Wednesday, May 9, 2018

5/8/84: light thickens further in Eugene

In observation of the day, I happily biked home from work for the first this year (it's been a long winter) with 5/8/77 in my headphones, the first time I'd listened to it since, um, last year this time.  I am pleased to report that my commute-by-bike lasts exactly the length of Dancin' in the Streets and Scarlet>Fire.

In the mood for more once I got home, I queued up an older fav that I hadn't heard in even longer: 5/8/84, a show that is emblematic of a shaggy year that has both its fevered supporters and its bemused naysayers.  Much like 1976, there's a lot about 1984 to not like, but hey, if some serious mojo has to come with some serious warts, then so be it.  Garcia's drug abuse and health were the steadily growing elephants in the room, but if you look past the damage he was doing to himself and those around him (and I understand if you can't or won't), there is both a raw ugly beauty and a feverish intensity to the year that I find to be very powerful and exciting indeed.  It's not the effortless grace and execution that the band displayed at their 70's pinnacles; it doesn't even sound like they're necessarily having very much fun -- it's more like a "we've got nothing to lose here" wild-eyed abandon that sometimes fails to hit the mark, but other times hits the bullseye dead-on before shredding through the target.  This show isn't quite an exemplar of this dark mixture at its finest, but it does have one very nice, deep zone right in the middle of it that's about as far from Barton Hall as it gets but delights me all the same.

courtesy deadlists

I remember this whole show being a bit up and down, with Garcia sounding like he was in rough shape.  A week after their east coast spring tour, the band jetted up to Oregon for three shows at the Hult Center's small Silva Concert Hall (capacity 2448) in Eugene, produced by the good ol' Springfield Creamery folks (I swear this is a coincidence! inspiration move me blindly?).  The reunion must have been colored, sadly, by the death of Ken Kesey's 20-year-old son Jed in a car accident 4 1/2 months earlier.  Years later when Kesey eulogized Bill Graham during the Dead's final Halloween show in 1991, he mentioned that Graham had given money for a memorial to his son and that the Dead marked the occasion with Brokedown Palace, which would be this show.

The novelty of the Scarlet>Touch of Grey opener notwithstanding, the first sign of something unusual may be up comes after a stately, relaxed Terrapin that is followed by two minutes of Garcia jamming quietly with the drummers (in reverse of the then common practice of Garcia leaving early as various bandmembers jammed in his wake before Drums proper).  It gives way to a lush marimba-led jam, a standard '84 move where the drummers eschewed the typical percussion bombast for something more warm and considered.  Midway through, electronic effects and delay enter the soundfield, but then things seem to slow to a halt.  Rather than a pause for the guitarists' return, however, various Merry Pranksters emerge to wheel out the Thunder Machine (see also 12/31/78) and then the weirdness really begins.  This kind of Dead music is so far out on the thinnest of musical ice that most heads don't bother with it at all, but it is something to be treasured all the same: the closest point of comparison I can think of would be avant-garde "jazz" of the AACM and Art Ensemble of Chicago, or Japanese experimental bands like the Taj Mahal Travelers.  After a few minutes of this garage sale of odd percussive sounds, Garcia and Weir join the fray and the jungle path thickens and gets denser ("light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood," perhaps): animals cries, disembodied snatches of speech (Ken Babbs maybe? Kesey himself?), industrial scrapes and crashes, general confusion all around, which then seems to be sucked into a vortex of processed effects to become weirder still.  A little mini Acid Test for some dark times?  After the machine rolls on, Garcia, Weir and, eventually, Lesh, play a solemn, slow march through the haze.  Things take a turn towards the Other One, and they toy with the theme for a while, soaking everything in delicious delay, building intensity steadily and thickening the roux until Phil unleases his roll and Garcia slams into a nasty minor chord.  Some grimy stuff in here!  The ensuing ride feels more akin to the hot and relentless 1970 style Other Ones than the more exploratory 1971-73 era trips.

The rest of the set is a fine listen, but nothing nearly as demented.  It's nothing worth skipping, though.  They follow up with a fine Wharf Rat, then an I Need a Miracle that seems to catch Garcia off-guard, and finally a fine Morning Dew that may be an opaque tribute to Jed Kesey -- it sure as heck ain't in the same ballpark as 1977's vintage, but it's fine for what it is.  Bobby thanks the Pranksters before the encore, a rare twofer of Sugar Magnolia with a jam that's preempted by Brokedown Palace, again in tribute to the younger Kesey.

PS.  If you're so inclined, there's a video of this show, shared by the always reliable voodoonola... but it axes the whole post-Terrapin>drums>space>Other One segment!!  what the heck?

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