Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks Vol. 7-April 24th, 1978 'Heart of Gold Band'

     Sticking out of the mailbox today I excitedly discovered Grateful Dead Dave's Picks Vol. 7. After a quick excavation I promptly dropped the first set into the 'rock room's' CD player for an afternoon of aural discovery. The preserved concert hails from a deep and wondrous, but also under appreciated era in Grateful Dead history. The performance of April 24th, 1978 in Normal, Illinois had been in the works for sometime, as it was a candidate for release in the short lived and now defunct Grateful Dead download series. It's a relatively well known show from a tour with more than a few highlights. This three disc set finds the band in jubilant and fiery form, taking even pedestrian numbers to definitive heights. The drummers are off the hook, crashing with a reckless abandon around their kits. The band is playing on a knife edge, and stand poised. While not the most popular choice to some discerning Deadheads, this show is one of the best of the tour, and captures for posterity the band playing powerful enthusiastic rock shows, while still remaining completely 'Grateful Dead'.

     The April 1978 tour is sometimes hit and miss, but for the willing to search, one can uncover intense evenings of magic. This isn't 1972 remember, the shows are formatted, streamlined and tailored to some of the bands new habits.  In my humble opinion April 21 or April 22 could be an official release just as much as this show from the 24th. A bit over two weeks later during the second leg of the tour both the May 10 and 11 concerts hit crazy peaks, immense enough to be represented on Dick's Picks 25. Some things to notice and concentrate on during this era's performances are the extended and communal drum sessions, Weir's slide guitar excursions, and Garcia's return to playing the 'Wolf' after a two year break with his Travis Bean guitar. The Wolf was now outfitted with new Dimarzio single coil pick ups and a upgraded effects loop increasing Garcia's arsenal. My personal favorite factor in Garcia's playing during this time is his quivering full guitar tone, similar to a psychedelic trumpet! This sound translates well to some of the other recordings available from this tour. This official recording was captured by none other than Betty Cantor-Jackson, which promises the listener balanced dynamics, warm enveloping sound, and perfect levels. Also of note during this era are the exaggerated and over the top vocals expressed by all the members of the band. Garcia quite possibly never offered such emotive vocals in the Dead's career as during this tour.

     The show opens with the normally unassuming 'Promised Land', which in this case builds quickly to the explosive caliber of a show closer with an extended and rocking outro jam. Anyone who has listened to a good amount of Dead, can tell you by an opener such as this that the band means business. Ever heard the saying, 'When Phil's on, the band's on?', it was made for concerts like the aforementioned. One of the finest versions you will ever hear.

     Jerry follows up Bobby with a rotund and juicy 'Ramble On Rose' that lumbers, tipping buoyantly from side to side grinning. Garcia's vocals, true to this era, still contain his smooth youthfulness, but have acquired a growling emphatic intensity. His enunciation and off mike asides are proof of the high times that the entire group was having on this tour. The smiles are contagious and can be heard leaking through onto the soundboard recording. Jer brings 'Rose' to a prominent central summit playing out a colorful array of guitar fireworks, and crushing the finale vocals.

     The oft played pairing of 'Me and My Uncle' and 'Big River' gets an inspired reading with the recently released (December 1977) Bee Gee's track 'Stayin Alive' receiving musical quotes throughout both songs. The riff gets bounced around by Weir before 'Uncle' and then Godchaux quotes the melody line throughout both numbers in a playful fashion. Garcia gets in on the fun by  quoting the disco licks throughout 'Big River' tastefully. Cute and playful interplay between Weir, Garcia, and Godchaux highlight the solo segments of this pairing, with 'Big River' peaking nicely. The show thus far is proof that in Grateful Dead land set lists mean nothing. The concert has contained no surprises song wise, but has incorporated powerful and inventive playing into recognizable packages.

      A languid and detailed 'Friend Of the Devil' comes next with Garcia leaving the stock riffs behind, and revealing a special series of melodic statements that again make this a special version. The drummers seem very interested in these Spring 1978 shows, even adding point/counterpoints  to songs they later would drag down to bland dirges. It's refreshing to hear such enthusiasm, and its a testament to the high quality of playing the band had become accustomed to in the 1970's.

     'Cassidy' trickles in like a summer rain and is a high octane version that both soars, glides, and dives like a whirling seabird. This is the era in which this song really started to expand, gaining its color and personality. Moving forward on anxious percussion, 'Cassidy' unfolds, reveling a surreptitious center that finds the three guitarists wrapped in a colorful embrace. The song builds to a short but oh so sweet central climax that reveals the first exploratory musical peak of the set.
     A shifty and rhythmically unique 'Brown Eyed Women' continues the musical journey, with the drummers hitting the 'three' as the song begins, giving the track a new groove. 'Brown Eyed Women' was in its mature state during 1977 and 1978 and this version contains the defining features that make up the best versions. Garcia's guitar bellows profoundly, as the drummers beat there sets into submission, even Weir's amateur slide excursions don't detract from the jamming.

     A song made for the heavy and heady days of 1978, 'Passenger' rides shotgun with shrieking slide guitars and Lesh's chunky chordal explosions. Weir and Donna sound great with joint vocals on this track which keeps the high energy of the set at an increased level. Jerry scrubs up some bubbles with a lumpy trill induced solo that brings the energy to a fevered pitch. The buzz in the auditorium is tangible on the recording. Another unusual spot for magic, but the band is conjuring nonetheless.

     Garcia brings the level down slightly with a soulful 'It Must Have Been the Roses' that once again is played with a crisp concentration, making it a top notch version. Dave picked a good one. The first set comes to a monumental conclusion with an atomic version of 'The Music Never Stopped'.
Opening on the eager drummers funky groove, the group falls into a slippery shuffle. Once the lyrics are finished with, the band oscillate into a breezy alternating collection of riffs. The jam gently rises and falls with Lesh's persuasion as Garcia weaves between musical trees. Weir hits well timed and lush strokes that signal the fall into the final closing extravaganza. Hope you have on your dancin shoes, as Garcia twists deep string bent melodies that exist for the moment, then fly away. Hopelessly danceable and euphoria inducing, the boys take this one as far as they can building a 'best of' version. The scrubbing and thrashing peak delivered by Garcia and punctuated by the drummers will give you chills. 1978 is one of the years for 'Music Never Stopped',its versions like this one that prove it.

     Bobby then announces the set break, and the band take a rest before raising the musical stakes with a stunning second set opener. A thick slice of 'Scarlet Begonias' is served with dynamic drums and hopped up guitarists. This is a big cozy version. The expanding solo segment goes a few glorious laps with Godchaux and Garcia arranging scales into an amazing floral arrangement. Following the 'heart of gold band' lyrics the band stays with the exit 'Scarlet' riff a bit longer than usual, feeling their way, sounding pensive. Weir then hits some whistling slide licks, Godchaux and Lesh intertwine in the center, the drummers begin to perk up. Garcia claws his way to a lookout, smelling the air for smoke, searching, finding, discarding, following, chasing. The band reaches their first signpost at a bit after ten minutes, at half after Garcia hits a speedy turnaround that fires up the paisley steamroller, rolling forward, as if operated by a dream. A series of jamming waves cascade over each other as the band has now found their special place. At twelve minutes there is a descending and watery release by Weir and Garcia that ends in Garcia turning on the Mutron pedal for the signal into 'Fire On the Mountain'. At thirteen minutes the band falls into a nifty call and response that morphs into a sideways entry into 'Fire' proper. Lesh plays his recognizable ringing signature riff completing the journey.

     The 'Fire' continues the trend of a top notch performance as Jerry really digs in vocally, letting loose with a 'Let It Burn' addendum and intense voice expressions. His solos contain endless melodic variations on the 'Fire' theme, all unique. Lesh is Garcia's shadow, never far behind, his soul mate in music. Weir scrapes his fingers down the chalkboard with some of his usual slide playing, but in his 'Weird' way it fits just right. A fine group effort, and a personal favorite.  Honestly, for me the 'Good Lovin' that follows does not have my entire attention as I am still digesting the grandiose version of 'Scarlet/Fire' that scrambled my synapses in this wonderful quality. "Good Lovin' was probably great to witness, is a solid rendition, but it pails as a tack on to the 'Scarlet/Fire'. Wow.

     Garcia comes right back with a majestic and detailed 'Terrapin Station' that benefits from the crazed drummers. An explosive ending prefaces the next highlight, a deep, rainforest jungle drums. Anything that can make a sound is banged upon, by the drummers, roadies, crew, and the band, a characteristic of the percussion segments taking place nightly in 1978. This show is no different with a plethora of bangs and beats emanating from the stage. Of course, Billy and Mick do most of the work, and keeping with the trend of the evening they pound out the ghosts. Spooky steel drums and repetitive endless monkey calls reverberate through the metaphorical forest landscape. This fourteen minute display gets out there quick and is capable of taking the listener 'there'. The drum expedition leads nicely into a psychedelic pre-MIDI space. Garcia slathers succinct Mutron runs over the fading steel drums leading into a Weir/Garcia duo of trippy shadow sounds. Garcia touches on the 'Close Encounters' theme briefly, like a landing butterfly, while Weir scrapes wavy and metallic sounds from his insect instrument. This early space experiment reaches some dark corners of the universe, it also breaks some unique musical ground, eventually revealing the strata of undiscovered themes. Lesh puts forth some snarling rumbles, the drummers jump back on their kits and the weightless space starts to lift, rising into a short rolling jam that eventually becomes the 'Not Fade Away' introduction.

     Similar to other versions of the era, 'NFA' is ushered in on a slumbering and heavy groove. Once the verses are sung, the jam begins. It contains some exciting moments, but it does not stretch its legs as some other versions from Fall 1977, Spring 78. But even this 'average' take keeps your feet tapping and head bobbing, with attentive playing by the entire band, but nothing new is said. Godchaux's piano is intermittent, becoming silent at some points, but so is the issue for Keith on this tour. Again, in my opinion Garcia's guitar tone and technique are a highlight of this performance, the following shows and the entire tour. At half past six minutes the group hits on a disorienting peak that Garcia steers into a thumping groove the drummers jump all over. The inspiration leaves quickly though, as the jam peters out slightly and the band riffs on the normal Bo Diddley beat, bouncing some licks off the wall to see what sticks.

     'Not Fade Away'' segues perfectly though, as it deconstructs into a mournful 'Black Peter'. Another song that benefits from Garcia's investment in his vocalizations on this tour. For a brief moment 'Wharf Rat' peeks its head from under the docks, then disappears as 'Black Peter' raises his voice for a final eulogy. Played with wistful dynamics and a sleepy tempo 'Black Peter' nestles in the Garcia ballad spot beautifully. A perfect 'air guitar' solo extends from the song proper, with Garcia bending strings and pulling taffy, building the tension that eventually releases into a wham bam 'Around and Around'.

     The quintessential show closer for the time, 'Around and Around' hits a high octane rock and roll shimmy that spotlights the band thrashing their instruments for the rock and roll gods. Weir never stops rocking at center stage, using all of the 'rocker' tools at his disposal, taking the band up, down, and eventually blasting straight through the finish. Jumping into double time the band blows some fire then crushes everything in their path, bringing the show to an exhilarating conclusion. A perfect second set that includes exploration, rock and roll, tribal gatherings, and as we will see next for the encore, music from the radio pop parade.

     After the crowd's appreciative response the boys return to the stage for a rare and good time cover of Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves of London'. A favorite of the group, and a popular track of the time, the band jubilantly strut there way through the newly added song. Good or bad, depending what side you are on, this version is filled with Bob Weir slide guitar excursions, squeaking and squealing during the solo segments...most of the time in key. But all is forgiven, because the enthusiasm can be felt by the crowd and the group, throughout this boisterous concluding song. The fade out of 'Werewolves' contains a group vocal jam, including Lesh jumping on mic for some rare vocal additions. Good stuff with Garcia and Weir showing off their falsetto prowess. A wonderful communal ending to a marvelous and diverse performance.

     While not the psychedelic beast of the 1960's or the 'turn on the time' band of pre retirement, this 1978 edition of the Grateful Dead has its own special charms. The Spring of 1978 was still a good time for the band , where even their bad nights had great moments! The attitude of the players combined with their heavy hitting orchestrated approach, made for shows that walked the tightrope between disaster and alchemy nightly. They always took the crowd along for the trip, and they can still do it today through their substantial archive.

https://www.facebook.com/TalkFromTheRockRoom



The Music Never Stopped-4 24 1978

2 comments: