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
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
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
Definitely recommended as
an entire show, with some very interesting parts. Joe sez trade for
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 ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 2/24/74, at Winterland Arena - San Francisco, CA