Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year’s Eve shows with the Grateful Dead and friends Pt. 1

During their tenure as a band, the Grateful Dead worked on New Year’s Eve 22 times. I attended 17 of those shows and listened to two more remotely. What started out as a year-end celebration for most of the top-line San Francisco bands of the 1960s evolved into an annual tradition for the band and promoter Bill Graham. These marathons were hit-and-miss musically, but always were memorable spectacles that marked the transition from one year into the next in high style.

I was too young to participate in the first several NYE shows. It is conceivable that the Dead played somewhere on NYE 1965, but no information I have come across supports a gig on that date.1966, at Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, featured the Dead, Airplane, and Quicksilver. The band was back east in late December, 1967, and played Boston’s Psychedelic Supermarket the two nights before NYE, but sat out the 31st. Back in San Francisco, Graham held a celebration at Winterland with the Airplane, Big Brother, Quicksilver, and Freedom Highway. At the end of 1968, the Dead played the first of their six New Year’s shows at Winterland, along with Quicksilver, Santana, and It’s a Beautiful Day. This show is documented at length in a wonderful Lost Live Dead essay. 1969 found the band on the road again, playing their first out-of-town New Year’s Show at the relatively tiny Boston Tea Party. A splendid soundboard recording exists of this show, and recordings of all of the band’s subsequent New Year’s shows are easily found online or as official audio and/or video releases.

My first glimpse of the Dead at New Year’s came from the 1970-71 marathon. I did not attend, but decided to experience the event in what was planned as a dazzling multi-media extravaganza, featuring a video feed courtesy of KQED and a quadrophonic audio feed involving broadcasts from two FM stations, KSAN and KQED-FM. The early parts of this show remain a mystery, as the broadcasts did not start until early in the support set from Hot Tuna. Advertised as further support were the Acoustic Dead, Stoneground, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, but I do not know which of these bands actually played. It seems certain that the Dead did not play an acoustic set, as they had basically abandoned that format in their shows after the early November Capitol Theater run. I would imagine the New Riders and Stoneground may have played brief sets before the broadcast started. If anyone reading this attended this show and remembers who played, please chime in.  The Tuna set was beset by sound problems. At that point in time, FM simulcasts depended on dedicated telephone lines from the venue to the stations, and both KSAN and KQED started having audio difficulties at the start of the broadcast, although they were generally ironed out for the bulk of the Tuna set, which found the band playing as an electric quartet comprising guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Sammy Piazza and harmonica player Will Scarlet. Building on the repertoire that Jorma and Jack had introduced on the initial eponymous (and acoustic) Hot Tuna album, the group debuted new material like Kaukonen’s “Ode to Billy Dean” which memorialized one of Kaukonen’s musical comrades from his south bay folk club days, and “Third Week in the Chelsea” a plaintive tune that foreshadowed the implosion of Jorma and Jack’s other band, the Jefferson Airplane.

After a decent break, the Dead came out and embarked on one of their extended tuning sessions before plowing into a strong version of “Truckin’” one of the most popular tunes off of their recently released American Beauty. Almost immediately, things started to go south, with one and then both radio signals cutting out, although the TV signal persisted throughout the Dead’s generous set. Some onstage sound issues led the band to play a rare electric version of “Monkey and The Engineer” while the crew dealt with the technical glitches. The rest of the set was pretty pro-forma for late 1970, ending with a neat medley of “Good Lovin’” and “Uncle John’s Band.” It was a frustrating evening for me, trying to get a good sound signal on one or the other of the two FM stations, both of which bailed after the seventh song, “Dire Wolf.” I then tried to record off of the TV using some cheap condenser mics, but my brother’s tape recorder’s drive belt was failing, producing speed fluctuations that rendered the tape unlistenable. Today one can find a hybrid version of the show online, incorporating audience recordings, part of the funky FM signals, and some soundboard bits. In the early 2000s, an additional tape from that evening surfaced featuring a jam between Hot Tuna and Bob Weir that transpired in the wee hours after the Dead ended their set.

The first NYE show I attended was 12/31/71. I remember procuring hard tickets at the box office in the Sharon Heights shopping center. Tickets were $5 in advance. I went with my friend Tim P., who shared a number of Dead shows with me during our college years.  We snagged balcony seats on the east side of the ballroom, providing a clear view of the proceedings without the crowds and chaos on the floor. As was the case the previous year, the entire show was broadcast on KSAN, and my parents were kind enough to record the show during their NYE at home.

First up (and unbilled in the advance ads for the show) were the Sons of Champlin, who were still operating under the moniker Yogi Phlegm – a name they adopted for some arcane reason during most of 1971 into the early part of 1972. I should note that the Yogi Phlegm set from 3/5/72, which started with a jam between YP members Bill Champlin, Geoff Palmer, and Bill Vitt and Garcia and Lesh, often mistakenly circulates as this evening’s performance. Their actual set, with the broadcast plagued by some audio issues, consisted of the following:

Yogi Phlegm 12/31/71
Papa Can Play
Whatcha Gonna Do?
All and Everything
Let Your Daddy Know
Right On
Welcome To the Dance Suite (Silence>Sound/Turn Around/Healthy Woman)
Without Love
Cold Sweat.

As was the case during the band’s Yogi Phlegm days, the set was very open-ended, with lots of jamming, and consisted mostly of material from their most recent and subsequent 1970s albums. 

The New Riders had toured steadily with the Dead throughout 1971, but this was their first local show with Buddy Cage rather than Garcia on pedal steel. They played a generous and energetic set, comprising most of the material from their first two albums:

New Riders of the Purple Sage 12/31/71
Six Days On The Road
I Don't Know You
Sing Me a Rainbow
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)
Portland Woman
Truck Drivin' Man
Garden Of Eden
Hello Mary Lou
Runnin' Back To You
I Don't Need No Doctor
Last Lonely Eagle
Louisiana Lady
Willie And The Hand Jive.

In addition to Cage replacing Garcia, the biggest change was the introduction of lead vocals by David Nelson (“Dim Lights”) and Dave Torbert (“Willie and the Hand Jive”, “I Don’t Need no Doctor”).

As Midnight approached, the anticipation mounted for the transition into 1972, and for the Dead’s performance. For what became a tradition moving forwards, Bill Graham shuffled onto the stage dressed as father time, crawling into a clock. At the witching hour, balloons dropped, fake explosions occurred, and two BGP folks in diapers emerged from the clock and started running around the stage as the Dead launched into “Dancing in the Streets,” with Weir changing the second line to “It’s New Year’s Eve so I do Believe, there’ll be dancing in the streets.” This was the only version of “Dancin’” that the Dead performed in 1971 and the last they would play until the dreaded Disco revival of the song in 1976, and it’s a good, powerful rendition, punctuated on the radio broadcast by whoops and hollers from the naked new year’s babies.  After Dancin’ Weir surveyed the damage and commented “ I hope to tell you, this stage is a fXXXing mess.” Undaunted, the band tuned up and launched into “Mr. Charlie” the first of an abundance of Pigpen tunes performed that night, including the debut of his new rocker “Chinatown Shuffle” midway through the first set. This was Pig’s first bay area appearance since his illness, and he came through in fine form, as he had during the earlier December tour. The opening set also included most of the new Hunter-Garcia tunes unveiled that year, along with Weir’s newish “Playing in the Band” and the set-closing “One More Saturday Night,” which featured the debut of Donna Godchaux’s signature wails with the band.

The second set featured the pairing of “Truckin’” and “The Other One” (here a sandwich enclosing “Me and My Uncle)” that was by far the most-played of the band’s long-form excursions that year. Late in the second set, well into the wee hours of the morning, Weir and Garcia traded verses on the first live version of “Big River”  Pig delivered another rarity, an eerie version of “The Same Thing,” which was the only version of that tune sung by him since 1967 and featured some outstanding slide guitar from Garcia. After closing the second set with a strong version of Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down the Road>Not Fade Away medley that closed most of their shows in 1971 and on into 1972, the band encored with a fun but sloppy version of “Casey Jones.”

Grateful Dead 12/31/71
Dancing In The Streets
Mr. Charlie
Brown Eyed Women
Beat It On Down The Line
You Win Again
Jack Straw
El Paso
Chinatown Shuffle
Tennessee Jed
Mexicali Blues
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Next Time You See Me
Playing In The Band
One More Saturday Night*

The Other One > 
Me And My Uncle> 
The Other One > Black Peter
Big River
The Same Thing
Ramble On Rose
Sugar Magnolia
Not Fade Away> 
Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad>
Not Fade Away

Casey Jones
* Donna Jean Godchaux's onstage debut with the Dead

The next year, New Year’s tickets went on sale around Thanksgiving (before those for the December 10-12 Winterland run) and they were still relatively easy to procure. I drove up to Winterland with a few friends from high school and college, and we settled into the balcony about mid-hall on stage left for what we knew would be a long evening.

For 1972, the New Year’s lineup was identical to that in 1971, with the minor exception that Yogi Phlegm had wisely reverted to calling themselves the Sons of Champlin in early 1972.  Their short set consisted mostly of material from their Welcome to the Dance album, which came out the following year. I’m not sure why their set was so short, but it did pave the way for the very long set from the New Riders that followed.

Sons 12/31/72:
The Swim
Welcome To The Dance suite(Silence>Sound/Turn Around/Healthy Woman)
For Joy
Without Love

By the end of 1972, the New Riders of the Purple Sage were a mature, confident headlining act with three Columbia albums under their belt, and had fully integrated material sung by both David Nelson and Dave Torbert. They played an expansive set, nearly two hours in length, including originals from all three albums along with extended versions of “I Don’t Need A Doctor” and “Willie and the Hand Jive” among the several covers. Harmonica player Matthew Kelly (who had played with Torbert in a band called Horses before he joined the New Riders and would co-found a new band, Kingfish, with him in 1974) guested on harmonica on several tunes.

New Riders 12/31/72
I Don't Know You
Hello Mary Lou
California Day
She's No Angel
Portland Woman
Truck Drivin' Man
All I Ever Wanted
 I Don't Need No Doctor*
Long Black Veil
Louisiana Lady
School Days
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)
 Take A Letter Maria
Last Lonely Eagle
Willie & The Hand Jive*
Encore: Glendale Train
(*w/ Matthew Kelly on Harmonica)

As midnight approached, the Grateful Dead took the stage resplendent in the Nudie tailored suits they first wore at their previous Bay Area gig, also at Winterland, on 12/12/72. Following a more conventional year-end countdown than that of the previous year, the Dead launched into Chuck Berry’s Around and Around, which they had started playing sporadically in late 1970 and moved into a more regular rotation in the fall of 1972. Highlights of the first set included an early “Box of Rain” and “Don’t Ease Me In,” the jug band tune that was the band’s first single and that similarly had been added to regular rotation in the fall.  Following a long, exploratory “Playing in the Band,” the Dead wrapped up the first set with “Casey Jones.”

The second set opened with another Chuck Berry tune, “Promised Land, followed by an early version of “Half Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo,” the first of a new batch of songs they were prepping for their next studio album, Wake of The Flood. The high point of the second set was the extended version of “The Other One, which lasted a good 40 minutes including a drums and bass interlude, and was augmented by David Crosby joining in midway on electric 12 string. As was fairly typical in that era, the structure of “The Other One” was completely abandoned for a long interval following the drums, but eventually returned to familiar territory, leading into a gorgeous version of “Morning Dew” with Crosby still on board. After pausing to tune up, the set continued with “Sugar Magnolia”, dedicated to Bill Graham, and a soulful “Sing Me Back Home.” Near the end of that song, dust and detritus started raining down on the stage, and it slowly became apparent that an adventurous soul had somehow climbed through an opening in the roof of Winterland to land on the extremely fragile looking lighting rig. The band hastily exited the stage, while Bill Graham coached the fellow to hang on while a rope was lowered allowing him to climb down to safety without injuring himself or anyone on stage. Graham’s handling of this potentially deadly situation was masterful. However, the momentum of the Dead’s performance had been disrupted by the human drama, and they wound up the main set with their third Berry tune of the evening, “Johnny B. Goode,” returning for two encores: Uncle John’s Band and “One More Saturday Night.
Sometime before or during the second set, an announcement was made that a jam session would follow the Dead’s set, including Joni Mitchell and others. As a result, my friends and I stuck around for a good half hour after the Dead’s set concluded, but no more music transpired, at least onstage. This was to be the last Grateful Dead New Year’s performance until 1976, which is where I will pick this up in a subsequent post.
Grateful Dead 12/31/72 (well, really 1/1/73):
Around & Around
Mexicali Blues
Brown Eyed Women
Box Of Rain
Jack Straw
Don't Ease Me In
Beat It On Down The Line
El Paso
Tennessee Jed
Playin' In The Band
Casey Jones

Promised Land
Mississippi Half Step
Big River
The Other One>
The Other One*>
Morning Dew*
Sugar Magnolia
Sing Me Back Home
(guy on light rig drama)
Johnny B. Goode
E: Uncle John's Band

E: One More Saturday Night


Unknown said...

Good stuff Michael. Love hearing about the kid dropping in through the roof.

nyguy said...

Just a note from a Sons fan, by the time of the Dec 31 72 show Yogi Phlegm drummer Bill Vitt had been replaced by James Preston who then held the chair for many years. I am in fact hoping to locate a copy of the Yogi Phlegm set from 1971 which was broadcast on KSAN.

cryptdev said...

Thanks NYGuy. I should have mentioned the change in drummers between the two NYE shows, so I appreciate the reminder. Preston was with the Sons until they broke up in the late '70s, and was also the drummer in the reformed sons from the 90s until shortly before his death in 2014.