Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 1

Oakland 12/28/79

Released: 2009

Tracks

Sugaree [16:04]
Mama Tried > [2:26]
Mexicali Blues [4:54]
Row Jimmy [13:15]
It's All Over Now [8:19]
High Time [7:02]
The Music Never Stopped [8:47]
Alabama Getaway > [7:06]
Greatest Story Ever Told [5:07]

Terrapin Station > [14:03]
Playing In the Band > [17:29]
Rhythm Devils > [7:36]
Space > [2:28]
Uncle John's Band > [9:34]
I Need A Miracle > [4:05]
Bertha > [6:31]
Good Lovin' [7:28]
Casey Jones [5:14]
One More Saturday Night [4:56]


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Liner Notes:

Not Just a Change in Style

Many stars aligned to make the Grateful Dead's end-of-the-year run in 1979 one of the most thrilling weeks in the band's 30-year history. The previous release of Dick's Picks Vol. 5 captured their astonishingly exploratory second set on December 26th. Now Road Trips dives even deeper into the magic made in Oakland that holiday week.

Major credit for the freshness of the Dead's music at this juncture has to go to keyboardist Brent Mydland, who had been in the group for just eight months when this show was recorded on December 28th. Recruited from the Bob Weir Band after the troubled departure of Keith and Donna Godchaux the previous February, Brent quickly emerged as a soulful singer and a bold improviser on the Hammond B-3 organ, synthesizers, and Fender Rhodes, as well as piano. His rough-and-ready intensity seemed to shake the whole band out of a doldrums, and there was fire and risk in the music again.

Mickey and Bill were also raising the collective temperature. Earlier that year, enlisted by director Francis Ford Coppola to compose a soundtrack for his hallucinatory Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now, the drummers had turned the Dead's Club Front studio into a jungle of mind-bending beats. Trance-inducing Brazilian berimbaus and Filipino devil chasers joined forces with homemade rigs like the Beast--a thundering array of taiko-sized drums--and the Beam, an aluminum contraption strung with piano wires, that seemed capable of triggering earthquakes.

Phil also had bolts of subsonic thunder at his command thanks to a powerful new PA system designed by an audio visionary named John Meyer and a crew of sound gurus including Don Pearson, Howard Danchik, and the Dead's own Dan Healy. On hearing this worthy successor to the Wall of Sound debut in August, Dennis McNally, who would become the band's publicist, says he saw "individual sound waves moving three-dimensionally through the audience--even without acid."

The Dead also had a handful of new tunes they were woodshedding for their next studio recording, Go to Heaven. That album, released in 1980, often gets a bad rap, more because of its swanky cover art--which credits the band's tailors--than any obvious short-comings in the music itself. No matter what you thought about Pigpen's former band mates sporting white suits, Bob's "Feels Like a Stranger" and "Saint of Circumstance" became jammeriffic monsters in concert, and "Alabama Getaway" was a pithy reminder that when Jerry chose to rock, he was capable of peeling paint off the ceiling of a venue just by leaning into the beat.

The incendiary performance captured on this Road Trips release justifies a prediction that Jerry made shortly after Brent joined the band. "We're really in an interesting space right now, starting off on a new leg of our development," the guitarist told a radio interviewer. "We've always had periods of advancing and falling back, but things are improving consistently now, and we're hitting kind of a stride. There's much more clarity to our whole trip, and we're learning to trust our intuition more. The music is going to get to an exceptional place pretty quick."

It didn't hurt that the place where this music was recorded turned out to be pretty exceptional itself. The previous New Year's Eve, when the Dead's beloved hometown venue, Winterland, was feted with champagne before being demolished to make way for condos, local Dead Heads had despaired that the band and its tribe might ever find as copacetic a place to commune again.

Thankfully, those worries were over by August, when the Dead booked two nights in a little gem of a civic auditorium across the Bay. Built on the shores of Lake Merritt, Oakland Auditorium Arena had already featured performances by a range of immortals, from Duke Ellington and Charlie Chaplin to Elvis Presley. With a spacious wooden dance floor, ornately carved granite arches over the doors, and psychedelically spiraling hallways for kibitzing in between sets, the intimate hall (rechristened the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in 1984) quickly felt like home.

Indeed, the week that this show was recorded, Bob Barsotti of Bill Graham Presents made a casual decision that would prove momentous for the evolution of the entire jam-band subculture. Between the auditorium and the lake, there was a zone of trees and grass called Peralta Park. To safeguard the band's stock of t-shirts overnight, Barsotti thought it might be a good idea to let a couple of folks sleep in the BGP tent there. Within a night or two, more tents started popping up all over, like Liberty Caps in a frosty cow pasture. Residing al fresco between gigs wasn't exactly a new phenomenon (ask one of the thousands of lucky freaks who pitched their sleeping bags in the mud to hear the Watkins Glen soundcheck in 1973), but Barsotti's imprimatur marked the official birth of what Dead Heads would dub Shakedown Street--that peripatetic metropolis of tents and tourbuses, trailing clouds of Nag Champa, that set itself up, circus-like, anywhere the band played.

Another landmark that week was a press conference announcing the launch of the Seva Foundation, a notoriously effective charitable organization founded by Larry and Girija Brilliant, Wavy Gravy, Ram Dass, and other counterculture luminaries. The project's first benefactor was a young, psychedelicized, soon-to-be-famous computer nerd named Steve Jobs, and the Dead's show on the 26th--the first of many Seva benefits--raised more than $100,000 for the nascent organization. Thirty years later, Brilliant advises Google.org on its philanthropic activities, Dead Heads are toting thousands of shows around on Apple iPods, and Seva (seva.org) is still hard at work, relieving blindness, sickness, and suffering worldwide.

By the third night of such a hot run, there was no real need for preliminary warming up. The Boys open the show with an epic "Sugaree" as if they were already at the inspirational peak of a set, rocking into one of those timeless Garcia-Hunter reveries that carried the audience along like a steamboat rolling down a river. After tight versions of "Mama Tried" and "Mexicali Blues," Jerry weaves another shimmering Delta dream with "Row Jimmy," as if the notes were sepia-toned. ("That's the way it's been in town/ever since they tore the jukebox down," he sings plaintively--which never felt so true as when we could no longer hear him sing it live.)

A rollicking version of "It's All Over Now"--a song by Bobby and Shirley Womack that was the Rolling Stones' first #1 hit in 1964--gives the band an opportunity to show off its insouciant edge, while touching "High Time" features the band's newly enhanced harmony blend with Brent added to the mix. After an intentional burst of hilariously bizarre sounds from the stage, a muscular rendition of "The Music Never Stopped" offers a preview of the ferocious jamming to come after the break.

Opening the second set, the hard-charging "Alabama Getaway" lets Jerry wail on his new guitar, the Tiger, the second instrument custom-built for him by gifted luthier Doug Irwin. (Jerry's first Irwin axe, also decorated with its animal namesake, was the Wolf.) "Greatest Story Ever Told" maintains the band's impressive energy level, but with the next tune, the performance ascends to a new summit of majesty. Of all the Dead's gifts from the Muse, the opening chords of "Terrapin" may be the sweetest of them all. Born fully formed in a thunderstorm--with the melody coming to Garcia as words that fit it perfectly appeared in Robert Hunter's mind miles away--the tale of the Lady and the Sailor seems to unfold in its own archetypal landscape outside of time.

Amazingly, the hottest music of the evening is still around the corner. Even by the standards of most versions of "Playing in the Band"--the group's most reliable jamming vehicle outside of "Dark Star"--this performance is extraordinary. About seven minutes in, the band starts mining an ominous groove vaguely reminiscent of "All Along the Watchtower," which wouldn't appear in sets until 1987. From that point on, the band's intensity never lets up, encompassing a Rhythm Devils interlude featuring Mickey and Bill on the Beast and the tar, a Nubian goat-skin drum. On nights like this, Mickey would tweak the tone and rhythm of the ancient instrument until he was hitting the precise resonance frequency of the arena, making the whole building ring in time.

After this journey to the primordial roots of music making, Brent, Bobby, and Jerry conjure an apocalyptic storm of sound that makes the term "Space" seem like an overly mild description. And the music doesn't flag from there, with fine versions of "Uncle John's Band" (albeit not as sublime as the version two night earlier, a candidate for the best "UJB" ever played), "I Need a Miracle," "Bertha," "Good Lovin'," and "Casey Jones." Bobby is evidently so pleased that he closes the show with a rocking "One More Saturday Night" encore--a night early.

With five great performances, the Dead soared into a new decade on the wings of reinvention. They wouldn't return to Oakland Auditorium for another year, with the acoustic/electric marathons chronicled on Reckoning and Dead Set behind them. But on nights like this one, the Boys proved once again that they were fully up to the artistic challenge carved on the side of Confucius' bathtub in ancient China: "Make it new."

--Steve Silberman

 

Credits:

Grateful Dead:
JERRY GARCIA: Lead Guitar, Vocals
MICKEY HART: Drums
BILL KREUTZMANN: Drums
PHIL LESH: Electric Bass
BRENT MYDLAND: Keyboards, Vocals
BOB WEIR: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals

Produced by GRATEFUL DEAD
Produced for Release by DAVID LEMIEUX & BLAIR JACKSON
Recording by BETTY CANTOR-JACKSON
CD Mastering by JEFFREY NORMAN at MOCKINGBIRD MASTERING, Petaluma, CA
Cover Art: SCOTT McDOUGALL
Package Design: STEVE VANCE

 

 



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This album was released in November 2009.



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