Saturday, July 29, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971” (2017) CD Review

Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead played on December 10, 1971. It is taken from the radio broadcast on KADI. This three-disc set contains a booklet with an article on the Grateful Dead from 1972, as well as several photos, including a photo of a ticket for this concert ($4 in advance, $5 at the door, and the bill also included New Riders Of The Purple Sage). By the way, this show was previously available on another unofficial release titled Fox Theatre, which came out only last year.

The Dead kick off the first set with “Bertha,” but first this disc contains just the very end of an introduction. Basically, all we hear of it is “Grateful Dead.” And maybe that’s all we need to hear. Hey, we know what’s what. The sound isn’t perfect at the beginning of “Bertha,” but it’s soon sorted out, and this ends up being a pretty damn good version. It’s followed by “Me & My Uncle,” and then by an excellent “Mr. Charlie,” the first Pigpen song of the evening. For me, this is when the show really gets going. Jerry then follows that with a powerful rendition of “Loser.” There is a bit of stage banter, with Bob addressing the radio audience: “For you folks out there in radio land, a big hello to you all. And this is what’s known as Dead air, while we’re waiting around deciding what it is we’re going to do next.” What they decide is “Beat It On Down The Line,” and it’s a fun, energetic version. They follow that with a nice “Sugaree” and a really good “Jack Straw.” And any sound issues at the beginning of the show are completely forgotten by this point. We then get our second dose of Pigpen, with “Next Time You See Me.” Despite one moment of miscommunication, this is a totally enjoyable rendition. I don’t know exactly what it is about “Tennessee Jed,” but this is a song that I never tire of, and the version on this disc is a delight. It just gets better and better, certainly a highlight of the first disc. The first set also includes good versions of “El Paso” and “Big Railroad Blues,” and concludes with “Casey Jones.” Unfortunately, there is a station identification before the band begins “Casey Jones.” What, they couldn’t wait the length of one more song? But, yes, this is an energetic rendition of “Casey Jones,” with some wonderful stuff on keys. All in all, a fantastic first set.

The second disc contains the first hour or so of the second set. The band kicks off the second set with a nice long version of “Good Lovin’” – yes, more Pigpen. And this is where Pigpen really gets loose. Actually, this is where the whole band gets loose, with the first big, tasty jam of the night. And in the middle of the jam, suddenly Pigpen starts riffing, delivering that stuff we all love to hear from him. “I’m built for comfort, not for speed/Got everything a woman might need.” This feels like the end of the set, not the beginning – it has that kind of vibe. There is a radio station identification after this song, and then a bit of talk about the venue from Bob Weir before the band starts its next tune. And there is a rare false start, with the band abandoning it after a few moments. All of this is presented as a separate track, by the way, here titled “Talking And Tuning.” And then finally they go into “Brokedown Palace,” one of my favorites. That’s followed by “Playing In The Band,” which was still a relatively new song at the time of this show. There is some jamming, but the song is not yet the powerful vehicle that it would soon become. This version feels a bit sluggish at times. Pigpen then belts out “Run Rudolph Run,” a classic rock and roll tune featuring some fun work on keys. This is a song the Dead did only a few times, and it’s great to have this version on CD. After “Deal,” the Dead deliver an energetic “Sugar Magnolia.” The second disc then concludes with “Comes A Time,” another of this disc’s highlights.

The third disc has the rest of the second set, plus the encore, and starts off with a bang as the band bursts into “Truckin’.” The lyrics of this song always resonate. “Lately it occurs to me/What a long strange trip it’s been.” It seems those words are growing only more true as more years pass. The band really rocks during the jam, and you hear hints of “The Other One,” before Bill Kreutzmann gives us a very cool drum solo. And then the band rips into “The Other One.” This is a song that is almost always exciting, because the band tackled it in many different ways over the years. This version starts off as explosive, then eases back slightly to explore while still maintaining an edge, like it could attack again at any moment. Then things get a bit looser, as if stripping away certain layers of reality to see what may live underneath, almost to the point of silence, of nothing. I love that this band wasn’t afraid of going that far in. And this is all before the first verse. As they return, they take a different, groovier route, because, hell, on certain nights, all avenues were open to this band. Certainly this was one of those nights. And only after a little while does the main thrust of the song make itself heard again, quickly gathering the forces together, and Bob begins the first verse. “But the heat came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day.” And immediately they’re off into unraveling the cosmos again. Man, I love this band. These guys sometimes can really surprise you, and they do here, going from spacey territory into “Sittin’ On Top Of The World.” Talk about a shifting of gears, and yet it goes smoothly. And then “The Other One” takes over again, with a fierce power, and after some more exploring, Bob delivers the second verse. This version of “The Other One” into “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” back into “The Other One” is fantastic. That leads straight to “Not Fade Away,” paired, as it often was in those days, with “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad.” But in the middle of it, there is a brief “China Cat Sunflower” jam. And check out that vocal play between Bob and Pigpen at the end of “Not Fade Away.” Holy moly! The encore is “One More Saturday Night.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Bertha
  2. Me And My Uncle
  3. Mr. Charlie
  4. Loser
  5. Beat It On Down The Line
  6. Sugaree
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Next Time You See Me
  9. Tennessee Jed
  10. El Paso
  11. Big Railroad Blues
  12. Casey Jones
Disc Two
  1. Good Lovin’
  2. Talking And Tuning
  3. Brokedown Palace
  4. Playin’ In The Band
  5. Run Rudolph Run
  6. Deal
  7. Sugar Magnolia
  8. Comes A Time
Disc Three
  1. Truckin’ >
  2. Drums >
  3. The Other One >
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World >
  5. The Other One >
  6. Not Fade Away >
  7. Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad >
  8. Not Fade Away
  9. One More Saturday Night 
Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971 was released on March 3, 2017 through Rox Vox.

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