Shortlist: Watkins Glen – July 27-28, 1973

mp3 compilation here (re-loaded to add a few more minutes of music)

Part 1 (43 minutes):

  • Brown-Eyed Women (7/28)  (4:56)
  • Bird Song (instrumental edit - 7/27)  (11:21)
  • Garcia & Lesh > (7/28)  (1:05)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental edit - 7/28)  (16:17)
  • Sing Me Back Home (7/28)  (9:19)

Part 2 (43 minutes):

  • Here Comes Sunshine (instrumental edit -  7/28)  (6:41)
  • Deal (7/28)  (6:09)
  • Playin’ Jam (7/28)  (20:26)
  • Nobody’s Fault Jam (7/28)  (2:06)
  • China Cat Rider (instrumental edit – 7/28)  (8:01)

    (Cover image: Luigi Serafini)

    This mix aims to figure out what happened at Watkins Glen, other than the amazing, famous, 20-minute improvisation from 7/27: “The Watkins Glen Jam.” That jam isn’t included here, but it can be found on the official release, “So Many Roads,” and in part on an all-improvisation mix I made and posted here. Among other glories, that jam includes an early, extended trip into “Fire on the Mountain” territory. 

    One show was scheduled at Watkins Glen; two were played. The venue was a racetrack, and the context was “Summer Jam at Watkins Glen,” scheduled for one day, July 28, 1973, featuring The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band. However, so many people had shown up by the 27th that the sound check became a concert in its own right, The Band and Allman Brothers playing a couple songs each, and the Dead playing for 90 minutes. 

    Wikipedia’s got a good article about the festival as a whole, and The Dead have posted a nice tribute to the “sound check,” which includes complete, streaming audio.

    I got intimate with the shows because I wanted to know what kind of other improvisational playing occurred around that epicenter of excellence, “The Watkins Glen Jam.” (Just like you want to hear the August 1972 Berkeley Community Theater shows, because they immediately preceded Veneta, OR.)

    It turns out that there was plenty more stupendous improvisation at these shows, as well as a few highly pleasing examples of more routine songs. By the end of my own listening/culling saga, everything I continued to love came from the 7/28 show, except for one mind-melting performance from the 7/27 “sound check.”

    Two of the jam passages seem notable, beyond simply having great playing:

    • “Bird Song” and “Dark Star” are almost the same song to begin with, but this extraordinary “Bird Song” demonstrates the resemblance to an uncanny degree. 
    • This long “Eyes of the World” jam becomes a real adventure, eventually hitting the synchronized riff five times, including one that becomes a fantastic moment of disintegration and one that commandingly bookends the song. The others are all in the pretty-solid to not-together range, but I don’t think that diminishes the thrill of the whole thing very much. (Is a five-riff “Eyes” a record?)

    SOUND QUALITY/EDITING CAVEATS: There’s a soundboard tape-flip gap during “Bird Song” that I joined up, and there’s a little jog in the “Playin’” jam that has nothing to do with my edits. My soundboard (or perhaps all soundboards?) also suffers from some tape-speed wobbles and warps. You’ll hear those in a couple of places, but mostly they didn’t impact the music I thought was worth pulling aside.

     

    Shortlist: July 26, 1972 – Portland, OR

    72-minute mp3 curation here

    • PA #1 (montage) (1:04)
    • Cold Rain and Snow (5:31)
    • PA #2 (montage) (0:50)
    • Sugaree (7:20)
    • Stella Blue (8:12)
    • PA #3 (0:18)
    • Playin’ Jam (9:20)
    • Dark Star > (12:17)
    • Jam > (7:39)
    • Space > (6:10)
    • Space Jam > Dark Star > (4:40)
    • Comes a Time (7:04)
    • PA #4 (1:24)

    The “Dark Star”/improvisation sequence is the big deal here. 

    The initial investigation of “Dark Star” is a fine one. It falls squarely into the center of the sleepy/aggressive spectrum, getting intense and wandering off course in nice ways. 

    The portions I have titled “Jam” and “Space Jam > Dark Star” are amazing. It’s because I feel so strongly about them that I have separated them from the intervening “Space,” which just isn’t in the same category. (My track separations let you skip across “Space” without much of a disruption, if you want.)

    “Jam” is not entirely unknown territory for late 1972: Some bass & drums, Keith entering on piano to organize things into a trio, then the guitarists joining to take it into a feisty jam that resembles “The Eleven.” I’d give this the nod over a similar passage from 8-21-72 BCT. 

    However, the thing that the band suddenly, steadily builds out of unformed space, about six minutes after the jam described above, is a one-time-only event, as far as I know. It is as if The Iron Giant were reassembling himself, one disconnected gear and limb at a time, a chaotic rhythm of metallic interactions, steadily coordinating themselves, until, suddenly, the giant stands up and stretches, not as Superman but as the Dark Star Reprise. Amazing. Garcia isn’t ready to nail the second verse, but still.

    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.

    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.


    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. 


    Shortlist: Berkeley ’72 – August 20-21

    Folder containing two zipped files of mp3s here

    Monday (73 minutes)

    • Introduction
    • Friend of the Devil
    • Sugaree
    • Stella Blue
    • He’s Gone
    • Dark Star >
    • Space >
    • Keith’s Jam
    • Uncle John’s Band
    • Introducing Keith and Donna
    • Playin’ in the Band

    Tuesday (70 minutes)

    • Birdsong (instrumental edit)
    • All That Top 40 Shit
    • The Other One
    • Not Fade Away >
    • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad >
    • Hey Bo Diddley > Not Fade Away
    • Playin' in the Band

    Immediately before their famous 8-27-72 performance in Veneta, Oregon (released as “Sunshine Daydream”), The Dead played four shows over five nights at the Berkeley Community Theater (August 21, 22, 24, 25).

    It would have been fun to sift all four into a fake road-trip boxed set, but I don’t have a personal copy of the fourth show, and the third one – on the 24th – is so impressively, consistently strong, that you should just go listen to it on archive.org.

    So, here’s a shortlist of material from the first two shows, on Monday and Tuesday of that week.

    Both shows have a sort of “B+” quality overall, with many songs having little vocal screw-ups or wobbly moments, while still being perfectly fine performances. I didn’t include stuff like that.

    Monday (8-21) is the more impressive of the two, with great performances of some “routine” numbers, plus a “Dark Star” sequence that musician Henry Kaiser called out for special praise in a “Deadbase” review a long time ago. The bit I’ve titled “Keith’s Jam,” is delightful and, I think, unique. This is a very early, sweet, and confidently-executed “Stella Blue” (the 8th?), and both it and “He’s Gone” were stand-alone first-set songs this night. This "Friend of the Devil" is the hardest, most fiestily-played version I know. The “Playin’” jam is great. Definitely a show of note, in terms minutes of excellence. 

    Tuesday (8-22) presented less gold to me. “The Other One” is long (30 minutes!) and engaging, though without the cohesion and melodic reach of something like 9-28-72. In contrast the “NFA > GDTR > NFA”  is compact and focused, with a "Hey, Bo Diddley" insertion that breaks the momentum a bit, but the novelty of its occurrence and the Garcia soloing that ensues compensate for that! 

    The only performance I #@$%ed with is the Tuesday “Birdsong,” which I was on the fence about, due to bad harmony vocals, so I eventually split the difference and included an instrumental edit. 

    Shortlist: December 1, 1973 – Boston, MA

    55-minute mp3 download here

    • Weather Report (instrumental edit) (2:42)
    • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider (14:51)
    • Big River (5:14)
    • This Lame Trip 1 > (2:40)
    • Me & My Uncle > (3:20)
    • This Lame Trip 2 (2:14)
    • Playin’ > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’ (instrumental edit) (23:41)

    You might well ask how I ended up with only 55 minutes from a 3.5 hour December ’73 show. Well, many songs are just okay or include little flubs and hesitations that make them less than exemplary performances. Additionally, when everyone is singing, it’s generally a mess of yowling and non-harmonizing, stabbing you in the head through a crystal clear SBD mix. 

    But these 55 minutes, at a minimum, are completely excellent. 

    “This Lame Trip” is an astonishing, and at times even virtuoso, stage banter performance featuring Phil, Bobby, and Jerry, often with spontaneous musical accompaniment.  “This Lame Trip 2” is one of best improvisations of the show. (The situation was that the police wanted the aisles of the stadium cleared.) The band also prevents Bobby from promising that they will re-learn "St. Stephen." 

    The two cowboy songs are both crackling, and the "China > Rider" is a grand one.

    The improvisational highlight of this mix is a "Playin' > UJB > Playin'" from which I've removed the vocal sections and segued a continuous jam. The harmonizing on "UJB" is acutely painful on this version, but musically it's an outstanding example of this particular song sequence: Without ever spacing out, the "Playin'" jam leads directly into and extended exploration of the "Uncle John's Band" theme, and as usual, "Playin'" reemerges smoothly out the end of the "UJB" jam. So, with such painful vocals, this seemed like the right version of this sequence to turn into an instrumental jam. It flows from the first note of "Playin'" through the last note of the "Playin'" reprise without any singing and without wandering into any deep space. 

    I also made an instrumental edit of the show’s “Weather Report Prelude > Part 1.” The harmonies were very bad here, too, and there were a couple of stumbles during the verses. However, the playing on this version seems extra meaty to me (rather than thin and spindly) – almost “Stella Blue”-like – so I did my best to create a stand-alone instrumental piece. 

    If you like these instrumental edit experiments, there are a bunch of them here

    Improvisational Highlights: June 30, 1974 – Springfield, MA

    67 minute mp3 download here

    • Scarlet Begonias (7:51)
    • Truckin’ Jam > Approach to Eyes > (8:59)
    • Eyes of the World > (15:29)
    • A Mostly Quiet Space (7:40)
    • Playin’ in the Band Jam (9:40)
    • Not Fade Away > (9:59)
    • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad (7:28)

    This is an excellent show, very much worth a full listen on archive.org. Including “Seastones,” it’s 3.5 hours long, with very few lame spots. This mix just brings together some improvisational highlights.

    (Update: You can get four fantastic first set songs here.)

    There are two portions that strike me as particularly notable: 

    1) A subtle “Truckin’” jam gradually finds its way to an unorthodox start to “Eyes,” and then the “Eyes” jam is one of those lower-key noodly ones, but it still manages to hit the synchronized riff climaxes accurately and sail out of them with great propulsion. It then proceeds into a wonderful, mostly-minimalist space led by a Garcia solo.

    2) The “Not Fade Away” jam goes to places that are unfamiliar to me. The riff and rhythm are bent completely out of shape by the end. 

    The “Scarlet Begonias” doesn’t hold any unique revelations, but it’s from the first month that the song was expanded to include several minutes of jamming, and it’s delightful.  

    Again, this show is worth listening to in full,  but if you particularly want to spend time with some high-level improvisation, this highlights reel should please you. 

    With the exceptions of presenting only the forward-moving part of the “Playin’” jam and skipping the song part of “Truckin’,” this is all as-played. 


    Shortlist: May 21, 1974 – Seattle, WA

    75-minute mp3 playlist here

    • Scarlet Begonias (5:14)
    • Beat It on Down the Line (3:13)
    • The Race is On (2:59)
    • Deal (4:39)
    • Let It Grow > (10:50)
    • China Doll (5:30)
    • Playin’ in the Band (jam excerpt) (7:10)
    • Eyes of the World > (13:49)
    • Wharf Rat (9:43)
    • It Must Have Been the Roses (5:25)
    • Ship of Fools (missing start) (5:41)

    This show is known primarily for its 45-minute “Playin’ in the Band.”  You can listen to that on archive.org anytime; I have included a seven-minute excerpt from its jam here, which I think you'll want to hear more often than the whole.  Otherwise, my attention is on the rest of the show, which is excellent. 

    I really enjoy May 1974 as a whole, with the exception of the Reno show. And aside from that Reno show, I believe I've now posted a shortlist of all of the month's unreleased concerts. Nothing beats 5-19-74, IMO, but they all contain wonderful stuff.

    Shortlist: September 10, 1972 – Hollywood, CA

    80-minute mp3 download here

    • Dark Star (20:41)
    • Sing Me Back Home (9:30)
    • He’s Gone Jam (4:57)
    • Truckin’ (12:26)
    • Jam (6:07)
    • Black Peter (8:48)
    • Playin’ Jam (16:47)

    This show has a large amount of excellent improvisational playing, which I’ve boiled down to an 80-minute sequence. 

    I find most of the vocals hard to listen to on this show, due to some combination of the mix and the distortion in (what seems to be) the best circulating SBD source. It’s also a show with some technical difficulties and some slop.

    But these 80 minutes – boy howdy! Great playing from a month of great playing. 

    The “Dark Star” is top-drawer, feisty out of the gate and jamming widely before the verse, 20 minutes later. The inspiration and pace don’t flag anywhere else, either. It’s one of those shows where every time the band jumped into jam mode, they hit the ground running and then stayed intent on their course.  

    There’s some guest guitar from David Crosby in here.