". . . OH, YEAH, I've also been listening to So Many Roads, you know, that five-CD Grateful Dead box set? I've played it quite a bit, especially the first couple discs. Some of that stuff's brilliant—"
Goin' down the road feelin' Dead: gone but still releasing albums.
Dick's Picks Vol. 16: 11/8/69 (Grateful Dead Records)
"You like the Grateful Dead?"
"Well, I've never been a Deadhead or anything, but the early live stuff especially, yeah, I like it a lot."
"Well, I don't. I can't stand them."
"Gee, that's too bad."
"Yeah. Buncha noodlin' fools. . . . Well, actually, I used to listen to them a lot when I was younger."
"Yeah. Heh heh. I saw 'em a bunch of times, too."
"How were they?
"Not that good. Well, I dunno, I remember the drugs more than the music. I will admit that there were a couple of shows in there that were pretty damn great, but. . . ."
"Because I just ordered the new Dick's Picks Volume 16, from Fillmore West, 11/8/69—"
"Oh yeah! I've got that tape! That's an unbelievable show—up there with Live/Dead. Now, that's a killer album—well, at least the first record of the two is. . . ."
"I like side four a lot, too. 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' is pretty beautiful; Garcia plays great on that."
"Yeah, you're right. But 11/8/69 . . . man! It's from the same era, you know."
"Just a few months apart. . . ."
"But it's totally different! Well, not totally, but enough so you can tell the difference. Like, 11/8 is spacier, but because they've been writing all the songs that'd be released on American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, they're a lot tighter too."
"I hear they added a long-ass 'Lovelight' from the night before, some really great Pigpen jam—well, I'm actually not much of a Pigpen fan."
"No, neither am I, but on that one, like, you know how on the R&B covers he usually hams it up and it probably seemed cute at the time, at least if your head was orbiting around Jupiter, but today it just sounds like grunting hippie backwash? Well, on 11/8, there's almost nothing cutesy about it. Not that all of a sudden he turns into Sonny Boy Williamson on 'Schoolgirl' or into Bobby Bland on 'Lovelight,' but he sings them really well, doesn't putz around, just throws as much of his voice as he can into 'em, and they're pretty damn solid. And Garcia really blazes."
"Wow. That sounds cool."
"Yeah. I mean, Pigpen wasn't gonna knock Otis Redding out of the pantheon or anything, but he definitely held his own."
"That's great. But I'm much more of a 'Dark Star' guy."
"Oh, that version's terrific! Especially when they segue into 'The Other One.' They don't even do the whole thing, just that really fast verse in between all this soloing, and it fits perfectly. That jam sounds really purposeful—they barely fumble around, it's pretty much all action. Some of 'Uncle John's Band' gets thrown in there, too, only the melody, and you barely notice because Garcia's doing his Charlie Parker-as-autodidact thing over the top, playing in concentric circles and just lifting off the ground. I mean Garcia didn't have the spectacular blitzkrieg focus that Hendrix did, but his playing was pretty damn liquid. And the 'St. Stephen' and 'Eleven' after that keep it up."
"How's the first set sound?"
"It's almost as good. Like, 'Casey Jones' is one of those songs where a live version is sort of redundant because they already nailed it in the studio, but 11/8 is sharp. David Crosby'd been teaching them how to harmonize for the Workingman's Dead sessions, so their voices are still kind of rangy, but they land right on their targets. And they sound really excited to be playing: That version of 'Dire Wolf' is really energized."
"Well, I can't wait to hear it. Say, lemme ask you something."
"Sure, what's up?"
"I thought you said you didn't like the Grateful Dead."
"Ah, fuck off."
Grateful Dead mail order: www.dead.net or 1-800-CAL-DEAD