As a Springsteen fan, I thought seeing Bruce pull out “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” as early as September now and then was the height of Christmas-related setlist perversity.
I was wrong. I’ll have to hand that title to Mr. Jerome Garcia, who bides a little time with a couple of bars of “Frosty The Snowman” right there at the start of the fourth week of June 1974.
(On second thought, let’s just agree to presume he was thinking about winter holidays …)
That sense of humor kicks off the 2021 bonus disc in the Dave’s Picks series, a high-class selection of material from the first night at the Jai-Alai Fronton. And that selection kicks off (after “Frosty”) with 28 minutes of Playing In The Band.
Playing In The Fronton
Aside from a brief, pretty bit of quiet not long after the “3-minute song” portion of the song, the energy stays up for a good while. Strong contributions across the board, but Keith is especially dialed in on electric piano for much of the track’s first half.
By 15 minutes in, the band finds itself in a subtle tug of war between two impulses: funky jam and meltdown. The jam is winning but Garcia’s tone and notes tell you what’s really on his mind. Like at least one previous show, Phil is oddly out of the mix or just not playing or a stretch.
The overall sound simmers, roiling on one chord more or less, waiting for something to happen. Godchaux drops a couple of nice Bitches Brew-esque chords, and Jerry airs the high sign of Playing reentry.
After 3 minutes or so, the band decides not to decide between those choices and gears down to let something else emerge. A lot of toms work from Bill supports Keith and Jerry going at it on their respective sides of the soundstage, Bob staying low-key in the middle.
Phil returns with low-frequency twang followed by high-string insistence. The overall sound simmers, roiling on one chord more or less, waiting for something to happen. Godchaux drops a couple of nice Bitches Brew-esque chords, and Jerry airs the high sign of Playing reentry.
Just short of 24 minutes, a quorum agrees and the destination is set. They do need to reset briefly before final approach, automatic minor deduction there. All in all, plenty good enough for bonus disc work.
’74 China>Rider. You Know The Rest.
The disc follows that first-set closer with the China>Rider that opens the second half. Garcia is singing especially softly and the China Cat feels a little more deliberate in general tonight, spruced up by the single lines rolling off Keith’s electric piano.
They turn the corner into the transition, which doesn’t bring a lot of melody but creates a nice ensemble space until Bob delivers the signature lick to prepare for the next phase. At that point, all the non-drummers step it up a notch for a couple of minutes. The common detour through the MLB jam earns applause when it spirals up and pirouettes back down nicely into the Rider intro.
The transition between this pair often receives the most attention, but this Rider just gets better, from the first well-played instrumental passage onward.
The band jumps on the Eyes for another example of why June 1974 enjoys the reputation it does. The distinctive thing about this Eyes is that for some reason, Phil is WAY up in the mix. Everyone sounds clear, but it’s like you’re sitting in front of Phil’s amp.
Maybe Lesh took the opportunity to “mix himself” in the new Wall of Sound setup. (Eh, since these recordings often had their own dedicated mix, probably not.)
The performance flows so smoothly that I thought no way was it 13 minutes already, but it was. The band finally dropped off the outro and into a couple of minutes of Jerry’s wanderings with minimal other participation, basically waiting to see which ballad got the nod.
Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
Wharf Rat, he went with Wharf Rat. Seems like the right call, given it also could qualify as a basically perfect performance. Garcia seemed to have a little extra energy for the vocals, and the two guitars did fine work throughout.
This was a segue to Sugar Magnolia, technically, but Bob allowed the song to come to a complete end, with a little breathing room and Jerry continuing to strum softly, before cranking up his ode.
This one moves along fine before taking an extended break between its two sections. After the pregnant pause and a lot of applause, Sunshine Daydream commences and then concludes this above-average (and probably now cost-prohibitive) bonus disc.
Dave’s Picks 2021 bonus disc
CD 1: playing in the band / china cat sunflower > I know you rider / eyes of the world > wharf rat > sugar magnolia
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