S.U.N.Y. - Stony Brook, NY
Set 1: Smokestack
Lightning, Beat It On Down The Line, China Cat Sunflower > I Know
You Rider, Friend Of The Devil, Truckin', Candyman, It Hurts Me Too,
Dancing In The Streets, Big Railroad Blues, St. Stephen > Not
Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away
10-30-70 SUNY Stonybrook
Considering how much of the
latter half of 1970 is simply missing, we can feel some appreciation
for these SBDs from SUNY: though a bit brittle, they are quite
listenable, and capture the band at an exciting time. As if
completely unwilling to take anything seriously, they josh around
onstage, attempt a few half-realized songs ["Sugar
Magnolia" stands out as clearly being still in progress], and
generally offer as good a time to each other as they do to the
audience. It's easy to see why, for some, THIS is the Grateful Dead,
and nothing much more than a few years after can pass muster.
Now, let's not be too
overly fawning: the boys are sometime outright amateurish. But this
is part of the charm -- a general air of the "what-the-hell,
we'll try anything" which lends them an electric spontaneity.
So what if there's some disagreement on which verse opens
"Cumberland Blues" or just what harmonies "Sugar
Magnolia" gets on the outro? As any telephone surveyor knows, a
smile is heard over the lines even the other person can't see it,
and these guys must be smiling most of the time. In a very large
sense, this is the Grateful Dead writ larger than any of their more
famous, more accomplished shows: just a bunch of guys trying stuff
out. Some of it they wrote; some of it they stole. Say, isn't that
your old lady hanging out backstage with Pigpen? Oops, I meant EX
old lady, judging from the looks of things. Unless you're pretty
open-minded. Such a bunch of charmers!
aren't known for being standouts, but this one does have enough good
moments to make it worth seeking. Highlights are the unusually
poignant "Cold Rain" opener, and "Truckin"
certainly doesn't disappoint. "Good Lovin" has a good jam
(of course!), and even the drum break sounds good.
Unlike the early show, the
late show starts off without comment, as if they mean business.
"Smokestack Lightning" is nowhere near as long as it had
been on Feb 13, and they would soon drop it entirely. Still, there's
no sense of being cheated here; the band gives sensitive backing to
Pigpen's croonings, and lashes out during Jerry's slide solo. Taking
their time, they let the song play out, giving a real-time fadeout
to appreciative cheers. Bobby reassures the audience that they're on
for the rest of the night ("By the time we finish, it'll be
November"), and Mickey makes sure "Beat it on Down the
Line" has plenty of punch.
Mickey's pretty hard to
miss here, actually ... especially on the toms, which he seems to
hit with special vigor during "China Cat" -- as if beating
the song into the next decade. Once you notice, it's impossible not
to focus on his aggressive accenting. We should call him "Spanky"
after this ;-)
As "China Cat"
finishes, Mickey switches to the snare & the metals, and we can
pay more attention to the rest of the band. Not that we've been
inclined to ignore them, but 1970's recording technology wasn't
terribly bass-friendly (as you may have notice on Dicks Pick #4). As
the band sings about taking their rest, an errant high pitch sneaks
into the sound; I suppose that means we won't be hearing this show
join the DP series. If we do, I expect this would be one of the
things that would be fixed. And why not? Their harmonies are pretty
good, their arrangements sharp, and the performance is definitely
on. So far, so good.
A little tuning, and FOTD
is clearly in the offing. Not surprisingly, this sounds a lot like
the album version, though with a longer lead-in. Really remarkable
here are Bobby's guitar fills, which are easy to overlook in our
eagerness to appreciate Garcia's singing. In fact, Garcia has to
retune mid-song [!!], and it's Bobby who keeps it going. Way to go,
next, and you can be sure Jerry's made sure he's in tune now. The
jam is alternately brazen and then humble, and strident on the
ending (and very briefly so). A lot of possibilities jammed into a
voice had shouted out of the audience earlier in the show, and here
it comes: the sensitive and thoughtful part of the show. I almost
forget that Pigpen is still in the band until I realize there's no
one else to put in the nice Hammond organ touches. And -- please --
let's give proper due: Pig does a fine job, never obtrusive and very
supportive. Jerry's solo holds just the right balance between
melancholy lament and plaintive cry. the ending harmonies are
especially ambitious, and -- it must be said -- successful.
Following this could could
only be a blues, and the band had someone capable of performing one:
"It Hurts Me Too" brings Pigpen out to the front. Just as
I'm ready to dismiss it as being inferior to the E72 version, I
notice that it's a darn sight faster, and they waste no time; this
version never lags. At 5:08, it seems just right. "Dancin"
follows, giving Bobby a chance to flex his pipes, and Jerry gives
sympathetic support. "Why dontch all get up and dances
around?" he asks, and Jerry turns up for the jam to follow.
While this unfortunately prompts whoever was manning the sound board
to turn Jer's guitar DOWN in the mix [leaving Mickey's excellent
accents way up in the foreground], there's no doubting the general
energy of the band. Fortunately this is soon rectified, and Jerry's
guitar takes the foreground it so clearly deserves. Ah, if only 1970
could have been recorded in the same quality 1990 was!
into a "Tighten Up" jam [for those keeping score], and the
band almost gives over to the drummers. Well, sure; when you have
two drummers of this quality, I suppose that's always lurking as a
possibility. But neither Phil nor Jerry seem willing to stop
playing, and eventually Bobby comes back in. Soon, he pushes the
band to a huge intensity: from almost nothing to burning hot, and
they kick into the closing verse. A good demonstration of Bob's
value: even when he doesn't play at all, he's influencing the rest
of the band. Some crashing chords, and it's all over. Say, is it
November yet? ;-)
Not nearly. A little
tuning, and Jerry kicks "Big Railroad Blues" into gear.
But the band doesn't seem entirely convinced; I'm starting to think
there might have been some certain influence on the evening's
performance that made this transition a little strange for the band.
Not that they don't play it; they just don't really seem together.
Garcia seeems to mean it as a two-step, instead of their usual
barn-burner. OR is it Mickey? At any rate, Bill doesn't really seem
to agree, and Bobby seems left out entirely. Phil just doesn't seem
to get the song at all. Garcia brings it to an end, and it seems
just as well.
A fadeout of unknown
length, and the band comes back strong: "St. Stephen" was
still part of the repertoire. A little faster than it had been on
the LIVE DEAD album, no doubt it was still a crowd-pleaser. Nothing
to say, really, except that it's fine and raucous, just as we always
expect it to be. And then it quiets down so tenderly that I almost
think a "Mountain" jam will follow. Phil and Jerry head
out into two-headed jam space, and the drummers give them confident
support. Bobby tunes behind them [!], then kicks in so raucous that
the rest of the band instantly jumps on, almost derailing itself on
the road back to the song proper. Wow -- there's something there to
criticize if you want to, but why would you want to?
"What would be the
answer to the answer man?" they sing, and "Not Fade
Away" appears to be that answer: gutty, stuttering bottom
chords over a jungle beat, insistently supporting Buddy Holly's
simple proclamations. Listening to this in the safe confines of a
house or car, it's easy to forget just how loudly it was being
declaimed at the actual venue. How could anyone resist, or question,
the rugged insistence of the band? Hey, you didn't have to; before
you'd even grasped it, they'd switched to the sweet-yet-sad
"Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" melody. Again, the band
exudes confidence, sometimes dropping to little more than a drum
beat behind Garcia's vocal, then rising up in triumph for the solo.
Bobby answers Jerry's AWBYG phrases with lines of his own, and the
band thunders into the "NFA reprise" as if closing in on
Riding a fine line between
falling apart and coming together, the band suddenly slams into a
new song; I think you know what it is: over 20 minutes of nominal
R&B, but played like few bands would play it. "Without a
warning / you took my heart ..."
Oh, there may be more
explosive versions. The thing is this: just when the band sounded
like they were winding things up -- with a legitimate right to do so
-- they turned and kicked the closing-time clock in the balls.
THAT'S the Grateful Dead in 1970, mister, and don't you forget it.
And you might want to get a new lady for yourself; go on, there's a
bunch out there in the audience. If you feel shy, ask the singer
real nice; he's been known to help :-)
And he is: Pigpen promises
to tell us about his lady (who might recently have been yours, or
possibly another), and it's along the line of the usual, but no less
effective for that. But Pig has a bit more for us: "Now, wait a
minute!" And the band gets down behind him. Pig is in the mood
to help out the young fellas in the audience. "Ain't nobody
gonn hurt ya, it's just us ..." he promises, and insists they
stand up. "Yeah, your buddies too!" Well, we can only
imagine. Pigpen cajoles us to take a more proactive attitude towards
the ladies we favor, and Garcia's guitar seems to insinuate what
that might mean. Propelled by Phil & the drummers, we dive into
long passages of vulgar insistence. Loud and long, I suppose this is
the time for your prospective date to enjoy your company in some
dancing, but Pigpen hasn't forgotten to help you thorugh the next
Mr Pen, and the band drops to a minimal drum beat. "Please, why
don't you get out that special key?" he pleads, and the
audience yelps their support. The band quiets; and we know he's just
talking to us now. "Come on, I know you got it." Guitar
and bass begin the vamp behind him, and the sermon is on. "It's
like two toothpicks fighting in a cell." Louder now. "I
said: please ..." Louder. "Let it shine -- let it shine --
let it shine -- shine on me", and they're in full mode now. The
howls begin, and Bobby echoes his lines until he's reduced to
guttural cries. You probably didn't even realize you'd started
dancing by this point; there's simply no other option, no thoughts,
no place or action other than this incessant, irresistible rhythm,
tumbling over and over in orgasmic capitulation. With a sound like
the end of civilization, Mickey bashes the band right off the stage.
"All right!" shouts Pigpen, and there's no need to say
whether the show is over; the only question left is "When do
they play again?" *
* (For those in attendance,
the answer was a lucky "tomorrow!")
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on
10/30/70, at SUNY, NY.