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Friday, September 23

Happy Fryday Everyone! Today's Grateful Dead show is from Utica,NY in one of my favorite years. 3-21-73

 Come join us for a trip in Utica back in 1973. One of the Grateful Dead's peak years.

The Grateful Dead had reached one of the minor peaks of their long career in 1973. The newer songs of the period were all from Wake of the Flood. A great big batch of them were first played the first show of 73' at the Roscoe Maples Pavilion at Stanford. This is the year where the band really tightened up and yet also released the reins. 1972 was a banner year for the famous European tour but 73' from spring to summer to fall, especially the November shows, showed a fluidity and a mastery of the songs that was a step up from what they had been doing. I think this is mainly due to Keith being the only pianist and being in his musical prime and really joining the group mind for the first time. Pigpen had been there up until his untimely death. His swan song was really 1972 and he played and sang valiantly even though he was literally deathly ill. However, with Billy the K as the only drummer, Keith finally broke out on his own as a full member and was finally willing to jump off cliffs with the band without being in Pigpen's shadow. 

Even though with Keith came Donna, who has her detractors, his piano playing during this year was immaculate. Jerry and Bobby were "bleshed" completely. Phil and Jerry were chasing each other around the fretboard like they were both trying to not just ride, but race lightning bolts over and throughout their fretboards and speakers. The whole band was firing on all cylinders and despite the occasional, "You Ain't Woman Enough" or "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away" all the new songs are now considered classic Dead. The standout versions of "Here Comes Sunshine" are in this year along with older classics like "Brokedown Palace". The year is full of wonderfully jazzy "Row Jimmy"'s and "Playing in the Band" along with canonical versions of "Dark Star". I love what they do in this show. They start with the "Weather Report Suite Prelude" and go into "Dark Star" and then the newly finished version of "Eyes of the World" leads to a "Wharf Rat" that also makes wonderful showings of itself all through the year. "Wharf Rat" in 1973 has Jerry singing as the guy who's got the dime. In future versions he's got the story, he becomes August West but that is way on down the line. All of these Spring Tour shows are good to great. The truly great 73 shows are in the Fall but I promised myself I would avoid Dick's Picks and Dave's Picks and Road Trip shows. My favorite show of 1973 and possibly ever is the show from Denver on 11-21-73, that is just a segue-fest that is simply an amazing act of improvisational composition. That show is an amazing symphony that is only made more baffling by the knowledge that they did it on the fly, live with no prior rehearsal. Just another show on the Fall Tour.
These shows also have a wonderful sense of looseness that shows in the setlists. All the songs are just tossed in the pot and swirled around and whatever caught your fancy came out. There were plenty of "Box of Rain"s and "They Love Each Other"s as well as the oft-played in 73' "Me and Bobby McGee". I love Bob's version but I think Janis still holds the honor as best interpreter of this Kristofferson tune. The same with "All Along the Watchtower", it was a revelation when Dylan wrote it but even he plays it like the Jimi Hendrix cover now. Things work out strange sometimes. 
I could write all day about 1973, if I could. I'll start to rein myself in now, though. It's time to listen to the show. Of all the songs with the most exploratory potential to come out of 73', "Eyes" is easily the champion but also "Stella Blue" and later on "Let It Grow" would become monsters.  They were still playing "Wave that Flag" instead of the later "U.S. Blues" and let's not forget the "Jack Straw" and "Loser"s that all came out in 1973. Each version had the jazzy goodness that seemed to be drizzled all over this year. This was the peak year. A lot of people love 1974 and it is a great year among great years but the true improvisational searching for the nooks and crannies in each song happened for me in 1973. By 1974, they knew where they were going and were consciously pushing instead of letting it happen. The songs started to get, dare I say, indulgently long in 1974. Granted they had the wall of sound and wanted to use it but bigger, longer isn't always better. In 1973, they struck gold with each new twist and turn and ultimately became the band they were going to be until Bruce came along. And how can we forget, Watkin's Glen was this year. You know it's an amazing year when the soundcheck for a concert becomes a much-traded and beloved part of the Grateful Dead canon. I love the power and authority of 1977 and the willingness to stretch in 1974 along with the maturity that was starting to settle in around 78-79 but for me, I always find myself returning to 1973 when I listen for pleasure. You can pick pretty much any date and it's going to be great. You can't say that for most years of the Grateful Dead. Each one has their bright spots and dark times. Still, at least in this one year, they had great material and the youth and energy mixed with the experience to pull something magical off every night. 

Grateful Dead
Utica Memorial Auditorium
Utica, NY

Set One:
Bertha; Me And My Uncle; Wave That Flag; Looks Like Rain; Tennessee Jed; Box Of Rain; You Ain't Woman Enough; Jack Straw; Row Jimmy; Beat It On Down The Line; Here Comes Sunshine; The Race Is On; Loser; El Paso; China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider; Playing In The Band 

Set Two:
Greatest Story Ever Told; They Love Each Other; Mexicali Blues; Brown Eyed Women; Big River; Brokedown Palace;  Me And Bobby McGee; Weather Report Suite Prelude > Dark Star > Eyes Of The World  > Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia 

Casey Jones 
(setlist courtesy of

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