Grateful Dead – 6/16/74 Des Moines and 6/18/74 Louisville (Road Trips 2.3)

While some folks would take grave offense at the occasional partial-show Dick’s Picks or Road Trips release over the years, I’m not a full show purist. One thing the choice to cherry-pick does do, though, is raise the stakes.

Try to distill two shows from June 1974 — one of the all-time great months in Dead history — onto just two discs, and the task gets more daunting.

Stretched-Out Cat

China>Rider gives any curator good odds for a decent start, and Des Moines did not disappoint. The band is firing on all cylinders through a clean China Cat Sunflower and into the transition. The China Cat and its tail run about 10 and a half minutes by themselves on this night. Listen to how Bill teases a couple of different times toward the Rider double-time but doesn’t give in.

Garcia eventually has to lay down a repeated power chord to force the issue, and off they jump. He then twirls nimbly through the MLB jam, swerving into the “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” quote and back again before everyone tucks back into the groove for vocals.

Jerry runs leads through more of this Rider than usual (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Keith is more low-key, coincidentally or not, but finds his moments for some good textured electric piano fills.

It wasn’t 5/19/74 Portland, but if you’re David Lemieux putting this together, it’s a solid 15-minute investment in the first disc.

The Race Is On cleanses the palate after that substantial course. Keith pounding the higher-octave eighth notes through the first half sets this one apart from others I’ve heard (or maybe I just didn’t notice).

One Night Only: Eyes Of The River

Eyes Of The World and Big River appear next, together just as they were at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Jerry’s tone sounds like it has a little extra bite, Phil floats some full chords right there in the intro, Bill is doing that classic ’74 thing that he would never do quite the same way again, and the stage is set for a memorable 20 minutes.

Garcia wasn’t trying to be his most fluid through the first solo, instead firing single notes that skipped and careened off the band’s surface and back again.

I think I already said this this year, but the next verses are a good chance to hone in on the half-rhythm, half-counterpoint part that Bob crafted for them. Nobody quite like him.

Phil steps up as the song approaches eight minutes. Jerry switches to a wah-esque effect briefly while Keith moves from piano to electric piano.

Everyone drives right by the first key change exit even though Kreutzmann pointed right at it with both hands. They follow his lead the second time, and we’re into a good space. Not completely attuned to the precise “when” of each modulation as they swing back and forth between keys a la 1973-74, but good enough.

Phil and Bill are right on top of that hard turn into the 7/8 jam. Hate to say it, but Garcia, as well as he’s playing, is the sloppiest through this series of pivots. Godchaux finds some sort of cool filter or compression for the Wurlitzer around 16 minutes in. He basically (and comfortably) just solos right along Garcia on the other side of the stereo field. This passage might be the best.

Yeah, it’s the best.

Essentially, the band spends the next two minutes in a plasma state of Jerry and Bob leaning hard toward Big River while the rhythm section stays in the Eyes outro.

Things take a turn when you can hear Bob start to step toward Big River at 18:30. Essentially, the band spends the next two minutes in a plasma state of Jerry and Bob leaning hard toward Big River while the rhythm section stays in the Eyes outro.

It’s no problem to turn into Big River for real, and everyone is in the pocket as Bob and Phil sing the opening chorus.

Keith puts a little more country on his solo, Bob finally admits defeat (putting an extra “’til I die” on it). The band cooks through not one but two victory laps. The final chorus puts the cap on almost 26 minutes for an Iowa crowd lucky to see the only Eyes > Big River ever.

1974’s Most Unusual Sound

Lemieux pulls U.S. Blues slightly out of original sequence and into the next slot for another needed palate cleanser before the first CD closes with Des Moines’ 28-minute Playing In The Band.

The Dead knock out the 3-minute song and keep the vibe into the jam. Listeners get the weird juxtaposition of a couple of Garcia’s riffs sounding almost like a pedal steel in one ear while Keith is using what sounds like an 8-bit video game synth patch in the other ear. I think I only ever heard this on some ’74 shows; it’s definitely a headscratcher the first time you hear it.

Kreutzmann changes the mood around 9 minutes in, deploying somewhat martial beat with a little funk in it. It might feel at home in a Mardi Gras parade. Keith, meanwhile, wraps up the proto-synth fun with something not unlike a Shakedown wave before retreating to the Fender Rhodes.

Bill forges a driving path out of an eventual visit to the abyss, as he often would, but Keith uses his new toy to deliver some unusual, quick-oscillating noises to accentuate the weirdness. He keeps it up for a good few minutes – you can imagine him twiddling the analog synth’s knobs with his off hand — and the higher-pitched ones get annoyingly shrill after a while. I will not bother with this Playing again because of it, rest of performance notwithstanding.

Almost 23 minutes in, Keith puts away the toy but we’re still sort of wandering around. Not one of the more organized reentries of the year so far, but they get it together and bring it home.

Two For The Books

The release’s other CD joins the 6/18/74 show already in progress, as the band has made its way to Kentucky. Loose Lucy moves a little slower than the last released version from 5/17 Vancouver, and Jerry’s vocals are a bit back in the mix, too, which does not make for an engaging combo. Add some blown lyrics and you can move on.

If there’s a song worth two appearances on a 2-disc comp of two 1974 Grateful Dead shows, it’s Eyes Of The World. While the Des Moines performance had the novelty of a Big River follow-up, Louisville got a classic Eyes > China Doll pairing.

If you like your Eyes Of The World on the solidly mellow side, then this one might not be as much for you. Otherwise, from singing to playing, this is what I’d call a relentlessly energetic, flawless Eyes.

Unlike the evening’s Loose Lucy, Eyes is crisp right out of the gate, with everyone right on the front of the beat.

If you like your Eyes on the solidly mellow side, then this one is not as much for you. Otherwise, from singing to playing, this is what I’d call a relentlessly energetic, flawless Eyes.

Could they round it out with a clean China Doll?

Yes, they could. Louisville’s Eyes > China Doll would have to go on the all-time short list for this duo.

Other One + An Only One

Other than a couple of times when Garcia fights to keep a melodic line between the rails – which is really par for the course in WRS – this continues the high standard of the evening. The second half is especially strong.

Just some Jerry and Bill strips down to a little of Jerry solo before other members gradually start reentering the sonically sparse picture for “Jam.” Five minutes into the 9:30 track, Bill institutes a real beat and something more like a real one-chord jam commences.

On its own, this was not the best use of 9 valuable minutes on an ambitiously brief two-disc compilation, but it would have made even less sense to omit it amidst amidst a 2nd-set sequence that runs more than 50 minutes.

It’s a smooth, broad turn into only the third Other One of the year to date, also the earliest one to be officially released as of June 2021. The band drops away to slightly menacing space after a strong 6-minute opening salvo.

Twelve minutes in, a rare Bill-and-Keith groove emerges, earthier and tremendously effective. Garcia gets on board, then Phil and Bob, and we have an unexpected and rather joyful strut back out of the darkness.

This space includes some unusual sounds from … well, again does it really matter? … before Phil points the ship outward and upward, further through space.

Twelve minutes in, a rare Bill-and-Keith groove emerges, earthier and tremendously effective. Garcia gets on board, then Phil and Bob, and we have an unexpected and rather joyful strut back out of the darkness. It’s phat.

With both feet firmly back on the ground, the band shifts gears one more time, into the Grateful Dead’s lone It’s A Sin jam after a handful of full song performances between 1969-1970. Deep space freakout and three minutes of Jimmy Reed blues as setlist neighbors … nobody covered the breadth of music through America and the vertical galaxy above it.

This Louisville suite arrives gently at its destination, Stella Blue. The band moves through it in a careful but assured way. Keith’s piano work stands out in the last half. Later years would find Jerry ripping up that last solo; this one stays restrained but engaged.

As far as official releases, despite the tendency to step on a toe or misplace a note where it’d be hard to hide it, Stella Blue is 2 of 2 in the official catalog as of June 2021 and mid-June 1974.

Phil follows quickly with a “Thank you,” and they deserved the applause for over 50 minutes where they absolutely nailed any music that had a name (and a couple of other spaces that didn’t). Add the first set’s Eyes > China Doll and the second disc removes any doubt about the quality of the release or its approach.

Des Moines’s half had some real highlights, while Louisville saw some extended brilliance, even by 1974 standards.

Grateful Dead
Road Trips Volume 2, No. 3
June 1974 – The Wall Of Sound
6/16/74 Des Moines & 6/18/74 Louisville
CD 1: china cat sunflower > I know you rider / the race is on / eyes of the world > big river / u.s. blues / playing in the band
CD 2: loose lucy / eyes of the world / china doll / weather report suite > jam > the other one > it’s a sin jam > stella blue

I’m sorry I missed the bonus disc from this one, compiling a few tracks from across the two nights, including a Truckin’ sequence and a Morning Dew.

Visit the Grateful Dead 1974 Project main page.

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