Stormy Mondays | Grateful Dead 1974 Retrospective Part 5

Welcome to Part Five of the Stormy Mondays’ Grateful Dead in 1974 retrospective (Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four) , in which we’ll focus on the songs. 1974 is justly known for the wild improv and the long, jammed segue-fests in the second sets, but one of the glories of the Wall of Sound was how well it captured the interactions within the stand-alone songs; how distinct the instrumentation was, how passionate the vocals were and how much greater than the sum of its parts every song was. The first half of this week’s mix comes from July 19, 1974; Keith’s birthday and a show that does has both a crazed “Playing” and a big suite late in the second set. What we have here in our mix, however, is a bouncy “Mexicali” and a “Row Jimmy” with maybe the most gorgeous short solo Garcia ever played. “Bobby McGee” has fantastic vocal work and this moment when the song starts to shudder and lose itself, but then the band snaps it back into place on a flying, soulful lead. There’s also a great “Scarlet Begonias” and a “Me and My Uncle” with the alternate “I grabbed a bottle, cracked him in the jaw” lyrics.

The second half comes from July 27, 1974; an essentially improv-less show -even the “NFA” > “GDTRFB” > “Johhny B Goode” that closes the second set is brief. However, that makes it the perfect show to really explore the shorter material. “Jack Straw” really shines here, as does the brilliant “Half Step” > “Roses” pairing that was so wonderful but only ever played in 1974. Listen to how energetic the “Roses” is…just great. There’s also a nice, quiet “Brokedown” and another in a long line of glowing versions of “China” > “Rider” -every one is worth a listen.

To place this material in context, it’s important to note that the nine-show July/August tour jumped all over the place, starting in southern California before hitting a single date in Chicago and then zig-zagging the Mid-Atlantic states, with a single three-set show in Hartford. Many of the big jams kick off with or include “Truckin’” and there a number of scorching renditions of “Wharf Rat” as end caps, or near end caps. Phil’s electronic sound experiments with Ned Lagin also make their first appearance, what used to be called simply “Phil & Ned” but are now more commonly known as “Seastones.” Buzzy, blippy oddness, these 10-20 minute outings usually took place between the first and second set, and while he’s not listed on setlists, it’s pretty clear that Lagin sat in on the wilder segments of those shows. He’s particularly distinct on the July 19th “Playing.” Those segments really matured in the fall, and began to melt into songs, like “Eyes” and “Playing.” And speaking of 1974’s prime psychedelic vehicle, while it continued to appear often at the end of the first set, it also began to show up in second sets and/or include other songs as the core of the trip.

The tail end of the tour is very heavily documented on official releases as well. July 31, 1974 in Hartford, the long three-set show, is captured in nearly its entirety on Dave’s Picks Vol. II. (It’s missing “Seastones.”) It’s a show that often shows up on people’s top ten lists, and with good cause. The whole gig is so energetic from start to finish; it positively dances. The “Eyes” and the “Let It Grow”, sure, but also the “Bertha” and the “Jack Straw”; the “Big River” will knock you off your feet. What makes this show also stand out from other favorites like 2/27/69, 2/13/70 and 5/7/78, though, is that it really covers the whole range of the GD catalog. There are thirty songs played, give or take, depending how you label jams; the third set closes with a scorching “Truckin’” > “Mind Left Body Jam” > “Spanish Jam” > “Wharf Rat” that is as electric as everything else, and as a result just overflows with distinct ideas. Truly a hallmark show.

The Bonus Disc that accompanied Dave’s Picks in 2012 comes from the previous show, July 29 in Landover, MD. Included are “Sugaree,” another beautiful “Weather Report Suite” and the big meat of the second set: a blissful “He’s Gone” > “Truckin’” > one of only a few full versions of “Nobody’s Fault” (although Garcia’s vocals are shaky at best) > “Other One” > “Spanish Jam” > “Wharf Rat.” It’s a pretty nice jam to pair with the one on the actual release.

Parts of the final three shows make up Dick’s Picks Vol.31, a four-disc collection that’s really a must have. The first disc has individual songs from the first two nights in Philly (8/4/74 & 8/5/74), including a fantastic “Playing” to open the release and set the tone, and the queen mother version of “China” > “Rider,” where the band really works out on the transition -entirely brilliant. The second and third discs have big second set jams from those same shows : “WRS” > “Jam” > “Wharf Rat” > “US Blues,” with that transition jam really grooving pretty hard; and “He’s Gone” > “Truckin’” > “Jam” > “Other One” > “Space” > “Stella Blue,” although why “Space” is labeled as such escapes me. It’s another cosmic meltdown segment of the type found in most shows from 1974. The final disc is essentially Vol. 31’s own bonus disc: a 20 minute “Eyes,” a sweet “Playing” > “Scarlet” > “Playing” and an awesome stand-alone “Uncle John’s Band” that opened the second set. The show (8/6/74) was in Jersey City, and was a make-up date for a rained-out show on 8/2/74. The performances here are worth price of the release by themselves. Like dessert, they certainly work at the end of a hearty meal, but man are they good all on their own.

As always, enjoy!


Written By: Dan Alford