Certain Deadheads get their tie-dyes in a bunch over the premise of Rhino’s Road Trips series. Why? Because a Grateful Dead concert had a flow, man. And Frankensteining together a compilation, even from within a fortnight, disrespects the concertgoing experience, man. Dig?
While there is, in fact, nothing like a Grateful Dead concert, said ‘Heads are undervaluing another truth: no band’s performance history is better suited to compilations. Why? Because the live show was all about chasing a certain performance magic, but that magic, by nature, was fickle. It might show up for a song, or not at all, or for three songs in a row, or maybe even an entire set.
The rest of the night? Could be fine, could be crap, could be both. Musically, fans went for the fireworks and accepted the occasional fizzle as the price of the pursuit.
So Road Trips aspired to bottle the moments of occasional lightning from 2nd-tier concerts (the fact that it leaves nearby top-tier nights alone suggests that those whole-show releases are forthcoming, too). Oddly, the series debut missed the mark with issues including tape speed error. But mining a few shows from a less famous month (October) in a famous year (1977), this set should deliver high quality from pseudo-opener to pseudo-encore, and it does.
Playing In The Hofheinz
“Let It Grow” smokes with an intensity not often seen outside 1974. No “Sugaree” needs to be 17 minutes, but Jerry helps this one make a better case than most. The 10/14 “Playing In The Band”, on the other hand, demonstrates how fast 17 minutes can go by when this band was in the zone. “Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower” would not return for a few years after this night, but the performance (especially the first two parts) is anything but discouraging — warm but sharp, confident but exploratory.
In short, disc one is consistent enough that I can even tolerate the obligatory cowboy song (“El Paso”). The second set’s suite is so good that I don’t skip the “Good Lovin'” in its middle. OK, I do skip the Chuck Berry cover (“Around & Around”), but that’s because it pales beside the rest of the set.
I expected the bonus disc to justify the purchase, but the first two discs stand on their own just fine. (Keith Godchaux had begun his decline by then, sometimes inspired — see “The Other One” and some harpsichord on “Playing” — and sometimes zombie-like, as shown by his rote block-chord playing on the bonus “Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain”.) The proper release’s highlights and other relative rarities (“Brokedown Palace”, and “Black Peter” instead of the ubiquitous “Wharf Rat”) make RT 1.2 a thorough, if not shocking, success.
Oh, and the sound is fantastic, especially benefiting the rhythm section. The sonic richness and clarity as all the instruments carve out and renegotiate their territories is impossible to miss, even (or maybe especially) for those of us who have dozens of freely traded shows in excellent quality.
The Pros Have It
Some Deadheads also go on about how the music wants to be free. However, this set suggests that what the music really wants is to be professionally mastered, bought, and turned up. Good speakers or headphones recommended, actual attendance at Dead shows not mandatory. Lava lamp optional.
Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 2
Assorted October 1977 dates
CD1: Let It Grow / Sugaree / The Music Never Stopped / Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo > El Paso / Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower
CD2: Playing In The Band > Drums > Other One > Goove Lovin’ / Terrapin Station > Black Peter > Around & Around / Brokedown Palace > Playing reprise
Bonus disc: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain / Estimated Prophet / Loser / Sunrise / Iko Iko > The Wheel > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia