Grateful Dead – 7/31/74 Hartford (Dave’s Picks 2)

With the Landover show under their belt after a hasty 2-gig, 8-day dash across the United States, the band has completed a hard left up the East Coast to Hartford so it can start making its way back down again.

Scarlet Getting Deeper

The band doesn’t sound tired. The Scarlet Begonias to open is about as long as it has been so far in its short life. The particular slinky-but-bouncy energy is dialed in. Phil’s tone is a little fuzzy, Jerry is articulating with some gusto. Toward the end, you get the feeling they are getting the feeling there is room to roam with this vehicle. Overall, this performance is stronger than I remembered and would’ve been at home at the top of the second set.

(It would get a little better yet within a week.)

Someone’s pleading to hold on for a minute on this recording, and they do, briefly. Me & My Uncle holds on to that energy and hands it off to Brown-Eyed Women.

Twelve beats for BIODTL. Well, except for Keith, who went with 13. Vocals drop out after the first verse, unfortunately, so this is mostly a karaoke BIODTL until Bob and Donna show back up for the final sprint.

Half-Step gives the impression maybe they’re catching their breath just a little until Garcia’s tone and notes in the first solo make a case to the contrary. Things proceed according to form, but right before 6 minutes, a fine “hey, there’s Phil on background vox” moment peeks through the mix with a distinctive “… lazy riv-AH.”

Rider At A Gallop

When Half-Step concludes, Garcia pauses only long enough to spark a setlist nerd debate about whether it should count as a segue or not before opening up It Must Have Been The Roses.

Roses’ tempo runs just a smidge slower than Half-Step, quicker than you’d expect, and much quicker than it would get. This song is never a draw for me, but it’s a good opportunity to listen to how effortlessly these guys arrange themselves as an ensemble within their sonic space.

After Mexicali Blues, Row Jimmy has some little hints in the back half that the guys want to cut loose a little. Keith’s between-song piano exclamation reinforces it. They set up the quiet/loud contrast in Jack Straw like pros, but they jump right on the first chance to kick it up a notch.

Two or three small miscues in the back half of China Cat Sunflower keep it from any sort of Important List. The transition also has a little more energy than precision, but has its moments the closer we get to I Know You Rider. In fact, even upon arrival, Jerry refuses to let go of that last note, whipping it several times even as Bill settles into the classic hi-hat groove.

Check out three fills bubbling at once after the first “could not take my rest.” Energy. More of a shame about the China Cat because this Rider is plugged in. With the joint appropriately jumping, they close the first set with Around & Around.

THWACK + snare

Bertha brings its 1974-vintage lope/funk to kick off the middle set. Every now and then (but only now and then) in the first three verses, Garcia’s rhythm THWACK and Kreutzmann’s snare align to the microsecond, and it illuminates its own tiny little dopamine candle in my brain.

Always felt to me like they should’ve saved Bertha’s last verse until after the solo, instead of stacking them all up before the solo.

A fairly percolating Big River – isn’t the percolating a main part of the ’74 charm, and were there more prime examples than Big River and Scarlet Begonias? – sets up another Eyes > China Doll.

The driving energy continues thanks to Bill, and the rest try not to screw it up.

As usual, Jerry takes the first solo, Phil and Jerry co-pilot the second solo, and Phil steps up for his own several minutes into the song. The questions becomes will they successfully drop down to that next chord successfully?

The driving energy continues thanks to Bill, and the rest try not to screw it up.

They will. Not once, but twice. Garcia lets it rip as they step through the long way around the chord changes back to the Emaj7 again, a highlight.

Oddly, Garcia actually telegraphs the 7/8 riff as a heads-up, but the band declines to go there. Around we go a couple more times, not that that’s a bad thing. Faced with devolving into drums as the other option, they don’t miss the second chance.

A fairly dramatic conclusion and then into China Doll. Which has entirely predictable trouble downshifting to a suitable tempo, but they keep at it. I’ve said this before, but Weir does some nice work here.

The band never gets this China Doll to quite gel. It’s not broken, exactly, but it’s a little nervous.

Keith lays down some serious left-hand groove as Bob takes us toward the Mississippi and onward to the Promised Land. Godchaux also moves from barrelhouse to church within maybe 10 seconds in a pretty good Ship Of Fools.

Garcia doesn’t bring his slide guitar A-game to the start of Weather Report Suite, and he sounds listless elsewhere in the first half. Fortunately, Godchaux shines off to his side through that first half, and then they both get it together in the next extended solo.

Keith lays down some serious left-hand groove as Bob takes us toward the Mississippi and onward to the Promised Land. Godchaux also moves from barrelhouse to church within maybe 10 seconds in a pretty good Ship Of Fools.

In the final instrumental passage, Kreutzmann just bashes away in a straight 4 kind of way that is really unusual for him in general (to my knowledge) and even moreso for 1974. It is off-putting and flattens the rest of the song. And with that, another set break.

Check and Check

How often did El Paso start a set? Well, here’s your chance to experience history. Everyone sounds refreshed (or re-whathaveyou’d), Keith and Jerry dashing around independently while Bob and the rhythm section deliver the story.

Ramble On Rose depends on Jerry selling the colorful lineup of a lyric and the band generating sufficient dynamics to keep interest of the course of the song. Check and check.

Time for one more before the set’s main sequence, and Greatest Story Ever Told fits the bill for a quick tempo pick-me-up. Another Phil highlight with a comic-book-esque backup vox appearance on “’til the WALLS caved in.”

On the other side of the spectrum, something inspired Donna to serve up maybe 4-5 yeah’s too many down the homestretch. Jerry’s wah work makes up for it.

The Big Suite

Truckin’ finds its groove immediately. Weir fumbles the start of the second verse, comes back strong in the 3rd, but does it again in the 4th. No teleprompters back then, kids, and load-in was uphill both ways.

The lyrics dispensed with at last, Garcia opens with some double-stopped licks, moves to some faster runs, and circles back to the octave-y buildup that seems to last even longer and go even higher up the fretboard than usual.

Unfortunately, that throws off the climactic pivot and they just kinda fall back into the comfort of the nondescript shuffle for a while.

Around 10 minutes in, Jerry and Bill signal that it’s time to get off those tracks. Bill turns the beat over, gives it a shake from all sides, but keeps it going while Garcia wanders. Maybe it’s the mix, but Weir lays back pretty far through this passage. Did Keith hint at China Cat around 13:00?

After not quite five minutes of this pleasant-enough jam, Bill calls up a jazzier gear and Keith steps up. As does Phil, albeit with a more frenetic style. Garcia comes back with ideas after a quick breather, and the band coheres, although it could still go pretty much anywhere.

It’s not a seamless transition, but where they go is into a lengthy MLB jam, with Bill choosing a funk flavor to start it out. Hey, there’s Weir back in more audible territory, underpinning the changes.

Weir fumbles the start of the second verse, comes back strong in the third, but does it again in the fourth. No teleprompters back then, kids, and load-in was uphill both ways.

Keith and Jerry get more staccato almost like they’re both playing rhythm to someone else’s lead. Maybe they reach the same conclusion, because next up is a brief breakdown.

Keith toys with some bluesy chords, but the Spanish Jam has occurred to Jerry and he makes a slow path toward it. Most of the band gravitates toward him. Keith stays blues-based for the first couple of minutes, which gives it an interesting flavor.

What you would technically consider a Spanish Jam where Weir’s signature riff only starts almost three minutes into the track?

They climb back out into a quick MLB reprise only to drop right into Wharf Rat’s space. Having passed through 2.5 jams with nothing qualifying as breakneck or freaked out, Bill looks for and finds ways to keep the drums interesting through the first half.

Almost intangible, but you can hear the intensity pick up as we round from the bridge into the next verse. The outro takes its rolling-triplet nature and fades it all the way down to zero. Garcia has time to take one breath and they’re off into U.S. Blues. After the first chorus, they hit another locked-in stretch; Keith bangs it out with gusto and can’t even quite manage to stop when the song ends.

UJB Plays Around

Phil gets a little turned around in the first solo of One More Saturday Night, but of course it can be hard to tell with Phil anyway, so it doesn’t stick out much. Again, Bob is way back in the mix.

A big ending leads to an encore break, which leads to Phil telling the crowd, “I’m sure you’re all gonna enjoy it a lot better if it’s in tune,” as the band gets ready.

Uncle John’s Band “only” got out roughly a dozen times in 1974, but it got around. I’ll go out on a limb and assume that it’s the only song that year to begin a show, start a second set, start a third set, and also appear as an encore. It was the encore for the year’s opener at Winterland and makes its second and final appearance in that slot here.

I’ll go out on a limb and assume that Uncle John’s Band is the only song that year to begin a show, start a second set, start a third set, and also appear as an encore.

The Dead came off a little ragged toward the start of Wednesday in Hartford and then occasionally unremarkable in spots as the evening progressed. However, you wouldn’t’ve guessed that from the way they hit UJB just right to wind up the night.

From there, the band could look forward to a luxurious three-day break (and only a 3.5-hour drive) before what would be a momentous trio of shows in Philadelphia and Jersey City to close out the U.S. summer tour.

Grateful Dead
7/31/74 Hartford, CT
Dave’s Picks 2

Set1: scarlet begonias / me and my uncle / brown-eyed women / BIODTL / Mississippi half-step uptown toodle-oo / it must have been the roses / Mexicali blues / row jimmy / jack straw / china cat sunflower > I know you rider / around & around
Set2: bertha / big river / eyes of the world > china doll / promised land / ship of fools / weather report suite
Set3: el paso / ramble on rose / greatest story ever told / truckin’ > mind left body jam > Spanish jam > wharf rat / u.s. blues / one more Saturday night // uncle john’s band

Visit the Grateful Dead 1974 Project main page.

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