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!]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

9/30/83: a long day, living in Reseda

courtesy jerrygarciasbrokendownpalaces

Friday 9/30/83 was the start of a long weekend in L.A. for Jerry and the band, sandwiched in between two great Dead tours, and just two months into David Kemper's tenure.  This is a relatively long show for the period with two sets at just under an hour each (a good length for a 2-set show, even out of town; early/late shows tended to be longer).  I'm not apologizing, but ya get what ya get with 1983 Jerry.  Vocals?  The man was living off Camels, coke, and heroin smoked off of aluminum foil.  Tempos?  Fast and sometimes shaky.  Guitar?  Louder than all hell and then some.  Deal with it: this is a hot show!  The one recording is a fine, funky quality aud tape with terroir to spare, and our mystery taper sounds like he was up front with Garcia's amp in his crosshairs.  If this era is your jam, then you have to be down with aud tapes like this: there's a recent batch of newly transferred JGB '83 sbds (not new sources, for the most part) that have reminded me that a funky ol' aud tape is usually preferable to a clean monitor-mix sbd, which have pretty erratic guitar mixes and generally highlight more flaws than strengths.  While I wouldn't necessarily call these aud tapes a guilty pleasure, they're the kind of thing I discreetly turn down when someone who's not a deliriously devoted deadhead enters the room (i.e. wife, kids, in-laws, most friends).

A second/first verse flipflop followed by some sparkling up-high soloing in How Sweet It Is lets you know what kind of night you're in for.  Garcia is crushing it in TLEO and goes through the roof with his second solo in Let it RockLove in the Afternoon, a tune I don't love, is taken way too fast and they're working hard to keep it all together, so Garcia eases back with a nice Mississippi Moon and then, whoa, here comes Tangled Up In Blue.  His second solo is particularly tasty, but the end jam is everything catching on fire at once.  Kemper was still working out the whole "one foot on the brakes, one foot on the gas" thing, and succumbs to the temptation of kicking things into high gear a little too early (though he doesn't push as hard or insensitively as his predecessor Greg Errico could do).  It's exciting at first, but soon adds to a general level hubbub that, amazingly, they all manage to stay on top of.  A joyful noise to be sure, but man, I bet everyone's heads were ringing after that one.

Kemper, however, finds just the right groove for a very nice Mission in the Rain to start the second set.  A lovely (and brisk) Gomorrah is a nice call; Run for the Roses not so much; but Russian Lullaby is a beauty, particularly in Garcia's reentry after the bass solo when Kemper doubles up the time and Kahn shifts into a brisk walking bassline for a little while.  Nice touch, boys!  Dear Prudence's jam dials it way back, with Garcia playing more carefully and sensitively -- was he fading? was he just feeling like a little TLC was in order? -- and it feels a little out of place with the vibe of the rest of the show.  YMMV, obvs, but heads up for a badly timed tape cut, too.  It's nice, however, to hear Deal closing the show rather than the first set.  Like Tangled, they just go balls-out for broke here, but it's the end of a long, loud night and it's not quite as, um, smooth.  It's not the elegant arc of a well-crafted Deal jam, but no matter: I doubt that anyone left standing had much in the way of critical faculties left at that point, and probably neither will you if you've been blasting this through your headphones for the last two hours.  Which I recommend.

postscript: the JGB played here in 1982 (the debut of the Seals/Errico lineup), 1983, and 1984 (famed for its amazing Sugaree).  JGBP reports the colorful history of the place and its owners.  I will take the liberty, though, of quoting Corry Arnold's description of the club, which is just about perfect:
Reseda is near Northridge, Northwest of Los Angeles (off Hwy 101, between Van Nuys and Canoga Park, for those of you who know SoCal). It's probably a nice enough place, but it has a whiff of one of those faceless LA places without an identity--Tom Petty symbolically dismisses it in the lyrics to his 1989 hit "Free Fallin'": 
It's a long day, living in Reseda /
There's a freeway running through the yard 
The Country Club was a popular rock club in Reseda, which was open from about 1979 until the late 1990s (on Sherman Way near Reseda Boulevard). Lots of fine groups played there, but it was not a hip Hollywood club, since by LA standards Reseda was out in the 'burbs' (the empty club was actually used to film much of the 1997 movie Boogie Nights). Initially the 1000-capacity venue was conceived as a country showcase (hence the name) but it became better known for punk and new wave.

Or, in the words of the Karate Kid, I'm from Reseda, you're from the Hills, that's how we're different.  Something tells me that Garcia secretly kinda dug it, man.