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The Grateful Dead - Three From The Vault, the ESP Shows

2. 7. 2007 | Rubriky: Články, Multilingual, Interviews, reviews

[by Ken Hunt, London] The Grateful Dead were a band that polarised opinion. How you took them over the course of their 30-year lifespan probably got entrenched. Mind you, given the band’s archival revelations, the present tense ‘take’ still seems pertinent, even all these years after their linchpin Jerry Garcia’s death in August 1995 and the band’s subsequent folding that year.

Their Three From The Vault captures the band playing on the second date of a string of concerts at the Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York State. The date was 19 February 1971 and the band had just undergone another of its periodic personnel changes. The night before they had been six. This night was their first gig without their second drummer. Mickey Hart would return to the fold in October 1974, having licked his wounds and recovered from the karmic shock of discovering that his father, the band’s absconding manager, had systematically burnt them, embezzling them of thousands upon thousands of dollars. The exact sum never got established. Such is the nature of such fraud, a damn bad show, as I was saying to that Sting fellow only the other night over the Port and Stilton before I woke up.

So, on 19 February a quintet comprising Jerry Garcia on electric guitar and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann handling all the drum parts, Phil Lesh on electric bass and vocals, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan on keyboards, vocals and harmonica and Bob Weir on rhythm and slide guitar and vocals took the stage. It was a suitably chastened band, just as shocked as Hart - an innocent party in the debâcle of naivety. Deep in the merde, they had the pressing need to recover a semblance of normalcy and soldier on. There are times, for example, during Bird Song when it is possible for listeners to project and gaze into Garcia’s world-weary, hurting eyes. The main point, however, is that they were on their mettle and playing for their lives and the band’s very existence. And that is no hi-falutin talk. They were playing on the brink. Plus, they were on the East Coast. In 1971, six years into the band’s existence, they were intent on expanding their audience eastwards. Out of San Francisco, out of California, into a new Promised Land. It would only be 1972 that they really tried to crack the European market, for example.

Three From The Vault resurrects a series of multi-track archival releases planned in the early 1990s, but put on hold. The first, One From The Vault appeared in 1991. The next year the series petered out with the inventively titled Two From The Vault. The numerical titling scheme collapsed. Later archival multi-track releases - as distinct from Dead archivist Dick Latvala’s numerically sequenced Dick’s Picks thirty or so volumes - got more imaginative titles. Hundred Year Hall (1995), Nightfall of Diamonds (2001) and Steppin’ Out (2002) are examples. Three From The Vault was prepared for release, then got sidelined for no better reason that mankind being awfully good, as the US folk music merchant and poet Carl Sandburg put it, forgettery.

Three From The Vault opens with a couple of true noodles. The first is a cartoonish The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down - try the English folk band Pyewackett’s thought-out Looney Tune version on their The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret (1983) for comparison - followed by Garcia exercising the fingers with Mendelssohn’s Spring Song. As ever with these vignettes, the band falls in behind him. It is often overlooked how much music of whatever provenance this band jiggled and juggled. Their musical appetites ran the gamut from Henry Cowell to the Pinder Family, Elmore James to Chuck Berry, Alla Rakha to Bill Monroe, the Carter Family to Ol’ Igor Stravinsky at this point. Musical omnivores, in other words. The first proper piece is Truckin’ - their lyricist Robert Hunter’s contribution to their mythology - from the previous year’s masterpiece, American Beauty. Truckin’ reveals the band at its loose-limbed, boogie-vibe best, getting the groove and ridin’ it to kingdom come.

What Three From The Vault also reveals is a whole catalogue of superior songs, yet to be unleashed on the world in any commercially released form. The band was a powerhouse of new material that explored mythic American themes - what would be tagged ‘Americana’ nowadays. As Gary Lambert’s excellent contextual booklet notes point out, the band premiered seven new songs on the first two nights of their Capitol Theatre engagement. They aren’t necessarily finished. Most lyrics are there, but still being rolled around the mouth to see how they taste. In the case of Greatest Story Ever Told, due to get its pukka airing on Weir’s Ace the next year, John Barlow’s lyrics are incomplete. Such insights in themselves may not be great in the scheme of things, yet, for me, the pinprick flashes of illumination they cascade cast telltale light on the creative process.

Aside from such new unveilings as Loser, Playing In The Band, Greatest Story and Wharf Rat, there is the funk of the band in its blues and dirty r’n'b phase - courtesy of Pigpen. Here, he is in fine filthy form on the band’s own Easy Wind off 1969’s Workingman’s Dead, their mangling of the Young Rascals’ popster hit Good Lovin’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’. Good Lovin’ in particular shows what an asset he was to the band. As a vocalist, he was one of the white r’n'b greats, extolling the discipline and freedoms of blues improvisations. Up there with Steve Winwood yet far earthier. When the guitars kick in, Garcia’s effect-pedal solo and Weir’s duck-into-the-spaces-between Garcia-and-Lesh rhythm guitar are set up by Pigpen’s spontaneous bluesy wordsmithery. Then Kreutzmann’s drums rise in the mix, Lesh’s bass rises to support the drums and the whole damn thing swells and soars to the home-run lyrics “I was feelin’/So bad/Asked my friend the doctor/’Bout what I had.” The one and only Pigpen. In the studio the finish would have been a re-take. Here you get what happened. Like I said, the one and only Pigpen.

But why the ESP Shows? Well, Dr Stanley Krippner from the Dream Lab - forgive the colloquialism - at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital had images projected for the audience to beam telepathically from the Capitol Theatre to the Dream Laboratory. The Dead as a footnote in the wacky world of psychological journalry.

Three From The Vault Grateful Dead Productions 8122-79983-1 (2007)


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