Thursday, 7 May 2015

Everyone's A Winner

Welcome back to my Grateful Dead and RuPaul's Drag Race blog. Today, or as we say in the UK "yesterday", marks the 45th anniversary of another of my favourite Grateful Dead shows.

Essentially a warm-up for the following night's show, this jam session on Kresge Plaza at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was part of a student demonstration on 6 May 1970. Just two days before, soldiers had opened fire on peaceful protesters at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine more.

This performance marks a rare political statement for the bunch of hippies, who were never activists. Unless you consider having LSD for breakfast a form of activism. This was a time of massive cultural upheaval, embodied by the Dead more than anyone.

The show, relatively short for the Grateful Dead, is full of anger, passion and energy. This recording is a historical document, as well as a blisteringly exciting 90 minutes of music. It opens a few seconds into one of their best renditions of Dancing in the Street, and the show fizzes spectacularly on from there.

After Jerry Garcia's announcement about a lost kid named Frank who's probably about 50 now, the band launch into one of my favourite Dead songs, China Cat Sunflower. The recording then cuts out before rejoining the action at the start of I Know You Rider. What this tape lacks in completeness, it more than makes up for in raw quality.

I'm the first to admit that the band's vocal harmonies aren't always, you know, in tune. But Jerry and Pigpen totally nail it for the bluesy Next Time You See Me. Then comes arguably the greatest version of Morning Dew, which is surprisingly heavy and completely beautiful.

Good Lovin' starts with a brilliantly unique drum intro, and the drumming is so tight that you forget there's two of them. Apparently Bill Kreutzmann was once asked how they were always so in time with one another, and he replied that Mickey Hart had been hypnotising him. 

In any case, it's a great version of Good Lovin'. Mostly because Pigpen shouts: "This microphone over here don't work so fuckin' good you guys!" Then Casey Jones rips along, and the crowd go justifiably crazy.

The set ends with a barnstorming St. Stephen into Not Fade Away, and the whole band is on fire. Bob Weir closes the gig saying: "We're gonna split, and we'll be playing for you tomorrow night but it's just too fuckin' cold."

One of the Dead's most electrifying performances, this show comes towards the tail end of their scorching, psychedelic, acid phase. As opposed to their heroin phase. As the Vietnam War sparked mass demonstrations across college campuses, this was and remains an invigorating musical protest. Particularly on the eve of an election where we have the chance to not elect a bunch of warmongers. No prizes for guessing how that works out.

As a slight change of pace, I'll leave you with my favourite Hot Chocolate song in memory of Errol Brown who passed away earlier. Yes I have a favourite Hot Chocolate song.