Monday, August 2, 2010

Grateful Dead in Saratoga Part 1: 6-18-1983

So with the start of August my thoughts instantly turn towards upstate New York, and more specifically the historic town of Saratoga.
 Having spent my high school years 15 minutes south of their I have very found memories and go back every year to spend a few weekends in August, the best time of the year in that neck of the woods.

While the town has history, a vibrant live arts scene, and personal favorite establishments, the main draw (outside of visiting family of course) is the track.
 Saratoga has the most glorious establishment that allows gambling on horses in these United States.  You can keep your Churchill Downs, I will take the SPA.  For those who have never been and only associate horse racing with dirty OTB's, picture spending a relaxing afternoon in a state park that just happens to have horses running by every half hour.

I will be returning for the 141st running of The Travers Stakes this year (I think that makes it 10 years in a row for The Travers, but I will have to double check that with friends...) on the 28th, but until then I thought I would combine my love of Saratoga, with The Grateful Dead's love of the same town.

SPAC is in and of itself a wonder.  A natural amphitheater in a serene park, how many other venues today have full blown trees for you to lay under while listening to music?  While recently the designs and ideas have been lacking (not enough bathrooms, HORRIFIC beer garden) the venue has an aura surrounding it, that cookie cutter establishments can't hold a candle to.
Bands feel it instantly and the Dead were no different, as they loved to play there as much as the fans loved to stroll the grounds before and after the night of music.
For this whole month I will be picking shows the band played in these naturalistic confines. Tonight we start with with the first, and perhaps the best, of the bands ventures into the spaceship on the park.  This night made seeing The Dead in SPAC a must for any fan from then on out, June 6th 1983:

There are a few versions of this show on the archive (all AUD recordings) but I feel this one is the best.  While others have more crowd noise, this seems to be the superior recording of the band, if it does have Brent a little high throughout and Jerry drops a bit low at points.  Overall though it's very listenable and for the quality of what you get it is completely worth it.    

I won't spend too much time on the first set.  It has a couple of standout moments, the "Mexicali Blues>Big River" flashes with dexterity from the boys and "Birdsong" really gains steam at the end with Jerry a'blaze on the fretboard.  There are some blown amps and Bobby botching lyrics in "Jack Straw" and "Hell In A Bucket", weird effects blare out during "Althea" but the set manages to end on a high note with a really pumping "Deal" finding Jerry howling and the Rhythm Devils moving and grooving, getting primed for the mega second set to come.  
This second set is inspired, and must have been magic on this rainy June night with a few versions of tunes that again can fall into the category of All Time Greats.  The drums continue where they left off with the duo of Hart and Kreutzmann playing like smoke engulfing a room, grabbing the MVP crown this night; leading tunes at times while constantly supporting.
 A perfect example of this is on the set opener which finds the duo playing co-lead with Jerry's guitar on "Scarlett Begonias>Fire On the Mountain" instantly creating a version of this combo for the ages.  Tonight's playing on this classic is exquisite!  Their pulsing blob of sound during "Scarlett" in particular magically swirls in every direction, painting with reggae colors lightly, then electronic bursts or fret runs.  Things remain crisp while the jam circles around and around building but never over powering; they make it sound so easy here.  The tempo then slows (again with Mick and Bill in charge) before letting loose the "Fire On The Mountain".  Dripping deliciously the band seems to be locked in perfectly, Jerry gets adventurous screeching off while the rest of the fellas keep it tight and wonderful.  Back-up yelps from Brent makes you think they knew they were in the midst of something special and an effort for fans to talk about and compare to other great versions.

A long and winding "Playing in the Band" comes bounding out with bopping energy next as the band rides the wave of good feelings. Phil gets things marching behind Bobby and Brent's lyrical intro before the band veers down more abstract roads about 4 and half minutes in, then get downright foreboding at the 11 minute mark.  The exploratory playing stays in the air, getting caught in the SPAC trees awhile before giving way to some cool riffing around 17 minutes that eases into the drummers solos and then melting tripping minds as a full band with "Space".  They end the experiments the best way they know how via an enchanted "The Wheel>Playing In the Band Reprise" under thunder and lighting that just happened to be booming.  I particularly love the ease with which this version of "The Wheel" oozes out, and it is one of my personal favorites.

An incredible set is about to get even better.  When you ask DeadHeads about the group and SPAC, you usually get a one word answer "Dew".  The "Morning Dew" that comes in next is what really puts this show on the map and in discussions of all-time best versions.
  The opening cataclysmic riffs signal that the folk inspired end of the world tale will be launched into by the cosmic crew.  Every note just rings with authority, and Phil Lesh who had been lower for most of the night decides to join Jerry in the forefront, dropping bass bombs at 1:55 and eschewing majestic phrasing at the 2:30 mark.  The band starts out hot and builds ever higher in intensity, with Garcia practically yelling the chorus at the 4:25 mark.  This is audio fireworks; explosions building on top of each other, brief moments of pause add to the intensity of the next climax which will arrive right after the next verse.  Around 7:18 Garcia's lone guitar seems to represent the last man on earth that the song references before coalescing the frightened survivors together for one final galloping rush to the top of the mountain.  Beautifully intoxicating, this is one for the ages.
The relatively new "Throwing Stones" tries to follow up that monster and simply can't.  Jerry continues to play with a fuzzed out tone, that clashes with Weirs strums (This was not a good night for Bobby).  "Not Fade Away" has Phil super loud in the mix with his fine runs getting the crowd excited as the band plays the staple with power before segueing into a speedy version of  "Touch of Grey" to end the huge set on a positive note.

The band then starts a SPAC tradition with a rare double encore, this one is the loud party duo of "Don't Ease Me In> One More Saturday Night" weaving one more twist into an already epic night.  While as a complete show I do find myself going back to the Lake Placid show as their best in 1983, the high points presented on this night, especially the Dew, are just astonishing.  Those fans in attendance (and there was a lot of them as it looks like this show broke SPAC's attendance record) witnessed a night in the Grateful Dead's history that is still talked about, listened too, and cherished.  Enjoy the show.

-Unrelated Side Note- Happy Birthday Sister!-

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. That’s just how I felt standing inside the pavilion being knocked to the wall from Phil Bombs. A magickal night to be 20 and with the boys and family.