San Diego, CA
This show is half of Dick's
8/7/71 -San Diego
Big Railroad Blues
Big Boss Man
Hard To Handle
8/7/71 -San Diego
China Cat Sunflower>
I Know You Rider
Next Time You See Me
Sing Me Back Home
Me And My Uncle
Not Fade Away>
Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad>
Johnny B Goode
The sound quality is pretty
darned great for a raw-mixed reference tape: good mix, clear sound.
Secondly, the band is strong. Third, it's playing right now! I must
admit here something of a caveat: I haven't been overly fond of the
August '71 shows I've heard; problems with sound quality were a
contributing factor. Dick's Pick #35 has removed the veil, and the
results sound very good indeed.
This is one of those shows
where they hit the gate running: "Big Railroad Blues"
jumps like a Willys in four-wheel drive ... well, I guess that's
actually a different song, but you get the idea: there is plenty of
enthusiasm. And I don't mean simply uptempo -- "El Paso"
is actually quite a bit slower than we're used to, and
well-appreciated by the audience as Bobby carefully considers the
We also get an excellent
opportunity to appreciate Billy's less-is-more drumming in this
stripped-down band -- I especially like how he varies his snare-drum
sound from the usual tight snap to the occasional sharp crack for
accent, dipping a bit to a lighter sound to come back sharp. Bill's
snare is almost a drummer in itself on songs like "Mr.
Charlie" or "Bertha"!
I also laugh a bit to
myself hearing Phil's plangent bass sound at this time, remembering
having it in my own genesis as bassist before I learned about EQ and
bi-amping. It's a rather trebly, round sound, not at all typical of
what most guitarists want from a bassist. Later Phil would acquire a
deeper, more rumbly sound, but at this phase they were still
developing the technology for the kind of quality they needed.
Jerry, meanwhile, seems quite comfortable with a sound fairly
typical of bluesy rock bands of the time (e.g., Mick Taylor in the
Rolling Stones) -- very rear-pickup-with-humbuckers (turned up loud,
of course), which he would soon abandon for the more toothy sound of
us Bobby's importance, as he fills in the spaces behind Jerry's
soulful singing with a variety of ideas. This sounds like one of
those songs where Pig turned the organ way down; I'm not sure if I'm
really hearing it during the chorus or not. As usual, we hear what
is essentially a four-piece band, with Pig taking the mike every
third song or so. Not surprisingly, his presence is not so forceful
as it had been just a few months before, but it's still very
"Hard to Handle"
finds Phil choosing a more robust bass sound appropriate to Pig's
usually gritty vocal, which sadly lacks the necessary power here.
Can the band make up for it? They sho' 'nuff try, with some
respectable results. Not the worst, not the best, but we can see why
it didn't return to the repertoire during Pig's six-month return;
Jerry ends up carrying this one by its conclusion.
After some tuning, Bobby
strikes a high tritone voicing a couple times, and the trained ear
intuits that "Cumberland" will follow. This is exactly
what happens, and the band snakes in & out like a spring torrent
in the West Virginia Appalachians, splashing over one rocky verse,
flushing through the chute of the next, washing out the flat
shallows of the next. You can pan for gold here if you want; there's
only a little, but it sure is purty.
Driving that train round
the next bend, "Casy Jones" takes the wheel, reminding us
that this is little more than a year after WORKINGMAN'S DEAD; as
usual, Phil is the one to pay attention to for maximum enjoyment.
Set two begins with Pig
declaring "All right", and they promptly start up
"Truckin'". Phil seems even louder in the mix than before,
and Jerry lower -- at least in the first verse; things seem to
improve a bit by the second. Pigpen's Hammond contributions can be
heard on the choruses, and more often beginning with the "sweet
Jane" verse. Also, Jerry's guitar volume has picked up. The
tempo may have slowed slightly; there's some settling in to be done,
finding the right mood for this show. Ah, yes, careful vocals on the
bridge -- all that practice couldn't go to waste! They seem to
settle on a semi-gentler "Truckin'", to allow rather than
to push. Well, let's see what happens: the jam finds their energy
steady, neither seeking build nor respite, finally dropping only to
trot out the vocal reprise. This of course brings things back up to
simmer, and Jerry waits for all the singing to be done before
slathering big chords of rhythm over the top for a dramatic (if
short) finish, which Billy fully supports -- not a bad job all
around, and a fair start to the set.
Sunflower" follows, with Phil using a full deep throb, Jerry
typically choosing a drier tone until the post-jam. Here we find the
band at their best -- it's often difficult (and certainly
unnecessary) to distinguish whose guitar is whose, and they weave a
tapestry behind Phil's narration, while Bill adds finishing touches
right & left. Then Jerry steps out, and they shuffle roles, less
a solo than a handoff from Phil. Then they let the energy drop, and
we find ourselves ready for a chorus of "I Know You
Rider". Just the usual exquisite & absorbing transition!
"Rider" chugs along smoothly, notable for Jer's guitar
punctuations between his "headlight" verses. Before the
last chorus, Jerry and Phil's instruments leap out like a
double-headed python for a nice energetic break. The last word is
held in unison, and we crash to an end. There you go!
"Next Time" is a
good read, with Pigpen apparently in better spirits: he signs with
some passion, and plays some nice solos. Jerry's solo sounds even
more like T-Bone Walker than usual, which Pig evidently appreciates
as he urges Jerry to take a second chorus, and then follows it with
another chorus of harmonica himself. Then he gives the last vocal
chorus a little extra boost, making a memorable performance all
Next up is the relatively
young "Sugar Magnolia", which is fine without being
outstanding -- you know what "Sugar Mag" is, and that's
what it is. Jerry typically follows up with something quiet &
soulful, in this case the effective (& affecting) "Sing Me
Back Home". Pig adds some churchy organ which would have been a
lot more effective if we could hear it, but it's a nice touch all
the same -- especially since Jerry chooses a gentle approach,
suitable for minimal backing. The results are never dull, just soft.
Very nice. You might well want to sing along :-)
There's no follow-up to a
long, quiet spiritual like a quick song of murder & betrayal, so
"Me & My Uncle" is next. No highlights, just solid
performance -- as heard on the album they were soon to release. We
get a "that's me" after the "Denver man" verse,
and Bobby does put in a sudden burst of lung power in the
next-to-last verse. Sure, why not; we're in the home stretch right
now, and I suppose Bobby wants to warm up for "Not Fade
Away" -- the next song.
NFA starts well enough;
Jerry starts filling in between verses even before his solo, so
perhaps he's warming up too. The solo really seems to take off when
Jerry gets fond of bending up a series of notes over and over;
there's plenty of the two-headed hydra that we call Phil & Jerry
to keep us happy throughout. A sudden gentling of the jam turns into
an opportunity to 'go down the road feelin' bad', so this they do.
Again, you might say that this is right off the album they were
about to release, but in this case you'd mean it in a good way :-)
Actually, it turns out quite a bit differently: the instrumental
"Bid You Goodnight" ending turns out to be fertile ground
for exploration itself, and so off they go in near-"Dark
Star" pursuit of the unknowable, unanticipatible muse: Phil
here, Jerry there, Bobby questioning everything, and Billy
answering. Just when it can't go any further, Jerry senses the need
for decisive direction, and unhesitatingly rips out the "Johnny
B Goode" riff.
Bang! Just like that, the
band leaps in as if that had been the plan all along. And maybe it
had, but they made it sound sound as fresh as the first blossom of
Spring -- right in the middle of the dogs days of August. And that,
my friends, is why we listen to the Grateful Dead ;-) They jam it
out hot, the ending goes on forever, then crashes down with all the
finality of G?tterd?mmerung. "That's all folks, see you later,
bye" Bobby informs us, his voice trailing on the last words as
he's already turning away from the microphone.
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on
in San Diego, CA.