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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 11/5/79 Stanley Theater - Pittsburgh, PA


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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 11/5/79 Stanley Theater - Pittsburgh, PA

The Grateful Dead
Stanley Theater - Pittsburgh, PA

Set 1: Alabama Getaway > Greatest Story Ever Told, Peggy-O, Cassidy, Friend Of The Devil, Easy To Love You, El Paso, Tennessee Jed, Dancing In The Streets > Deal

Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Passenger, Terrapin Station > Playing In The Band > Drums > Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin', E: Don't Ease Me In

What a great time it must have been, to see the band in late 1979: so much must have seemed possible, both to the fans & to the band. We now know that the band was in decline for reasons not so obvious at the time -- it must have seemed quite the reverse. So much still seemed possible, even imminent! Especially in the first week of December, which to me begins with this first of two nights at the Stanley Theatre.

Salvo #1: Hit 'em fast, hit 'em good. 'Alabama / GSET' was a strong combo at this time, and a fine (if common) opener. Rave it up, boys! Why waste any time ;-) Not only does this give Jerry opportunity to warm up the fingers (there being solos after every chorus), but it gives the band as a whole a chance to get some sizzle going -- and they do. Phil stands out in this recording with a sizzling sound, although he's content to merely throb the groove for now -- so much so that he nearly misses the GSET transition. No matter; they flog that beat just as hard. Something interesting happens here, for those who (understandably) lament the lack of the 'Stephen jam' in later GSETs: they seem undecided as to whether or not to revive it! 'To Stephen jam or not to Stephen jam' ... So close, but ultimately not -- to the song's detriment, I think. Later versions would be decidedly non-Stephened, and better for the lack of indecision. Listen to this version, though, and I think we get some clues as to who wanted it & who did not.

But enough of that; there's a show going on. 'Peggy-o' is fine, as it almost always is, and Bobby gets some early jam going with a 'Cassidy' call. Nothing straying too far from the mark, but there is clearly some fire in de belly tonight. 'FOTD' sounding fine too, in its slow-but-sure incarnation -- like DP-5's would be a month later. Nice!

Some discussion, and Brent gets a slot. This doesn't bother me; I heard all these on vinyl before I heard them in concert, so I knew 'Easy to Love You' could be a worthy addition, which gave me a leg up on those attending this show (Go To Heaven had not yet been recorded). This, however, is an unremarkable performance, sounding for all the world like the basic track for an album recording. As would often be the case, Brent's song is just a diversion from the main event. So, to get things back on track, Bobby immediately launches into ....

El Paso.

I do like this song. No, really, I do. I even recorded a version of it once. Jerry, game (as always) for anything, noodles around it, sniffing for some fresh ideas. But the band as a whole is obviously burned out on this song; Phil makes a half-hearted effort, but Billy gives it much less than that. - and really, we can't blame them; it needed retiring BAD, and wouldn't get it soon enough. Comically, it even has a reel flip patched in from an inferior AUD source. We gotta hand it to those completionists: patching in every second of the performance -- even if it's a second-rate performance of a second-tier song.

As if fearing to blow out his ration of creativity too early, Jerry responds by dialing up 'Tennessee Jed'. -??- Is this supposed to be funny? Revenge on Bobby? Persian-white logic? I've heard fantastic, ebullient renditions of 'TJed'; I've heard cool & easy 'TJed's; I've heard hilarious pokes into musical joy over 'TJed's chords. But this ain't any of those; almost placidly, Jerry lets it fall into a torpor, derailing the one opportunity for any real energy (the buildup in the end solo) by playing the same slow phrase over and over and OVER, no doubt driving all but the railrats [still clutching the stage in their sleep] out for coffee. Where did all that great momentum go?

The answer, of course is that it went to disc two: we get a set-closing 'Dancin > Deal' that isn't bad at all, if a bit close to the textbook. At least they're back in gear. Bobby signs off, and we come back to set 2, where they promptly jump into 'Scarlet > Fire'. Now we're talking PARTY! Phil's meaty bass is all over, Jerry's guitar is warbling up & down, Mickey & Bill are like a manic popcorn popper, Brent swoops & swells with the B-3. I have no idea what Bobby is doing, but it's obviously working. THAT'S the stuff, THAT's what we keep coming back for. I can't even remember hearing 'Scarlet' by the time the jam winds down into 'Fire; that was just too long ago. And 'Fire' doesn't disappoint -- the fix is in and nobody's about to let it go, least of all Jerry. Mickey isn't far behind, hammering in emphasis like the backups in a rap band.

By now, I'm ready to forgive that first-set lull, but I'm not sure why they pull up 'Passenger' next. It seems to take Jerry most of the song to get 'into' it, although there's no questioning that the band is roaring behind him. As with most of the show, Brent's dexterous use of the Hammond makes all the difference, swooping & jabbing like a contender. An interesting contrast to Melvin Seals' work in the JGB; Mel had that more ethereal gospel sound, where Brent's is a beery growl. I must say that both continue to impress me.

On to disc three:

'Terrapin' is not a song that comes to mind when I try to think of the early Brent era, but this one proves worthy indeed. Not that this is immediately evident -- from the outset, it appears to be a rather unenergetic version. This soon proves to be exactly the wrong perspective: by taking such an understated tone, the band is able to glide off effortlessly after the storyteller's nonconclusion. Here, the band shines, ample compensation for our time, though the end-jam drops back into lethargy. This 'Terrapin' is not, overall, a great version, but the intertransitory jam is wonderful.

Perhaps realizing this, they soon jump into PITB, and now we're REALLY rolling. It's not a long jam that follows, but it certainly GETS somewhere; five songs into the second set, and they play deep. As PITB jams go, I suppose it isn't particularly unusual; it sounds very much like most latter-day PITB jams sound. By that, though, I mean GOOD PITB jams, and I like this one fine. Eventually fading off to drums, Mickey soon picks up the tar, and I have yet to get tired of that. Bring on the Egypt!

There was probably more that got cut, because the tar ends and Jerry picks up. The Compendium reviewer makes a lot of the Space that follows, and it is very spacy; I can't say that it seemed particularly *appropriate* -- admittedly, a highly subjective quality. At any rate, 'Lost Sailor' soon rises out, taking us back to more musical territory.

'Sailor' and 'Saint' were still very new, and some birth pangs are to be expected. 'Sailor' manages to come off a decent version, but 'Saint' suffers some miscues and metronomic drumming; it may be that at least one person in the percussion section never really liked this song. All told, not really up to the standard we want post-Space. Fortunately, Jerry strums up 'Wharf Rat' at its conclusion, and he's in a mood to play -- both 'fly away' and 'true to me' jams ensue, the whole performance quite enjoyable. Bobby takes us out with a competent 'Good Lovin', and we're done.

All told, not the solid disc that, say, 5-04-77's second set is, but some great jamming all the same: Terrapin's intra-jam, PITB>Drums, and Wharf Rat. Taken with what went before, that's good enough for me :-)
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 11/30/79, at the Stanley Theater - Pittsburgh, PA.
Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 11/5/79 Stanley Theater - Pittsburgh, PA