Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Long Time

     Hi folks, sorry it's been so long since I've posted.  Just got a new job and moved houses, so things have been a bit tumultuous.  But I have a post in the works, and should be back to semi-regular updates!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PHIL! 04/04/14 & 04/05/14 Reviews

     Hey everybody, sorry I haven't posted in a while, but hopefully this post will make up for it!  As you may recall, I went to see Phil Lesh and Friends again at the Capitol Theater, down in Port Chester, NY this past weekend.  They were doing a 4-night run and my parents and I saw the last two shows on Friday and Saturday nights, and it was an unforgettable experience.  Phil was playing with John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti, Joe Russo (all three of Furthur fame, of course), Larry Campbell, and Teresa Williams.  They also had Boyd Tinsley, the fiddler from the Dave Matthews Band, about whom we weren't as thrilled to see on the bill, but were still intrigued and excited to see how he played with the band.  This line-up, excluding Mr. Tinsley (who despite my hesitation tore down the house several times and was a great addition), is the line-up to see in my opinion.  It's all of the instrumental brilliance that I love from Furthur (of course lacking our good friend Bobby), but with the powerhouse couple of Larry and Teresa that has graced the presence of Levon Helm, Jorma and Jack, and just about anyone else who likes to play good music.  But that's enough prelude, let's dive into the first night!

     Ok, a little more prelude.  Faithful readers will recall I had some (overly) hopeful setlist predictions posted on here about a month back, thinking that this tour would have a similar theme to the last one, namely covering an album or particular artist each show.  However, if there was any underlying theme to this run at the Capitol Theater, it was kick-ass jams and balls-out rock!  They did some unusual covers and unfamiliar songs, but mainly stuck to the Dead repertoire with some really incredible jams in and out of almost all of them.  On the official setlists many of these jams were named, and almost all of them were from song lyrics, although the jam itself wasn't necessarily related to the song the lyric was from...odd.

     So Friday night we ate at the same Mexican restaurant (Kiosko) in Port Chester that we went to back in November.  In fact, we went there both of these nights and both times it was equally as amazing!  We then got in line to get in, didn't get to the very front of the stage, but were only in the second row for the whole show.  My uncle and aunt were in the balcony for the first half, but met us down on the floor for the second set.  We spent some time admiring the theater and chatting with the ever-friendly Capitol Staff, and then the lights went down and the show went on!  While I had been in the front row for the last Phil show, being this close for this lineup was even more of a treat.  I've gone on before about how Furthur is the Dead for my generation, so seeing the backbone of the band up-close-and-personal was really an awesome experience, let alone being that close to Larry and Teresa!

Friday 04-04-14
Set 1
Alabama Getaway (JK), Friend of the Devil (PL) > Jam* > Little Sparrow* (TW), Just a Little Light* (JK), Just Another Whistle Stop (LC & TW), Lazy River Road* (JK & PL), Big River* (LC & TW)

Set 2
China Cat Sunflower (JK) > Bird Song* (TW) > I Know You Rider* (All), Midnight Highway* > (LC & TW) Jam > Mason's Children (All) > Dark Star* (PL) > River Deep, Mountain High* (TW) > Dark Sta*r > Not Fade Away* (All)

Encore: Tennessee Jed (LC& TW)
*w/ Boyd Tinsley

     Alabama Getaway has been moving its way up my list of have-to-get Dead songs, and even though I confused it with Hell in a Bucket when they started (nobody's perfect!) I was glad to get it.  In a way it set the tone for the rest of the show; great leads from John, Larry, and Jeff, with Joe synching up perfectly with Jeff whenever the latter took a lead.  The jam before the final lyric definitely left the musical realm of the song to venture a little far out, but only to come slamming back into the final verse with an astronomical amount of energy.  They toned things down a bit on Friend of the Devil, which featured Larry on fiddle (why not Boyd?).  Phil sang the alternate final lyric, "you can borrow from the Devil, you can borrow from your friend.  Devil got a twenty dollar bill but your friend only got ten.  Set out running...", etc.

     This launched into the first real Jam of the night, interestingly named the Irony and Spite Jam, which is a line from Just a Little Light, although there was no similarity to that particular song.  Larry switched to his mandolin for this one, and was the premier of Boyd for the night.  The interplay between the whole band was incredibly intricate, and the acoustic instruments really gave it a beauty and simplicity that put smile son all of the faces.  John even used a particular filter on his guitar that I've heard described as his banjo sound, and it fit in very nicely.  At the climax of the jam Larry and Boyd were right up in each other's faces caught on the thread of the music, but Boyd got a little too into it and for the first time that night his fiddle bow went flying out of his hands!  He recovered quickly though, and the jam went rolling along until it gently fizzled out and reformed as Little Sparrow, a Dolly Parton song I was unfamiliar with.  This was Teresa's first song in the spotlight and she absolutely killed it.  Her voice can range from unstoppable powerhouse to hauntingly delicate, and this song required almost the whole spectrum.
     Before moving on in the setlist, I want to go back to the Irony and Spite Jam to point out something that happened all throughout both nights.  Phil would step to the mic and whisper something to the band that only they could hear, and it always preceded a thematic change in a jam, or a uniform change in direction back towards a song.  I heard many voicing the opinion that this was killing the improvisational spirit of the Dead, but I think rather it was Phil playing conductor and musician at the same time.  While it maybe kept the band from finding their own direction spontaneously, it also kept them from noodling aimlessly, and they seemed like simple directions.  I didn't get the impression that Phil would say, "Ok, boys, let's do Jam 3 that we worked out," but instead would just suggest a chord progression or style for them to switch to.  Sometimes you could see an underlying theme that may have been rehearsed, but every jam still had that magic X-Factor that only comes from group improvisation.

     Just a Little Light may have been the low point for the show, but only because there was some communication problems in the outro jam where John (and formerly Brent) would riff on the the "just a little sweetness [jam for 'x' amount of time], just a little light" motif.  But it really was well done for the rest of the song, and this has been a favorite of mine since I saw Furthur kill it in Boston almost exactly two years before these shows (04-06-12).  John's voice, while lacking in grit, is great for a lot of Brent songs, and even some Pig Pen songs, not just Jerry facsimiles.  This song also leads me to another tangent that can be found in both nights we saw: Larry Campbell as a guitar god.
     I've seen and heard Larry play with Phil before, as well as Levon and Hot Tuna, but it wasn't until these nights that I realized that he is not only a multi-instrumentalist, but a guitar-shredding-monster!  He reminds me of Garcia in a few ways that John never brought to mind for me, most importantly his "paragraph playing."  I'm not sure how else to describe it, it's no that he thinks of  a particular line or snippet to play, but he has an array of related lines that he already compiled into one paragraph to play before he even hits the first note of the first line.  On every lead he took for both nights I was captivated and awe-struck by his musical genius, and the multi-dimensionality of his playing.

     But back to Friday night, with a song by the Band that I knew, but was unfamiliar with, Just Another Whistle Stop.  My dad recognized it immediately and was all grins while they played it.  No fireworks here, but still some great music on all parts.  The same can be said for Lazy River Road, the next song on the list.  While familiar with this one, I hadn't heard it enough to be prepared for its distinct beauty.  While unmistakeably a Hunter/Garcia tune, it has a few different sides to it apart from its main motif, and featured some great ensemble singing on the choruses.  They then closed the set with a slightly different Big River then it would have been with Bobby at the helm, but this ship rolled down the river just fine and with some real rock 'n roll leads!

The band left the stage, we got some breathing room and were met by my aunt and uncle while we patiently awaited the next set.  There were some obnoxious drunk people trying to step on everyone's toes and squash us up against the people in front of us, but this was gently dealt with my the shear rationality of less-drunk Dead Heads.  We noticed during the break, while the lights were still dark on-stage, that Phil had a new bass that was all black, with countless nobs on the bottom, and a red dragon on the fret board.  To top it all off, the fret indicators and the nobs all glowed red, and the dragon reflected all of the stage lights!  Soon enough the lights went down, the band came back on, and it was time to dance again!

     To my great joy, they opened the set with China Cat, a long-time must-have for me!  This version wasn't exactly perfect if it you hold it up next to Dead and Furthur versions, but it was still really damn good!  I was totally expecting a China > Rider, but the Bird Song in the middle was a real treat, especially with Teresa's beautiful singing.  I had hoped for Phil to sing at least one line of it, because he normally sings "something like a bird within him sang" nowadays as an allude to Jerry that I think is really nice, but there can be no complaints about Teresa's singing.  The jam from China Cat to Bird Song had a lot of momentum going in and the tempo would mellow down for a bit only for them to bring it back up, with John and Larry trading licks freely and Jeff at the piano filling the gaps between those two and Phil on the grand piano.  It eventually reached a swinging, jazzy plateau, with  Bird Song teases coming from all around and Phil coming to the fore-front of the jam.
     Bird Song itself was, to be honest, shorter than I would have liked (~10 minutes), seeing as P&F and Furthur can both go on for 17+ minutes, but I'll admit I'm being greedy.  And it's not as if this version was short or poorly played in any manner!  As I mentioned before, Teresa's singing was so beautiful on this piece, and the whole band really locked into the music and each other's playing (except one vocal flub by Larry).  Even Boyd, who at other times in these shows could seem a little lost or unsure of changes (like many guests of the Dead have in the past), was totally in-synch on Bird Song.
     The outro jam eventually reached a point where it was obvious to many that they were going to complete the China > Rider segue, but the first lead of the song still elicited many surprised 'woo's and cheers.  This was definitely a highlight of the night, with all lead players playing for keeps.  Joe and Jeff were at it again breaking rhythms down into syncopated fills that didn't lose the rest of the band for even a second.  They finished this up and took a pause for everyone to catch their breath, and calmed the room down with a serene Midnight Highway.  I don't know much about the song, and a cursory google search didn't bring up much, but it seems like an old country song and it was very nicely done, with some minor iffy moments from Boyd.   They jammed out of this nicely, and the real meat of the show started to emerge from the jam.

     They rocketed into Mason's Children, a song that almost made it onto Workingman's Dead but faded out of Dead repertoire until after Jerry died.  It's another song that Furthur does that sounds like it could have been written for them, and that translated completely to this iteration of Phil and Friends.  It's a great opportunity for Joe to go absolutely ape shit, which is a damn good thing if you ask me!  Everyone was playing to the limit and everyone in the theater was either dancing madly, standing awe-struck with their mouths hanging open, or some odd combination of the two (me).  This song transitions so nicely from balls-to-the-wall rock n' roll to outer space jams and back that it's a wonder the Dead never brought it back into the rotation; imagine a '77 or '78 Mason's!  This one rolled back and forth between its extremes until finally ending up in a crawling, creeping, space filled with organ swirls from Jeff, all of it pointing towards one goal where they inevitably ended up, just like they did at that same Boston show in 2012, in Dark Star!
     Phil picks up the speed once they get through the intro riff, and the jam focuses around the main theme for a bit before Phil steps up to the mic to sing the first verse.  Surprisingly, the vocals didn't transition from one person to another like Furthur does it, and Phil sang all the verses, with everyone (especially the crowd) joining in for the "shall we go" lines.  What followed was an incredible adventure in musical improvisation.  With the help of Boyd, without whom it would not have been the same, they drifted through different levels of dissonance, consonance, and rhythmic variations, finally ending up in a delicately balanced space, where eerie things were happening just around the corner....but never fully manifested.  This melted down into silence, from which emerged an unfamiliar riff and Teresa stepping to the mic.
     River Deep, Mountain High is a Tina Turner song that I'd never heard before this night, and it was one hell of a transition from that Dark Star we had been in the middle of!  Real funky, syncopated riffs and upbeat tempo with Teresa doing her biggest voice and persona right in front of us; wow!  Everyone was shaking off the psychedelic cobwebs that has accumulated while we were transfixed just minutes before and dancing their asses off, and Boyd even stuck on stage to help build up the frenzy.  They were closing this up and you could tell everyone was wondering if they were going to continue the Dark Star or jam into something else, but it was soon apparent that they still had unfinished business in outer space with a certain celestial object.
     With Teresa's final "huh!' in River Deep, the music unfolded in its different directions and the weirdness was back!  Boyd was giving us some kind of dematerialized classical motif while on either side of him the dragons and aliens were clearly scheming to get him, but he didn't seem to mind.  Phil was right up against his amp, simultaneously creating feedback and drinking from his cup; being a dragon is clearly thirsty work.  They emerged from the nebula into a tight, harsh jam with the Furthur vets all putting something into the mix and Larry and Boyd stepping back a little, although they were by no means free from the responsibility of creating the jam that landed them back in the orbit of the Dark Star.  During the final verses the band wasn't just vamping on the main theme, but going in some slightly different directions all at the same time while still keeping the rhythm right for Phil to sing.  The outro didn't mellow out or drift away, but instead kept pumping until the familiar Buddy Holly beat materialized.

     Not Fade Away is yet another song that was knocked off the list of must-haves this night, and it did not disappoint!  Larry once again proved himself to be a truly gifted master of the guitar, but John was not to be outdone.  John had caught fire at the beginning of the set, and that fire not only burned throughout this night, but got bigger and bigger until Saturday's final note (but more on that later).  They didn't go on for too long with this one (~8 minutes), but what they did play they played perfectly.  They finished the song by vamping on the chorus for a bit, but instead of leaving the crowd clapping and singing before the encore, they closed it off with the signature starting riff and left the stage.
     Phil came out for the donor rap after just a little bit, and then they closed the night with a great Tennessee Jed.  Not a typical encore, but yet another song I was glad to finally hear live.  They did a slightly different intro to it that Larry and Teresa had done with Levon Helm, and they had different harmonies than the Dead had ever had for it, and they were all spot on.  Larry was playing a real lively slide guitar for most of it, and the country spirit was alive and well.  They finished this up in a big way, leaving everyone cheering while Phil introduced the band and they all hugged.  We got back to the car before the rain really started coming down, had some much-needed snacks at the hotel the whole family when we got back, and called it a night.

     The next day we ate at a diner right across the right that I can confidently describes as an above-average diner that has incredibly fast service and the best diner coffee you can imagine.  They also had mini juke boxes at every booth, but we figured that they were probably just used for profiling purposes.  We left there and went to a big old mansion and grounds called Lyndhurst Estates, where some rich family had a drafty bowling alley and an unprecedented view of train tracks and the Tappan Zee Bridge.  It was pretty nice, but even on a sunny spring day the wind was freezing.  We agreed that if they set up a stage in front of the bowling alley that the rest of the property would make a passable amphitheater for a concert, but there were no rich people near-by for us to convince of such things.  My Aunt and Uncle left for the day, having tickets only to Friday's show, and we headed back to the restaurant to eat before the show.  After seeing the rowdy crowd on Friday we decided that this night would be less rowdy, and that we wouldn't get quite drunk ourselves to skimp on bathroom trips (it's hard getting to the front once the show starts!), to have less cups to hold, and to avoid attracting more drunk people to us.  We got in line earlier than the night before and were able to be in the very front right in front of Jeff's organ; the view we had of his shins was, like the view from Lyndhurst of the bridge, unprecedented!  We made friends with a Finance professor from UMass Lowell and more of the Capitol staff until the lights went down, and the band came back out!    

Saturday 04-05-14
Mississippi Half-Step (PL), Peggy-O (PL, LC, & TW) > Jam > Crazy Fingers* (JK), When the Stars Go Blue (PL & TW), Cosmic Charlie (PL & JK), Operator (PL), Bertha (JK)

Set 2
Passenger (LC & TW > Jam > Shakedown Street (JK), Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning (TW) > Jam > Mountains of the Moon* (TW) > Jam > Fire on the Mountain (JK) > Scarlet Begonias Jam > Eyes of the World* (JK) > Unbroken Chain (PL, duh), Uncle John's Band* (All)

Encore: Morning Dew (JK), Box of Rain* (PL, duh, again)

     I know I keep saying this, but right off the bat I got another song crossed off my must-have list.  Mississippi Half-Step has always been a long time favorite of mine, and this one lived up to all my expectations.  P&F and Furthur both add an answering verse to the "Half-Step, Mississippi Uptown" lines, which I think is kind of cool, and it didn't even really screw them up this time!  I mentioned before that John caught fire on Friday night, and from his first lead it was clear that he didn't want to be in Larry's shadow at all this night!  He played with a confidence and precision that I've never seen in him before and it was honestly inspiring.  They finished that song up nicely, and Larry picked up his bouzouki for the next song, a lively, folky Peggy-O that featured Phil and Larry doing the male lines and Teresa doing the Peggy lines.  Avid readers may recall me rhapsodizing over the Peggy-O we saw Phil sing in November, but this one is worlds apart.  The three of them were all singing with incredible passion, and the interplay between Larry's bouzouki, John's "banjo" filter, and Jeff's grand piano was stunningly beautiful, and even Joe the Beast found ways to be at once quiet and dominating.  We were having some trouble hearing Jeff at times in the first set, but it would disappear over the set break.
     Coming out of Peggy-O is the questionably named Twenty Degrees of Solitude Jam; I challenge you to find any hint of Mountains of the Moon in this jam!  What you will find, instead, is something even more beautiful than the first set jam from Friday, something I wasn't sure was possible until this night.  It actually reminded me in the beginning of the old Mind Left Body Jam, but then it takes a turn down a vaguely Eastern alley with Larry leading the way with his incredible bouzouki playing.

     This ended up with Phil throwing them into Crazy Fingers, Larry still on the bouzouki and Boyd coming out with his fiddle, giving it a very medieval feel; a classical version of the song, if you will.  In fact, if John had busted out some classical guitar playing we probably would have shifted back in time, or at least to a near-by renaissance fair.  As it was, though, we all remained right there in the Capitol listening to John singing this Blues For Allah gem.  Boyd sometimes made a wrong step, but his playing overall, for that whole night actually, was spot-on.  He seems to have found a room for his voice much better than in the previous shows, and has a better sense of where the music is going.  This is another Furthur specialty, so it was no surprise that this was a very well done song.  The outro jam especially went some really cool places, until it ended up transitioning into what must be a Larry and Teresa number...no wait, it's Phil and Teresa!
     When the Stars Go Blue is a Ryan Adams country tune that I'd never heard of, but was still an excellent song.  Phil and Teresa were singing really well together with some great harmonies and individual lines.  The chorus harmonies could get a little stressed, but there was never a sour moment the whole song.  Larry stayed on his bouzouki and Boyd went away for a while, and they finished the song up nicely with leads from John, Jeff, and Larry right before the end.  After this Larry switched to his electric guitar again an they all tuned up, drank some water, and scratched their asses.

     Cosmic Charlie was next, with them rolling the intro up until it burst into the the song itself.  Normally for Furthur a Bobby and Phil effort, John provided just as good of a companion for Phil.  I've always felt a special relationship to this song after Furthur played it in the second set of my first show (3/29/11), so it was really a trip to be seeing the same guys doing this song right in front of me!  Every time they did the intro roll it built the whole place into a frenzy, and Larry took that frenzy and stirred it up even more when he took his first slide lead.  After the last lyrics the jam was mellowing out a bit, but Larry and his slide once again came in and got everyone dancing with Jeff bubbling behind him.  John and Phil brought it back down once again, reminding us that our mothers were calling us; well my mother was busy swaying to the music in front of me, but I'll always remember it as a powerful sentiment on that cold March night in Binghampton...

     Anyway, back to 2014!  Up next was Operator, with Phil singing a song for his old friend Pig Pen.  Larry was on the mandolin for this one (shades of David Grissman) and the rest of the band bouncing along to the tune.  Larry proved once again that no matter what instrument it was, no matter what time of day, he can kick some serious musical ass!  Jeff and John more than held their own with their own leads, but Larry had all eyes on him whenever Phil wasn't at the mic.  Another break for Larry to switch to his electric guitar, and it was time for some serious goddam rock n' roll!

     Just like that night in Binghampton, they close the set with Bertha, and they mean serious business.  John, who has been killing it all night, keeps the band pumping along, and even though both Larry and Jeff take their own solos the the edge, John wants everyone to remember why he's there.  The jam really kicks into high gear with sparks flying everywhere.  Kadlecik never gets greedy on stage either, and soon he, Larry, and Jeff are throwing the lead across the stage like it's a hot potato until it explodes all over the place!  They come back into the lyrics with all the control of a shuttle pilot coming in for a landing, only to take off again into the stratosphere, with Phil dropping bombs everywhere!  They build up the end of the song until the only people in the house not dancing were either dead, or too awe-struck to move at all.  They left the stage to the sound of raucous applause and a fanfare of cheers.  The intermission passed as expected, but with a lot less rowdy or obnoxious people; in fact, there was no one that night who was anything other than pleasant that I can recall.  After a bit, the lights of course went back down and we got read for whatever dragons they were gonna let loose in the next set!

     They opened the set with Larry and Teresa doing their best Bob and Donna for Passenger.  Between John being even more on fire, Jeff killing it on organ, and Larry on slide guitar, there was nothing but serious rock n' roll going on, and everyone was dancing to the music.  You'll notice I don't usually mention Phil when I'm dealing out superlatives, but that's because it should go without saying he was standing out in his own band.  But for this set it is well worth mentioning he was playing at the top of his game for every song.  Not only did he lead the directions the jams would go in, but he would leave enough room for everyone to have their leads, without stepping all over them when he had a new direction to go in.  The jam after Passenger, for example, Phil is clearly leading the way out of it, but everyone is still equally important in the journey as a whole.  Eventually they find themselves getting pretty funky, with Larry really going at it, and we end up in yet another song I've been waiting on, Shakedown Street.
     Holy damn.  The whole band is going crazy and I can't stop dancing!  Larry and Teresa continue their Bob and Donna impressions backing up John on vocals making sure we know that we can never tell.  The lead section is where we really hear from Larry about just how little is shaking on Shakedown Street.  It's like he's playing to a disco in the stars that needs just a little more rock to get the place dancing.  That paragraph playing I was talking about earlier really comes into play here, with him not batting an eye or missing a single note as the song goes on.  Jeff ain't gonna be shown up now, though, and he recruits Joe to help him tear the house down a little bit; as if he needed any help!  Being that close to them you could see the glances and interactions between those two as if it was a thread connecting them.  But here comes John to get himself a piece of the funk, and with Larry laying down the rhythm guitar the two of them really show us what guitars are for.  During the closing lyrics it becomes clear the John has been infected with the disease that makes Bobby make weird noises on stage, but it's really not a bad thing.  For a bit he sings the notes he's playing, but you could see him lose it on stage, and he laughingly accepts his mistake and passes the lead to Larry to recollect himself.  They keep the jam alive for a while, drifting away to and from the Shakedown neighborhood.  They eventually let the song simmer down to nothing, until Larry signals the next song.

     Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning is a Rev. Garry Davis blues number popularized by Hot Tuna.  Furthur did this with Larry and Teresa the night before 11/11/11 at Madison Square Garden  in fact, that night they did 7 of this night's songs on that night as well.  This is another opportunity for Teresa to just belt it out, and that she did with the band playing this snake of a blues song.  It's got a kind of hazy feel to it, and while it's not much of a jammer, the solo section leaves plenty of room for the guys to do their work.  This transitioned into the Dancing Out on 7th Street Jam, the name being derived from a lyric in When the Stars Go Blue, and this one is actually aptly named, as well as beautifully performed.  They leave the Stars theme and start drifting into more far out reaches of space while Larry switches to his bouzouki again.  Soon enough the approaching song is clear through the mist, as Mountains of the Moon.
     Much like Furthur does it, this version is very stretched out and goes to places it never went to in'69.  Teresa steps to the mic again for this one with Larry singing back-up, and the song becomes like an age-old lullaby; never has it been so sweet of a song.  Boyd comes back onto the stage and adds graceful sweeps of his bow before the first verses.  Larry's bouzouki is slightly reminiscent of a harpsichord, which is of course the classic instrument of this song.  The acoustic interplay between him and Boyd puts this song even further back into medieval times, while John keeps it clear that they are also very close to space.  Larry really catches fire in the jam before the final verse, with the others just fueling the flame.  Who ever said the bouzouki wasn't a psychedelic instrument?  They finish the lyrics and go into the outro jam that, if anything should have been named, should have been called Lunar Sunrise Jam, but as it is it gets no official name.  The name occurred to me instantly during the show listening to John playing over all the others on the way down out of the mountains, it was like coming around the bend in a mountain range and suddenly there's the sun shining in your face, but on the moon!
     This name became even more appropriate when they turned the corner into Fire On the Mountain!  I was surprised by this song because they had done a jam on this song in an earlier show (well worth listening to as well, it's shifted into some kin of minor key), but I was by no means disappointed.  John sang the lyrics a little looser than normal, but it still all held together, and everyone got a chance to shine in the spotlight.  The band at this point was in full telepathic hyperdrive, and every solo really featured the whole band, from the inception to the resolution of the solo, with Larry murdering the first one, so it was excusable when he came in for the chorus a little early.  John took the next one and gave it a good thrashing; it was hard to tell where the fire from the mountain ended and the fire from John began!  While he doesn't seem to think in the musical paragraphs that Larry can create, he is a master of linking distinct statements to create a panorama of sound.  Coming back into the lyrics always showed the audience how in-control this band was; they could drop the beat and let just one person (usually Phil or Joe) just do their thing for a measure or two and the rest of the band would snap back into it as without a single slip up.  They finish this up, and go into a Scarlet Begonias Jam, making us think they were maybe doing the classic duo in reverse order (a cool thought!), but it was just a tease/launching pad into Eyes of the World!

     If there's one song that all Dead Heads can agree on and dance to, I think it has to be Eyes.  Certainly the whole Capitol Theater felt like it was floating from all the bodies rising falling.  Boyd came on stage with a purpose to kick some ass, and kick ass he did!  After John sang the first verse (and the whole place sang the chorus) he stepped to the front and gave his fiddle hell.  After that it was Jeff's turn, and he and Joe turned the stage into a jazz monster right before our eyes.  John, not only a great lead player, is an excellent rhythm guitarist, and was filling the spaces between Jeff and Joe perfectly, leading the jam in alternative directions while also following Jeff.  Phil thunders across them all, they close the first jam with Furthur's signature close to it, and John launches into the next verse, with the band shrinking and swelling behind him.  Next comes the guitar solos, which I expected to be the same as the first solo section, one player at a time.  But instead John ropes Larry into perhaps the hottest point of both nights, a beautiful guitar conversation about Eyes of the World that got each player to walk across the stage to each other and just stared at each other.  Phil was all smiles during this, and I couldn't even dance, I could only stare at the sight immediately in front of us.  John signals the end of the jam, and they come into the final verse amidst so many cheers you could barely hear the band for a moment.  They jam out of the final verse, but stay along the basic Eyes theme for a while, then stray, at Phil's whispered cue, into a slightly different theme for a while.  During this interlude Larry again proved himself to be guitar royalty, with Boyd and the others answering his calls, then it resolves into a more delicate, wandering space.
     This formed into one of Phil's big songs, and another one I've been hoping to get for a while, Unbroken Chain.  He sang the whole song beautifully, and John and Larry's telepathic interplay was still completely intact from Eyes of the World.  Larry proved as well that not only can he rock out and play blistering leads in regular rock songs, but he can play just as well in odd time signatures!  The jam in Unbroken Chain switches from 11/4 to 15/4 time, and it repeats with the multiple takes the do for the different leads.  I didn't doubt Larry going into it, but he really showed that it's going to take a lot more than fast, polyrhythmic jams to throw him off the scent of the music!  They build the jam up into frenzies and bring it back to a simmer, and then they build it right back up, eventually coming back into the main part of the song and the final lyrics.  The final jam slowly built up with Larry at leading the band onwards into the western wind.  After thrashing the song about for a bit they finally let it down and took a small breather while Larry picked up his mandolin.

     They closed the set with something we heard them doing in the sound check, Uncle John's Band, yet another must-have off the list!  Everyone in the theater was looking a little worn out from all the dancing, but this song let them sway pleasantly while singing to a song so good even your non-Dead Head friends like it!  Boyd was back with some excellent fiddle work, and Larry's mandolin brought images of the riverside where Uncle John's Band was playing.  The first jam went nicely along with John and Larry taking solos.  The big jam in 7/4 came up and got as weird as you could expect, but didn't quite break into another dimension, but none of us minded, it was late in the set!  They closed it up beautifully and left the stage for a bit.  Before the Donor Rap Phil took a moment to really thank the Capitol Staff for letting us have such a great show there.

     When they were getting ready for the encore, my Dad and I were joking about what they'd do for an encore, and we actually predicted what was coming, Morning Dew followed by Box of Rain; no big deal.  John, after playing so hot all night, was singing this song so beautifully, and his playing still not subsided.  We were hoping that they would do it like Peggy-O, with Teresa doing one half of the conversation in the lyrics, but John did a great job on his own.  The song really started to build, as it should, after the first two lines, and John's soulful singing started to crescendo.  They launched right into the jam with any wrong steps on the way up, and Phil dropping bombs at our feet.  John took this whole lead to himself and were we ever glad that he had.  They let the song drift back down to its lower level and it stayed there for a while as John finished up the lyrics.  From here it was Larry's turn, and he brought the song from a mellow, post-apocalyptic desert into crashing waves and falling mountains.  He of course had help from Jeff and John, both of whom were integral in the journey.  And let us not forget about Joe, who had linked with Larry much like he would with Jeff, and soon the whole band was playing as one, again with Larry as the captain, and Phil propelling the ship with his bass.  John let loose a fan flurry and the band danced around him while Joe pounded his drums until the whole thing finally exploded and the ended the song.  Holy shit!!
     But it wasn't over, they fulfilled our expectation and did Phil's numero uno song, Box of Rain.  We had seen both of these last two songs at that Boston show in 2012, but these two versions swept the others away.  Boyd came back out for Box of Rain, and during the solo section Phil let him just go crazy!  They stuck to the intro riff while he brought the crowd into a frenzy.  It doesn't come through as well on the soundboard we have of the show, but he had everyone in the theater practically levitating.  Phil comes back into the lyrics, and then lets Larry do the same thing before singing the final line!  The amount of catharsis and joy in the theater when Phil finished that song still brings a tear to my eye to think of.  As we had suspected from the first notes of Mississippi Half-Step, this was one of the Great Shows.  This was the lineup to see, on the right nights to see them, and we had witnessed a show that I can only sum up in one word as legendary.  Of course I'm hyperbolizing and throwing around superlatives like they're banana peels because I was there and it's recent in my memory, but this truly was a show that everyone should hear, and we were so lucky to have been there.

     After we got back to the hotel, the adventure continued!  We needed plastic-ware to finish our Mexican leftovers, and more cups and coffee pods for the morning, so I volunteered to go to the Front Desk to get them, since I work in a hotel and have some idea of how things work at other hotels.  However, to get there I had to walk past some super religious birthday party where the absolute worst karaoke was coming from, and then through a wedding party at the bar that had regular pop music playing and a bunch of fancy drunk people in fancy suits and dresses.  Normally this would be ok, but in my...delicate state and tye-die, it felt pretty surreal.  They ended up only having decaf there, and the plastic utensils were on the other side of a crowd of drunk people that I didn't want to brave, so I ducked into the dining area, nabbed some silverware, and made my way back to the room, where my dad had already downloaded the soundboard of the show online and was playing it on his laptop.

     So that's that!  I know it's long, but there's a lot I had to say, so be thankful it's not any longer!  Normally I post links to the shows I'm talking about, but as the soundboard costs money, and I haven't listened to any audience recordings, I'm not sure which archive.org links are best.  So I'll put the link to the site where you can buy them, and then the various options for audience recordings.  As always, post suggestions, comments, concerns, or dire warnings in the comments section, and I'll try to post sooner and in a  more concise manner next time!

Friday, April 4


Saturday, April 5


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Phil & Friends in April!

     Hey everybody, today's post is a little weird.  My parents and I are going to see Phil & Friends at the Capitol Theater again this coming April, and we'll be catching the last two nights of the first line up.  That line up consists of Joe Russo, John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti (all of Furthur!), Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, and some guy named Lesh on bass!  Needless to say, we are goddamn pumped for these shows, this being what we consider to be the line up to see.  In preparation for the shows I've been going through my regular exercise of coming up with optimistic predictions for the shows, and have decided to share them for two reasons: to share the excitement, and in the wild hopes that Phil will see this blog post and be inspired to come up with something even better (hi, Phil!).

     I made them with the format from his last tour in mind, namely that each night will focus on one particular album.  Since Larry and Teresa both helped Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady on the latest Hot Tuna album, my dad and I got to talking about two of our favorite Jefferson Airplane albums, and then started thinking about Hot Tuna.  These setlists represent those three possibilities, and I would love any comments on them that you might have.  I put Larry's instrumentation in the parentheses after each song, and ones with a slash denote either a switch between the two, or an ambivalence on my part as to what he would play.  I admit that they are not completely realistic setlists and that my prejudices show through, but I don't think that's such a bad thing.

1st Night, "Volunteers" - Jefferson Airplane

Set 1

Shakedown Street > (Guitar)
Good Shepherd (Fiddle)
Easy Wind > (Fiddle)
The Farm (Fiddle)
Bird Song > (Fiddle)
Turn My Life Down > (Fiddle)
Bird Song (Fiddle)
A Song For All Seasons (Fiddle)
Lovelight (Guitar)

Set 2

We Can Be Together > (Guitar)
Cryptical Envelopment > (Fiddle)
Wooden Ships > (Guitar)
Eskimo Blue Day > (Guitar)
Wooden Ships > (Fiddle)
The Other One > (Fiddle)
Hey Fredrick > (Fiddle/Guitar)
The Other One > (Guitar)
Wharf Rat > (Guitar)
Volunteers (Fiddle)

Donor Rap

White Rabbit

2nd Night, "After Bathing At Baxters" - Jefferson Airplane

Set 1

Jam > (Guitar)
Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon > (Guitar)
Alligator > (Guitar/Fiddle)
Wild Tyme > (Fiddle/Guitar)
Cream Puff War (Guitar)
Martha > (Fiddle)
Two Heads > (Fiddle)
Martha (Fiddle)
Candyman (Fiddle)
The Last Wall of the Castle (Guitar)

Set 2

Feedback > (Fiddle)
The Ballad of You, Me, and Pooneil > (Fiddle)
No Man is an Island Jam > [based off of A Small Package of Value Will Come To You, Shortly] (Guitar)
Young Girl Sunday Blues (Guitar)
Lady With a Fan > (Guitar/Fiddle)
Dark Star > (Fiddle/Guitar)
Spare Chaynge > (Guitar)
Rejoyce > (Guitar)
Watch Her Ride > (Guitar)
Terrapin Station > (Fiddle)
Not Fade Away (Fiddle)

Donor Rap

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Fiddle)

Another option, if it's just a Jorma/Jack inspired set, not necessarily a whole album...

Set 1

Box of Rain (Fiddle)
True Religion > (Fiddle)
Friend of the Devil (Fiddle)
Uncle Sam Blues (Fiddle)
Easy Wind (Fiddle/Guitar)
Bird Song > (Guitar)
Sea Child (Guitar)
Been So Long (Fiddle)
China Cat Sunflower > (Fiddle)
I Know You Rider > (Fiddle)[Hot Tuna/Dead versions of lyrics]
Promised Land (Guitar)

Set 2

Alligator > (Fiddle/Guitar)
Fire On The Mountain > (Guitar)
New Song (For the Morning) (Fiddle)
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning > (Fiddle)
The Other One > (Fiddle/Guitar)
Wharf Rat > (Guitar)
Ode For Billy Dean > (Guitar/Fiddle) >
Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks) > (Fiddle)
Come Back Baby > (Fiddle)
Not Fade Away (Fiddle)

Donor Rap

Dark Star > (Fiddle/Guitar)
Mann's Fate (Guitar)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goin' Down the Road Rockin' Out

     Hey folks, happy winter to all of you!  Today's post is pretty simple, and not too controversial, but I think it's something we can all relate to: listening to music while driving.  There's something about driving, either alone or with musically sympathetic friends, that is extremely conducive to music.  Yes, it can be a distraction and hinder one's driving ability, but that's true about eating, talking with passengers, or quilting while driving, and I'm not too interested in getting into any that.  What I am interested in is the idea of the vehicle as a musical vessel in the same way that the alembic in alchemy is a vessel for the purification of mind and soul.

     Obviously the start of the relationship between cars and music was the radio, and the importance of the radio can not be understated.  However, the driver and passengers were at the mercy of disc jockeys and radio commercials, as they are today.  And while anyone (like me) who doesn't have Sirius XM or access to the Grateful Dead channel is used to the fact that the only Dead we'll hear on the radio is the occasional Touch of Grey or Truckin' (I did get the NFA > GDTRFB from Skull and Roses once), the other good stuff is still overshadowed by the inevitable commercials and the 1000th playing of Hotel California.  Not to say that the radio is useless!  Even when you're on a long drive and the all the radio stations seem to be playing Toby Keith or the "Solo Cup Song" (shoot me), there's always that one magical station that starts playing a marathon of your favorite music, or something amazing that you've never heard before right when you tune to it.  I think of these as analogous to the sudden bursts of samadhi, or enlightenment to put it broadly, that is written about in all mystical traditions.  You, as the driver, didn't really do anything beyond being in the right place at the right time with an open enough mind, but the universe lined up so that you could experience this series of songs in an ideal way.

     But what makes this experience so ideal, what is the benefit to listening to music in the car?  Well first of all, it isn't that there's nothing to occupy the mind besides the music.  Hopefully when you're driving the road is the center of your attention and everything else is complementing it.  However, as in meditation, this focus on one specific thing allows the mind to perceive everything else more clearly, especially on long, uneventful roads where there really isn't much for the mind to focus on as far as driving goes (Interstate 88 in NY, anyone?).  Beyond the purification of awareness that potentially happens in a car, the sound system is of almost equal importance.  The car is the ultimate form of surround sound, and when the music is loud then there is little or no distinction between the car and the music, for a certain point of view.  You can feel the beat in the steering wheel, feel the bass in your seat, and your whole body gets somewhat synchronized with the music.  This is the case when alone, but as discussed in other posts, listening to music with like-minded friends is an amazing experience, so cruising around with your best friend listening to your favorite music is an experience not to be missed.  Whether you're both singing along or just grooving to the music, there's a sharing of consciousness that you can only get from an experience like this.

   The best way to take advantage of this musical vessel is of course with either a tape, CD, or some kind of mp3 player in the car.  Being in complete control of the music in the car frees one from the hassles of bad DJ's and commercials, although technically adds the responsibility of exactly what you want to listen to.  My favorite way of doing it is listening to an entire Dead show, which is easiest as far as changing the music goes and also, according to many Heads, the correct way to do it.  Sometimes I'll end up with a playlist that encompasses a few other artists, and guarantees more Dark Stars and The Other Ones than Peggy-O's and Looks Like Rains.  However, the playlist limits one, at least when it's an mp3 player on shuffle, to single songs and deprives the driver of transitions.  While it's nice to hear a solitary St. Stephen once in a while, I'd like to hear the Eleven that it goes into instead of it switching to a Hot Tuna song.  This also means that a lot of songs that are broken up into different jam and/or drum segments are broken up in painful ways.  You know that the Dark Star is going into a Mind Left Body Jam, but because it's broken up suddenly the Dark Star just stops dead (no pun intended) and you're left dissatisfied and yelling at technology with the guy in the car next to you looking skeptical.  Possibly the best way to avoid this is having your best friend choosing various segments of great shows, so you can hear the glory of Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Eyes of the World in the right order, and then later hear Dark Star > Mind Left Body > Dark Star without getting a continuous succession of Drums > Drums > Drums.

     The last benefit to listening to music in the car that I'll address is something people living in the suburbs can relate to: blasting weirdness from your open windows cruising through town.  We all know that the Dead's music is weird and considered subversive by many, so nothing screams rebellion like The Other One at full blast when you're driving through the heart of suburbia.  Not only is the car a sealed vessel in which you can immerse yourself in music, but it's a great PA system to spread the word of weirdness to unsuspecting town-folk!

     Well that's all for now, let me know what you wanna read next, and what music in the car does for you!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alternate History

     Hey everybody!  Sorry I haven't posted in a while, been busy with family, etc. for the holidays.  Happy New Year!  For this post I'll be writing about something I think most Dead Heads have found themselves pondering, although probably in many different ways: an alternate history of the Dead.  There are many ways that this could go, and to make it more confusing I'll be taking about these alternate histories as if they were (and they could be) parallel universes.  In one universe, for example, Jerry is still alive today, just like in another Pig Pen Stuck with the band until 1980, when his solo blues career became more important to him.  But I'll get into these as we go along, so let's get into it.

     The first universe I wish to visit is one in which the Dead's repertoire and lineups remained the same, but the order in which songs were introduced was slightly changed.  Obviously it would take a whole lot of work to tie up all the anecdotes of songs being written or discovered to make them historically coherent in this universe, and I really don't care to undertake it.  Use your imagination!  There are any number of factors relating to the Dead and the Muse, or the spirit of inspiration, and it's no great feat to imagine them having taken place along a different timeline.  Also, in this universe songs don't necessarily have to fall out of rotation , so something from primal-Dead days could last until the 90's. The song that comes to me first, for no particular reason, is the 1968 debut of Fire On the Mountain.  I think that a primal-Dead version of this song would be real interesting, although obviously lacking the filter that Jerry used on it in our universe, at least until that universe got to 1977.  I think the best place for it would have been between Alligator and Caution, a nice little Jerry interlude in the Pig Pen madness.
     I think there could actually be some good trading between eras in this alternate universe, because I think the late 70's could trade Fire for the Eleven.  The return of Mickey to the lineup in this universe could have caused a revival in the bands' interest in polyrhythms, resulting in a version of the Eleven that could come out of songs such as Eyes of the World or Estimated Prophet to much success.  Just think of that triumphant, assured level jamming that those two songs could reach in those days and the same kind of feeling that the Eleven had in its day; isn't there a lot of compatibility?  I'm now realizing that Furthur is a good kind of test vehicle for these compatibility tests, because they take songs from any era and put them together.  I even saw them go into the Eleven from Eyes at Bethel Woods a couple summers ago!
     Dark Star.  It's always a good time for Dark Star!  But I think that in this new universe it either could have been born of practice sessions with Keith and introduced in late '71, or (and this is controversial even to me) it could have come about as a surprise burst of psychedelia sometime in the 80's.  Maybe in 1980 when Brent was really coming into his own they would have introduced it to show Heads from the 70's that the jazzy-space of that era was not lost, or maybe after Jerry's coma as a signal of the Dead's return to the road.  In fact, it could have been the Touch of Grey in this universe, with that song coming around the same time as Bertha, Sugaree, etc.  That would have meant that the huge success of the Dead in the late 80's wouldn't have attracted as many people as in our world, and maybe the Dead wouldn't have been quite as trapped in the touring machine.
     These could go on forever, and I welcome any of you to think of others, but I'll draw the line at this last one (and then maybe a short list of others I thought of), the '75 introduction of the Other One.  I think this song fits in nicely with all the Blues For Allah material, and could have been put in as a segue from or into Slipknot!, King Solomon's Marbles, or even Blues For Allah itself.  Maybe it would be fair to trade it with Slipknot! and put that one back in the 60's, but I don't know if that's necessary.  Others I thought of: Hell in a Bucket, '71; Terrapin Station, '74 or '90 (with Bruce); Eyes of the World, '69; Cumberland Blues, '65.

     So let's move away from that universe and go into another one where death visited the Dead in different ways...or rather didn't really visit them that much at all.  I've always wondered what would have happened if Pig Pen hadn't died, but rather rejoined the Dead on the road in '73.  Sets where Eyes of the World goes into Lovelight??  Good Lovin' remained bluesy an psychedelic into the late 70's?  Would there even have been a hiatus?  And who can even imagine what would have happened when Pig stepped up to the mike with the Wall of Sound behind him?!?  People miles away would be wondering who exactly they were expected to dance with or ask to go home with.
     But enough questions, let's try to imagine this universe.  I think that the hiatus would have happened anyway, and things leading up to the hiatus would have remained largely the same as they were in '72, with the obvious changes of song repertoire and rearrangement of sets with the addition of Pig songs.  Pig may even have joined Jerry, Bobby, and Mickey in releasing a solo album, a studio effort that I imagine being like the first Garcia album, in that it would just be Pig in the studio playing all the instruments with Billy and Jerry sitting in where they were needed.  He probably also would have come up with more originals, and songs like Two Souls in Communion would have stayed in the rotation;  that would even have been a good second set ballad, giving Jerry a break from settling everyone down.  He also would have been able to contribute to some songs his expert harp playing, something that I think only ever added to the power of the Dead's music.  Here's a potential setlist from alt. '74:

Set 1: Playin' in the Band, Mr. Charlie, Me & Bobby McGee > Sugaree, Jack Straw, Beat It On Down the Line, They Love Each Other, El Paso, Ship of Fools, It Hurts Me Too, Mexicali Blues, Bertha > Good Lovin', Promised Land

Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Greatest Story Ever Told, It Must Have Been the Roses, Me & My Uncle > Caution > Truckin' > Caution > Dark Star > Two Souls in Communion, Ramble On Rose, Not Fade Away > Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away

Encore: Turn On Your Lovelight > We Bid You Goodnight

     Now doesn't that look good to you?  Anyway, after the hiatus I think Pig would have been drifting away from the Dead's general direction.  He probably wouldn't have had anything on Blue for Allah, but maybe would have had some new material for Terrapin Station or Shakedown Street.  I think in the late 70's he would have something more along the lines of the JGB, or would even have played a large part in Jerry's solo career, but would be less present in the Dead's music, until eventually he left for his solo career with occasional sit-ins with the Dead as the years went on.  In this universe I think the band's drug habits may have been less severe, and I think Pig especially would have been a symbol of rehabilitation and a more healthy path after his alcohol-related health issues.  So maybe Keith and Donna would have continued to grow musically, as opposed to sinking into drugs and fighting as they did in our world.  But I think they would eventually have left the band in this universe as well, probably following Pig's path of solo music and occasional sit-ins wit the Dead, so here enters Brent.
     Brent would have entered in 1980 in this world as I envision it, perhaps after a break from touring after the summer of '79 when the Godchauxs and Pig amicably left.  The band at this point I think would sound cleaner than it did in our world, due to the band's cleaner habits derived of Pig, but perhaps that still would have deteriorated for Garcia in this world.  But I think that after Garcia's coma then the band would have rallied together to stay fit, and Brent would have lasted straight up until '95, with occasional performances including the Godchauxs, Pig, and Bruce.  I actually think Pig and Brent would have gotten along pretty well (don't ask me why, it's just a feeling I get) and perhaps Pig could have steered Brent's contributions more towards the blues and away from whatever the hell Far From Me or Easy to Love You were.

     Here, however, I have a problem.  Obviously I'd love any universe where Jerry lives even today, but I have no idea how that universe would look.  The band was pretty tired of touring by that time according to any of the memoirs of the Dead's experiences, but I'd like to believe that the band would have stayed together.  Perhaps all that would require was another hiatus, like the real one in '74 (and 2014 for Furthur) and the one in '79 that happened in this alternate universe.  I think hiatuses (hiati?) keep bands healthy and help mark transitional periods in their music.  So perhaps there would have been a '96 album that shared the creative spirit of Blues for Allah that also did justice to the Dead's new songs from that time.  Imagining beyond that, however, is even more of a pipe dream tan the rest of this post, because it's really just leading up to me seeing the Grateful Dead with Jerry at the helm.  In all likelihood, there probably would have been a division of the band eventually anyway, and then pretty much what we've seen int he Dead world since Jerry's passing, with the addition of Jerry.  Variations of the Dead, the Other Ones, Furthur, etc. would all have happened, but involved different members at different times.  Hell, maybe Jerry and Phil would have come up with something along the lines of Hot Tuna, or Pig and Bobby would have made a blues band with Rob Wasserman.

So this post kind of got away from me, but hey, I've been on break!  Please share any of your own wild speculations, or (politely) tell me that I'm fucking crazy for any of my own speculations.  And of course, requests and suggestions are always welcome.

Monday, December 16, 2013

1977-05-09 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium

     Here is yet another installment of my show review section.  In the post I started working on before this I realized I needed to write a review of this show, but I'm not sure which will be done first, this review or that post.  But either way, you're reading this now!  I've always held this show above the hallowed Cornell show from the night before, sometimes for the wrong reasons.  For a while I was such a fan of this show I refused to acknowledge anything good about the Cornell show, denouncing the playing in it as sloppy and too loose.  I've come around to the rational side of the argument now, and will be the first to say that the Cornell show should be one of the first things we show the aliens when they land, so they know that we're somewhat intelligent.  However, the Buffalo show is still a better show in my opinion.  My biases definitely show through in defending this, because it's got some of my favorite Dead songs, and a good setlist is hard to argue with.  Help/Slip/Frank, the Other One, Cassidy, Sunrise (if you'll believe it), Music Never Stopped, Comes a Time, Uncle John's Band; how can you go wrong?!

Set 1: Help On the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, Cassidy, Brown Eyed Women, Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Big River, Peggy-O, Sunrise, The Music Never Stopped

Set 2: Bertha > Good Lovin', Ship of Fools, Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Drums > Not Fade Away > Comes a Time > Sugar Magnolia

Encore: Uncle John's Band

     Am I right?!  Ok, let's start form the beginning, relax.  This is the most mature version of the Blues for Allah trio I've ever heard.  They are completely in control of the medley, it's neither hurried nor dragging its ass, and it's not afraid to go places you wouldn't expect.  Help On the Way boils right along with a great, if short, solo break, and it segues seamlessly into the Slipknot! intro section.  Slipknot! gets as weird as you could want it to, and it's obvious from the very start that they're on the same wave length and are all having a great time.  The nail the outro, bringing it around an extra time just to show that this ain't the hit-or-miss Dead of '76, this is the Grateful Dead Machine hard at work, est.1977.  A good yard stick for Slipknot!, I've found, is if you hear at least one of them "woo!" before diving into the Slipknot! theme for the last time, and Bobby's all about it in this one.  Franklin's Tower is exactly what you'd expect for '77, rockin' along and rollin' away the dew.  Keith gets onto the weird organ/synth that he had in '77, but to great effect.  Most of the time I think he should stay on the electric piano or a real one, since the organ never proved to be his forte, but he really shines with it this time.  Listed as 16.5 minutes, the song is really about 14 with a couple of minutes of tuning and farting around, but that's ok, they deserve a break!

     From this explosive start they mellow into a normal set-progression, but keep things weird with a solid Cassidy.  While it's a song that flirted with the line of being over-played from '76-'77, it's a great song nonetheless.  Brown Eyed Women enjoys a classic '77 thrashing, with Jerry letting loose on the solo and vocals, and then a Mexicali that carries on in about the same manner.  In fact, Tennessee Jed and Big River bask in the same glorious, May '77 glory, with smooth yet powerful playing throughout.  While Big River was always an invitation to rock the fuck out, '77 saw the birth of it as a Garcia battlefield; by '78 you could almost see the smoke coming off his strings!  It's in these more straight froward segments that I think this show really proves its mettle against the Cornell one.  It's impossible to compare Help/Slip/Frank with Morning Dew or Scarlet Fire, but songs like these that are more set-in-stone as to where they go and how they get there are much easier to compare.  Where there would be some small slips in tuning, lyrics, or changes in these songs for Cornell, these are absent from the Buffalo one.  Again, both concerts are beyond belief, and the aliens won't believe humans produced them, but the Buffalo one gains small points in these places.

     Anyway, they carry on into a nice Peggy-O to calm things down.  After that they do what's always been a favorite of mine, Donna's "Sunrise".  This seems as good a time as any to clear the air about the "Donna Issue."  I like Donna.  Eight times out of ten I think she's a great addition to the band and well worth having on stage.  She has a beautiful voice when she can hear herself and is putting in the effort, and on her solo songs that comes through the best.  Her backup vocals (when she can hear herself) usually add great flavor the a song's texture, and I frankly enjoy how enthusiastic she can get in songs like Playin' in the Band, Greatest Story Ever Told, and Sugar Magnolia.  However, we all know what can happen when she oversteps her comfort zone: two ears full of pain.  In The Closing of Winterland, when they're doing Around & Around, she famously scared my best friend and I off of our couch when she made a sound like Bobby had just stabbed her in the kidney.  My other friend also got a full frontal assault from one of her Playin' screams, and was pretty fragile afterwards (she wasn't even a Dead Head, didn't know what she was getting into when she sat in front of the speakers).  But like I said, I generally like Donna, and think that this particular Sunrise is a really good one.

     They close the set with a great Music Never Stopped, a song I don't know if I can really call a favorite because it's so obviously good.  It's one of those songs that if it doesn't get you dancing, then nothing will.  Maybe this is a place where Cornell has the advantage over Buffalo, because we all know the fame and inspiration of the Dancin' in the Streets that closed that first set, but that doesn't mean the Buffalo set closer loses any power.  That's one great thing about these two shows, which increasingly seem inseparable in my mind: their setlists are so different as to give each show complete autonomy from the other.  They do share a couple songs (BEW, Estimated, and NFA), but the first two of these were pretty standard that May (a conservative description of Estimated), and who doesn't love Not Fade Away?!  These similarities, if anything, strengthen the relationship without blurring the lines between the two shows.

     After what I assume was a lovely intermission, filled with weird conversations, a lot of hydration (beer counts too), and some small clouds of smoke, they come back with a good Bertha > Good Lovin'.  While the pairing of these two makes good musical sense, the Dead didn't always transition smoothly from one to the other.  But even when the transition got tangled up, both of these songs are obviously staples of the Dead's repertoire, and the fireworks abound in this version.  Luckily they nail the transition this time, making one wonder how they could ever screw it up?  A nice thing about '77 Bertha's is that they could be really laid-back.  they weren't slow or lazy, but they had a controlled feeling that would be missed in the more haphazard versions in '78.  While those could rock the roof right off the house, they didn't always come together right, whereas in '77 they had all the time in the world to bring the song to its climax.  A quick word about Good Lovin' in general; this is a Pig Pen song, and Bobby could sometimes ruin a Pig Pen classic (Lovelight, Good Morning Little School Girl, Smokestack Lightning).  This is perhaps the best of his Pig appropriations, and this version in particular is very good, but any time I hear the song I wish it was Pig singing it, and I miss the Dead's more adventurous versions when they had him at the helm.  But I do love a good Bobby version, he just has big, stanky shoes to fill.  In classic late-70's fashion they cool things down with Ship of Fools, a song I've never been crazy about, but still enjoy.  This performance of it goes about the way one would expect, no problems or moments of pure inspiration, just a solid song.

     Here come the dragons!  Yes, it's time for the big second set transition, and while it's not quite the monster it could be, let's not get greedy and forget what they opened with!  Estimated Prophet was still relatively new at this point, and the jam section in the middle was in its infancy compared to versions even just a year later.  They don't make a wrong step as they go through it, and they're certainly in no hurry, no.  The jam gets weirder, and starts to gain momentum until, without any break into drums to prepare us, they launch into the Other One.  As I've said, this has always been at the top of my list of Dead songs, and I'll admit that this one is not the most amazing there is.  In fact, at under 7 minutes it's a pretty short version, but I can't complain.  It's still an amazing song and it'll take your breath away if you stop judging it against the 15+ minute versions that occur elsewhere in this particular month.  They slip into drums from here, and instead of bringing it back to the Other One, they go into Not Fade Away.  It's definitely shorter than the Cornell one, but in a comparison of the two it more than holds its own.  For being such a simple song as far as the cords and arrangement are concerned, it really is amazing the variety of places that the Dead can take it.  They can keep rocking out, they can go straight into outer space, or they can let it evaporate into a more tender song, as they do here.

     Comes a Time is one of the most tragically beautiful songs in the Dead's arsenal, and I'll fight anyone who thinks otherwise to the death.  If this song doesn't pull your heartstrings and make you feel a whole spectrum of emotions that you had previously just grouped under "sad," then chances are your heart is missing and you're either a robot or a rock.  This Buffalo version is no different, and takes you on a real journey.  Just when you think you're lost in the netherworld of melancholic feelings, however, the Dead pull some of their magic and bring you right back home with Sugar Magnolia and a smile on your face.  After a balls out version of Sugar Mags and some tuning and breath-catching, they come back for an Uncle John's Band encore.  This song is a great snap-shot of the Dead, a little bit of lightning in a bottle.  It's captures the tenderness they were capable of, the feel-good vibe of being at a show, and the psychedelic jamming that could go anywhere (but in this case it's a stand-alone).  This is a great note to end a great show on, and they pull it off without any incidents.

     So that's that.  Let me know if you want more show reviews (which ones?) or whatever.  I have a potential idea for the next post, but I can always change my mind.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Best of the Best

    So the other day I tried to organize a get-together with my Dead Head friends and like minded people to do a music swap.  The  main idea behind it was that I had way too much Dead (ha!, as if) and other people had way too little.  In my head this gathering would involve half-a-dozen people, a dozen flash drives, and other people's laptops.  In reality, one other person brought a flash drive with no computer, but some good music (Portugal, the Man) on it that I swapped for some of my music.  The only other two people who were there were people I drove, and neither had a working laptop or flash drive, two things I didn't think you could lack while simultaneously being a college student.  So mainly we just watched some Dead videos in an empty classroom, cleverly hooking my laptop up to the projector and sound system.  So all in all it was not a complete success, but in preparing for it I came up with two very useful lists that I'll share with all of you as a kind of Christmas gift.

     Both of these lists were created spur of the moment with no edits or tinkering.  Too much deliberation would have left me sitting at my desk for weeks considering the minute details of every show I had, so I had to be decisive early on.  The first is "Desert Island" collection, in other words the ten shows that I'd have if I could have no others.  The second is a lot less concise, but still only about a quarter of what I have, and it's a list of shows that I think every Dead Head should hear, if not have for themselves.  Both of these lists are mostly comprised of non-released shows, just because the released ones are easier to stumble across whereas the recordings on the archive, etc. can just look like a bunch of random dates to a newcomer to being a Dead Head.

     So here's my Desert Island list, which I wanted to contain a good amount of variety, so it has one show from every year from 1968-1977.  Two are official releases, the newly released Sunshine Daydream (the Field Trip, if you ask me) and One From the Vault.  The latter is on there because to me it's the best of the few '75 performances there are and, as with the others on the list, it's been a long-time favorite of mine.


     Some of these are pretty obvious I think: I already reviewed the '69 one, the '70 one seems pretty legendary in most circles, and the official releases are obviously good enough to be released!  Some might not be familiar to you: the '73 and '74 ones I came across while looking for the longest versions of Dark Star and Playin' in the Band, respectively.  While the longest Dark Star question is constantly debated because the song was frequently broken up by drum breaks, thematic jams, or whole other songs, I consider this one the longest one just because that's how I found it.  If you think another version is the longest, you might be right, but this one is fused with my brain, so I'll politely dismiss your assertions to the contrary.  The '74 one is definitely (to my knowledge at least, and I'll take any correction very well) the longest Playin' there is.  Besides these two monster jams, both shows are filled with excellence like you wouldn't believe, except for a rare and iffy performance of Money, Money on the '74 one.  The '76 show I'm not sure how well known it is, but I've heard some controversy around it that I believe is rooted in anti-'76 biases.  I looked it up because it's a show my dad was at, and the setlist and playing are incredible.
     The '77 and '71 shows might surprise people because they both took place around the time that more famous shows did.  There's the Hollywood Bowl show in '71 that took place just a week before this one, and obviously the Barton Hall show the day before in '77 (as well as just about any other May '77 show).  But this is my list, dammit, and I want the shows I love on there!  I've always been willing to tell anyone who will listen that the Buffalo show (05-09-77) is better than the Cornell show, partly because I've always been a huge sucker for Help On the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, and the Other One, but also because I think the overall playing is better.  Obviously Cornell has that Dancing in the Streets(!), Scarlet Fire (!!), Not Fade Away, and Morning Dew (!!!) all going for it, but I stand by my opinion.  I'd say more for it, but I just decided that will be my next review, so I'll save it.  As far as the two '71 shows go, there's hardly any comparison in my mind; the fame of the Hollywood show doesn't compare to the shear power of the other show.  The '68 one may be surprising to some because it's from the period in time where the Jerry, Phil, and Mickey were becoming dissatisfied with Bobby's and Pig's musical development, but I think it's a solid time for the Dead in overall: it's a good mix between the primal, frenzied energy of earlier '68 and the more in control, spacier energy of '69.  Phil is pretty heavy in my mix of it, but I consider that a bonus because he is absolutely on fire for every song they do.

     I obviously can't go into much detail about my larger list of essential shows because that would take a looooong time, of which I have plenty, but it would be a lot for you guys to filter through.  Instead, why don't you put your comments, questions, concerns, or quarrels in the comments, and we can hash it out like adults!


Not sure how to end this post, really, so here's a rather abrupt ending!