Thursday, November 30, 2017

10/24/78: floundering in the snow

This is a fantastic aud tape of a Keystone show that you could probably get along fine without ever hearing.  Just being honest.  But there are a couple of things:

First, go John Angus and Scott Hart!  They put down a few other JGB shows on tape that month, and this one is a particularly sweet specimen: rich, full, balanced sound with just enough depth and flavor to really please these ears.

Second, the band is actually playing quite well, just content to cruise along in a lower gear.  Keith sounds like he’s in particularly good fettle, foreshadowing the wonderful interplay between him and Jerry in the more well-known 10/28/78 Seattle show.  Everyone sounds fine tonight, locked in and focused, but it's still a mellow, slippers-and-sweatpants kind of show.  There's not really much to review, actually.  Highlights, if you’re looking, would be a surprisingly tasty Love in the Afternoon (surprising since I generally dislike that song), a very nice Mission in the Rain, and the neat curiosity of Lee Oskar blowing some discrete harp on Gomorrah and Midnight Moonlight.

Third, and this is what struck me about the tape, there’s a telling little moment at the end of the first set.  This was a shorty warm-up gig tucked in between the Dead’s big “return from Egypt” Winterland run and a little JGB jaunt up to the Pacific northwest.  After a big Winterland blow-out a few days earlier, I’m guessing that only the most hardcore Keystone Social Club regulars had it in them for another JGB show (the fourth one that month, btw, plus two more in Palo Alto).  Were expectations high?  I really doubt it.  All of those shows had been short, mostly each with well under two hours of actual music, but tonight someone wasn’t having it.  After Jerry announces the break, Angus & Hart let the tape roll for another minute (inadvertently, I assume, since they’re pretty tight with the pause button between songs); someone hollers out, loudly, “You’re floundering in the snow! That was too short!” (at least, I think that’s it), prompting a couple more cries of “too short!” and “play more!”  At least one sage stoner intones, “it’s great, it was perfect, no problem.”  Then side B of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken comes on the PA (“Fool Yourself”) and I’m wondering who was fooling who.  JGMF has written at length about the economics of Garcia shows w/r/t professionalism and bang-for-your-buck, with some particular attention to some pretty skimpy 1985 shows from a pretty low time in ol’ Jer’s personal life (see here among others).  I was a little surprised, though, to hear someone calling Jerry out on this in 1978.  Then again, though someone calls out “boring!” during a languid Russian Lullaby, so maybe it’s a case of the food was awful and the portions were too small that's at work here. 

Fourth, I’m realizing the the narrative has always put Oct-Nov '78 as a pretty low point for all concerned parties: burned out and tired, the Dead embark on an east coast tour that is cut short when Garcia is hospitalized, the Godchauxs’ marriage implodes, Keith's playing continues to go downhill, and then Keith is apparently fired from the JGB for dipping into Jerry’s stash (per Kahn).  Yet, on paper, a bunch of interesting things were happening: not only does Lee Oskar pop up at a couple of those Winterland shows (plus again on New Years Eve) and at this JGB show, but so apparently does Will Scarlett at two Keystone shows that we don’t have circulating tapes for (see for 10/11 & 12).  Two harmonica players in one month?  Earlier in October, before all this, Garcia reunites with Merl Saunders for a one-off gig with Merl’s band (which, in addition to being apparently a dry-run for Reconstruction, also sports some of the hottest playing Garcia did that whole month).  Then, as I assume you may already know, two of those Pacific northwest shows, 10/26 and 10/28, are among the best of the year and also happened to be shared gigs with Bob Weir’s band, whose keyboardist Brent Mydland was being keenly watched by all concerned parties (meanwhile, with Keith’s playing on 10/28 being widely praised, I wonder if he felt like he was essentially auditioning for his own job?).  And then there's the JGB show on 11/3/78 that's famous for its totally out of left field and out of character performance of Miles Davis’ So What. [edit: also can't forget the first acoustic GD performance in eight years that happened pretty off-the-cuff in Chicago on Nov 17].  That’s a fair bit of extracurricular activity for what I tend to assume must have been a pretty dreary time for all involved parties, but hey, maybe it was that post-Egypt buzz making them all try a little bit harder.

And hey, I’m listening to 10/24 yet again while I type this, and y’know, it’s actually not a bad little show.  Maybe it’ll grow on you.

What the heck does "floundering in the snow?" mean, anyway?


  1. This is totally fascinating.

    It is so hard to make firm statements about high and low periods. The lowest lows have some amazing moments, the highest highs some embarrassing clams. The two harmonica players in 10/78 are interesting, and I always wonder what determines when that happens.

    I hadn't really caught on about the Scarlett sit-ins earlier in the month. Never heard the slightest whisper that there is tape of these, though they must have been taped. They're not among Betty's tapes (at least the ones that escaped her control), and I don't think they're in the Vault. But by that time there were sometimes if not often several decks spinning, so maybe Harry Popick or someone else has a set.

    I also love the Angus-Hart tapes. One of the 11/79 tapes is also just incredible sounding, as are several others.

    "Floundering in the snow"? Interesting, indeed.

  2. BTW, I think you hear the unhappy customer just right.

  3. I was halfway to formulating a theory that the guest sit-ins had something to do with a sense that the band was in some kind of transition re personnel and sound. It's an odd coincidence that two harmonica players sat in near the very end of this JGB's lifespan, and then Will Scarlett sits in again in Aug '80, right when the next JGB lineup is about to come to an end (the Ozzie Ahlers band, with Greg Errico subbing for the deceased John D'Foncesca). Coincidence? Possibly, but it strikes me that since Garcia never looked far outside his immediate circle for bandmembers after his experience with Nicky Hopkins and James Booker (I have either you or Corry to thank for that observation), he may have been wondering what the heck to do with his band once it was clear that Keith would be on his way out soon and was testing some options. I don't have Jackson's Garcia bio handy at the moment, but I think that's where the story about Keith being 'fired' from the JGB after trying to steal Garcia's drugs comes from... but who knows when that happened? maybe, by the time of this show, the Godchauxs' days with the JGB were already numbered.