Dave’s Picks Vol 13: Winterland, Feb. 24, 1974

1422806009_frontIt is such a treat to have an ongoing series of full-show releases of Grateful Dead concerts released by Rhino and the Dead (4 a year). Most of these shows were not originally recorded with the intention of commercial release, so many are imperfect insomuch as the mixes are not as precise as one might be used to on your typical “Live album.” But this is nothing new to even the most newbie of Dead-Heads.

The Grateful Dead were one of the few bands who not only allowed their shows to be taped by audience members, they actually encouraged it! As a result, different quality sound recordings are part of the Grateful Dead listening experience. And soundboard recordings, also of varying quality –not to mention generations (from back in the ol’ tape cassette trading days)– have always been with us, either through the generosity of folks at the board letting tapers plug in, or in those unintended releases that found their way into unofficial circulation like the famed “Betty Boards.”

Continue reading “Dave’s Picks Vol 13: Winterland, Feb. 24, 1974”

Dave’s Picks Vol 13: Winterland, Feb. 24, 1974

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972

The fourth show on the Grateful Dead’s first-ever tour of Europe landed them in a hall that was tailer-made for music. Located in the center of the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, the 1,700 seat Tivoli Concert Hall had been designed for classical music performances, though the Dead were not the first rock band to play there. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the dark and acoustically-challenged venues of the tour’s first three gigs.

Enjoying playing not only to an audience of Danish-speakers (though the Danes are well-versed in English, as I can assure you from having lived in Scandinavia for a time in my youth), the band was also performing for a culture of European hippies, the likes of which would not be seen again till the band hit Amsterdam. In the north part of Copenhagen is a small “town” called Christiania (or Freetown Christiania) which is an autonomous “commune” that exists outside of the drug laws that are somewhat enforced throughout the rest of Denmark. As a result, this Danish audience was more than a little equipped for this particular band’s visit to their humble city.

The results were, to say the least, perfectly in sync.

The sound on this recording is exceptional. You can “feel” the space itself and the energy of this more-than-ready-to-have-their-minds-blown crowd. From the first notes of BERTHA, this show soars. The tour’s first YOU WIN AGAIN makes a welcome appearance early on. WIN’s a song I’ve always loved and one the Dead sadly didn’t keep in their repertoire for very long. I always thought Jerry did justice to the heartfelt Hank Williams tune. Another short but highly experimental PLAYING IN THE BAND helps keep the first set loose and wiggly while Pig’s rendition of BIG BOSS MAN makes sure the dancing and swaying never loses momentum.

Set two gives us another steamrollin’ TRUCKIN’ (this was definitely the tour for that song!) and another heartfelt IT HURTS ME TOO, which I will never get enough of. The BROWN-EYED WOMEN is energetic and a perfect reminder of the Dead’s various roots and inspirations; there is no better reflection of American music than the Grateful Dead songbook. This is followed by the last LOOKS LIKE RAIN of the tour and the last time Jerry would play pedal steel with the Grateful Dead until 1987 (!) when they backed Bob Dylan.

Like all versions of DARK STAR on this tour, April 14, 1972’s is one of the best ever. Deep and spacey, while not quite as luxurious as the Wembley DARK STAR, it certainly takes us on a long, strange trip (though the second verse is left out in the nether-sphere for another night). Pig’s GOOD LOVIN’ may be one of the best examples of the man’s vast talent for rapping as he weaves in and out of GOOD LOVIN’, WHO DO YOU LOVE, CAUTION (DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS) and back into GOOD LOVIN’. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.

Well, the boys could have ended the show then and there and one wouldn’t have heard nary a peep of complaint from anyone in attendance. But they chose to add another five songs onto the evening including a rousing NOT FADE AWAY-> GOING DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD-> NOT FADE AWAY. And by the time the band completed their frenzied and energetic version of ONE MORE SATURDAY NIGHT, the audience, and this listener, was more than a little satiated. Oh, to have been one of those 1,700…

Thankfully, this would not be the Dead’s last stop at the Tivoli Concert Hall this tour. They departed briefly to do another show at Aarhus University in Denmark before returning to the amusement park and hashish aromas of the fabulous Tivoli Gardens.

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972

Grateful Dead Go FURTHUR At The Greek

I’ve been listening here and there to this current incarnation of the Grateful Dead legacy; bits and pieces as they appear on Archive.org and other sites. While I am already a fan of their newest lead guitarist John Kadlecik (of Dark Star Orchestra fame), I have found what I’d heard so far to be “interesting,” even quite good at times, but never great. Over the last few years I’ve become a shameless Dark Star Orchestra fan. In large part because that band feels more like the Grateful Dead experience to me than the Grateful Dead themselves did in their last 10 or so years. With a few exceptions, the Dead lost their ability to play tightly as they wound down into their third and final act. Perhaps it was lack of rehearsals, or maybe Jerry’s heroin problem, or perhaps a lack of interest or pure exhaustion, I don’t know. What I do know is they were no longer the band I fell in love with. I still went to see them, and I always yearned for more, but I was also fighting a mounting disappointment that they had become rather sloppy.

In listening to Furthur online, I got the sense that this band was tighter than the Grateful Dead had been toward the end, but still not as tight as, say, Dark Star Orchestra. But last night’s show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles turned me around. I can’t tell you how this show will translate to tape, but I can tell you that being there was a very different experience from any recording I’ve heard to date. What I witnessed was a very tight band. And a very advanced one. Perhaps they’ve returned to the stage after a short break with a newfound enthusiasm, well-rehearsed and ready to move things another notch up the musical ladder. It certainly seems so.

For the record, this is not the Grateful Dead. Most of the songs may be, but the approach is different. This band is even more jazz-influenced than the Dead were at their “jazziest.” With rhythm guitarist Bob Weir (not just bearded, but bespectacled now as well) and bass player Phil Lesh the only Grateful Dead members in attendance, Furthur truly is a unique animal less concerned with recreating the Grateful Dead experience and seemingly more concerned with exploring new sounds and new directions to take the music. And if last night’s show is any indication, they are succeeding masterfully.

No longer bound by the structure of the Grateful Dead’s set lists (which, though improvised and ever-changing, nonetheless became a bit predictable), Furthur has thrown the rule book out. Any song, from any era can (and will) be played anywhere in any set at any time. This, for Dead Heads, is pure nirvana. Everything is possible.

Added to this lineup is keyboardist Jeff Chimenti who is easily my favorite “Dead” pianist since Keith. Jazzy and daring, Chimenti never tries to overpower the band, but flows energetically as he weaves in and out of the spaces between the other instruments, stepping forward front and center only when an opening permits. And when he does, watch out! The music is about to reach new heights! I’m one of the few who was never a huge fan of Brent Mydland (I know, I know, sacrilege…). I felt his playing, as supremely talented as it was, overpowered the rest of the band and made it that much easier for them to ease into sloppy musicianship as Brent’s keyboards would usually cover any such “mistakes.” Even MORNING DEW would climax prematurely due to Brent’s overuse of organ and his extreme volume in any given mix. Perhaps in Brent’s defense, he was just covering up the gaps left by a band that had lost some of its drive. But either way, Chimenti never traverses that same path and I could not have enjoyed his participation more. I hung on every note with delight.

Drummer Joe Russo is less a replacement for the Kreutzmann/Hart duo (the other surviving Grateful Dead members not included in this lineup), but more reminiscent of those years when Billy Kreutzmann was the band’s sole drummer. Like Billy, Joe does more than just hold the band together, he cuts a clear path so that they may dance unrestrained, their individual sonic personalities skipping with complete abandon through open spaces to come together with all the love and affection of a family reunited. Just listen to his uninhibited and self-assured intro to the show opener, ALLIGATOR.

Following ALLIGATOR, the remainder of the first set at L.A.’s Greek was completely engaging. Filled with songs the Grateful Dead stopped playing in the 60’s, as well as a brand new song and some old favorites, the band wove a pleasant tapestry that was, as it would turn out, just a small taste of what was to come. By time the set ended with MASON’S CHILDREN, I felt the band was just getting up to speed, even though they’d already taken us on some sublime spiraling musical excursions.

The second set hit the ground running with a welcome trip back to the 60’s once again with a pair of songs I’d always longed to hear live, BORN CROSS-EYED and NEW POTATO CABOOSE. I was in heaven right from the get-go and the set list just kept getting better and better. The complexities and nuances of this new incarnation came clearly into focus. For the first time, I was able to let go of what I expected them to be and was able to embrace who this band had become, who they were now.

UNBROKEN CHAIN was a second set highlight, less because of the beauty of the song and its once mythic status, but because, in the hands of this new band, it had become an epic musical journey in ways I’d never imagined possible. This was only slightly overshadowed by what turned out to be one of the best live MORNING DEWs I’ve ever heard. I had to keep snapping myself back to reality and remind myself that I was seeing this live and not just listening to an old CD from the past.

And even though they could have ended the set with the DEW and no one would have been anything less than completely satisfied, the boys decided to treat us to a full-on, no-holds-barred PLAYING IN THE BAND before wrapping up the set.

Furthur is a band worth seeing. If you appreciate true musical exploration, if you love the music of the Grateful Dead (and I mean their full songbook, not just the “hits”), then this incarnation is a must-see. And while it’s still true that Bobby and Phil are not the best vocalists to be found, reinforcements have been brought in in the form of backup singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. And Kadlecik is no slouch himself with a somewhat rough-around-the-edges Garcia-like lilt to his voice. And it should be noted that Phil appears to have taken some more singing lessons or is simply pushing himself farther than he’s gone before as he, truthfully, has never sounded better. Rearranging his vocal approach to many of the songs, I was hard-pressed to find those wince-worthy, off-key notes Phil has been known to hit on more than one occasion. In fact, there was a downright beauty to his approach this night and I hope he continues to challenge himself in this manner as the results are already enormous. The splendor of these songs came through in a way they had not for many, many years.

On a less enthusiastic note, the audience in attendance at the Greek was a mixed bag. I don’t know if it’s just the L.A. crowd or if this is a staple of the concert experience everywhere, but I was amazed –nay, shocked— by the sheer number of people who seemed more focused on engaging in full-on, top-of-lung conversation than in listening to the music. On more than one occasion, I found myself aurally competing to stay focused on the band and not on the selfish verbiage that was spewing forth all around me by those who appeared less interested in music and far more interested in socializing and networking. It took some deep breaths (and the occasional dirty look and random friendly comment to the worst transgressors) before I was able to just let go and not let the less-attractive elements of my surroundings take away from all the wonderful happenings going on. Thankfully, the music grew louder as the show progressed and it became increasingly easier to smile and ignore those nearby who were clearly mislead into believing we had all bought our tickets to hear them lecture, commiserate and exchange business cards.

The other slight complaint I had was that I was never fully satisfied with the sound mix. This seems to be in keeping with my experience of the live recordings. Vocals are often soft and a bit muffled, and John Kadlecik’s lead guitar is almost always too low in the mix, rarely standing out above the other instruments. Whether this is by design or not, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve also felt, both at this show and the others I’ve listened to, that Kadlecik is holding back. After experiencing him in Dark Star Orchestra on numerous occasions, I know what he is capable of as a guitarist and, as good a job as he did last night, it was still restrained compared to Kadlecik’s full musical capabilities. Again, this may simply be the sound and style this particular band is after. But one senses that with slightly looser reigns, Kadlecik could help this band go even further (no pun intended). And if you can’t loosen the reigns a bit, at least turn him up! Luckily, by the show’s last third, the mix seemed to agree with me as Kadlecik (particularly during MORNING DEW) finally landed front and center in the mix. Oddly enough, up until that point, it wasn’t Bobby and Phil who dominated, but the drummer and keyboard player. So while I would have preferred a different balance in the mix, at the end of the day it wasn’t enough to take away from the experience in any dramatic fashion and, as said, it did improve by show’s end.

Soon I’ll listen to Furthur at the Greek in download format and see if the experience of the show I attended translates to the live recording medium. Will it sound as good to me then as it did in the moment? Or will they once again sound like that band I wish were just a little tighter, just a tad more polished? I’ll let you know. But for the moment, as I sip my morning coffee and reminisce about the night before, they are still powerful in my memory. And I can still feel them in my dancing feet.

Here’s the set list followed by a few video snippets I took (no full songs, I’m afraid. I was too busy dancing to commit that much time to recording. But it’s a taste…).

Set 1:
Good Lovin’
Muli Guli
China Cat Sunflower->
Ramble on Rose
Mason’s Children

Set 2:
Born Cross Eyed->
New Potato Caboose->
Cryptical Envelopment->
The Other One->
Unbroken Chain->
Let It Grow
Mountain Song->
Morning Dew
Playin’ in the Band
Box of Rain

Grateful Dead Go FURTHUR At The Greek

Midnight Movies: THE GRATEFUL DEAD

DeadI first saw The Grateful Dead movie, if not upon its initial release in 1977, then sometime soon after at midnight showings around the country. Already a Deadhead, but one who had not yet seen them live, I took every opportunity to see this film again and again. It was a staple of the midnight movie scene back in the late seventies and early eighties along with Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, Pink Floyd’s Live At Pompeii and George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead (no relation!).

At the time, The Grateful Dead movie was, for me, a chance to experience the scene and the music in a way heretofore unavailable to me (I was 14 years old and still a year or 2 away from seeing them live and in person). For my friends, who were not as into the Dead as I was, it was a good idea that quickly grew tiresome. Many of my friends liked the idea of music and the notion of getting high and going to a midnight concert movie more than they actually liked the music or the films themselves. Even Live At Pompeii put some of my closest friends to sleep while I sat stoned and mesmerized by the music and images parading before me. It was certainly the seeds of a separation that would become more prominent as I discovered that music, particularly that of the Grateful Dead‘s, would touch me in a way I had never before imagined possible; the music would reach deep into the inner resources of my soul and lift me to places undiscovered and unexplored. It was as close to “god” as I could ever expect to get.

For most of my friends, however, music was ultimately preferred as background noise, something to tap your foot to or hum along with, but not something to immerse oneself in, not something meant to be spiritually and physically interactive.

Dead2Lo these many years later, I found myself watching The Grateful Dead movie once again in its entirety. I had previewed clips and songs a hundred times over, but it had been ages since I committed to sitting down and taking in the whole film itself. And no more appropriate occasion than the 67th birthday (were he still with us) of lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. The experience would prove eye-opening as I came to understand the journey that is The Grateful Dead movie. Unlike any other concert film I’ve seen previous, The Grateful Dead movie, directed by Garcia and Leon Gast (B.B. King Live In Africa, Hells Angels Forever, When We Were Kings), attempts to capture the Grateful Dead concert scene from every viewpoint. Certainly from the audience’s perspective, but also from the band’s perspective; setting up, rehearsing, performing, taking breaks, traveling. Even the Grateful Dead road crew, who would set up and break down the Dead’s enormous sound system (the infamous Wall Of Sound), are shown getting silly and doing nitrous backstage when their backbreaking work was done, were as much part of the experience as the musicians themselves and the film includes them as equal members.

In addition to following the band both backstage and onstage, the filmmakers also lovingly follow the audience in an attempt to recreate and capture the entire experience: lining up outside days in advance to get the best seats, wandering around the halls once inside, waiting for the band to take to the stage, the many journeys and experiences that would take place during intermission, conversations, opinions, drugs, laughter, arguments. Even the guy who sells the pizza and hot dogs.

All of this, in addition to its concert footage (which is spectacular), creates a thrilling document of time and place, an experience unlike any other, that helped sustain the popular phrase “There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.” The Grateful Dead movie leaves no doubt that truer a statement has never been made. It is also a demystifying experience, laying bare the band members, their audience, and even the filmmakers themselves.

Though not released until 1977, the film was shot in October 1974 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Grateful Dead performed five concerts that were all filmed on 16mm. It was a significant point in time both for the band and its audience. Cultural shifts were on their way and the scene would soon change.  The band themselves were on the heels of beginning a year-and-a-half long hiatus from touring. This was also the end of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, aptly named for its sheer size and presence, that was the Grateful Dead’s sound system throughout 1974.

wallEnvisioned by master sound man and LSD chemist Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the Wall Of Sound was unlike anything seen before. As Stanley himself described it:

“The Wall of Sound is the name some people gave to a super powerful, extremely accurate PA system that I designed and supervised the building of in 1973 for the Grateful Dead. It was a massive wall of speaker arrays set behind the musicians, which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer. It did not need any delay towers to reach a distance of half a mile from the stage without degradation.”

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) the sound in this film is extraordinary. It has to be. And the DVD offers a newer 5.1 mix that is crisp and clear and places you dead smack in the Winterland Ballroom as if you truly were there in body as well as spirit. The film’s original theatrical mix is also included on the DVD and this is important as Garcia had very specific ideas about how he wanted the film to sound in a movie theater. Being that a movie theater and a living room are two very different environments (though that gap is quickly closing), the two mixes allow you to choose the particular type of sonic experience you would like to have. Widescreen Review’s comments on the two soundtracks is not far off the mark:

The original mix is created with a live, reverberant feel, more typical of what you would hear in the cheap seats, while the new mix gives you a front row seat, with good ambient effects in the surrounds, and solid dimensionality in the front stage.

One of the most satisfying elements of The Grateful Dead movie are the stories within the story. “Characters” that appear earlier in the film, like one audience member reciting a poem about the Dead in the cavernous Winterland halls, is later seen dancing on stage. Or one guy who claims to be doing work on Bob Weir’s house and is surprised to find his name NOT on the guest list, later gets in and is seen, shirt unbuttoned, eyes closed, as he dances hypnotized to the spacey rhythm’s of one of the Dead’s more exploratory jams. It should be noted here that this was a period in time when the stage itself was as alive as the audience; friends, family, fans, men and women twirling, young children dancing, and the band itself playing their hearts out, part of something larger. But this particular element of the scene was nearing an end. Audiences would start to change as the culture around the band shifted. Soon, the stage would be off-limits to most and even the front row was set back from the stage itself, as is the way now in most arenas and concert halls, separating audience from band even more. Gone are the days of lying your hands on the stage mere inches away from Jerry or Bob or Phil as they cast their musical spell. Thankfully, once the lights went down, the music itself transcended barriers and found its way to the audience which had come to be absorbed by it.

Picture 3The camerawork in the film is also extraordinary. Shot by a crew of seven including documentarian Albert Maysles (Montery Pop, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), the footage is extremely and unusually intimate. The extreme close-ups of band and audience faces draw the viewer in in a way most concert films never allow. Extreme tight shots of Garcia’s fingers at work reveal a level of improvisational intimacy that speaks directly to the music and its relationship to both band and audience. Drummer Bill Kreuztman’s commentary on how drumming, in its best moments, is more akin to dancing than anything else, is vividly on display as the camera moves in close, capturing the intimate nature and relationships of these men and women to the music they’re playing and the instruments that appear more extensions of their bodies than manufactured pieces of equipment.

As for the audience, the camera lovingly follows the various incarnations and interpretations of the music as witnessed and experienced through the unique body language of each participant. It is the very essence of the word intimate. This part of the experience dominates the second half of the film which, as the journey must do, finally takes the viewer deep into the most personal recesses of the music itself. Experimental and frightening, beautiful and sombre, The Grateful Dead movie now asks its audience to submerse themselves ever deeper. Spacey and jazzy and delicate all at the same time, the music and images travel to a place outside of time and space. For the average movie-goer or someone who simply does not like the music of the Grateful Picture 6Dead, this portion of the film may seem a bore. But for those with a true sense of exploration, this is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of the film. It is, for me, my favorite segment. Here is where I get to live and relive the experience of disappearing into the music itself, of giving myself over to its pull and allowing my mind and body to embrace something primal within, that place where consciousness and movement converge into one to create an almost meditative state that speaks directly to the soul. It is, ultimately, the innate power of the Grateful Dead and the creative energy and flow they so often tapped into. And like the film itself, it’s a group experience with all participants along for the ride.

In the words of the film’s editor, Susan Crutcher:

“At that time, I was learning a great deal about music and musicianship. It’s reflective in the choices that I made, meaning how long I stayed with something and when I cut away. I was really glad that I did stay with a camera, allowing it to reveal something to us, the audience…

“Sometimes, it would be really transcendent just seeing what the seven camera people would do. Sometimes, there was this serendipitous moment where they’d all do the same thing — like they’d all go to the mirrored ball. I’m sure some of them had been dosed, but it was really beautiful. I think the camera work on the film is extraordinary…

“I wanted to represent it and all the beautiful changes in it. Like in jazz, there were these moments where we change from one tempo to another, where we change from one mood to another, and I absolutely wanted to preserve those moments because I think they are so indicatively Grateful Dead.”

Donna Jean Godchaux, Grateful Dead vocalist and the band’s only female member, put the whole film into perfect context:

“I think we always meant for it to be a document of what it was like to be at a Grateful Dead concert. I think it’s a beautiful poem to where the band was and where the fans were at that time. I think that’s the soul of the film, and I think what we were really going for.”

And for those who are considering whether or not to buy or rent the DVD, the second disc in this collection contains, among other things, 90 minutes worth of concert footage not found in the film itself. This is an extraordinary compilation of music and an amazing addition to the film. For my money, the performances contained in these 90 glorious minutes outshine anything in the film. The music is tight and the band on fire. Everything from Dark Star to The Other One is on display here. And the jam between Chinacat Sunflower and I Know You Rider may be one of the greatest moments ever captured on film of the band creating that “energy bubble”; when all the elements come together just right and the real magic happens; that intangible but gloriously real moment when all the different sounds converge and the intricacies and complexities of the music disappear into one single hair-raising vibration. It’s that seemingly elusive moment when an uncontrollable smile spreads across your face and you know, without question, that the world is, indeed, a very special place.

Here is a piece of the long and windy road that is the Grateful Dead’s Playing In The Band. It is the perfect melding of the improvisational nature of the music and the intimate nature of the film itself. Enjoy.

Addendum: The Grateful Dead Movie is now also available on Blu-ray with a stunning transfer off the original negative and lossless sound for the film itself. The second disc is not Blu-ray, but identical to the second disc in the original DVD set. 


Midnight Movies: THE GRATEFUL DEAD