Improvisation 1972-1974 Vol. 2 (Best of Shortlists Vol. 3)

Zipped up file of mp3s here

LP 1 (46 minutes)

  • Jam (Vancouver, BC 6-22-73) (8:28)
  • Jam Inside Playin’ (Seattle, WA 5-21-74) (7:10)
  • Jam > Mind Left Body Jam (Portland, OR 5-19-74) (9:49)
  • Jam > Bass & Drums > Jam > Spanish Jam > Jam (Philadelphia, PA 3-24-73) (20:34)

LP 2 (46 minutes)

  • Jam > Dark Star (Williamsburg, VA 9-11-73) (9:43)
  • Mind Left Body Jam > Jam Inside Dark Star (Madison, WI 10-25-73) (5:23)
  • The Other One Excerpt (Jersey City, NJ 9-28-72) (11:22)
  • Jam Montage (San Francisco, CA 12-31-72) (14:25)
  • Jam (Berkeley, CA 8-21-72) (5:07)

Aside from “space” (improv without meter), Grateful Dead improvisations that aren’t directly related to a particular song are rarer than you’d think, even in 1972-1974. 

Most “Playin’ in the Bands” and “Other Ones” are comprised of space and more-or-less direct exploration of the songs’ themes. “Eyes of the World” jams have a wide dynamic range, but they’re still working their way through the same series of checkpoints, with rare exceptions. Likewise, "Bird Song" and "Scarlet Begonias."  “Dark Star” is the most pliable, a song that is anchored but that is also often a “unique jam” without ceasing to be “Dark Star.” 

The point of this compilation (and the one that preceded it) is to bring together material that is largely outside of all such song-based frameworks. Pure, spontaneous jamming, with a beat you can dance to.

I believe that everything (or nearly everything) I distilled for the first improvisation compilation I posted has been officially released within full shows. To the extent that many of those tracks sound like planned compositions, once you choose start- and end-points that isolate them, I'd say the Dead Vault Curators are doing a good job of making the most astonishing material available. 

This second compilation comes entirely from “shortlists” of single shows that I have previously posted, which means that all of it is unreleased as of June 2017. (So, from my fake album blog's POV, this is “Improv Vol. 2,” but also “Best of Shortlists Vol. 3.”) 

I have used this opportunity to once again promote a couple of passages of music that I adore, even though I would urge you to go listen to them in context. From May 19, 1974 in Portland, I’ve pulled an exceptionally buoyant jam that includes “Mind Left Body.” From September 28, 1972 in Jersey City, I’ve isolated an extended passage from “The Other One” that is “The Other One,” while also being something else altogether. Both are among my favorite Dead moments. 

I have also scratched a long-standing itch and combined three improvisational passages from the long, multi-chaptered “The Other One” of New Year’s Eve 1972 that aren’t “The Other One.” 

As always, tracks have been edited (start and end) to feel coherent and sequenced to provide some continuity – and everything is tagged to stand clearly apart from other “albums”/songs I’ve posted. For the CD burners among you, any compilation longer than 80 minutes is broken into/tagged as multiple "albums." 

Slipknot '74

Zipped up file of mp3s here

20 minutes:

  • Slipknot (out of Eyes 6-20-74) (5:34)
  • Slipknot (inside The Other One 2-23-74) (3:17)
  • Slipknot (within a longer jam 7-25-74) (5:22)
  • Slipknot (inside Playin’ 2-22-74) (4:27)
  • Slipknot (out of Eyes 10-20-74) (1:52)

Jerry Garcia introduced the “Slipknot” riff into the band’s live jamming five times in 1974, including the first and last shows of the year. These early appearances aren’t “Slipknot” proper, since the band is just doing whatever comes naturally at the time, but there’s some added satisfaction in hearing them all together, juxtaposed with the riffs and jamming modes of several different songs.

I have kept a fair amount of surrounding material on most of these edits, so the context isn’t lost, and you can hear the riff sliding in and out of the proceedings. So, this isn’t truly 20 minutes of “Slipknot,” but rather 20 minutes of jamming in which “Slipknot” keeps appearing.

Shortlist: October 25, 1973 – Madison, WI

Zipped up file of mp3s here

53 minutes:

  • Here Comes Sunshine
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Weather Report Suite
  • Playin’ in the Band jam

48 minutes:

  • Dark Star (including Mind Left Body) >
  • Space >
  • Eyes of the World >
  • Stella Blue

In addition to the great performance, this soundboard features a superb mix, including the vocals. There's only one excessively sour harmony moment in "Here Comes Sunshine." (The cut around the 9 minute point of "Playin'" was in my source.)

Dick Latvala discussed this show in his best of 1973 list:

Now we get to one of the all-time, out-of-this-world kind of shows: 10/25/73. I really can't say enough about this one! The first set is very good, but it is the second set that does you in. 

The "China Cat->Rider" is one of the better ones from that era when they used that transition material that people call "Tighten Up" and other names, and I am just as confused about this as the next guy. So, a detailed discussion about that wonderful "jam" occurring towards the ends of some "Dark Stars" from 1969 and 1970, (and which is stated as beautifully as I could ever hope to hear on 4/8/72- Wembley) and which also could be occasionally intimated during some versions of "Dancing in the Streets", that kind of discussion is something that I would like to learn more from some of you guys who have been investigating this. 

But not right now, since I need to finish gushing all over this Madison show. The "Dark Star->Eyes->Stella Blue" is where the action is! There are "jams" surrounding these songs that contain some very, very scary and unbelievable playing. A bass sound that Phil employs here will pretty much have you seriously thinking that this might be too much! Obviously, words will never get this described very well, at least not my words. The "Eyes" is another one of those "best versions" type of things.

Phil & Ned 1974

Zipped up file of mp3s here

70 minutes:

  • September 18
  • June 26 or 28
  • September 14
  • June 30
  • July 31

This compilation is purely for convenience's sake. I don't often want to listen to a Phil & Ned performance in the middle of Grateful Dead music, but my love of early electronic, minimalist, ambient, Krautrock, and other related music also makes me a fan of Phil & Ned. I quite enjoy 70 minutes straight, and I look forward to gathering together more sometime.

I am by no means an expert on all of their performances, and I don't think there was any method when I chose these five a year or two ago; I think I just wanted some isolated Phil & Ned. One criterion I did have was that no one other than Phil & Ned appeared. No cameos by Jerry or transitions into Dead Space are included here. 

(Pulled from released and unreleased shows, at least at the time I made it.)

Shortlist: February 23, 1974 - San Francisco, CA (Winterland)

Zipped up file of mp3s here

70 minutes:

  • Introduction
  • Here Comes Sunshine
  • Weather Report Suite
  • The Other One >
  • Eyes of the World
  • We Bid You Goodnight

1974 began with three isolated shows at Winterland in late February.  The third one was released as “Dave’s Picks” Vol. 13; this is the second one. It closes off 1973 to the extent that this is the final “Here Comes Sunshine” of the era. The way the vocals are mixed on this soundboard makes it one of the best sounding versions, overall. 

The highlight of the show is a long, mostly-quiet, but very powerful, slowly building stretch of exploration in the middle of “The Other One,” which eventually leads to some early “Slipknot” riffing.

The soundboard mix of this show is strange. At times, Jerry’s guitar is extremely quiet or vanishes altogether. Keith’s piano can also vary from absent to leading the mix. However, everything else about the sound is robust, and you won’t experience any deficits in the material I’ve pulled aside. 

Shortlist: June 8, 1974 – Oakland, CA

Zipped file of mp3s here

48 minutes:

  • China Cat Sunflower (instrumental edit) (7:14)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental/extreme edit) (9:35)
  • Scarlet Begonias (instrumental edit) (2:39)
  • Playin’ > Wharf Rat > Playin’ (instrumental edit) (28:30)

As a whole, this show and soundboard are a fairly rough listen, but when the band is stretching out instrumentally, the sonic sketchiness disappears. As with many shows that I’ve cut down and posted here, we await a crisp, properly-mastered SBD release to learn just how good the mix, the show, and the individual songs really are. 

What I post often isn’t a comprehensive judgement on the quality of every song from a show, or even the show as a whole; in addition to the performance itself, I’m picky about the mix and any generational degradations of the fan-circulated version that get in the way of my repeat listening enjoyment.

Anyhow, my pickiness has resulted in serious trimming of this show. I’ve taken all the vocals sections out of everything I’ve pulled aside. I realize that this might just annoy visitors to this site.

The great thing in this show is the “Playin’” jam, which gets pretty close to legitimate free jazz – and this is one of only two “Playin’ > Wharf Rat > Playin’s” from this period, the other being 11/21/73. It’s pretty satisfying to hear the whole thing as an instrumental. (They may be surreptitiously tuning up as they transition to “Wharf Rat.” There was a lot of tuning during this show.)

The “Scarlet Begonias” and “China Cat” edits may seem gratuitous, but the playing is very good, and the mix stands up. Without the vocals, “Scarlet” shrinks to the size of “Me and My Uncle!” 

I went further with “Eyes of the World,” in which the first two of the three synchronized riff moments are train wrecks. I took them out, leaving just the third one, but keeping the two big rushes coming out of the first and second ones. It works surprisingly well.

In short, I took a butcher’s knife to this show, but at least the result is 48 straight minutes of June 1974 jamming - and they don't screw up the "Eyes" jam.

Shortlist: June 30, 1973 – Universal City, CA

Zipped file of mp3s here

Part 1 (52 minutes):

  • They Love Each Other
  • Jack Straw
  • Beat It on Down the Line
  • Ramble on Rose
  • Bird Song
  • Black Peter
  • Playin’ in the Band

Part 2 (43 minutes):

  • Dark Star >
  • Space >
  • Eyes of the World >
  • Stella Blue

This 20-minute “Eyes of the World” is generally excellent, but it goes above and beyond in the final stretch: They hit the synchronized riff in the jam a fourth time, after bringing things down to a hush, via a Keith-centric jam - only to return to full-out jamming for a couple more minutes. All 11 minutes of the "Dark Star" are focused and forward moving, while also having quite a few distinct, dynamic little passages. "The Bird Song" is a very light, dreamy one. 

These songs and the others listed above escape a problem that plagues much of the rest of the recording of the show. The mix (as encoded on the circulating soundboards) has Garcia’s guitar so low that it vanishes sometimes and is never out front. I explored a matrix recording, in case it brought Jerry up significantly, but it didn’t. Many songs just sound incomplete, because the shy lead guitarist is standing at the back of the stage, using a tiny amplifier. Songs like “Row Jimmy” can’t lock up into a groovy mechanism with one of the interdependent gears all the way back there.

However, the frustrating mix doesn’t always get in the way. Sometimes Jerry is quiet, but the whole comes together nicely anyway. Other times, the spaces afforded by the song and arrangement (or jam) naturally give his guitar more room to stand out, and you hear the music complete, without making an effort. 

Beyond the guitar volume issue, this SBD has a rich, round sound, and the vocals and vocal mix throughout are way above average. What the mix loses of Jerry’s guitar is more than made up for in its warm embrace of his vocals.The "Black Peter" and "Stella Blue" are both treats in this respect.

The space after “Dark Star” segued directly into the opening of “Eyes” in the show itself (and on audience/matrix recordings), but my SBD fades out shortly before that transition. Sorry about that. I promise that not much is missing and that the clean SBD source is what you want to get familiar with.


Summer ’74 (Best of Shortlists Volume 2)

Zipped up file of mp3s here

LP1: 44 minutes

  • Bertha (Roanoke, VA 7-27-74)
  • Deal (Seattle, WA 5-21-74)
  • Jack Straw (Roanoke, VA 7-27-74)
  • To Lay Me Down (Miami, FL 6-23-74)
  • Peggy-O (Springfield, MA 6-30-74)
  • Ramble On Rose (Vancouver, BC 5-17-74)
  • Let It Rock (Miami, FL 6-23-74)
  • Casey Jones (Santa Barbara, CA 5-25-74)

LP2: 43 minutes

  • Cumberland Blues (Springfield, MA 6-30-74)
  • Dire Wolf (Springfield, MA 6-30-74)
  • It Must Have Been the Roses (Seattle, WA 5-21-74)
  • The Race is On (Vancouver, BC 5-17-74)
  • Tennessee Jed (Santa Barbara, CA 5-25-74)
  • One More Saturday Night (Springfield, MA 6-30-74)
  • Ship of Fools (Chicago, IL 7-25-74)
  • Brokedown Palace (Roanoke, VA 7-27-74)

(12 of these songs come from previously-posted curations of individual shows, and the other four are new to this blog. All from unreleased shows, as of May 2017.)

This second “best of shortlists” is a little different from the first one. Instead of pulling particularly excellent performances from across 1972-1974, I’ve tried to distill something specific that I like about the middle of 1974.  The performances here come from May, June, and July. 

To emphasize this thing I like, I’ve selected mostly compositions that they started playing when they were the country and western band and the tight Europe ’72 unit. 

By 1974, on the right night, any one of these songs could shed its habituated execution and become a pliable, loping groove, the band locked into a magical zone of easy-going syncopation, inspired detailing, and sweet singing. It’s 1974 Dead at their fluid best, taking full possession of these older “small numbers.” Five players listening intently to each other, and strolling, striding, or bounding across the compositions with patience and joy. 

(The "Sugar Magnolia" on my first "best of" mix would fit right in here, too.)

In pursuit of my goal, I’ve included some songs with minor vocal flubs (“Bertha,” “Dire Wolf,” “Ramble on Rose," "Casey Jones"), but these moments didn't deter the band, so they probably won't deter you.

This mix also features songs that were rarely played during the Spring/Summer ’74 tours: “Brokedown” (once), “Dire Wolf” (twice), “Cumberland” (three times), and “Peggy-O” (four times). This is the only time they played “Let It Rock.”

In short, this is an imaginary 90-minute album of an imaginary mid-1974 first set that I would jump the watchman for, right outside the fence.

Best of Shortlists Volume 1

78-minute mp3 download here

  • They Love Each Other (Philadelphia, PA 3-24-73)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Santa Barbara, CA 5-25-74)
  • Row Jimmy (Chicago, IL 7-25-74)
  • Stella Blue (Berkeley, CA 8-21-72)
  • Friend of the Devil (Berkeley, CA 8-21-72)
  • Mississippi Half-Step (Roanoke, VA 7-27-74)
  • Sugaree (Vancouver, BC 6-22-73)
  • China Doll (Miami, FL 6-23-74)
  • Scarlet Begonias (Springfield, MA 6-30-74)
  • Looks Like Rain (Williamsburg, VA 9-11-73)
  • Ship of Fools (Portland, OR 5-19-74)
  • U.S. Blues (Portland, OR 5-19-74)

It appears that I’ve got twenty 1972-1974 shows “shortlisted” on this blog – totaling close to a day and a half of music! Almost every song performed post-Europe ’72 is represented in one or more versions, though there are some glaring holes and instances where what I’ve got isn’t truly amazing.

This mix compiles what I think are some of the greatest hits of the shows I’ve surveyed so far, in the category of non-jam songs, with a strong slant toward compositions that were new in 1973-1974. 

I will admit that I think that this is a great mix, but it is disappointing that with all the shows I’ve scrutinized, there aren’t more versions of every song contending for greatest hits status. I've been trying to be rather rigorous when I pull stuff aside, but I’d like to be able to say, “That was fucking amazing,” more often.

Perhaps the conclusion to draw from this experience is that there should be more official albums like this mix: “Live Versions 1973-1974.” You can’t choose from among five great “Dark Stars” and six great “Other Ones,” etc. but you can – and probably should – choose from among ten “U.S. Blues” or ten “Mississippi Half-Steps.” With carefully structured songs, either the band (and the recording) shows you everything the song has to offer, or it doesn’t. I think of the band’s performances of each song as a series of “takes”; some takes are bad, some are okay, some are very good, and some belong on the album. 

Hopefully you’ll agree that the takes I’ve compiled here are album-worthy. 

Shortlist: July 25, 1974 – Chicago, IL

75-minute mp3 download here

(Re-uploaded file to fix a screwup in the original one.)

  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Row Jimmy
  • Ship of Fools
  • Uncle John’s Band (instrumental edit)
  • Dark Star >
  • Jammy Space >
  • Jam (w/Slipknot riffing) >
  • Stella Blue
  • Let It Grow
  • Sugaree

This is one of the most noncommittal “Dark Stars,” with no verses and only holding together for six minutes. Nonetheless, those six minutes are delightful in the same way as the drifty “Dark Stars” of 11-11-73 and 10-18-74. The dissolve that follows is anticlimactic to me, in the sense that things go from barely there to nowhere – but it’s also somewhere, in the sense that the band rubs up against “Dark Star” a couple more times, while deliberately not playing it. If you want a more cohesive experience, just skip over what I’ve called “Jammy Space,” and you’ll jump pretty seamlessly from the “Dark Star” theme to an extended stretch of more vigorous and varied jamming. It spaces out in places, too, but eventually ends up featuring some early “Slipknot” riffing.

I’m always particularly interested to find versions of “Row Jimmy” and “Ship of Fools” that I love, and both of these seem strong to me. The “Ship of Fools” was the encore, and it’s got some extra oomph as a result. 

Shortlist philosophy: Start with a good soundboard of an unreleased show, and keep only what you honestly want to hear again and again. Be song-agnostic; look for outstanding performances of anything and everything, and reject an average performance of any song, no matter how grand that song’s generic status as a big deal may be. Whatever’s left, edit out the tuning and other delays, and arrange everything into a pleasing sequence. Share the results in lossy mp3 format, in the spirit of the cassette tape trading of my youth, diligently not trying to compete with or annoy Grateful Dead Enterprises, whose property this music is.