Today in Grateful Dead History: May 26, 1973 – Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA

stealieThis show is a great example of wonderful instrument separation on a recording.  Bob is on the left, Jerry is on the right, and everyone else is spaced around the middle.  The levels are well-balanced and you can hear each instrument very clearly.

Because of this, you get a good picture of what exactly Bob Weir meant to the band, which is not always easy to appreciate because 1. he’s usually buried in the mix; 2. a lot of his songs are just played to death and many of them are kinda cheesy; and 3. those shorts (although not in this era).  Here, every crazy note he plays is discernible and you’ll hear him do some totally bonkers and amazing things.

I think this show is probably overrated because it was in circulation for a while and because the song quality is so good.  The Playing in the Band is wonderful (and shows off the Bob moves I’m talking about, especially at the end) and the 3rd set is good but not as transcendent as others from this time period.  Still, it’s definitely worth hearing, especially as a clear example of a band that’s obviously listening intently to what its members have to play.

You can hear the soundboard here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: May 22, 1993 – Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

stealieAfter saying yesterday that I usually pick 90’s shows based on their setlists, I go and choose this 1993 performance, with a very strange second set, as my next show.

Honestly, I got sidetracked by the first Supplication since 1984 and I didn’t notice what was or wasn’t happening later on.  Check this out:  Foolish Heart, Women Are Smarter, Ship of Fools, Corinna>Drums>Jam>The Last Time, Stella Blue, One More Saturday Night, E: I Fought The Law.  I don’t know if I’ve listened to a full show with so little opportunity for extended playing.  There’s a little noodling at the end of Foolish Heart and again after the heart of Corinna (this is the only “jammy” part of the whole show), but otherwise the second set just breezes by.  Even the Mississippi Half Step that opens the show is truncated.

When this happens, I would hope that the songs would be well played, but there are lyrical flubs all over.  Musically, things aren’t horrible here, and the strange bongo/toms intro to Foolish Heart made me take notice, but there’s nothing else of note going on.

Get the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 21, 1992 – Cal Expo Amphitheater, Sacramento, CA

stealieI try to pick shows from the later 90’s based on their setlists and this show, from the Cal Expo Amphitheater in 1992, doesn’t have any songs that I dislike.  (The same can’t be said for today’s 1993 show from Shoreline featuring Eternity, Liberty AND Way To Go Home.  Yikes.)

So, about this show . . . The first set is fine, but nothing to write about.  The second set actually has a neat Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Estimated Prophet>He’s Gone with a cool transition between Scarlet & Fire and a tinkly little jam into He’s Gone (the actual moment of transition, however, is quite abrupt). Standing on the Moon is one of my favorite Jerry ballads from this era, but he forgets the lyrics of the first verse and never really recovers.  The show ends with Lovelight and a Gloria encore to get your feet tapping.

I think that when it comes to the later shows, we’re clearly spoiled by the quality of what came before.  If I handed this show to an open minded person who knew nothing of the Dead, I think that they would enjoy it without trying to compare it to the shows from this day in ’74 or ’77 or even ’82 that they were missing.  I certainly didn’t want to shut it off.

Here’s the Charlie Miller soundboard transfer:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 20, 1973 – Campus Stadium, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA

stealie1973 is the year that keeps on giving, with massive, high-quality shows that tend to blend together since everything is just so jammed out and well-played.  This daytime concert from the University of California Santa Barbara is no exception.

This whole show is very well done, but the versions of Tennessee Jed and Greatest Story Ever Told really highlight the interplay between the band members and stand out among the other short songs from this date.  The jam in the middle of China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider is also tasty, if typical.  Playing in the Band, closing out the first set, is the real winner here, with some exceptional moments.  The second set is standard (other than the previously mentioned Greatest Story) but would be a good set to give to someone who really isn’t into the long jams.

The third set (yes, they played three sets for a lot of 1973) consists of Truckin’>Jam>The Other One>Eyes Of The World>Stella Blue>Sugar Magnolia and it’s a long haul, clocking in at over an hour.  And what an hour it is.  The Jam between Truckin’ and The Other One is a sparse back and forth, Jerry on one side and Phil and Bob completing each others’ thoughts on the other.  Unfortunately, the solo out of Stella Blue is short – after this trip, you want one of those three minute beauties that Jerry ripped off in the 90’s but weren’t typical in 1973.  Oh well.

Here is the link to the Charlie Miller transfer of the soundboard:

If you’re interested, the Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a post dissecting the third set in great detail.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Raising Sand

KC Did you know that Alison Krauss has won more Grammy Awards than any living artist not named Quincy Jones (they’re tied)?  So it might not have been completely unusual for her when this album won the Grammy as 2008’s Album of the Year, but I guarantee Robert Plant was surprised.  (To be fair, Plant did win a best hard rock performance Grammy in 1998 for How High, a song he wrote with some guy named Jimmy Page).

I think that a lot of people not named Robert Plant were also shocked when this album won the Grammy, because it just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of popular music at the time. (But when has that ever stopped the Grammy Awards?)  What did popular music look like way back in 2008?  Let’s take a look at the ten best selling albums in the U.S. for 2008 (Raising Sand was actually released in the fall of 2007, but its sales from that year aren’t going to effect this argument):

  1. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III ; 2.87 million
  2. Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends; 2.14 million
  3. Taylor Swift, Fearless; 2.11 million
  4. Kid Rock, Rock N Roll Jesus; 2.02 million
  5. AC/DC, Black Ice; 1.92 million
  6. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift; 1.6 million
  7. Metallica, Death Magnetic; 1.57 million
  8. T. I., Paper Trail; 1.52 million
  9. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through the Static; 1.49 million
  10. Beyoncé, I Am … Sasha Fierce; 1.46 million

This is a very . . . interesting . . . list.  (I actually don’t mind Coldplay, but dear Lord, the title of that album . . . )  When I look at this selection of masterpieces, I can almost make the case that, in 2008, there may have been a hole in the market that needed to be filled by an album of sparsely arranged covers sung by an arguably past his prime rocker and a wildly talented but commercially unappreciated bluegrass artist and arranged by a guy named T-Bone.  Almost.

Like a lot of T-Bone Burnett’s more recent productions, Raising Sand is a slow-paced affair with a certain type of atmosphere.  The instruments are too clearly differentiated to call this album’s sound “grimy” – it’s more like a bunch of studio pros are trying to replicate the feel of a Tom Waits album from the early 80’s, which probably isn’t too far off since Trampled Rose is, in fact, a Tom Waits song (but not from the 80’s).  This “distressed” vibe runs through the whole affair, making the album memorable as a whole, but the impact of the individual songs seems to have been sacrificed for the greater good of the project.  Which is a long winded way of saying that a lot of the songs sound alike.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a great album.  In fact, I think that’s a perfect description – it’s a great “album” if you look at Raising Sand as a collection of songs played in a very specific way in order to produce a very particular effect.  Plant and Krauss’ voices are part of the arrangements here and it’s a wonder to hear Plant deliberately dial things back (for the most part) in order to harmonize with Krauss.  I don’t think it’s important to highlight individual songs from Raising Sand – that’s not the point of this album.  Instead, you should play it from start to finish and not worry so much about the mileposts in the middle.

This brings us back to those other albums from 2008, which are mostly built around a couple of hit singles with a bunch of filler.  (Metallica is a glaring exception).  There are no hit singles on Raising Sand and no songs I would skip ahead to hear.  (Conversely, there aren’t any songs I would skip over).  Which is why, for a lot of people at the time, Raising Sand probably was the album of the year and one that will probably still sound great twenty years from now, especially when the weather starts to cool off and you want something soothing on the stereo while you’re sipping a beer by the fire.  It fills that hole.

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 19, 1977 – Fox Theater, Hotlanta, GA

stealieWe’re back, yet again, in May, 1977, because the heart of this show’s second set is Terrapin Station>Playin’ In The Band>Uncle John’s Band>Drums>The Wheel>China Doll>Playin’ In The Band, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, a brief discussion of the 16 minute Sugaree from the first set.  Yes, it’s pretty good, but I won’t say that it’s a great version because there are several places where Jerry speeds up and the drummers slow down and the pace gets all garbled.  I understand that it’s not easy to keep everything moving perfectly when you’re playing the same song for 16 minutes, but this fluctuating tempo takes away some of the magic for me.  Jerry does do some serious shredding here, especially on the penultimate solo, and Bob’s rhythm guitar is high in the mix and very interesting to hear, but I can’t get away from the pacing issues.  Also, lots of commentators on the Archive seem to think that this Peggy-O is incredible, but to me the versions from Boston and Buffalo earlier in the month easily outshine it.

Now, about the second set.  This song sequence is pretty amazing, with a swirling lead into Uncle John’s Band and a great solo at the end of China Doll.  Still, the songs don’t get ahead of themselves and the band stays tight and in control without any seriously psychedelic passages making for a good ride, but not transcendent ride. And no encore.

This show was released as Dick’s Picks Vol. 29, but here’s the soundboard:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 18, 1968 – County Fairgrounds, Santa Clara, CA

stealieThis show is a very short blast of 1968 Dead at full throttle: Alligator>Drums>Alligator>Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)>Feedback.  When you need a 40 minute, high tempo, screeching fix, this is what you should reach for.  (It also contains a very well-rendered Mountain Jam, so if you’re searching for one of the sources of the Allman Brothers’ song of the same name, look no further).

This show was taped by Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen either on or right next to the stage and the sound quality is not great.  In fact, it’s pretty crummy and you can hardly hear the vocals at all.  So why post it?  I’ll let the Grateful Dead Listening Guide explain it for me.  Enjoy.

Here’s the link to the audience recording: