The Grateful Dead’s “Holy Grail”: Does It Hold Up?

 

What elements are required to make a show the “greatest of all time”?  Is it the location, the quality of music, the performance, or a combination of all of these elements?  With the Grateful Dead’s official release of their long held “Holy Grail” show, which took place in Barton Hall, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York on May 8, 1977, listeners get the chance to find out.

As any more-than-casual fan of the Grateful Dead knows, it’s not long after one’s introduction to the band’s huge catalog of live recordings that whispers (or in some cases, shouts) of a singular date, May 8, 1977, begin to appear.  I can personally remember sitting on the lawn at SPAC, my local summer amphitheater in New York, waiting for a Phish show to begin, and hearing a remark made behind me by a former Deadhead, arguing with his companion, “No, man, no way you can beat May 8th, man.”

So it was with some excitement that I sat down to hear the Grateful Dead’s first official release of this famous show, promising crystal-clear audio for a show that has only ever been heard through audience recordings and soundboard patches.  Regarding audio quality, like so many shows from 1977, the sound is very strong and well mixed, with all band members being able to be discerned.  Phil’s bass is very strong (always a concern), just check out “Dancin’ in the Streets” with your subwoofer to see what I mean.

However, it’s not the audio quality alone that makes the great show. For those who have never listened to the Grateful Dead, this is perhaps the perfect show to start with.  Set One comes out the door with the classic late-1970s Dead sound, leading off with some Bob Weir-sung swagger on “New Minglewood Blues”. By “Lazy Lightning>Supplication” though, the Dead are beginning to reveal their true form, as the song begins to shed its verse-chorus structure and depart into musical freedom, lead by Jerry Garcia’s somewhat restrained lead guitar. Later in the set, the band moves through a solid version of its folk-y classic “Brown-Eyed Women” and sees Jerry Garcia lay down a strong “Row Jimmy”.  It is the closing song of Set One that stands out, though. The aforementioned “Dancin’ in the Streets” certainly dates this concert, but it is still a nearly 20 minute trip through a psychedelic disco, with the band tight as ever, each floating around the central groove before rejoining to end the song. 

It is in Set Two, however, where the magic of the Grateful Dead really shines.  If Set One represents some level of musical restraint, then it can be said that the opening notes of “Scarlet Begonias” represent a point of no return into total musical freedom.

Paired with its longtime song partner, “Fire on the Mountain”, this monster 25 minute “Scarlet Fire” cements its place as one of its most popular examples, with a focused mid-point transition, and Jerry Garcia’s guitar soaring above the huge wave of sound provided by his bandmates during the last half of “Fire on the Mountain”.  The following “Estimated Prophet”, a personal favorite, is the darkness to the light that precedes it, with Bob Weir describing a seemingly apocalyptic vision of delusion with a backdrop of a romanticized version of America before allowing the music to leave into a snaking cosmic exploration.  The band comes back to Earth with a strong version of the classic favorite, “St. Stephen” sandwiching a sprawling “Not Fade Away”.

What comes next, though, is for me, the high water mark of perhaps all of the Grateful Dead that I have heard, truly.  Attendees of the concert have since described feeling a wave of energy radiate from the crowd as they heard the opening notes of this “Morning Dew”, a relative rarity.  Beginning as a low-energy, somber tune, “Morning Dew” rises in energy as it progresses to its emotional peak, where instrumental music says all and more than lyrics possibly could have.  Closing with the utterance, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway…”, Jerry Garcia speaks to the existentialist that lives within all, urging listeners to live in the present, as the past is gone and the future is coming.

So is this truly the “greatest Dead show of all time”?  For me, this question can not be answered, as the musical power that the Grateful Dead convey can not be simplified to any moment, song, or concert.  What this concert is, though, is a measuring stick.  This concert brings unparalleled consistency, power, tightness, exploration, and emotion together to deliver the trademark Dead experience.  So, if you can only listen to one Dead show, make it this one.

This concert can be heard on the Grateful Dead’s newly released “Cornell 5/8/77” set, either as a 3-CD or 5-LP set, or, of course, on digital streaming and download services.

http://www.syracuse.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2017/05/legend_of_1977_grateful_dead_show_at_cornell_lives_on_at_40th_anniversary.html

http://www.spin.com/2017/05/grateful-dead-day-cornell-show-40th-anniversary/

http://www.stereogum.com/1939833/why-even-non-heads-should-listen-to-grateful-deads-famous-cornell-show-from-40-years-ago-today/franchises/sounding-board/

 

 

Blackbear – digital druglord

Let me start by saying that I have never listened to Blackbear before his new album digital druglord released on April 21st. The only reason I even bothered downloading it while I was scrolling through my Spotify’s New Releases section was because I’ve seen him pop up on my Twitter feed a few times because one of our old hosts (shoutout the Based Captin) is pretty into him and retweets him every so often. I can usually trust my fellow Drip hosts tastes in music so I gave him a shot, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Before we dive into the actual tunes, I need to mention a few things. I love Blackbear’s aesthetic. I don’t usually like it when artists try to be different with their grammar, but the lack of capitalization and the replacing you with the Myspace style ‘u’ works for this. It makes it feel like there’s something missing, like he rushed through it, but his music is also frantic and desperate, so it fits. I’m also a big fan of artists that can tie everything together. One look at his album art and you know what you’re getting yourself into: drugs and sex. He knows who he is and he doesn’t try to hide it, in fact, he almost makes it beautiful. Plus, if you look at the middle pill bottle on the album art, you can see the Utah Healthcare logo, so shoutout Blackbear for representing the best school this side of the Mississippi.

This is an album about addiction and emotion. It’s a roller coaster ride where you experience his ups and downs. He goes from hating his girl and thinking she’s ungrateful to hating himself and believing she’s too good for him. He brags about the drugs he does, then croons about the dangers of his habits. I love that he’s not afraid to show his emotions, his fear, and his straight savagery. He is all over the place. One hook goes, “I would wish you the best, but you already had it,” while on another he sings, “I know you don’t wanna be that girl that’s f*****g what’s his face.” Blackbear also pulls in some key features. Juicy J’s predictable flow completes the song ‘juicy sweatsuits,’ and the songs with 24hrs and Stalking Gia are two of the best on the album. If you’re looking for an R&B style voice similar to Ty Dolla $ign or PARTYNEXTDOOR but with a better flow and darker and deeper content, Blackbear is your guy.

The production on this record also takes some interesting turns. The album begins with a mellow piano beat that quickly transitions to your classic bass and snare heavy hip hop beat on the second track. There are some songs with a more EDM focused beats and others tapping into Drake’s pop style. The majority of the beats are slow and mellow, as his delivery, perfect for cruisin’ in the car or vibing by yourself.

This is a good album, but it’s not without its’ negatives: namely its’ length. At barely 30 minutes long, I don’t really feel like it’s completed. My other major gripe is that at times it starts to sound like a dirtier version of some of The Chainsmokers anthems. Those things aside, it’s definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re trying to get in your feelings.

Blackbear will be in Salt Lake City on June 3rd at The Complex.

MUNA – About U

When people ask me what albums I’ve been listening to recently, MUNA, an all-girl band from California, is definitely at the top of the list. Their style is extremely unique, and with songs that include lyrical depth as well as catchy pop beats, they’re a band you’ll say “I knew them before they were cool” when they climb up the pop and alt charts.

Surprisingly, I first discovered MUNA’s music through my mother. I was lying in bed when she sent me a text saying she bought two tickets to MUNA’s concert at Kilby Court on February 13th. However, being the ornery college student that I am, I brushed them off thinking they just wouldn’t be my style. But after their concert, I realized how wrong my judgements actually were.

MUNA entered the stage with members Katie Gavin (Lead vocals/Production), Josette Maskin (Lead Guitar), and Naomi McPherson (Rhythm Guitar/Synth/Production). Even though the stage was small, they definitely put on quite the show. Their microphone stands were adorned with white flowers and Gavin’s audience rapport made the show feel very intimate and organic; an experience that’s sometimes hard to find in a live performance.

As soon as the concert ended, I went to iTunes and downloaded their CD “About U.” Though their song “I Know A Place” is the main single from the album, my personal favorites are “Promise,” “Crying On The Bathroom Floor,” and “End of Desire.” But no matter the song, there’s always a catchy element to their music that leaves you tapping your foot and humming along. Plus, Katie Gavin’s vocals have a certain unique tinge, similar to Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more.

One of my favorite things about MUNA, however, is how they combine the sound of an indie-pop band with an aesthetic that’s dark, eerie, and unexpected. Their album cover is mostly black featuring images of roses and chains; a somewhat 90’s goth look for a band that’s so pop. But I think this is why I like MUNA. They juxtapose their pop sound with lyrics that are darker and deeper than what’s typical of the pop genre.

Along with their unique image, MUNA identifies as a “queer girl band.” None of the band members identify as straight, and they all made a conscious effort to exclude any gender specific pronouns in their songs. They also challenge current political issues, such as adding the lyrics “He’s not my leader, even if he is my President,” to their live versions of “I Know A Place.” While some of MUNA’s songs may cover touchy subjects, their overall message is that of acceptance and being confident with yourself even if that means not adhering to social norms.

MUNA is still a relatively new band, but I have a feeling that won’t last for long. Their sound, image, and message combine into something that’s a breath of fresh air for the current pop scene. And with appearances on both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Shows, I can only imagine we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

 

The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells are at it again with their third release almost three years after the well-received Disgraceland. However, with this new record comes a new set of challenges for the group: not only are they in competition with their earlier releases, but also, the question of how long rock and roll records are going to keep getting attention. In some views, The Orwells are our today’s Strokes: five dudes making rock and roll; claimed to be saviors of the genre; youthful, spirited, sexy; etc. But it’s the contrast between the two bands and their respective eras that bring up the obstacles of reality this new record faces: the Strokes got to be in a world where MTV still gave a shit about music; the Orwells get to hope that a portion of one of their songs play while VH1 transitions between episodes of “America’s Next Top Model;” the Strokes got to release records when people were still buying them; the Orwells get to have their pennies snubbed by Apple Music and Spotify; the Strokes were able to inspire a generation of kids to pick up a guitar; the Orwells might be some of the last of those kids. However, their situation isn’t all dismal. They are still able to tour as a group and they do have an unprecedented ability to make old rock and roll tropes seem alive and well.

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“They Put a Body In the Bayou” came out late last year and made promise the band was going to make another good delivery. Batting off the record it sets a high standard that are quickly followed up by “Fry” and “Creature,” two tracks that demonstrate the sassy yet relatable demeanor that has become loved of the band. “Buddy,” also an early single, probably comes out of the record as the best looking track. It’s quick, under a minute-thirty and is about one-night-stands, which has always been a favorite of rock and roll. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” keep the record moving at solid rates with tormented guitars laments of “the easy way out” until it arrives at “Body Reprise,” a minute-fifteen ambient track full of hollow “ooooohs” with a vacant drum beat that I’m sure Brian Eno could at least nod at.

Wrapping up the record, “Ring Pop” and “Last Call” bring on a noise level that calls across to pond and time to those 1970s pub rock bands like Duck Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood who were as indifferent to the last call as the Orwells are to diminishing record sales. “Double Feature,” clocking at a surprising 7:18 for the band, brings on a perspective of questioning life choices and what chance a man has “from the wrong side of the tracks.” After few verses and choruses, the band dive into an instrumental break with guitar technical that surfaces images of what Television was doing years ago and introduces more howling vocals similar to what was going on in “Body Reprise.”

By the end, though, this record turns out to be a solid release, but, however, nothing more significant than that. It’s an album defined by the rock and roll tropes it lives up to. Nothing is out of place, wrong or a short step from the Orwells, it’s just very familiar. Without a newer cause or figurative idea of what rock and roll could be, it comes out as another record. Thirty years ago if this had been released it would have gotten a fair amount of attention and deserved it. Though, if it were released a hundred years from now no one would probably know it. Terrible Human Beings is a good record, but, however, because of the times and with all of the other noise out there, it’s just not that exciting.

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Love and self-discovery are common themes in Justin Vernon’s songs. Bon Iver’s music has the amazing ability to make the listener feel both calm and shaken at the same time. The beautiful sounds and often haunting lyrics and vocals give the sense that one is lost inside their own home, which is a feeling that the vast majority of people are able to relate to at some point in their lives.

22, A Million, Bon Iver’s first album in five years, takes a different approach to these concepts. With far less acoustic guitar and far more synthesizer, these new songs put a twist on Bon Iver’s usual sound. It reminds me a little of a more sad, introspective Kanye West, which may sound odd given that the two come from different genres and backgrounds. Music is just the interpretation of emotion, though, so it makes sense to me that the art could sound similar.

While 22, A Million is undoubtedly musically and creatively beautiful, I must admit that I do prefer Bon Iver’s older music. Though, when I listened to this new album for the first time, one song really stood out to me. When I heard “715 – CR∑∑KS,” the third track on the album, I was first captivated by the sound. It is similar to the last song, “Woods,” on the Blood Bank EP, but it is also incredibly unique. I then listened to it again to hear the lyrics and fell in love with the song. “Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds / But all I’m trying to do is get my feet out from the crease.” These lyrics in particular really struck me. Filled with a mixture of abandonment, longing, and futility, they penetrate all the way down into the depths of emotion and bring a variety of memories back up to the surface. These lyrics made me feel something very strong, which is what music should do.

Another song on 22, A Million that I find to be very interesting is the last track, “00000 Million.” This song off the new album sounds the most like Vernon’s older music, which I am very fond of. However, like with “715 – CR∑∑KS,” the thing I like most about it is the lyrics. Vernon repeats the phrase, “the days have no numbers,” which, in the context of the song, I interpret as “the days are all the same; there is nothing to distinguish one from the other.” Another lyric he repeats is, “if it’s harmed, it’s harmed me, it’ll harm, I’ll let it in.” This is particularly interesting, because Vernon is saying that though he knows this thing is bad for him, he won’t try to stop it. Both of these emotions are ones that hit very close to home for me and many others. Like so many of his other songs, this haunting track is able to make the listener calm while also feeling a swarm of strong emotions.

In all honesty, I am not too fond of any of the other songs on this new album. However, that does not mean that I think the album as a whole is anything less than a work of important and exquisite art. There is no denying 22, A Million’s beauty. Justin Vernon produced yet another stunning album that will resonate with and change the lives of many people.

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine

I have always loved Mac Miller’s music. From K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever when all he wanted was to swag out, to the experimental days of Macadelic and Watching Movies with the Sound Off, he was a staple of my high school days. During my college career, he’s released three more projects. Faces, with its drug-induced lyrics and smooth production, is one of my favorite tapes of all time. Last year’s GO:OD AM, one of the best starting over albums in rap history, with so many references about addiction, over-dosing, and recovery, is enough to get anyone through their roughest days. His newest release, The Divine Feminine, has a completely different feel.

He’s completely focused in the album. One thing I’ve learned since really becoming a hip hop head is that it’s near impossible for an album to completely come together as one collective unit, unlike the prog rock that my dad grew me up on. This album comes together. It’s one of very few albums that I can listen to start to finish every single time. It’s a love album all the way through, however, Mac is still able to put his classic depressed twist on it. “The sun don’t shine when I’m alone,” is one of his opening lines of the album, setting the theme throughout. Most of the songs play off of the depression of not being with your significant other, the problems that occur when a relationship is purely physical, or the issues a guy has when he’s constantly messing his relationship up.

This album sounds a lot different that a lot of his other albums. It’s clear at this point that he’s not just a rapper, or a producer, or a singer, he’s just a great musician with a pure sense of sound. The production brings in soft, slow beats, jazzy beats filled with horns, and fun upbeat hooks that display his competence and that he can rap over any beat. Mac brings in a stacked grouped of artists featured on this album; Anderson .Paak and CeeLo Green put their unique voices on Dang! and We, respectively. Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign both spit on their verses of the album, and he brings his new girlfriend Ariana Grande in for a verse on My Favorite Part.

The Divine Feminine shows a lot of growth from an artist who has put himself through a lot in recent years. If you have an hour to kill, or if you’re feeling a little down, this is definitely an album you need to check out. Thank you, Mac.

Mac Miller will be coming to SLC in November at the Saltair, you can purchase tickets here: http://smithstix.com/music/all-music/rap-hiphop/event/19011/mac-miler-nov-1

Review: Talia Keys “Fool’s Gold”

Talia Keys’ Fool’s Gold album is soulful collection to be reckoned with. With songs she has developed and created over the past 8 years, each has unique tone, while seamlessly working together. In other words, none of her songs sound the same. Keys’ powerhouse of a voice has the range from grind and grit to the soft and soothing, which can be heard of in each of the songs. The convictions of emotions are heard right off the first track Help Me, and a softer tone is heard in Intergalactic Crime Scene. Politics combines jazz and rock, and to close out Fight With Love uses everything from trumpets and sax, to classic guitars and bass. Her lyrics express her opinions clearly with a variety of topics and issues. She is now pursuing a solo career, and with that she is able to connect more through her music. Openly bisexual, she uses her talent and artistry to make a name for herself and a figure for the LGBT community. In the song Help Me, she describes discrimination in its forms of sexuality, gender, and even race.  No Justice No Peace also equally shows her fighting activist spirit. From the lyrics, to the recordings which are basically live, everything you hear Keys’ soulful magic. Some of her lyrics can be explicit, however they add to the expressive emotion. Keys’ entire album is raw. Fool’s Gold is a progressive, soul-rock album and worth a listen.