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F. West ' 69
6/5-8, 1969
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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 6/16/74


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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 6/16/74

The Grateful Dead
Des Moines State Fair Grandstand - Des Moines, IA

Set 1: Bertha, Mexicali Blues, Row Jimmy, Beat It On Down The Line, Scarlet Begonias, Black Throated Wind, Sugaree, El Paso, It Must Have Been The Roses, Jack Straw, Ship of Fools, Around and Around

Set 2: U.S. Blues, The Race is On, Eyes Of The World > Big River, Playing In The Band

Set 3: Tennessee Jed, Me & My Uncle, Deal, Greatest Story Ever Told, Truckin' > Nobody's Fault But Mine > Wharf Rat > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad, 
E: Casey Jones

Three Heavy Sets - 6/16/74 
Every now and again, it's a pleasure to sit down & pay careful attention to a first-rate blue-blood of a show.

For starters, we know in advance that it's going to be three sets. So it's no big loss that the first few songs find the mix way off (as on 6-18 two nights later). Actually, it's even more worth hearing, because the one person we [mostly] hear well is Billy, rat-a-tat-tatting in response to everyone else -- a real drummer's-ear perspective, showing the subtle emphasis he's busy putting in here & there. In fact, he remains well-mixed through all three sets, which is one of this show's delights. Hard to imagine another drummer fitting in!

The mix improves a bit thru Mexicali, but the vocals are way low. No matter; the mix eventually flips to mostly vocals & no instruments, settling in time for a fine 'Row Jimmy'. Jerry shows his magical ability to play slide lines that are somehow intense without being aggressive. In fact, he amps up the band so much that the section following is actually too fast, but it's one of those strange Dead moments where it's simultaneously flawed & perfect. This is my new nominee for Best 'Row Jimmy' performance; not a dull moment. After that, we know we're in for a great show -- so much time left, and such a strong performance early in set one!

And , of course, that is exactly right. 'Scarlet' is bouncy & funky, reminding us there was a time when funk was fresh. 'Sugaree' seems strangely the low spot [not helped by a vicious reel change that skips the main solo], compensated somewhat by a rather fast 'Roses'. Bobby sticks to more standard fare, strongly played if not standouts. The exceptions are a still-robust 'El Paso' & a 'Jack Straw' which has clearly picked up a lot of heat since 1972. Jerry responds with 'China > Rider', which naturally contains a 'Groovy' jam (this being 1974) -- and something else. Most of the transition is the stuff we normally expect (and nicely done), but Jerry's got a little surprise for us near the end that portends great things for later in the show -- a burst of bluesy intensity unlike anything i've heard him play before or since. Rave on Jerry! Bobby sees him & raises with the most blistering 'Around & Around' this side of Purgatory. Holy moly Batman -- WHAT is going ON here? And there are still two sets to go!

Understandably, they come back more ready to groove than burn -- there's a lot left to come. 'US Blues' & a peppy 'Race is On' get us back to speed, and launch into 'Eyes'. Ahhhhh, like a cool drink on a hot day (which it probably was); a fine, wonderful jam that Bobby somehow turns into another cowboy tune -- we can hear 'Big River' coming LONG before it arrives. I suppose there are 'better' versions of 'Eyes', but at this level, does it matter?

I can't answer that, because the PITB that follows it erased all memory of the preceding jam. Make that 'the preceding LIFE'. It's an interesting comparison to later PITBs in the 80s & 90s; about eight minutes into this one, it sounds like they're attempting to segue into Drums, something they often did in the later eras. But of course it's 1974, so they just keep going. Eventually we arrive in some weird Space permutation, exploring more jams before finally surfacing with the reprise -- very much the same kind of emotional journey as in we will hear from them in later eras, just not explicitly divided into song - drums -space - song. I guess the band wasn't so very different; here it's all contained under the PITB heading, and just as emotional & intense, concluding set two. What, there's more? Hold on to your seats!

Jerry starts off light: 'Tennessee Jed', which gets my almost-three-year-old daughter Julia Joy prancing around the room a bit. I don't know what's been going on backstage, but Bobby seems to think things just aren't interesting enough already -- and Keith agrees. Between these two youngest band members, some amusing freakiness develops as each makes various noises using signal processors -- Bobby using what sounds like a phase-shifter, Keith putting the electric piano through some rapid vibrato. Keith's been trying out some synth or organ throughout the show, although he never really sounds like he has his heart into it. But on 'Tennessee', he & Bobby are like two mischievous kids in class, blowing spitballs & making fart noises until the teacher [Jerry?] looks up -- at which point they sit quietly with angelic smiles. Jerry seems to simply tolerate it -- after all, they cut out the clowning & go serious during the guitar solo -- but Billy seems to think it best to ignore them, as if thinking maybe they'll settle down. Of course they DON'T, and Jerry hesitates to trust them on the main solo. By then Billy's decided to lick 'em by joining 'em, and Jerry finds a way to fall in. It's not as obvious as, say, the vocal clowning on 5-11-78 [DP-25], but there is some great playfulness here.

After a standard 'Me & My Uncle' [had this song worn out it's welcome even by then?], Jerry cranks up a 'Deal' that [like 'Jack Straw'] shows considerably more energy than it had in 1972. Until now, I had not heard a pre-retirement 'Deal' to match the later energy, but here it is. If you want to call it one of the Best Ever, I won't argue: they manage all the fire & intensity of a set-closing 80s Deal without resorting to the distortion guitar solo. I don't miss it in the least. Bobby once again shows his ability to follow a Jerry show-stopper with one of his own in a hot 'GSET' -- one could be excused for thinking it was the END of a set, because the 'Ship' that follows completes the picture of blowout-ending-plus-quiet-encore. But of course, it's only the beginning.

By now, we're well into disc four, so the Boys could be excused if they were a little tired. We've already had three hours of great music; we could go home satisfied. And then 'Truckin' starts the show all over again.

Hot mama! Who are these guys? Because the Cosmic Joy Ride kicks in at wide throttle. Jerry even tosses in a quick 'Hideaway' lick after one of Bobby's verses, then takes his time after the final chorus before firing up the Holy Explosion. This band has LOTS of time, before blasting off to a Never-Ever Land of a bluesy hue. Nobody's jam appears, but the bus only stops there briefly. Because, you see, the bus doesn't really exist except on this here album cover I'm holding .... and there goes our grip on reality, ZOOP! right out the window. Welcome to wherever you are, because it just slowed down & is now speeding up! Are you rounder yet? ;-) Because it's time to get serious. After a few percolating jabs, and a near-Caution attack, the band finds itself furiously cooking as Jerry WAILS the Nobody's theme in full-throated bluesy glory.

Not content with that success, Jerry steps down to a cleaner intensity, but the band is having none of it; Keith stabs & feints like a jitterbug drunk on Mountain Dew, and Billy sounds ready to blow himself & Bobby off the stage. Phil finally talks them down a bit, but then finds it too much fun to resist as Jerry leaves him space to take a lead. The mood turns sunnier. Does anyone even care what the last song was? Bobby engages them with a relative of the MLB jam, and Bill ramps the intensity up & down. Suddenly changing gear, we're back in the blues -- Jerry somehow having found a slide in his hands. It's fifteen minutes since we left 'Truckin'; do you know where you last left your mind?

Jerry left his in 'Wharf Rat'; could the bus stop there? Sure, why not! Bear in mind that any objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear -- and they seem to be your eyeballs. The band does indeed shift to 'Wharf Rat', but without leaving their 'psychedelic jam' mode, resulting in a shimmery version indeed. It's as if not one of them gives any thought to chords, tempo, or changes -- or even song -- and yet it's all there passing through them. I bet their collective impression was that they were simply still jamming, and Jerry happened to sing a verse or two of something that seemed right ... whatever it was. The song doesn't end so much as dissolve. Des Moines, you've just been treated to a unique moment in time unparalleled by any other.

There's more: sensing that goals have been achieved, Jerry fires up 'Going Down the Road' and the band kicks in behind him with gusto. Despite Phil's audience farewell, they return for a final salvo of 'Casey Jones'. It might get better than this, but that all depends on how you define 'it' ;-) 
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 6/16/74, at the State Fairground in Des Moines, IA.
Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 6/16/74


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