Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grateful Dead: “P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada” (2017) Record Review

Yes, it’s Record Store Day. I hadn’t realized Record Store Day has been going on for ten years, but the banner outside the record store assures me it has. Boy, time sure does fly. And, perhaps because of the anniversary, the list of releases this time around was impressive. There were plenty of records that I wanted, though only a few that I ended up purchasing. One of the releases I was most excited about is this live Grateful Dead recording from 1966, P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada, featuring, the band’s first gig ever outside of the U.S. They played a few nights in Vancouver, British Columbia, doing fairly short sets. I admittedly get excited about all Grateful Dead releases, but I am always particularly excited to hear a record that contains songs that other releases don’t have (or that few releases have). And this one contains a tune called “Cardboard Cowboy” that Phil Lesh wrote. The song is known by a few other titles, such as “No Left Turn Unstoned” (which is the first title I ever heard for this one, and is how Bob Weir introduces it at this show), but by any title it wasn’t played all that much by the band. This two-record set contains a few other early gems that the Dead soon stopped playing. On the Record Store Day official web site, it says this release is limited to 4,000 copies, but on the actual record cover it lists the number as 6,600.

This set opens with an original tune, “Standing On The Corner,” a song the Grateful Dead didn’t play all that much. Actually, there is a brief introduction, after which you can hear Phil say, “Our fame has preceded us.” “Standing On The Corner” is one of the songs on this release that the band only played in 1966. “I was standing on the corner, wondering what’s become of me/Well, things don’t seem to be the way they used to seem to be.”  It’s followed by a short version of “I Know You Rider,” played faster than they’d later play it, and with that extra verse. You know, the one that goes, “I drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” “Next Time You See Me” is a fun Pigpen song with plenty of organ. Yeah, the organ was prominent in the mix in these early shows. That is followed by an energetic rendition of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” a song the band played often in the early days (and included on the band’s first record). The first side concludes with “You Don’t Have To Ask,” another fun original number. There is a bit of jamming on this one, a jam to get you dancing, the first jamming of the evening. But really, there isn’t a whole of exploration at this show (except of course during “Viola Lee Blues,” but more on that in a bit).

There is some more Pigpen to open the second side of the first record, “Big Boss Man,” Pigpen playing harmonica. That’s followed by “Stealin’,” one I am always happy to hear. This is another the band played a lot in the early days, then dropped from their repertoire. There’s a bit of humorous stage banter before “Cardboard Cowboy,” which Bob introduces as “No Left Turn Unstoned.” Apparently, it was most often referred to as “The Monster.” It’s certainly not among the band’s best material (in an interview, Phil Lesh called it an awful song; it has lines like “Watching mashed potatoes dribble in the heat of reality’s earth,” though in this version it sounds like “Watching mashed potatoes shrivel”), but it is a total delight to hear this rare number. The Grateful Dead covered Bob Dylan songs throughout their career, and on this release we get an early rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Cream Puff War” is a song that Jerry Garcia wrote the lyrics for as well as the music, and it ended up on the band’s first album. This version has a good, solid jam. After this song, Bob says, “We’ll be back, and we’re probably gonna play the last set tonight, and there’s gonna be a lot of entertainment in between, so stick around.” And he offers an unenthusiastic “Yippie.”

The real treat as far as jamming goes is of course the ten-minute “Viola Lee Blues” that opens Side 3, and it includes that odd little intro that they didn’t do too often. I love this song, and this is a really good version, with the jam getting pretty wild. The lines that often get stuck in my head are “I wrote a letter, mailed in the, mailed it in the air indeed/I wrote a letter, mailed it in the air/You may know by that letter I’ve got a friend somewhere.” Then “Beat It On Down The Line” comes on fast and strong. This version seems faster than most, or perhaps I’m getting slower. Who knows? Pigpen then delivers “Good Morning Little School Girl.” This is definitely not the best version of this song, with the sound of the vocals sounding less than perfect, and it seems we are missing something from the end. The band gets quieter at the end, but then it seems to quickly fade out. It’s weird, especially as the fourth side of this album is apparently from the following night. So the Dead came back, and just played three songs (or two, if “Viola Lee Blues” is actually from the first set)? I’ve read online that the show might actually be longer, but Owsley’s tape ran out. That seems odd too.

The fourth side of this album is from the following night, July 30th, at the same venue. From what I can gather, these four tracks were not played consecutively that night. It looks like “Cold Rain And Snow” was the second song of the night, “One Kind Favor” was the fourth, “Hey Little One” was the sixth, and “New Minglewood Blues” was the ninth and final song of the set. (Also, it looks like a lot of folks’ tapes of the 29th are incorrectly labeled as the 30th.) This “Cold Rain And Snow” has a lot of energy right from the start, and the organ is prominent. Jerry then gets bluesy with “One Kind Favor,” a song the Dead did just a few times in 1966. There is a little stage banter before they go into “Hey Little One,” another song the band only did in 1966. This two-LP set ends with “New Minglewood Blues” (which in the early days was listed as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” as it is here and on the band’s first album). The lyrics are delivered almost as a shout, and there’s a bit of stage banter at the end.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Standing On The Corner
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Next Time You See Me
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  5. You Don’t Have To Ask 
Side B
  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Stealin’
  3. Cardboard Cowboy
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. Cream Puff War 
Side C
  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Good Mornin’ Little School Girl 
Side D
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. Hey Little One
  4. New, New Minglewood Blues
P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada was released on vinyl on April 22, 2017. By the way, as it turns out, all of these tracks were released on the second disc of the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition two-CD set of the Grateful Dead’s first album. So if you missed out on the Record Store Day edition, you can still own the music on CD.

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