Series A Night At the Family Dog
Family Dog At The Great Highway - San
Feb. 4, 1970
first rendition of the Grateful Dead's Download series that is not a
numbered volume is entitled A Night At The Family Dog. The
set is served up in its entirety and is from 16 track master tape.
It only lasts around fifty minutes, but some
sensation filler rounds out the disc.
the bands short set, the band doesn't have time to launch a thirty minute
"Dark Star" or "The Other One," but they pack a
lot into the set, a whole lot. Pigpen leads the band to start and conclude the
set in fine fashion.
are not too many Garcia numbers on this set, "Black
Peter" is sung so sweetly with stinging guitar runs that are enhanced
with Phil runs and Bobby fills talking right back at Jerry. You'll
likely play this two or three times in a row so counting the
multiple listens and with the addition of
"China Cat Sunflower," one could unsuccessfully argue that there are
really four or five Garcia songs.
"St. Stephen" is split with "Not Fade Away" in
the middle. It
is very, very well executed, all three sections, especially the
transition from "Not Fade Away" back into "St.
Stephen" and on through the powerful conclusion. It glides
miraculously into "In The Midnight Hour," which is Phil's
answer to Bobby's question, "what could be the
answer to the answer man."
are three "filler" tracks. The sound quality is not
as good as the featured show. The
version of "Dancing in the Streets" is certainly worthy.
Right as I was losing interest around
the 8:35 minute they launch the "Tighten
Up Jam" for around one minute before
they lead back into the theme of the song. Really nice!
the band concludes a strong version of "Good Lovin'" we hear the joyous
introduction to "Uncle John's Band." I sure wish that
track was included too.
short and concise set from the featured evening is quite enjoyable and
packs a lot into 50 minutes.
Add to that two extended bonus tracks and we'd certainly highly recommend
the Download Series A Night At The Family Dog.
Barry Small ©
Grade A -
by Ramble On Joe
"Hard to Handle"
-- not gonna rival your favorite, but a reasonable start to this
"Black Peter" --
I know some people aren't too fond of this song, but it's a strong
reading and well performed.
"Me and My Uncle"
-- likewise, I suppose.
Rider" -- ah, now we're getting someplace. 1970 China>Riders
have a certain quality owing to two drummers but no sympathetic
keyboards to smooth out the sound. A mite more flinty, but certainly
not lacking. All in all, the arrangement was already fixed, though,
and here's the evidence.
Stephen">"Not Fade Away">"St.
Stephen"> -- I've never heard these songs before, but it
sounds OK ....psych!! "Stephen" is essentially just an
intro to NFA, where the band really digs in. I don't think anyone
can deny this is largely where the band was at in those days: check
your brain at the door and lose yourself to a seemingly endless
groove. Particularly interesting is how they pull the
"Stephen" riff out of the heat of the NFA end-jam; there
should be an award for that kind of thing. Of course, they follow
that by botching the next transition between parts of
"Stephen" itself, which should have been much easier :-)
Hour" -- Shrugging off one missed transition, they nail the
next one and revisit some old material. This should be a step up but
somehow seems like a step down, as the tempo drags more than
swaggers. This might have you wondering why it was included. That
question would be answered once they get past the established lyrics
and Pigpen begins improvising; while not tremendous, it is yet
another example of his value to the band. Running out of steam, he
lets the instruments take over a while. But he ain't done: in a
couple minutes he's back, and ready to talk to the young men in the
audience a bit. While I can't say this is anywhere as notable as his
pitch during "Lovelight" on LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, it is at
least different than any other I've heard, and unusually strong on
"Dancin' in the
Streets" -- The band really seems slow here; "Dancin"
seems even slower than "Midnight Hour" did. Not bad, for
that; Pigpen even contributes some nice organ backing on the chorus.
Upon finishing the lyrics, Bobby invites the audience to dance,
which suggests they weren't yet; perhaps this accounts for the
diminished performance. Languidly, the band enters the jam as if
they expect to be playing it for the next hour -- no hurry, no
intensity, just a laid-back groove that sounds like it could last
all night. Things pick up a bit after a few minutes, as Bobby
introduces the "Tighten Up" chords; this seems to
galvanize the band into something more like what we expect. Sure
enough, even Pigpen participates, with results that are acceptable
if not particularly noteworthy. Bobby finally resumes the lyrics
with no sense of anything necessarily having been accomplished, but
at least attempted.
Bobby then makes some
announcements regarding trouble with Phil's bass, and fills time
with a brief, no-solo "The Monkey & the Engineer"
(which still seems to have Phil playing along). This is brief but
exceptional, with Jerry providing accompaniment and harmonies, and
no drums of note until the final chords.
A brief foray into the drum
kits introduces "Good Lovin", and it ain't a short one;
dispensing with the lyrics, the band goes deep for the jam --
someone walking in late could be excused for thinking they'd taken
hours to get here rather than dived right in. No doubt about it:
this is Class A jamming from the get-go, focused more on meaning,
perhaps, than intensity. At one point, it even drops down to just
Phil and the drums; soon, Phil drops out as well and it's mostly
metals ringing ghostly through the room. This brings Bob and Jerry
back in, and it's Phil's turn to give way; ideas swirl and flow like
oil on water. soon enough, they settle into a throb, and Pigpen
steps in to give us his special mix of confessional and advice.
This, seemingly, is just what the band needed, and the simmer comes
up to a boil. And that's where they form the perfect match: the
anxiously assertive front man, the keenly whetted band swooping and
circling behind him. Pigpen wheedles and declaims like the
combination of faith healer and circus side-show barker he sometimes
was; Jerry, Phil, Bill and Bob locked together into the formula
racer he's driving. With no apparent cue or warning, they whip right
back into "Good Lovin" with all the passion and fire
they'd been building the previous twelve minutes. I doubt anyone
went home unimpressed :-)