Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"A Sheep Trying to Seduce a Telephone Pole"

Classic review of Zeppelin's movie The Song Remains the Same from the New York Times 10/21/76:
SCREEN: SONG ‘REMAINS THE SAME’ Zeppelin’s Rock Pulverizes Eardrums at Cinema I By Richard Eder New York Times October 21, 1976 The Song Remains the Same is a movie to listen to Led Zeppelin by. If you want to listen to Led Zeppelin. If you don’t, there’s not point going. If you do, it’s still a dubious proposition. Certainly the sound system at the Cinema I Theater, where it opened yesterday, does full justice to the decibels. Even using the squashed-up balls of paper napkin recommended by a knowledgeable member of the newspaper’s music staff, it was loud. Powered ear-drum floated about. Presumably, though, putting this British rock group in a movie was intended to be the equivalent not of listening to their records but of attending one of their concerts. This is very hard to do on film: We miss the immediacy, the sense of physical presence, and even, to an extend, physical peril. The power of a mass audience to communicate excitement is absent. To make up for this, the film intercuts a variety of scenes while each of the 13 numbers in being performed. A few are more or less realistic – a sequence outside Madison Square Garden, an argument between the group’s manager and a Garden official – and others are fantasy. Members of the group put on cloaks, ride around on horses, stand in the moonlight. They are pseudodreams, like the unconvinced artwork on rock record jackets. The scenes showing the group performing are more informative though not much more powerful. They are dominated by the singer, Robert Plant. A great mass of yellow curls tumbling around his shoulders, Mr. Plant sashays around the stage, posturing, pouting, and conducting a meaningful relationship with a microphone. It looks like a sheep trying to seduce a telephone pole. Possibly this is what led to a PG (Parental Guidance suggested) rating. For the first two-thirds – which was all this reviewer stayed – there seemed to be no other particular threat to the future adults in a stone-deaf civilization.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Boys Take Manhattan: The Beacon Theater 2012 vs. Madison Square Garden 1991

Now that Furthur is in the midst their summer tour, it's time to compare their recent eight-night run in New York City to the Grateful Dead’s historic nine-night NYC run in 1991 to see what can be learned...

Background In 1991, the Grateful Dead took over Madison Square Garden in New York City for almost two full weeks: nine consecutive shows spread out over 11 nights. It was the peak of the Mega-Dead period, and the run was one of the longest in Grateful Dead history (the only longer run was the marathon at the Warfield Theater in 1980: 15 consecutive shows as part of the taping of the Reckoning and Dead Set albums). The string of concerts was the most in a row for any band ever to play at Madison Square Garden, a record which would stand for nearly a decade (until Bruce Springsteen toppled it with 10 consecutive shows in 2000).

At this point in the band's career, to quote Dennis McNally, the band's former publicist, "it seemed at tour time that it was the Dead’s world and everyone else just lived in it." And that was certainly how it felt in the few square blocks surrounding MSG. The population of the usually straight-laced midtown area swelled by what seemed like millions of freaks. Suddenly tour bums, paper-tab mystics, and psychedelic hucksters occupied every square inch of urban space.

The event offered a slice of New York with a topping of magic mushrooms. Bus fumes mixed with patchouli. Angry horn-honking mixed with tranquilizer-slow bongo-playing. The multi-level parking garage across the street from the Garden turned into the largest open-air drug bazaar in the history of the world. Even King Kong seemed to have gotten in on the act. Someone (the City? the Garden? the Dead?) paid for an enormous inflatable Kong balloon to float above the entrance to MSG, proudly donning a monster-sized tie-dye shirt. One couldn’t help but think of him as an aging head, secretly skipping out from his day job as a float in the Macy Day’s parade, going to relive his prodigal youth for one night at a show.

And it was all thanks in no small part to the peculiar moment in New York history. The event occurred in the giddy instant when the city realized it had successfully slipped through the fingers of the Civic Grim Reaper, after it stopped being a play-land for street criminals and before it became a play-land exclusively for the super-rich, that beautiful and brief twilight period when the city was still a vast, affordable repository of all that was too weird and wonderful for the rest of America (any serious New Yorker is loath to attribute this grace period to the famously inept David Dinkins, but the years do more or less match up…) Nowadays of course, everything's different in the City. Manhattan is leading the charge to break the record for a $100,000,000 apartment. The Park 'n' Lock across from MSG costs $20 an hour. The cops will write you a summons for just about anything in the name of maintaining "quality of life". And never mind nitrous: recently even a large soda has become contraband.

The Hot Seat

In the early 90's, Bob Weir remarked that the keyboard slot in the Grateful Dead was the “hot seat”. By that point, they had already been through four keyboardists, and their latest situation had ended in tragedy when Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose. The band's overhead had reached about $500,000 a month, and according to Phil Lesh's memoir, "unbelievably, we had still not put any money aside in the event of an emergency that would keep us off the road for a long stretch." For that reason alone, the band was in a hurry to find a new keyboardist, and they abandoned auditions as soon as they found a guy able to hit the high harmonies and play keys at the same time, Vince Welnick. To add to the chaos, Garcia threw in a curveball by leaving a message on Bruce Hornsby's answering machine asking him to join the band, and the Dead, being the Grateful Dead, wound up doing the most illogical thing possible: they hired TWO keyboardists as a replacement.

So when the Grateful Dead hit Madison Square Garden in '91, they had both Welnick and Hornsby in tow. By this point the two had playing together in the Dead for about a year, and had carved out their own territories: The Great Vincenzo concentrated on the midi synthesizer, while Mr. Hornsby concentrated on a grand piano. Sometimes the two-headed monster worked at MSG, as in this version of "Jack Straw":

And sometimes the duo's playing was more of a collision, like in this version of "Feel Like A Stranger", where everything gets so cluttered that by the time Bobby starts singing, the band is totally out of sync:

In 2012, of course, it’s the, ur, "Jerry" slot that’s the hot seat. This time, however, the audition process has lasted for years. First, there was the 1998 Other Ones tour, which featured two guitarists (Mark Karan and Steve Kimock) and a sax player (Dave Ellis) trying to fill Garcia's shoes. Next up came the Other Ones' 2000 tour, which dropped the sax player but kept Karan and Kimock. Then came the Other Ones' 2002 tour, which substituted one guitarist (Jimmy Herring) for the double-K's (and oddly threw in a second keyboardist, possibly in a strange effort to recreate that early 90's sound?). In 2003, the band rechristened itself The Dead and toured with not only Jimmy Herring but also Warren Haynes on guitar. In 2009, the Dead went out again, dropped Herring and continued with just Haynes. Finally, in late 2009, Furthur came into existence, and settled on one person to fill the Jerry slot, who has done so with much controversy over the last 3 years: John Kadlecik.

Before we even start a discussion of John K, let me show you a picture:

This is an ancient relief depicting a "dancing maened". Many art historians consider it a work of beauty. To the ancient Greeks it had a sacred quality, as the maeneds were worshippers of the god Dionysus, who celebrated the god's rites through song and dance. It is currently housed just across Central Park from the Beacon Theatre in one of the world’s most renowned museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most people would concede that it achieves at least something in the aesthetic realm. What do you think?

Now let me tell you this: it's a Roman copy of the Greek original. Does that make you think it's ugly? Clearly the experts at the Met didn't think so. And there's a reason that such a preeminent institution would decide to proudly display a Roman copy of Greek art. The original has been lost. In this case it's the only way for us to experience this particular piece.

In the same way, no one can truly experience the original Grateful Dead live in concert anymore, so perhaps we should sit back and enjoy the "Roman" equivalent. Obviously I would prefer to attend a concert in which Jerry Garcia is at the helm rather than John K, but as far as I understand the laws of the universe, that's not an option at this current point in time.

I will even go a step further. I agree with the art historian Denis Dutton when he writes, “Our belief in the creative power of the great artist has about it an aura of primitive magic. His work of art is a kind of talisman, a fetish…Once a work is known to be a forgery, the magic is gone.” When we rid ourselves of this magical thinking, when we shake off the binds of primitivism, we can allow, philosophically, that there can be individual moments in time, specific pieces, on which an imitator can surpass the master he is trying to mimic. To quote the philosopher Edward W.H. Vick, from his essay on the aesthetic understanding of forgeries in painting: “the forger can rival the original artist in invention as well as execution, can produce as good a work rather than an identical copy.” In other words, there is a chance that one of those Roman copies sitting in the Met was executed with more skill, is somehow more beautiful, than the Greek original.

I am therefore willing to pose the question: is it possible for John Kadlecik to ever out-perform Jerry? Many heads would reject the possibility prima facie (they would probably steal your facie), and there is a contingent of hardcore John-K haters that would burn me at the stake for even asking it (by the way, I think a lot of the hatred for John K stems from the possibility that people, subconsciously, want to blame whoever currently occupies the Jerry slot for Jerry's death; if Jerrry was a lot of people's favorite uncle, than the replacement-Jerry is like the new guy that your aunt is now dating; whoever he is, he would be hated, and when he kind of reminds you of your uncle, when he cracks similar jokes and tells similar stories, that makes things even worse). Obviously Garcia blows John K away in terms of inventiveness, influence, importance, etc, over the course of his entire career. Jerry Garcia was a true maestro, a man who invented an entire 'school' of rock (the oft-maligned jam-band school) -- not to mention an American icon and quasi-mythical figure -- and John K is just somebody imitating him. But for the purposes of this discussion, I think it's interesting to ask: are there any songs played by both Furthur and the Dead at their respective NYC runs during which John K is able to 'out-Jerry' Jerry? Specifically, is John K in 2012 ever able to get the better of the Jerry Garcia that showed up at Madison Square Garden in 1991?

Let's not forget that in 1991 Jerry was not necessarily at the peak of his powers. According to Blair Jackson's book Grateful Dead Gear, Jerry was battling numerous health problems that year, including, but not limited to: "a recurrence of the diabetes that had nearly killed him in 1986, causing him to periodically lose sensation is his fingers… carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive stress injury brought on by years and years of playing heavy guitars in poor ergonomic positions… pain in his back, shoulders, forearms and wrists… an enlarged heart, (and) early symptoms of emphysema…” Jerry was also battling mental burn-out, a nagging feeling that he would rather be doing something else than playing with the Grateful Dead. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine in an interview conducted during the MSG run in '91 if he ever had more fun playing with musicians outside of the Grateful Dead, Jerry replied, "Oh sure, absolutely. And that’s always dangling in front of me, the thing of, well, shit, if I was on my own, God I could…”

And then there was the giant, bejeweled-tusk, tapestry-strewn, purple lord-Vishnu-incarnate elephant in the room: Jerry’s drug use. Whether he was using heroin again during the MSG run depends on who you believe. By some accounts Jerry was still sober following an intervention the band had with him over the summer of '91, but others say he quickly picked up the habit again as soon as the Fall tour started. The answer Jerry himself gave when quizzed about drugs during the Rolling Stone interview was equivocal. He said, “as far as the drugs that are dead-enders, like cocaine and heroin and so forth, if you could figure how to do them without being strung out on them, or without having them completely dominate your personality…” (the pregnant ellipsis was Garcia’s, not mine…)

Whatever his level of toxicity, Garcia performed at MSG in such a way that Bruce Hornsby felt compelled to confront him right after the string of shows. According to Dennis McNally, Hornsby told Garcia that his playing had been "languorous". Hornsby told Garcia, “I resent you coming to the gig and being there but not being there. You’re not bringing what you could to the show every night.” (As to whether Garcia was using drugs at this time, here's McNally's stoic response: “His drug habits were like the weather; everyone talked about them, but no one felt the slightest ability to do anything about it.”) By contrast, John K is obviously THRILLED to be playing with members of the Dead. He approaches the music with love and respect: no one spends over ten years of his life in a Grateful Dead cover band without loving the Dead's repertoire. He has a fantastic guitar technique, a knowledge of even the deepest Dead cut ("Day Job", anyone? his former band, DSO, played it repeatedly), and a joyful spirit. Besides, it's fun to participate in the Hollywood fantasy, too; here’s this kid who was plucked from the minors and is now in the big time.

I was ready, then, to find that there were at least a couple tunes on which John K '12 out-shined the '91 Jerry. To this end I listened to countless hours of tape (well, bytes). What I found out surprised me. Even when I compared the sloppy, forgotten-word, missed cue performances of '91, it's still tough to put anyone toe-to-toe with Jerry. I thought for a moment I had a clear winner for John K with "Crazy Fingers". Jerry forgot the lyrics and flubbed his solo. But there's still Jerry's Voice -- I don't mean just his inflection or intonation, but his artistic "Voice", some would say his soul -- that comes through. It was a fascinating, and somewhat frustrating, exercise for anyone who wants to believe that success in life doesn't all come down to a certain indefinable X factor, that those of us who love a certain craft, who study it and work hard and devote our lives to learning from the masters can sometimes surpass them regardless of whether the universe has randomly bestowed upon us the gift of innate talent. (To avoid misinterpretation: I know that Jerry worked hard also; he spent countless hours practicing and playing, especially when he was young, honing his gift, but still, he started with a gift). But in comparing John K. '12 vs '91 Jerry, however unfortunate it may be for those of us born without the X factor, I was not able to find one single performance, song by song, in which John K clearly outshined Garcia. (I remain convinced that you could find some examples from '94 or '95, where John K out-jerries, Jerry, but I am leaving that search for a man of tougher constitution than myself…).

I did find, however, that some of John K's performances had a certain "stickiness" that '91 Jerry's did not. By that I mean, the morning after I listened to a John K version of a song vs. the '91 Jerry version, sometimes it was the John K version that was stuck in my head. The performance that did this the most for me was John K's version of "Comes a Time". When you listen to the two songs side by side, obviously Jerry's voice is Jerry's voice, it has the aforementioned soul that John K's just doesn't, and note for note it's not like John K rips out an amazingly solo that Jerry did not; it's just that, like I said, John K's performance stuck with me more than Jerry's. Perhaps it has something to do with another indefinable element: referring back to what Hornsby said, perhaps John K was more "there" -- more in-the-moment, more present -- than Jerry was. That's the only theory I have. For your listening pleasure, here they are:

Jerry '91:

John K '12:


In 1991, the Grateful Dead were still creating their set lists by whatever mysterious set of rules that heads had spent years trying to divine, and that, according to rock lore, Pete Townshend had once been given a full, detailed explanation of (only to be so wasted that neither he nor anyone else in the room could remember). In 2012, Furthur set lists are predetermined by Phil Lesh's wife, Jill. (In a recent Guitar World magazine interview, Bob Weir shed some light on the Grateful Dead's old process, and said that it's not actually all that different from Furthur's: "The Dead weren't operating completely on the fly as people imagine. Basically, Jerry and I would plot out the first few songs and then let the set unravel from there. We usually had in mind what we were going to close with, and it was a matter of making it all flow. For the second set, we would decide what we were going to close with, and anyone could come chat about it during the drum segment, and we would sometimes craft concepts."-- By which I guess he means that the drummers didn't have much input into the process).

Whatever their method of deciding which songs to play, the two groups took a similar structural approach to their shows: playing a different set list every night, attempting to avoid repeated songs, and mining a large repertoire over the course of the run. Over the course of nine nights, the Grateful Dead played a total of 113 unique songs. Furthur, in only eight nights, played 124 songs. That's right: even though the Dead played more shows, Furthur actually played more songs. The two groups shared 80 of the same songs. Furthur played 44 songs that the Dead did not play, and the Dead played 33 songs that the Furthur did not play. If that confused you, perhaps a visual will help:

Out of the three groupings above, I was most interested in seeing the songs that the Dead played at MSG which Furthur had declined to play at the Beacon. I've long considered set lists an opportunity for some serious tea-leaf reading, and I thought that at the very least this list of songs might provide some insight into tunes that Phil and Bob have grown tired of, or perhaps, even better, offer a glimpse of the Deadhead's Holy Grail: the inner-workings of Garcia's mind. Theoretically, these could be tunes that only Jerry loved and forced down the others' throats back in the day, and that as soon as Phil and Bob got a chance not to play them, they dropped them like a hot potato (caboose). But when I took that list and searched Further setlists outside of just the MSG run, I found that at one point or another Furthur has played almost all of the tunes above (just not necessarily at the Beacon).

There were two exceptions, two songs which the Grateful Dead played at MSG in 1991 which Furthur has never played. One of the tunes was "Let The Good Times Roll", which the Dead themselves only played 4 times, all in 1991, so it's more of a blip on the screen than anything significant. The other tune, however, was a mainstay of the Dead repertoire, a song that was played 96 times between 1988 and 1995. Given the author of the tune, however, I was surprised it made in on this list: "Victim or the Crime".

Now, granted, this is a tune that one former member of the Dead, Mickey Hart, thinks is so obscure that he used it to test the knowledge of the Rhino executive who was recently trying to charm the Dead into granting his corporation sole rights to their merchandising. But still, it's a Bobby tune, and I'm surprised that out of all the songs that the Dead played at MSG that Furthur have never played, this would be the one. I guess, in a way, it does provide a window into Garcia's mind, if only to prove that his perception of Bob Weir was sometimes right. In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in 1989, Garcia said, "Getting Bob Weir to do new tunes is like pulling teeth sometimes. He doesn’t even like to do his own tunes a lot of times. We slowly stop doing a lot of his tunes, and he doesn’t say anything. It’s like, 'Hey, what ever happened to those tunes of yours?’" So, in the spirit of things, I would like to tell you: it's been 4,296 days since the last "Victim or the Crime".

Another interesting phenomenon with Furthur's set lists is that they tend to play songs in unusual spots. Back in 1991, any given song, if it was played by the Dead on a particular evening, usually appeared in a similar position in the set list. To provide an example, let's take the song "Althea". If this is 1991, and I'm hearing "Althea", then we must be the middle of the first set, and wow that Humboldt Indica is strong because it feels like it's already been a few LIFETIMES that have past since the start of the show, man. And sure enough, when the Dead played MSG in '91, "Althea" appeared in the first set on two separate evenings (on 9/13/91 the Dead played "Althea" as the 6th song in the first set, and on 9/17/91 the Dead played "Althea" as the 3rd song in the first set). This tendency to play the songs in the same slots became so rigid that it led Bruce Hornsby to complain to music journalist Steve Silberman in an interview:

Bruce Hornsby: I got frustrated with this. I was like, "Hey, why don't we try something different -- why don't we start the show with 'Space'?"
Steve Silberman: Were they not open to that? That's something I say myself...
Bruce Hornsby: Vince says it too. But they get stuck in their ways.
Steve Silberman: Would you literally say, "Hey, guys, why don't we start the show with 'Space'?"
Bruce Hornsby: Yeah.
Steve Silberman: What would they do? Bruce Hornsby: They would just, "Ah, well, I don't know." [laughing]

While Furthur never opened with "Space" at the Beacon, they did liberate "Althea" from her first set confinement. Furthur played it twice during their 2012 NYC run, once on 4/12/12 and once on 4/15/12, both times in the second set. This was not the only song they moved around. "Jack Straw", also a first-set lifer with the Dead (played in the first set on 9/14/91 and 9/18/91), appeared twice in the second set in a Furthur show (4/12/12 and 4/15/12). "China Cat -> Rider", by 1991 a quintessential second set opener (indeed, the Dead opened their second set with it on 9/14/91), was played by Furthur much deeper in the second set (after "Althea"!) on 4/12/12.

Some of the songs, however, despite all the intervening years, cannot escape their old Grateful Dead slot. "Friend of the Devil" was played as the 3rd song in the first set on 9/14/91, and as the 3rd song in the first set on 4/14/12. The Dead played "Brown Eyed Women" as the 7th song in their first set on 9/17/91, while Furthur played it as the 7th song in their first set on 4/13/12. "Feel Like A Stranger" was played as a show opener on both 9/16/91 and 4/15/12 (for the record, I think this is its rightful place, and should never be moved to any other slot). "The Music Never Stopped" was a first set closer at both the Garden and the Beacon (on 9/9/91, and 4/17/12, respectively). "Dire Wolf": 5th song in the first set on both runs. "Loser": early in the first set in both. "West L.A. Fadeaway": late in the first set. "Loose Lucy": late first. "Row Jimmy": late first. "Scarlet Begonias": second set opener. "Estimated Prophet": early in the second. "New Speedway Boogie": early second. "Saint of Circumstance": early second. "China Doll": late second. "Standing on the Moon": late second. "Uncle John’s Band": late second. And that hoary crowd-pleaser, "Sugar Magnolia", retained its perennial position as a second set closer on both 9/18/91 and 4/17/12. (The en-slotted-ness was especially true for the encores: "The Weight", "Johnny B. Goode", "Brokedown Palace", "Quinn the Eskimo", and "Attics of My Life" were all encores in both runs).

Whatever one might conclude from all this, it must be said that while Furthur's set list process might be less spontaneous -- the players might not be choosing songs out of the air as they are about to play them (nor crafting concepts during Drums) -- it has made one significant contribution to the over-all vibe: it serves to prevent awkward band member battles, like the one that seemed to happen here back in '91 between Jerry and Bob, creating a classically awkward shoehorn from "Sugar Mag" into "Foolish Heart":

(For more statistical analysis, see the section below Unuseless Dead Stats.)

The Music Never Stopped, But It May Have Slowed Down a Little

The first time I saw Furthur, I noticed that a few of the tunes seemed sluggish. The show was at Red Rocks, and I just attributed it to the altitude -- musicians have a tendency to drag up there. But then the phenomenon seemed to continue, and other people noticed, and I began to wonder. Is Furthur playing songs at a slower tempo than the Grateful Dead?

Online commentators vary from outright denial (“these guys crank!!!!”), to rationalization (“I felt the energy as slow and relaxing. Not bad music quality but actually quite the opposite. Slower tempo's allow for more dynamic and technical playing”), to an appeal to subjectivism (“I can’t tell if there is really a slower tempo phenomenon happening, or not. When we are living in the here and now, everything is relative.”)

While I am reluctant to intrude upon anyone's here and now, there is one way to tell if there really is a slower tempo phenomenon happening - compare two versions of the same song with an objective measure of tempo, beats per minute (bpm). By doing just that, I can say objectively (sorry, 36Gemini) that Furthur have been, whether intentional or not, dropping the tempo on at least a few of the tunes.

Many of the songs I compared had retained their original speeds: "Shakedown Street", "Mississipi Half-Step", "Help on the Way", and "New Speedway Boogie", for instance, all had almost exactly the same beats per minute in 2012 as in 1991.

But then some songs noticeably dragged in the Furthur versions. The Dead played "Scarlet Begonias" to open the second set on 9/13/91 at 75 beats per minute. Furthur opened their second set on 4/10/12 with a version that clocked in around 65 bpm. On 9/10/91, the Dead closed the second set of the famous Branford Marsalis show with a version of "Lovelight" played at 90 bpm. The further on 4/10/12 played it around 80. "Loose Lucy" clocked in at 110 bpm for the Dead on 9/9, while Furthur played it at around 100 bpm on 4/17. The starkest contrast was probably "The Music Never Stopped". On 9/16/91 the Dead played it at a robust 100 bpm, while on 4/9/12, to open their run, Furthur played it at what for the song felt like a snail-like 75 beats per minute. Compare:



The Future According to Jerry

What struck me most when I went back and read a lot of the articles that appeared in 1991 about the Dead's MSG run was that people thought they were in the midst of a mighty recession back then. The New York Times started its article with, "“In a recessionary pop music environment in which tours keel over and die and radio and MTV stars hit the road only to cancel their tours, the Grateful Dead, 26 years old and counting, are doing better than ever." Rolling Stone opened their 1991 interview with Jerry on a similar note: "If there's such a thing as a recession-proof band," the article opens, "the Grateful Dead must be it. While the rest of the music industry has suffered through one of its worst years ever — record sales have plummeted, and the bottom has virtually fallen out of the concert business — the Dead have trouped along, oblivious as ever to any trends, either economic or musical." And just to conjure the recessionary mindset of the time, let's not forget that many people credit Clinton's victory over George Bush Sr. in 1992 with the phrase that would become his de facto campaign slogan, "it's the economy, stupid."

Of course, they didn't know how good they had it back then (especially the record exec folks - record sales have plummeted?! You don't know that half of it, 1991!). From the vantage point of The Great Recession, the recession of 1991 could more properly be called The Great Time. But then, they thought they were in a big recession because they didn't know what the future held.

The same can be said of us, of course. We don't know what the future holds. Or do we? If we revisit the Deadhead’s Holy Grail -- the inner-workings of Garcia’s mind -- we might actually discover a clue. In Jerry's last interview with Rolling Stone, he got to waxing philosophic about the future, and the upcoming turn of the century. The interviewer asked him, “Historically turns of the century have been really intriguing times. Does that date hold any real significance for you?

Garcia responded, “No, the date that holds significance for me is 2012. That’s Terrence McKenna’s alpha moment, which is where the universe undergoes its most extraordinary transformations.” Garcia then went on to explain his take on McKenna’s theory: that the universe has been through several transformations before. The first one was the appearance of life on Earth, the next transformation was consciousness, then standing upright, then language, and so on. According to Garcia these transformations occur on a cyclical schedule, and currently the universe happens to be in the last forty year cycle. “It's running down,” Garcia said. “We're definitely tightening up -- and during this period, more will happen than has happened in all previous time. This is going to peak in 2012. [McKenna’s] got a specific date for it, too -- maybe December some time, I don't remember. But that moment, at the last 135th of a second or something like that, something like forty of these transformations will happen."

Not surprisingly, Jerry's prediction has sparked a lot of dialogue on Furthur’s online discussion forum. Commentators speculate about the actual date (most agree it’s 12/21/12 – the end of the Mayan calendar, which McKenna himself had referenced in his books), and try to guess what might happen on Jerry’s prophesied day (consciousness transformation? the end of times? a Furthur concert?). Garcia’s omniscience notwithstanding, I think the only thing we can be certain of is that someone, somewhere, will try to profit off of it. Or as “deadegad” so wisely puts it, “Not to be cynical, but, this is an event for humankind so let's be hope TicketBastard doesn't get a hold of it!”

Un-useless Dead Stats

Many heads are familiar with the concept of Useless Dead Stats. After being exposed to the Japanese concept of Chindogu, however, I prefer to think of them as "unuseless". Anyway, to close out, here you go:

Average Number of Songs Per Night Furthur: 18.25 Dead: 18.55 (including "Drums" and "Space")

Longest Set
1991: 11 songs (9/14/91, Set 2 - if you are willing to count "China Cat" and "Rider" as two different songs, and "Drums" and "Space" as two different songs)
2012: 10 songs (4/10/12, Set 2 - if you are willing to count "Scarlet" and "Fire" as two different songs)

Total Number of Unique Songs
1991: 113
2012: 124

Number of Songs Repeated Across the Entire Run
1991: 36
2012: 21

Length of Dark Stars
1991: 37 minutes 40 seconds (including a "Drums/Space" interlude)
2012: 18 minutes 46 seconds (including a "The Other One" interlude)

Number of Dylan Tunes Played
1991: 11
2012: 6
Note: Garcia, in 1991, talked to WNEW radio legend Scott Muni about Bob Dylan: "His songs, they stand up. You can sing them a lot of times and they have a lot of facets to them. And there's the thing about them that when you sing them, you don't feel like an idiot. A lot of them have big bites. They're extraordinary pieces of poetry, and they have that thing of sometimes they're like a ray gun that hits you right in a part of your life. Sometimes you can't even say exactly what it is, but for me, they're emotional. They're real. They work for some reason. Something about them works for me. So I love to do them."

Show Openers


Number of Drummers in the Band
1991: 2
2012: 1
Note: Apparently Mickey Hart's relationship with Phil and Bob has deteriorated to the point of a declaration of war. In 2010, Bob Weir told Rolling Stone that he thought that Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman weren't that with it. “Phil and I are way more current,” Weir said. In 2011, when confronted with this information by a Rolling Stone reporter, Mickey Hart "took out his cellphone and began scrolling through his contacts until he landed on the name Bob Weir. 'Hey, Mr. Current,' Hart said into the phone as he walked away. 'I'm looking for a Mr. Current! [Hysterical laughter]. I challenge you to a zucchini war!'"

Band Member Who Has The Jerry-est Beard:
1991: Jerry
2012: Weir

Age of Lead Guitarist:
1991: late 40's
2012: early 40's
Note: I was amazed when I discovered that the age difference between the guitarists at the time of their respective gigs wasn’t too great. Jerry always seemed like such an old soul. I assumed that Jerry in 1991 would've been way older than John K in 2012. Of course, maybe that's because the toll Jerry's lifestyle took on his body made him look much older, a phenomenon which, in a profile in the New Yorker, Jerry spun positively:
“I’ve got to where things are beginning to fall apart, but what’s comforting about age is everyone’s falling apart with you. I don’t see anyone getting any younger.” “Yeah, but some are falling apart slower,” Hornsby said. Garcia did not seem disconcerted. “It’s a matter of good use, man – good use,” he said. “I enjoyed it when I had it, whatever it was. It all went to a good cause.”
Luthier Who Made Lead Guitarist's Guitar
1991: Doug Irwin
2012: Paul Reed Smith
Note: Although John K's guitar was made by PRS, John seems to be an inveterate tinkerer who couldn't help but modify it to be more like Jerry's. According to a recent Guitar World magazine article: "The guitar is currently equipped with the DiMarzio Super II humbuckers that were a Garcia standby. The PRS also has a coil tap and an effect loop based on the circuit from Garcia's Doug Irwin guitar. Kadlecik built the loop himself, recreating Garcia's electronics precisely. The guitar is also equipped with the same Unity Gain buffer preamp that John Cutler designed for Garcia."

Running the Boards
1991: Dan Healy
2012: Derek Featherstone, Pro Media Ultrasound Inc.
Note: Dan Healy is often credited as being one of the architects of the Dead's Wall of Sound. In their previous trip to NYC in 2011, at Radio City Music Hall, Furthur paid homage to his legacy:

Running the Lights
1991: Candace Brightman
2012: Preston Hoffman
Note: In a recent interview with Furthur's lighting director, Preston Hoffman, he said it was actually the legendary Candace Brightman who gave him his start in the concert lighting industry: http://www.musicmarauders.com/2011/03/conversation-w-preston-hoffman-lighting.html

Whereabouts of Bobby's Short Shorts
1991: On Bobby
2012: Almost in a museum
Note: Also from the interview with Furthur's lighting director, Preston Hoffman, it came out that Bobby's shorts almost made it into a museum:
Preston Hoffman: They even had a museum of sorts at Calaveras (Furthur Fest in 2010); they had a whole exhibit; they had the skeleton dudes there and gnarly vintage posters, some guitars, a whole bunch of memorabilia. They were even going to put in Bobby’s short shorts, they were going to put them in the museum. Bobby ended up bringing them to the stage, I saw one our dudes take them from the stage to the production office when he walked right by me I was like “Hey, are those THE shorts!?" [Laughter] Interviewer: What a crazy world; Bobby shorts are a piece of history
Press Coverage
1991: The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Radio Interview with Scott Muni, and various correspondents for local TV News
2012: One single blog post in the Village Voice (a blog post!)
Note: I have a friend who to this day swears – SWEARS -- he saw Gabe Pressman file an on-the-scene report for WNBC from the infamous Park 'N' Lock back in '91, and once the cameras turned off, according to my friend, Gabe kicked back with a major doob and some nitrous (I remain incredulous).

Price of Tickets for a Good Seat:
1991: Section 102, Row E, Seat 1 - $24
2012: Orchestra - $69.50 Note: Furthur tickets rose by more than twice the rate of inflation. $24 in 1991, adjusted for inflation, equals $40.50 in today's dollars.

1991: John Scher, Metropolitan Entertainment
2012: the only "promoter" that still exists: Live Nation (for more on this, read the highly entertaining Ticket Masters, by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron)
Note: Back in 1991, the Grateful Dead largely used two promoters to handle all their shows: John Scher handled everything from New York to the Rockies, and Bill Graham handled everything west of there (with a thin slice of demilitarized zone, Denver itself, sometimes going to Barry Fey). In his memoir, Phil Lesh mentions the dynamic between Scher and Graham in particular when he talks about the MSG '91 run: “Naturally the two principals detested each other. That’s why it was such a surprise to see Bill Graham backstage at our nine-show Madison Square Garden run – as a general rule he made it a point never to appear at a gig promoted by the competition. Bill was warm and open, giving both Jill and me big hugs, saying that he had just been ‘passing through’ and couldn’t pass up the chance to see part of our record-breaking run, etc, none of which mitigated the strangeness of his visit one iota.” To add to the strangeness of the event, it was the last time Phil Lesh and most of the band would see Bill Graham before he died (he died in a helicopter crash less than a month later)

Best Comment on a Show in Archive.org
991: Regarding 9-13-91, posted by WRat, title "Friday the 13th JINX!":
This is potentially the worst Grateful Dead show ever played. Never mind how the set list looks. The band was off key, lackluster, and uninspired all night long. Every time we thought they'd pull out of their funk, they had a couple good minutes, and boom, they'd sink lower into the hole from which they were attempting to climb out. Toward the end of Fire, out of nowhere, Jerry set his guitar down abruptly and walked off stage, leaving the others to jam without him. The devil was in POSSESSION OF THEIR SOULS this evening. TS>NFA was so ultra boring, poorly played, and worn out after all the times they did it. They ended this DUD of a show appropriately enough with the worst possible encore selection, played at its most plodding and monotonous pace. I actually would have been dissapointed if they played a killer encore. But, of course, on this night, that was not possible!
2012: Regarding 4-9-12, posted by allgoodthings23, title "Good is Good":
Its all good. Its like pizza , even bad pizza is good.
Ed Watts is the author of U.S. Blues, a mystery novel set in the 1985 Grateful Dead parking lot scene.

Monday, July 9, 2012

HORDE, 20 Years Later

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first HORDE concert (at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine on July 9, 1992) . Relix online has done a massive retrospective here, including audio, video and interviews from then and now.  But clearly at least one person would like to forget: http://blindedbysound.com/post/viewPost/songs_we_wish_we_could_forget_spin_doctors_two_princes/358d8f6a2883375ce305149250e90945