Winterland Arena - San Francisco, CA
Set 1: Promised Land >
Bertha > Greatest Story Ever Told, Sugaree, Black Throated Wind,
To Lay Me Down, El Paso, Ramble On Rose, Me And Bobby McGee, China
Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & My Uncle, Loose Lucy,
Weather Report Suite Prelude > Weather Report Suite Part 1 >
Let It Grow
Set 2: Mississippi
Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Big River, Dark Star > Mind Left Body
Jam > Eyes Of The World > China Doll, Sugar Magnolia,
John's Band, Johnny B. Goode > We Bid You Goodnight
Ah ... listening to 11-11-73 is like a Sunday afternoon visit from an old friend. Solid, balanced, and sprung from the midst of their creative peak, there's little to fault, and so much to like. Not that there aren't mistakes -- there are plenty of sloppy miscues right in the opening trifecta -- but who cares? It's like the chip in your favorite mug; it's a part of the overall identity that doesn't at all diminish its status.
So we have something interesting right from the start: three uptempo openers, all segued. Let's call this the old friend's knock at your door; hello, how nice to see you: "Promised" into "Bertha" is faultlessly tight -- just the sort of thing we do NOT associate with late 1973. "Bertha" into "Greatest Story" is another, um, story ;-) I don't get the impression they'd discussed that one in advance. Nevertheless, all three are full of energy, and GSET provides a fine example of the "Stephen" jam of the time.
Being the gracious host, you invite your friend in, put on the kettle, and sit down to catch up on your lives. Nice versions of "Sugaree" and Black-Throated Wind" follow, and "To Lay Me Down" brings the touching note. Donna outs in some nice harmonies here. "El Paso" pleases old and young alike, as do "Ramble On" and "Bobby McGee" (still evoking memories of Janis, one would think). Somewhere, Phil drops in some bass chords; a muscular start.
Jerry's singing is strong and emotive enough that these aren't just warm-ups, and it's time for something a little more substantive. You pour the tea, and "China > Rider" begins; the band eddies and swirls with the same zest as your conversation. With no sense of time or urgency, the band calmly revisits the familiar tropes, building the middle jam to a faultless "Groovy" jam. While the "Rider" that follows is fine enough, I get the sense that the band later dropped the "Groovy" interlude because it vitiated some of the "Rider" energy, delaying what seems stronger when it comes sooner. On the other hand, some people like their Dead longer, no matter what the means :-)
"Me and My Uncle" makes an appearance, and "Loose Lucy" lopes in to follow. Jerry and Donna seems to have different ideas as to when the song heads to the ending (guess who wins?), but my wife and daughter enjoyed imitating her "Yeahs" in the chorus.
A second cup of tea, and "Weather Report Suite" shows the band stepping out again; Jerry's solo comes closer to imitating actual storm conditions than I recall in any other performance. Set two, and "Mississippi Half-Step" rolls in sounding almost like something from 1977, not missing a beat from the previous set. Highlights are perhaps Keith's inventive piano and Jerry's clarion Wolf guitar, but it's a band performance really, as "Big River" similarly proves. One cavil is that the sound distorts a bit on Jerry's solo break; a small price for hearing this fine show.
But now the tea is cooling, and the cookies are eaten; we can move on to the real purpose of this visit.
"Dark Star" > "Mind Left Body" jam > "Eyes of the // World" > "China Doll"
A few notes here, a few notes there; Phil, Jerry and Keith let fly a few musical suggestions, all pointing to the "Dark Star" to follow. Being 1973, it's a fairly delicate discussion, rather minimalist and notable for gentle energy. No strong statements, but the air itself seems to be played; I imagine the large ballroom of Winterland dimly lit but for the motionless musicians on the stage, its high ceiling a great canopy against the grayness of late fall in San Francisco. The group mind is there, though, not pushed but allowed to emerge slowly. Like amino acids in sun-warmed ancient pools, something is trying to form.
Yes, something is happening: an ache, a wistfulness, a longing; something not to be shared with just anyone, but safe to share here. It's sixteen minutes before we return to the "Dark Star" theme, and receive the lyric; there's a sadness in Jerry's singing, a loss, a mournfulness. The motionless that follows the verse is like the motionless silence that follows a friend's painful revelation, where nothing can be said, and nothing to be done but to be present. And still. So we are very still.
Phil is largely left in the silence that follows, with slight additions from the others. Mostly, it's the silence that speaks, and they seem loathe to break it. So much is implied, there's little need to add much more. Under this, Keith and Billy begin a groove, as if bringing in a fresh breeze, and we are moved to motion: gone from old truths, but not yet arrived to new ones. In search of that elusive signpost, they sail on musical ships of their own making, leaving the island of lost forgetfulness. They aren't necessarily good sailors, so there's some nervousness. But it feels good to be moving.
Now your friend speaks with much animation; details pile up on details of this mysterious journey. You can't interrupt.
It is, it turns out, a hero's journey, and the darkest challenges still lie ahead. Dry-throated anxiety is pushed aside by the imperative to keep moving, and this proves to be the best medicine: we reach familiar ground in the "Mind Left Body" jam. Familiar, yes, but there's still much to attend to; even the familiar can be new again.
Still, confidence is the new keyword, and the sadness of the past become more bearable in light of the hope of the present. Things will not always be so, we can feel; it's not much, but it's enough.
But that's all over now, just as 1973 is far gone as we listen to this show. Slowing for the shift, the band lets us digest a bit; it's been something to think about, and we will. Then Jerry strums "Eyes of the World" into being.
After the hero's journey comes the hero's return, which is more prosaic than triumphant -- after all, the rest of the world continued on its worldly way, unmindful of your or my soulful awakening. Walking back to civilization, we see with new eyes the same old activities, reborn into new awareness. From the hills, it all looks like a game, and the bustle of people like that of ants. And yet: it's marvelous how it all works, how much has been done and is yet to be done. Pausing on the side of a highway to rest, we might find an actual anthill, and see the same thing: the microcosmic echoing the macrocosmic. Resuming the return, a stranger stops to ask for directions to one place or another, and you might answer that there are no wrong ways to get anywhere.
Meanwhile, rejoining the mainstream is like jumping in midstream, and it takes some time to readjust. You don't want to give up what you gained; you try to retain your new awareness in your old surroundings, and this causes some friction. Jerry and Phil seem to duel it out on the post-Eyes section, Billy drumming up the tension between them. Your friend leans forward, with tension behind the eyes. Well, there is a little more to the story.
"A pistol shot / at five o'clock / the bells of heaven ring ..."
Well, all good stories bring profound change. It may not have worked out, after all; perhaps your visitor is, in a sense, a ghost of the past now. Keith's piano is the foremost highlight again, closely following Jerry's melancholy singing.
On the other hand, it's always good to be with friends; a fresh pot of tea, and it's "Sugar Magnolia" to finish a strong 79-minute set. Jerry in particular seems determined not to go out with anything less than their highest peak; even Bob and Donna botching the "Sunshine Daydream" return doesn't derail the band. Perhaps we'll meet your old friend again, in time, and perhaps there will be new marvels to speak of then. For now, there's nothing left to do but clean up the dishes.
The double encore arrive like postcards from your friend's next adventure. This is actually three songs, and all are strongly performed -- an amazing finish to a wonderful night. Obviously, this is one of my favorite shows from this or any era, and strongly recommended.
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 11/11/73, at the Winterland
Arena - San Francisco, CA.