Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nick vs Fricke, and the art of the Dead show list

Recently there's been two high-profile rankings of top Grateful Dead shows: Nick Paumgarten's top 13 Dead show list on the New Yorker website, and David Fricke's top 20 Dead show list on the Rolling Stone website. They only have one show in common – 2/22/69 – but they share several best-Dead-show-list conventions with each other (and thousands of other best Dead show lists):
Dead show list convention Nick (New Yorker) Fricke (Rolling Stone)
A caveat about the impossibility of actually making a best Dead show list “This isn’t to say that I think these are the best ones. Most of them are warty, in one way or another… Aficionados may prefer a gig a week or two earlier or later, and on some days, I might, too. But I love these. Or parts of them, anyway. So here, in chronological order…is a baker’s dozen: my thirteen essential, commercially ignored—some desert-island Dead.” “Choosing and justifying a list of essential Grateful Dead shows – 20, 200 or even 2,000 – is treacherous work. Passionate challenge from fans, especially hardcore Deadheads and veteran tape traders, is guaranteed. Endless debate over set-list minutiae is inevitable. In fact, there is only one definitive list of the Dead's greatest concerts – and it includes every show they played, in every lineup, from their pizza-parlor-gig days as the Warlocks in 1965 until guitarist Jerry Garcia's death in 1995.”
Use of the word “primal” when talking about a 60’s show Dream Bowl, Vallejo, Calif. 2/22/69 “The Warlocks became the Grateful Dead in 1965, but it took a few years for the band to find a voice. If 1968 was primal psychedelic Dead, 1969 was the apotheosis. There’s too much to choose from, though the set lists don’t vary much. The hall names have a mythical ring…” The Matrix, San Francisco
 12/1/66 “In late 1966, more than a year into their evolution, the Grateful Dead were still in the early stages of their psychedelia: an acid-dance band with bar-band aggression, tripping in its jams but just starting to write and largely reliant on folk and blues covers. These three sets at the Matrix – a club founded by Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin – catch the original quintet in primal, exuberant form…”
Justification of decision not to include Cornell ’77 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, N.Y. 5/9/77 “On the desert island next to mine, there’s a guy who brought along every show from May, 1977—including his Betty Board of the highly overrated May 8th Cornell gig (which, I’ll concede, features the definitive version of the disco rearrangement of “Dancin in the Streets”). I have room for only one: Buffalo.” Winterland, San Francisco 6/9/77 “For sublime singing, instrumental union and sequencing bravado, there may be no greater sustained run of shows, certainly in the Keith-and-Donna years, than the Dead's spring '77 tour. Highlights are plentiful: Five concerts from one week in late May have come out on archival releases, and the May 8th show at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is often cited in greatest-ever terms. But I keep coming back to this valedictory blast on home ground – the end of a three-night stand and the final gig of the tour – because of the second set.”
Including a show primarily on the merits of it’s Dark Star Dane County Coliseum, Madison, Wisc. 2/15/73 “It’s the “Dark Star”-“Eyes of the World” that put Dane County on my life raft… The segue between the two songs, which includes (sin of sins) a bass solo, and then a Garcia-Lesh instrumental duet, and then a dreamy intro to “Eyes,” is like a psalm.” Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, Virginia
 10/9/89 “The second Hampton show, issued with October 8th in the 2010 box Formerly the Warlocks, is most notable for the return of "Dark Star" after five years…”
Singling out a show for it’s Phil-and-Bill-ness Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Mich. 12/14/71 “The bass had a chunky tone that you could sit on, the one-drummer setup made the tempo brisk…” Winterland, San Francisco
 3/18/67 “Note the thrilling, slippery surge underneath – bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann pushing and tugging at the beat.”
Acknowledgement of general mediocrity of the 80’s in 80’s show included Greek Theatre, Berkeley, Calif. 7/13/84 “Garcia, often AWOL in 1984, comes to play. The synthy keyboards may frighten off “Alligator” fans, but let’s not forget this was the era of Wham!... You’re not in 1969 anymore, but still, a taste of the old magic.” Civic Center, Augusta, Maine
, 10/12/84 “The Eighties were an uneven decade for the Dead. There was new blood: keyboard player Brent Mydland. But Garcia was in perilous health, and studio recording lapsed after 1980's Go to Heaven… Through it all, the Dead toured as if their survival depended on it – which it always did – and played fondly remembered gigs, often off the beaten track.
Show with a personal connection that might not otherwise be included: Fox Theater, Atlanta 11/30/80 Although Nick doesn’t explicitly mention it, he was a member of a private school club that listened to the second set of this show every day. He just describes it as, “an old cult favorite” – but I have to ask, is this show better than Cornell ’77? Madison Square Garden, NYC 9/14/91 At least Fricke fesses up: “This was my next-to-last night with the Dead … This was not a historic gig. It's a treasured piece of my connection to a band” – but again I have to ask, is this show better than Cornell ’77?

Saturday, April 20, 2013


My first reaction to the recent interview with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampredo on the Rolling Stone website: it's awesome that he wants to revive a song from the "experimental" years:
Q: You play on Trans. What are your memories of that project?
A: Well, that was a record where we did a lot of recording, and then Neil became involved with a program for his son Ben. He had to do a lot of physical activity with different nurses and helpers. He kind of got lost in time and couldn't have us there all the time. He ended up getting a synclavier and going back and overdubbing a lot of those tracks. A lot of times we weren't there for all that crazy stuff that went on. We came back up and listened to it and were like, "Wow, what did you do?" [Laughs]
Q: Did you like it?
A: I liked that record. I was talking about doing "We R in Control." It would be fun trying to do that song now. I think we could play it really good.
My second reaction: wait, no really, that would be awesome:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Vegetables

I've recently been re-reading Hammer of the Gods (one of my favorite things in the world to do), and I was reminded of this primo piece of bullshit:

"We could have called ourselves the Vegetables or the Potatoes... What does Led Zeppelin mean? It doesn't mean a thing." -Jimmy Page

I mean, can you imagine:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Scarlet sans Fire, and Fire free of Scarlet

As I wrote yesterday, on March 18, 1977 (36 years ago to the day),’Scarlet Begonias’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain‘ were played together for the first time ever. After their initial coupling they were played together a total of 254 times, and the song combo wormed its way into every good Head’s subconscious.

What interests me now, however, is the relatively rare occasions after the initial coupling on which Scarlet was played alone, or Fire was played alone.

Prior to their coupling, Scarlet was of course played by itself a lot (48 times to be exact), but I’m on focusing on the odd post-coupling singularities. Here’s a list of all the solo Scarlets post-3/18/77 (26 in all):

Date of Show
The Situation
A couple days after the initial coupling, Scarlet appears by itself again for a brief moment, tucked away at the end of the first set
At the Palladium in NYC, the boys decide to throw NYC a curveball, and go from Scarlet into ‘Going Down the Road Feeling Bad’
After faking a Fire transition, Jerry decides to go into an alternate “Mutron” special: ‘Dancing in the Streets’
It’s been 6 years since the last time Scarlet hasn’t lead into Fire, but tonight Jerry decides to go into ‘Touch of Grey’
Again into Touch
This is becoming a habit – again into Touch
After faithfully going back into Fire for the rest of 84 (well actually, there were a couple Scarlet->Touch->Fire sandwiches in late 84, but at least they end up back at Fire’s house, if you know what I mean), in this early 85 show, they decide to go from Scarlet into ‘Hell in a Bucket’
Whoa, Scarlet into Eyes
Scarlet -> Touch
Scarlet -> Touch
Scarlet -> Touch
Bob Dylan’s presence threw them off, and they went from Bucket into Scarlet
At MSG, now Touch into Scarlet
Scarlet -> Bucket
Scarlet into Samson and Delilah
At treat for Philly fans at the Spectrum: Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Estimated
Scarlet -> I will Take You Home (Ironic, because Fire would like you to come home)
Bucket>Scarlet->Looks Like Rain
Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter
Bucket -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter
In one of the true gems of a late 80’s show: Scarlet->Truckin’
Scarlet -> Sugar Mag
Scarlet -> Estimated
Estimated->Scarlet->Crazy Fingers
Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter

The less independent of the two, Fire only came out on it’s own a total of 12 times:

Date of Show
The Situation
9/16/78 Egypt messes with the Boys’ heads, and for the first time they play Fire with no Scarlet. Officially it’s Ollin Arrageed -> Fire
11/24/78 Back in the States, but with a guest musician from Egypt, the boys do Shakedown -> Drums -> Ollin Arrageed -> Fire
10/31/80 Trick or Treat! Al Franken freaks everyone out, the boys do Franklins->Drums-> Fire, which appears on Dead Set
7/13/85 A rare weekend evening alone: One More Saturday Night -> Fire
6/22/86 At the Greek, treating the faithful: the second set opens with Fire and goes into Samson and Delilah
7/4/86 Happy Bday America! Cold Rain & Snow -> Fire -> Samson and Delilah
9/8/87 Bucket -> Fire
9/24/87 Bucket -> Fire -> Drums
5/27/89 Bucket -> Fire
9/20/91 Whoa! Help->Slip->Fire
5/27/93 Please spare me: Picasso Moon -> Fire -> Wave to the Wind
7/3/94 The last time Scarlet and Fire were separated: Eyes -> Fire

And for those of you who just can’t bear to think of this magical couple being separated, here’s one very deadicated website's list of top ten Scarlet->Fires:

Monday, March 18, 2013

36 Years Ago Today: The First Ever ‘Scarlet->Fire’

On March 18, 1977, the Grateful Dead played two particular songs together for the first time in concert, creating a magical pairing that would go on to fuel thousands of baked road trips, launch the dreams of innumerable jam bands, and become forever known as ‘Scarlet->Fire’.

‘Scarlet Begonias’, the older sibling of the two, had a long life before it’s coupling with ‘Fire on the Mountain’. It was recorded in the studio in March 1974 and officially released a couple months later on the ‘From the Mars Hotel’ album (for the conspiracy-minded out there: the official cut happens to be exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds long). It was first performed live in early 1974 and went on to be played 48 times on it’s own before being joined to ‘Fire’.

‘Fire on the Mountain’, on the other hand, never knew life without its kinsman. Its live debut was during the March 18, 1977 show as part of the first ‘Scarlet-Fire’ combination. It was one of the few Dead songs composed by drummer Mickey Hart, and wasn’t released until a year after it’s debut, on the semi-controversial ‘Shakedown Street’ album (which in a Dylan-goes-electric-type moment, caused long-time Deadheads to accuse the band of what was back then the worst crime imaginable: “going disco”).

After March 18, 1977, the two songs were almost always (but not without exception) played side-by-side. They appeared together in a total of 254 Dead shows. At its best, the song combo became an occasion for some of Jerry’s finest uninterrupted soloing, floating atop some of the Rhythm Devil’s most playful drumming, accompanied by Donna’s best wailing.

 The transition from one song to another in itself became an object of worship among Deadheads. The Fox’s Den, for example, was a club at St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire that was devoted to a particular version of Scarlet->Fire from 1980, and had as one of it’s Four Commandments, “Thou shalt not press pause, stop, fast-forward, or rewind during the transition.” Garcia himself was aware of the magic of these transitional moments. He told an interviewer in 1988 that often “the transition itself would be a piece of music.” Although even he had to admit that after hundreds of times played together, even transitions as titanic as Scarlet-Fire lost some of their juice. “It’s not that the transitional music doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just that we’ve worn the pathways.”

 Hear its debut on March 18, 1977 here:

(Why celebrate its 36th anniversary? Honestly, when I sat down to write this post I had done the math wrong and thought it was its 35th anniversary. Then my wife pointed out my mistake. I guess that's what you get for a lifetime of listening to the Dead baked out of your skull...)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Worst Rock Songs to Workout To

According to NPR, 4 out of 5 of the people who buy gym memberships as part of their News Year’s resolution stop going within a couple of months. In order to help you avoid a similar fate, I’m giving you a list of songs that you absolutely must not put on your ipod as you prepare to head to the elliptical:

Revolution #9 - The Beatles


What Became of the Baby – Grateful Dead


Chushingura - Jefferson Airplane


The Needle and the Damage Done - Neil Young


Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – Pink Floyd

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I can't quite explain why I love this drawing of Johnny Winter, found in the latest New Yorker, so much:
  winter1 1