Annals of Obsession
November 24, 2012 9:08 AM   Subscribe

The Vast Recorded Legacy of the Grateful Dead Everyone needs a hobby.

Sort of the opposite to yesterday's Minutemen post.
posted by freakazoid (82 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Enjoyed the article. True collectors are always fascinating and to have new material show up years later is interesting.

Most objectionable, perhaps, were the Deadheads, that travelling gang of phony vagabonds.

When they invaded Berkeley in the early 80s, I'd have to lock myself in my apartment and wait them out. "Spare Change" would ring out every step you'd take on Telegraph
Ave.
posted by Edward L at 9:29 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The band's music doesn't speak to me at all, but I love stories like this. Thanks for the post.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:30 AM on November 24, 2012


Out of some strange solidarity, I have refused to read this article online: the analog version just landed in my mailbox. I didn't have to send blanks & postage...

Related classic Dead links, for those looking to delve a bit:
Grateful Dead Archive Online (previously)
The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
Live Music Archive: Grateful Dead (previously)
List of all known Betty Boards
posted by knile at 9:32 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


DSO on archive.org
posted by xowie at 9:34 AM on November 24, 2012


I saw about 4 shows. It's funny; if I had seen, oh, 4 Tom Petty shows, I'd count as a big fan. In the Dead world, I am a complete dilettante.

One of those shows was just outstanding (the first one I saw, Fox Theatre in Atlanta in 1985). A couple were really rather good. One was TERRIBLE. When their thing didn't work, it truly face-planted.
posted by thelonius at 9:50 AM on November 24, 2012


this post wouldn't be complete without this: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/11/nicks-picks-paumgarten-picks-his-thirteen-favorite-live-grateful-dead-recordings.html

the Dead posts on Internet Archive can be overwhelming and this list is a great place to start. some of the shows he lists (or at least certain songs and/or moments) are revelatory and the main article goes a long way toward being even handed. my love for the Grateful Dead is similar to most other things i truly love in that the performances can be deeply flawed but the gems are truly that and the author is fairly critical while showing such a deep knowledge of the music. there's a great digression in the list with an external link to an in depth posting on the Left Mind Body Jam which also supplies its own sublist of show links for illustration. ultimate nerd out; i listened to about 6 hours of shows last night while writhing in post-Thanksgiving food-poisoning hallucination.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 10:09 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


That summer, I went to see the Dead for the first time, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor venue in Maryland. It was 1984. I was fifteen.

I was there! I was 17. I believe this was the year of the epic mud, the one that got them permanently banned from the venue for destroying the grounds. Complete mayhem, not only in the Pavilion but the surrounding town of Columbia.
posted by stbalbach at 10:13 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You spelled "anals" wrong.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:33 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh New Yorker, musically self indulgent sounds like a kinder more genteel way of saying masturbatory.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always felt like I should be into the Dead. I like American Beauty but that's about as far as I've gotten. This article (and the "Nick's Picks" list) seems like a good jumping-off point.

Then again, I have 60GB of Jimi Hendrix bootlegs, so maybe I just caught the same disease for Hendrix that Dead fans have for the Dead.
posted by epilnivek at 10:50 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The band's music doesn't speak to me at all, but I love stories like this. Thanks for the post.

I feel exactly the same way. Interesting reading about a band I've never cared for in the slightest. I eat up almost anything of this sort having to do with the history of rock, though, so thanks.
posted by item at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2012


> maybe I just caught the same disease for Hendrix that Dead fans have for the Dead.

Hendrix was a trail-blazer - the Grateful Dead were a good country rock band.

I never quite understood the attraction to the Dead. They're about the last band I'd want to listen to while tripping... because their music simply isn't very trippy. Everyone who's spoken to me about it has talked about the sense of camaraderie and community, which certainly sounds attractive to me, so that's probably it, and really, there are a lot worse reasons to get up in the morning and go places!

I had a girl in my place about 15 years ago who had followed The Orb like Deadheads followed the Dead, and told me that there was a comparable community around The Orb in the UK. Now that's psychedelic music I can get behind...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:20 AM on November 24, 2012


The Dead is Dead !
Long Live The Dead !

If you want to here the Weather Report Suite from 7/29/74, Landover, Maryland, you can find that right here it kicks off at 58:19. I fucking love this tune.
posted by vozworth at 11:33 AM on November 24, 2012


I believe that article understates what may be the lasting contribution of the Dead's Archive and maybe even the Dead itself: Their "taper-friendly" policy can be thought of as the start of the open-access movement-- a balance to the rights issues that works.

In the 1960's they found people taping, and then reacted with "go for it, as long as no one makes any money" policy (cc-nc?). Other bands adopted it, and it was updated for the internet (ftp at the time) through efforts of John Gilmore and John Perry Barlow.

Over 5,000 bands now allow taping and allow uploading to archive.org. The Internet Archive stayed out of the legal fray of the napster era with fans and bands enjoying lots of music, possibly because of the Grateful Dead.

I imagine this policy may be why the Grateful Dead is still so popular and vibrant to a new generation.
posted by brewsterkahle at 11:46 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Beards and interminable hippie noodling. Man, I needed punk rock.
posted by Decani at 11:47 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Picking up on brewsterkahle's point, one band that followed the Grateful Dead's method of using taping and trading to build a fanbase was Metallica.

And now you know... the rest of the story.
posted by docgonzo at 12:01 PM on November 24, 2012


I've always felt that Dead shows are like Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. More people are there for the "Event" than the art.
posted by davebush at 12:06 PM on November 24, 2012


Beards and interminable hippie noodling. Man, I needed punk rock.

On one of the New Yorker podcasts they were talking about this article and someone brought up the Fugazi archives as an analogous body of work.
posted by snofoam at 12:17 PM on November 24, 2012


Once a year or so I read an article that inspires me to give them another try and then I get to Wharf Rat and christ, what a terrible song. "I got no dime, but I got some time to hear his sto-o-o-ory"...sticking a bunch of notes on there and somehow missing all of them.
posted by mike_bling at 12:18 PM on November 24, 2012


This article made me think that I've been missing something in the Grateful Dead's music, that after all this time I may have judged them too harshly.

But I'm not going to go back and actually listen to any of that crap.

(Seriously though, it's an interesting article. And I confess that the Dead's music has grown on me a bit over the years.)
posted by nowhere man at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2012


The Dead also turned more way more people on to bluegrass and country than Uncle Tupelo or Gram Parsons.
posted by snofoam at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am a Deadhead, and I endorse this article.

That was a long and well developed article that does a very good job of summarizing much of what I love (and miss) about the Dead, while also capturing those things that I didn't like about the band and the scene (and I say this as someone who saw them ~240-ish times, so this is definitely my obsession, too). Nick Paumgarten's sense of this thing I've been enjoying for the last 30-ish years is extremely consistent with my own experience, and his take aways are eerily similar to my own. (And Nick, if you ever read this, I'll see your 11-30-80 and raise you 10-15-83, for similarly personal reasons. Especially the China>Rider>Playing(!) and Space>St. Stephen. You're welcome.)

Haters are always gonna hate, but it seems when one discusses the Dead on the blue or elsewhere the common criticisms seem to be, "Yeah, you may like it, but everyone who's head isn't stuck up their ass and/or bong knows their music is tepid at best, but more often simply masturbatory, mindless twaddle with wretched vocals and in desperate need of an editor. These guys couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and lord knows they used a lot of buckets. You can't listen to this stuff when the drugs wear off. Jesus fucking Christ, haven't we gone over this enough? These guys suck!" And yet...those of us who like it seem to like it in spite of or because of its many obvious flaws, because even in its flawed state it still speaks to us as no other music does. I think Garcia's comparison of Deadheads to people that like licorice is a very apt one, and pretty much captures the appeal: it's a distinctive taste, and if you like it, you like it, and if you don't you don't. And it's about that simple.

Thanks for this FPP. A Deadhead friend had sent me the link a few days ago, but I hadn't had a chance to read it. I'm glad I did.
posted by mosk at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2012 [19 favorites]


I nurture an abiding love of the Dead. Never got to see them in concert, sadly.

And although I stopped listening to 'jambands' years ago, there are still days when all I want to listen to is the Dead. And road trips. Can't explain why, but for me, the Dead will always be the music of the American road. Something about the rhythm of the two drummers and the lines on the highway, and the words about travelers and ramblers and rogues and psychedelic sunshine and whatever the hell a china cat sunflower is. I love it all.

My love will never fade away.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:33 PM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


vozworth: "If you want to here the Weather Report Suite from 7/29/74, Landover, Maryland, you can find that right here it kicks off at 58:19. I fucking love this tune."

ie. Weather Report Suite, Landover, Maryland 7/29/74
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loves me some licorish.
posted by parki at 12:42 PM on November 24, 2012


I've always felt that Dead shows are like Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. More people are there for the "Event" than the art.
posted by davebush at 12:06 PM on November 24 [+][!]


I saw one of the post-Garcia configurations with Lesh & Weir a handful of years ago, and before the encore Phil Lesh came out to do his pitch to become an organ donor (something that he's done since his liver transplant). And he remarked that he figured out somewhere along the line that the audience was there to see each other as much as they were to see the band.

I think that was/is true, and had been for as long as I'd been seeing the band (right about the time Garcia recovered from the coma). I dug the music, still do; when they were on, it was transcendent. And on nights when they were off, it could indeed fall flat, but there were still usually a few points in the show where they conjured up some magic. But a big part of the appeal was always the crowd. It was this truly weird blend of hippies, bikers, frat kids, professional people, you name it, it was there. Hell, they even had a group of recovering addicts that attended the shows that called themselves "Wharf Rats" that would have kind of an AA meeting between sets. Yes, that's right, a group celebrating sobriety in the middle of a big drug frenzied party.

After Garcia died, the music changed - there was no way that it couldn't. And the crowds are generally smaller, but that odd mix of humanity is still there. I haven't been to see any of the various post-Garcia configurations for about five years. I think I'm overdue for a "family reunion".
posted by zoog at 12:50 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not the worlds biggest Dead fan. I saw them three times, have many of their records, also have a bunch of the Dick's Picks series, but I'm not the kind of person who needs to have 50 versions of Dire Wolf. To me they are like pretty much every other band. Some of their stuff is amazing, some of it is crap.

One thing I always admired about them was their dogged determination to just not go away and to continue as the last of the original hippie bands still on the road.

One last thing. If anyone is interested in even more of their story, Phil Lesh wrote a very entertaining book a few years ago, Searching for the Sound about his life with the band. Make sure you get the printed book, not the audio book, which leaves out a lot, although it's read by Phil himself which is kinda cool.
posted by freakazoid at 12:58 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not sure what the criticism is about the event being more important than the music. If you're capable of carrying such a thing off for the next thirty years, count me as your loyalest traveling fan.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nice to have a list of his favorite stuff on Internet Archive, sad that there was nothing I was at, anyone know how to lose the two second dropout between songs?
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 1:28 PM on November 24, 2012


they even had a group of recovering addicts that attended the shows that called themselves "Wharf Rats" that would have kind of an AA meeting between sets

This explains the "One Show At a Time" bumper sticker I saw yesterday
posted by thelonius at 1:36 PM on November 24, 2012


they even had a group of recovering addicts that attended the shows that called themselves "Wharf Rats" that would have kind of an AA meeting between sets

One of the fine touches of subtlety contained in the writing of My So-Called Life was that when Rayanne went to the Dead show, she specifically says "they played Wharf Rat" as a mark of it being a great show. It's one of those tiny touches of character development which means nothing to anyone except those who know, and they all nod appreciatively at the detail.
posted by hippybear at 2:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is such an excellent article.
posted by SounderCoo at 2:06 PM on November 24, 2012


True collectors are always fascinating and to have new material show up years later is interesting.

I have boxes of analog masters which I haven't even though about touching yet. In a few more years, we'll have an opportunity to assess the utility of multitrack field recordings to ensure proper stereo bass response in all conditions. It's going to be glorious to roll off the cardoid condensers when Drums begins, and just let the omni capsules in the custom hand-built PZM's handle all that wonderful low end...
posted by mikelieman at 2:06 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


he remarked that he figured out somewhere along the line that the audience was there to see each other as much as they were to see the band.

THIS ^!

Our **WEDDING** was the day after the 3 day run in our hometown because ALL OF OUR FRIENDS WERE ALREADY HERE.

Tour gave us an opportunity, 3 times ( or more ) a year to connect with friends. Dead Shows may have been the REASON we all got together but GETTING TOGETHER was the real benefit. I miss that rhythm.
posted by mikelieman at 2:09 PM on November 24, 2012


I've never been a Dead fan, but I always enjoy reading a well crafted story.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:22 PM on November 24, 2012


Once, I was going to put together a playlist of "The Summer of '81, the Lindsay Weir Concerts" being anything good I could find from live shows from that period. Unfortunately, it seems the Grateful Dead took a break in June when Lindsay would have been getting out of school to go follow them. Their first concert I could find was in late July, and in Texas.

Which creates an slightly ominous mystery in my mind. Certainly, I can suppose that, in the Freaks and Geeks universe, the Dead were touring that June, and somewhere nearby where they could easily catch up with the tour. However, if they weren't, then Kim and Lindsay didn't go follow them. Where did they go instead?
posted by wobh at 2:37 PM on November 24, 2012


Ann Coulter - Deadhead
posted by IndigoJones at 3:04 PM on November 24, 2012


Good article. Never was a big fan, but back in the 1990s I developed more appreciation of the Grateful Dead while playing in a local band that did a lot of their stuff. Some of the songwriting was pretty good, and Garcia at his best was a clever soloist, though his complete inability to edit his playing or share solo space with anyone else remains one of the band's significant flaws. To me, a lot of his solos seem like a minute of wheat to ten minutes of chaff, and most of the time, I just don't have the patience to listen to that much noodling in search of a payoff.

Their vocal problems have been discussed by many others at length, no need to go into that here, as it would be just piling on.

For me, the biggest obstacle in appreciating the Dead always has been their "rhythm section," such as it is. The two drummers, working together at the maximum of their capabilities, generated about as much texture as one minimally competent jazz or R&B player, but with much less acuity and accuracy. And Phil Lesh, music degree notwithstanding, is probably the least-grooving bass player of any major band; the man could not find a pocket on a pair of cargo shorts.

Some of the Dead's fans recognize their flaws and embrace the band anyway, which is OK with me. Different strokes and all that. But some are downright delusional, and it's really kind of sad. One once told me, with a straight face, that Lesh had more chops than Jaco Pastorius. I laughed for the next five minutes, apologized for being rude, and then laughed at him for another five minutes.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:04 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


[...] his complete inability to edit his playing or share solo space with anyone else remains one of the band's significant flaws

[...]

And Phil Lesh, music degree notwithstanding, is probably the least-grooving bass player of any major band; the man could not find a pocket on a pair of cargo shorts.


I would argue that, for the better part of their career, Garcia and Lesh shared solo space quite effectively. Lesh plays the bass more as a solo instrument than a rhythm instrument; he really does not play bass the way most others do.

And during some of the darker days of the 80s, Mydland would take over soloing duty from a nodding Garcia -- one of the main reasons I'm not terribly keen on the Brent years. (although there are some notable gems)
posted by Afroblanco at 3:40 PM on November 24, 2012


Ann Coulter - Deadhead
posted by IndigoJones at 3:04 PM on November 24 [1 favorite +][!]


We are everywhere...

I've always wondered where some of the shit she says comes from. Now I know: too much LSD. Or not enough...
posted by zoog at 3:40 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zoog: brown acid.
posted by parki at 3:56 PM on November 24, 2012


One once told me, with a straight face, that Lesh had more chops than Jaco Pastorius.

Oddly enough, Pastorius actually worked with Bob Weir, in a group run by a drummer named Brian Melvin. This was in a brief period near the end of his life where he was relatively clean and stable; when he returned to Florida, he went into a final decline, and was dead a few months later.
posted by thelonius at 4:09 PM on November 24, 2012


mosk, 10/15/83 was a tape I had to replace twice. I have a soft spot for shows that included both China Cat and St Stephen.
posted by catlet at 4:44 PM on November 24, 2012


Pastorius definitely plays faster, and with a *lot* more chorus...I have trouble imagining Lesh playing anything quite so cheesy as some of the stuff Pastorius has done. But I congratulate him on his chops. What would be truly funny is if someone compared Pastorius to NHOP.
posted by uosuaq at 4:45 PM on November 24, 2012


I went to the Greatful Dead concerts to listen to the music; not to hang with friends, not to get stoned, but actually to listen. They may have been imperfect and occasionally masturbatory, but they appealed to my eclectic side in a way that few bands can.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:46 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the Halloween show '83 the very last performance of "St. Stephen," or at least the last one with Garcia? I remember my Deadhead roommate freshman year, thinking it was. Naturally, he had the tape...
posted by dr. zoom at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2012


To hear what made The Dead so interesting required the same kind of preparation that made raves so interesting. A willingness to be a participant in something bigger than yourself.

Those unwilling who mock have no idea what they've missed; forever locked out, they can only grumble in their deprivation. Those who don't know talk about it, those who know don't need to. There are other ways to find similar, unforgettable experiences. Here's wishing each one of us finds one of those ways.
posted by Twang at 6:11 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


For decades, literally, I've been asking avid Deadhead friends to tip me off to the great live performances (by which I mean non-noodly group improvisation with some kind of "narrative" to it.) Despite many suggestions, I don't think I've heard of anything better than cuts on their early live albums, especially the jam after Truckin' on Europe 72, and the rocking but spacey Other One hidden behind the long drum solo on Skeletons and Roses. The China Cat and Not Fade Away on those albums are strong but better known.

Still very open to suggestions. But all the stuff after Pigpen died tends to sound pretty noodly to my ear. I imagine him glaring at them during jams when he was alive, after which they'd tighten it up.
posted by msalt at 6:18 PM on November 24, 2012


A pretty good article. If you didn't read it here is the best part:

This spring, the Library of Congress announced that it was adding a Dead recording to its National Recording Registry. It chose a Betty Cantor-Jackson recording: Barton Hall, Cornell University, in May of 1977. It has never been released by the band; it’s not even in the vault. In the opinion of many, including me, it is not even the Dead’s best performance that month, much less in their history. But because a good audience tape of it circulated right after the show, and because a particularly clean soundboard version materialized, in the eighties, with the appearance of the first batch of Betty Boards, and because it is a polished and accessible example of the band at a high point, it became a mainstay of most tape collections and is possibly their most beloved piece of work. Blair Jackson, a Grateful Dead historian and biographer, estimates that it has been copied two million times.


posted by bukvich at 6:30 PM on November 24, 2012


Judging by available evidence, I'd say they could ramble on when Pig was alive, even... ;)
posted by dr. zoom at 6:33 PM on November 24, 2012


Here is the jam after Truckin' on Europe 72. (May 26, 1972, about 6 minutes) And also the Other One from Skull and Roses (April 28, 1971), which rocks pretty hard before it gets weird, and then beautiful, and then rocks again.
posted by msalt at 6:35 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


MSalt - you might try the Fillmore 1970 Dick's Picks 4 which has some pretty great stuff.

When they weren't on, they really were off. But they still could go from rags to riches on the turn turn turn of a time.

I used to collect tapes and listen to all eras, but I now mainly listen to 1973 and earlier. 1973 was a very good year. The real early acid test stuff is great too, as it's trippy and raw.

The China->Rider from the Grateful Dead movie invariably makes me grin from ear to ear; Garcia (and Weir) are deep in it - one of Jerry's most happy/beautiful solos imho.

Jerry Garcia could pull the most lovely stuff when the muse struck. Sadly, for me, he didn't do it too often in later years. He's missed.
posted by parki at 6:57 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still very open to suggestions.

the dark star on dick's picks vol 4 is probably one of the most important performances of the 20th century - not of the grateful dead, of anyone

everything just clicked for those 30 minutes - it's brilliant, passionate and for once, damn near perfect music
posted by pyramid termite at 6:59 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll always love the early shows that include the epic Dark Star>St. Stephen>Eleven>Lovelight combo...

On preview: what parki and pyramid termite said...
posted by schyler523 at 7:04 PM on November 24, 2012


1973 is my favourite year. Mickey Hart was on hiatus from February 71 to October 74. I've taken flak among Deadheads for drawing this parallel, but it was a real factor in their style of improvisation and ability to turn on a dime, so to speak. Don't get me wrong, I love the sheer power of the Dead firing on all cylinders in '77 but most days I'd rather listen to a '73 show.
posted by Lorin at 7:14 PM on November 24, 2012


An excellent essay. I am not a Deadhead. Jerry was a genius guitarist, I love his playing. They were not really solid composers (but Hunter was pretty cool for the word stuff). One song that captured my imagination was Candyman. I'll have to listen to some more of these tapes now. (I also have this crazy theory that the great American novelists all just have one really good book, and the rest is chaff).
posted by ovvl at 8:24 PM on November 24, 2012


The live at the Keystones releases from 1973 are some good Jerry.
posted by parki at 8:41 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also have this crazy theory that the great American novelists all just have one really good book, and the rest is chaff

But which is which? Robert and Jerry wrote a couple of songs about that.
posted by telstar at 9:22 PM on November 24, 2012


afroblanco, I'm familiar with the notion of Lesh's playing being one continuous solo, and it always struck me as a willfully perverse concept, the sort of thing that would be thought up by someone egotistical enough to believe their own cleverness should trump the songwriter's intent and the musical needs of the ensemble.

The whole idea of a solo is that it's supposed to stand out from the group; if you're soloing all the time, there's no contrast, ever. You're effectively eliminating the difference between background and foreground, and the result usually is music that's muddy and unclear.

Even in genres in which several musicians improvise simultaneously, like New Orleans-style jazz, there's still a rhythm section holding it together by playing relatively simple, mostly repetitive parts. Many of the genres the Dead attempted usually rely on the bass to assume a time-keeping function, and Lesh's refusal to do that was a big reason their rhythm section didn't groove better. What he was doing might have been fine in a free-jazz ensemble, but for a band attempting to play blues, funk, R&B, soul, and country songs, it was subversion for its own sake that actually subtracted musical value from the band.

As for Brent Mydland, yeah, I guess he did get to play a few solos during the worst parts of Jerry's addiction, but IMO he was an average-ish musician who got lucky and fell into a good gig. There are at least a couple dozen working keyboard players just in my mid-sized Midwestern city who can play that well or better, and probably thousands, or even tens of thousands, around the country. I always found him to be the least interesting keyboardist ever to play with the Dead - Pigpen, Constanten, Godcheaux, even Welnick & Hornsby all added something more distinctive to the mix.

thelonious, Bob Weir has had pretty good taste in musicians in his side projects, and I could see why Jaco might have been willing to play with him, as he's probably the member of the Dead with whom Jaco came closest to sharing some musical values.

(BTW, the same guy who was trying to convince me that Lesh was better than Jaco did so as part of a whole "the Dead were objectively better musicians than Weather Report" rant, so the risibility quotient was greatly enhanced by the prospective idea of Joe Zawinul just flat-out embarrassing Mydland, or Peter Erskine and, say, Alphonze Mouzon or Alex Acuna getting into a two-on-two cutting contest with Mickey and Bill. As Bugs Bunny used to say, it is to laugh - I am not normally a musical snob, but the whole thing was so absurd, and this guy so insistent, that it really was the only reaction I could manage at the time.)
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:26 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for Brent Mydland, yeah, I guess he did get to play a few solos during the worst parts of Jerry's addiction, but IMO he was an average-ish musician who got lucky and fell into a good gig.

Based on some of the footage I've seen, Mydland probably got the gig because he was able to contribute to the set while tripping harder than most people could survive.
posted by hippybear at 9:29 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've always felt like I should be into the Dead. I like American Beauty but that's about as far as I've gotten. This article (and the "Nick's Picks" list) seems like a good jumping-off point.

Listen to Workingman's Dead.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:36 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"One once told me, with a straight face, that Lesh had more chops than Jaco Pastorius."

Lesh is by far the best six-string guitarest in the Dead. A shame he played bass.

/hater
posted by bardic at 11:29 PM on November 24, 2012


"One once told me, with a straight face, that Lesh had more chops than Jaco Pastorius."

Just to be clear, most Deadheads can see the humor in this obsession, too.
posted by mosk at 1:04 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parki, Pyramid and Schyler: thanks very much, I'm on it.
For early Dead, I'd love to find good Alligators and Cautions. I heard Anthem of the Sun as my first Dead and still love it, both relaxed and intense simultaneously.
posted by msalt at 1:58 AM on November 25, 2012


"their music simply isn't very trippy."
posted by muckster at 2:45 AM on November 25, 2012


Neither a head nor a hater, but I do appreciate tapes of other people quite a bit, so thanks for that. I clearly get something else out of it though, because the bands I listen to live tapes of don't have the same variability in the music that it sounds like is a big selling point of Dead bootlegs. I think mostly I like band with well developed stage banter, as a way of getting a better sense of the band's personality than the music alone would allow.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:13 AM on November 25, 2012


Olde Renaissance Fairgrounds, Veneta, Oreg.

In an incredible year, this performance, outdoors in blazing heat, in Ken Kesey country, is legendary.


10 years later, when they played the same venue, which became the Oregon Country Fair parking lot (and 10 years later they were going to play there again but Jerry spent that time in a diabetic coma), I skipped the event and went backpacking east of there in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We got rained out, and early Sunday morning we were down in the town of Sisters having breakfast, and talked to a lot of people who had been at that show, and were now headed east to the next show, or wherever they had come from.

"They played for eight fucking hours, man!" was my favorite quote. There were other incoherent takes on this show, which reinforced by distaste for the culture surrounding the Dead, even when I loved the band.

Another good quote, from a writer in the Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon student paper: "Ever notice that when the Deadheads come to town, they always have puppies with them, but you never see any full-grown dogs?"
posted by Danf at 8:30 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


afroblanco, I'm familiar with the notion of Lesh's playing being one continuous solo, and it always struck me as a willfully perverse concept, the sort of thing that would be thought up by someone egotistical enough to believe their own cleverness should trump the songwriter's intent and the musical needs of the ensemble.

the songwriter's intent was that the grateful dead would play the song

the grateful dead's need as an ensemble was that they would stay as loose as they could and musical parts and roles were never 100% defined

phil's bass playing was in tune with the context he was playing in - generally, no one else in that band was playing a strictly rhythmic role, either - he wasn't anymore "egotistical" than anyone else in that band

besides, trying to lock in with billy and micky would have driven any bass player crazy
posted by pyramid termite at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


A hater pal of mine many years ago told me that the Grateful Dead did not actually record most of American Beauty or Aoxomoxoa. He claims much of their best recorded material is by a fairly well-known group of San Francisco studio musicians.

When I saw them play live once, way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s somewhere, I believed him. They did not appear to be able to get it together on songs that they had supposedly been playing regularly for decades. The couldn't even bother get worked up for a 2-chord Bo Diddly Beat rave-up like Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away. They dragged it out into nine excruciating minutes of noodly coma-music. Bruce Hornsby stood out as the one who probably showed up for practice every time.

No one in the band looked like they enjoyed playing music for a living. I always wished I'd had the opportunity to see the band that recorded the studio versions of St. Stephen and Box of Rain and Ripple, with another twenty years of maturity and discipline, play them live like they meant something.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:34 PM on November 25, 2012


When I saw them play live once, way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s somewhere, I believed him.

I've generally noticed that the only heads who really go crazy for those shows are the ones who were into the band at that time. As a fan who came late in the game, I pretty much ignore everything they did from the mid-80s and beyond, except for when someone draws my attention to a standout gem. (the "Also Known as the Warlocks" shows come to mind)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:02 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I think a lot of Heads agree that spring/summer '89 through ~spring '91 was the Last Golden Period of Grateful Dead shows, a mini-renaissance in which they really did care about the music. That period mainly ended with Brent's death in June 1990, but momentum (and Bruce Hornsby) carried them into Spring 1991. After that, with a (very) few exceptions, it was pretty tough sledding. But there were some great shows in the 1989-1990 period - Spring tour 1990 was chock full of them. 3/29/90 w/Branford Marsalis is a personal favorite, and the Dark Star from Miami in '89 (10/26/89) was another keeper. You just gotta poke around.

Not the same as 1973, but not by any means listless or unfocused like 1993-5. Good but different.
posted by mosk at 2:25 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


the Dark Star from Miami in '89 (10/26/89)

that one is sheer trippy genius, with the whole band using midi and synths to go to some very strange places
posted by pyramid termite at 2:32 PM on November 25, 2012


pretty much ignore everything they did from the mid-80s and beyond, except for when someone draws my attention to a standout gem.

There's a reason the Alpine Valley 89 DVD is called "Downhill From Here".
posted by mikelieman at 2:54 PM on November 25, 2012


"Everybody just relax, man.
We got you all night long."

-Jerry Garcia, Harper's College, circa 1970

"We're gonna take a short break, but we'll be back in a few minutes; so everybody hang loose"

-Bobby Weir, every other show
posted by vozworth at 8:35 PM on November 25, 2012


Otherwise, I thought of the Dead at that time, if I thought of them at all, as some kind of malevolent cult, or, at least, a heavy-metal outfit, like Black Sabbath. A kid saw the iconography around—the skulls and skeletons—and imagined dark, angry noise.

When I was 11 or 12, there was a stall at the local mall that did custom iron-on t-shirts. One of the binders contained all sorts of glitery rock band iron-ons that they would put on a shirt for you. The two most bad-ass ones were AC/DC and the Grateful Dead skull and roses icon. So I had them put the Grateful Dead on the front, and AC/DC on the back.

Mind you, I don't think I'd ever heard anything by either of the bands at that point. I think it confused people, like the guy who helped the butcher down at the local store, or camp counselors, or whoever, started asking if I was a deadhead, or saying, "AC/DC, YEAH!" and then seeing their reaction change when they saw the other side of the shirt. I didn't get it, the strange social experiment that was that t-shirt. I wish I had that t-shirt now.

A few years later, when I finally heard the Dead, I had the same reaction: wow, these guys are not metal at all! [AC/DC turned out indeed to be metal, and I thought they should have had the skull and roses as part of their iconography.]
posted by not_on_display at 8:57 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing lost in later Dead is that they actually rocked once a time. I'm sad that they never pursued some of their grittier songs like Mr. Charlie and especially Easy Wind (here from 8/30/1970), with a great twin guitar attack not unlike the Allman Brothers' Fillmore East album, that's less evident here than on the album cut.
posted by msalt at 11:52 PM on November 25, 2012


Just to add my two cents, for me Jerry's real innovation was playing bluegrass on an electric guitar through a distorted amplifier. No matter what the song, his phrasing is straight out of Flatt & Scruggs. (This post got me to re-visit "Hell in a Bucket", which I always liked, as far as their later material goes. But that song is a rocker, and he's still playing Bluegrass lines.)

I also think that their songwriting was top-notch - that is, when they were writing SONGS, not prog-rock pieces with multiple movements, etc. American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, Europe '72 - there are some great CONCISE songs on those records - and Hunter is a great lyricist.

As for those who enjoy, the improvisation - well, I threw in the towel when I discovered Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, etc. Look, if improvisation is what you are after, then the are FAR greater proponents of that particular muse than the Dead. Little Feat, in the 70s, was much better at doing the Dead than the Dead - after all, they had Ritchie Hayward AND Lowell George in the same band! Or how 'bout Ravi Shankar, ffs! I don't know his music, not trying to sound high-falutin', just trying to call a spade a spade - as a veteran of some 30-odd Dead shows, they became as predictable as anything. Sure, not as STAGED as a show by a band that tours less frequently and is out on the road slogging an album. But the formula was there, to be sure - 1st set was alternating Jerry and Bob tunes, all drawn from a certain well of their more concise material - you could count on certain landmarks being hit all along. And if you were seeing them multiple nights in a row, you pretty much knew what you were in for. Set 2 was much the same, but for the inclusion of their more epic songs (and, of course, Drums and Space).

So for me the charm wore off when I realized that this promise of improvisation and not knowing what was going to come next wasn't really all that. Now, of course, my tastes have changed even more, and I WANT a show - I like the fact that the band that I'm seeing (that is, if I'm going to a big mega concert at a venue named after a bank, etc) has carefully considered and designed all aspects to the performance that I am seeing, from the songs to the sound to the lights to the clothes to the pacing, etc. For all the money I have paid for the ticket, you better believe that I want them to give me the whole package! If I want to see a bar band, I'll go to a bar! A 20,000 seat arena is not the optimal place to see a bar band.

Finally, I just want to add that so much of our experience of music is about circumstance - where we are when we first heard it, what we were doing, who we were, who we were seeing, at what stage in our life we were in. And for the rest of our lives, when we re-visit that music, it takes us right back to that place. For me, the Grateful Dead epitomize 16 and 17, my first girlfriend, some of the best friends that I have ever had in my life, and some truly fun experiences. I didn't go to those concerts to be part of a "scene", I did go to hang out with friends and listen to some good songs, to see a band that I was obsessed with at the time. I suspect a lot of the Dead's fans have a similar experience - the music represents a time in life when you are first experiencing a sense of independence, piling into a car to drive a few hours and see a show, maybe a few shows, away from home for one of the first times, first experiences with mind-altering substances, etc. There's a powerful draw to all of that. And to his credit, I think Jerry at the helm of such a community was a very positive figure - at the time I had no idea about his addiction, I just knew that the commitment seemed to be to having a good time, not hurting anyone, laughing a bit at reality, etc. All generally good vibes.

"There is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men."
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:07 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the original article put it well - the one bit of dishonesty in Garcia's performance was pretending that they were still an improvisational project long after that ended (I would say by 1978, more or less.)

But they were definitely improvising up to that point. And to be precise, what I mean by that is not "jamming" on the chord structure of a song, which can degenerate into the "3 guys soloing separately for a while" approach of say, Cream, or 1 guy soloing and 2 guys looping (the Jimi Hendrix experience), or the structured, wordless, unnamed transition from one song into another (e.g. Lou Reed, Rock and Roll Animal.)

I mean by that an organic, group-think spontaneous composition based on listening carefully to each other and responding in the moment. When it worked, which was unsurprisingly rare, it had both the spontaneity of jazz improvisation with the muscle and narrative drive of rock. I have some good Little Feat tapes from the 1970s but have never heard it there. The Allman Brothers had a bit of it. But the Dead had it sporadically from 1968 to (uh, at least 1972, maybe 1977.)

As I've said though, I would love to be shown other examples, from any band, any time.
posted by msalt at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]




@msalt Alas, the miracles seldom happened in studios. Films of that era were more likely to catch bits, like Hendrix at W'stock.

One forgotten example in the film of the '67 Monterrey Pop Fest is Electric Flag's Section 43 ; it's tentative and hesitating but ... Same affair, Ravi Shankar and his improv gang -owned-. One more off the top: some of Ginger Baker's affairs levitated for a while.

But half or more is always missing: being there. Cuz when it's talking, it's at that place in that moment. And very seldom for sale.
posted by Twang at 5:03 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


just wanted to say that right now I'm listening to the China->Rider from 11/8/69, and I just wanted to say

goddamn

thank god for the good old grateful dead!
posted by Afroblanco at 9:39 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just foundsome amazingly HQ video of the Dead in France, 1971
Hard to Handle
China Cat Sunflower => I Know You Rider
posted by msalt at 4:59 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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