aud recording and is clearly incomplete, but what's there sounds identical to the 7/4/75 performances, minus the instrumentals.

Amazingly, Garcia played the GAMH 30 times between 1973-1976.  Corry at lostlivedead did an excellent post on the Dead's famous 8/13/75 Great American Music Hall show, with some excellent background color on the venue:

Also, during this same 4th of July weekend, Bob Marley was playing only a few blocks away at the Boarding House, with an additional show on Monday the 7th (broadcast on KSAN, circulating widely, and currently available here if you're interested).  We have tapes dated July 7 of the Dead working at Weir's studio -- I wonder if Garcia & co. crept on down to the Boarding House afterwards to, um, let off some smoke after a busy few days? (figuratively speaking, obviously)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jerry Week 2015

I grew up outside of New York City [edit: my mother would kill me if she heard me refer to it as New York City.  Sorry, mom!], where Columbia University's WKCR-FM was renowned for its 24-or-more-hour birthday broadcasts of jazz legends -- I have particularly fond youthful memories of July 4th weekend, which meant 48 hours of Louis Armstrong alternated with 12 hours of The Twilight Zone on WPIX Channel 11 -- so something about the idea of marking left-of-center cultural icons with huge marathon celebrations has been hardwired into me.  Given all that, the idea that Jerry Garcia gets a whole 9-day week among the faithful just makes me happy.

I'm getting things started with one of my favorite Scarlet>Fires from 4/13/83 Burlington, VT.

Happy Jerry Week.