8/7/71
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Grateful Dead reviews of 8/7/71

 

Dick's Picks Volume 35 reviewLadies and Gentlemen the Grateful Dead  review

8/7/71

Skull and RosesreviewGarcia review

 
Grateful Dead reviews of 8/7/71

The Grateful Dead
San Diego, CA 
8/7/71 

This show is half of Dick's Picks 35 

8/7/71 -San Diego
Big Railroad Blues
El Paso
Mr. Charlie
Sugaree
Mama Tried
Bertha
Big Boss Man
Promised Land
Hard To Handle
Cumberland Blues
Casey Jones
Set Two
Truckin'

Disc 2
8/7/71 -San Diego

China Cat Sunflower>
I Know You Rider
Next Time You See Me
Sugar Magnolia
Sing Me Back Home
Me And My Uncle
Not Fade Away>
Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad>
Jam>
Johnny B Goode

Review

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 lyrics.

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 a Stratocaster.

"Sugaree" shows 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 genuine.

"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.

"China Cat 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 around.

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.

Indeed.


Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 8/7/71, in San Diego, CA.  
Grateful Dead reviews of 8/7/71

 

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