OK, turns out I was most of the way through a listen to this, so I finished it.
On the one hand, that wasn't so bad. I don't feel too unclean. On the other hand, as Jimmy Fallon's teenaged character Sara might say -- "Ew".
First, tip o' the cap to Mr. Don Dearth for heading down to Palo Alto, fresh tape and batteries, the mics and the deck, and walking out into the early summer morning with a fine aural commemorative. And thanks to John Moses for getting this tape into the world.
Second, my prior opinion of this show, that it may be the single worst Garcia performance in the canon, is based in a 2007 listen, only tersely noted. I now think that's an overstatement, but my main position now is just that it's hard to verbalize summary judgments of multidimensional phenomena. In brief, my assessment is that one aspect of the show is just so bad that it cannot help but color assessment of the whole show. I'll elaborate.
The vocals are as bad as Garcia ever inflicted on a paying audience. To my taste, late 1984 (this period through December) is Jerry's vocal nadir - he is just absolutely, fundamentally shredded up. Under the overall heading "Jerry sounds absolutely awful", I note the following specifics.
- ! P: s2t01 MITR starts off as one of Garcia's worst recorded performances. In 2007, more terse than I seem to be now, I wrote simply "MITR is a mess". Even though it's not quite as badly off-key as some other versions --he really had trouble arranging this song to suit his ever changing vocal abilities-- he botches the words and just sounds rather lost at the start. I think he was *this close* to asking for a mulligan. He finds his footing a little bit, "tonight I would be thankful for any dream at all". Indeed.
- ! P: s2t02 LITA Jerry again clams up the beginning, this time with some ill-plucked strings.
- ! P: s2t04 DLG Garcia has completely lost his voice.
There is some excellent guitarwork, including in sometimes-throwaway "They Love Each Other" and the new-to-the-repertoire hottie, Allen Toussaint's "Get Out Of My Life, Woman" (GOOMLW) -- "there is absolutely nothing wrong with this." Even 2007 me, even after the pooch-screwing that starts "Love In The Afternoon", conceded that "LITA has some pretty nice playing." Oh, and "Don't Let Go", as ever, is a treat that could bear repeat engagements. (That said, I think the next night's version outdoes this one.) If you had paid your however-much-it-is to get it, you would have seen some world class music being performed.
... and the servings are so small
What about quantity? Later, especially after getting busted in Golden Gate Park in January 1985, Jerry regularly crossed the entertainment industry's version of baseball's Mendoza line (a .200 batting average, honoring a light-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop) - the Minelli Line: 45 minutes of big show per paid admission, and that's it. Cabaret economics is like Manchester Capitalism, without the morals. You want more? Pony up for the next show, and pass me my drink and cigarettes. The most egregious example of Garcia doing this is probably an acoustic duet gig with John Kahn in Kahn's Beverly Hills hometown, May 31, 1985, when Garcia's often-fawning (and, at this point, regularly-suffering) fans brought a chant of "bullshit! bullshit!" down around him and forced him to cough out a few extra numbers before turning them out.
This first set dangerously skirts the Minelli Line, while set II is about an hour, a decent quantity that's more like batting .250. The show is not as long as the next night. But more importantly, this Saturday show just isn't as good as the next night. The weekend's pair of "Don't Let Go"s provides an easy contrast: 16 minutes versus 22, especially at the relatively brisk pace they were playing it with at this time (nearly optimal to my ears, BTW), is the difference between Jerry striking the fly or mostly just swaggering around it, seeing it, knowing he could reach for it if he tried, but the moment never quite culminates, for whatever reason. Interesting that I noted this on the Sunday version: "go-for-it' continuation early in 13 by Jerry. Very long and interesting DLG" - that's the difference between the two versions - on 8/26 he passes up the opportunity to stretch the song out, while on 8/27, at just the same point, he seizes it.
One way to think of this is the linear-and-additive-effects model - take the average. The guitar playing can be good, but there aren't enough of them. The vocals are horrible. DLG interesting. Below average show for the period (compare next night) but, as I said from the show two days earlier (8/24),
if this is rock bottom, it's not that bad.But I just can't escape those bloody vocals. I want to suggest that there's something so qualitatively bad about these vocals that we must condemn this show as an affront to the professionalism that Garcia, for all of his travails, almost never failed to strive to achieve. (This is not weasel language. He failed to achieve a standard of professionalism many times, as anyone who's trying hard to do something hard to do must. The key is in being conscious of the standard, and in the trying to uphold it.) Those short sets in 1985 can define the show, to my satisfaction, as a ripoff, and thus a professional violation, a violation of the should-be-inviolable pact with your paying customers. And I might have to rule similarly about these late August '84 vocals, and say that keeping yourself in such a state that you can't, y'know, sing, and charging people to hear you try to do so anyway, to general icky embarrassment, doing all of that violates some standard of professionalism that Garcia professed to uphold, which he almost always did - except for during this period, 1984-1985.
And you know that on some level, for as extensively as he bandaged all those frayed endings in a poppy gauze, dulled the annoying sensibilities, he knew - he knew, and he was mortified. This is pure speculation on my part, of course. But Garcia's a smart guy. He knows the vocals are rough to such an extent, on some nights, that no amount of compensatory guitar wizardry can really make it OK. He's thought very consciously over a two-decade professional career about his relationship with fans, with customers, their respective rights and responsibilities to each other. He's violating that, in this window. He's violating that with 30-something minute sets (generally the next year), and he's violating that with cringeworthy vocals here. And I am sure that somewhere and somehow he regrets it. But, of course, sometimes it's as if one's hands were tied.
So, no, while I am not interested in blame, I am interested in evaluating Garcia as a professional musician, and, here, I don't want to give this guy a pass. I want to hold him to his own standards, to which he almost always held himself. But not in this period. For Garcia, a professional musician to the core of his being, that's Rock Bottom.
Listening notes below the fold for this Sunday night show during the busy and interesting month of August 1984 (see also 8/11/84, 8/12/84, 8/24/84, 8/27/74).