Monday, October 19, 2015

WGT Vol. 10: Phantom Ships

50 Years Dead

Phil Lesh has bladder cancer.

Still better than touring with John Mayer.

Keep on winning Phil.

HERE's another edition of We'll Get There. We're getting closer to the finale. What tunes will make the cut, and which will be left on the shelf collecting dust? Check back next month to find out. Until then...

Disc TEN: Phantom Ships

The end is near, and this is a little bit of nostalgic fun.  A blast from the past, a walk down memory lane before closing things out.  This is also like an extended encore/3rd set from the 90's.  The Dead brought out a lot of great cover choices towards the end of shows.  Obviously they had great taste, but were also aiming to please during the stadium rock era.  We've got three Beatles covers, two Dylan, the Stones, the Band, Traffic, Zevon and even the Who(!?).  Also snippets of Buddy Holly and Miles Davis.  Plus, two of the more nostalgic later era Dead tunes.  This disc is meant to be a celebration.  Hope you enjoy.

1.       NFA Crowd Chant>
2.       The Mighty Quinn – 9/25/91.  It was always thrilling when the Dead would end a set with the vocal breakdown of Not Fade Away, and leave the crowd to continue singing it until they came out for the encore.  Really something special to be a part of, a crowd in complete unison.  This flows nicely into a Mighty Quinn encore; doing it pretty much the way Manfred Mann popularized it, rather than the Dylan version.  To hear Jerry having this much fun is a real treat.

3.       The Weight – 9/4/91.  The classic 60's anthem, immortalized in Easy Rider.  After a night of chaotic jamming, to close it out with a sing along like this provided such a contrast, and also something for everyone tripping so hard to grasp onto, to ease back into reality before dealing with the world outside the Grateful Dead cocoon.  Lyrics that are about what, really?  Nothing in particular, the absurd journey of life, the characters you meet along the way, an indecipherable riddle solved and forgotten in an instant.  As they were likely written in an altered state, they're also meant to be heard in an altered state.  Perfect place for that.

4.       The Last Time – 9/9/91.  This song usually came out of space, which was kind of strange for such a standard rock song.  But it's got that rolling guitar line and vocal melody that just pulls you right in.  Although it's about a relationship, it always seemed tongue in cheek when the Dead played it.  Would this be the last time for the band, or Jerry?  Better enjoy it while you can.

5.       The Wheel – Beautiful Jams.  Just some cosmic jamming here, before they go into the song.

6.       Days Between – So Many Roads.  A studio cut, from the Dead album that was not to be.  In my mind, Garcia and Hunter's last true masterpiece, cut from the same cloth as Dark Star, Terrapin, and Wharf Rat.  The music is haunting, brooding, mysterious, and totally original.  Hunter rises to the challenge, facing the lessons and unanswered questions from his years of experience.  The joy of the past, the sadness that is inherent in life.  I was watching the documentary Magic Trip about Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster's cross country bus adventure.  Towards the end, Kesey does some reflecting, referring to his group of friends as divine losers.  These are the people who pop up once in a while throughout history, discover something extraordinary that has been forgotten or repressed, do something unique, but ultimately, society steamrolls over them and keeps on going.  Although the divine losers discover these ultimate truths about life and reality, they are just too few in number to register a blip on the radar.  Society just can't be stopped.  Or if they do, they're suppressed because they freak people out.  Maybe that's what the song is about, the fate of the divine losers.  To live life on the edge of magic, to know the potential of what could be, and to see the world as it is once the doors of perception have been opened.    

There were days
and there were days
and there were days besides
when phantom ships with phantom sails
set to sea on phantom tides
Comes the lightning of the sun
on bright unfocused eyes
the blue of yet another day
a springtime wet with sighs
a hopeful candle lingers
in the land of lullabies
where headless horsemen vanish
with wild and lonely cries, lonely cries

7.       Space>
8.       Werewolves of London – 10/31/85.  Usually played as an encore, and probably more frequently by the Jerry Band, but always a treat.  This version, along with Space, opened a Halloween show.  A great rock song, guitar riff, and again goofy lyrics that don't quite make sense in a normal state of consciousness.  Garcia and the band clearly having fun, and it gives everyone an opportunity to hooow-wooo!

9.       Dear Mr. Fantasy>
10.   Hey Jude Finale – 3/20/90.  The sole tracks that Brent takes the lead vocal on this compilation.  I've already said my piece on Brent.  While his original material didn't do much for me, this was an excellent cover choice, one of the great nuggets of the psychedelic era.  Dear Mr. Fantasy has those classic lyrics about a rock god and his adoring audience, a moment of self-reflection, or celebration, for those in attendance.  Plus that rolling guitar riff that's so entrancing.  This version was actually preceded by a cover of Hey Jude, but Brent did that in typical Brent style, so I left that off.  The Hey Jude Finale afterwards is included, as it goes so well with Dear Mr. Fantasy, both musically and lyrically seamless.  And what a great song to hear at a big rock concert.  The big circular chorus, that just goes around and around for eternity, the crowd singing along, smokin' doobies, doin' the wave, eating nachos, giving each other handjobs, what the fuck!

11.   Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – 6/8/94.  The Dead usually did this as an encore, as is the case here.  They play with the intro for a few minutes, making nice use of sound effects, before triumphantly going into the chorus to start the song rather than the first verse.  Now, Lennon may have insisted that the song was not about LSD when he wrote it, but when Garcia sang it, it sure as hell was.  Mike Grant and I saw it to open a second set at Soldier Field in '94, and it certainly summed up the predominant experience we were having.  I think the song may have saved Mike's life that night.  They were playing the song for us, for our trip, and simultaneously for everyone else in the audience dosed to the gills.  If we were barely holding it together a minute ago, as soon as they started to play this, everything in the universe made perfect sense.  Jerry Garcia to the rescue. (We got Terrapin and Wharf Rat that night, too).

12.   Baba O'Reilly>
13.   Tomorrow Never Knows – 5/31/92.  Vince's sole lead vocal cuts on this compilation.  I've got nothing against Vince.  I think he fit in nicely with the Dead, more so than Brent.  He was not a standout player, but not a detriment either.  I even really like Way to Go Home, and considered including it in this collection.  But alas, it was not to be.  As cool as Vince may have been though, he was from another world, and I'm not sure he ever really got what the Dead were all about.  These songs are great examples of that.  Both great tunes, but the Dead just shouldn't be covering the Who, and "teenage wasteland" is just a little too obvious of a cover choice.  Tomorrow Never Knows does suit the Dead fine, but not really as the encore anthem as it is done here.  It would make much more sense coming out of Space towards the end of the second set.  But this disc is all about the fun, so why not?  They gave both songs a noble attempt, even trying to replicate Townsend's synths and windmill guitar riffs.  And why not throw in a few "same as it ever was('s)," quoting the Talking Head's Once in a Lifetime.  Great stuff, just not really Grateful Dead stuff.  Oh, and apparently Steve Miller sat in on these tunes.  Sorry about that.  Surely this was a sign that the end was near.

14.   It's All Over Now, Baby Blue – Masked & Anonymous Soundtrack.  Bob Dylan liked this version so much he used it as part of the soundtrack to his movie.  Surely that's saying something.  Dylan said in an interview recently that Jerry was the ultimate interpreter of his songs, and whenever he wanted to relearn how to play a particular song, he would go to Jerry's versions first.  Dylan had this to say on Jerry's passing:
“There’s no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or a player. I don’t think any eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great, much more than a superb musician, with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He’s the very spirit personified of whatever is Muddy River country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal. To me, he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There’s a lot of spaces and advances between The Carter Family, Buddy Holly and say Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”
The Dead first performed this song in January of 1966, and it was in heavy rotation in that year, as well as 1969, then for the most part disappeared until 1981, and remained in the rotation from then on.  Of all the encore choices in all the world, this is the one to send you home to bed after a night of trippin' in la la land.  A song that Dylan may have written about a rival or ex-lover, but Garcia recontextualizes as a lesson for the psychedelic voyager. The trip is over, time to move on.  Take any lessons you can with you, but don't get caught up in it either.  Leave the past behind, you'll never be the same, and as the saying goes, you can't take it with you.
You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast…

…The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

15.   So What – Jamming at the Edge.  Again egged on by Hornsby, the band does a brief tease of Miles Davis's So What, from the seminal album Kind of Blue.

16.   Touch of Grey – In the Dark.  An undeniably fun song.  The Grateful Dead at their most pop.  How can you not love hearing the Dead on the radio, and finally getting the commercial success after paying their dues?  I don't think any of the live versions match the excellent production of the studio cut.  Once again, a fine example of the Grateful Dead bounce.  Jerry had intended this song to sound like the Stones' Start Me Up, and it kind of does.  There are similarities in both the melody and rhythm, but the accent is placed on a different beat, giving it more of a bounce rather than whip crack.  An anthem for the boomers, and an encore for the 60's.