Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Grateful Dead - 12-15-1971 Ann Arbor, MI

In the course of Dead era's, lineup changes and sound systems there are always those favorites and those that seem to slip through the cracks.  1971 was a transitional year for the group having them move from their acid days in 69 to their spread out 70 before the highest heights of 1972.  Th main reason why was the diminishing of Pigpen's role (and health) and the influx of Keith Godchaux.
 Today's show for me always seems like the passing of the torch from the bands first keyboard player to their second, today's show is 12-15-1971, Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan.
Click that link or listen right c'here:

The quality of this recording is insanely good, another A+ from Charlie Miller.  It is perfect and when you think again back to 71 it is really amazing we have shows of this quality to listen too from so long ago...a lasting memory of a great band.  Certain nights individual members may dominate recordings or mixes from the live nights; this night belongs to the newest member as Keith and the piano is front and center making for a fun twist on the groups songbook.  If anything Godchaux became too sedated in his later years playing with the band, not here, he is a rookie looking to impress and he passed the test.  After the trippy offerings of Tom Constanten's playing the straight ahead baby grand of Keith would spring the band far and cosmic in their sound and song writing or twist on a soulful dime.

Onto the show...some fun tuning and chatter and then the night really rolls out.  A pumping "Bertha" that lets you hear just how active Keith is going to be on the ivories this night, and the energy keeps on flowing with a smoking "Me and Bobby McGee".  During this perfect cover version, it sounds like Bob Weir is singing in your left ear and Keith is twinkling the piano into your right...a fantastic version of this classic song.

Pig Pen makes his first entrance into the fray followed by the funky leads of Garcia on "Mr. Charlie". The "China Cat Sunflower" is gorgeous, perfect for the loud piano to duel with Jerry's leads and even contains some bombs from Phil that knock out the ear wax.

There are so many songs in the first set I am not going to talk about them all, but they are all worth a listen.  Some cool bits though...a passionate/almost crying version of "It Hurts Me Too" which shows Pigpen's vocals were vital to the group and on the flip side; how fun is it to hear Pigpen sing "Run Run Rudolph"?
How about that tight and really interesting "Playing In The Band" that hints at the cosmic venues they would take this song to over 1972 and beyond.  A "Brokedown Palace" just dropped in a first set?  Yes Please!

Really little fault can be found through out the 18 song first set, when Garica says, "What? You want the piano louder?" it is turned up to 11.  An energetic rollicking good time that finds the band cruising through Ann Arbor...and the second set only gets better if you believe that...
"Darkstar" like everything else about the band was in transition and to hear Billy, being the lone drummer again, is great as he tightens up as the band cuts loose.  There is a journey attached to this song, like most versions that just soars in it's beauty, the band strolls through their jazzy struts and allows things to just waft along until 6:20 in and things get scary.  Things start coalescing around the 9 minute mark and building to the familiar guitar line from Garcia, signaling that the first verse is near.  The creepiness returns around 14 minutes in before some soothing runs on the fretboard ease the brain.

The Star drips as it expires leading into "Deal" which on paper looks weird but fits right into the playing; a bold choice from the fellas, and Jerry twists up some vocals, but in the end I think it works.  Some brief tuning leads into Sugar Magnolia that is flying from the jumpoff and has Bobby Weir in fine vocal form over the rolling piano and thumping bass.  Garcia simply wails and one could easily mistake this for a set ender, but up next is a monster "Turn On Your Lovelight" that gets started at warp speed via Billy Kreutzmann's drums.
Then Pigpen takes front and center stage riffing with the audience as Jerry and Keith trade licks behind him.  This is no ordinary "Lovelight" it is Ron McKernan's tribute to Muddy Waters, there are stories told and classic Muddy tracks dipped into above the frantic playing.  "King Bee" is the first to get a little airing after a story about a bus-stop girl gets dropped.  The blues keeps blooming as Pigpen takes on the old Muddy classic "Mannish Boy":
Waters would be proud as Ron McKernan was a blues man through and through.  The next song that Pigpen presents from the blues legend is "Still a Fool (Two Trains Running)" and the band follows admirably before they all fall back into the "Lovelight" that launched this fun tribute to one of the best bluesman in this country's history.

When Pigpen died the Dead lost more then their keyboardist, they lost a vital piece of who they were as a band.  While he was never the greatest organist, he was a total bluesman with feeling; guiding the group through their infancy and providing them a spring board from which to launch from.  While Keith may have been the better player, the group would be forever altered from here on out and would miss Pigpens front-man presence the rest of their days...but that is for another moment.... 

Woof that was a megashow that produced some insane playing and really highlighted the magic of all the band members of the time working to their strengths.  For any fan of Keith this show is a must, he is high in the mix, active and spot on inspiring and following eager to impress his new bandmates with his playing.

A winning show that belongs to Godchaux....well played sir:

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