You know me, my fellow Enthusiasts: I don’t care much for the hard sell. Shows will be reviewed and recommended; it’s what you do with a show and, besides, my sneaking suspicion is that the rest of you are as desperately unnerved by the dangerous task of choosing the next show as I am.
It always sneaks up on me. I’ll suddenly perk up around the Box Back Nitties or the opening chords of the Bobby Rocker and realize thattime has drawn nigh: out of the over two thousand shows the Dead played, my task–my duty!–is to select only one. The pressure, the anxiety, the fear: these things lay upon my shoulders like a cape of torment, or a shawl of agony, or a light jacket of woe.
Easily sixty percent of the pointless Dead-related meandering around the internet, used book stores, and Dennis McNally’s house when he’s on vacation that I do is just looking for a recommendation for the next show. The other forty percent is spent trying to find out what actually did become of the baby.
And when I find something good, it thrills me, inspires me, seduces me, adopts me, raises me, has a falling out with me, becomes sadly estranged for years from me, and then reunites in the face of illness with me. I never wanted to write a straightforward review of a show for you: those multi-page exegeses that used to appear in DeadBase always smacked of homework to me. A Dead show must never be an assignment.
(By the way, if we’re going to keep allowing that dumbass “tape traders were the first social network” thought to stagnate, then we must also accept that the editors and contributors to DeadBase were the first Sabrmetricians.)
But 11/7/69 at the Fillmore Auditorium deserves a bit more cheerleading. The set list and the big thematic/modular jams are mostly identical to the legendary next evening, but there’s something special about this show. Does it surpass the 11/8? No, of course not: what could? Perhaps it doesn’t even equal it; instead, the shows complement each other.
So, in lieu of my usual half-remembered notions about the first set that degenerates rapidly into Dickpunching Billy material TotD presents actual reasons to listen to this great show:
- The first set is light years ahead of the next night, with tighter playing, better vocals (I won’t mention the 11/8 Cumberland Blues if you won’t).
- Except for Mama Tried, when Bobby is reduced to faking his way through the melody with a combination of grunts, hums, and nonsense syllables. It’s doesn’t sound as though he doesn’t know the song, no: it sounds like Bobby is unfamiliar with the concept of language itself. In his defense, they had only been playing the tune for five months. In favor of the prosecution is the fact that they played the song every damn night in those five months. On September 27th, they played it twice.
- A very special rendition of Next Time You See Me, featuring Pig and Garcia on lead vocals. They sing the whole song together, with Garcia taking a casual harmony line that, on second listening, is actually rather clever and blends perfectly with Pig’s occasionally loosey-goosey relationship with pitch.
- The middle of the first set contains what can only be described as a tuning-thon. Love those kooky little familiar melodies that the Dead sometimes burst into? What if they did it, like, 17 times in a row? Would that be something you’re interested in? (I’m exaggerating slightly, but just.)
- In the same technical difficulty portion of the show, Phil performs and act of complete Phil-ness. He becomes one with himself. He assumes his final form. There is a ringing sound in the hall, and instead of telling Bear (who, if you pay attention, seems to cause about 70% of the problems he then solves) the approximate note location of the ring, or playing it on his bass, or singing it, Phil instead identifies the frequency of the sound wave’s amplitude. Yes, Phil has perfect pitch, but being able to tell the number of times a sound wave oscillates between its domain and its range is fucking creepy, man. What is it like to hear the world like Phil? It must be like when Neo was first able to see the Matrix.
- The China>Rider is one of the best early versions of the diptych the Dead ever played; it is possibly HOF material. Once again, credit goes to Phil: he is total command of the songs from the weird way he comes in the song backwards to his authoritative runs up to the high desert of the fretboard where mortal bass players fear to tread.
- The second set is where it gets tough to root for 11/7 on a purely rational basis, and instead must consciously resolve to root for the doomed underdog that will always be overshadowed by its more accomplished, better-liked sibling.. This is not tough for me; I am a New York Giants fan. The 11/7 second set is superb, especially the Dark Star, which ends deep in the land of insect fear. This is not a Dark Star to be listened to with the lights off. It, too, contains the wordless Uncle John’s theme, but for barely half of the time they spend the following evening with the melody that would become their first ever minor hit record.
- This is not to discount the older of our sister shows: every musical bet they made paid off, but on the second night, they were betting the rent money. The 11/7 Other One>Lovelight is the dictionary definition of Baby Dead: if the opening riff of TOO can be placed into the category of Phil Bombs, then these notes are the napalm terror-fuckers from the first minutes of Apocalypse Now and then a great and sudden and inevitable and completely unforeseeable ascent into the raving, good-time shake-your-booty of Lovelight, a rip-roarer clocking in at 25 minutes and containing, like, 12 instances of Pig doing that “WAIT A MINUTE” thing he did
There would be no encore.
Just listen to the music