It’s hard not to look at this set through a lens fixed on Keith Godchaux, who was playing only his second and third shows with the band. Pigpen was ill and wouldn’t return for a month. His wife, Donna, wouldn’t join the band until March. (Does this represent the shortest-lived lineup in the band’s history?)
Add a bunch of songs debuted earlier in the year, and five others that premiered right along with Keith only three days earlier (Tennessee Jed, One More Saturday Night, Jack Straw, Comes a Time, and Ramble On Rose), and you have a fairly intriguing situation.
In fact, let’s look at those super-new songs. Garcia’s solo in Tennessee Jed sounds full-grown already. You can also hear Bobby laying back and giving Keith plenty of room — maybe in part since the song was just as new to him as it was to Keith. Jack Straw, on the other hand, didn’t have its footing quite yet. The guitar intro is clumsy, and it is slow compared to later versions.
Comes A Time features an entire verse that would get dropped by the next year, and Phil adds some nice work to raise the performance.
Ramble On Rose has that swagger that good versions have, even if Jerry doesn’t belt the last verse the way he often would later. Conversely, Comes A Time features an entire verse that would get dropped by the next year, and Phil adds some nice work to raise the performance.
Lastly, One More Saturday Night may be the best rocker of the night — it’s right up Keith’s alley, Bob chips in some sweet rhythm work in the break, and a stinging tone from Garcia helps bring it home.
Skating The Learning Curve
Highlights from elsewhere in the show: the Playing In The Band jam, abbreviated by ’70s standards, stakes out some interesting turf nonetheless and earns the biggest cheer thus far from the crowd.
Black Peter is grossly underrepresented in official releases, imo, and this version makes the case that we should get more of them. Keith’s delicately placed fills are the best evidence yet of his natural ear and feel for fairly new material. He also ornaments some moments in Bobby McGee with single-note riffs that sound elegant but squarely within the genre.
Keith’s delicately placed fills in “Black Peter” are the best evidence yet of his natural ear and feel for fairly new material.
The second set is shorter, with less worth mentioning outside of the full Cryptical suite. The opening section features some lovely Lesh/Weir/Godchaux intertwining between vocal lines, and when it devolves after the first verse of The Other One, the new guy points the piano toward the unknown and leads the way.
The other rare surprise comes in the Cryptical outro, which takes it time and eventually lilts its way right on into an unusually laid-back Deal. With the exception of a typically smoking Cumberland Blues, the rest of the night was either average or slightly subpar.
Maybe my expectations for the third disc — selections from the night before at the same venue — were unfair based on the tracklist, but it’s “just” a pretty good disc of ’71 Dead. The main attraction is the Dark Star > Sitting On Top Of The World > Dark Star, weighing in at 28 minutes. It is a respectable Dark Star, but as a song that thrives on as much telepathy as it can get, it suffers a little.
Keith’s prominence in the Sitting mix outstrips his his knowledge of the terrain in a couple of spots, but to their credit, they ease back into Dark Star with grace, and Jerry enhances the effect by getting on the other verse a lot quicker than you’d expect. The other bonus from the 10/21 disc that you don’t get on many official sets is a dose of goofy banter from the stage.
They had abandoned or had to omit so many songs that were staples just two years earlier, and they were at least a few months away from working their newer compositions into fully polished gems.
Late 1971 is really almost a sort of diversion or novelty on the Dead’s path — they had abandoned or had to omit so many songs that were staples just two years earlier, and they were at least a few months away from working their newer compositions into fully polished gems. Good performances, good sound, probably nobody’s favorite year.
But from an historical standpoint, you gotta like hearing those fresh songs sprouting and the new guy being thrown into the fire and justifying his selection. Worth a visit now and then.
10/21/71 (with some 10/22) @ The Auditorium Theatre / Chicago
CD1 (full 10/22 show): bertha / me & my uncle / tennessee jed / jack straw / loser / playing in the band / sugaree / beat it on down the line / black peter / mexicali blues / cold rain & snow / me & bobby mcgee
CD2: comes a time / one more saturday night // ramble on rose / cumberland blues / that’s it for the other one > deal / sugar magnolia / casey jones > johnny b. goode
CD3 (selections from 10/21): truckin’ / big railroad blues / the frozen logger / dark star > sitting on top of the world > dark star > me & bobby mcgee / brown-eyed women / st. stephen > johnny b. goode