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/

 

 

Lotus: A Park City Live Review

When there’s nothing happening in Salt Lake City, it’s often worth checking up on SLC’s smaller neighbor, Park City. While packed during the Sundance Film Festival, Park City has a toned down local feel for the rest of the year. With the size of city being so small, it’s surprising that it still manages to pack a strong punch when it comes to booking top quality bands. Park City Live is a concert venue in the center of historic Main Street. Their Winterfest concert series helps people like me who dread the winter to have something to look forward to during the year’s darkest months. This year the venue booked current big names like Major Lazer and Marshmello, but also has some more eclectic picks ranging from Bluegrass bands to Reggae in the lineup. No matter what your tastes, its likely Park City Live has booked some serious talent within your favorite genres.

Last Saturday the venue hosted Lotus, a band formed in 1999 that has since been heavily touring venues and music festivals across the country. They’re pioneers in a genre best labeled as “jamtronica”. A mixture of classic jazz band jamming and improvised electronic music. The combination of the two leads to a unique sound and a wide range of tempos from get up and dance or sit back and chill.  While the band worked as a well-oiled machine with each musician playing off one another, the guitarist Michael Rempel really stood out. The riffs he provided often brought the funk to their songs, getting the greatest reaction from the audience. Near the end of the set the band played their song Greet the Mind, during which Michael’s playing brought the filled venue to a state of boogie.

The crowd Lotus brought together is a testament to their music. It’s free of any labels of classification and requires only a mind open to good music. Just looking into the crowd you could see a range of people from those dressed in full costume to elderly couples swing dancing. Going solo to a Lotus show like I did only means there’s a greater opportunity to meet friendly and interesting people. Among the crowd I met a group of real estate agents from San Francisco, a raver chick from California, and a nomad who shapes his travel itinerary according to the touring schedule of the band. After questing him more, I realized that he was hardly an anomaly. Lotus has a grouping of roadies that follow them from show to show particularly for the open-hearted scene their music creates. This following is also due to the jam aspect of their set. No two Lotus shows are the same, providing a unique experience only available in the present moment of their concert.

 

Arms and Sleepers Concert Reflections

Full disclosure, I had never heard any of the bands and as such, this was my first experience listening to all of them. The show started off later than I expected for Kilby Court with the group Soft Blonde. My hopes for an awesome show crumbled as the two men on stage before me began a warbling croon. This went on for several seconds until the real show began and reignited my hopes with an abrupt shift into their synth heavy music that set the crowd into a trance. Soft Blonde’s slower sounds set the stage for AudioTreat’s entrance. The producer of AudioTreats made the show by putting a ton of energy into his dancing and stage presence which enhanced their “Swanky Grooves.” The group fully came together when their singer took the stage, a 19 year old female vocalist who reminded me of Aluna George. Their performance was the highlight of my evening.

After the energy put into the show by AudioTreats I wasn’t as ready for the slower pacing of YEYEY. I appreciated the projections he brought that added to the music and he held his own. Continuing on, the main act of the night, Arms and Sleepers were perfect for the intimate setting that is Kilby Court. The connection between the band and the audience made hearing their tracks a memorable experience. I left with an afterglow and a satisfaction of hearing the new bands. All the bands I saw are worth a listen and seeing live, with a special emphasis on AudioTreats.

Arms and Sleepers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LucQTHULdBs

https://soundcloud.com/arms-and-sleepers/swim-team

 

YEYEY,

https://soundcloud.com/yeyeyband/sets/yeyey-the-vision

 

AudioTreats,

https://soundcloud.com/audiotreatsproduction/scope

https://soundcloud.com/audiotreatsproduction/farewell-part-a

 

Soft Blonde

https://softblondemusic.bandcamp.com/track/i-should-go