Zimmer's Picks: DeadStash

After a self-imposed hiatus, which lasted much longer than I intended, I am pleased to return with more live music from the DeadStash. Going forward, I hope to continue this on a monthly basis. And, hopefully, offer-up some great music, moments, and history.....courtesy of the Grateful Dead. I will try and stick to some sort of theme within each post, and I am always looking for suggestions.

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On March 2 and 3 I'll be in Chicago, seeing Furthur at the Auditorium Theater. From the shows that I've listened to, Phil and Bobby sound as energized and alive as I have heard in many years. The band is tight and has really opened up the songbook of the Dead. In anticipation of, what I hope to be, a few days of wonderful live music; I can't help but occasionally daydream about what the band may see fit to play. It is with that in mind that I offer up this version of my "Picks". Not only are all of the preceding shows stellar in their own right, but they also contain phenomenal versions of songs that I would love to hear at the Furthur shows. Whether or not I get to hear "my" songs, I'm sure that the music will be great... but here's a few that would put a big smile on my face.

May 1977. Say those two words to any Deadhead and the next word to pop-up in their head is likely "Cornell". The 5/08/77 show, from Barton Hall, is a legendary show among many devoted fans. It is undeniable that it is a phenomenal performance and well-deserving of many of its accolades. Show after show, the spring of '77 was filled with musical-gold. There is good reason why many people consider this to be the apex of the Dead's career.

Lost in the mix of the Cornell-hoopla is a show played just over two weeks later. The 5/25/77 show from the Mosque in Richmond, VA is a prime example of everything that embodies the Grateful Dead... one moment melodically tugging on your heart-strings, the next moment sending you into a dizzying sonic-assault. When looking at the setlist, your eyes will quickly be drawn to the second set... a set that looks like it was constructed based on someone's "dream set". However, if you get greedy and skip straight to it, you will miss some astoundingly beautiful versions of some of my favorite Dead tunes... and ones that I would love to hear Furthur play.

The first set begins with one of my favorite versions of "Mississippi Half-Step". It immediately opens with high energy and crisp vocals from Garcia. The band is on the same page from the first note. The instrumental portions bounce and lilt along, as if they are butterflies gliding on a summer breeze. Even the vocal harmonies match-up beautifully. And the band builds to a much-welcomed crescendo at the end.

Of all of the different styles and themes that the Dead toyed with throughout their tenure, I'm always a sucker for the ballads. The Dead wrote and played some of the greatest tales of love and loss, crime and punishment, loveable losers, and downtrodden heroes ever created. Robert Hunter had knack for creating a sense of nostalgia in characters and stories that, even if they were miles-away from your everyday life, you felt immediately connected to. Garcia provided the emotional support behind the stories to bring them to life. When Jerry sang a ballad, you didn't just hear what he was saying... you FELT it. The rest of the first set is littered with prime examples of exactly this. Give a listen to these versions of "They Love Each Other", "Peggy-O", and "Loser" to hear the Fat Man pour his heart out on-stage.

Oh... and if you're still not satisfied after that, you may want to give a listen to that second set!

Grateful Dead Live at The Mosque on May 25, 1977.

To me, there aren't too many better ways for the Dead to start a second set than with a killer version of "Shakedown Street". Always a fan favorite, this funky number was sure to get the crowd whipped into singing and dancing peak. For my money, the best "Shakedown's" come from the mid-80's... a period of time that many Deadheads would like to pretend didn't exist. Yes, there was sloppy and erratic playing, addiction issues, health problems, and a number of other "stressors", but amidst the turmoil lie some exceptional shows and tours. Spring of 1985 represented the best of the Dead's mid-80's output. And if we're talking about "Shakedown Street" and 1985 in the same conversation, there is one show that stands out from the rest... 6/30/85, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD. Plain and simple, this "Shakedown Street" is as gritty, funky, and deep as they come. Lesh is an absolute monster on his bass and leads the charge right out of the gate. From there, it was no looking back; as the band charges headlong into the unknown. This show has plenty to offer, including good versions of "Big Railroad Blues" and "The Other One"......but the "Shakedown" is what gets my blood boiling.

Grateful Dead Live at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 30, 1985.

Dick Latvala, the long-time archivist for the Grateful Dead, coined the term "Primal Dead" (read a great interview of Dick from the Grateful Dead Hour with David Gans here) . Dick never fully elaborated on what precisely defined "Primal Dead", but within the greater Dead-community there is a general understanding of what he was getting at. For me, the Dead was "primal" during those periods/shows when they were playing with almost reckless abandon... so wrapped-up in the moment that no one, not even the band, knew what was going on. When listening to these shows, you get the sense that the doors may fall off and everything could unravel at any second. The early years of the Dead is stocked-full of primal-sounding material (some would argue that after '70/'71 the Dead lost that primal-feel). Clearly, the mid-/late-60's was an incredibly productive and experimental time for the band. To say that they were pushing the boundaries of music and performance would be borderline inaccurate... because I'm not sure that the band existed in a space confined by boundaries at that time. Jams would build into a feeding frenzy of cacophonous sound, a whirling dervish of energy.

It's not that often these days that I dip back into the Dead's output from the 60's. I really should spend more time there; because, although there are relatively few quality recordings in existence, nearly all of the performances are phenomenal. It seems as though the Dead were incapable of having a "bad" or "off" show during this time. One of my favorite songs from the 60's "Primal Dead" is "Viola Lee Blues". This was one of the first songs that was regularly included in the Dead's repertoire... and became one of the first, and most successful, jam-vehicles for the band. Each time they played it, they seemed to extend it further and further. And it became one of those songs that really allowed the Dead to hone their improvisational-chops. To me, it is the essence of "Primal Dead".

This next show, from Winterland in early-67, captures the Dead in a crucial transitional period. They were beginning to branch-out from the jug-band blues/folksy/roots-pop structure that defined much of 1966, and were really capturing that "primal" feel. The version of "Viola Lee Blues" on this recording is absolutely incendiary. The band extends the jam into places that must have shocked most casual music fans of the time. If it's possible to have each member of a band to be independently soloing, yet to still come together to form something unified and logical, this version achieves that. After the initial round of vocals, the song just explodes out of the gates and is off to the races... foreshadowing what would define the late-60's Dead. The show also features quality versions of "It Hurts Me Too”, “Cream Puff War", and "The Same Thing". And one of the only live versions of "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" the Dead ever played.

Grateful Dead Live at Winterland Arena on March 18, 1967.

Continuing with the "Primal Dead" comes a show that has everything a fan of the Dead's late-60's work could want. The February 15, 1969 show from the Electric Factory in Philadelphia is about as good as it gets... nice versions of "Morning Dew" and "Mountains of the Moon". The "Dark Star" is exceptional, almost on-par with the version recorded two weeks later that ended up on the "Live Dead" album. Unfortunately, the tape is not complete. But do not, I repeat DO NOT, let this dissuade you from giving this show a listen. Fortunately, the recording leaves intact one of my favorite pieces of "Primal Dead"-era music. I always wished that the Dead had seen it fit to leave the "Cryptical Envelopment" piece attached to "The Other One", instead of dropping it from their repertoire for many years. Sometimes referred to as "That's It For The Other One", the "Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment" sequence always gets me rocking. I love the transition from the mellow and melodic "Cryptical" into the heavy, brooding nature of "The Other One". In this version, "The Other One" hits like it was shot out of a cannon, and never lets up. The band then reprises back into "Cryptical" and sinks into an airy, light jam... a jam that winds along and, almost, lulls you into a trance before it begins to build back up and Garcia comes back in with impromptu vocals that then send the jam back off the deep end for another stretch of unbridled exploration.

Grateful Dead Live at Electric Factory on February 15, 1969.

Jerry was often quoted as saying that he didn't particularly care for encores. He felt that a show should stand on its own merits, and that the initial performance really represented the total expression of the artist. Of course, Jerry and the Dead always obliged the eager audiences with an encore. And to end this version of my "Picks", I'll add one more show that has a song that I would love to hear as an encore at one of the Furthur shows.

Much of the 90's output from the Dead is not particularly well received. However, the tours that they did with Bruce Hornsby on keys have provided some great musical moments. The April 7, 1991 show from Orland, FL has plenty of these moments. Hornsby is spectacular on the keys, and his energy seemed to invigorate the entire band... especially Garcia, who sounds and plays with a youthful energy that was often missing during the later years. His singing and playing on "Sugaree" and "Row Jimmy" elicit the kinds of skill and emotion displayed by a much younger Garcia; and the extended jamming from "Playing in the Band" through "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" is energetic and exploratory. However, the "it" moment for me comes only six songs into the first set. The Dead decide to play a song that was a standard in the rotation of the JGB. Sadly, it made only four appearances with the Dead, but remains as one of my most beloved songs. The song I am referring to, "Reuben and Cherise", represents some of the finest lyrics that Robert Hunter ever put to paper. The Garcia Band versions of this tune are splendid (as is the solo-Jerry version from 1982), but I think that the Dead nails it at this show. Give it a listen and see if it gives you shivers, like it does to me.

Grateful Dead Live at Orlando Arena on April 7, 1991.

Well, that wraps-up this installment of tunes from the DeadStash. I hope you get as much joy out of reading and listening to it as I do compiling it. Hopefully, I can run into some of you at the Furthur shows in Chicago, or at other shows down the road.

Enjoy.












"They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones that do what they do." -Bill Graham

Comments

  1. Zimmer's Picks specifically is one of the things that I enjoy most about this site. Articles like this motivate me to share the passion, truly inspiring...

    THANK YOU ZIMMER!!!

    -J-man

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