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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Positively Garcia and the East Coast Deadhead

I. Howard Weiner's Positively Garcia

Howard Weiner's very enjoyable Positively Garcia (Weiner 2014) is like a better-written, more musical, less arcane version of my listening notes, great flashing insights on the same issues that occupy Corry, without the depth. That's not a criticism, by the way: it is light in the sense of being quick and fun to read (if you are seeing these words, I think you'll feel the same), not lightweight. Positively Garcia is the first book on the Jerry Garcia Band, as he would have it (see e.g., p. 3), or, as a stickler would have it, since a couple of the shows are from 1972 and hence predate the JGB, Garcia On The Side. Tip o' the cap to Mr. Weiner for kicking off a print discussion that I really look forward to advancing.

The book is chock full of good stuff, and I decided to engage a piece that caught my eye and drew my ear, its treatment of JGB 11/4/81 at the Palace in Albany, which I guess checks in at #6 of Weiner's list of must-hear Garcia shows. I'll take two slices across his piece, roughly speaking a more meta take focused on the economy of this gig at its particular points in space and time, and then a more micro listening engagement, comparing notes and thoughts on the performance.

II. "Rise of the East Coast Deadhead"

Weiner frames JGB 11/4/81 Albany around this theme, and it works wonders.

Quibbling, I'd say that Arnold (ongoing at Lost Live Dead and Hooterollin Around), Jackson (1999), LIA (ongoing at Grateful Dead Essays and Grateful Dead Sources), McNally (2002), Lesh (2005), Richardson (2014), and all the rest have amply elaborated the phenomenal rise of the East Coast Deadhead, and it's of much older vintage than the 1977 root Weiner taps. (What East Coast Deadhead of this vintage doesn't mention Englishtown?) If, In The Beginning there were Sue Swanson and whatshername, by about the third day He made the East Coast Deadhead, probably via a solid black phone with a rotary dial. The birth year of the East Coast Deadhead sports a '6' in the tens column. In the Garciaverse, the curve first kinks at An Evening With The Grateful Dead and the May 1970 East Coast tour, then again in January 1972 on the Wales-Garcia Hooteroll? tour, the first time Garcia had his name on an East Coast marquee since the birth of the Grateful Dead. A more accurate chapter heading would have been "a slope-change in East Coast Deadheaddom proximally preceding late 1981", but he writes too well for that.

Quibbles aside, Weiner does a great job of colorfully narrating and analyzing a particular, for lack of a better word, economy. The JGB and its East Coast fans sustained, extended, substantially constituted not only the Garciaverse, but also, or rather thereby, the world of the Grateful Dead. Let me start with the GOTS perspective. "More music" catalyzed the Garciaverse, but the money certainly didn't hurt, and naturally the East Coast was a huge part of that, the modal part of that I'd say. That's where the relevant people were in the 1970s and into the 80s. Monetizing his name helped him make his life of music and women and children and men and meetings and highs and hoots and lonely nights in strange rooms and all the rest. It made his life, as he lived it, possible. If Garcia's name-claiming journey began in the comfort of the Bay Area, it really started paying the bills once it followed the silk road, to the east.

"No Jerry = no Grateful Dead" should be emblazoned into the Dead Canon, the band quite impossible without him as long as he breathed (except for 8/1/69 at the Family Dog and, for an hour or so, 6/8/69 at the Fillmore West, of course), and for a long time after he stopped. From the advent of Jerry Garcia as a commodity/man alongside the Dead, and hence, by a kind of natural market gravity, Jerry Garcia as an East Coast phenomenon, the pieces almost always acted as complements, working together and strengthening each other. I can think of one exception, summer 1992, when a hard/hot/rough JGB jaunt to Southern California wrecked Garcia to the tune of several cancelled Dead shows and probably a few hundred thousand dollars. But mostly, they worked together.

After a time, GOTS made "Jerry Garcia" possible. To that extent, it set the conditions of possibility for the Grateful Dead as Garcia aged.

In the making of this Jerry Garcia, the institution of the East Coast tour was a cornerstone social technology, the essence of creative destruction from 1975 until his death. JGB and its acoustic brethren took reasonably long jaunts that year (e.g., October 22 - November 2), and then in the following biggish pieces:

spring 1976: 
fall 1977,
spring 1978,
early 1980,
early and late 1981,
mid-1982,
mid-1983,
late 1983,
mid-1984

[work in progress]

The Dead had assiduously monetized itself amongst this set of fan-consumers from the beginning. Having built that, in 1975 Garcia claimed his name, in that wonderful modern Western sense of property rights, of packaging it up, dba Jerry Garcia Band, and selling it to willing customers, exercising an entitlement to the residual claim (which is the definition of property rights) on a very valuable asset: his name. Weiner does a great service by Polaroiding the East Coast Deadhead as a key ingredient in the alchemy by which Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead also became Jerry Garcia, full stop.

East Coast Deadheads loved Garcia, and he played them some great shows. As Weiner describes it, they are "rabid" fans who
attend college at SUNY Albany, or one of the plethora of upstanding schools in the area. One day they’ll be the doctors, lawyers, scientists, and politicians of America. But on this night they are boisterous, stoned, Garcialoving sycophants, escaping the cultural doldrums of the times—new wave, punk, Jordache Jeans, and The Dukes of Hazzard-- ... East Coast Deadheads inspired Garcia by raising a ruckus—hooting and hollering at exactly the right moments. These rowdy cats appreciated the intricacies of improvisation, and Garcia would respond by dialing up the jam—impassioned fret work. Garcia was the embodiment of California culture, yet his creativity thrived in the chaotic environments hovering around New York City, New Haven, Boston, and Philadelphia (Weiner 2014, 68).
This is a standard analysis, supported by statements made by Garcia and other GD members over the years - the East Coast was more intense and often produced diamonds, while the West Coast typically got a more laid-back, home town vibe. Either way, commerce abetted some outstanding art, and it was win-win all around. That's certainly Weiner's claim about 11/4/81, since he places the show in his top twelve. I'll go through the show alongside Weiner, see how our subjective assessments compare. Bottom line of this is that Weiner puts it in his top 6, and I might put it as average for the tour (which was, admittedly, a very good one).

III. Listening Comparison

--set I--

How Sweet It Is
Weiner calls it lackluster, I find nothing of note. Our assessments converge.

Catfish John
Weiner lumps it with HSII (lackluster), but then narrates as follows:" As Garcia strums the climactic finale of the “Catfish John” jam, the Palace Theatre erupts. These overly eager fans are cuckoo for Jerry from the first note" (Weiner 2014, 68).
I note: "@ 2 John's bass sounds great, not sure how much is PA/tape and how much is just that he sounds strong, some combination of both. 7:06 JG symphonic." So I am with the crowd here. Again, I'd say Weiner's sense and my own sense are pretty close.

I Second That Emotion
Weiner likes it.
I systematically dislike this as a Garcia-Kahn tune, which is unfortunate since they played it hundreds of times in just about every band. Songs that stood the test of time in that particular way --start early, stay consistent, never very far from being at hand -- songs Garcia really liked and really liked playing, weren't that common, and if it was good enough for him who am I to say? And here at 3:25 ish I hear why he feels enthusiastic about playing this song, he's is right on it, Mr. Tutt is right on it. Another run 'round the bases for Jerry late 3 over 4, cruising into second on the double, safely ahead of the throw. Garcia sounds great, the whole band sounds great."
So, against my priors (I thought Weiner would be more positive than me), we both converge on liking it.

Simple Twist Of Fate
Weiner does not mention this song. I don't have that much to say, pace a little draggy for me, but nice inflection on "waterfront docks | where the sailors all come in," a classic Dylan palabragraph of Garcia's sailor- and salt air-San Francisco early childhood. It doesn't feel like Weiner and I diverge much on this one.

Mystery Train
Weiner calls it "the transformative performance, the one that really hurtles [it] towards immortality".
I don't make one note. So here I'd say we diverge substantially.

Deal
Weiner: "Once upon a time, this was a onejam pony with a tight instrumental tucked in the middle; but now there's an outrageous ending jam, one that Garcia has been cultivating for the past year" (Weiner 2014, 69). Here's an example of Weiner's really wonderful musical insight: he's absolutely right, I bet, that if we trace back to the handful of summer 1980 East Coast shows (with –ex Family Stone Greg Errico on drums), but especially in the February '81 tour, we'd find the big, hugely layered runs he stacks on the back of little Deal, really making it a rip-snorter all the way through his last good playing late in life.

I have to quote Weiner at length here:
I recommend the final solo from the Albany "Deal." Garcia opens swiftly with screeching twangs that'll burn your brain right out. The crowd is overwhelmed, and the crazed shouting begins …  The music thunders. Kahn and Tutt are the sound and the fury-the Palace walls are shaking. A crazed outburst from Garcia draws a tumultuous roar … Garcia restates the riff, louder, and with more authority. A wave of approval reverberates through the faithful, and the crowd barks for more … An obliging Garcia drops the hammer--same melody line in a higher register, and incrementally quicker, 85 mph ... 90 mph ... 95 mph. Feeding off the loudest roar of the night, Garcia invents exclamation notes born out of the heat of the moment. It's an inspired collaboration, an emotional give and take between a performer and an audience in peak states. … Garcia would play many longer versions of "Deal" featuring mind-bending jams executed with brilliant technique; but few are as stunning as 11-4-81. There's virtuosity within this solo, but the real thrill is hearing how Garcia works the crowd, and how he lets the crowd work him. It's a time out of mind moment, aural transcendence captured on an audience recording (Weiner 2014, 70).
These were the kinds of experiences, a night of world class American music for your $7.50, smokin' hot guitar playing in front of a great band churning out some great rock n roll, by dint of which Garcia earned his audience-for-life.

My notes give it a very good review, but then I conclude a little contradictorily:
You can start to hear Garcia's voice really thinning out in this period. Nevertheless, as I hear him doing some chorus 3:30, I hear him nodding his head to the ladies and signaling that he wants to dig in a little. They step up, and he does step up nicely second half of 3, now stacking and building 4:15 to a nice full peak 4:24, crowd into it 4:32, great notes everywhere, mixing and blending times, scales and excursions trading off at random, then decaying intervals, a nice extension 5:20 when he could have done something else, building it up 5:31, not in the key I want, but he's building it up 5:45, ethereal peaks 5:45, trotting down a scale right over 6. Puts a pedal on it 6:20, Melvin right where he needs to be, Jerry and the ladies rejoin the vocals on cue 6:30ish. He didn't blow the roof off with that Deal, but it was very good, as it often was during this period.

--intermission--

--set II--

Roadrunner
Weiner nicely narrates the hard traveling of 1981, with this particular Jerry Garcia Band tour (October 31 – November 19, 1981, 18 shows in 14 cities) coming less than two weeks after coming back from a European Dead tour for the second time that year, followed by ten days off and then seven more Midwest Dead shows. "Roadrunner", indeed.

I am a little grumpier about things: "Again I notice Garcia's thinning, increasingly nasal vocal delivery".

Mission In The Rain
Weiner loves it, loves it, loves it, drapes it in lots of hyperbole. I think he is mistaken when he says "'Mission in the Rain' is Hunter's portrait of Garcia when they both resided in the Mission District of San Francisco" (Weiner 2014, 73), though it is clearly bound up in the songsters' biographies. It also works well, for older Jerry, who "had lost a lot during the last decade. His bushy black mane and beard had grayed prematurely, and his addiction to smoking Persian had him by the balls" (Weiner 2014, 74).
With expressive and cascading guitar runs, Garcia evokes the pains and pleasures of the human experience as the band backs him in a dreamlike trance. … In the Albany "Mission," his Tiger guitar has the gift of gab as he scurries from scene to scene-everything's poignant and picturesque-brilliant brushstrokes galore. Garcia's phrasing is immaculate. Each riff is a clever idea, complete with its own zestful flavor and texture. There's a brief interlude from Seals, but Garcia's guitar won't be hushed. Just when you think the Bearded One has ended a phrase, he sneaks in a spine-tingling flurry, a little something for us elitists who think we've heard it all. And the way Garcia manipulates the silence is an art form within itself (Weiner 2014, 74).
Weiner notes a miscue that Garcia turns to gold, an extra measure on a Mission chorus compensated by some monstrous guitar work. At 14 and a half minutes, Weiner notes, this is the longest MITR on record (Weiner 2014, 75).

What did I think of the Mission? Heh heh, here's old Grumpy Gus now.
This Mission did absolutely nothing for me. Sounds draggy, and I notice vocal weakness. For a good part of 11 he is not really playing his guitar. 11:45 nice little run over 12. Some envelope late 12 and louder, now doing well over 13, talking himself into putting some oomph into some solos. Not bad, but he hasn't blow the roof off this night. Good picking here 13:36, but for some reason I am wanting more pure decibels and he's not delivering.
Subjectivity is funny, isn't it?

That's What Love Will Make You Do

Weiner: "After such an overwhelming display, on a another night, Garcia might have slowed things down with "Simple Twist of Fate" or "Russian Lullaby," but instead, he almost incites a riot by busting into "That's What Love Will Make You Do," an atypical pick for the third spot of the second set" (Weiner 2014, 75). But he doesn't spend much time on it.

Me: "TWLWMYD I am anxious because I think the one on 11/10/81 (early or late?) is supposed to be the best. This starts off nicely, yeah, in a good groove."

Night They Drove Old Dixie Down ->

Weiner talks about the song, but doesn't have much to say about the performance. I found nothing noteworthy.

Tangled Up In Blue

"Out of the final 'Dixie' chorus, JGB blasts into 'Tangled Up in Blue'. A classic Band anthem precedes a classic Dylan anthem. American history and culture rolls into one" (Weiner 2014, 76). Weiner doesn't like this TUIB as much as he likes the version from Cape Cod on 5/28/83, not as much as I do, apparently: "@ 4:29 Garcia lets loose some very fast and deft picking, very fluid, pulls back again 5:01 like he's got the horse to a good canter and you just keep on going, confident strumming mid-5 to the Montague Street verse. Over 10 this is some exceptionally inventive guitar work, all the way across the 10-minute mark, long cascading scales, digging in a little very end 10 to start bringing things home."

So, sounds like I liked this particular Dylan more than HW.

--encore—

Sugaree
Noting the relative rarity of a JGB encore, Weiner likes this version, which he calls intense and short. So funny. Here's what I said: "It's rather amazing this is the encore, because Garcia is not rushing this too much at all. Around 5:27 I found myself really liking what he was doing; it struck me as patient and inventive. Greatness 7:15 over 7:30 high searing peak." Sounds like we pretty much converge in liking it, though.

In summarizing this listening comparison, I certainly don't put this show anywhere near my top 10, as Weiner does. It's good, it has a lot of good moments, but it strikes me as representative of the tour, which was generally quite strong. I'd need to do more listening to really feel confident about that.

IV. Conclusion

I have been talking a lot about some of the recent and forthcoming books we get to enjoy here in the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Dead and the 20th anniversary year of Garcia's death. Weiner's will never be part of The Canon, but it's a good read and, naturally enough, I am thrilled to see Garcia On The Side getting some love. I recommend it.

Listening notes after the jump.

Jerry Garcia Band
November 4, 1981 (Wednesday)
Vita-Minches shnid-76659

--set I (7 tracks, 53:21)--
s1t01. tuning [0:08]
s1t02. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) [7:01] [0:05] % [0:12]
s1t03. Catfish John [8:38] [0:31]
s1t04. I Second That Emotion [8:41] [0:06] %
s1t05. Simple Twist // Of Fate [10:#49] [0:33]
s1t06. Mystery Train [8:52] [0:08] %
s1t07. Deal [7:21] (1) [0:06]

--set II + encore (6 tracks, 65:29)--
--set II (5 tracks, 55:12)--
s2t01. (I'm A) Road Runner [7:16] [0:08] %
s2t02. Mission In The Rain [14:24] % [0:52]
s2t03. That's What Love Will Make You Do [11:30] [0:10] % [0:24]
s2t04. Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [8:35] ->
s2t05. Tangled Up In Blue [11:40] (2) [0:03] % [0:10]
--encore (1 track, 10:17)--
s2t06. Sugaree [10:15] [0:02] %

! ACT1: Jerry Garcia Band #14b
! lineup: Jerry Garcia - el-g, vocals;
! lineup: John Kahn - el-b;
! lineup: Jimmy Warren - electric keyboards;
! lineup: Melvin Seals - organ;
! lineup: Ron Tutt - drums;
! lineup: Julie Stafford - vocals;
! lineup: Liz Stires - vocals.

JGMF:
! Recording: symbols: % = recording discontinuity; / = clipped song; // = cut song; ... = fade in/out; # = truncated timing; [ ] = recorded event time. The recorded event time immediately after the song or item name is an attempt at getting the "real" time of the event. So, a timing of [x:xx] right after a song title is an attempt to say how long the song really was, as represented on this recording.
! db: http://db.etree.org/shn/76659 (this fileset).
! R: field recordist: Jim Vita
! R: field recording gmedia: Maxell UD-XLIIs
! R: transfer and FLAC encoding by David Minches: Master played back on Nakamichi Dragon > ART DI/O > Digital Audio Labs Card Deluxe soundcard > Cool Edit 2000 > flac encoding > FLAC.
! R: Overall: this is a very nice pull, thank you and rest in peace, Jim Vita. Thanks to David Minches for the fine transfer.
! P: Overall: I am listening to this after reading Weiner's analysis (2014, 67-76), which is titled "Rise of the East Coast Deadhead". Set I strikes me as average for the period. Deal is very good, but it was almost always very good on this tour.
! P: s1t03 CJ 2 John's bass sounds great, not sure how much is PA/tape and how much is just that he sounds strong, some combination of both. 7:06 JG symphonic.
! P: s1t04 ISTE sounds really nice and high energy. I systematically dislike this as a Garcia tune, which is unfortunate since he played it hundreds of times in just about every band. Songs that stood the test of time in that particular way --start early, stay consistent, never very far from being at hand -- a song Garcia really liked and really liked playing. So who am I to say? And here at 3:25 ish I hear why he feels enthusiastic about playing this song, he's is right on it, Mr. Tutt is right on it. Another run round the bases for Jerry late 3 over 4, cruising into second on the double, safely ahead of the throw. Garcia sounds great, the whole band sounds great.
! R: s1t05 STOF splice @ 6:27, probably a minute or two missing. Tape re-enters on John's bass feature, which I dislike. I would not have minded if Vita, like the occasional other taper (xxx can't remember which tape), just happened to cut in on Jerry's return, which enters here right after 7:15 or so. So we have about 45 seconds of John's feature piece, thankfully missing probably at least two minutes' worth of fluff.
! P: s1t05 STOF 8:14 the pace is a little draggy for me, but nice inflection on "waterfront docks | where the sailors all come in" - NB Jerry's childhood memories of sailors and salt air.
! P: s1t07 Deal you can start to hear Garcia's voice really thinning out in this period. Nevertheless, as I hear him doing some chorus 3:30, I hear him nodding his head to the ladies and signalling that he wants to dig in a little. They step up, and he does step up nicely second half of three, now stacking and building 4:15 to a nice full peak 4:24, crowd into it 4:32, great notes everywhere, mixing and blending times, scales and excursions trading off at random, then decaying intervals, a nice extension 5:20 when he could have done something else, building it up 5:31, not in the key I want, but he's building it up 5:45, ethereal peaks 5:45, trotting down a scale right over 6. Puts a pedal on it 6:20, Melvin right where he needs to be, Jerry and the ladies rejoin the vocals on cue 6:30ish. He didn't blow the roof off with that Deal, but it was very good, as it often was during this period.
! s1t07 (1) JG: "We're gonna take a break for a little while, we'll be back a little later."
! P: s2t01 IARR again I notice Garcia's thinning, increasingly nasal vocal delivery.
! P: s2t02 MITR this Mission did absolutely nothing for me. Sounds draggy, and I notice vocal weakness. For a good part of 11 he is not really playing his guitar. 11:45 nice little run over 12. Some envelope late 12 and louder, now doing well over 13, talking himself into putting some oomph into some solos. Not bad, but he hasn't blow the roof off this night. Good picking here 13:36, but for some reason I am wanting more pure decibels and he's not delivering.
! P: s2t03 TWLWMYD I am anxious because I think the one on 11/10/81 (early or late?) is supposed to be the best. This starts off nicely, yeah, in a good groove.
! P: s2t05 TUIB @ 4:29 Garcia lets loose some very fast and deft picking, very fluid, pulls back again 5:01 like he's got the horse to a good canter and you just keep on going, confident strumming mid-5 to the Montague Street verse. Over 10 this is some exceptionally inventive guitar work, all the way across the 10-minute mark, long cascading scales, digging in a little very end 10 to start bringing things home.
! s2t05 (2) "Thanks a lot, see ya later."
! P: s2t06 Sugaree it's rather amazing this is the encore, because Garcia is not rushing this too much at all. Around 5:27 I found myself really liking what he was doing; it struck me as patient and inventive. Greatness 7:15 over 7:30 high searing peak.

7 comments:

  1. Yep, subjectivity is funny. I like reading what you write, but I don't particularly care for song by song reviews of shows. As a matter of comparison this was a worthwhile post. Didn't we meet at the Warfield years ago? I used to come down from Fairfax in Rudy's old Chevy wagon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, David.

    I think you used to have quite a nice collection of Betty Boards from or on PCM tapes, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I used to get a lot of those boards from a friend in the city. We'd take them right off of whatever he got from Menke and always promise to not let them stray too far. Right:)

      Delete
    2. Right on! I came out to your place in Bolinas, I thought it was. I got my tapes of the April '71 shows, 10/29/77, a bunch of other stuff from you. Great tapes. Driving down to Santa Barbara one time with a nice tight box of Maxell XLII-Ss from you, I picked up some hitchhikers in Pismo and blew them away with 4/6/71 and 10/29/77.

      Delete
    3. I lived in Fairfax and yep, you most likely got those from me. 10/29 is probably one of my favorite shows and one of the better shows from that era. I liked those days of trading tapes. They were fun.

      Delete
  3. Having never seen an East Coast Jerry show, I can't comment intelligently on the purported difference in energy levels or crowd involvement in "elitism" terms. Nevertheless, I do need to note that I attended some number of West Coast JGB gigs, most frequently at the old Keystone Palo Alto, in the essence of casual manner often strolling up to he venue at around 11 PM music time and getting a spot on the rail in front of Jer. And I certainly recall numerous instances (despite dolorous takes on say Mississippi Moon) of Jerry shredding and figuratively blowing the roof off the old club. Versions of Deal, Don't Let Go, Dear Prudence and Sugaree come particularly to mind, with some exquisite takes on Simple Twist that I would think would compare favorably with either yours or Weiner's recollections and re-listens to favored East Coast gigs. I'd be curious if a during blind listening session to shows from either coast if the auditor could reliably make a call (eliminating extranea such as audience members' accents or a John Scher intro) on East vs. West. At any rate, I'm looking forward to reading Howard's book and reveling in the subjectivity of it all - after all, if ecstasy isn't ultimately personal and subjective, what is it?

    ReplyDelete

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