Universal Amphitheatre - Universal City, CA
Set 1: Promised Land, They
Love Each Other, Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Looks Like Rain,
Bird Song, Cumberland Blues, Row Jimmy, Jack Straw, Deal, Beat It On
Down The Line, Black Peter, Playing In The Band
Set 2: Greatest Story Ever
Told, Ramble On Rose, El Paso, Dark Star > Eyes Of The World >
Stella Blue, Sugar Magnolia,
E: One More Saturday Night
Amphitheater: the mixed-up show
Evidently someone was busy
elsewhere until the moment the band began playing, since
"Promised Land" fades in already in progress. This is
actually a bit fun to hear, because our recordist had not yet
balanced the mix; faders move up & down as Bobby's vocal takes
prominence, guitars fade in, and (in one humorous moment) everything
disappears for about one second as Phil's bass is faded in -- right
in the middle of one of Bobby's verses. Sorry 'bout that, Bobby!
All seems largely settled
by the time this short rendition ends, and Jerry tackles the fast
version of "They Love Each Other" -- short & to the
point. I suppose this is what the album version would have sounded
like, had they made one at the time. Bobby answers with a fast
"Mexicali Blues", making for a rather high-energy start to
this show. Bobby's vocal seems even louder, and Phil's bass is not;
perhaps our recordist anticipated greater loudness from Phil later
in the show, so kept it cautious here? Noteworthy here is Billy's
cracking snare drum, keeping things lively.
Time to slow things down,
and "Tennessee Jed" sounds exactly right, though the vocal
mix is a bit high. Fortunately, so is Keith's piano, and he plays
into this song with real gusto, answering Garcia's vocal lines
throughout with a delightful variety of trills, runs, chords, and
enough percussive stabs to please Thelonious Monk. One suspects the
recordist had been specifically requested to boost Keith -- it's too
much in front, really, to be called a good mix, sometimes drowning
out Garcia's lead -- but definitely a reward to hear.
Somehow, "Looks Like
Rain" is a relief after all that, as Keith and Jerry both
choose spare, tentative decorations behind Bobby's tender singing.
Special mention must also be made for Phil's restrained harmony
(only two lines, and perfectly balanced). Once again, Keith is
greatly responsible for the success of the performance (as is
Well: three uptempo tunes,
and a couple ballads should have everyone plenty warmed up, so it's
"Bird Song". Jerry's vocal is still way too loud, and his
guitar is not at all loud enough on the verses -- Bobby's is louder
-- but that's fixed for the jam, so all is well. The jam is way too
short for most tastes -- only a few minutes, really -- but the mood
is elegiac, the playing sweet and gently sad. There's a brief drum
break, Jerry comes back with the pinched harmonics we typically hear
on a "Loser" solo, and they take the final chorus. This is
rather cruelly shortened by an unwelcome splice, but edited so
cleanly you might not notice on casual listen.
Remember the up-tempo note
this show started on? They call it back with "Cumberland",
which finds the vocal mix improved again. I guess the boys were
still figuring out how close to be to the mikes, because the
harmonies blend just fine. Again, the piano takes rather too much
center stage, but one can't say he isn't making it worth our while.
In fact, this show is shaping up to sound just about how you'd
expect if you were standing next to Keith's piano -- sometimes, it's
so quiet you can barely hear it; other times it almost feels like
you're the one playing it. Meanwhile, Jerry is knitting up such a
fury on the instrumental breaks that you can't help but hear him.
Bill gets busy with the
snare for "Row Jimmy"; you could almost have a rendition
with just his drums behind the vocal, because he plays the song with
such detail. Phil's counterpoint baselines come through well on the
instrumental passages; he seems louder than before. Donna's
harmonies are pretty good, although she does tend to hold notes a
little longer than Jerry.
Phil provides a fine third
harmony on "Jack Straw", blending well with Jerry &
Bob. By this point, we can't isolate any particular contribution;
all the performers are putting in ideas that help further the song.
Special notice for Keith's suspensions behind the verses, but Phil's
also making some interesting notes, and Bill isn't missing any
opportunities. Jerry feels the corner turned, and takes a more
celebratory mood with "Deal", which makes sense after the
tone of the last two songs. Bobby continues with "Beat it Down
the Line", and we enjoy a sense of upward direction. As Jerry
propelled "Deal" with his solo, so Keith does on BIODTL,
and the choruses feature them making rare use of their four
Then comes "Black
Peter": a strange placement to ears used to its later use late
in the second set. Finely sung & played, it nonetheless provides
its own tension & catharsis.
-- And we're off with
"Playing in the Band", which is what we were waiting for
anyhow. Rapidly deployed, the band whips through the opening verses
& choruses, and Donna gives us a bandsaw wail. Enough with the
formalities: it's time for the Real Deal. The band is more than
ready. The mix is balanced. And off they go, into music that can't
be explained: the visceral, primordial river of Group Mind
improvisation. Sometimes exchanging jittery darts like a game of Hot
Potato, sometimes stretching sounds across the palette like a
background sky for others to dance in front of. Billy throws in
staccato bursts like Jackson Pollock; Jerry swirls around like Van
Gogh's " Starry Night" to Phil's later-era Goya
pronouncements. Bobby & Keith seem closer to the school of
pointilism, but really: what's left after all the above? They wrap
it up with the usual theme restatement, Donna does her Tarzan
impression, and the set is over. Bravi tutti!
We return to rock &
roll with "Greatest Story Ever Told", complete with
Donna's air-raid siren, and I doubt anyone stayed in their seats.
Continuing the first-set recap, Jerry takes the thoughtful turn with
"Ramble On", giving Billy further opportunity to crack the
snare & Keith room for double handfuls of his delightful
barrelhouse tinkling. "El Paso" follows, serving mainly as
an uptempo song to downshift from to "Dark Star", although
they do have a lovely moment of silence before the final line.
Here I should mention that
their was a solar eclipse the day of the concert, which -- if it was
at all observable -- would be a mystical experience impossible to
duplicate. -- Except, possibly, in music as mysterious and wonderful
as this. But (as we know), they were capable of sounding like this
without any such inspiration; the Grateful Dead brought their own
eclipse with them on nights like this. Still, it excites the
imagination; one can understand the later enthusiasm for performing
at the Pyramids. Transcendence doesn't care what the event sounds
like later on tape; 'being there' is not a duplicateable experience.
Whatever may have happened
to those in attendance during 6/30/73's "Dark Star", the
music preserved here suggests such transcendence: the band plays
unhurried, unworried; a meandering stream in the forests of
possibility. Some might have questions about the performance: is
there this or that, do they do such-and-such. But the band has
questions of their own, and this reminds us that it is more
important to have one good question than a lot of answers.
-- but enough of that; the
band gently shifts into "Eyes of the World", then only
four months old and already sounding like they'd played it for
years. Which, in a way, they had -- all that group jamming had to go
somewhere. Interestingly, Jerry doesn't actually take a lead until
after the vocal; on the intro, he plays a more percussive, rhythmic
role which works very well. And then when he DOES solo, well ....
C'mon, admit: you skipped
right to this part anyway. Who cares about all those shorter songs
when you could go straight to the jams and immerse yourself
knee-deep into stuff like this? I did, and I'm glad I did, but I've
known plenty of people who simply can't wait to get to the 'good
stuff', and surely this qualifies. Even this early, they'd developed
the riff-oriented jams that followed Eyes through the next couple
years, although they don't seem so consistent about playing them --
at one point, Jerry seems to go to it when no one else does; we can
almost hear him shrug and pass it off as just another phrase until
Phil catches on and makes it official.
Whatever -- it truly is all
good, and long at that. Not content to give us just two Jerry tunes
running, it all winds down into a precious "Stella Blue"
as only 1973 or '74 could do. Ah, there's the stuff -- clear and
deep and strong. Vintage in the best sense.
But wait -- doesn't Bobby
get to sing? ;-) Of course he does -- and it's "Sugar
Magnolia" and "One More Saturday Night" to take us
home. Is there really anything to say about old-fashioned rave-up
rock and roll? I hope not, because no more words come to mind -- I
gotta get on my feet. See y'all at the next show --- !!!
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 6/30/73, at the Universal Amphitheatre - Universal City, CA.