More re Cornell

A famous old NBA baller offers up his thoughts on May:

Magical May

Well, maybe it isn't really Bill. But, it is a nice impression.


March 19 - Winterland

The second of this three-night run at San Francisco's Winterland Arena featured the band starting off a little slowly, but fortunately they hit their stride toward the end of a long first set and never looked back. This show definitely tops the first night of the run.

There's not much to say about the first few songs of the night, with the exception of "Mama Tried," discussed in the following paragraph. They weren't playing badly, but listening to the recordings, it sounds as if the band was on auto-pilot. Granted, auto-pilot for 1977 is not too shabby, but these first few tunes are lacking the fire that makes for truly special performances.

The exception to this is the excellent "Mama Tried." It is worth noting that the Bobby-sung cowboy tunes like "Mama Tried," "Big River," and "Mexicali Blues" sure did sound great in 1977. These quality of these songs through the years tends to vary depending not on how Bobby sounds (he usually sounds great), but on how invested Jerry is in the performance. If he's on board, his energetic playing and confident backing vocals add immeasurably to the tunes. More often than not in 1977, he was on board, and a great example is the terrific "Mama Tried" from this night.

But the next few songs slip by without much fanfare. It isn't until the ninth song of the set, "Terrapin Station," that things really begin to perk up. This is easily the best of the Terrapins we've reviewed here. It shows none of the sloppiness that I referred to in my review of the March 18 show. It's energetically played from beginning to end. About the only quibble is that the concluding jam ends abruptly, but considering what follows, you simply can't complain: a spectacular and unusual "Playing in the Band" --> "Samson and Delilah" --> "Playing in the Band" jam. The initial "Playing" jam is spacey and compelling, and the quick transition into "Samson" is interesting to hear. This unusual pairing gives "Samson" a very distinct feel. Garcia plays a noticeably different lead riff throughout the tune, sort of an inverted version of the typical riff. It's an excellent performance that features great soloing from Garcia and another interesting and brief transition back into a "Playing" jam. This spacey jam doesn't take long to begin dancing around the main "Playing" theme, but it's several minutes before the band explicitly embraces the "Playing" reprise. There are some very nice dynamics at work here, as things get almost completely silent before the band quickly thunders back into the reprise, which comes complete with a zesty version of the vocal reprise. It's an awesome end to a very long first set.

The band apparently wore itself out during the epic opening set, as the second set is unusually short, comprised of just five songs. But it's quality, not quantity that counts, and thankfully this set picks up right where the first set left off. Things start with an excellent and very fast-paced "Eyes of the World" during which the band sounds amazingly tight and in tune with one another. The jamming on this version is positively thrilling at times. "Eyes" eventually slows down, and when Jerry switches on his envelope filter, you know you're in for a treat. During this era, the wah-wah sound generally means one of three songs, "Estimated Prophet," "Fire on the Mountain," or "Dancing in the Street." At this point on this night it was "Dancing." It got off to an awkward start vocally, with Bobby jumping in with the start of the first verse ("Calling out..") rather than the cheesy "Dancing....dancing in the street" chant that preceded the first verse in this arrangement of the tune. But that's the only thing you'll find wrong with this version of the tune. The jam in the middle of the song is great, with Phil and Jerry pushing things forward and Bobby laying down some nice jangly rhythmn lines. It's a fine example of how nice a jamming vehicle this song usually was in 1977. Rather than returning to the chorus following the monster jam, the band instead slowed things down and settled into an excellent "Wharf Rat." It's a much needed breather after the very hot set-opening duo.

This is a show of unusual pairings, and that trend continues when "Wharf Rat" segues into "Franklin's Tower." After a mellow start, "Franklin's" really picks up steam after the second verse, when Jerry and the drummers kick up the intensity a couple notches following the "If you get confused listen to the music play" line. Then they turn it up to eleven during the closing jam. Great stuff. This jam eventually is overtaken by the intro to "Sugar Magnolia." It's a fairly standard version of "Sugar Mag," which is to say it's well-played and a nice set closer.

Perhaps to make up for the short second set, the band played a double encore, starting with what Bobby's "crazy little number," a lively "One More Saturday Night," and closing the show for the second consecutive night with "Uncle John's Band." This performance of "Uncle John's Band" is first-rate from start to finish, decidedly superior to the previous night's version. As a whole, this show tops the previous night, and stands as contender for one of the top five or ten shows of the year.


Ram Rod

Pardon the link to 'the nation's newspaper' but USAToday is running a story on an auction that Ram Rod's son is holding to redistribute some of the late and venerable roadie's Dead-related collection.

Check it out here.


I know Deadheads are supposed to be welcoming and nonjudgmental, but...

Guess what prominent political commentator is apparently Dead fan? Yep, that's her in the middle of the photo. You may recognize her unless you've wisely trained yourself to avert your eyes whenever you glipmse her demonic face. I shan't print her name here for fear of attracting some of her hateful, ill-mannered ilk to the site.

If you can't resist, you can read her interview with Jambands.com here. For good or ill, the woman surprisingly does seem to know her stuff Dead-wise, although her strong affinity for "Pride of Cucamonga" is a bit curious. The Onion's A.V. Club has a nice take on the interview here.


March 18 - Winterland

During the 70's, San Francisco's Winterland Arena was known as the Dead's "home" venue, and the band sounded pretty comfortable there on March 18, 1977, a show notable for the debut of "Fire on the Mountain" and the only version of "Terrpain Station" which features the "Alhambra" jam that appears on the album version. Is this a truly great show, or just one that's an interesting footnote in the band's history due to a debut and a rarity? Well, I'd say it's too uneven to be considered a truly classic show, but this performance is certainly not without its highlights.

After a forgettable opening version of "Promised Land," the band settled into fine form for a classic version of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" that features some piercing solos by Garcia. The other major highlight of the first set is an absolutely fantastic version of "Sugaree" that shows the band playing as one twelve-armed monster. The Garcia-led jam after the first verse slowly soars to amazing heights and brings this version into "best-ever" territory all by itself. The jam after the second verse is no slouch either, featuring strong keyboard work by Keith punctuated by punchy bursts of guitar from Jerry. The jam after the final verse is a little spacier and perhaps lasts a bit too long before it concludes, but not before this version of "Sugaree" stakes its claim as the version to beat for 1977.

The first set concludes with the first-ever pairing of "Scarlet Begonias" and "Fire on the Mountain." This is an interesting debut for the classic duo, rudimentary but powerful nontheless. The closing jam in "Fire" is particularly strong, although it can be said that this version is perhaps for "Scarlet -> Fire" connoisseurs only, as it barely hints at how well these two songs would gel later in the year, and indeed throughout the remaining eighteen years of the Dead's touring career.

The second is a pretty ho-hum affair by the lofty standards of 1977. The first five songs ("Samson & Delilah," "Brown-Eyed Women," "Good Lovin'," "Ship of Fools, and "Estimated Prophet") are well-played, but each is concise and self-contained, and lacking any real meat to sink your teeth into. The last half of the second set is top notch, however, although the highlights are not where you might expect them upon reading the setlist: "Terrapin Station" -> "Alhambra" -> Drums -> "Not Fade Away" -> "St. Stephen" -> "Around and Around." This version of Terrapin is a bit sloppy, although things pick up nicely after the "inspiration, moves me brightly" turning point in the song. I must admit that I often find this to be case for live versions of this much-beloved tune. It's tough to beat a great version of "Terrapin," no question, but it's a song that the band struggled with throughout the years, particularly at the start, when the band too-often seemed sluggish and out-of-synch. That's the case with this version to a degree. But the closing jam on this night is great, with the band having found its footing, and it's a real treat to hear them slip into the "Alhambra" jam. It's well-played, and certainly makes you wish they had played it more often. But it's short-lived and little more than an interesting novelty really, not a make or break moment in the set by any means.

The real highlights of this set are a powerful 20-minute "Not Fade Away" out of Drums and the set-closing "Around and Around." In his excellent book Dead to the Core, Eric Wybenga makes the case for this version of "Not Fade Away" as one of the best ever. It's certainly a highlight of this particular show, but one of the best ever? That's some high praise and I don't think I'd go that far. But it is nice to hear the band infuse an old warhorse like this one with a real sense of urgency. As for "Around and Around," it simply rips. Seems like '77 was a great year for this otherwise ordinary song, as these versions I'm hearing from thirty years ago really shred it up. A really nice "Uncle John's Band" finishes things off. It's a version that goes from good to great when the jam after the final verse really takes off. Great way to end a historic night at Winterland.


Page on XPN

I have been enjoying the new 'Tapers Section' of dead.net and I promise some thoughts on the spate of shows on my docket soon. The thesis is clearly stealing focus from this project (and many others, so don't feel too bad). I have been particularly enjoying the week of my birthday, 1/26, as there are precious few deadshows from late January it was exciting to get some high quality downloads available. One quibble with the format is that the Dead have to realize that lots of people will be downloading the audio content and while the 'roundup' at the end of each post is nice it hardly makes it convenient. Since these seem to be readily available I have been eschewing downloading to simply stream the cuts using winamp.

Now, on to the subject matter. If you have the time or energy head on over to NPR, via WXPN's site, to check out David Dye's interview with Page McConnell. I will be listening to it shortly to see how it compares to Matt Reilly's interview with Page on XPN's own Jamnation program. I heard the latter but not the former. I've always been struck by Page's, hmm, earnestness? and it seemed on display in this interview. I have to admit, when I first heard that Page was releasing a solo album I was plenty skeptical (and still am). But after hearing this interview I am more apt to check it out.

Some interesting tidbits:

- when Matt Reilly referred to Phish's status as 'on hiatus' Page was quick to point out that 'hiatus' is a bad word to describe their current situation. That 'broken up' is much better since it implies a finality.

- when asked about the inclusion of his former Phish band-mates on the new album he described it thusly (paraphrase): Well, you have to remember that me and the engineer/producer spent about a year-and-a-half in the studio working on this thing. Jon Fishman came in for like a day to play some drums. On another day Mike came in and laid down some tracks and on another day Trey came in and helped out. So it really isn't a collaboration by any stretch. He added that while they may not work together they do genuinely enjoy each other's company, despite also mentioning that years on the road take serious toll.

- He said that 'H.O.R.D.E.' was a terrible name to describe the 'genre' of music that is now generally referred to simply as 'jam-band'. In fact, the discussion was about the term 'jam-band' and Page went out of his way to proclaim his disdain for 'H.O.R.D.E.' I guess he either has a problem with John Popper or Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere.


Taper's Section

If you haven't noticed already, official vault archivist David Lemieux is running a pretty cool feature over at Dead.net called the Taper's Section, where he gives a weekly run-down of notable performances from the Dead's thirty-year history. The features take the form of "This Week In Dead History" and include links to free mp3 downloads of the official vault recordings of the performances referenced. This week there's nearly three hours of music posted, including the mammoth version of "Sugaree" from thirty years ago today that was recently reviewed in this space. There's some other really great stuff in this week's edition, including a few choice nuggets from our little neighborhood: 1977. And if you're just now discovering this feature (like I am), you're in luck because all the previous weeks' editions (dating back to November of last year) are available on the site, with the links to the mp3s intact.

If this is an effort to win back the goodwill of Deadheads following the archive.org controversy, I must admit it's well-played. I certainly hope this excellent feature continues. Check it out.