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."|
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|
|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!]