Monday, April 13, 2015

We'll Get There, Vol. 4: Mind Left Body

50 Years Dead

There is a significant proportion of the population that will never understand or appreciate the Grateful Dead. You will not be able to convince them otherwise. You will feel an urge to rationalize, to cite numerous examples of the Dead's contribution to music, the literary genius of Robert Hunter, technical advancements to the live concert experience, their business success, the community of Deadheads, the respect and admiration of other musicians and artists, moments of cosmic transcendence. Attempts to do so will be futile and will fail to capture the essence or magnitude of their genius. You will be mocked for your adoration and defensiveness, and labeled a drug-addled hippie. They are right. There is something wrong with you. Something very, very wrong with you. They are normal. You are a freak. Own it. But are there people out there trying to convince others of the genius of U2, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, or god knows what other paint-by-numbers rock n' roll bullshit? A select few perverts, I suppose. And at night, while they sleep, with their pj's buttoned up, tucked away in their lily white suburban picket fence fantasies, you're on the battlefields of the cosmos, trying to negotiate the path from the fridge to back your couch, as the Dead ride a Bo Diddley beat through a black hole back to the first drum circle around a fire. And what does the shaman waiting there say? "Where does the time go."

We'll fucking get there.

Enjoy this month's dose of the Dead. Previous installments can be found in earlier posts on the blog. See you back next month. Until then, keep on keepin' on, brother. Keep on keepin' on, sister.

Disc Four: Mind Left Body

More buttery goodness from 73-74 here.  The playing is delicate, beautiful, expressive, tight, agile, exploratory, and any number of other superlatives.  There would be great years after this, but none would be greater.  They had really come into their own, and the music reflects that self-confidence and sense of identity.  Enjoy.

1.       Weather Report Prelude – Beautiful Jams.  Taken from 11/9/73, just a brief but gorgeous passage of music.  Jerry playing pedal steel (or is that slide?).  I never particularly enjoyed the song Let it Grow, with its goofy lyrics about the woodcutter's daughter, but the Prelude, Weather Report Suite Part I, and the outro jam were always special.  Too bad the main part of the suite, Let it Grow, had to ruin it for the rest.  I guess that's just Bobby being Bobby.  Although not included on this compilation, the lyrics to Weather Report Suite Part I are really something:

Circle songs and sands of time
And seasons will end in tumbled rhyme
And little change, the wind and rain

2.       Unbroken Chain – Good Ole Grateful Dead.  This is from the sessions for the album Mars Hotel.  Just Lesh on acoustic guitar and vocals, showing the band his new tune for the first time, walking them through the changes.  Turns out he's a pretty good acoustic guitar player, vocals aren't too shabby either.  Interesting that the song did not change significantly from what he brought to them, it just got the full band treatment.  Always a special song to the fans, the Dead would wait over 20 years to perform it live for the first time, on 3/19/95 in Philadelphia.  Lucky fuckers.

3.       Stella Blue – Garcia Tapes.  This one is from '73.  One of the three songs on this compilation to be repeated, a stark contrast to the other version from five years later.  This one just floats and melts, very patient, mellow, and contained.  The song has a real organic feel to it, and is the perfect accompaniment to a sunset on a lake.  The song builds, but doesn't go for the cataclysmic peaks it would shoot for in later years, instead preferring a more contemplative tone.  The instruments weave a psychedelic web, those reflective and cosmic lyrics, and Garcia's yearning vocals.  Perfect.

All the years combine
they melt into a dream
from a guitar
In the end there's just a song
comes crying like the wind
through all the broken dreams
and vanished years
Stella Blue
Stella Blue…

4.       Dark Star>Spanish Jam>U.S. Blues – So Many Roads.  This jam, coming out of Dark Star, going through a Spanish Jam, before ultimately winding up in U.S. Blues, is from 6/23/74.  Spanish Jam was one of those jams performed throughout the Dead's entire career, this one being based on the song Solea from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain.  Billy starts a military march style rhythm on the snare, and the rest of the band fall in around him.  Phil dropping bombs, and Jerry just screeching. Perfectly transitioning into U.S. Blues, dancing around the intro for some time, totally locked in and going through some changes, before Billy leads them into the first verse.  Garcia's country-rock chops really shine.  The liner notes to So Many Roads accurately describe it as '74 Dead in a nutshell: close to the experimental edge, but ready to rock out.

5.       Peggy-O – 5/19/74.  The next 45 minutes and remaining tracks on this disc all come from the same show. These are the tracks that closed the show out as well; the only thing missing is about 2 minutes of a little tune-up jam after Peggy-O.  Peggy-O is one of those classic and timeless folk tunes the Dead made their own.  Much like the Stella Blue on this disc, this version is mellow and blissful.  Later versions had more muscle, but the delicacy here seems to suit the song better.  This is one of the earliest renditions of the song.

6.       Truckin'>
7.       Mind Left Body Jam>
8.       Not Fade Away>
9.       Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad – 5/19/74.  Just an amazing seamless sequence of music, highlighting some of the greatest hits in the Grateful Dead canon.  Truckin', back when it was a kick-ass blues rock song, before it became a "Long Strange Trip" prom night cliché.  Over 15 minutes, they give the song a workout, keeping the tempo up the whole time.  They seem to be headed toward a bluesy Nobody's Fault type jam, but instead the pace kicks up for some more pickin'.  Then Phil hints at Not Fade Away, but instead Mind Left Body Jam comes next.  Based on the song Your Mind Has Left Your Body, originally appearing the album Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun by Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane/Starship), a few members of the Dead played on the album, may have helped write the song, and I suppose liked it well enough to keep playing it, sans lyrics.  Head over to the Grateful Dead Guide blog for an extensive essay on the history of this jam.  (And you thought I was wordy?)  Bobby's four chord progression, Garcia's wailing slide, the song goes back and forth between a howl and a playful bounce.  Listen closely, and you can hear the roots of certain parts of The Music Never Stopped, as portions of this jam would be incorporated into the song, written within the next year or so.  And then Phil finally gets his way and they're off into Not Fade Away.  Another repeat, and much different from the version played four years earlier.  Both are quite exploratory, but the first one is more ferocious and raw, this one more grooving.  A nice breakdown at the end, before gliding into Goin' Down the Road with that classic lyrical Garcia melody.  So much emotion packed into those notes, so bittersweet and sparkling.  Another classic American tale, summing up the longing for freedom and independent nature of the American spirit.  Also the perfect landing pad after a psychedelic voyage.  Much as Rider was for China Cat, a very earthly song, soulful lyrics and vocals, and a chance to shake it off.  A nice anthem for the end of the 60's:

Going down the road feeling bad,
Don't wanna be treated this a way

10.   One More Saturday Night – 5/19/74.  Another chance to rock out before they close the show.  The song grooves along at a relatively mellow tempo for the first part of the tune, then they break it down, build it back up to a peak, and unleash the Weir.  Donna is restrained for much of the tune, but she obviously doesn't want to be outdone.  Ridiculous energy, would've been a lot of fun to be there.  A few nice words and they're off, just another night at work.