1975. Weird year. Weird shows, with an “everybody in the pool” type of vibe to them. “Who showed up? Ned? Umm. Does he have any weed? Well, give him a keyboard, I guess.” Merl and Matthew Kelley (pre-dickpunching incident) sit in; Sammy Davis, Jr. comes out for a number. And each set begins the only proper way a Grateful Dead show can: with an intro by Bill Graham.
The drummers weren’t quite together yet, and the sound is cluttered, but it’s HUGE and it just doesn’t sound like any other year. Garcia sounds like it’s ’72, laying down long, ropey lines and just soloing throughout pretty much every song, expecting the other 97 musicians on stage to carry the actual song. Due to the ad hoc nature of most of the Hiatus show, having a grand piano on stage was impossible (said the road crew before pantsing Keith, forcing Donna Jean to shoo them away. “You have to stand up for yourself, baby. Can’t let the bigger boys bully you. Look at me, Keith: it gets better.”) so Keith was confined to the Fender Rhodes
Did they ever really retire? Were they ever serious about it? The fake-out retirement is a classic show-biz move: Sinatra retired at least 17 times, the Stones have done five straight farewell tours, Tupac became a hologram for some reason. They certainly needed a break from playing Atlas with the Wall of Sound, there was way too much coke and the Persian was creeping into the scene.
So, they took ’75 off, playing only 4 shows, all of them backyard gigs in the Bay Area. The most well-known (justly) is 8/13, the One from the Vault release from the Great American Music Hall. The S.N.A.C.K. benefit was certainly the weirdest: the human brain hadn’t evolved for a pre-noon Blues for Allah. The Winterland show in June is the most overlooked.
But the Secret Hero show is 9/28/75–Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. Check out the Franklin’s, where Mickey and Billy chase each other around with their cymbals and Garcia lets loose a roaring solo right after “…if you get confused, listen to the music play.” AND THEN THE END OF FRANKLIN’S HOLY SHIT which is like the end of He’s Gone with the long a capella call-and-response and it’s just remarkable.
Aaaaaaand then the intro to Big River, which is a mess.
P.S. Thank you to the tapers, to the archivists, to the digital cleanup artists, to the uploaders. Thank you to the scribes and the safekeepers. After all, if Bobby forgets he words to Truckin’ and it is not preserved, then did he really forget the words? (Most likely, yes. Bobby forgot the words to Truckin’ so much it was on his to-do list: hair, squats, tickle-time with Garcia, slide guitar lesson (cancelled), forget words to Truckin’.)
P.P.S. As I was writing about my gratitude for the archivists and digital Jawas that keep everything running, Archive.org went down.