Sunday, October 30, 2005

Jerry In The News

My Google News Alerts have brought up a couple news items concerning Jerry. 10 years gone, his spirit lives on...
San Francisco Names Amphitheater for Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia Movie Planned

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test Revisited

Over the past year, my renewed interest in The Grateful Dead has inspired me to learn more about the band's history, the band members, and the surrounding culture. A month or so ago, I was looking for a new book to start, and took a look back at our bookshelf, where I encountered The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

I read this book originally while a student at The Univ. of Maryland in the early 90's, the height of my 'Deadheadness'. The most interesting thing about re-reading this book was the difference in my perspective then compared to now. Back then, in my early 20's I was a bit more free of mind and spirit. I had an adventurous soul and had very little to tie me down or hold me back. Going to Dead shows back then also gave me a sense first hand of what the days of the Acid Tests were like. In other words, I could relate.

Reading this book now, at the age of 34, with a wife, two kids, a job, a mortgage, a car payment, etc., I naturally had a very different point-of-view reading this. Earlier in the year, I read On The Road for the first time, and thought to myself, 'how could people actually live like this?' The Kool Aid Acid Test the second time around made me wonder the same thing. It may not be all me though, it may be the today's sanitized, pre-packaged culture that makes it much harder for me to relate.

Today, 12 years removed from being 'on the bus', I'm a very different person in a very different world. The beatnik and hippie cultures of the 50's and 60's seem like centuries ago. Both were before my time, but at least I was fortunate enough to get a taste of it in the late 80's-early 90's. Reading these great books brings that spirit back to me once again, an escape to a different time, a different place. I'm starting Garcia: An American Life by Blair Jackson now. I've heard great things about it and will share my thoughts when I'm done (may be a while, I'm not the fastest reader). Yet another escape to another time...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Got My Ratdog Tix!!!

Well, I pulled the trigger today and bought two tickets to the Ratdog show in Frederick, MD on November 8. My brother will be going with me, which will be cool for a number of reasons, one because we never saw a Dead show together. Got pretty good seats too. The seats I was pulling up online were in the back of the theater, I felt I could do better. I called the box office this morning and got seats about 10 rows further up, but off to one side. Saved me a few bucks too. Should be fun :)

If any one reading this blog plans on being at that show, let me know. I've added a Deadlink to the unofficial Ratdog website as well, very nicely done.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Grateful Threads at The Archive

I was perusing the Live Music Archive Forum at last night, and ran across two great threads. Both are very descriptive views on what The Grateful Dead mean to different people, and the impact the band continues to have on people's lives. Alot of what keeps me hooked is resonated in these threads. Check 'em out.

Addicted to The Dead, You Too?
GD: Working In The Jam

Saturday, October 22, 2005

One Week in May '77: Part 6 - 5/11/77

Tonight we end our brief journey that began just a few nights earlier in New Haven, CT. On Wednesday, May 11, 1977, the Bus rolled into the St. Paul Civic Center (capacity: 16,000) in St. Paul, MN. This show is not typically mentioned in the same breath as the shows from the previous 4 nights, but IMHO, it's just as good as any they played in May '77.

The first set is a tour-de-force 90 minute roller coaster, starting with solid versions of Promised Land and They Love Each Other. The Big River ("I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota") that comes next is almost as hot as the one played two nights earlier, followed by a flawless, haunting Loser. The highlight of this show comes next in a stunningly beautiful Looks Like Rain. This is an all-time favorite version of this song, and probably my favorite Donna moment. Her backing vocals are as sweet and angelic as they ever were, a perfect compliment to Bobby. The whole band shines on this, particularly with Jerry and Keith providing perfectly aligned textures to this masterpiece. Listen in particular to Keith at the end of the final chorus, it's just perfect. But we're just getting started here folks...A fun, upbeat Ramble On Rose comes next (marred only by a cut going into the last verse), followed by almost perfect versions of two more songs that they just couldn't seem to go wrong with that week, Jack Straw and Peggy-O. After a strong El Paso, Jerry kicks in with a jammin' Deal. You would think the set would be over at this point, but not tonight. No sir. The best Lazy Lightning>Supplication of the week follows. After a long, magical Sugaree, Phil (not Bobby suprisingly) ends a marathon first set with a salty "Thanks, we're going to take a short break. Y'all do whatever you want."

How do you follow up a first set like that? A tough chore indeed, but the Boys were up the task this night. A powerful Samson and Delilah leads off, followed by an equally hot Brown Eyed Women. Another Estimated Prophet is next, sounds like the rest, but the Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain that follows is another special version indeed. The highlight here is the jam in Scarlet before the final verse which just grows and grows in intensity before finishing off strong and cooling off into a mellow transition and Fire. Things heat back up a bit with Good Lovin', but you can sense that they are starting to tire a bit with a somewhat weak Uncle John's Band. A spacy post-UJB jam, reminiscent of something they may of done a few years earlier, flows into a Jerry solo, which then transitions to a textbook Wharf Rat that once again is marred by a significant cut in the recording. The second set ends with a rockin' Around and Around. I love the way that they turned it up a few notches in 1977 with this song, and this version is a good example, ending the set with a bang! As with the first set, Phil chimes in with a "Thank you and good night!" Again, unusual. A sweet, shuffling Breakdown Palace encore closes another great show.

I began this quest searching for answers, in particular, what made these shows so great? I've read, I've googled, I've listened, and nothing really sticks out as truly out-of-the-ordinary. The band was tighter than ever for a number of reasons (Terrapin Station sessions, completing the Grateful Dead Movie, new songs, repetition of a number of songs night after night, fighting back adversity), and these Bertha Boards, through a five show succession, turned out great. As mentioned before, I've read that Jerry discovered Heroin during this time, which you would of thought could of diminished his abilities. That didn't appear to of happened however.

All that mattered was that the stars were aligned, the cosmos were in balance, the karma was good. You can't go wrong with any of these shows. Download, sit back and enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Happy Birthday Brent!

Boy, the band member's birthday's seem to come in bunches, don't they. Tonight, we wish a happy birthday to the late Brent Mydland, who would of been 53 today. I never realized til now just how much younger than the rest of the band he was.

Born in Munich, Germany, Brent moved to San Fran a year later. When he joined The Grateful Dead in 1979, he brought a new and very unique sound to the band, not only with his diverse keyboard skills, but also with his gruff vocal style. I'll admit that I was never a fan of Brent's original songs, but I always thought highly of him as a backup vocalist and keyboardist. I think a couple of my favorite performances of his were in the second half of the second sets of the 10/8/89 and 10/9/89 Warlocks shows. Already two of may favorite all-time sets, Brent truly shines on Gimme Some Lovin' on the 8th, and the Death Don't Have No Mercy (which I'm listening too right now, the goosebumps!) and Dear Mr. Fantasy on the 9th.

Brent left us way too early in 1990. Some loved him, some didn't. I don't think many can deny though his contribution to the band. RIP Brent, you are missed on this Earth.

Monday, October 17, 2005

DC Dead: Invasion of the Dead

Holy guacamole! The three biggest Dead-related acts will be converging on the DC/MD/VA area coming up in November and December! Two shows on the same night even!!!
  • Ratdog: Wednesday, November 2 at Rams Head Live in Baltimore,MD. Tuesday, November 8 at Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, MD.
  • Phil Lesh and Friends: Friday, December 2 at The Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA.
  • Dark Star Orchestra: Tuesday, November 29 at Recher Theater in Towson, MD. Friday, December 2 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Saturday, December 3 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC (Rex Foundation Benefit, Black Tye-Dye Ball)

OK, first of all, someone wasn't scheduling smart here. Phil competing with DSO in the same geographic area (20 miles apart) on the same night. Bad idea. I already know that I won't make it to the Baltimore Ratdog show as I'll be on the West Coast that day. But Frederick I could possibly do. Phil on Friday and DSO on Saturday?

I'm really torn about this though. On one hand, what an opportunity to see all three bands within a month of each other right while in the middle of my Dead-frenzy! Think of the blogging possibilities! On the other hand though, I'm kind of hesitant. All I have of The Grateful Dead (other than the music of course), is my memories of seeing them live. Could that be tainted if I was disappointed in seeing any or all of those three bands today? I know it won't be the same, but could it be good enough, close enough? I've heard a bit of each band and like what I've heard so far. In fact, I heard some live Ratdog last night doing Playin', and was pretty impressed.

What to do? What would you do if you were a lone Deadhead tied up in a straight and narrow world, too concerned about the remote possibility of being disappointed? Ugh, sad and pathetic, huh? A nice problem to have though :)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weir Freaking!

Perfect timing to discover this Bob Weir tribute blog tonight on Bobby's Birthday. Check it out!

Happy Birthday Bobby!

Happy 58th Bobby! Bobby seems like he's probably a nice guy and all, but I think that the picture to the left probably reflects how he feels about getting older these days (or about random bloggers celebrating his birthday). I've always had a special place in my heart for Bobby. Maybe it was demeanor and his 'normal' appearance/attire (polo-style shirts) that made me relate to him the most. In addition, his music, his humor, his energy, made him a truly unique force. Born in San Francisco, Mr. Bob Weir Trouble (an early nickname) never quite fit the hippy, psychedelic mold that Jerry or others did. He looked more like an athlete back then, or maybe a surfer. Now today, fully-bearded, he kind of looks more like Jerry, from the neck up at least.

Many of my favorite Grateful Dead songs are Bobby's, including Sugar Magnolia, Let It Grow, Lost Sailor>Saint of Circumstance, Lazy Lightning>Supplication, Cassidy, Music Never Stopped and more. IMHO, he was always under appreciated by alot of Deadheads. He was the one to carry the band when Jerry was in poor health many times, and he continues to carry on the spirit of The Dead today. I haven't had the opportunity to see Ratdog myself, and I'm probably going to have to miss out on seeing them when they come to Baltimore in November. But I just found out they will be playing in Frederick, MD a week later. Hmmm. May just have to look into that one...

Anyway, happy birthday once again Bobby!

Monday, October 10, 2005

One Week in May '77: Part 5 - 5/9/77

So, how do you follow up arguably the ‘greatest show of all time’? With another great show! Do you even think the boys knew that the show they had just played in Cornell would be considered their best ever? Probably not, the truth is that they were clearly ‘in the zone’, on a roll like few other times in their history, playing as if they were truly of one mind, one spirit. As I look at the set lists for this week, there were a number of songs that were played at least 3-4 times, such as Peggy-O, Tennessee Jed, Music Never Stopped, Estimated Prophet, and more. Maybe simple repetition was leading to a tighter sound?

May 9, 1977 however started off quite different than the other nights of that week. Played at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (Capacity: 16,000+), a blazing Help On The Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower kicks off the first set. Gotta love any show that starts off with H>S>F. Another highlight of the week, especially the Help>Slipknot. I particularly love the crispness of the percussion in this performance. A couple slips on the lyrics during Franklin’s is probably the only thing keeping version from being the best ever. Perfect versions of Cassidy and Brown-Eyed Women follow suit. The Mexicali Blues that come’s next is a bit uneven, never finding quite the right tempo. Another Tennessee Jed follows, sounds like the rest (really not a fan of this song). A super-hot Big River roars to life after Jed, possibly an all-time best version. Jerry is on fire during his second solo with the boys blasting away on all cylinders behind him! Yet another beautiful Peggy-O slows things down a bit, and then, a bit of a surprise. A Sunrise actually, Donna’s song that was only played 3 times live, once that night. Not a bad song, but it sounds more like the Jefferson Starship than The Dead, IMHO. Another Music Never Stopped closes a marathon, well performed first set.

The second set starts off with a slow-tempo Bertha, very similar to the version played in New Haven 4 nights earlier. Bertha to me is supposed to be a fun, danceable song, the band didn’t see it that way in ’77 I guess. Things heat up a bit next with some of Bobby’s Good Lovin’ (need more cowbell!) I love the soulful, stunning Ship Of Fools that follows, played to perfection and a personal favorite version of mine. A mellow, yet intense jam links a rare back-to-back Estimated Prophet>The Other One. During the end of the Estimated jam, Mickey and Billy start to take over a bit driving the band into one of the strong Other Ones that I’ve heard from the late ‘70s. Mickey and Billy keep churning with some Drumz, which leads into a solid Not Fade Away (marred only by an AUD patch during the first verse). Just when you think the roof is going to blow off the building, the boys take it down a notch for a Comes A Time that comes straight from the heart. Jerry’s solo after the final chorus starts off coming from somewhere very, very deep inside, then finishes beautiful and bluesy, the band’s heart and soul are truly one during this special moment of the show. It seems like they are truly emotionally drained at this point as they slowly rev up Sugar Magnolia, but then kick into high-gear at the first verse and find the energy to finish the second set off strong. A show that seemed to have just about a bit of everything finishes off with a Uncle John’s Band that kind of makes you just sit back and say “Ahhhh”.

Again, no visible magic, just a band at their peak whose sound was about as tight as ever. Some just refer to a great 4 show run from New Haven to Buffalo this week, but the show two nights later belongs in this great run IMO. So off we go to traverse the Great Lakes to the Twin Cities. Until then…

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Belated Happy New Year!

Forgot to say to all my Jewish brothers and sisters out there, a belated L'shanah tovah! It's been a very hectic past week with the holiday, work's been busy enough, but having to make up for a day being a busy weekend, I haven't been able to concentrate on this blog, or more importantly my One Week in May '77 series. I hope to have Part 5, (5/9/77) out in the next couple days. Still looking for that magic formula that made that week such a spectacular one...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Justin Kreutzmann's Blog

I just discovered Justin Kreutzmann's Blog, Rock and Reel, via Dead on Friday (thank you Jonathan!), and wow! Looks like he's been blogging for a few weeks now, and he's got some great stuff there, including several interviews. The most recent post is a very interesting interview by David Gans with Justin's Dad (Bill, of course). Check it out!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

One Week in May '77: Part 4 - 5/8/77

In my search for what made 5/8/77 special (outside of the almost flawless performance and the overall excellent recording quality), I've come up relatively empty. I'm still not sure it's the best show ever, let alone that month or event that week? The first set is good, but not nearly as good as the shows directly before and after that one. But the second set is an absolute beauty, very possibly their best 'set' performance ever. The recording quality may be the clearest and richest Betty Board ever released, but there a couple of AUD patches that mess-up otherwise great performances of a couple songs. And why Ithaca? Why a show at an Ivy League school? Why wasn't their best show in San Francisco, New York, or in any of a number of other classic concert halls, rather than an old, barn-like gym that sat around 7,000?

Whatever it was, nothing sticks from my research as anything pointing to this being a great night. No special karma, no weird or unusual circumstances surrounding the show. The popularity of this show may very well simply be from the fact that it was the first top-quality Betty Board to be circulated amongst tape traders. I know that when I was accumulating my original collection, that this show stood out as one of my favorites, simply due to the fact that it sounded so clear compared too many of the other shows that I had on tape. The fact that their overall playing was so flawless (except for one instance) has always made this show a treasure. But on the other hand, I've seen better set lists, and I've heard more energy and intensity in other shows. 5/8/77 just seems to have it all though, no show was ever perfect, but this may have been as close as they ever came. Best ever, probably not, but historic and fabulous nonetheless.

First set kicks off with a strong Minglewood Blues, but next three songs, Loser, El Paso, and They Love Each Other, while played immaculately, are combined not what I would normally consider to be the start to a great show. The Jack Straw and Deal that come next have much more spirit behind them. The Lazy Lightning>Supplication is as jazzy and complex as ever, but a weak AUD patch during the Lighting jam is a let down. I love the Brown Eyed Women that comes next, once again played perfectly, possibly one of their best versions of that song. An OK Mama Tried follows, with a "Thanks Mom!" at the end, I'm guess from Phil (not sure why, maybe some sort of inside joke). Next comes a Row Jimmy that is solid, but I much prefer the late 80's Row Jimmy's to 70's versions anyway. The Dancin' In The Street however is very interesting. As they start it up, either Bobby accidentally jumps in with the first vocals early, or the rest of the band comes in late. No matter, the crowd cheers, Bobby's probably all embarrassed, and they recover overall with a spectacular performance of the old-time Motown hit. In my 5/7/77 post, I discussed how sometimes they seemed to bounce back from adversity with some of their most inspired performances. I think that this Dancin' is just another prime example of that.

As mentioned previously, it's the 2nd set that sets this show apart. After pleading with the crowd to "Take A Step Back" so that their friends up front wouldn't be so "bug-eyed", history is made with a truly magical Scarlet>Fire. The Scarlet, although good, is not necessarily the best one I've ever heard. What makes this version special is the brilliant transition, and the remarkable Fire. Through the final five minutes of Fire, Jerry leads the boys unparalleled journey unparalled in almost anything else they ever performed. How do you follow that up, with another great Estimated Prophet (I'm not sure they played a weak Estimated in May '77). After Estimated, the St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen is a bit overrated in my book. I'm not feeling a whole lot of energy here, certainly nothing compared to the St. Stephen's of the 60s or the NFAs of the 80s. The Morning Dew that follows though is another absolute classic. Arguably the best version ever of this song, they soar through the highs and lows with a gracefulness not many other musical groups have ever been able to copy. As the climax of Dew builds and builds with increasing intensity, you get the sense that Jerry and the Rhythm Devils are challenging each other to see who can take it to the next level. It's fun to hear Keith think that they are wrapping up, when they still have a few more rounds to go. You have to crank this Dew up to 11 to get the full effect, it just doesn't get much better than this. To top it all off, the One More Saturday Night is also perfect, a great ending to an amazing night.

So is it the best? The controversy lives on. Over 150 people have commented on this show at alone. Deadbase says their feedback reflects that it's the best show ever, but many over the years, including myself contend whether or not it's the best show even that month. You know what? Who cares anyway. The argument is fun to have as all Deadheads continue their quest for their favorite Dead show or 'moment'. This show overall is not my favorite I must admit, but there are moments in this show that are truly unequalled. And when I'm looking for just that right pick-up, something that brings it all together for me, there's nothing I'd rather listen to than the Scarlet>Fire and Morning Dew from 5/8/77.

Next, we go west, Truckin' Up To Buffalo. See you there...