Monday, September 22, 2008

My Review of Grateful Dead Podcasts

Remember the "Dead Hour" with David Gans?  That was a cool show that I used to listen to when the Dead were still around (I belive it was on 97.1 on Sunday Nights in L.A.).  

I actually used to tape some episodes of that which me and my friends listened to until the tapes should have worn out, but then I miraculously converted some of it to digital .mp3 for my computer and  iPod because I had such an attachment to some of those shows.  I remember David Gans saying his favorite Dead song was "Playin' in the Band."   Interesting choice.  

There was (and I believe still is) a Grateful Dead radio show called "The Music Never Stops"  in Los Angeles on Sunday nights ( I believe on 90.7 KPFK) but I never listen to it because it is so inconsistent whenever I used to turn on the dial and get excited to hear the Dead it would be something else, and they  play a lot of other jam bands that I can never get into.

Luckily thanks to technology's leaps and bounds of progress there are GRATEFUL DEAD PODCASTS out there that really do release new shows every week.  These are amazing.  I am going to review them below.

The Dead Show on KOPN 89.5

This one seems to be my default Dead Podcast that I catch up with first because it is the first one I really found out about a couple of years  ago.  It is uploaded every Friday so I know I'll have some new (old) Dead music every weekend as I drive around.  Also, it is very easy for me to listen to without ruining the song surprises - a guy comes on (I think his name is the Professor) and tells you what show and all of the songs for approximately 50 seconds to 1:05.  

What I do is turn down my volume for the first minute of the podcast so I don't ruin the surprise of listening to the show.  And then I turn up the volume to about level "1" at the 1 minute mark so I can just barely here him talking (but not audibly understand the words he says) and as soon as he's done talking I crank it up for the show.  

This show (based out of Columbia Missouri) focuses a lot on the 70s "golden years" of the Dead, which is consistent with the vast majority of Deadheads' preference so that is understandable.  Occasionally the "Professor" plays a show from the nineties like the 3/21/1991 Capitol Center show from Landover Maryland that was absolutely ridiculous!!!  (I will post my review of that show in short order - but the Professor only played it from the 1st set closer Bird Song through the encored so that's all I will be able to review).  

The Professor  also recently played a show of JGB that was great and even an esoteric show from Jerry and Merl's side project "Legion of Mary" which in my opinion is for the serious collector only.  

My hats are off to this guy the Professor.  He brings it every week.  I have yet to hear him play anything but music with Jerry Garcia in it.  I know he had some health issues and I went to his blog and wished him well sometime last year.  You should do the same.  

Jer Bear records  this show from Martha's Vineyard and this show is quickly becoming my favorite Dead Podcast.  I've only been listening for a few months but I am pretty sure he puts an entire Grateful Dead concert into each Podcast!  How awesome is that!?!?

I actually have been a little more open minded to the non-Dead music that Jer Bear has played (although I usually fast forward it).  This past episode he really won me over by playing a great version of Days  Between and then it went right into a cool version of the Heptones' Book of Rules.  I was quite sure that it was Bobby singing and sure enough, Jer Bear announced after that it was a version of Bobby and the Midnites playing the Heptones' Book of Rules in Montego Bay Jamaica in 1982.  WOW, I wish I could've been at that concert!  I've never heard Bobby choose such a cool song.  I mean, how do you go from playing Heptones in MoBay in 1982 to playing The Same Thing and Little Red Rooster with the Dead in the nineties? 

Anyway, Jer Bear's MVY Radio Podcast covers a lot of ground and he gives updates on news about the Dead.  Unfortunately I always turn down the spoken parts of the show because I don't want the surprise of the songs to be ruined.  I always tell myself I'll go back to hear what he said but I never do.  As you might have gathered, I really like to listen to the Dead without knowing what they're going to play next so it is more intriguing to hear the between song tune ups and especially when they are jamming and bridging songs in the second set.

My hats are off to Jer Bear for this enormous undertaking, his show is a gift to anyone who likes the Dead.  Jer Bear also plays lots of 80s and 90s Grateful Dead which makes me happy.  He just plays a lot of Dead, period. The shows are usually between 3 to 5 hours every week! God Bless this guy!

Honorable Mention: Through the Years Podcast

Through the Years - How little we knew ye.  This is a podcast with 8 episodes (final episode in 2006) that comes up when you search for Grateful Dead podcasts in iTunes. 

This is actually the format I would've defaulted to if I were to make  a Dead podcast (which is why it is probably for the best that I let the pros handle the podcasts).  I really like Through the Years, it has song after song but they are all from different shows, and jump all over the map chronologically.  This  actually serves a great purpose because the song mix is pretty sweet, and it is very surprising to hear the sequence (that don't remotely resemble Grateful Dead setlist patterns).  It is almost like going to hear a club DJ who is mixing up GD tracks.  There is definitely a time and a place for this podcast in my life and I wish the podcast wasn't defunct.

Also, bonus points to Through the Years for not pre-announcing the songs (that I've noticed).

So  that's my review of the Grateful Dead podcasts.  By the way, if you are new to this, I recommend you go to the respective podcast sites (they are linked to above) or find them in iTunes and download them starting with the oldest available podcast.  This is because as far as I can tell, there is only a finite number of the podcasts hosted and whenever they post a new one, the oldest one drops off and no longer becomes available.  

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mike's Grateful Dead Song Reviews - Songs that Start with "A"

Hello this is my extremely opinionated take on the following Grateful Dead songs  that start with A (I'm using Deadbase's version of writing the songs because that's the best list of A-Z Dead songs I have at my disposal.  Note that many of their song titles are shortened):

Ain't no Lie
Alabama Getaway
Alice D. Millionaire
All Around this World
All Over Now
Around and Around
Attics of My Life

Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Ain't no Lie

This song is great, a mellow acoustic traditional American song. I think this song is often referred to as "Oh Babe, it Ain't No Lie" and you can just imagine some folk singer singing it in the early 20th century somewhere back east. Elizabeth Cotten wrote this song and she is a venerable great American songwriter who definitely had a great contribution to the canon of American folk music.

This song is always nice to listen to but is kind of indistinguishable (to me) from "(Been) All Around this World." I like the version of this that Jerry played at the Oregon State Prison on May 5th, 1982. I found someone has samples from this show available here: Jerry at Oregon State Prison Audio. Jerry was really on for this entire show - so you should check it out, but the fingerpicking in this particular song is really beautiful.

Alabama Getaway

This is a great rock song  from the album Go to Heaven.  This song falls into the category of music I call "for Deadheads only."  This category of music describes songs that are beloved to Deadheads but utterly unknown to the public at large.  I do believe this song actually was released as a single or at the very least the Dead played it on Saturday Night Live (if memory serves).  

This song sounds like a 70's rock song that a Southern boogie woogie rock band would play.  The word "honky tonk" comes to mind.  The lyrics are about a character named Alabama who is a reckless casanova and gets into trouble a lot.  The lyrics remind me of Tennessee Jed for some reason.  

I would have loved to have seen this song live, but it wasn't meant to be.  I can see in my Deadbase X that the band did revive the song in 1995 for the first time since Brent's passing. 

Alice D. Millionaire  (I don't have this song)

Can someone send me this song?  I don't have it.  In one of the many books on the Dead that I've read, I seem to remember that it was written as a play on a headline/caption in the paper (SF Chronicle?) that read "L.S.D. Millionaire."  I don't remember who the subject of that caption/article was but perhaps it could have been Owsley? 

Anyway, I seem to remember that one of the "post Jerry" Dead projects played this song.  Probably Phil Lesh and Friends - he seemed to be really dedicated to bringing back songs that the Dead had long retired.

Around this World

Sing it with me "Upon the Blue Ridge Mountains, there I'll take my stand..." This is another nice mellow old-timey American folk song  (that is kind of indistinguishable from "Ain't no Lie" in my opinion).  

This song is probably known often as "I've Been All Around this World."  Again there is a great version at the Jerry/John Kahn Oregon State Prison show from May 5th, 1982.  Man I can just imagine that scene unfolding - does anyone have pictures of this show?  I would love to see Jerry and John playing in front of a bunch of inmates.  

This song was also on the acoustic album Reckoning as well.  It is a great fingerpicking song that Jerry sings with a lot of character.

All Over Now

This is a cool Rolling Stones rocker that is commonly known as "(I Used to Love Her but it's) All Over Now"  I like this song.  I like that the Dead would choose a rare Rolling Stones song and no doubt it got a good crowd reaction when it was played.

For some reason I always think of the Oregon when I hear this song.  I seem too remember some friends seeing this song up in Oregon at Autzen and talking about it.  I was really jealous.  I also think I've heard a bootleg from Portland playing this song, hence the association with the Pacific Northwest.

I think this was a first set song and I'd say an awesome one at that.


Alligator is a classic.   Alligator definitely has a structure and lyrics and theme and chorus, but when I think of Alligator I think of free form acid rock jamming.  I have heard my Deadhead friends refer to the combination of Alligator and Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) from Anthem of the Sun as "Alligator Caution"  (much like "Scarlet Fire" or "Eyes Estimated").

This song is great, there is a kazoo sounding instrument that plays a sarcastic theme and then Pigpen sings about "ridin' down the river in an old canoe" and a run in with an mean ol' alligator.  Then the band goes off in a group improvisation and then I guess at some point on Anthem of the Sun the song changes to Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks).  I still think of that as part of Alligator if memory serves and also I believe the Dead were trying to make many track listings on Anthem for the purpose of maximizing royalties.  That practice created the interesting result of a bunch of phrases being seemingly arbitrarily assigned to musical passages. For instance there is a song that is entitled The Faster We Go the Rounder We Get and another called Quadiblet for Tender Feet.  These latter seems to have Phil's personality stamped all over it.

Suffice to say though that Alligator is a treat.  The song part is catchy and the jam is always aggressive and old school. I think I heard that Phil brought this song back, he's good like that.  I hope they did it justice.


Ahhhh, Althea.  Now I finally get to review a true Grateful Dead classic song.  This is an incredible song that appeared on Go To Heaven and even more notably on the live CD Without a Net.  I saw 'even more notably' because by the time Without a Net was recorded the song had really evolved into a ripping and soulful first set Jerry tune.  A friend of mine once told me he was die hard into hip hop and metal until he heard Althea from Without a Net and that was the watershed moment that began his life as a Deadhead.

The intro is one of the more memorable Dead licks - an electric finger plucked outlining of the main chords that recurs throughout the song.  Jerry's vocals about his interaction with Althea have a great swagger and humor to them.  It really brings out Jerry and Robert Hunter's sense of humor with memorable lines like:

Althea told me "Now, Cool down Boy 
Settle back, easy Jim"

or how about this one:

I told Althea I was a roving sign,
I wasn't born to be a bachelor
Althea told me, "okay that's fine"
Now I'm tryin' to catch her

Then this song also inevitably had a ripping solo and build up in it too (after "you know this space is getting hot").  An absolute classic first set song and really you couldn't ask for more than for Jerry to play this one in the first set (well, I guess you could hope for a Bird Song too, but that seems almost greedy).

Althea is a song that I  will never, ever fast forward through. When it starts, it is going to play until it is finished.

Around and Around

This song is a mellow rocking groove that I am almost certain was not originally a Dead song. There was a lot of excitement around the playing of this song in my memories of being a Deadhead so it had a kind of revered status in the echelon of Dead songs.  I think this  is possibly because it was played regularly during the mid 70's publicly acknowledged"golden years" of the Dead (not by me, read the manifesto) and then more sporadically later.  I remember when we got to Vegas 1995 on Saturday night (we could only make the last show) everyone was raving about the Dead playing The Race is On and Around and Around that no one even told me we missed Morning Dew.

I personally find it to be a rather predictable shuffling blues song that affords little in the way of surprises.  

Attics of My Life

The second bona fide Grateful Dead classic song in the "A" section.  

What can I say about Attics? One of the most beautiful songs ever written.  Incredibly original.  Very soulful lyrics.  It was the song that when I first got that American Beauty cassette in high school, I think I probably fast forwarded right through it after hearing it once.

Now, it ranks as one of the all time favorite songs.  I don't know how to describe this song, it really defies categorization in a genre.  It seems to be a love song, and it is a slow ballad.  I feel that it has an almost Irish quality to it, but I can't really say why.  The song is sung in 3 part harmony and I think the Crosby Stills and Nash guys had to help the Dead accomplish this disciplined vocal style.  It is just pure soul and it has very abstract, psychedelic lyrics written of course by Robert Hunter.

The lyrics are so great that it is tempting to post them all, but will focus on the "goosebumps" part which I guess you could refer to as the bridge or "B" section (the song has an AABA structure):

In the book of love's own dream, where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days, and all the lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me

Then of course after the verses there are additional vocalizations where the band continues to harmonize (ie. "to meeee  to meeee-eee") that I find to be really emotional.  A great version of this song is the acoustic "Phil Lesh and Friends" show from Berkeley in 1994.  
Note that this Phil Lesh and Friends actually was the Dead (as opposed to his post Jerry band of late).

Also note that people who got to witness this song (and this entire show) are critical of it on the message board below the media player.  How can these people take themselves seriously?  Oh wait, that's basically why I started this blog is to air my (sometimes negative) opinions on the world of the Grateful Dead.  Music (and reality I guess) is a beautiful thing because it is so subjective.  To each his own.  

Next up, I review Grateful Dead songs that start with "B"

GD Blog - Manifesto ~ Who am I and Why I do this ~

I recently read a book about music and media in which the writer criticized the plethora of music blogs on the web for being more about the relationship of the blogger to the music than about the music.  I am completely and utterly guilty of this exact thing, so forgive a Deadhead for being so wrapped up in himself... I really just can't escape my Deadhead experience from all those years ago, and I do this to relive it.

I am a Southern California born and raised Deadhead (also lived in SF for a few years too) who saw his first Dead show in 1993 in Las Vegas.

I saw the Dead 17 times and JGB 4 times.  I will be posting a review of every show that I saw. I will also post my take on the many shows I hear and eras, and I think I'll review all of the songs too.

I am an avid listener of the Dead and I read all the books, I love to play the music too.  

I find myself with a different set of preferences than most when it comes to the Dead.  I prefer later ('90s) Dead much more than the 70's "golden years" and I most definitely am a Jerry fanatic much more than the other members.

...The Finest Ever Seen...

I think the Grateful Dead as a whole was the most amazing musical project I've ever witnessed because of the entire experience that sprung up around the events.  Also I am very proud of our (Northern) California history of the hippie/civil rights era that the Dead were a part of.

I want to write in this blog about the Dead in hopes of finding like minded souls who might appreciate a bit of it and also  maybe I'll meet some new cool people.

Also, in a lot of the song reviews keep in mind that I only saw a sliver of the repertoire so I'm working off of tapes (and more recently youtube videos) to get to know the songs.  A lot of the songs were probably great in the moment at the concert  but don't seem that exciting on tape (ie Bertha, Tennessee Jed). So probably, I judge a lot of the songs a little harshly without ever having seen them performed live.

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.