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.


Some Miis

That is of course our friend Bobby Dylan on the right.

I'll post my thoughts on the Springfield show in response to Jon's real soon. But, last night, I was having some fun with the Wii and made these little buddies to play doubles tennis with. Jerry is surprisingly swift and Bobby has a wicked backhand.


April 23 - Springfield Civic Arena

Our co-contributor hooked me up with 3/18 and 3/19, so reviews of those two nights will be forthcoming, followed by 4/30 as suggested by Bob. (I assme you meant 4/30, and not 4/3, right Bob? My DeadBase doesn't list a show for 4/3). But first I'll tackle 4/23 because it's a show I've been listening to for about a month now, and as great as it is, I'm ready to get it off my Rio Karma to make room for something else. (It's ridiculous that I feel so constrained by a 20 GB music player, but I do).

This show from Springfield, Mass. kicks off nicely with an excellent version of "Sugaree" that makes you wonder why the band didn't open shows more often with this tune. Generally speaking, it's a song that starts slowly (like the band itself many nights), but a good version allows the band an opportunity to tear it up a little bit (or sometimes a lot). And yes, this is a good version. It's far more polished than the performance from a month earlier (3/18) at Winterland Arena, although the Winterland version boasts more exciting and unusual soloing by Jerry. They're both awesome versions of a classic Dead song -- have your self a good time and listen to them both back-to-back and try to choose your favorite of the two. I think the version you choose probably says something about your personality -- we should have one of our interns do some research on that.

A charging, uptempo "Cassidy" follows. It's a short, no nonsense version, but it's very well-played and the Betty Board (with great stereo separation) allows you to hear each band member playing in perfect synch with one another. Bobby and Donna are in good form vocally on this one. The "Loser" that follows is excellent and features a wonderfully sharp and emotive solo from Jerry after the verses and before the final chorus. A typically firey '77 version of "New Minglewood Blues" is next, and four songs into this show, and it's official: we're off to a pretty kick-ass start. This could be a special night....

"Ramble On Rose" is next, and though it's well-played, it's a bit of a momentum-drain after the excellent start. Things pick up a bit with a nice and very up-tempo version of "Me and My Uncle" that features excellent guitar work from both Bobby and Jerry as well as a delightfully bouncy bass line from Phil. Keith sounds great on piano too -- hell, this is about as good as this little cowboy tune can sound.

Next up is "Row Jimmy." I'm just not a "Row Jimmy" fan, but suffice to say that if all versions were this lively and well-played I might change my mind about the tune. That being said, I'd rather hear just about any other first-set Jerry tune in this spot. A really nice "All Over Now" picks up the pace a bit, and again Phil treats us to a very nice bass line laid underneath Garcia's sharp lead. Those of us who are Bobby connoisseurs have got to love Bobby's vocal delivery on this one: "She used to run around....with every man in TOWN!" and "Baby used to stay out...all night LONG!" Good stuff if you can allow yourself to get into such theatrics. (It's not hard, just lighten up a bit).

Had this excellent set ended with "All Over Now," it would certainly merit your attention, and in fact would stand as an outstanding example of how great the Dead sounded in 1977. But the first eight songs of this show were merely a set-up to what comes next. Namely, the third-ever pairing of "Scarlet Begonias" and "Fire on the Mountain." Although the combo is still in its infancy here, it's simply one of the best versions I've heard, from any year. The transition jam isn't particularly notable, but these are simply awesome versions of both songs. "Scarlet" busts out of the gate at full speed and features some unusually passionate Jerry vocals. Listen to him growl the "ain't nothing wrong with the way she moves" line at 2:24. The bouncy group playing on this version is simply fantastic, and even discounting the "Fire" that would follow, this is a top notch "Scarlet" that features the band playing with reckless (but not too reckless) abandon. The transition to "Fire" is rudimentary -- the band just eases into it. Phil's "Fire" baseline and Bobby's rhythmn part both start well before Jerry's wah-wah lead. There are some vocal flubs by Garcia, but he more than makes up for it later in the tune, believe me. The jam after the first verse is excellent and has Jerry taking some cutting solos over very nice ryhtmn work from Bobby. But the song really kicks into high gear toward (what seems like) the end. The "Fire....fire on the mountain" refrain that follows the last verse is absolutely hypnotic, and the unpredictible closing jam is jaw-droppingly good and thankfully longer than usual. This is a "Fire" that refuses to go quietly into that good night. Thus a great first set is elevated even higher by an incredible set closer. It's mammoth versions like this that caused the band to switch "Scarlet -> Fire" to its rightful spot as a second set anchor.

Could the second set live up to the lofty standards set by the excellent opening set? Perhaps not quite, but there are certainly highlights aplenty in the second set too. Things start off pretty well with solid but unspectacular versions of "Estimated Prophet" and "Bertha." A short but well-played version of "The Music Never Stopped" is a little less than satisfying, as it simply leaves you wanting more. The low point of the night may be the "Help On the Way" that follows. Musically it's not bad, but Jerry seems to botch as many of the lyrics as he gets right, making for a painful listen. Unfortunately "Slipknot!" is not all that revelatory either, but thankfully there are no words for Jerry to worry about. It's a slightly listless version, and it doesn't really set the stage particularly well for the classic transition into "Franklin's Tower." But all is forgotton over the course of this intense, ten-minute version of "Franklin's."

It starts innocuously, with the familiar mellow groove reaching out gamely, but not yet grabbing hold. This version features Keith's synthesizer counter-balancing Jerry's lead very nicely. Things start to get a little hot around the three minute mark during a nice jam between the second and third verses. But it's the jam following the third verse, after the "if you get confused, listen to the music play" line that really kicks things into high gear. Listen to the music play indeed -- and listen to it loud if you can. Just at what seems like the perfect moment, the Betty Board that I have switches to a an audience recording, presumably due to a gap in the soundboard recording. It's an absolute rush to hear this snippet of the audience recording, as it features the crowd responding to the band's intense playing with wild cries of delight. Listen to this "Franklin's" for yourself, it's a gem...perhaps one of the best ever.

"Franklin's" gives way to a version of "Around and Around" that elevates this little Chuck Berry tune to about the highest heights it can achieve. It's one of those firey versions in which the band suddenly ups the tempo about four minutes in and never looks back. Just as it seems that perhaps the band is about to close the set, it performs a quick segue into "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad." This is a tune that was so consistently well-played throughout the Dead's long career that it's always nice to see it pop up in a setlist. This is especially true in 1977, a year in which the song was played only seven times. This is a typically great version, with the band firing on all cylinders. "Not Fade Away" follows, and unlike "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," this is a song that tended to vary widely in terms of performace quality. At its most supercharged, it felt like the Dead's very own theme song (albeit written by Buddy Holly), and was marked by communal sing-alongs and meandering but penetrating Garcia solos. At its most underwhleming however, the song was an overlong bore, marked by meandering and tedious solos by Garcia. The version played this night belongs somewhere between these two extremes. Well better than average, but not exactly a classic. But most importantly it doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a nice conclusion to a very good second set that contains some must-hear moments. An encore of "One More Saturday" night ends the night, and it's a racous, energetic version that caps off a great show.

In many ways this is the prototypical '77 show, feauring intense, driving group jamming that ups the ante in terms of energy level, but that features very little exploratory jamming. The playing is so good in the best spots that such exploratory jamming is not missed by my ears. Despite some off moments, I suspect that this one will merit discussion as one of the tops shows of the year whenever we conclude this ambitious project. I recommend checking out the whole show, and in particular, the versions of "Sugaree," "Scarlet-> Fire," "Franklin's Tower," "Around & Around" and "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad."


Noel Murray and the Dead

Just something to keep in mind. From the Onion's AV Club:

Similarly, I've always preferred The Band to The Grateful Dead, because The Band boiled all that spooky Americana folderol down to fairly tight little folk-rock songs, while The Dead would start with a good melodic foundation and some mythologically trippy Robert Hunter poem, then squander audience goodwill with indifferent noodling. But then I started to turn around on The Dead, after I read Dennis McNally's book A Long Strange Trip, which humanizes the band's excursions into the cosmic, and allowed me to hear the beauty in their imperfection. Even a simple song like "Bertha" exists mainly as an idea: one that The Grateful Dead could express eloquently some nights, and some nights couldn't get out of their heads. For devotees, there was real drama in waiting to hear what kind of night it could be for "Bertha"—let alone something really way-out, like "Dark Star."

-- Noel Murray


Caution: Non-Dead Content

I'm gonna post this 'cause I'd like some feedback. I've been hearing this song a lot on the radio that I listen to and it has bit me good. I'll be checking out the whole album soon. Midlake seems to draw on a lot of 70s influences here and I am loving it.

Midlake -- Head Home



I'll get you the 3/18 and 3/19 shows. Sorry for the delay. We can postpone for now. I'm gonna offer up some thoughts on a show that I absolutely love the 4/3/77 Palladium shows. It reaks of the east coast Dead. I'll also contribute to 4/23.

I am going to repost my comment to your year-in-review here, since I like the give-and-take format better. If anyone else would like to 'post' as opposed to 'comment' let us know. We'll be happy to oblige.

Just a few thoughts in perhaps a too random order:

1) Lily Allen -- I enjoy her songs enough but I don't think anyone will be listening to her in a year or so. That may not diminish this effort but coupled with a truly wooden performance on SNL I don't think her future is bright.

2) Bobby didn't give credit to his forebears in 1967 why expect him to do so in 2007?!?

3) I think you're spot on with The Hold Steady. This release simply isn't different enough from Seperation Sunday. While I enjoy aspects of it I won't be pulling it out in the future and it isn't novel to anyone with an ear for classic rock. Also, you rag on some of the artwork on this years list but this has to be, hands-down, the worst cover art of 2006.


Non-Dead Content: The Year in Music 2006

Here at Live Blogging Dead HQ East, we're busy listening to 4/23/77 Springfield Civic Center and taking notes for a review to be posted soon. (None of our loyal readers has hooked me up with 3/18 or 3/19, so I'll have to skip those for now).

In the meantime, here's a little Non-Dead content: my annual Year in Music list. Bob has already posted his here, but since I have nowhere else to park mine, here it is. These lists give a little insight into what we listen to when we're not scouring the Dead's vaults in service to our loyal readers.

Top Fifteen Albums

1. Lily Allen – Alright, Still

A Britpop masterpiece whose sunny sound is belied by its cutting lyrics -- never before has an album of put-downs and cut-ups sounded like such a party. Allen's tough-girl posturing gets all the press, but the fact that she is able to lay bare her vulnerabilities so movingly in "Littlest Things" is what clinches this as album of the year.

One to download: LDN

2. Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock and Roll

Another brilliant debut from the
UK. Catchy, ironic punk that will have your head bobbing along as you laugh out loud.

One to download: Emily Kane

3. M. Ward – Post-War

This indie folkster delivers the goods in his follow-up to "
Transistor Radio." This one sounds like a shoo-in for album of the year for the first nine tracks, but it loses a little steam at the end.

One to download: To Go Home

4. Mates of State – Bring It Back

This duo's surging pop sound, featuring a nice he/she vocal balance, is vaguely reminiscent of The New Pornographers. The first of two albums on this list with this caveat: ignore the bizarre album cover.

One to download: For the Actor

5. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

A project that sounds like a snoozer -- an album of folk songs associated with civil rights-era icon Pete Seeger -- turns out to be a delightful hootenanny of the highest order with some brassy New Orleans style swagger thrown in for good measure. Arguably, no album in Springsteen's back catalog is more fun.

One to download: Jacob's Ladder

6. The Sounds – Dying to Say This to You

In a perfect non-Clear Channel, non-payola world, this blast of Blondie-meets-Avril Lavigne retro Swedish pop would be a Top 40 hit. The second of two albums on this list with this caveat: ignore the bizarre album cover.

One to download: Painted By Numbers

7. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

If you think you know this Scottish band from their previous efforts (generally marked by their delicacy and introspection) this album will certainly surprise you. It's track after track of exuberant catchy pop.

One to download: Another Sunny Day

8. The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics

It's a testament to just how good
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" was that an album this strong could be considered a letdown. It's a more raw, organic sound than that 2002 classic, but if you're patient with it, it'll grow on you.

One to download: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

9. Cat Power – The Greatest

Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) turns in a lovely set of typically low-key soul and pop. It's not exactly "poppy" in the traditional radio-ready sense, but it's the most accessible album of her career.

One to download: Living Proof

10. Ray LaMontagne – Til the Sun Turns Black

A far more subdued and atmospheric affair than his excellent debut
"Trouble," and an even better showcase for his "not-since-Van Morrison" voice. Nearly every song after the take-it-or-leave-it opener is a real keeper.

One to download: Barfly

11. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Speaking of incredible voices, Neko Case could sing the phone book and I'd listen raptly. Actually, listen to some of the gibberish on this album and it may as well be the phone book. But regardless of what she's singing about on this one, she's in top form vocally and her band sounds great.

One to download: Hold On, Hold On

12. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat

The five best tracks on this release stack up very well with the five best on any other album from 2006 – but unfortunately there is also a lot of filler. Lewis’ voice recalls that of Neko Case, but whereas Case’s lyrics are sometimes too obtuse for her own good, Lewis’ are occasionally too transparent.

One to download: You Are What You Love

13. Tom Petty – Highway Companion

A great collection of songs from the consummate professional. This batch of tunes (delivered sans Heartbreakers) sounds both fresh and familiar.

One to download: Down South

14. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

Jack White's on quite a roll: first his excellent contributions to the
"Cold Mountain" soundtrack, then producing Loretta Lynn's much-ballyhooed comeback "Van Lear Rose," and 2005's triumphant return from the White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan." He’s earned the benefit of the doubt and his winning streak continues with this infectious garage rock side project.

One to download: Steady As She Goes

15. Los Lobos – The Town and the City

A reliably solid effort that touches on immigration issues without being heavy-handed.

One to download: Little Things

Also Recommended (In this Exact Particular Order)

Bob Dylan – Modern Times

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy listening to this one very much, but come on, it’s a little overrated. Only Dylan can get away with so much blatant “borrowing.” (How can he claim exclusive songwriting credits for “Rollin and Tumblin’,” “Someday Baby,” and “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” without acknowledging these songs’ origins in the folk domain?) And I don’t ever need to hear Dylan record another awkward lounge shuffle along the lines of “Beyond the Horizon.” But it's recommended listening nonetheless.

The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth

A little bloated and overambitious, but cut out the fat, and you’ve got ten or eleven songs that stack up pretty well with “Is This It” and “Room On Fire.”

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Not quite the rock saviors that the British press would have you believe, but it's certainly worth checking out nonetheless.

Chris Smither – Leave the Light On

Although the sound is timeless on this smart folk-blues album, some of the lyrics are quite topical, as on the Bush-bashing “Diplomacy” and the intelligent design send-up “Origin of Species.”

Built to Spill – You in Reverse

Doug Martsch’s guitar wizardry is as impressive as ever, but the quality of the songwriting isn’t up to the standard set on “Keep It Like a Secret.”

Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

A downer of a listen, and some of the covers are downright corny – but it’s Johnny Cash and in the twilight of his life he’s got the gravitas that's required to validate these tracks. Listen to "Rose of My Heart" three or four times and you'll go from finding it too cheesy for words to memorizing the lyrics in order to sing it to your spouse as you slow dance to it.

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Features the single of the year, “Crazy.” None of the other songs quite matches that gem, but there’s plenty of highly enjoyable bizarro hip-hop on this release from Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse.

Solomon Burke – Nashville

The 60’s soul legend pays homage to classic country with help from Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris. Good, but not quite as strong as his brilliant 2002 comeback “Don’t Give Up On Me.”

Gomez – How We Operate

A nice low-key effort from the British blues rockers who have settled into a nice mature groove at this point in their careers.

Secret Machines – Ten Silver Drops

Strong noisy charging psychedelic rock that isn’t quite the equal of these Texans’ debut, "Now Here is Nowhere."

Slightly Disappointing

Beck – The Information

You'll enjoy it when it's playing, but twenty minutes after it ends you'll be hard pressed to recall a single memorable melody or lyric.

Beth Orton – Comfort of Strangers

It's certainly not bad, but after repeated listens, it just doesn't match up with "Central Reservation" or "Trailer Park." She doesn't seem to be evolving much as an artist.

Golden Smog – Another Fine Day

An enjoyable effort from the alt-country supergroup featuring members of Wilco and the Jayhawks, but it fails to reach the heights scaled on "Down By the Old Mainstream" or "Weird Tales."

Rhett Miller – The Believer

It seems like he's desperate to become a solo pop star, but these songs certainly won't do it for him. Confirms once and for all that Miller is at his best with his Old 97's bandmates.

Hugely Disappointing

Nelly Furtado – Loose

Calculated sellout of the year. It seems like it worked, so good for her. But none of these mindlessly sexed-up songs is anywhere near as good as "I'm Like a Bird," which now seems destined to eternally remain her best song.

Slightly Overrated

Neil Young – Living With War

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment of this Bush-bashing release, but many of these songs consist solely of ham-fisted slogans, particularly on the more lyrically topical songs like "Looking For a Leader" (complete with cringe-inducing lines like, "Maybe it's Obama!"). The more subtle songs, like "After the Garden" and "Families," are the ones that won't sound silly in ten years.

The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

There are some great songs on here like "First Night," "You Can Make Him Like You," and "Southtown Girls," but what it comes down to is that I don't find Craig Finn's debauched-salvation-in-a-cocktail-napkin lyrics to be all that revelatory. And I don't really care for his speak-slash-singing voice.


Swing Auditorium

The Dead's first full show of 1977 took place at Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, California on February 26. The band hadn't played a show in nearly two months -- since New Year's Eve 1976/1977. So you could reasonably expect them to sound a little rusty on this night. But this is certainly not a show to be overlooked. Aside from a little roughness around the edges, the first show of the year proved to be a great harbinger for things to come.

The night opened with quite the declaration of confidence: the first-ever version of "Terrapin Station." It's a well-played version, although it's a little less precise than the truly great versions that would come later. The buildup to the "Inspiration moves me brightly" lyric does not contain the sense of anticipation and power that would come later and the concluding jam seems to end abruptly, but it's nonetheless a nice version for a debut.

Solid, if unspectacular, versions of "New Minglewood Blues" and "They Love Each Other" follow. The former would become quite a dependable first set barn-burner in 1977. The latter is a tune that I far prefer in its original up-tempo version. The fact that the band slowed it and "Friend of the Devil" down to much sleepier tempos after the 1975 hiatus has always suggested to me that certain members of the band were not up to the challenges that may have been presented by performing the up-tempo versions. Just rank speculation on my part, but it's well-known that Jerry's heroin addiction was worsening during this era, and this had to have had an effect on the music.

Another debut follows -- the first-ever "Estimated Prophet," a signature tune for the year. This is a strong, concise version which is heavy on some nice synth work from Keith. This performance makes you wish he had turned to the synth (rather than his favored piano) more often. At approximately seven minutes long, this version features considerably less jamming than later versions would, but hey, it's a debut, so I'm not complaining.

This was followed by a top notch "Sugaree," which unfolds with great Jerry soloing between the verses. Short, solid versions of "Mama Tried" and "Deal" were next, with the latter featuring some particularly fiery playing by Garcia.

The highlight of the first set is undoubtedly the set-closing "Playing in the Band" --> "The Wheel" --> "Playing in the Band" jam. Here the band abandoned whatever sense of restraint had been hovering over them for the rest of the first set and tackled this jam with abandon. The "Playin'" jam is spacey from the outset in a way that is reminiscent of classic '73 and '74 versions, and the slow jam into "The Wheel" is a beauty. "The Wheel" itself is very well-played. This is a great tune that often suffers from being played a little too slow, but this one is almost perfectly paced, and it features some nice ensemble singing. The jam out of "The Wheel" is wonderfully trippy and dissolves back into a charging "Playin'" reprise that closes the set in fine fashion.

The second set starts off with a rousing version of "Samson & Delilah" that showcases how well Bobby's, Jerry's and Donna's voices could work together on a good night. This version also features some nice jangly rhythm guitar work from Bobby that is a great counterpoint to Jerry's sharp leads. Whatever momentum had been generated is unfortunately squandered by the "Tennessee Jed" that comes next. It's not that it's played badly, it's just that, as a somewhat slight composition, it's the sort of tune that I'd prefer to hear in the first set.

[An aside: This is the era in which the dichotomy between first set and second set songs became more pronounced, with the first set featuring more concise versions of simpler, less open-ended songs. The opening set was more or less a warm-up for the second set, which typically featured more intense jamming -- and starting later in 1977, an extended drums segment in the middle of the second set. In 1978, the band introduced the extended space jam following drums, and from then until Garcia's death in 1995, virtually every setlist included "Drums --> Space" in the middle of the second set. Some Heads looked forward to this portion of the show as an opportunity for the band to test the outer limits of sound, while others were bored, confused, or pleased to have a built-in restroom break. I tend to lean toward the bored category, but I do occasionally find a Drums --> Space segment compelling].

The band begins to regain its footing with a version of "The Music Never Stopped" that's a little ragged, but that nonetheless features some hot licks from Jerry and some strong piano work from Keith during the closing jam. "Help on the Way" is a tune that is generally greeted with considerable enthusiasm by Deadheads as it usually signals the beginning of the much-beloved "Help --> Slip --> Frank" trio. But the versions of "Help on the Way" and "Slipknot!" from this night are somewhat timid and underwhelming. "Franklin's Tower" starts off the same way, and features several botched verses from Jerry, but thankfully it picks up considerable fire by the end.

I'm a sucker for the Dead's covers of Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land," and the rollicking version that follows "Franklin's" doesn't disappoint, as it features typically great guitar runs and piano work. The hands-down highlight of the second set has to be the lively "Eyes of the World" that comes next. This is a mammoth "Eyes," with some intense jamming that eventually gives way to a Phil Lesh bass solo of sorts (he's accompanied by the drummers so I guess it's not really a solo). Before long, the all-too-familiar strains of "Dancing in the Streets" start up. Although the disco arrangement is the same as the embarrassing Terrapin Station album version, the excellent three to four minute wah-wah jam in the middle of the tune illustrates why this was a such welcome addition to setlists during the late seventies. Another Chuck Berry cover closes out the second set: "Around and Around." I'm not wild about this tune, but it's an energetic, well-played version that features some over-the-top Bobby vocals. "U.S. Blues" is always appreciated in the encore slot, and the fine version that concludes this show must have sent those in attendance out the doors with smiles on their faces.

In short, I definitely recommend checking this show out. Although there are spots where you can sense the band is regaining its footing after a couple months off, these are fewer and farther between than you might expect. Generally speaking, the band sounds energetic and the excellent setlist doesn't have many holes. In particular, be sure to check out the first-ever “Terrapin,” the "Playing --> Wheel --> Playing" jam that closes the first set and the outstanding "Eyes of the World" from the second set.


The Dead = original Long Tail band?

There is an interesting post on the Long Tail blog that discusses the current trend of bands giving away their recorded works for free on MySpace pages, etc while banking on gigs to earn money.

Anderson's argument is that recording and distribution costs have fallen to virtually nothing so bands feel justified charging nothing for their recorded works while charging for the experience of seeing them live.

The somewhat amusing thing is that he suggests that this is something new in the industry while any Deadhead worth their salt would recognize the business model to share important features with the Dead's very own -- if one could go so far as to call the Dead's incessant touring and taping policy as a 'business model.' One astute commenter named Elvis pointed out the similarities.

But there are differences, in the Dead's heyday recording and distribution costs were not next-to-nothing. Nor was there an internet where the Dead could facilitate the trading of concert recordings. It all arose seemingly spontaneously from the Dead's, or at least Jerry's, insistence that once the music left their fingertips/mouths it no longer belonged to them. It's hard to call that a business model but it worked. Surprisingly well.

There's nothing like the Grateful Dead. And, it seems there won't be anytime soon. MySpace or no MySpace...



One of our contributors, Murph, may find this new webtool handy:


It's a listmaking tool and repository.


One More Saturday Night

Thanks for the b-day wishes, and the excellent 'promo' copy of Live at the Cow Palace, NYE, 1976! I was indeed listening to this fine release at 4:08am... GMT; which means I shut the listening party down a little after 11pm CST. I can assure you that the reason was not due to any defiency with this recording but, rather, a pressing need to sleep.

Since this show is the real opener of 1977 it is only fitting that my thoughts on it serve as some sort of prequel to our series.

The Dead stuck close to home to close out what was a fantastic year of touring after their year-long retirement and played a very solid gig at the Cow Palace just on the other side of the bay from Marin County on the south side of San Fran. The show was broadcast live on KSAN and this release is remastered from the board's recording of the show and presented in HDCD. One notable factor of the remix is that Jerry's guitar seems noticeably lower overall than the raw-ish Betty Boards that document '77.

The opener is a suitably vibed Promised Land and Jerry is on top of things as far as his guitar is concerned. Unfortunately he manages to botch every verse of the Bertha that follows. The first disc closes with an adequately spacey Playin' which clocks in at over 23' and is a bit of an omen for what follows.

There was a celebration to mark the turning of the calendar but the real kick-off to New Years was the positively energetic Sugar Magnolia that kicks off:

Sugar Mag > Eyes > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin' > Samson

The second set is , in fact, two extended jams surrounding a little chestnut called Scarlet Begonias (which would soon -- on 3/18 -- be paired with Fire on the Mountain). After the first and somewhat more rolicking grouping of songs the setlist proceeds:

Around and Around > Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Drums > Not Fade Away > Morning Dew

Just think about that for a while. Then listen to it. There are some real treats on this release. Even Jerry is excited and the band sounds positively thrilled to be playing. The Eyes of the World is quite nice as is the Not Fade Away > Morning Dew.

This is one of the better 'From the Vault' releases that I have heard in a little while. Too many of the more recent shows have some serious issues -- songs, flubs, what-have-you that can detract from the release. While it may be nice to have these from a completist perspective it also means that the pool of shows that can be traded freely is rapidly shrinking. So it is nice to hear a show that I hadn't heard in its entirety before that has so few low points and some truly sparkling versions of old favorites.

I'd love to hear anyone else's comments on this here show and I'd hope that some aspects of this resemble a discussion more than strict essaying. If you wanna join the panel just let me know as we some pretty esteemed readers judging from the comments, etc. Happy listenin'

Happy Birthday Bob!

Today we celebrate the birthday of our fearless co-contributor, Bob! Happy birthday Bob! We know he's already celebrating because if you glance down and to the right you'll see he was listening to "One More Saturday Night" at 4:08 a.m.! Way to rock, Bobby! He tells me he will spend a portion of his birthday putting the finishing touches on our first substantive show review of the year...but I told him to take the day off. Stay tuned.


3/18/77 Anyone??

We're busily listening to the first two shows of the year, 2/26 and 2/27 and will hopefully post our thoughts on those within the next few days. But looking down the road a little bit...I'd love to give 3/18/77 (Winterland) a listen, but it's not available at archive.org. So if anyone could point us to copies of that show (in mp3, streaming, or lossless formats, we're not too picky) we'd be most appreciative. I mean, how could we critique 1977 without hearing the first-ever "Fire on the Mountain"?

While we're at it, feel free to let us know what your favorite '77 shows are. We certainly aren't going to try and listen to all 60 shows from the year (what kind of nerds do you take us for??) but we'll try to listen to as many as we can, and could use suggestions.


Murph's Introduction

Before we dive in to sample and critique a little of the '77 vintage, I'll offer some of my thoughts on what makes the year special, as well as what its detractors cite when they claim it's vastly overrated.

First, the good.... tight playing and shimmering vocals.

After taking a near-complete rest from touring in 1975, the band returned in 1976 and spent most of the year playing competent but somewhat uninspiring shows. They obviously had some significant rust to shake off, and the task was complicated by a personnel addition: in '76 Mickey Hart rejoined Bill Kreutzmann back behind the drum kit(s). If '76 was a band regaining its footing as an ensemble, by 1977 they were cooking with gas. The Dead's playing in 1977 was remarkably tight and energetic, and seemed to grow more muscular as the year progressed.

And not to be dismissed in evaluations of the keys to the '77 sound are the band's vocals. This is an area that is something of an Achilles heel for the band's recorded history, as great playing is often marred by singing that is off-key or otherwise ragged. But in '77, these problems are thankfully not in evidence. Donna Jean's monitors must have been working superbly in '77, as her vocals are almost always on key. (One only need listen to a few '78 shows to hear how awful she can sound when she's not in tune). Bobby's singing is as rich and enthusiastic as ever, and he hadn't quite devolved into the parody of himself that he would become in the mid-80's and beyond with his idiosyncratic phrasing. And Jerry's vocals never sounded better. He sounds commanding and wise beyond his years.

In short, the band was, in many ways, hitting on all strides in 1977. They were playing with seemingly telepathic precision and with a remarkable consistency that they would never again sustain for an entire year. There would certainly be runs of brilliance in later years ('79, '85, '89-'90 in particular), but not like '77.

The bad.... inside the box jamming and predictable setlists.

As great as the playing was in '77, the jamming rarely exhibited the type of adventurousness that characterized their playing during their previous peaks in '69-70, and '73-'74. There are great jams in '77 to be sure, but they generally are jams that find the band staying within the confines of song structure and ratcheting up the intensity with Jerry's solos fanning the flames. The addition of Mickey to the lineup after six years away surely had something to do with this. In his wonderful book, Dead to the Core, which is devoted to critiques of live Dead, Eric Wybenga observes that the Dead with Hart back in the lineup wasn't able to "turn corners as quickly" as in their jazzy '73-'74 heyday. That certainly seems to be the case. Whatever the reasons, there is very little in the way of spacey, exploratory excursions. As a result, the band's sound was more predictable than in years past. And speaking of predictable -- the setlists of 1977 are far less varied than at any other time in their history. The band didn't actually play Estimated Prophet and Samson & Delilah at every show in 1977, it only seems that way. They played 60 shows that year, Estimated was played 51 times, and Samson was played 41. This was not a great year for variety in Bobby's song selection, as Minglewood Blues (35 times) and Good Lovin' (30) were also played to death. He clearly had hit something of a songwriting drought, as Estimated Prophet was his only original contribution to the Terrapin Station album.

As for that album, I must say I disagree with the view offered by Bob, namely that it represents something of a high point for the band's studio efforts. While it does contain three songs (Estimated, Terrapin and Samson & Delilah) that would become warhorses of the band's live repertoire, the album as a whole is characterized by the type of slick overproduction that marred each of their studio albums (to varying degrees) following 1973's underrated Wake of the Flood. The title track earned a spot as showstopper over the years in its live incarnation, and deservedly so. On the album, it's transformed into a ridiculous multi-part suite that is so over-the-top with its heavy-handed orchestral and choral parts that it wouldn't sound out of place in an Andrew Llloyd Webber musical (think Starlight Express). Obviously it's not a show of strength that the album is so slight. It contains only four original compositions (including Donna's "Sunrise") and a grand total of six tracks which clock in at a mere 35 minutes. Among the covers is a very unfortunate disco version of the Motown classic "Dancing in the Streets." This tune was actually a vehicle for some wonderfully funky jamming onstage, but the studio cut is downright embarrassing. The album versions of Estimated, Samson & Delilah and the Lesh-penned but Weir-sung rocker Passenger fare better, but considering how well the band was playing onstage at the time, the album has to be considered a big disappointment.

All that being said, clearly the Grateful Dead had something special going on in 1977, as no performing year provokes stronger feelings. Hopefully this blog will afford us an opportunity to take a closer look and decide for ourselves whether it's worthy of the hype or perhaps a bit overrated.

Up next.... a look at the first show of the year: February 26, Swing Auditorium, San Bernadino, CA.


An introduction - Bob

2007 marks the 30th anniversary of what many consider to be the Grateful Dead's Annus Mirabilis, 1977. This blog was created to both honor and critique that year.

The idea is simple, we're both going to do our best to listen to as much material from this magical year and offer commentary where appropriate. This is my intro. Murph's will follow. Most likely this blog will take a dialogue approach though we'd hope that people will feel free to comment and if anyone wants to join our exploration and post just contact us.

Some background on '77:

While the Dead refuse to be defined by their studio efforts, 1977 saw the release of one of their finest efforts, Terrapin Station which included the title track as well as "Estimated Prophet" which would quickly become concert staples. These songs are noteworthy because of their quality. They also serve as benchmarks and cornerstones of future performances. Benchmarks because a seasoned listener can tell a lot about an individual show by a few seconds listen to an "Estimated" (should it appear). Cornerstones because they efficiently reflect the lineup of the band as well as the show's mood. Further, you'd be hard-pressed to find a truly great post-77 show where either "Estimated Prophet" or "Terrapin" were not played.

The real story of 1977 is told via the quality of the concerts. There are many reasons for this:

·The quality of the performances are top-notch

·The song catalog is incredibly rich; the Dead are able to cull from vibrant and complex new material as well as reinvent staples that they have been performing for nearly 10 years.

·The lineup:
Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals)
Bob Weir(guitar/vocals)
Mickey Hart(drums/percussion)
Billy Kreutzman(drums/percussion)
Phil Lesh(bass)
Keith Godchaux(keys)
Donna Godchaux(vocals)

There is an important caveat here. This is, perhaps, the strongest lineup for the Dead but it only works when Keith and Donna are on. Too often one or the other is not but 1977 represents a year when they are on a lot. The contribution that an in-tune Donna brings to the band cannot be overstated. The same can be said for a more-or-less sober Keith.

·Finally, thanks to Betty Cantor there exists an enormous quantity of sparkling soundboard recordings of many 1977 shows.

These are so-called Betty Boards. Their presence in the trading community turned many people on to the Dead -- particularly the 'gateway drug' of choice for many Dead prophets: 5/8/77. Now that Deadheads are a few keystrokes away from listening to a high-quality stream of nearly any show it is hard to imagine how important these Betty Boards were. Not much longer than ten years ago 'generation' was still an important quality of any recording. As any seasoned analog trader knew, the number of generations you were from the source recording the worse your duplicate sounded. This was more crucial for source recordings that were less-than-perfect to begin with. Any time there is a heirarchy like this, human nature seems to dictate that we organize likewise. Thus, newbies had a hard time getting low-gen recordings of many primal shows. But Betty Boards sounded great right out of the box so it was relatively easy for even a new trader to get their hands on crispy recordings from 1977.