Friday, August 18, 2006


Notice I've only reviewed live albums so far. It really is mostly true about the Dead, their live stuff is way better. Garcia himself had a studio mantra: "God, we make shitty records." (cf. page 156, Rock Scully with David Dalton, Living With the Dead, Little, Brown, 1996.) Workingman's Dead and American Beauty aside, of course, and I could tell from reading around that Blues For Allah was considered some kind of subtle landmark as well. I figured I could get a used LP copy for two bucks almost anywhere, but it was a little harder than that; finally got one for $6.99 tonight at Chi's esteemed Laurie's Planet of Sound, and I'd have to say: definitely not bad at all. A very interesting LP, and I would say the 3rd-best Dead studio album. (What else challenges? Wake of the Flood, maybe?)

Starts out with a Dead classic, the Help/Slip/Frank medley. I've always loved these songs, and I've heard them well over a hundred times, but this is the first time it hasn't been from a concert, and compared to those booming soundboard versions this is amazingly calmed and sparse skeleton-funk, totally great. The low volume is perfect for Jerry's aching wise "Help on the Way" vocal, and when they go into the "Slipknot!" instrumental it's really too much, swing-jerk fusion-funk, laid-back but complex, soulful but tricky. "Franklin's Tower" still sounds out of place in the medley to me, and here it's only 4:37, but that laid-back studio style really works for it in a totally new way that is separate from the way it works as a 19-minute live version. The short studio version is a groovy little dance tune that got me and the wife movin' while we were cookin' dinner.

After that the LP really takes a post-"Slipknot!" plunge, getting even more fusiony & instrumental & best of all greasy. That same laid-back near-acoustic vibe works wonders here, making a jazz-rock fusion that I didn't know existed, possible only through relaxed home recording (the album was done in the studio that Bob Weir had just finished building over his garage). The only thing I can vaguely compare this instrumental music to is "Contusion" by Stevie Wonder, from Songs in the Key of Life, which was released just one year later in 1976. Call me crazy, I can't explain it. I guess Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck could also be a comparison (yikes), but Blues for Allah not only has all that technicality, but a hell of a lot more soul. Side two closes with yet another sly turn, into the disco-Dead minor classic "The Music Never Stopped." This is a very loose and early version, and they improved it on stage, but on here it's still a major charmer, mainly because it's such a sweet vehicle for that skeleton-naked fusion funk studio-sound.

Side two seems pretty experimental, especially after the relatively straightforward opener "Crazy Fingers," which is an actual reggae tune, a mellow obtuse original that ends up working beautifully, a little less cloying than the band's more famous reggae standard "Fire on the Mountain." And that's really the last true song on the album -- it's followed by a "Sage & Spirit," a sweet Bob Weir guitar/flute/piano interlude-style instrumental, and then by the title cut, which is in fact a suite, totally prog. ("Blues For Allah"/"Sand Castles & Glass Camels"/"Unusual Occurrences In The Desert." Part of the reason they would divide long instrumental passages into different titles was for publishing. For example, here, the whole band gets a credit for "Sand Castles & Glass Camels." Same thing happened way back on Anthem of the Sun, with the original 'studio' version of "The Other One," divided into ridiculous subtitles like "Quadlibet for Tenderfeet" that were basically never used again, not once).

The "Blues for Allah" suite isn't something I can picture a lot of Deadheads dancing to, or even humming, just a lot of dissonance and long experimental instrumental passages, which is just fine with me. In fact, I am absolutely convinced that this side two suite directly inspired Sun City Girls to record the "Frankincense and Fish" suite that takes up most of side 2 of their Grotto of Miracles LP (1986). Both pieces open with a similar text and melody effect, a demented Greek Chorus effect that leads into a bunch of weird stuff in the middle. And what's in the middle of "Blues For Allah"? I'll just quote Mickey Hart: "[Garcia]'d be saying 'Allah'.... It's the envelope, and within the envelope is his voice, and delicate sounds like the paintbrushed glass, chimes, wood, and metal I was playing, and the crickets, which were slowed down three times and played backwards at half-speed, the sounds of the desert." From as quoted in Dennis McNally's A Long Strange Trip.

10-28-79 Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth MA

This 1979 fall tour, one of their first with Brent Mydland, was considered kind of rough by a lot of people, but this two-night stand way out on Cape Cod seems to be a notable exception. The venue has been called (by posters on a "sweatbox," and "a typical third rate, minimalist, New England hockey arena - all metal," and this no-frills sweat-lodge intimacy seemed to inspire one of those magical Dead happenings, on both nights. As another poster named "smattman" says about the first night, quoted at length: "The building left much to be desired itself - its now a warehouse - I couldn't believe how much the place heated up at that time of the year. I do remember that when we left the arena the steam poured out of the doors for a half hour to the heavens, sort of a tribute to intensity of the evening. I wished they played there more than just twice as the remoteness led to a purity of true fans dominating the scene."

I have the second night here and I've really grown to love it, and most collectors seem to prefer the first night, so you know these knows were fairly legendary, known simply as "Cape Tapes" among traders. The show opens with a "Mississippi Half-Step Toodle-oo" into "Franklin's Tower," a process that takes about 31 minutes, and the "Franklin's Tower" is just slammin'. (The night before, they had opened the second set with a "Dancin' in the Street" into "Franklin's" that also lasted over 30 minutes, and is regarded by many as perhaps the best "Franklin's" ever!) I was never a huge fan of Mydland's beer-commercial vocals, but there's something so clipped and funky about the way he sings "Roll away.....the dew" here, not to mention the relentless of the two-chord groove, and the funky way Garcia's guitar and Mydland's electric piano blend and converse.

And speaking of that Garcia/Mydland blend, wait until you hear the 2nd set opener, quite simply my personal favorite China/Rider of all time. Mydland's the hero, too, playing perfect subdued electric piano that really takes off during a gorgeous transition and drives "Rider" all the way home. (Awesome cowbell accents too by the drummers, no kidding, really playful stuff.) There are more set two highlights, namely a lovely "Ship of Fools" and then a crazed hallucinogenic "Playing in the Band" that segues into one of the most powerful "Drums" I've ever heard. Billy and Mickey work themselves into some completely hard-driving relentless Burundi-type shit, and because my version switches from SBD to AUD at "Playin'," I can really hear the effect it's having on the crowd -- they are going apeshit! Then a weird "Space" into a chilling "Stella Blue" and a triumphant "Sugar Magnolia." Great show.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Today at work trying to fix a printer:
"This thing has been jamming a lot lately. This thing is jamming more than Garcia in '75."

From WFMU's Beware of the Blog, post by "The Iowa Firecracker":
"From the Daily News: 'Sirius Satellite Radio starts an eight-day commemoration of the late Jerry Garcia on Ch. 17.' --Guess they're going to play one of his guitar solos."

Best of all time:
"What did the Deadhead say when he ran out of pot?"
"Hey, this music sucks!"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

10-16-89 Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford NJ

(This picture by one Jim Anderson, used here without permission, is in fact from October 8, 1989 at the Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA) Deadhead Alexandra H. lent me her CDR of the 2nd set from this night -- all it says on it (Sharpie-wise) is Bobby's Birthday, but I searched and figured it out. See, I'm Deadheaded enough to know that Bobby's birthday is October 16 (because I love the 10-16-81 acoustic set at the Melkweg, Amsterdam, also billed as a Bobby's birthday show), and I recognized the oft-flatulent Brent Mydland keyboards that could only come from the 1980s, so I just searched every 10-16 show from the 1980s until I found one that had a Dark Star into Playing. And the year turned out to be 1989. The same tour that most of Without a Net was culled from, and I should've known, because they share a keyboard sound that I swear is right out of (fellow Marin County boys) Huey Lewis & the News. Now I think Mydland was a pretty great player, but because of that keyboard sound alone, this is one of the toughest Dead eras for me to get into. I also think it's why so many wise-guys from my generation hated the Dead -- here we were turning the very punk age of 19, and this really popular supposed nostalgia-rock act that played stadiums sounded like THIS?? Forget it! But after all, this is the Dead, and any time you listen for more than 10 minutes, especially in a second set, they will probably rip your head off. Here it comes about 10 minutes into "Dark Star," when they start recklessly fast and near-atonal polyphonic ensemble runs that can only mean one thing: a late-period "Playing in the Band" jam. And from there they simply don't stop -- the set is a continuous piece of music that runs like this (get ready, newbies): Dark Star > Playing in the Band > Uncle John's Band > Playing in the Band > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > I Need A Miracle > Dark Star > Attics Of My Life > Playing in the Band Reprise, E: And We Bid You Goodnight. Now, the Brent factor strikes again with "I Will Take You Home," one of his tunes that he plays here solo, out of Space. I have to say it, this is a pretty wretched piece of heartland power-ballad schlock. All the 1980s Seger fans in the audience like it though, and that's a lot of people. Then "I Need A Miracle," not my favorite song but an improvement, then seamlessly right into another "Dark Star" tease (they were doing a lot of 'em in the late 1980s), then that totally weird lifetime lullaby "Attics Of My Life," an American Beauty classic which had a surprise resurgence in the late 1980s, another quirk of that quirky decade, and then, that oh so playful close with the "Playing in the Band" bookend reprise trick, another quirk of the later part of their career. This certainly wasn't the only time "Playing" had been thread through an entire set. I don't know, I'm actually actively looking for Grateful Dead shows that I DON'T want to make a copy of, and you'd think a Brent-heavy '89 show would be one of 'em, but I'm afraid this one is a keeper, just for the sheer audacity and playfulness of a 2nd set medley (not to mention some truly scorching music in fits and starts).

2-13-70 Fillmore East NYC (Dick's Pick #4 3CD)

I'm a little amazed that I can still do a google search for "grateful goddamn dead" + "zacherley" or "zacherle" and get absolutely no results. From 1958 throughout most of the 1960s, John Zacherle was a horror movie (and later dance show) host on regional Philly/NYC television, a rather ghoulish character billed as "Zacherley." In 1967, he switched to FM radio just in time for the progressive rock radio heyday, and by 1969 was the 10PM-2AM rock DJ for WNEW-FM New York City. When the Dead came to town to play the Fillmore East, Zacherley was the MC for the night, and you can hear his great introduction on 2/13/70 show tapes, and officially on CD as Dick's Pick #4. "I should've brought my coffin," he mumbles, an aside to all the horror movie fans in the audience who grew up watching him, and then, suddenly, "Ladies and Gentlemen.....the Grateful Goddamn DEAD!!!"

As for the show that follows, it really is a great one. Opener "Casey Jones" has never sounded hotter as it does coming out of that Zacherley hail, a notoriously loose band at their crispest and tightest. There's also a wonderful "Dancin' in the Street," pre-Disco version obviously, here in 1960s Motown style, mutated by a cool-ass deadpan vocal by Weir and then Garcia and Lesh's monstrous extended counterweaving leads. Also a great "Dark Star," with a very clean crystalline subdued tone not quite like any other. That's all I can remember off the top of my head....I mainly just wanted to point out where the name of this blog came from.....the ghoulish progressive rock mind of the man called Zacherley.....