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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Harpur College NRPS set

"Enough about the Dead, how was the New Riders' set?" - one guy, once

Any Deadhead worth her salt knows the Harpur College gig from May 2, 1970. It's a monster, one of the Dead's best, and long-circulating from FM tapes; it has blown a lot of minds.

I don't remember hearing much about the New Riders set from this night's Evening With the Grateful Dead, so I thought I'd check it out.

Performance: NRPS "meh", but Bobby Ace is real good

Sometimes, things aren't much noted because they aren't really noteworthy. I'd say that's the case here: this is easily the weakest of the sets played this night.

Arrangements need work. Nelson needs more volume and/or confidence. Marmaduke's grating singing gets in the way of enjoying his great songwriting. Garcia and the rest of the band sound fine, but this is only really their second night out and they can't quite unstick the cobwebs wisping over their ears and through their fingers.

I really like the Bobby Ace interregnum. Bobby was coming into his own as a guitarist, singer and stage presence at this time, and this is the perfect feature for the beautiful young man, in well-worn boots, jeans and collarless shirt, with the long pony tail and the handsome persona. The songs are simply wonderful. "Sawmill" is a great little Garciaverse rarity. Country legend Mel Tillis wrote the tune and first released it in 1959 (deaddisc), and the Riders' idol Buck Owens covered it, but it was Tillis's 1973 version that hit #3 on the charts (wiki). This is a great tune! "The Race Is On" also hit #3 on the country charts, for George Jones in 1965. The Dead played it a bunch in 1973, and in the 1980s revived it whenever they'd play on Kentucky Derby Day (e.g., 5/3/86, 5/6/89, 5/5/90), always a vernal treat for Bay Area fans. Merle Haggard got all the way to #1 in August of '68 with "Mama Tried", soon also picked up by the Dead. I prefer the NRPS arrangement, as I do with MAMU. These songs just sound great with steel.

Context: On Campus, May 1970

Still, the context is super interesting. "Harpur College", known to Deadheads the world over for the monster show played on this night. But this was An Evening With the Grateful Dead, and I don't recall seeing much discussion of the evening's middle set by the Dead's white country cousinage, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. This particular zoo got rolling on Friday, May 1st at little Alfred College in upstate New York and steamed into Binghamton for a Saturday show which is an indispensable part of the GD Legend on the East Coast, its economic lifeblood for fifty years. A large generation of baby-boom (and post) northeast corridorians and other city dwellers bought tickets at the time and now buy beautiful, multimodal nostalgia, delivered to the couch, street, car and garden. The Dead were a San Francisco band cashing New York checks. "Harpur  College" - every Deadhead, at least, knows those two words. See the Wolinsky review for some flavor.

More broadly, say "college campus" and "Spring 1970", and I am all ears, because this was a really weird time in American history, worth recalling as we consider our current polarization. The Dead played colleges on both sides of the May 4th Kent State shootings. You remember those, "four dead in Ohio" as CSNY put it, and this:

John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller, May 4, 1970, Kent State University.
On May 4, l970 members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students. The impact of the shootings was dramatic. The event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. H. R. Haldeman, a top aide to President Richard Nixon, suggests the shootings had a direct impact on national politics. In The Ends of Power, Haldeman (1978) states that the shootings at Kent State began the slide into Watergate, eventually destroying the Nixon administration. Beyond the direct effects of the May 4th, the shootings have certainly come to symbolize the deep political and social divisions that so sharply divided the country during the Vietnam War era. (Lewis and Hensley, ND).
 Here's the Dead's itinerary, in the thick of things:
  • 5/1: Alfred College
  • 5/2: Harpur College
  • 5/3: Wesleyan
  • 5/4-5/5: no shows
  • 5/6: MIT (free in Kresge Plaza)
  • 5/7: MIT (DuPont Gym)
  • 5/8: SUNY Delhi
  • 5/9: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The Dead's set furiously rages and is truly of its time. The NRPS set is just some guys trying to get it together, which I guess we could say is timeless.

Listening notes below the fold.




An Evening With the Grateful Dead
West Gym, Harpur College (SUNY Binghamton)
1092 Bunn Hill Rd.
Vestal Gardens, NY 13850
May 2, 1970 (Saturday)

--s2 NRPS, about an hour--
s2t02. Brown Eyed Handsome Man [4:22] [0:11]
s2t03. Truck Drivin' Man [3:01] (1) [0:41]
s2t04. (2) If You Hear Me When I'm Leavin' [4:51] [1:20]
s2t05. Whatcha Gonna Do// [3:59#] % ambience (3) [0:30]
s2t06. false start (4) [0:19], All I Ever Wanted [6:45] [0:25]
s2t07. Henry [3:35] (5) [0:54]
s2t08. Lodi [4:14] (6) [1:44]
s2t09. Sawmill [3:20] (7) [0:09]
s2t10. The Race Is On [1:58] [0:13]
s2t11. Mama Tried [3:02] [0:27]
s2t12. Me And My Uncle [3:29] [0:06]
s2t13. The Weight [6:20] [0:36] %

! ACT1: New Riders of the Purple Sage
! lineup: John Dawson - el-g (s2t01), ac-g (s2t02-s2t14), vocals;
! lineup: David Nelson - el-g (lead), vocals;
! lineup: David Torbert - el-b, vocals;
! lineup: Jerry Garcia - pedal steel guitar;
! lineup: Mickey Hart - drums;
! guest: Bob Weir - ac-g, vocals (s2t09-s2t12).

JGMF:
! recording symbols
! deadlists: http://deadlists.com/deadlists/showresults.asp?KEY=5/2/70: "AN EVENING WITH THE GRATEFUL DEAD MID-1970: Harpur College, Binghamton 5/2/70 is the first show from 1970 where we have tape of the complete three-part concert that comprised a Dead show in mid-1970. Speaking to Dick Lawson in England around 5/24/70, Garcia said: "We're going through some transitions. Our music is not what it was: it's continually changing. What we've been doing in the States lately is having like 'an evening with the Grateful Dead.' We start off with acoustic music with Bobby and I playing guitars, light Drums and very quiet electric bass. Pigpen plays the organ. Then we have a band we've been travelling with, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, where I play pedal steel, not guitar, Mickey plays Drums, and three of our friends from the coast, musicians that we've known for a long time, are fronting the band. So we start off with acoustic music and then The New Riders of the Purple Sage -- it's like very snappy electric country-rock; it's kinda hard to describe -- and then we come on with the electric Dead, so it keeps us all really interesting, and it's six hours of this whole development thing. By the end of the night it's very high." (Dick Lawson, "What Will Be The Answer To The Answer Then?," Friends, 12 June 1970, p. 11)".
! JGC: https://jerrygarcia.com/show/1970-05-02-harpur-college-binghamton-ny/
! db: http://db.etree.org/shn/28369
! venue: http://jerrygarciasbrokendownpalaces.blogspot.com/2011/12/west-gym-harpur-college-suny-1092-bunn.html
! map: https://goo.gl/maps/M0kqq
! band: NRPS
! review: Wolinsky, Richard. 1970. live dead live dead live dead live dead. Colonial News (SUNY Binghamton), May 5, 1970 (v25 n46), p. unk.
! historical: Harpur College, known to Deadheads the world over for the monster show played on this night. But this was An Evening With the Grateful Dead, and I don't recall seeing much discussion of the evening's middle set by the Dead's white country cousinage, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. This particular zoo got rolling on Friday, May 1st at little Alfred College in upstate New York and steamed into Binghamton for a Saturday show which is an indispensable part of the GD Legend on the East Coast, its economic lifeblood for fifty years. A large generation of baby-boom (and post) northeast corridorians and other city dwellers bought tickets at the time and now buy beautiful, multimodal nostalgia, delivered to the couch, street, car and garden. The Dead were a San Francisco band cashing New York checks. "Harpur  College" - every Deadhead, at least, knows those two words. See the Wolinsky review for some flavor. Then there's Spring, 1970, playing colleges on both sides of the May 4th Kent State shootings. Here's a description: "On May 4, l970 members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students. The impact of the shootings was dramatic. The event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. H. R. Haldeman, a top aide to President Richard Nixon, suggests the shootings had a direct impact on national politics. In The Ends of Power, Haldeman (1978) states that the shootings at Kent State began the slide into Watergate, eventually destroying the Nixon administration. Beyond the direct effects of the May 4th, the shootings have certainly come to symbolize the deep political and social divisions that so sharply divided the country during the Vietnam War era." (Lewis and Hensley, ND). Picture: http://media.cleveland.com/science_impact/photo/john-filo-photo-of-mary-ann-vechiojpg-4338af7e714952b6.jpg. 5/1: Alfred College; 5/2: Harpur College; 5/3: Wesleyan; 5/4-5/5: no shows; 5/6: MIT (free in Kresge Plaza); 5/7: MIT (DuPont Gym); 5/8: SUNY Delhi; 5/9: Worcester Polytechnic Institute. So they were in the thick of it. They met five-year partner in crime, computer and keyboard wizard Ned Lagin, during this period. And the Dead played one of the consensus best shows in their long history, 5/2/70 Harpur College.
! P: So, given the historical context, what do I hear on this listen to the NRPS, which have not been much noticed? Not a ton, frankly. Maybe a band that needs to rehearse a little bit more, a singer who needs to keep himself under control to deliver the songwriter --same guy-- 's really good songs. David Nelson sounds a little bit tentative this night. Garcia sounds fine to my ears. To me, the highlight of the set is easily the material with Weir. Bobby was coming into his own during this period, as a guitar player, singer and as a stage presence. He looked great in these days, beautiful young man with a little country flavor and a perfectly good ponytail. The songs are simply wonderful. "Sawmill" is a great little Garciaverse rarity. Country legend Mel Tillis wrote the tune and first released it in 1959 (deaddisc), and among others Buck Owens covered it, but it was Tillis's 1973 version that hit #3 on the charts, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Tillis_discography. Great tune!. TRIO had hit the same number for George Jones in 1965. The Dead played it a bunch in 1973, and in the 1980s revived it whenever they'd play on Kentucky Derby Day (e.g., 5/3/86, 5/6/89, 5/5/90), one the seasonal treats given to Bay Area fans. Merle Haggard hit #1 with "Mama Tried", soon also picked up by the Dead. I prefer the NRPS arrangement, as I do with MAMU. These songs just sound great with steel. After Weir leaves, the set-ending "The Weight" is a great selection, but the arrangement rattles a lot - definitely need to pin some things down. So, overall, I'd give the NRPS set a "meh", but maybe a "good" or "quite good" to the Bobby Ace segment.
! R: []
! P: s2t02 BEHM 2009 note: Marmaduke switches to acoustic. BEHM is something of a mess. Hart is having a really hard time keeping the time.
! R: s2t02 BEHM brief splice around 2:53?
! P: s2t02 This band needed a little more rehearsal time, they don't have arrangements together. BEHM 2:40 ish somoene, either Nelson or Garcia, is supposed to step up. Neither really does. The band is still not together 3:28. In my 2009 note I said it was Hart's fault, but this all just sounds a little problematic, to the ending.
! P: s2t03 David Nelson late 1 is supposed to take first solo, he's a little tentative, but then he finishes strongly. It's brief, he's getting it together, though, I think. Love Nelson. What a great American musician.
! s2t03 (1) you can hear Garcia yell out the tune.
! s2t04 (2) right at the track break, into the track, I think he says "let's do 'Hear Me When I'm Leavin''."
! s2t05 (3) @ 4:06 (5) Sam Cutler "Hang on." @ 5:05, crowd member yells "Get to the electric stuff!" Dude is gonna get scalped in about an hour and a half. I hope he has has his body chemistry well timed.
! R: s2t05 WGD cuts out, very near the end.
! setlist: I am confused by the order as represented here. The Sam Cutler snippet confuses me, because he was emceeing, which sort of suggests the start of the next piece of the big show, i.e., the beginning of the New Riders set. But that's not how things are presented, and all of the early PA problems suggest a start of show. I am reserving judgment.
! s2t06 (4) Marmaduke "Can you slow it down just a taste?"
! s2t07 (5) @ 3:02  there's a clank and a yell from the crowd. Someone knocked a mic over or something. Then, @ 3:59 I think I hear someone say "It's all too weird", but I could be imagining that. Then, vintage Marmaduke: "We're gonna do one more song, and then the Grateful Dead introduce two members of the New Riders of the Purple Sage and we've got a guest star who's a member of the Grateful Dead, y'see, so we'll happen in a minute here."
! P: s2t08 Lodi I am not a fan of how the New Riders did this song. Too much Marmaduke affectation, which is best taken in moderation. Another mic bump @ 1:25. Jerry takes first solo, but it's not very loud.
! s2t08 (6) @ 4:35 "OK, we're gonna get Bobby Ace, formerly of Bobby Ace and the Cards Off The Bottom, and he's comin' up here now, and he's got his guitar and everything, and we're gonna do a little singin' some more, y'know, a little bit of it, y'know." Jerry suggests "Sawmill", Bob wants to do something else. Garcia: "Sawmill's a better song." Setting up the mics, etc. Around 5:50 someone asks the tempo, and someone else says "Shuffle it straight, though." Marmaduke says "it's a shuffle", and the just-prior speaker (Torbert? I know the other guys' voices), he says "We do it both ways, though."
! s2t09 (7) I love how someone calls the tune, "The Race Is On!", maybe it's Bob, and Bobby just spurs it into a sprint.
! P: s2t10 TRIO: Great energy! Bob sounds great. The arrangement isn't totally successful, but this version has more of a honky tonk feel than the later GD renditions.
! P: s2t11 MT Nelson is mixed too low and he sounds tentative to me.
! P: s2t12 I love these NRPS versions of MAMU! Marmaduke's harmonies evoke Hank William's "Kaw-Liga", which of course these guys played a known time or two. The pedal steel works well. The GD played it as more of a straight-ahead rocker.
! P: s2t13 The Weight gets off to a rough start. I think Torbert is doing the first harmony vocals on "take a load off, Fanny". The Weight drags. Garcia does a nice vocal carry over the 6, then they don't know how to end it. D'oh! Thank ya's and announcing the EGD follow.

1 comment:

  1. A close look at McNally tells us that when Garcia, Dawson and Nelson started to get a little bit serious about their enterprise, the first place they rehearsed in June 1969 was Weir's "ranch," known as Rukka Rukka. So I think the Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Show (June 11 '69) stems from that. I also think that the few Weir that were performed were also worked out in the Summer of '69. There's an implication that Weir could have been a sort of regular guest with the Riders, but after May '70 that is never followed up again.

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