Grateful Dead – Road Trips (Wall of Sound)   Leave a comment

The latest installment of the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series makes two stops in 1974: Disc One is from the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines IA (16 June 1974), while Disc Two takes us to the Freedom Hall in Louisville KY (18 June 1974). The bonus disc includes material from both shows.

The Wall of Sound was (and still is) an amazing feat of audiophile madness. With the exception of Pink Floyd, there was nothing else on the road that sounded _anything_ close to what the Dead were using.

Except for the vocals. Because the entire system was behind (or in the drummer’s case, over) the band, vocals were handled by each person using two mics, a special little black box do-dad, and phase cancellation to keep the bleed out. So, for it to sound right, one had to sing into the mic both close and completely on-axis. Otherwise, the vocals took on an annoying AM-radio quality. A real good (er, bad) example is the Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, taken from shows four months after this Road Trips set.

So, a very nice thing about this Road Trips installment: The vocals do not have that thin, washed out quality.

The Des Moines disc is taken from the end of the first set, and most of the second set. We go from a China Cat Sunflower > I know You Rider, to The Race Is On, Eyes Of The World > Big River, US Blues, and close the disc with a 29-minute Playing In The Band, where the set goes from good to worse. This version of PITB is a wank, with some interesting possibilities that are not allowed to fully develop from what sounds like an uncredited Ned Lagin. If you want greatness, check out the version on disc one of the Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack.

The Louisville disc is a whole other thing. This disc has a real jammy/hemp-fueled quality to it. Taken mostly from the second set, Loose Lucy has plenty of Jerry forgetting the words / distracted by some technical thing going on, followed by an excellent Eyes > China Doll. The next 45 minutes or so is Weather Report Suite > Jam> The Other One > It’s A Sin Jam > Stella Blue. The obligatory freak-out in this section smells more of “Let’s move on to something else,” rather than the lack of ideas on disc one’s Playing In The Band.

Due to the sequencing, the bonus disc has weird energy. The disc starts with Morning Dew (last song from Louisville), and ends with the second-to-the-last song at Louisville, Sugar Magnolia. Morning Dew is followed by the first set closer from the same show, Around And Around. The middle of the disc is made up of most of the third set from Des Moines: Deal, Greatest Story Ever Told, Truckin’ > Jam > Wharf Rat, and Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad. (Spoiler Alert!) Bob did not forget the words to Truckin’.

Where I thought the energy was missing in the first disc, the Des Moines sequence on the bonus disc has a real slinky, groovy feel to it. This is the stuff that should have been on disc one.

And a bit about the packaging. While I’m not a fan of the cardboard approach of the Road Trips series, at least they got around to fixing a major annoyance: They cut the sleeve for the bonus disc to the same dimensions as the gate-fold for the set. Now everything will sit  at the same depth on the shelf. I guess it will take another six or seven releases for the packaging peeps to realize they need to put crimps in the gate-fold pockets to keep the CDs from going too deep into the pockets.

Oh, I almost forgot: They left off El Paso from _both_ nights! Yay!

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Posted 2009/06/30 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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