Utica Memorial Auditorium - Utica, NY
Set 1: Bertha, Me & My
Uncle, Wave That Flag, Looks Like Rain, Tennessee Jed, Box Of Rain,
Jack Straw, You Ain't Woman Enough, Row Jimmy, Beat It On Down The
Line, Here Comes Sunshine, The Race is On, Loser, El Paso, China Cat
Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Playing In The Band
Set 2: Greatest Story Ever
Told, They Love Each Other, Mexicali Blues, Brown Eyed Women, Big
River, Brokedown Palace, Me And Bobby McGee, Weather Report Suite
Prelude > Dark Star > Eyes Of The World > Wharf Rat >
E. Casey Jones
Amphitheater: the mixed-up show
OH gee, it's been a while
since I heard a show as cheerful as this one! Fading in on the
guitar solo in "Bertha", they zip through the usual
numbers: "Me & My Uncle", "Wave That Flag",
"Tennessee Jed" "Box of Rain" etc, all
well-played and largely happy ("Uncle" being the
exception). "Looks Like Rain" develops some real power.
Donna takes a passionate stab at "You Ain't Woman Enough (To
Take My Man)", which comes off ebulliently enough, but we can
only guess what audiences thought of it at the time; it certainly
seems out of place now.
Finally, there's a
typically momentum-killing "Row Jimmy", leading me to ask:
why is "Jimmy" commonly a favorite, and "Looks Like
Rain" a common unfavorite? I suspect the answer is something
like this: "Because 'Jimmy' is a Jerry song". It certainly
can't be due to Donna's harmonies, which would suggest the reverse
Phil informs the two or three people still awake in the audience
that they don't play "St. Stephen" anymore, to which Bobby
adds "Because you liked it too much". This wakes up one
wit enough to shout "We'll hate it this time, Bobby!" (and
I think I hear another even shout "Free Bird"). It was
worth turning up the volume to catch that one!
As if in repartee, the band
soon plays only a single-beat intro to a spirited "Beat it on
Down the Line". "Here Comes Sunshine" is brief but
enjoyable. I don't expect many fans of the grateful Dead keep track
of horse racing, so "The Race is On" must seem like an odd
song that just appears for no reason. Keith isn't very loud in the
mix, so his solo in "Race" is really his first really
A few more songs, and
"China Cat" starts up; Billy, who has been lively
throughout, takes this as a cue to step up, with good results:
strong snare work on the lively parts, but sensitive cymbal touches
to introduce the "Groovy jam" interlude that precedes
"I Know You Rider". The band is listening; they easily
notch up or down accordingly for more dramatic effect. Of course it
could just as easily be that Billy is following them, but that
hardly matters. They wrap it up with enough force that it could be
the end of a set, but it isn't; instead they start tuning up for
another Bobby song in E. Let's see; "LLRain" ...
"JStraw" ... what's left? Nah, forget it; it's too late
for that song. They change key and begin "Playing in the
Band." Three minutes and a Donna yowl later, we're off to the
real races .....
It begins tentatively, but
that's not to say mellow: soon enough they're playing with as much
intensity as you could want. Like a storm-driven stream, they splash
through one passage and another -- some wider & more languid,
some tight & rapid. Anyone who has been white-water rafting
knows it ain't all rapids, although those are the parts you remember
most later. Phil seems most aware of the rocks you have to go
around, and Bobby probes the passages between. Jerry is no more
steersman than any of the others, but he does seem to be out front,
while Keith & Billy suggest the roiling urgency of watery froth.
Donna surfaces like the song of the humpback whale, Keith's pretty
piano wraps around the guitars for the finale, and we're home safe.
Hmmm -- not a bad start to
Set two begins as did set
one: "Greatest Story" gets us out of our seats, the first
of several mid- to up- tempos (yes, that plural should be
"tempi", but how many of us really speak Italian?);
amazingly, they are still primarily a dance band. Phil tries an
early exercise in 'take a step back' after "Brown-Eyed
Women"; we can guess the extent of its success by his
subsequent request that they shouldn't just crush forward again.
After a hopping "Big
River", Jerry tries out "Brokedown Palace"; perhaps
as a more subtle attempt at crowd-control. For some reason, the mix
alters slightly throughout this song -- one instrument or another
pressing forward at various times: drums, piano, Jerry's guitar on
the solo (this last, of course, makes sense). Vocals increasingly
oversaturate the mikes. And yet, it's still an effective
performance. You've gotta hand it to the boys: dropping a ballad
into the second set after a handful of dance tunes, with mike
distortion and wild mixing, they still pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Increasingly, the vocals
are oversaturating the tape, making for tough listening on an
otherwise nice "Bobby McGee". Fortunately, this poses no
problems for their instruments.
During the long tuning
session after "Bobby McGee"; Phil and Bill pass the time
with a strange little vamp not heard elsewhere, and Keith joins in.
Evidently this helps Bob & Jerry make a decision, and the
second-ever "Weather Report Prelude" rather awkwardly
introduces the fifth "Dark Star" of 1973.
Once again, a watery
voyage: Bill suggests the splash of waves against the gunwales,
while Jerry wriggles like a rush of marine life passing by. Keith
runs like water, and Bob is the wind. Phil is more ponderous; not
all marine life is small, and some can be quite dangerous in their
beauty. Big fish eat littler fish, but little fish turn faster.
Well, it's not all a jungle
out there, and the boys turn to less dark waters. You know, it rains
on the oceans too; water to water, with just more air in between.
Sky sea and rain are all only marginally different from each other
in terms of water density -- where does the edge of a cloud leave
off to become merely damp air? It's like trying to say exactly where
the land becomes sea on the shoreline; eventually those with a
compulsion to measure must resort to determining a range &
naming an average.
"Yeah, thanks for the
physics talk, Joe, but what about the 'Dark Star'?" I can tell
you this much: it's satisfactorily looooonnnnggg. And you should
play it reeeaaalllyy looooouuud. Preferably while leafing through an
illustrated book on dinosaurs, or any jungle-type setting. Better
yet, play it on headphones and visit your local zoo, and hang out in
whatever rainforest-type exhibit they might have there. So what if
other people look at you strange? Might as well arrive
"prepared" for the experience while you're at it.
"Aw, come on, Joe;
just a hint?" Hmmm. You've heard of "Apocalypse Now";
this is more like "Apocalypse RIGHT NOW!" I'm surprised
they ever played "Dark Star" again.
After all that, Jerry
starts up "Eyes" out of the ashes -- a nice move,
unfortunately marred on tape by the oversaturated vocals. Jerry's
first solo goes beautifully, then we find ourselves cut right to the
next chorus; an unfortunate flip that was at least edited together
to keep the groove going. The distorted vocals are awful, and it's
hard to forget them as we fly off on the wings of Jerry's next solo;
it might have been better to edit out that bit of the chorus, just
splice Jerry's solos together into one long uber-solo ... but that
would have been dishonest ;-)
Someone seems to have
noticed the levels, for things drop down a bit; the vocals are still
a little too hot, but only by a little now. The post-Eyes jam proves
already developed, and it's nice to have Bobby's guitar prominent --
even louder than Jerry's -- though Keith is rather too low.
This is rectified for
"Wharf Rat" -- suddenly Keith's piano is right up where we
can hear it, though Jerry's vocal mike is way too low. Once again,
levels are adjusted while we listen, and Jerry's mike is back up by
the end of the first verse. This works against him on the quiet
part, as he spaces practically the whole "back on my feet"
verse. Yikes! This must have bothered him, as he gives little effort
to the "true to me" verse. Bobby then comes up with an
interesting "Prudence"-like descending line to save the
jam that follows -- a true jam, with no lead or solo, which builds
nicely, finally descending into the gentlest possible denouement.
Then there's a "Sugar Mags" and a "Casey Jones",
with the piano stronger in the mix than the drums or Jerry's guitar,
so I guess there's been more adjusting. At least the vocals were
adjusted too; no more oversaturation.
So what are you waiting
for? Dance your socks off before it's time to go home. Gotta love
Technical notes on sound:
the excellent sound at the outset is increasingly compromised by
oversaturation when they sing louder (especially Jerry's); I guess
we can't fault them for enthusiasm. Mix is fairly good, but Phil's
bass is mostly rather under-represented. Bobby & Jerry's guitars
are in separate channels, and close listening during
"Eyes" reveals Phil's bass seeming to move around [?!],
possibly by use of an oscillator. That just sounds like something
Phil would try to do ....
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 3/21/73, at the Utica
Memorial Auditorium - Utica, NY.