Friday, September 01, 2006

10-31-70, University Stadium (SUNY), Stony Brook NY (early electric set)

The Dead played an early and a late show on this Halloween day almost 36 years ago, with the early electric set notorious for being the last time the band ever played "Viola Lee Blues," with a surprising segue into "Cumberland Blues" no less. But the one I'm most stoked about right now is the 2nd tune of the set. After opening with a rare, frantic, and mistake-filled "Till The Morning Comes," it's time for Pigpen to take the stage, and he does it with the Otis Redding jam "Hard to Handle." Now, I'm no Pigpen purist, but of course I do love him, and this is one of my favorite of all his performances. You will not believe the way he starts each verse with a "Bay-AAAY-bee" yodel -- it has to be heard by all sentient humans. Even better is the way he takes it right into a staccato "I'm a man on the scene / I can give you what you want / but you got to come home to me," and the band plays the funk behind him and they really are sick, I mean greasy, and on the long extended multisolo in between Pigpen's verses, they just get down and wiggle, laid-back but raunchy. People laugh at the "disco Dead" of the 1980s, but they're already playing that way here, it's just that Pigpen's mere presence stank all the slick right out. I mean, I'm putting this guy right up with Beefheart as one of the greatest blues singers in white rock history. (Who else? I'm sure there's a couple obvious greats I'm not thinking of, but right now all I can come up with is Al Wilson.)

Lots of other good stuff in this set -- it's a real song-oriented electric set, with a definite and endearing acid-wobble and glow to it which energizes fresh versions of "Mama Tried," "Dire Wolf," "Cold Rain and Snow," "Me And My Uncle," and a real old-timey folk tune called "Dark Hollow," sung beautifully by Bobby with great chorus harmonies from Jerry. Next is "Brokedown Palace," a tune I love, and it would've surely been sweet to hear it with this wobbly Halloween glow, but I taped this off Grateful Dead Hour and they had to cut it for space, going right into the "Viola/Cumberland" mentioned earlier. "Viola" is as stinky as the "Hard to Handle" was, even though Pigpen doesn't sing on it, and the move into "Cumberland" (smoking as always) really does come as a surprise.


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