11/14/73 – San Diego Sports Arena

Two words come to mind when listening to this show- texture, and elasticity. Near the end of a California mini-tour – 3 shows at Winterland, one in San Diego (the subject of today’s blog), and one at UCLA. The 3 night run at Winterland is already a legendary run, released commercially in 2008 (Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings), and it’s no surprise that the rest of the shows from this run are just as delightful, including 11/14. Just before the introduction of the Wall of Sound to the Dead’s touring set-up (which would take place just over 2 weeks later), this show features amazing sound quality, and features that ‘turn-on-a-dime-dead’ that is so well loved from the Billy-only period.

This show starts off with a decent Big Railroad Blues, but really takes off for the Jack Straw, which has an emphasis on the shifts in energy – the slow verses are very spacey and open, while the sections with more energy practically jump out of the speakers. Powerful harmonies, and Billy’s drumming really carries this version along just like the Detroit Lightning. An all around fun version, with great variety in its textures. A delightful Sugaree follows, with several moments that seem awfully prescient of the windmill rhythm effect generated by Phil, Mickey and Billy during the late 70s – but this time with just Phil and Billy! As is typical of 1973, there’s a lot of wiggle room in this version, with everyone getting the opportunity to stretch their legs and show off some chops. Bobby provides some truly exceptional rhythm work on this one, managing to distill Jerry’s melodies into chord based triplets that both predict phrases to come and expand on those just played. While some Sugarees can plod along, this one manages to toe the line between sluggish and slugger quite well – just lazy enough to give you that quintessential sense of sonic bliss that accompanies so much of 73-74, but with ample spark to keep you on your feet. The crescendo at the end grows quite organically from the rest of the song, and that wiggle room is quickly filled up with an impressive sonic array. An excellent Mexicali follows, delightfully tight, with some excellent solos by Jerry and overall fantastic texture. Mexicali can often work as a barometer for how hot a show will be- some versions are clearly just pushed through as filler or to sate what must have been Bobby’s ceaseless requests for ‘polka time’, yet this version rings with an easy professionalism. The band is on, and they know it.

Things start to get really interesting for Here Comes Sunshine – a version notable for being a touch rough, with some rough corners in between the song proper and the interior jam, and some moments of unexpected chaos throughout that can throw the sensitive ear. However, Jerry’s voice is in fine form tonight and his folksy timbre really shines through on this one, and the Jam- oh, the Jam! Jerry is just shredding in the interior jam, and trades melodic ideas with Keith rapid fire. Keith really shines in this show, and this song is an exceptional showcase of what he is capable. As soon as the jam kicks off around 3 minutes in, he picks up Jerry’s melodic direction and begins to provide a beautiful base for Jerry to build off. Both play into a curiously interwoven set of rising and falling sequences, with Keith occasionally breaking away to touch on the locked-in rhythm delivered by Phil and Billy before returning to goad a clearly exuberant Garcia. The Dead’s improvisational style often brought them to, and sometimes over the brink of disaster with some of the risks they took, and this song shows that line in bold throughout its entirety, with the band dancing along it on their tip toes the whole time. Luckily, they stay well on top of it and provide a wonderfully bluesy and exploratory HCS.

Black Throated Wind is warm and searching, just like it should be. Cumberland Blues is red hot with some exciting and unique solo work from Jerry. Keith and Bobby trade rhythm licks back and forth in a competitive and complementary fashion. Keith in general is in excellent form for this show, providing a continuous melodic train of thought that compliments Jerry’s, Bob’s, and Phil’s, and keying into the rhythm expertly. Row Jimmy is sublime, and The Race Is On and BEW are fun and tight, exactly as one would expect from such a high energy show from ’73. BIODTL is good but nothing exceptional, and the Tennessee takes us on a bit of a wind-down before the end of set 1.

El Paso floats through the speakers, taking us along on a gentle yet satisfying story, and sets us up for the China>Rider that is the final highlight of this first set. The China Cat is tight and quite fleshed out, with a lot of technical exploration occurring within the form. Keep your ears open for some delightful rhythmic play just as the China Cat’s end is signaled by the ‘Mud Love Buddy’ transition. Mud Love winds us down from it’s earlier build up, and we find suddenly find ourselves on the sonic equivalent of an open box car, speeding across the great plains late at night, moonlight bouncing off of scrub-brush and the buzz of adventure in the air. Rider starts off calm and quiet, quickly building into a roaring river of chords, driven by Keith and Phil, ornamented by Garcia and Weir’s colorful guitar playing, with Billy’s driving kit pouring steam into the engines. And while the song carries the power of a pumping locomotive, it’s capable of applying the breaks too- pulling back after Jerry’s ‘Headlight’, only to have the floodgates slammed open once again, building to a triumphant finish. The set is rounded out by a tasty Around and Around to bring us back to reality and allow us to firmly reaffix our briefly stolen faces.

The crown jewel of the show is the massive The other one sandwich, topped with with a Truckin’ garnish and an Eyes of The World Aioli, it is a monster of a jam, clocking in at just under an hour with a deliciously sweet Wharf Rat for dessert.

TOO always conjures up images of fire for me- smoke and haze, from out of which floats an equally hazy narrative – one which lazily yet purposefully bounces itself around the cranium’s interior. This version, is no exception of course to this form. The transitionary jam between Truckin and TOO in earnest, is a hectic and frenzied lead in to the performance to come. One pictures semi liquid, semi glass and brimstone, Cerberi, pressed against some sort of unholy gate, racing in circles to shake out the nervous energy- at times coherent, and just as quickly devolving into frenzy. The anxious exercise proves to be worth it, as the song form that bursts out of it is as delicate as it is powerful- the form is less elusive than in the jam, but not by much. The tones coalesce around melody, alight in that space just long enough to build out a beautiful blueprint, before falling away again into exploration and search. This first iteration slides around like a snake half obscured by smoke – here and there, real and gone. It finally climaxes with the lyrics, reaching a piece of solid ground on which to orient oneself on the next dive surely to come (although they don’t give one much time- only about 45 seconds for the verse), which surely comes. The next jam takes us deeper into outerspace and the microscopic, our journey culminating in a day glo swamp gas, out of which big river floats out of. 
You hear about ‘turn on a dime dead’- here they are in all their finery. Big River is tight, upbeat, understated, yet deliciously sublime, with an exceptional solo by Keith. This BR is a sip of cool clear water before that lysergic cloud front moves back in- the other one comes jogging out of Big River, and quickly opens itself up to the void for a few laps before taking a markedly jazzy upbeat – billy gives the phrasing a much more swung tone, take his time on the back ends of the bars and the upbeats. Form gives way once more and we have a return to song structure with eyes. But where Big River floats out of our Other One miasma, Eyes confidently struts onto the dance-floor.  The Eyes is just as warm, welcoming, confident, and expansive as we have come to expect from performances of it in ’73. Phil’s solo is quite interesting, and certainly differs from other Eyes solos with a series of descending runs near the end of it. The jam winds down with some transpositions between minor and major keys, before spaciously opening up and giving way once more to The Other One to take one more pass.

This last iteration of the Other One features the Cowboy Neil verse, and has a noticeable wind-down in energy near the end of it. Of course, this is explained in the transition into Wharf Rat. This Wharf Rat feels like a culmination of the drama and changing context of that Other One Sandwich – complete with all the highs and lows we’ve come to expect, marched along at a steady clip. This final emotional denouement to the second set allows everyone to rearrange their brains and relocate their faces after the fact.

The band seems a bit warn out after this one-a tight Me and My Uncle follows, but tops out at under 3 minutes. A decent Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad rounds it out, with a very fun Saturday Night to close the evening.

What really stands out to me is the confidence in the playing- you can hear each member really pushing the melodic and rhythmic envelopes, and at the same time listening to each other, seeking their special niche in the sound that evening. This is a show that will reward multiple listenings. Happy Jamming!

One thought on “11/14/73 – San Diego Sports Arena

  1. Great review, I’ve been waiting for your next post.

    Wonderful china>rider (Weir’s rythm work is so good in this era). The transition is a Feelin’ groovy jam though, not MLB.

    The second set is truly magical.


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