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F. West ' 69
6/5-8, 1969
MSG '90
Boston '91

Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 2/24/74


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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 2/24/74

The Grateful Dead
Winterland Arena - San Francisco, CA

Set 1: U.S. Blues, Mexicali Blues, Brown Eyed Women, Beat It On Down The Line, Candyman, Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower 
> I Know You Rider, El Paso, Loser, Playing In The Band

Set 2: Cumberland Blues, It Must Have Been The Roses, Big River, Bertha, Weather Report Suite Prelude > Weather Report 
Suite Part 1 > Let It Grow > Row Jimmy > Ship of Fools, Promised Land, Dark Star > Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia, Not Fade 
Away > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away, E: It's All Over Now Baby Blue

2-24-74 Review:

There seems to be something special about February shows, especially in the band's prime years. Here, we find them sounding languid as a summer afternoon despite being in the dead of winter.

A couple minutes of on-stage tuning precedes a gentle introduction by Bill Graham, which itself suggests a certain mood -- a need to retreat from harsh realities. This they promptly do, in the lyrical summertime of "U.S. Blues" (debuted two days earlier; regular fans may have wondered at its changed lyrics. "Mexicali" serves up a mix anomaly, as we sometimes hear in the first song or two of these '74 soundboards; how they got "U.S." mixed right but not "Mexicali" makes no sense to me, but there it is.

So much for technicalities. After that, the sound is full and spacious. The audience is audible between songs but never intrudes on our hearing the music. The sound is clean, clean, clean. Thrill to the throb of Phil's bass! Delight in the sweet interplay of guitar and piano! Dance to the punchy clatter of Bill's drums! First-set highlights might include the delicacy of Jerry's "Loser" solo, but the real star is the band's confident handling of such well-worn material (after the "U.S." opener, there's nothing in the set to suggest a later date than 1972). All songs consequently benefit from a certain maturity, only enhanced by the preternaturally clear sound. "Playing in the Band" is relatively brief, but already shows itself as the signpost to darker places it would be in 1974.

Bobby announces the break over the audience's applause, but the "Cumberland" starts right after, suggesting a creative crossfade. "Cumberland" is just as lively as anything in the first set, as are the three songs to follow; if it wasn't for Bobby's signoff, we could well be excused for accepting "Bertha" as the set's conclusion instead. Those averse to Donna's off-key singing may wish to drop the volume a bit here. Meanwhile, you'll want to hear the "Big River" solo again, as Keith's piano notes intertwine with Jerry's bubbling lines.

So much for the first half; now for the jams. The "Weather Report Suite" had only just come into its own at the end of 1973, and the band is more than ready to tackle it here. Here's a game you can play at home: close you eyes, and "watch" the movie that the music suggests. Don't try to think of something; just look into your closed eyelids as if you were watching a movie. This WRS works as well as any for this kind of activity.

As if to prove that there's no real difference between jams and songs, the band slides into "Row Jimmy" -- rather sooner than we might like, but hold on there buddy: the jams aren't over yet :-) This is a nice performance, and it benefits greatly from the slideout from WRS. Then Jerry promptly starts up "Ship of Fools" -- two Jerry ballads in a row? Yup, and they're both sweet; I can't say it doesn't work. Lately, "Ship" has me paying attention to Phil's choice of notes.

As if nervous to lose the audience, Bobby throws us a "Promised Land" recovery, and we are treated to an unusual solo: Keith warbles two chromatic keys for so long that my wife thought a phone was ringing somewhere. This is quite humorous -- no doubt intentionally so -- but unfortunately doesn't launch us into anything else; Keith just pokes around for another idea without finding one. Perhaps as compensation, Jerry blasts out the closing solo for a photo finish, and we're ready for disc four.

Taking digital advantage of the media, I already see that a half-hour track called "Dark Star" awaits us before we arrive at anything that could be called another song -- and then "Morning Dew" is that song. Clearly, we will not want to be interrupted.

Could there be a way of putting any of this into words? We can ignore the stats if we wish, but this is one of only five Stars during this blue-steel year of just 40 dates (only one-third of 1970 or 1981). Even then, there were only four dates before the Summer tour -- all of which were closer to the last show of 1973 than the first show of May 1974. What is this, really: later 1973, or earlier 1974? Typically of February, it's somewhere in between. Bobby still seems to be very much in 1973, but Jerry has begun to favor the angular whole tones of 1974. And this "Dark star" wants to include it all.

To begin, we start from nothing, then a cymbal's hush; Phil and Jerry unite in the theme, and it's begun. Flirtations with chaos and order ensue. Typically, the band wanders from the recognizable "Star" vamp, venturing farther and farther until the performance threatens to derail itself entirely, at which point the vamp returns. This happens several times, as if the band can't quite keep its attention long enough for Garcia to get to the lyrics; when he finally does, it's been about 18 minutes.

With any other band this would be a recipe for utter disaster, but of course that's why we listen to this band ;-) Each digression is in a different direction, with a different tone, and different tone color. Once the lyrics are dispatched, however, things turn much darker: Phil takes a somber spotlight, and we even have a near-Spanish jam proposed by Bobby while Jerry feels some insect menace. This would not be realized until June 23rd, so this is an interesting near-miss -- and a good reminder that Bob doesn't always tear us out of "Dark Star" into "El Paso" at the worst time. Drifting and dreaming, the band moves to a lighter note, and something that actually sounds like the "Dark Star" we would know from the LIVE DEAD recording.

From this, the segue into "Morning Dew" is quite natural, as one might expect; indeed, they seem quite done with "Star" exploration. As "Dark Stars" go, not as passionate as 1972, nor as unified as 1969, but rather kin to thoughtful, inquisitive Star-cloth that we enjoy in 1973. Still, it seemed rather unfinished: leaving, it seems to me, a lot of unrealized passion for the "Dew." Does the band feel the same as I do?

At first, it doesn't seem so; they begin with the usual tentative quiet, as if following some grand statement rather than a quiet drop. But then Jerry starts putting unusual emphasis on the second verse, as if trying to pull the band out of a torpor. And he doesn't give up, pulling the band as if by sheer will-power, straight into a smashing middle solo that's trilled so hard it must have gone into triple-digit decibels. What's going on here? Hard to say, but the band recognizes a good vein when it hits one, and they jump onto Jerry's suggestion with glee. Dropping back to the quiet final verse, we might well wonder if the band can equal this on the final buildup; you'll have to listen and decide for yourself.

Just as Bobby knew a good opportunity for a Spanish jam, he equally knows when it's time to turn a corner and break out the rave-up. If he misses a few high notes, it's still "Sugar Magnolia" at the end of a marvelous set, and bound to have people out of their seats. Oh, is it a little sloppy in parts? I didn't notice. Three years into being the sole drummer, Billy is confident enough to take a few daring chances, and they're right more often than not.

Oh, what the heck: why should that be enough? Bobby dials up "Not Fade Away" before "Sugar" even ends. But it's not the explosive step up we might expect; the band plays for time, letting the song roll out as an easy-going vamp -- more kin to 1976 than 1972. In retrospect, this is necessary, as the band would have had a tough time out-blasting "Sugar Mag" all the way to the finish. In "Going Down the Road" we find some buildup, but the band seems undecided as to which song will follow the "Goodnight" theme; they drop to C, a ready intro to "One More Saturday Night" (to choose but one example). After a pause, Bobby reintroduces the expected NFA theme, and they go out in style.

Once again, the next song is crossfaded so quickly as to sound like a segue when it is actually from the next set (or, in this case, the encore). And it's a real treasure: the only "Baby Blue" from 1974, and one of only three between 1970 and 1981 (the other two being from 1972). Understandably, Jerry has lyric trouble after the solo, but so what? As always with the Dead: when it's good, it's very good -- and often great.

Definitely recommended as an entire show, with some very interesting parts. Joe sez trade for it!

P.S. In response to Donna's wailing harmonies, my five year old daughter said: "I'm dead, and I'm eating chocolate." That easily beats anything I could have thought up.

Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 2/24/74, at  Winterland Arena - San Francisco, CA
Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 2/24/74


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