Friday, September 12, 2008

Concert Review - Grateful Dead at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl on June 26th, 1994

This is the first show I am going to review as it is probably my favorite Grateful Dead Concert that I attended, or at least the most intense.

In another post, I need to post what shows I did go to and will review from my notes and memory. I will also eventually post a manifesto about this blog. Briefly, I am a huge Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead fan who has a lot of opinions about the music and I've noticed that sometimes what I appreciate about Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead music is a little bit different than popular opinion regarding what's great about Jerry and the Dead's music (particularly what are great shows and great eras). Also, you may notice that I refer to the subject of this blog as Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead music, that will probably explain alot about where I am coming from right off the bat.

So anyway, the Sunday night Vegas show in 1994 was one of the best concerts I ever saw. It was the culmination of a long weekend of partying and the Dead delivered in my opinion an absolutely epic show. The Grateful Dead were languishing a bit by all accounts by the Summer of 1994 and even I have to agree that they (and particularly Jerry) were a bit inconsistent.

However, the times when Jerry was "on" and delivered he was amazing to watch.

This weekend was hot, and I think temperatures got up to 120 degrees at times.  A group of friends and I made it up pretty close to the stage on Phil's side for this show.  The show started out with Hell in a Bucket and this song is a real rocker. I mean, I don't know why it is so good-I don't like the title and it isn't all that catchy, but nonetheless it's one of my favorite openers and it didn't disappoint because it was well played on this night.

Peggy-O was next and greatly played by Jerry, he launched into a lengthy solo after I think only one chorus and as I re-listen on I am impressed at Jerry's fluid solo and soulful rendition of the song.

To say that I am not too hot on the Bobby "blues" slot in the first set is a bit of an understatement, but since it is mandatory, Minglewood Blues is a fine choice (the finest choice would be Black Throated Wind - I love that song). Jerry is super overdriven on this song, and isn't it kind of weird Jerry always is quieter when he uses lots of distortion?

Ramble on Rose actually isn't another favorite but the version is upbeat. Sometimes this song drags on forever in my opinion but this particular time it was relatively short at around 9:00. As far as Bobby songs go, I also love El Paso for some reason (one reason may be the fact that Jerry noodles throughout the entire song- even during the verses). Bobby was on the acoustic this show and that sounds nice (I also think that Jerry's guitar he used in this era - with the "steal your face" lightning bolt where Rosebud or the Wolf used to be - sounds like an acoustic).

Okay now is when the show starts to get really good: So Many Roads. This is one of my favorite Jerry songs, and I think it is really notable because it reminds me of a Jerry 2nd set ballad but it was almost always performed in the 1st set. Now having a Jerry ballad slot in the 1st set - that's an idea I can get behind. This clip is pretty easy to find on but here is a link. Jerry belts this one out soulfully and I loved every minute of it. Some of the lines in this song are just beautiful lyrical work:

(1st verse 2nd stanza)

Thought I heard that KC whistle
moanin' sweet & low
Thought I heard that KC when she blow
Down where the sun don't shine
Underneath the Kokomo
Whinin' boy -- got no place else to go

(2nd verse 2nd stanza)

Wind inside & the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don't shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain't that a shame?

Phil Lesh sings Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and this is a short 5 minute version of the song that is a little forgettable - but well played. 

The Music Never Stopped is a great set closer, and the part that I always wait for is the jam that opens up after Bobby sings the final lyrics.  This jam is not the most stellar by any means, but they kind of made up for it by jamming out pretty hard at the end of the song (after it returns to the main groove).

I remember the excitement and the drumming during the set break in Vegas.  Things always got a little strange during the set break and there was quite a show in the audience.  I am not sure exactly how many people fit in the Silver Bowl, but it sure seemed like a ton of people.  Since we were up close on Phil's side of the stage, I think I stayed at the seats for most of the set break.

2nd Set

I remember really wanting to hear Help on the Way, but instead the Dead launched into Victim or the Crime.  Through the years this song has really become one of my favorites. Victim or the Crime is jazzy, angular and sinister.  This version had a disturbing effect on me because of its dissonance.  There were some sound effects incorporated into this version that were really sinister.

The disturbing effect that Victim or the Crime had on me set me up for a bowling pin for the relief that was Eyes of the World.  As I listen to the stream of this part of the show I can hardly believe I was there for this, and in such a state.  The comping Jerry does at the beginning  is great, Vince plays the accompaniment in the classic way and the song is tight and mellow.  Jerry really did explore new territory every time he played this song, a fact that I realized when he was improvising on it the next year in Vegas.  I really appreciate that Jerry would play this classic and deliver the lyrical and sweet signature leads, but then always try to push for something new in the solos between the verses.  

So the band is basically really "on" for the entire second set, and Box of Rain is no different.  A classic Phil song, also nice and compact.  Saint of Circumstance is one of those great Grateful Dead songs that I think no one in the world besides Deadheads knows exist.  It has a great bouncy riff and excellent yet short "spacey" digressions built in (like after Bobby says "the rain fallin' down).  Also there are some great Bobby lyrics:

Sure don't know what I'm goin' for
..but I'm gonna go for it for sure

Then the Dead played on the best 2nd set songs in my opinion: Terrapin Station.  This song is so great because it is beautiful, has a very long and evolving song structure with numerous peaks and improvisational sections.  Also, Terrapin Station was always very reliable - they always played the song well.  There is a great gam at the end of Terrapin Station leading into Drums.  

Drums and Space were always enjoyable parts of the show, and this show was no different. Space had some open atmospheric qualities that I really appreciate.  I really think the Dead distinguished themselves from all other "classic rock" bands by performing Drums and Space at every show.

Then one of the best Dead memories of all the shows I attended - The Wheel.  This song is so unique for the way that it is written and one verse builds momentum into another.  Come to think of it, I also think The Wheel is a song that no casual music listeners really know about (outside of Deadheads).  Which is a shame, this is a song that has always been deep and meaningful to me.  I think it symbolizes a lot of the philosophy that kind of surrounded the hippies and the Dead.  The lyrics are very simple, but I think also very deep:

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down
You can't let go and you can't hold on
You can't go back and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will

The Dead got back ripping with a tight All Along the Watchtower.  This song is a little "undynamic" in my opinion because it rocks all the way through at the same intensity.   Still it is a rock classic and Bobby always delivered the verses (especially the last one).  Jerry plays really great and aggressive leads throughout the entire 2nd set and was really "on" for All Along the Watchtower.

Ahh, what else to close an epic show?  Morning Dew.  Such a great song, and this was  a great version of it.  Not only was it sung very soulfully, Jerry again was really "on" with ripping leads building up the end.  

After the show, I remember people drumming and loitering inside the stadium for a long time.  We were banging empty water bottles and a kind of drum circle was formed.  Eventually they forced us out into the warm evening for more partying and enjoyment in the parking lot to celebrate an incredible end to a 3 show run at Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.  

Vegas '94.  An incredible memory.

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