Listening to the first 100 Dark Stars

I have never been a big Deadhead, my relationship with the Grateful Dead’s music is long and varied, but for the most part I was never a big fan. I like some stuff, don’t like other stuff, didn’t like them when I saw them, do like many of the studio albums and the early live albums, don’t like much of anything after, say, 1977. Even by then, the shows start to grate on me. 

I moved to go to college at UCSC in Santa Cruz, CA in 1981 (where the Dead archives are now at the library), and I suppose it would be obvious that there were already many deadheads at that campus. It was always deadhead territory. In high school in the late 70s I lived in Northern California, in Davis, and I played guitar in bands that were mostly classic rock covers, or punk “originals” (inasmuch as we were punk or original), but I had played bass in this one band with people whom I thought were “old guys” (they were in their 20s and 30s) in order to be able to play in the one real bar in downtown Davis. We did, again, mostly classic rock covers, but when the crooning mustached singer took a (coke?) break, the guitar players would turn to me and my high school cohort on piano and say “wanna learn some Dead songs?” So we did these at gigs also. But I had only really heard the studio albums and had little idea of who or what the Grateful Dead were beyond the “greatest hits”. These guitarists did sport the piano player and I tickets to see one of the Warfield shows in Oct of 1980, and I mostly watched Phil Lesh (because I was playing bass in their band), but to be honest, I didn’t quite get the whole vibe. We were a little surprised that they played three sets, we kept thinking it was over after each set, used to acts like Elvis Costello playing 30 minutes or less at the Coffeehouse at UCD. 

At UCSC, a lot of the deadheads were already much wiser than I at the tender age of 18, and so when we’d play songs in the dorm lounge, we’d get into these ways of telegraphing songs by lick or rhythm to try to work out how the band made these transitions over great lengths of time. And the idea of songs-within-songs. It opened my musical and improvising eyes quite a bit and it’s something that I have always loved about the Dead and have carried with me as an aesthetic ever since (see: Storytelling album, for example.) 

Oddly, I have no memory of ever trying to play Dark Star in those dorm lounge jams! We mostly played the more country numbers, I guess because they were the easiest. 

I did end up going to a few shows while I was at the University, like 1981-84, but I couldn’t understand how they were even the same band I heard on the tapers’ cassettes from a shows decade earlier, they seemed so slow and dreary. So by 1984 I pretty much stopped listening to them …for many years! Obviously there were numerous things that led me back, including the fact that some of the music felt like comfort food. Songs like China Cat Sunflower and Terrapin Station were very soothing to me for some reason. Like mac and cheese. On the other hand, most of the “Americana” Dead from Workingman’s Dead or even more the American Beauty material just didn’t age well to me, and I still don’t really like a lot of that material. In fact, what I like and what I don’t like are probably inimical to most of the deadhead world, and I’m very partial to the early acid-head stuff. It’s incredibly prog. And a lot more high energy than anything after 1969. 

During the latter 1980s I was playing with Camper Van Beethoven, and in the college-rock world, the Dead were shunned. In fact, we were invited to the Bay Area Music Awards in 1988 for some reason or another and the Dead were there also being lauded for something that we just thought was as bad as what the Airplane had become by the 1980s. I’m not sure I think differently now.

I did go to one show at Shoreline Amphitheater in 1989 or so with a friend who was working for Rykodisc (who were doing something with Mickey Hart at the time) and had tickets. I was mostly bored except for the part where they played amplified garage door springs—probably the opposite reaction from most of the audience.

One reintroduction to the greatness that they had been, however, happened about fifteen years ago, while I was driving in Oakland and listening to KFJC, the radio station from Los Altos Hills Jr College, and they were playing an amazing piece of improvised noise, so when I got to where I was going, I sat in the car to hear the back-announcement, and it turned out to be a feedback ending of a Grateful Dead concert from the late 1960s. Cool! So I kept that in mind and casually listened to older stuff of theirs when I came across it. More deadheads came out of the woodwork in the CVB touring world, many of the promoters and friends of ours were deadheads and the Alt-Rock taboo had long faded, for the most part (it’s hot and cold. Some people badmouth the band still, some don’t.) The “Long Strange Trip” documentary turned a lot of people on to understanding the band as a phenomenon, especially when from the outside most of us saw that phenomenon as crusty hippies all over the place. 

At one point a friend gave me the set of recordings from their shows in 1973-74 in the Pacific Northwest and I started casually listening to that, and became really intrigued by the fact that there was a version of “Playing in the Band” that was 45 minutes long. 45 minutes! That’s a long time to noodle about on stage. I listened to that version several times (and a couple other versions from that box-set that were half as long) and began to appreciate a few things about this. One main thing was: they had the time and space to do whatever they wanted on stage, and also: the audience came along. So imagine this scenario, you have a band that has learned to play their instruments pretty well, they have numerous stylistic areas they can draw from and they have been improvising together for about 8 years, and have no need to worry that they will offend any ticket-buyers if they just turn to themselves and try to make music for as long as they want to. The promoters don’t care, they’re not being rushed offstage. The audience is high as kites (we assume) and will go along with anything. Their audience is not only allowing the band to do whatever they want to, but in fact is happy that the band is going to take them on some weird-ass musical journey…and then possibly bring them back home to the song that encompassed it. Deadheads are/were a very forgiving and indulgent audience. I envied that—I love to feel supported while experimenting musically. 

During the summer of 2020, after realizing that the pandemic was going to go on and on, I tried doing some ‘live-stream’ concerts, but I felt like they were more like practicing in my own living room and filming it, given that there was no actual interaction or feedback with any potential audience. Or other musicians. A simulacra of performance, no audience is coming along with me in my peregrinations. I started wondering if that were even possible anymore. Most of the times I have performed in my life, there had been time constraints—and audience constraints, i.e., if I were to veer off the track, it was unlikely that much of the audience would come along with me. Or even the rest of the band! I tried to cultivate some allowance on the part of the CVB audience by doing more improvisation in solo shows at our own festival shows, and there were definitely some heads there that were into that, but in the world that paid the bills, CVB played song after song, for the allotted time, period, and for whatever reason there was some idea of playing songs similar to the recorded versions. (I never understood that either.)

I started reading more of the online blogs such as  and  and it’s side-blog on other artists: There are many blogs about the history of the Grateful Dead and the history of psychedelic rock music, especially in the Bay Area, (I mean, look at how many of the shows in this list are happening in SF and environs, this band got to play many times a month in the city during the late 60s! That certainly wasn’t happening for anybody in later years/decades.) I was trying to understand that audience in a historical context. It happened in an era that it could happen in. The audience came along. Could it happen at any other time? I guess to a certain extent you could map a similar thing on the 1990s emergence of jam bands like Phish, and indeed there was a resurgence of psychedelic drug taking at shows at that time, and several of these bands survive, and to that extent their audiences put up with what they did or do, allowing them to explore much more freely than the stricter song-based bands. I don’t really know that scene, but when I’ve listened to any of these bands, nothing especially resonated with me. Much of it seemed silly (and I never really thought of the Dead as “silly”, just annoying sometimes) or worse: banal. For example, there’s a big difference in lyrics, as happens in many cases where people try to make something sound “out there” or “psychedelic” by avoiding meaning rather than encoding meaning. I have heard this sort of thing a lot in bands influenced by, say, Captain Beefheart or by 1970s prog rock bands, where they tried to make lyrics that sounded ‘weird’ or something, as if the singer were somehow embarrassed to be personally responsible for any message they might be espousing if the meaning were sussed, or if the meaning could too easily be read between the psychedelic lines. The cynicism of the punk era was latent upon any messaging that might be construed as “positive” or “trippy” or even colorful. And subsequent generations have been so jaded to it all that the only thing that is acceptable is irony, because again, you don’t want to be responsible for really believing that that music is cool, do you? Oh, no, I listen to this ironically, I don’t believe anything is really cool.

I assume it’s probably true that any listeners to my own music didn’t get what I was trying to say (especially on, say, Storytelling or the early Hieronymus Firebrain albums, for examples) and might think it’s gobbledegook, but I did work that stuff out to encode the meaning I was trying to relate, to the best of my ability. (I consciously moved away from that with the advent of Jack & Jill— I felt I needed to be more direct at the time. That was the mid-1990s. Nowadays I don’t care one way or the other.)

I didn’t hear that sort of encoded meaning much in the 90s jam band psychedelia, more like stoner jokes which are funny if you’re stoned. Or, once, anyway. And often the musical tricks went in ways that were just cheesy things, like Frank Zappa often did, like playing with rapid-cut inserts of TV show themes or crap like that. (I’ll forgive Zappa due to the enormous amount of music he made that specifically did not do this, though listening to some of his later concerts where he ably entertained the audiences with these sorts of tricks, there’s also a lot of really cringey content that was maybe culturally acceptable in the 70s and 80s but just seems gross now.) I don’t feel like Robert Hunter’s lyrics from any era of the Dead are cringe-worthy; I can’t say the same about John Barlowe’s.

In any case, I felt like I missed out. At this point in pandemic 2020, there was no audience to groove with let alone a band to improvise with and to develop music with over time. I wrote before about how I had always wanted my own music to be allowed to develop over time and multiple performances in that way, but during my lifetime it was mostly one-off performances, few and far between. Listening to even just Jerry Garcia’s musical development over the latter 1960s and into the 1970s is awe inspiring. That guy was pretty good! But: heroin. Destroyer of worlds. By the time I ever saw the Dead (or Jerry Garcia Band, I saw them once in 1980 or 81 when I was still in High School in Davis and it was hella slow) much of what was interesting or exciting or having the forward-momentum of developing experimental improvisation had dissolved into drugged or drunken mid-to-slow-tempo nod-offs. Maybe I missed out by not being a deadhead and never actually taking acid at any of the later shows I did see, but I doubt that would have helped to glean the feeling that they had while developing their audience in the 60s and 70s. It was a phenomenon, maybe limited in time and place. But it did produce some amazing music and musical ideas. 

I started looking at the extant recordings on to hear where they came from, there are hundreds of their concerts recorded, many directly from the soundboard. The early blues-based stuff is pretty great, especially when you think about them trying to play this music at acid tests and that sort of thing. (Whenever I’ve experienced playing on acid, it was nearly impossible to determine pitch or rhythm accurately, and the band mostly just fell apart.) I really like the serious acid-influenced music that developed out of this, the pieces that end up making the album “Live/Dead” recorded in early 1969. The lyrics are funny and colorful, the songs have incredible forward momentum and are played differently every time. The phrasing is endless, it’s amazing to listen to some of these concerts where Jerry just has never-ending melodic lines. The song “The Eleven” is a great example of all of these things, it’s fast and fluid, much of it is in 11/8, and the lyrics are two superimposed sets of poems. And it’s major-scale jamming, something that went largely out of fashion by the 1970s. 

I began to focus on the song Dark Star, an icon in the history of the Grateful Dead. If you scroll down the side of the DeadEssays blog, you can see there’s already a lot written about this particular track. It’s a fool’s errand, as noted below. Anyway, one of the ‘pandemic projects’ I embarked on was to start listening to the evolution of the song, any version available since the Grateful Dead began playing it in 1967. As it happened, other people had come up with the same task and started a thread on the Steve Hoffman music forums, I happened to find it in August of 2020 when both they and I were coincidentally covering August of 1968 versions. Most of these descriptions have been posted there in that thread. Simultaneously, the starter of the thread, bzfgt (who apparently also has a blog site devoted to The Fall’s lyrics!), is posting everybody’s comments on a blog dedicated to this project.

the thread:

the blog:

The song:

Pre-history of the song: Apparently the earliest manifestation of anything like “Dark Star” happened on (my fourth birthday) Sept 3 1967, at a dance hall at Rio Nido. It happened during a jam on Dancing in the Street. The Dark Star melody is the basis for a guitar solo from mr Garcia here. It’s very much like many solos he will go off on later during the song, and apparently Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics and they wrote the song this weekend. They recorded it in a studio later in the fall. As far as any of the millions of Grateful Dead historians know, nobody thinks the song per se was recorded live in 1967, though apparently played in LA at the Shrine Auditorium on Dec 13 1967 and probably other untaped concerts between there and January 1968. A lot of people have written about the song and its development, one of them (Chris Forshay) even beginning an essay on the first couple years with “If ever there were a fool’s errand in the realm of music criticism, tackling the evolution of Dark Star surely must be it.” This is because, while it started out small, it became very very large. And went all sorts of places in between. It’s a paradigm for the entire idea of improvised electric rock music, for how a band of musicians can be separate in their parts and also how they can be each part of a multi-faceted whole that they are creating together on the fly. 

The song itself, “Dark Star”, came out in April 1968 as a 7” single backed with “Born Cross Eyed”. It’s a nice sub-3-minute piece of groovy 1960s folky pop music with extremely evocative and outlandishly psychedelic lyrics. There are two verses, each with 3 lines and a “chorus” or refrain of two slower paced lines that break up the rhythm. There are two studio takes extant, one of which is the pressed version. It’s a medium tempo swung feel in A mixolydian, there are two melodic themes after an introductory riff: the song’s rhythm-comp riff and the vocal melody, both of which are used in the instrumental section between verses. The three verse lines are presented such that the first line is coming out of the normal groove that leads into it, A to G, while the second line breaks the rhythm and starts on an e minor and plays with an offbeat accent pattern of 3s and 2s. Line 3 is back to the regular groove, but with more instruments wandering melodically underneath. Usually. Then it stops and the “chorus” or refrain of “Shall we go…” hits the A with a fermata and follows with melodic lines of sixths traveling up and down, and it ends back on the e minor before using the introductory riff to come back into the song/jam/outro. The second verse’s refrain has multiple-part vocal accompaniment. In the recorded version, the instrumental section between verses is basically the same pattern of lines as the verse. Some writers have stated that the entire section between the verses is essentially a musical description of the “transitive nightfall of diamonds” through which you and I shall go, while we can, which I like, so I choose to think so too. 

verse 1:

Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes

Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis

Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion

Shall we go, you and I while we can

Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

verse 2:

Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter

Glass hand dissolving in ice petal flowers revolving

Lady in velvet recedes in the nights of good-bye

Shall we go, you and I while we can

Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

The lyrics are surreal psychedelic utterances, common for the early LSD era of the 1960s. They remind me of Dali paintings, imagery-wise, (though nothing is explicitly “melting”) and the images themselves seem to be allegory to the psychological states (reason, delusion, reflection, etc.) It’s very much the crisis of ego-dissolution that psychedelia can achieve, and while expressed beautifully, lyrically, it’s also scary. Many early performances have Jerry Garcia hamming it up with scary-movie warbling on the vocals. Each line is its own image or territory, moving from the initial Dark Star crashing to the Lady in Velvet receding, telling the story in a set of distinct tableaux. It’s got its own sort of Haiku-like quality, though each line has an introductory four syllables (or feet, I guess: mostly spondees, but “dis-solving” is a dactyl as is “lady in”), followed by a trail twice as long. 

Listen to the song here,

and you can find nearly all of the live versions on—the Grateful Dead are a very documented band, luckily for the world. One thing to note about this particular song is that even in live performance it often only has hand percussion (at least at the beginning, often drum sets come in much later) so it maintains a quieter demeanor than most rock songs. The pulse is often only a shaker or guiro.

The rest of this post is basically an appendix to this as a blog post, it’s short analyses of the first 100 performances of the song. Overall its development is to get longer and longer with improvised sections at the beginning that lead into the theme and between the verses (if the second verse happens, which it mostly does in this era. Later, maybe not.) The middle jam, the “Transitive Nightfall” starts in late 1967-early 1968 as an instrumental rendering of the sung song form, develops from there to long group improvisations, and then later begins to break this section down, where by 1969 they essentially blow away the musical fabric of reality and foist the audience into very minimalist space with noise and sound improvisation that eventually leads back to melodic areas.  There are many thematic elements that are used, such that they have been named by fans: the ROR, or repeating organ riff, that Pigpen plays throughout the song (this only lasts for a year), the “theme” which they groove on, the Dark Star melody with the Bright Star and Crying or Falling Star variants, the Sputnik, which is an arpeggio section, rather than the Telstar beeps you’d assume from such a name, etc. Later, they begin to insert other modular jam sections after this, or even other songs may bubble up. To me, the musical development over 1968 is key, it’s intense and growing, and as it goes into early 1969 when they recorded the “Live/Dead” album, it has already shown multiple ways to straddle time with an electric band, from jazzy to many sorts of rock, noisy to quiet sounds, often the band playing as one organism weaving multiple lines together moving forward. By the end of these first hundred performances, some of the modular jams in the second half are fairly normalized, and to be frank, I think they move the song away from its roots as a piece in-and-of-itself and more into the rest of the stage show of the Grateful Dead. Regardless, people know them and identify them and much has been written about these jam sections which are often specific chord progressions that came from or lead to other songs. In fact, these modular jam sections appear in other songs sometimes as well!

Anyway, here’s the appendix to this post, notes on listening to the first 100 extant live recordings of the song.


#1 (first extant live version) 1968-01-17 Carousel Ballroom, SF

The Repeating Organ Riff (which Pigpen plays, over and over throughout the song in this time period) starts before the band even starts the song, the band still tuning, getting ready, they jump into the song rocking, nice and swift. Bob is really playing those chords up. Jerry plays fast and melodically. The verse comes in after only a minute, the offbeat rhythm on line 2 is very prominent and Bob does the wandering on line 3, Pigpen stays with the line 2 rhythm and plays the climbs of sixths on “shall we go”. The center jam goes almost immediately into a song-form jam, Pig on the spy-theme rhythm for lines two and three, it’s all going by so quickly, Jerry goes into a crying star type melody at the end of the three line, then to the theme, and immediately into verse 2, which follows the offbeat rhythm on line 2 and the wandering around on line 3. The outro has the multiple vocal parts, not expertly executed yet, and the slow climb goes on for a while then jumps right into China Cat Sunflower, which rocks on, with Pig and Bob doubling their parts nearly exactly, segues seamlessly into the Eleven. I like this set!

#2 1968-01-20, Eureka, CA

A very hyped up intro after a lot of jamming already, a call-and-response intro riff version! Into a very grooving chord vamp from Bobby, etc. Takes a while for Jerry to get out of just grooving and into a lead idea, he’s examining a way in between the chords for minutes, with little sparks of accents in specific spots. Eventually, two minutes in he starts a melodic lead that goes up and keeps going up! Nice. Settles, and starts the verse, we get the first line, the second has the em-A offbeat rhythm, third has the casting-about “searchlight” from the guitars mostly, and… the the fades and ends. Sad. Would have loved to hear the rest, very high energy till the tape ran out.

#3 1968-01-22 Seattle, WA

After a long “Spanish Jam”, Dark Star comes in with the intro over some fading “Spanish” chords (em & F), again sort of call and response with Jerry and Phil setting the rhythm, Bob come sin with the chordal groove, then Pig with the ROR. Jerry starts a lead and then we hear that guiro. It’s sort of a bubbly vibe. Even Bobby gets in on the upward drive feel. Not a long intro jam before the verse starts quietly (vocals are low). Very pronounced changes between lines, the casting about on line three mostly from Bobby hammering on his chords. Phil is jumping on the changes in the chorus, and strong into the center section. ROR kicks it in, Jerry comes in with some wandering around the theme, which leaves the band to play the song-form changes. Line three here leads to more forward momentum jamming and it continues with Jerry getting into some little eddies of notes and riffs to concentrate on. This builds it up until he hits a sort of “crying star” at 3:45 or so, this breaks the songs down into the groove and eventually into verse two. Really nice verse rendition, lovely organ chord on the A of “Shall we go”. The vocals are all there, but quiet, as they play the chorus and into the outro, which heads off to China Cat Sunflower and The Eleven (I like this sequence, actually.)

#4 1968-01-2(7) Crystal Ballroom, Portland? (Seattle maybe?)

Some tuning up before a dive into the song with the call and response intro bass-guitar-bass-guitar. Phil is riffing heavily right off the bat, we have the ROR and scratcher, JG comes inwith some short lines. It’s fast! Phil is really lead instrument here, Jerry is catching up behind him almost! A few little modal eddies int he lead stream, to a rhythmic chop, more riff-ideas, top down melodic lines. JG is on a top-down arpeggio to start his lines. At 2 minutes Phil goes into the song-form jam with the em-A on line two, but this goes almost immediately into the actual verse. Nice vocals, a little warble on “Searchlight”. Nice organ swells and the little bedoop bedoop bedoop from the organ between chorus lines. 

Middle jam starts strong right off the bat, everybody is jamming full speed ahead, and into a song-form section at 4 minutes, and into a set of riffs on the G to E. It drops down a bit and grooves, ROR still present. Up to the falling star. then some strings swipes up and down and off to verse 2 entering quietly. With shaker and cymbal swells. A little hammer-on wandering on line 3, bright organ on “Shall we go” and the bedoops. Nice vocal outro and classical outro counterpoint off the to transitional chords to China Cat Sunflower.

#5 1968-02-02 Crystal Ballroom, Portland

The call and response style intro between JG and PL, then the ROR. Jerry is starting to play some leads in the intro section now instead of just heading for the verse, he’s bouncing around the mode, as is Phil. Some small eddies in the flow happen with both Phil and Jerry, verse comes in at about 2 minutes, strong em-A power on line 2, Phil is starting to cast about on line three. A snare hit on “Shall We Go”! Drums are gonna come in? Organ chords on the outro and the back to the ROR, back to the groove for the middle, into the song form jam. Again, strong em-A on line two, now with drums, line three starts a wandering from everybody, JG goes slightly chromatic, he’s heading high for a brighter star, making a stronger jam out of this area. He brings it down and tries the crying stretches, then heads into a rhythmic comp for a bit while probably figuring out where they are and heading to a warbly verse 2. The strength they have been showing on line two is kinds dispersed by on-beat hits from the drums. Nice shimmery organ chords on the “Shall we go” chorus. A ragged outro, which is heading to a long set of spatially places dyads, landing on a big E major chord after a while, as they will do later when heading to St Stephen.

#6 1968-02-03 Crystal Ballroom, Portland

This venue is amazing, by the way, it has an enormous wooden floor that essentially flexes with weight, it’s bouncy and was made for ballroom dancing. Also it sounds great there (in my experience.)

There’s a noisy jam led by Phil leading into this, slightly phrygian/Spanish Jam chordally. There’s a cut and then the last few notes of the Dark Star intro, loud shakers guiding the rhythm. When the groove is set, JG comes in with the intention of jamming. He has a melodic intro he tries a few times. He’s playing a lot with the chromatic dips of the intro riff (B-Bb-B-D, E-Eb-E-G) and eventually comes to a DS melody and comes in with the verse, warbling. The line two rhythm is a bit washy now, and the line 3 wandering is a bit subdued. “Shall we go” sounds like a pronouncement delivery, very dramatic reading. 

Into the middle section it hardly skips a beat and goes right into the shaker and groove, and into the song form  jam, Jerry on melody. Sort of seems like Phil is the only one holding to the song form and then once line 3 is done, they all settle into a groove again. But Jerry is starting to figure a bright star melody, playing on the fifths, hopping back and forth. and then suddenly, verse 2!

Again, warbling vocal delivery, smeared rhythms on the line two em-A, and now with cymbal washes. It’s a short song still. All vocals present for outro chorus, and into the outro chords, with a spoken vocal delivery, “Leave the lights on will ya?”, and lands on E into China Cat, which is in E major at this point in history.

#7 1968-02-14 Carousel Ballroom, SF

I’ve listened to this version many times, it was (previously) the earliest version I had a tape of. I love it! It’s very contained as far as Dark Star goes. Valentine’s Day version. I like the mix, the ROR is very present, but Bob’s guitar is overdriving his amp quite a bit, the intro jam between Jerry and Phil is really quite something. They are exploring the groove and it’s a bit more relaxed than before, and gets into more little squeezes that it has to break out of. Nice verse 1, the difference between line one and 2 is very evident, and the ‘casting’ about on line three is more like hopping on hammer-ons from the chords. 

The jam center starts with melodic statements before the stricter song-form lines, which then settles into the groove again afterwards, and ROR. Note that the organ plays the em-A chords in line 2 and 3 of the song-form jam instead of the ROR. 

Bright Star theme comes in strong, and then the falling star stretch, B-to-A, the 9th down to the A root. 

Into a little theme groove for a while before verse 2. Ok vocal delivery for the outro, sort of hurrying through it, into the outro chords and landing on E again for China Cat Sunflower, which appears to not switch to G as it does in a month or so. 

#8 1968-02-22 King’s Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe

 Fast and upbeat intro, ROR, Jerry hopping about jamming happily. This starts out and keeps jumping, Phil is into some interesting bass-picking ideas, on the chord roots and fifths (gasp! so conventional!) We can barely hear the vocals, but JG is covering the melody with his guitar part. The verse plows through, not much difference line to line in the band but a few more notes picked out by Phil on the “Searchlight” line, not really “casting” about but busier. The ‘chorus’ lines are nearly a full stop to the rhythmic forward momentum from the intro till now. 

Intro to the middle section has some classic melodic signifiers, ROR present the whole time, some chromatic notes from PL and then Jerry enters with the theme and it’s the song-form section, Phil takes off more on line three and they keep going, JG heads up pretty high with the lead playing, gets waylaid a little in a Bright Star territory, but it’s just suggestions. He brings it back and heads up again for a long “falling star” set of bends, then quickly goes back to the intro material and heads to verse two. Cymbals splash about, line 2 has its spy theme rhythm emerging a bit, and the wandering on line three. Outro stated very precisely, into the out rubato chords and landing on E to start China Cat, which goes through its bridge  (E to B) entirely and jams on E for a long time. I guess this song was in E the whole time at this point? It’s in G later, except the bridge section). Really jamming version of this song too! They were hyped. This is a great and very upbeat sequence from Dark Star->China Cat-> The Eleven->Caution.

#9 1968-02-23 King’s Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe

Classic intro, the ROR starts, accenting that last chord at its end nicely. JG enters more softly this evening and winds it downwards before bringing it up with some weird little turns and bends. A jam before the verse, hey! Some nice little eddies with the whole band a minute or so in, Jerry has some tripping little phrase going downwards after the catch, and then switched tone for a new lead. Phil seems to be caught up on the intro lick phrase (like B-Bb-B-D——) then JG picks up on that. Verse comes in strong with warbling scary vocals, calmed a bit by the last line and chorus lines. Nice outro 

JG with them phrases in octaves going down, to a song-form jam with some of the turning downward thirds outlining the melodic areas. He builds it up after the form, they stay going, and JG is heading to a Brighter Star, but not quite the full theme, it takes a while to state it, and when it hits, he tears it down with the falling star. Very “arranged” sounding. Some quieter little riffy play afterwards, and into verse 2. The lines of the verse have their classic distinctions, though the line 3 casting about seems to mostly be hammer-ons in the chord from PL and BW, not like exploring the space really. Can’t tell really how long it takes for the outro to get anywhere from the recording I heard. Nice version, not as chipper as the previous evening, but a clearer recording. The song is played like “a song” in many ways, this evening. 

#10 1968-03-16 Carousel Ballroom, SF

 Back to SF, they all start together, strong mix happening starting the show with this song now. Immediate jamming. Jerry is already stretching it out for the intro, they have stronger amps that they don’t need to overdrive to get volume out of, so they can play with volume more and be more precise in their tone. The jam goes up and down, JG hits some odd notes before settling the vibe to introduce the verse. He warbles on Daaaark again, as he’s been wont to do on this song. Lots of cymbal swirling for the verse, emphasis on the downward chromatics on the “while we can” drops. A little shaker on the outro, then into the middle, Jerry takes it to a lead guitar area instead of the verse melody so they *don’t* do the song form until about 3:30, when they go through it, Jerry has some seriously jazzy chordal arpeggios over line 2 and 3. Nice! And it goes from there, building the thing like all-fingers-of-the hand-band all moving forward, and to the bright star! He sticks with it for a while, brings it down and up again, and to the falling star, and back to the intro theme. 

Verse 2 comes in with cymbal splashes, warbling vocals. It settles on the chorus, a little conga to kick it around between lines. Outro orchestration a little obscured by Phil’s note choices, into the odd chords and landing on China Cat Sunflower. 

#11 1968-03-29 Carousel Ballroom, SF

Dark Star is coming in toward the end of the set (or recording, anyway) they’re still playing with where it goes in the set. Audience recording, lotsa guiro from the sound system. The band os grooving around the ROR, JG enters tentatively, and tries again, stretching notes oddly before taking off into bluesy licks in the mode. Sounds comfortable in the hall. He switches to rolled-off tone, and bounces around, the band is basically grooving out. Theme statements in quiet delicate ways. The verse comes in early, after 2 minutes. Some interesting rises in the “searchlight casting” line. Into the middle, the guiro is too loud. JG hits the ground running, melodically, with bridge pickup now. He’s getting caught up in a few specific notes this time, examining. The organ has some held chords. 

Theme statement, song form at 4 min, strong rhythm definition for the lines. JG again caught in little riff whirlpools on his way up after the groove comes back, into a Bright Star, where even here he gets caught in some eddies. At 5:30, back to the theme and the percussion goes off in triplets. Verse two, and we’re already rowing back to shore. A quick tour. 

Outro with all the vocals and cymbal swells, then the outro riffs and climb, the tritone chords going to… a solemn E major chord, to end the show. Odd, a quick version, nothing especially great but nicely done overall. Maybe tacked on at the end of the set.

#12 1968-03-30 Carousel Ballroom, SF

The next night, they’ve already gone through Cryptical/TOO, and there’s a bit of wandering in a harmonic puddle while the Dark Star intro starts. ROR is mixed into the band well, the overall mix is nice, (several mic crunches happen) for this audience recording—they’re setting up the percussion mics, I bet. Jerry steps in and out waiting for the sound techs to get it together, he heads toward a mellow tone to begin the actual lead. Some nice play with the mode, including the chromatic rolls from the intro riff in there. The band grooves along. It’s sort of static. Verse 1 slightly before 3 min, loud vocals from Jerry, he’s not warbling it though, till “Searchlight” which is backwards from previously. Strong and slightly sharp singing, he’s straining it a bit. 

The “transitive nightfall” section has been beginning with a little shaker figure from Mickey, here again, “chicka-chick, chicka-chick” and the intro riff on bass with upper harmony from JG. He starts with a riff figure, at three different octaves, and a new melodic statement that he wants to play off of afterwards. Building while the band is rocking out (as such). Theme statement, song-form jam at 5:20, Phil prematurely heads to the em before line 2, line 3 gets sort of stuck in loops instead of wandering around, the band continues the groove afterwards, while Jerry heads toward the Bright Star, brings it down a bit, the falling star happens, he stays there for a while before moving onwards with Bobby playing some hammer on 6ths. JG goes back to a mellower tone and they set up for verse 2, coming at 7:40 with cymbal crashes. A warbly horror movie “glass hand”. Sliding on the last lines. All vocals nicely done for the “chorus” (by which I mean “shall we go,” etc.) slight mess up on the outro climb, the tritone chords go on for a long time, heading off to…. China Cat Sunflower.

I was a little confused by this the previous times they segued into China Cat, but the tritone chord movement does land on E Major, (as it will when they segue to St Stephen) and indeed they start China Cat in E major as they had been, but after a couple times through the riff, they jump it up to G major, (ok, mixolydian, actually) where the song stayed for the rest of time. (Note also that the instrumental bridge in China Cat drops back down to E Major, before again stepping back to G for the last verse. )

#13 1968-0x-xx  unknown summer 1968

Long version! 16 minutes, following an announcement about how the scratcher was stolen and they need it for the next number!

Classic together intro, ROR with organ vibrato, JG with tone rolled off on a Gibson neck pickup, he rolls on some treble after a minute or so. The band sounds bubbly behind him. I don’t know if they ever got their scratcher. Phil gets into some little whirlpools in this intro jam. Jerry sounds groovy, just guitar into the amp. he has some wide jumps in the intros to thematic statements. It’s a bit fast, but very nice tones all around, getting it together. Must be a stage where they can hear themselves, they go into a group hover at 3 minutes, and when it comes out, they head toward the theme, and continue improvising. It quiets down at 4min or so, JG starts to explore different spaces, ROR still there. Coming out into a pre-verse area. 

Verse 1 slightly warbling JG voice, with the cymbals washing around. Very evident organ swells on “Shall We go” etc.

Shakers begin the verse-chorus outro and they start the central jam section. JG running up and down. Very “Les Paul” tone here. He switches back to neck pickup at 6:45, plays with tone knobs a bit and chromatic expressions in and out of the mode. The band falls into some harmonic pits that hover occasionally within the overall forward momentum. JG builds it up, a little stumble, he pours it on and then backs off to chucking the rhythm before starting up a new set of runs. Bob really expanding his chordal rhythmic playing while JG plays in riffy bits. A lull at 9 min and Jerry starts the theme, they go through the song-form casually, third line starting a climb up but back into the groove. ROR continues throughout. Jerry starts a period of stretching notes and eventually gets back into melodic runs. At 10:40 or so, it’s a Bright Star bit that starts big and quiets down, a falling star quietly following, the band brings it down. At 11:30 they may enter space….!

At 12 it starts again after a cut, I can’t tell if this is the same recording, actually, it’s a bit different. JG is doing chromatic low riffs, the ROR is sort of there, Bob is not on the DS chords *exactly* , they may be coming from something else to it, or who knows. They enter a static sort of proto-Sputnik type of area, though not the Sputnik arpeggio, but a run of pentatonic notes, everybody joins in. It breaks out of this into Dark Star theme at 14 min. Jerry sort of phasing the theme against the chords till it matches up.  Before 15 min we’re back and entering verse 2.  Casual vocal delivery, not super warbling or scary. Not super exact on the rhythmic points for line 2, mild wandering on line 3. Subdued vocal outro (mix?) Slow climb to the tritone chords which only happen once and then immediately go to the St Stephen entry with no messing around! 

Unknown venue and date, possibly two shows spliced together, very Les Paul era though, and on a stage where they could hear each other pretty well. Nice continuous runs from JG, great accompaniment from Bob and Phil.

#14 1968-08-21  Fillmore, SF

Jazz trumpet Garcia. Long and short phrases over the ROR and rhythm section with Bobby going off on chord hammer on extensions. Phil wandering around up and down, JG hits some arpeggios and stretches up out of the mode, strong lead lines into the theme after a minute or so. Nice mix on this recording, the scratching isn’t loud. JG goes into a rolled off neck pickup tone for some jazzy licks, he’s very explorative this evening, they hit a plateau at 2 minutes and break it out into the theme that heads toward verse 1.

Playing the vocal melody with the guitar alongside, he stretches for the notes. Cymbals accompany. Organ and shakers on the bedoops after Shall We go.

TRansitive Nightfall begins with the guiro and JG steps aside. Comes in with one note. Another. A few more, he’s slowly going to build this one. He stays in some areas to emphasize the forward versus static nature of the jam. Very expressive and few notes, at 5:30 he starts a little melodic line, it’s moving forward but he still tends to stay in one area at times, Phil joins and heads upwards and back down to some low notes again, Phil is really the soloist this evening, JG is more a treble accompaniment. At 6:50 he starts the theme, they go through the song form, the wandering begins before line two is over and continues heading upwards for the line three into more forward movement jamming. Phil starts syncopated offbeat phrases. JG starts a new area at about 8 minutes, he’s not playing fast this evening, but really emphasizing the tones. Some rock riffing, they all get caught in an eddy in the flow after a bit here and it is only the ROR that holds it. 

New percussion enter while the jam is moving. They are playing like a single unit in a lot of ways here, the harmonies are made of the contrapuntal lines flowing forth. At 10:30 or so, a Bright Star appears, delicately but intent. Into a little chromatic riff area that eddies the flow, but comes out toward the intro theme and is heading to the second verse. A little riffiness before, and the verse starts at 12:20. Stretchy vocals again, with the cymbal washes, casual line two and three variations, not super strongly stated. Nice vocal outro and off to the outro counterpoint and the chords that lead now into St Stephen.   Really nice version.


I was up to this gap in 1968 when I found the thread of others listening, starting in at August shows and wondering about the development between March and August. I’d familiarize myself with the sectional nomenclature and get on board.

#15 1968-08-22, Fillmore SF

I like the ROR, it’s sort of comforting. Like a tape loop—in fact, that Vox organ sound reminds me of some of those 60s minimalists like Terry Riley or Steve Reich, so especially having it sort of ever-present but having it weave in and out is nice. Or so I find, anyway. If Mr McK doesn’t fuck up, like on 1968-08-22, where he stumbles a couple times, and it’s loud in the mix. Maybe the whole tempo is too fast to start? But PL and JG are rocking it heavily the whole time. 

But then: not a guiro fan, especially so loud in the mix as well. Overall weird agitated version.

#16 1968-08-23 Shrine Auditorium, USC

I’ve been in Dark Star world for a month or so also, I probably didn’t follow your recommended archive selections as much, but started at the beginning as well. Are the preferred versions links on the blogsite? I didn’t know of 1968-08-23 so that’s nice to find as I catch up. It’s also pretty quick, and strong! It sounds to me like (possibly, I may be talking out of my ass if anybody knows better or has read about their touring then) different amps than SF at the Fillmore. I know he was mostly into Fender Twins but the Shrine shows make the Les Paul Custom sound more “Gibson-y”, like he gets more crunch when biting in with the pick. Or using the rolled off neck pickup with the overdrive like in the theme restatement jam, at around 8′, where he’s been really digging in with the bridge pickup before. 

Lotta Phil wandering, he’s been really going for it on these lately. This one is a more realistic tempo. Jerry again taking his time to get settled. This one is a better tempo. (and mix). It builds in a nice way with JG and PL leading. Bob sounds a bit bright and scratchy this evening. They really take it up and over in the intro jam, down to a mellower tone and feel by the verse intro area where Jerry starts a rhythm riff, sorta “China Cat”-like before 5:30 with the verse. Very strong vocals with guitar doubling, a few warbles for scary effect. 

Middle jam starts right off with Jerry on lead, and Bob trying out some new licks. Nice bent notes before a lull at 8 that goes to the theme statement and song-form accompaniment. String E hit on line two, with big leads from JG. line three transitions to an everybody-wander thing, then it’s off with all players in counterpoint in the mode moving forward. Hints at a bright star at 9:45 or so, and bringing it up on long lines, then down again for a quieter theme jam area. Some chord progression rhythmic things happen here…? It’s oddly a little like a year later with Soulful Strut. JG comes out of this with a couple volume swells and it lulls again, some melodic eddies on a few choice notes, and building it back up. A real Bright Star picks it up at 12:30 and the falling star stretch root to 9th and down. Playing with these notes, everybody goes wild and it comes back down to the intro theme, and off to verse 2. 

Some horror movie tremolo vocals still happening, nice wandering from Bobby and Phil on line 3. All vocals for the outro madrigal and then the counterpoint outro with organ chords here, off to the chords, people clap! And into St Stephen after a brief set of chords.

Really nice version, great togetherness and momentum at a reasonable tempo.

#17 1968-08-24 Shrine Auditorium

Classic intro, mellow vibe this evening, Phil wandering a while before JG comes in. He immediately switches to rolling some tone knob off the bridge pickup, then back on for some brighter statements. Sort of quick intro jam and to the intro theme, verse at 1:40. I don’t here the bedoop bedoop bedoop from the organ anymore after “Shall We Go…”

Middle jam is vibey, shakers and band, organ gets a bit louder with the ROR, not to great effect this evening. Theme statement and song form at 3:30, the wandering again starts before the end of line two and goes right on growing through line three and off to a Dark Star theme area almost as if leading to the Brighter Star, but JG takes it down to some low string action. It gets very rhythmic and less melodic for a while. They break out of it loudly but then immediately take it down to a more delicate jam. 

All players in counterpoint for a while. Some interesting chromatic choices in JG’s lines, at about 7 minutes it seems to coalesce into only a few notes, JG on one note for a while, (like the actual sputnik, you know: the satellite.) Break out from this is into strong leads and a proto Sputnik arpeggio for a moment. Jerry is really going outside the mode several times in this one. Bright Star hits at 8:30, and goes on for a while and into the intro theme. But they back off before heading to a verse, and play around on the rhythms for a while, ROR still happening. 

Verse 2 at 9:50. The lines have their variations, but casually played. Quieter vocal outro on this recording, nice counterpoint for the instrumental outro, which goes on for a while, before settling. A less exploratory version, but nice.

Then back to SF at the Avalon on the 28th of August.

#18 8/28/68  Avalon Ballroom, SF

Audience recording. I’m starting to consider the Organ Riff to be a part of the percussion. He does use the organ ‘percussion’ settings for the sound. What model organ is he using on tour at this point? And I like the way it fades in and out of this audience tape and that’s obviously the way it was supposed to be heard! I don’t hear the guiro/scratchy thing so much on this one, whew.

#19 9/2/68 – Raspberry Farm in Washington

Weird mix, but yes we get to hear the Bobby stuff developing, which is pretty cool. He’s a weird player, I think his choices are good for this sort of jam, hammer-on chord notes and 7ths and 9ths (I don’t really get the band dynamic that was going on at the time, like kicking him out for playing it like an acoustic guitar? But I guess that’ll give us those Mickey and the Heartbeats Dark Stars…) But they both sound a but too distorted on the recording, can’t tell how much might be tape overload.

I think this must have been an nice outdoor festival (at a Raspberry Farm!), they sound pretty bright and excited right off the bat with this Dark Star, I feel like the 8-12 min jam has some nice exploration, up and down in the proto-sputnik and some playing around with the themes at 11min.

Mickey’s still shaking that gourd. I don’t get his choices of playing it through the verse and into the “shall we go…”, but: I’ve been thinking a lot about the structure that was inherent to the “song” part of the song, the ideas that go back to the original single studio recording, and one thing I’m picking up on is Phil’s idea of form. Coming into the verse, he has the melody rhythm, that slowly swung on-the-beat, with everybody (and the shaker/guiro), and he holds it only for the first line, then for the second line, “Reason tatters…”, the rhythm sort of falls apart (appropriately) where Phil moves into halftime and the shaker wavers, and then, being Phil, on the third line, “Searchlight…” he makes that heavier slow phrase into a jumpy little groove.

So, I noticed he goes through these same little developments when the themes come back (~ 8:14) in the improv sections, like he’s still keeping the structure of the ‘song’. Now I’m wondering if he has areas where he uses patterns like that on other sections… hmm..

(edit, realizing I didn’t make my point) anyway, possibly Mickey feels like playing the shaker is the only thing grounding the song, like it’s gonna fly off into outer space! Or that everybody else would “lose the beat” …as if… But it’s creating an interesting contrast, the very idea of the shaker and the ROR being super-constant in this ever-changing and developing piece.

In this one, the ROR fades in and out nicely. He does fucks up the loop a few times (~10min) but that’s a Hammond, you can tell especially on the other tracks from the show.

Note, this is exactly one year after the first proto-DS licks appeared in Dancin’ in the Streets.

1968-10-08/10   Matrix, SF

10/68 Hartbeats shows (not entirely the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir and PigPen are absent, this is sort of side project jamming at a cafe.)

Can anybody tell me more about the Matrix (and the Avalon Ballroom)? Like how big they are, what sort of scene was there? These “Hartbeats” at the Matrix sound more like a small place to jam in the backroom, Oct 8 and 9 are Tuesday and Wednesday, so obviously the owner would be happy to have any Dead members playing in the back to attract some mid-week customers!

But, yeah, it’s not exactly the Grateful Dead, is it, without Mr Weir. It’s kinda cool to hear Phil and Jerry jam out on it. Much more sedate, though, easy to hear the parts.

Phil really keeps the beat most of the time, anyway, doesn’t he? Nice clam at 7:06, Jerry!

(Interesting to note audience sizes, Matrix ~50, Avalon ~500, Fillmore West ~1500 (wiki sez 3000, I think that was one time). The differences in who and how Jerry was interacting with musically, stage sizes, sound levels, etc. I guess I thought the Matrix would be more casual, as reflected by how they behave on stage, what they are doing, like more like a resident band in a bar or cafe, but I see it’s more performance-based. So, they’re just really casual on stage!)

#20 1968-10-12: 

 Such a mellow intro. Listening to how the show develops after is intense, they really took the audience on a trip. 6:00 jam stretches out in a nice way. I like the shaker better than the guiro/scratcher which starts at 7:15, thankfully not as loud after 10:00. Oh well, you got two drummers, might as well use them.

The 8:30-> biz with the panning of the guiro is distracting, it’s damn loud too. I would have guessed that it was Mickey changing the scratcher from mic to mic if it were a later era show with all drums mic’ed up, but I’m assuming this is that man at the board?

13:36 “gla-a-a-ss hand” tremolo voice!

#21 1968-10-13: Immediate intensity with the distorto-lead by garcia, but then 1:30 or so it drops to Bobby doing those nice arpeggios and almost immediately into the verse. Also nice Bobby action in the 4 minute area, he’s building with the band, not “playing it like an acoustic guitar.” I really like the ups and downs of the jams before the second verse. They’re going somewhere!

note 1:

Dark Star has been quite nice, though, as the opening number, for them to test stuff out, stretch their hands and check the gear, make sure they can hear everybody, etc. And interesting set-wise to open with the drummers playing hand percussion also, to allow a slow build. I haven’t read any of the Dead history or gear books (due to the fact that I moved from California to Sweden before I really got into the Dead heavily enough to want to listen to every Dark Star (!) and it’s pretty tough finding random material like this in English here unfortunately. And the post is ****ty and expensive. Note, I am old enough to have seen them live several times, but I don’t think I appreciated it as much at the time…) but I did watch the Long Strange Trip movie and have some idea of the potential headspaces these guys may have found themselves in prior to having to go onstage and play, so I can see that this would be a great piece to sort of smoothly adjust to rocking out!

note 2: that little tag at the end after verse two, the rising triplets (at 14:22 on 10/12 for example, before the planing tritone chords that go into St Stephen) keeps reminding me of something, and I finally figured it out, it’s on Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (1974) side 2, at around 4:20, he does a similar figure into a change. Wonder if there was some unconscious copping of the riff going on or, uh, parallel evolution.

#22 1968-10-20 Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

Nice intro!  Not the normal riff intro, possibly because it is not the first in the set now? Strong jam before the theme statement into the verse, Bobby and Phil starting it off before Jerry jumps in. Pigpen with a decent level (whew) I see from pics of the show that he’s on a Hammond. 

 (Jerry is loud, the SB mix is weird, Jerry and Phil on the right, vocals and Bobby on the left. You can hear Jerry’s guitar amp bleed into the vocal mics, gloriously! Those Fender Twin Reverbs are strong amps.)

Jerry’s doing some interesting bends in the 4:30 area, rolling from his tone-knob-rolled-back sound to a brighter sound, then pickup change at 5:24, that whole thing from 4:00-5:45 one big upward surge to the melody statement and then excellent jamming by the 6 minute mark after the overshot note at 6:02, serious statements on the returning theme with that bright lead pickup. Really strong playing  going into sputnik. Interesting feedback play from Bobby (?) at about 8:00

Pictures on  Jerry is leaning in heavily to the band, it actually has a little aggressive look to it like the Jazz (or folk/country) guys capping, “come on man, keep up with me!” though who knows, maybe he’s telepathically communicating! I mean Phil groks, the band sounds like it. The show as a whole is very hootenanny, fast major key stuff! Looks like a daytime show but they were definitely pumped! The rest of the show is intense also, and they’d already done two relatively long jams before DS here (GMLS and Lovelight) so they were ready to dive in so it starts faster and gets heavier quicker.  Unreal segue to St Stephen, so fluid.

#XX DS jam 1968-10-30  Matrix

Number 1, After the Greek Theatre show, listening to this Matrix Dark Star is like a coffeehouse gig. Beatniks, man: guitar, bass and shaker. Starts with the usual riff, but Jerry is way more into expressing something, bright tone out of the gate! But he’s all there is in the melody/chordal world so he can play with chord changes more than when the actual rhythm guitar is there. Takes ‘em five minutes to calm down. 

And they go to a beautiful space. And take their time, back at the vocal melody (on guitar) a bit at ~13:30. Is this the longest one yet at 17:30?

Number 2, later in the evening, starts much mellower, mostly Phil (or is this one Jack Casady? It does sound a bit different, like this stuff at 4:20 [ha.] with the fifths, there is a lot of stylistically quite different playing than normal Phil), with Jerry comping chords before taking to the single note lead. Much more laid back. Off the shaker and onto the drums before it hits the 3 minute mark, but eventually back to the shaker and dropping out off and on, drumset reentrance at 13min, for a intro riff area. And even longer at 19:48, longer and longer!

#23 1968-11-01  Chico, CA

He’s really stretching notes off the bat, sort of a more aggressive tone for the start, but it’s “the Dead’s last set” so “do what you want” as the announcer says. What was in the first set? And this is the SG now? His tone is great. But yes, a little slower, and a good level for Pigpen’s ‘tape loop’. Last version with it? Bummer! (I’m like the only person who likes it.) This recording goes suddenly stereo from mono at 2:30. 

It’s cool to hear Jerry playing the melody while singing, so very clearly in the first verse with the stereo separation and levels, JG and PL guitar and bass on the right, everybody’s vocals plus Bobby’s guitar, Pigpen, and whomever actually plays any percussion on the left—both drums on the left? It’s interesting to think of the audience sound versus what’s put into the PA from the soundboard or what’s recorded onto a reel from which outputs from the board at what levels. Like, you’d put less drums in the mix from the board to the PA because they’re already acoustically loud in the space, but on this tape the lead guitar is so clear, he’s obviously in the board mix pretty high even with his amps on stage. 

Nice mix, actually, if right heavy, but JG’s guitar is loud enough again to get into the vocal mics which spreads it a bit, in space and time. I’m not just being trippy, I mean the vocal mics add a bit of reverb/tail to the notes. Love that cross-spectrum time-spread. 

Interplay is great from JG and PL, BW is understated. The almost-Bright-Star to the theme is an amazing jam, starts in the brighter world falling, but then when it gets to the bottom at around 9:00, he switches to the tone-rolled-off thing, or maybe it’s wah-wah on but with the pedal up until 9:30, back to bright-star/bright tone to build to the theme at 10:45 into the second verse with the melody played and sung. Beautiful. Also that Phil vocal flourish on “Transitive Nightfall” is really good…unlike most times where it’s bizarre. It’s a great idea, but I think Phil was having a hard time hitting the right pitch while playing bass most of the early years. 

This is in Chico! Party college. At a fair! Personally I’d think it’s pretty ballsy even playing Dark Star at a fair. But maybe they attracted some passers by and then after this they go for Cryptical, The Other One, back to Cryptical and then jams with like a minute of New Potato and then the reel runs out, next reel starts with jams and it all falls apart into more jams until feedback and bid you goodnight. I do notice in the end sections of this that drums are also put into the right channel, things must have been getting loud. Great subtle feedback spaceout at the end of the show. I just picture some Fair organizer running around going “wtf!? Get these freaks off the stage!”

“Come back again next week, this is a great place”

Ok, I am just being trippy: With Roger Penrose winning the Nobel Prize in physics (ok, with Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez proving it) I’ve been reading a lot about black holes/watching PBS SpaceTime. They all mention that that the first person to theorize their existence, John Michell, a weird old educated clergyman in 1783, called them “Dark Stars.” He was the first to apply the math as an idea that the heaviness of the star could be so great that its gravity/escape velocity could exceed the speed of light, hence no light emitted could escape. Dark Star. 

#XX 1968-11-06 studio recording rehearsal with TC. It’s so jumpy, it sound very China Cat Sunflower-type hocket playing. TC plays the line differently, it’s cool how it changes, and he gets some weird harmonies, and then Jerry plays it with him to get him back on track… he’s embarrassingly loud in the mix for a guy who’s just learning, I guess that’s the point. 

Sort of-Sputniks happen at 10min, some weird TC tonal choices, then more thematic soloing and great Phil bass soloing and doing his 3-part rhythm thing that he does in the verse lines, his soloing evolves into an amazing chordal Sputnik jam in the 12 minute area into the verse where TC finally breaks out a bit, into a bright star. Imagine having to learn this for a fucking concert next month. (They seem to be having more trouble teaching him the Eleven and such.) 

#24 1968-11-22 Ohio

Audience tape with a distinct rumble and overloads. Anybody know how they recorded it, like was cassette recording a thing in 1968? (Sorry I’m so uneducated with respect to this whole Dead/taping thing.)

Jerry is nice and loud in what sounds like a half-empty reverberant space, decent bass sound in the hall too. Drums are shakers at the start, but the guitars come out playing and warmed up by Morning Dew and GMLS, they’re already into the song and they’re going for it. Pretty quick version, like it was at Berkeley last month. Is Dark Star no longer a set opener anymore now? Pigpen’s ROR is backgrounded, a decent continuo level. 

Jerry does that tone thing again at around 4:00 where it must be the wah pedal but backed off somehow (a “cocked-wah” sound the guitar nerds call it) but then comes into the bright tone again by 4:50. Into the Sputnik. Just rapidly moving through the song parts. He hits some country licks now afterwards in the bright tone, he’s really filling the hall with sound. It’s hard to hear through the overloading tape if the drums are coming in with this or not.

The at 6:40, back to Sputnik arpeggio stuff, moving downwards in intensity, think you’re coming out of the space…? Also I’m starting to hear Bobby finding his parts in these sections too.

Nice weird cocked-wah tone feedback stuff at 8:00, the outsideness is peeking through. And then back to rising arpeggio by 9:00 to Bright Star. Drums are in here for sure. 

The Bright Star theme itself is interesting to me as a variant of the main theme, as it reaches to the very highest notes, then falls, as it must, nowhere higher to go. The “Dark Star” theme is of course that way too (same thing, really), octave jump to start, then coming back down. That’s the lesson of Dark Star, reach up then come back down. This is sort of an intense version packed into 11 minutes!

These ’68 shows must have been mind-openers for the audience, that’s for sure. I love the suite, DS->St Stephen->the 11. Wow. After opening with essentially folk and blues (Morning Dew and GMLS) where a new audient might think, ok, it’s a rock band, and then get stunned by this suite. And later the Cryptical->TOO->New Potato… Must have been fun.

#25 1968-12-07 Lousville KY

This is the opening song of the set again, as far as I can tell, though it’s missing a chunk of the band starting. I imagine the tapers were seriously hustling trying to get it rolling, but the “Dark Star” riff comes soon after the recoding starts, with ornaments or alternative readings of it. Allusions to it anyway. I thought I heard somebody say “one” pointing out where the downbeat was? With some instrumental wandering in different registers until Jerry comes down to the low strings and shifts to the backed-off wah or tone knob sound by a minute into the recording. This leads up to higher jamming with some weird spaces before it gets solid, and then the riff comes back very strong on the low strings, into the verse at 3:20. The orchestration of the guitars and bass for the verse is so well played now. I think everybody knows their stuff, it’s a tight reading of the verse sections, JG singing and playing the vocal melody, BW doing his sequences of suspended chords, PL doing the swung with the melody style on the first line, then halving the triplets into a straight rhythm for the second line, so it goes poly rhythmic, then combining into a riffy swung run for the third line.

A real drop to shakers and rhythm guitar bass before Jerry slowly and quietly comes in moving toward  a weird volume-swelled notes thing at 5:18, spacing out the timing. Out into a bright star grab, but still experimenting with the flat5 he was using in the riff earlier. Some Stephen Still sounding riffs before a pause, then a vocal melody statement at 6:40, directly into more jam where Phil goes through sequences using his verse pattern rhythms but by “line 3” they’re off again into a repetitive melodic fragment sort of sputnik-but-linear growing in volume and tone, then the wave crests at 8:35 and you’re back in a calmer sea where you can barely hear TC going into a Sputnik that leads the band there. I guess he felt comfortable in that minimalist type trance stuff. By 9:45 we’re in a static chordal area into a swinging little harmonics jam with the noodly bass, then to the main riff at 11:10, hi, we’re back!

I keep wondering about how well known the band was at this point, especially at gigs like this at a university and the one in Ohio that we darkstarred last month. It must have been ear-opening—starting with Dark Star, hmm, where is this band going, then into the suite etc… Man.

#26 1968-12-29 80197 Gulfstream Park, Florida 10:25

Weird that it the SB recording versus the outdoors situation makes the mix sound like the Matrix shows in a way: all Jerry then Phil and then a guiro or ride cymbal. Same tempo. But it comes after Lovelight in the set, they’ve maybe figured out the sound by now? Though JG is having tuning issues on the SG (humidity, I’d bet.) I can’t quite figure out the reason for this mix, from a logistics point of view, in that, if Jerry is loud in the soundboard mix, that should have been making up for him being quiet coming from the stage, which from all audience tape perspectives seems untrue (he usually used Fender Twin Reverbs at this time, right? Hard to tell from the pic, but it does look like one big Fender cabinet has a Courtney-type tie dye front!) Bass always needs boosting from the board if possible, of course, more wattage to get those low freqs out there.

Jerry sounds convincing on the verse, he’s trying to do all the dynamics, TC likes that lyrical “through” (the transitive nightfall) volume swell, JG plays it also. The ability to have any sort of dynamics is kind of amazing at an outdoor show!

At 4 min, he uses an open D string against the fretted melody, this is new, very folky, even starts using a C natural a bit. Overall, hard to believe this deepness of tone from an SG, but I’m assuming this is close to the mic for his amp so he can play with the dynamics really well. (Amp? If it’s a Twin, he’s gotta crank it to get distortion like some of these bits, though easier from an SG with humbuckers.) 

It’s a quick jam, up and down, not really into “space” so much. One little dip in the middle, Phil and Bobby mostly just chug through it, a few times doing the verse rhythm things when the main melody comes in (the straight first line, 3+3+3+3+2+2 for the second, then riffing off that for the third). Little sputnik making itself a standardized part of the jam that goes into the brightest tones, into the second verse lead in. He’s barely there for the first line of V2. Feedback accompaniment on line 3! 

Anyway, a quick run through!


#27 1969-01-17 UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA

Indoor UCSB gymnasium show, according to a reviewer on archive, delayed start (tech, I’d bet, though who knows.) 

Hot opening with Lovelight, but it goes weirdly, Pigpen repeating his boar hog’s eye bit. Box back nitties indeed! 

Relaxed opening for Dark Star, can actually hear TC, on a transistor organ, I guess the Vox? Jerry’s good, right off the bat, some interesting quiet scrapy things between jam sections, so rest the mood. Really interesting modal bits before the theme statement at almost 2 minutes. Then new space! Jerry is experimenting a lot with sound and specific notes in more static patterns while TC is riffing a mode. And then he launches into the trebly pickup super loud and bright statements using them before coming back to the theme two minutes later. Bobby’s getting his hammer ons for the suspensions going on before the verse comes in. 

In a way it seems like all the 68 versions were getting to know how to play the song, now they have it down so well that they can let it go even more, this is a new start on the jams. In a fucking gymnasium! Jerry even goes atonal in the intro to the next section after the sung portion. 

Strong thematic statement at almost 7 minutes, the percussion accompaniment is very orchestral. Somebody got some big drums for xmas. New material at 7:45 that evolves and then goes into the sputnik space to the bright star variations with a theme parentheses. Then into a jam with a lot more forward momentum than we’ve seen in this spot into the bright star area. Relaxing back into the theme and verse, to the end, into the suite. 

This Dark Star is relaxed in a way that the fall shows weren’t (well, not the Matrix shows). The festivals and campuses in the south were probably pretty hard, despite the amazingness of the performances. Santa Barbara knew what they were getting by this point, too, so there’s a lot of people who get it in the audience. Being ‘with’ the band while they’re improvising sort of makes you part of it, and they’re really grooving in a comfortable way on a lot of this show.

#28 1969-01-24  Avalon Ballroom, SF

Starts out really strong, no winding their way in, but even though TC starts with the ROR, he abandons it by a minute in. Jerry already going for strong statements in the introduction. Phil’s bass has some amp distortion, he’s playing it hard. Weird mix, stereo-wise, with the bass all the way left, Jerry, sort of middle-R and Bobby all the way right. As if Tom C was gonna be in the middle-L gap but he’s so low… 

The static stuff leading into the weird 4 minute mark is cool, then JG’s got some new licks, the bass shifts to the right side! TC moving over left. I guess Bear’s having some fun? 

New notes/modes sneaking in by 6 minutes, I can’t tell who heard it or played it first, they’re really getting in each other’s heads! 

Now it’s been 7 minutes before the first verse! That’s some development. It’s like it’s taken them that long and then through the verse to calm down a bit, so now they get to stretch it, the thematic stuff being played around with, new leading tones into the normal mode, new almost arhythmic playing from Phil. Almost to a static space, more like the Sputnik pulsing its radar blips! 9 minutes is the lead into new stuff with Garcia’s double stops and Weir’s hammer ons, chords from TC. Jerry’s doing more of those pedal steel-like licks in there too. TC staying on his suspended chords, until he goes into full arpeggios up and down. Building into almost-thematic Bright Star, then up even more with licks around the Star. Some weird synth sounds from the Vox organ there around 14:40. Then Jerry and Phil taking it down, down, down. I like the little TC flourishes around 16 Minutes before the entry of the intro theme back into the verse. As such—fucked up first line at 16:45, sounds like hid “Mirror” gets caught in his throat. So skip it till it comes around again? A little jam and then back to the second verse a minute later. 

Overall this is less like beautiful solos from the players and more like one unit interested in the volume and tone, the overall gestalt going up and down in waves, Jerry’s tone is pretty bright all the way through and it takes the band to some high places. Longer and longer too, when they have the time on stage to do it!

It’s interesting that they took 20 minutes here, the next night no Dark Star, then 10 minutes on the 26th.

The opener! This version I’m listening to is the only one that had the first set, with Dark Star as the opener. Second night of the run, let us show you what we do. Lots of auditorium echo or vocal mic echo on JG here, especially when he goes bright at like 2 minutes but also bass spacial sounds … then loud distorted organ! Sounds like mixing board at the wrong input level distortion. 

Theme at 3 minutes in, and down to verse 1. Organ again goes distorto, I guess that’s the issue with his levels, they must be taking a line out somewhere and had it too low and trying to put it in at mic level now. Or his signal is just fucked up coming out of the organ. He’s more present in the mix, In a way, this overall sound is messy. Soundboard had a beer spilled on it. I can hear a TC sound from the stage before the middle theme statement at 6:45, he sounds fine from whatever the stage mics they have are. In the mix the whole thing has a lot of room sound. 

Ah some clean loud organ comes in before the sputnik plateau. Super weird to hear TC loud on the second half of that, very synthy with the organ. 

Nice theme statements, softly spoken at 9 minutes. You can really hear the pick noise high end bounce off the back wall, or vocal mic or whatever is mixed in here. The plateau comes and goes in waves, different registers. This is still the opening song of the set! 

TC drops out for a while, Phil’s been plugging away with lots of higher register stuff. By the ending themes of the jam, the mix is great. Nice verse 2 TC does the ROR on the first line, and still on that crescendo on “Shall we go” and “Through”.

#30 1969-01-26 Avalon Ballroom, SF

Solid intro riff, Jerry already takes a few liberties with scale and feedback right afterwards. His tone is much more controlled this time, some romantic little rolls, even. This is a nice recording, more even mix too, though JG is heavy in the middle, the bass is more middle, while BW is left side. 

Nice jam before the theme stuff, into the 2 minute mark, nice leading tone on the way up at the very end to end the sequence. Then off again, no verse yet. JG wants to get to a plateau, there’s some static note area that it wants to get to, but only for a second and then back down to the theme. I like the stretching of the thematic root (A) to B in the high A of the melody!

Good singing and vocal levels! Is this verse written out by someone, it must be, yeah, with dots n lines?

Starts like it’s gonna lead into a long jam, Jerry gets into a cocked wah sound for a while and slows down onto the tone, gives Phil some leeway. Some call and response with TC coming after Jerry’s licks. Into some arpeggiated quick Sputnik. BW into some nice chords with seconds.

More plateaus, with vistas.  

Then a new key breakout for a minute at 8 minutes, but then they go directly into the second verse!

Nice vocal casual slides in “revolving” etc. Weird tones from the organ, I’m still a big fan of the Vox garageband weirdness sound, I guess. Wish he were louder in the mix, but at this point I think I like the old Pigpen organ better than the new baroque version, but we’ll see what happens. I purposefully haven’t listened to any of the Live/Dead for at least a year, so I could still come around. 

Short but sweet at 9 and a half, I thought they’d go on with some of the directions. They’re going into the full suite for the end of the show, I guess end of the Avalon run?

#31 1969-02-02 Minneapolis, MN

tentative intro, but it starts amidst tuning. Then off  and running into some exquisite feedback by a minute in. Hey Minneapolis! Pretty ‘hot jazz’ take but for JG’s brighter tone till the theme intro at 2 minutes. Nice staccato stuff into the restatement, then he really takes off into Allman-y licks before coming down to the verse at 4 and a half. Soundman is getting the vocal mic together, JG’s wavering on “Searchlight.” 

Then the SB pans JG all the way left and across. JG goes into a different key at 6 minutes against the grain and then comes back into the groove. Did he really do that or did I just imagine it? At 7 they’re into a plateau or and eddy, with a riff in the lower register, takes off to more riffage up top and a  lot of string bending. 

Then some tuning. But then Phil gets to go for it, while Jerry gets his shit in tune with chords. Into a strong theme-element based meditation on certain notes in the melody world and and at the end of 9 minutes it gets to the top, into a space sputnik, they have reached a level of space, eddies of sound, eternity in every bit, even as it fades Jerry keeps at a precious few notes. 

Dramatic re-entrance of thematic stuff at 11 and a half, into new music at 12 minutes, into the Dark Star theme high and low. Such a good riff, still. At least they brought us home again, this has been a journey. 

Oh but then harmonics before Verse 2. JG sounds a little more relaxed singing. Pretty clear background vocal stuff, so the chorus section is clear for all parts, which is cool. 

…into the rest of the suite. Minneapolis in February, excellent, first time there. Musta been a cold loadout! 

#32 1969-02-04 Omaha NB

cuts in, leads up to some fast jamming, maybe they’re hyped on playing all the time and getting better, or maybe just they’re just getting through the concert, but by the time they get to the theme proper, they’re kicking it out. Then a real jazzy sound, the tone roll off with distortion, that goes a little off the rails with some accidentals before 3:00! There’s a little plateau at 3:50 but into some sincerely incredible jamming before the main them at 4:45, incredible runs from Phil and Jerry in the in-betweens. 

New music section at 5:10, a die-off that builds into the sputnik space arpeggios into harmonics and feedback! Hi there Omaha.

That wave crests and falls, into a new exploratory section on major chording at ~6:20 but slipping in key. I think the tape wound out, there’s a splice back directly into a bright star, more tape slippage and then a low-key section with a groove before the second verse. Gotta remember that second verse. 

Well, maybe it really sounded like tape slippage for some of these kids.

Aha I missed the SB tape, listening now, I missed the first about 2.5 minutes. This is a pretty good mix of the three guitars, and good strong statements from all of them, grooving. Makes this whole show (19690204) better to listen to, this is a pretty good version, the strengths are there with the variations in intensity, waves of sound areas with new adventures like the feedback stasis area at the end of the Sputnik and the more major key jammy area after that, the variations in tone and the great playing on all parts, (or, well, the guitars/bass, that’s all I can hear on this version for the most part. I hear a little bleed of the organ into another mic, but it’s distant.)

#33 1969-02-05 Kansas City, KS

Opening for Iron Butterfly, kids are all there for InaGaddaDaVida. Cryptical/TOO opens the show, then comes the concise Dark Star at 11:41. (Into the regular suite, then caution/feedback/wbyg. Very short and sweet, intense dose of Dead, I wonder how many Butterfly converts they got!)

Dark Star starts slow, Jerry fooling around with hammer-on and pull-off triplets, but he goes into a new way of expressing the rhythm in the mode he’s playing in, gives a little sputnik tease, and then we’re at the main theme, and into the verse, I can hear a bit of TC in there behind them, ornamenting away. 

At around 3 minutes we go into the ‘main sequence’ of the star’s life. It’s sort of a jumble of many previous ideas, JG uses his different tones, the darker into the brighter one, BW starts off with arpeggio stuff while PL grooves away. Shaker is the sole rhythm, sounds like? Maybe there’s maracas… We get a TC organ solo at 5 minutes, but it’s basically just scales up and down. Eventually he settles into some chord notes, but nobody really settles on that chord, still quietly moving toward a new island, when we get there at 6 and a half it’s more like a bass solo, and now I can hear the rhythm fish, guiro thing. Sort of sputnik-like area, but it falls away and only comes back to take the tune somewhere else. 

JG in for the theme at 7:30, Phil goes through his verse sequence of rhythms, with line 3 they both take off into the high point of the jam with new thematic pieces, toward Bright Star around 8:40, main theme a minute later and we’re heading back to verse 2, almost at 10 minutes, but there was an extra time on the riff so they could all get to the first line together, heh. JG sounds a bit “tired” singing here. Kansas City is a biker (train repair yard) town, you know, and the Dead probably had some connections there. 

#34 2/6/69 – intro 4:33 – verse 1 – jam 7:06/ – verse 2 (14:02)  St Louis, MO

Mellow intro after Morning Dew. Pretty good mix. Nothing super new coming at us here, but steady-on playing up and down. JG gets caught in a couple little loops now and again before getting to the thematic stuff a couple minutes in. Some good dynamics getting into a low area, JG again catches some weird little riff loop before coming back to the main theme before verse 1. He sounds more lively this evening, or his warble is a little faster.

Almost 6 minutes before the middle jam starts, Jerry seems a little tentative here, he’s not diving in he’s sort of laying back with little riff ideas for a while, changing tones. Sounds like TC and Phil have something going on with chord-and-bassline movement. This area is developing into a “band” improv where each one is part of the orchestral “hand” with no specific lead voice.

Dark Star vocal theme at 8:20, with the drums coming in a little, or cymbals at least. But there’s a splice at 8:52? Seems like something nice was building in there before that spliced area, comes back into some high treble weirdness and drops into a sputnik with some bridge rattling and A Single Low Tom Drum hit on the breakdown. Then back to essentially the “regular”, the song chords and jam going into Bright Star with some weird bass accompaniment this time! 

When that wave has crested, we’re back to the theme and into verse 2 and end. All in all, not the most inspiring version of Dark Star, but I’d still bet Iron Butterfly were thinking they needed to up their game. 

2/7/69 – intro 4:30 – verse 1 – jam 7:10 – verse 2 (14:07)  Pittsburgh, PA

#35 1969-02-07 Pittsburgh 

With the Velvet Underground and the Fugs! Weird that the overall timing of this and the night before and almost exactly the same, about 4 and a half minutes intro jam before the verse, similar length jam between verses. This is the opening track tonight instead of right after Morning Dew and they start stretching out a bit with some interesting tonal ideas and some sparkly organ from TC. Even a little organ melodics between the JG bits, though TC seems to be in a world of the themes and chords and not breaking out much. JG catches a little eddy of sound, one of the little islands, right before 3 minutes, its breakout into more notes leads into the main theme and eventually to the verse. 

Middle jam section starts ambiguously, the band rolls along while JG looks for somewhere to go. Some climbs, some falls with lowered tones leading downwards by 6:40 or so, JG climbs again. Main vocal melody at 8:00. Not very inspired improv, maybe they’re just warming up for the show, but they sort of make it to a a bright star, but then it morphs almost into a sputnik, then drops into a real sputnik arpeggio area after 9 minutes. Then Jerry uses some weird fuzz tone suddenly at 10 minutes, with microphonic sounds from the guitar, but it doesn’t develop. The band freaks out and drops down to tiny sounds. The real Bright Star enters at 11 minutes, and the song comes together again, and leads into the second verse. 

Next is Fillmore East! 

#36 1969-02-11 2/11/69b Fillmore East, NY: 12:29 

Dupree’s and (a haunting) Mountains of the Moon lead in here in the second set. TC has been doing his thing. Quick sleight of hand and Jerry has his electric, they start Dark Star quickly, TC comes in with the ROR! (He’s quickly mixed down and abandons it.) Shakers only, seems like they’re testing out how far out they’re going to go, JG reels it in once at 2 minutes, then some cool crystalized theme variations with straight sides from Phil. Not much said musically before the verse at 3:10. 

Some play time with cymbals and gongs and bass before a new arpeggio statement from JG. I don’t hear TC anymore…? JG is jamming out, ah, here comes Tom, noodling along. Weird bass-guitar fight/eddy/wind-up at 5:45, then coming out of it into a softly spoken verse-like section with the accompaniment rhythms and then it once again takes off on that third line and JG goes off till he and PL find another eddy into the sputnik by 7:00. TC’s playing scales up and down. Once all the dust settles we get a weirdness treat! Playing the microphonic sounds on the bridge of the guitar, but into a bright star, whoa! The whole band came along on this ride into the theme at 9:40, into a new tonal region with the cocked-wah/tone roll off solo, a little noodle from TC and into verse two, clapping from the audience on the first lines, they came along for the ride! Jerry sounds good vocally this evening, but maybe just warmed up from the first set. All in all a medium DS, some potentials to be explored but no fruition. Still, two sets and Janis.

#37 1969-02-12 2/12/69b Fillmore East: #4:58 (only the end)

oh dropped right into a bad cassette tape during a beautiful bright star already rolling along in sputnik-like arpeggios, the band is playing very sensitively, going up and down in volume right with each other. A quiet setting for it, Jerry takes advantage with very sharp tones, and mellows it out from there. JG going into new areas on the low strings at about 2:40, bringing Weir in with a blues lick, and then he plays with the pickup selector before a quick theme and into verse 2. Crap, wish we could have heard the rest, this one seems like it would have been more interesting than the night before.

(I can completely imagine hearing this (this quality, this much of it) as you walked into somebody’s dorm room and it’s playing on their boombox, and you’re like, that seemed cool but this super slow version of that song St Stephen afterwards is weird, I’m outta here. Sheesh, live tapes.)

#38 1969-02-14 2/14/69 Philadelphia, PA: #19:03 (first bars clipped)

After some monitor complaints, grounding rewiring maybe (tape in and out,) JG comes in with a weird tone and weird dissonant groups of notes, into a brazen response to feedback he climbs for a while settles in patches of intervals and then leaves it open. He’s in a mood. Which gives a chance to focus on the rest of the band, all there (mostly).  Waves on waves of sounds, still a ways till a verse. They’re gonna go through a bunch of variations, we’ve got cascades up and down. Jerry gets into a little low string groove and Bob goes on a rhythm solo, leads to a verse. 

The verse is performed well, they stick with that tripartate form going through the chords in different rhythms (up till now, mostly Phil on this, some Bob) which is also, or has been usually performed on instruments in the jam that follows somewhere*. Here, TC is finally moving a little air somewhere in the back anyway, he’s sort of with the vocal melody first line (“Dark Star crashes…”), then with Phil on his rhythmic statement pushing the beat doing the spy-theme rhythm on line 2 (“Mirror…”). He’s emphasizing the pushed downbeat more now, less weight on the note before it. On the third line (“Searchlight casting”) TC seems illustrate it literally with his little notes casting about, searching. 

Shall we go? They have the crescendos going on still. 

Into the jam, they let it happen, lots of gong and mic feedback for a while starting jam 2. Bob and gong. Cool stuff going on here, JG comes in melodically, immediately switches tones to the dark one and weirds out up and down geometric patterns of notes. (And I’m hardly high listening to this.) He’s got some new melodic/harmonic idea happening. Whole band comes together for beautiful peak at around 9 minutes, JG finally switches tone but is still getting caught up in weird triads before quarter to ten (minutes) here goes the *(here) verse-melody improv with its sections really overly pronounced, PL and BW really strumming on the “Mirror shatters” spy theme rhythm section, with cymbals now, causing JG to take off more in the third line, which makes it a bit weird when the band lands at the “shall we go” suspended chord(-ish) section and he’s still coming down, oh, we’re not at a lull here? not till a whirlpool on the low notes at 11 minutes, JG trying to break out after a while in weird intervals, hops almost directly into a sputnik set of suspensions in arpeggios around 12 minutes. They’re trying to force it to go somewhere else, hold it here till it moves, eventually everybody goes up high and tiny feedbacks and weird microphonic noises start to come out! New Weirdness with everyone! Ooops that’s gone, back to being a guitar again, hi, I’m just a guitar. but look, you’re still in the sputnik, did you know that? We’re not out of it yet? Where are we? 

At 14:45 we get a new rambling theme-like thing coming in strong from JG, but it’s not rooted anywhere and still in the weird tone, he’s breaking it out to the bright star directly at 15:30, but he’s breaking it down with PL on some country blues licks now! What! Bob’s confused, he’s hitting his guitar. Shakers is laughing. Eventually hey, we’re here, about 16:50 with the theme. And verse 2! Glass hand is weird and warbly tonight, I’m getting the horror movie vibe in both verses, with the percussion and sound effects. And Jerry’s Dark Star voice. He shakes it like it’s scary! And we know he likes that. 

Nice lower harmony on “You and I…” but then he tries to go high on “…nightfall…” Some outstanding sections in there this evening, whatever got Jerry interesting in suddenly doing all those wide triad melodic things, and some whole-band-improv that just moves along like a living thing. 

I noticed that one of the Dark Star chart makers has the “Spanish Jam” listed as happening at about 11-13 minutes of this one? Going back… Is that the “Spanish Jam”? That little weird section where Jerry rubs on some low strings and there’s chords from Bobby? Before the sputnik, I dunno.  

#39 1969-02-15 2/15/69 Philadelphia, PA: 22:19

Now we have a pattern of starting the set (second set here) with Dupree’s, then Mountains, into Dark Star. The quick switch from acoustic to electric after an arhythmic instrumental area that sort of tries to hold a song together, he strums off and picks up the electric and within a few licks (or splices) JG plays the intro DS lick over and over until everybody’s on board. 

Again, TC’s got the ROR, Jerry’s trying some of the struck-guitar microphonics right off the bat, before a minute in, and then to the tone-rolled-off sound. These are his points he’s trying to remember from before… a little time exploring a few notes here and there between riffs of the scale. Then an DS theme inversion with a harmonic drone, at 2:30! That’s seeing the song, he’s so thrilled he arpeggiates. And with that said, the theme coalesces with everyone at 3:30. 

We gonna jam more here? Band is moving along at the song pace. Verse 1 comes in with cymbal splashes, I think it’s only Phil and Tom with the spy theme rhythm in line two. (TC crescendos on Shall we go.)

The middle section, starting with Bobby, just playing away. Sort of seems like Phil and Bob are on autopilot a little, but then everybody gets caught up in a little eddy at 6:20, they can hear each other. The band is playing. TC heard in breaks, running scales. Jerry with more variations, strong entries of variations on the theme, he’s hearing a lot tonight. Oh cool, chromatic areas! 7:45 breaks into a whirlpool that contracted chromatically. Out of it into a break with reed stops on organ and bass lead, JG sits out a bit. Bass is stereo? Is it coming from vocal mics, must be. Chromatic wandrings from TC. Then he gives a blues lick a try, he’s not the greatest at solos. JG is obviously having some sound issues or broke a string or something?

Bobby is doing a remarkable job playing ‘a song’. Hey, man, I’m gonna solo too! 10:25 and he’s gonna play lead! TC is going chordal, way arpeggiating and Phil is going out, then bringing them all back to the song, almost!  …Here comes some high E string tuning in the background, I see what happened. 

Yes, he’s back, strong intro after the broken string with the Dark Star vocal theme, again, PL and TC on the line 2 rhythm, line3 breaks it out, we get more cymbal action on the left. 

What’s up dudes, still in the middle of a song? Guitar still isn’t quite in tune, gotta shake it a bit. He plays a bit with the tone backed off. 

By 14-15 minutes, the sort-of-structure of the song is continuing, JG is playing, heading for known bits. I had hoped for a long new thing, based on last night’s but our newness is seeing what the band can pull off without Jerry.

Then we get into a lingering section of pulloffs, in different tones 15:35, finally by the start of the sputnik he’s tuning that new E string, at 16 minutes. And we’re bringing the jam further into the feedbacky microphonic stuff! Sputnik is losing touch with OKB-1.

Oh shit, we’ve gone back in time, the guiro is back! When we exited that sputnik the “regular” jamming has a guy with a fish. Whew, he’s aware of the trauma, so he’s just using it as a woodblock till the endless bright star starting at 19:05 and really just going on. It comes down to a little fascination with a couple notes after a minute, but damn if it doesn’t come back to the theme at 20:20. 

Right, verse 2. I hear the clapping and whistling from the audience after the first line, still presented with the horror movie quavering.

Nice harmonies on the end. And then a funny fall from Phil on the bass into the indeterminate section preceding St Stephen.

In this set I hear it like the music is happening and they are there to play it, sometimes somebody (JG most of the time) has to show them where it’s at when they’re lost, but shit. The Eleven, for example (in this set). The gelatin is setting. I was a little bummed to lose what this night “could have been, if not for broken strings.” Admittedly, when I saw the length of the track and after the preceding night, I was hoping for deepness. What a post-modern complaint. Anyway we got to hear what Bob and Phil sound like jamming. 

#40 1969-02-21   2/21/69 Vallejo, CA: 20:38

Back in California. Where’s Dream Bowl? I had this concert but as Napa not Vallejo, so I bet it’s like on the road between the two. 

A little research: someone has done a whole blog post on it already.

I know where this is (Kelly Rd and Hwy 29) but it’s not there anymore. 

Anyway, this set has GMLS and then Doin’ That Rag, which is not only an absurd song but Phil hams it up at the end and then is yelling “hey!” at somebody while Jerry attempts to start Dark Star. Then he tries again and they start. TC is back on ROR for an intro, I like it still, it says something about the origins of the song. But JG here is just playing sound/feedback until he comes in with the soloing. He is darn good at that mixolydian stuff. By 2 minutes we get a theme statement, the band is all playing to each other, really nice ensemble. They break out a bit in the next section, Bob has some arpeggio ideas, for when Jerry gets into a little subset of notes. 

Variations with bends, like crying stars, after 3 minutes. Into a rhythmic jam, the interplay works well with a guy who plays bass off the beat and a guitar player who plays on beats. Beautiful and weird peak at 5 minutes, almost like glitchy echoes in the melodic playing till it catches up with itself, and then into a whole new modal area afterwards! Some horrible feedback from (sounds like) cymbal mics while JG responds with wailing notes. Still working the sound out for the percussion. 

Into the melody, TC using organ stops with 5ths, weird… And verse at 7:35. Strong vocals! Phil is sorta with TC on the Searchlight running around. Shall we go goes on very attentively, very orchestrated.

And into the next section TC running trills. JG trying out new notes and new rhythms. Really strong rhythmic jam, lots from Bobby in here. At ten minutes we are entering a new jazzy unknown, who wants to define the section? It’s evolving toward sputnik, but falls out of it, I suspect it’s Jerry not wanting to go there yet. So it dies out and into a slight star theme with JG stretching out on some runs. 

Theme statement at 13:20 with the rhythmic accompaniments per line, but JG is playing sort of rhythmically so it never gets into the “shall we go” A sus chord but instead almost directly goes into the Sputnik. Getting caught at the tops of the arpeggios, building and Bob takes it and goes into the chord progression! Jerry is like, man I’m stepping on the fucked-up pedal! and it’s some out there transdimensional version, drums kick in, and then it starts going atonal and polytonal and all falls apart! Amazing! They won’t play the song without Jerry all the way there. So he rolls it back in to a bit of the theme. 

Into a new “growing” theme leading into a real (and real short) bright star. 

Hey I think I know where we are, I hear the verse coming. 

Beautiful ornate verse 2. With full harmonies on the latter part. It’s so baroque with the arrangement for the verse and then the harmonies at the end. Bubblegum-pop baroque, I mean, I guess you can sort of hear it in the original studio takes from a year and half earlier, how it could have gone.

And off into St Stephen, y’all. 

#41 2/22/69 Vallejo, CA: 22:17 

Nice intro from Mountains of the Moon, and… the ROR and the fish are in the vibe! Ah yes, concurrent feedback with micing percussion, I think it’s a large shaker of some sort. The band is jamming along as the sound sorts out the mic and feedback issues, JG says: stretchy notes mean deal with this sound issue before I continue. 

He even stretches way down and out at 2 minutes, before the whole group quickly picks it back up into the Dark star arena. At 3:10 a nice new little riff intro to the next section, quickly getting caught up in sets of harmonies against the pedal tones. Into the theme at 4:40 after some arpregiating, but then into a quieter area where we can almost hear Tom. 

Some very low-key jamming, swinging, though. A few abstract melody fragments surface. And then the verse.

Everybody is honing their sections for the song portion of the piece, it’s a funny transition from the improv to the orchestrated, and back again.

After the song portion, some new arpeggios from Jerry and a clear tone leading into the jam section. He goes chromatic a bit with some blue notes, getting into some tighter areas before breaking into the theme at 10 minutes. He is really rolling with it though, and it never comes back. JG with some lovely rolling licks upwards, it’s all heading upwards for a while. He’s using licks and chord outlines, he seems to have good volume with the amp to control his tone, Phil seems to be having some distortion issues keeping up. 

And island at about 13 minutes leads into the harmonics pond, it’s close to the bridge. That suspended chord is the sputnik and leads us there, and it’s a long one, a few waves, Bob left gonging his guitar for a while. As it dies out, sounds like Phil is leading it to new tonal areas while JG is on the microphonic sounds. Both drummers are in here, it’s a free for all! We’re going outside, or…? No, Jerry is going to bring it back to Dark Star at 17 minutes, more jam! we’re going to head furthur upwards to a Bright Star, or…? Almost got a thematic statement, but it broke down at its height into weirdness, and the refrain area  afterwards has some questioning directions still. 

Nonetheless, verse 2 comes in with the wavery voice. All good until line 3 where Phil seems to get lost!

That sort of makes the madrigal section a bit wonky, but to go even further, they don’t go into St Stephen, but instead into Cryptical Envelopment! (or at least this tape does.)

#42  2/27/69 Fillmore West, SF: 23:05 – Live Dead; Fillmore West 1969 Complete Recordings    

Lots of equipment issues on stage in the first set, hopefully all taken care of. However, Weir claimed in the first set sign-off that in the second set, they’d bring on the monkeys. So…

It’s the acoustic mini-set intro, so we get a jam in between “Mountains of the Moon” and the beginning of Dark Star proper. A little acoustic jam, the drummers are both sitting in their seats, but (I think) only Mickey makes any noise (I occasionally hear sounds in the left side, but nothing definitive!) JG Switches to electric guitar which is where the track divide is, he’s using the darker tone, fairly quietly as Bobby strums his suspensions, Phil takes the helm at a minute in and plays the intro riff. But JG has to tune a bit so it takes him a while to come in so BW strums up a groove. When Jerry comes in he does so with a little tattoo fanfare run before he settles in… and then starts his take off, doesn’t get caught up in a set of notes till almost 3 minutes. Some play with the volume knob, quickly out of that and we’re already in full band improv territory, they’re with it. Bob and Jerry both switch to more biting tones at 4 minutes, and stab at it until it sputniks a bit making a short visit to Elysium before out into the thematic variations, into a strong theme statement at 5 minutes.

They go on with it for a while, even Jerry still comes back to the theme, he’s getting into the rhythm of it. He plays with the second half’s upbeat a bit before coming in with the verse. It’s pretty fast (relative to other versions) everybody plays the verse like it’s performing a pop song, the parts are so knit now. All the individual variation and coloration is totally worked out now, all the parts executed. The singing is especially strong this evening (maybe that’s a reason for choosing it for Live/Dead). They have the three lines of the verse all arranged now, different rhythms per line, TC illustrating the Searchlight Casting, etc. He’s big on the crescendos on “Shall we go…” They don’t do vocals on this first chorus or break or whatever. They only do them on part 2, why?

…and into part 2, (so to speak.) After a while TC goes a rambling while Jerry starts to go way out, the gongs on the metal and open strings and then at 8 minutes he bursts forth and they go through the verse-form right off the bat with super strong playing on everybody’s part, so much so that by the third line, it’s way beyond their practiced forms that they use as way markers, we’re into new territory again, some new licks by Jerry and then we quiet down for a new mellow area. Where are we going to take this! He’s latching onto a few melodic areas, the falling star leading into … no, bringing it back down again. 

At 10 1/2 JG is quiet and testing the sound in the space with his guitar and feedback, but it’s developing into a sputnik as an e string is being tuned. Lovely roller rink florish from the organ at the wave’s dip into a new section with Jerry playing some weirdass sounds that also seem to bring some drummers into the mix into a tranporstative segment that fades. But when he comes back in they begin an earnest jam that seems like we can expect some Dark Star theme, after waves of Jerry or Tom, they calm down  What now? I gotta bit, it goes into a new section with drums now, and leads into a strong Dark Star theme with the drums and Phil working out the rhythms for line 2  and 3, ha! Previously Phil had control over this stuff!

Jerry in softly then to the bright tone for a new variant of the theme that can probably be turned around into the theme proper. Yup, there we go. 

A jaunty intro riff area leading into the lull before Verse 2 !

The scary verse isn’t as scary tonight, it’s delivered well again, though I feel like the well rehearsed backing vocals are lackluster this evening. And nothing super provocative on the outro though there’s some feedback before the start of St Stephen proper. This is an amazing Dark Star, incredibly creative and strong, I can see why it made it onto the Live/Dead album! At some point I’ll explain my listening history, but while I had “heard it around”, I had really only listened to this version a few times, it’s not imbedded like it is for most people (heads) I’d guess. 

#43  2/28/69 Fillmore West: 19:50 – Fillmore West 1969 Complete Recordings   

Really hot Other One/Cryptical before this, they are obviously ready to play. And we have the best recordings and mixes yet, ya know.

Subtle and super quick intro, the ROR signifies, Jerry is barely there while the Phil and Bob groove happens, Jerry’s thinking about it. He has to sum it all up, where are we now? I mean, after yesterday…

The tone rolled off, but still overdriven, then he goes to a clearer tone but seems to find something in this new tone that says “this note: G” for awhile. At 2:40 he has a nice mode he’s working with, Bobby even does a I-IV-I chord change. TC seems to be in a weird groove in this Star, he starts playing a rhythmic upwards arpeggio that ends up like the “Charge!” fanfare from the organist at a baseball game. The themes are put through the new mode before we drop into the theme proper at a quarter to 4 minutes. Hi, we’re playing Dark Star, hmm. I’m going to sing it now too!

Gongs on the verse. Line two’s rhythm is subdued, with TC really loud and playing the chords backwards or something, G to F# in the upper register… Then he’s off searchlighting (Charge!), and the gongs, cymbals do the crescendos. 

JG comes in with the Bells Tolling, it goes into a groove, though, this is a new thing to the lineage of jams at this point in the song, Bob’s really jamming while Jerry goes percussive. TC had a little riff going on, but he didn’t settle on it. Jerry comes in really brightly, but then the music calms down a lot at 6:30, really a lot of space per note, Jerry’s going to milk some feedback off each resonant note. This is also new, musically, and he goes off-scale while TC tries out new types of chords. But then! Into a bright star area that builds to the real star at 8:30. 

Other side of that wave, we move through some new rhythm areas, dyads in the melody. Then the song theme variations, very subtle on Phil’s part this evening, he’s maybe high. Jerry takes it out on part three of the ‘form’ that starts about halfway through the nine minute mark. Bobby drops out. Only shakers on percussion. I love the sort-of-beatnik vibe of bass, shakers and Jerry Garcia. Very Matrix. Bob’s back at 10:50 with a weird suspended chord and some beautiful feedback twisty notes and then JG goes in to the the arpeggios that indicate the Sputnik satellite.

…This goes on for a while here and then at an octave above signaling the backside of the wave, but Jerry goes into a chordal feedback. Oddly his feedback is a rougher response, not the beautiful wisps that Bobby was doing. Phil goes off on it. Hey man, we’ve been out there, on the road, we’ve seen some shit… uh. It all dies out, everybody so high they stare slack jawed at the light show. Bob’s gonna save it man, I got a groove. We have a drummer. Oh wait, I’m out of phase or some shit, click, sounds like a guitar again. Wandering keys. Phil jams away, but he’s heading toward Dark Star central, just a little too quickly. Have you been watching that Airplane? We are gonna have to cool off if you want verse 2, dudes. Jerry comes back in at 15 minutes, what, lighting a cigarette? Tone rolled off, he’s like, I’m a jazz cat. I’m soloing! Tone’s rolled off, nice and cool. Oh yeah, Dark Star. 

Everybody drops back to listen a bit. Jerry and drums.

He catches himself up like a cat with a lint ball, batting around a few notes, then further afield. He comes in with a whole new major key thing at 16:40 that you know Phil gets, it’s leading then right back to the them with the drums  (right channel? Mickey, right? It’s sorta like Dark Star is his hand percussion special thing, but mix is as we see the stage or what?) to the verse theme structure jam. Nice one! Line two has the strong rhythms and everybody takes off on the searchlight’s tail.

Verse 2. Gongs on the left … Bill? Though it seems when there have been drum sets in Dark Star it’s probably Mickey. In pics I see that Bill is usually up stage middle right with Pigpen up stage right on organ, while Mickey is usually stage left, or all this opposite from the audience perspective. I am assuming that Bear was mixing stereo as audience perspective, i.e. Mickey is seen on the right, so his drums are more right, etc. )

All the vocals are there. Nice Phil riffing on the third verse line (Grayfolders take note… I heard the “verse” on shuffle out walking the other day…) The outro has mostly Phil this evening, where were we going? Oh yeah, that’d be that old St Stephen thing.

Ok man, this is my favorite of the run, yesterday’s included. Wow, though the quality may be playing a part. The multi track mixdown is fine, we get to hear everybody. Though I’m confused a bit on stereo placement, it sound like the field is onstage, Mickey left, Bobby left, Billy more right, Jerry more right? Is this correct? Like looking out at the audience. 

#44  3/1/69 Fillmore West: 23:01 – Fillmore West 1969 Complete Recordings  81bpm!

Though it’s coming from Mountains, after clapping, full break, it’s the classic opening, directly in with the riff, and then the strummy chords and Phil wandering around, and that ol’ ROR. (Lotta level issues with Tom and the organ on Mountains.) Even the fish is back. Jerry’s playing a few harmonics only. Bobby is loud. 

Lead guitar comes in softly with the rolled-off tone, it’s a pretty swingin’ but mellow vibe. Essentially jG and PL soloing while we have a little shaker for the pulse. But the shaker backs off too in the mix, regardless it builds to an almost thematic bright starry bit at 2 minutes, but it backs off. We hear some Tom C reedy organ noodles, but breaking apart into little phrases, it’s more interesting than his previous stuff, he’s almost actually jamming with the other guys…

A nice quiet area goes on for a while and develops into the Dark Star theme from which Jerry emerges into a modal area, new tone, sort of medium-dark, Phil matching his rhythms into a little rough patch of only two notes. A little funky rhythmic stuff. They bring it back up and down a few times, some riffs and then into the theme on bass while TC does a crescendo and sweeps the keys, he’s climbing a bit, JG is coming up too. but they bring it back down again at 7 minutes instead of taking it into the verse. Shit dudes, some amazing music going on here. I think Jerry might have to think about it a bit, where are we? Oh yeah, we’re still on our way to verse 1, so he begins that trajectory, the verse comes in at about 7:45. It’s slightly subdued, but with its sectional variations, just not super strongly stated with the changing rhythms. Jerry sounds a bit warbly on the verse lines.

And back to the intro riff. Into part 2. 

(I already know this is the longest so far.)

They start out, but it isn’t going into a jam proper, it’s going into a sound bath. Harmonics, open notes, mallets on cymbals, until after about a minute or so, TC starts a scalar run, which builds a bit with everybody and then then come back down and it’s right into a cruising jam section. A plateau at 10 minutes, TC’s arpeggios give way to Jerry with the swing leads. They’re all jamming and they can hear each other, they come through a new rhythmic chordal section at 11 minutes, building it up till Jerry gets to the A at the top to start a theme jam. Oh wait, thought that was going to go through the tripartate verse form, but it didn’t make it really, went into low-end sputnik, just built to its own scuzzy peak and then into a weird back off where JG goes all chromatic and volume swells notes, Phil follows with the chromaticism, then it dies out and TC states some scale bits and riffs out. 

…aha, drums have snuck in with some pseudo-walking bass bits, gonna build this jam up. loud organ bits, new tone. Then suddenly, halfway through the 15 minute mark, Jerry comes in with the verse theme, they go through the form, but take off at the line three into a high powered jam for a bit, it comes down again in a short while and we’re gonna start building a satellite. I can hear JG starting it up on the arpeggiated suspended chord, TC whirling up and down, they bring it up and back down in volume, JG sticking with a little riff bit till he’s all by himself, and we get a weird sweep from TC, JG comes back in with the weird microphonics small insect noises, Phil is hitting some riffy notes and harmonics, Bob is moving in that direction… a little after 19 minutes there’s a note again and the we get more notes and we know it’s going to eventually get to the theme at almost 20 minutes. Nice thematic jam to the bright star. And then some road is taken to the verse, right? Some weird little statements beforehand, and then a sort of abrupt shift in tempo as Phil adjusts to the intro of the verse. 

Easy singing from Jerry, no horror movie warble. They have the full chorus for the last lines, and then TC starts the weird organ drone even before the St Stephen intro chords. Also a really soft and delicate intro to St Stephen, by the way. Sort of a softer Dark Star overall, I’d say, though with some gorgeous playing. A lot of new stuff but not a really “driven” performance, very relaxed and overall a bit slower, (especially for a Saturday night) but it’s nice! Groovy, even. Interesting combination of that relaxedness versus the always-exploratory nature. 

It must have been such a luxury to be home and to leave your gear on stage, stumble in for the next day’s adventure. 

Personal note here, while I am actually probably the only person who likes these cheesy Vox/Farfisa organ tones, I’m not that into what TC plays do far. As much as Pigpen ‘wasn’t a keyboardist’ or whatever, his playing was cool, and on Dark Star, that Repeating Organ Riff was cool and weird. I hear TC coming into the groove with the band a bit here, where there are sections where it’s like he’s interacting with the band in short statements tossed back and forth, but overall his choices are sort of basic, scales or arpeggiated chords that still seem to lie outside the music somehow. He’s an oddball addition to the various musical talents of the ensemble, that’s for sure. 

#45   3/2/69 Fillmore West: 20:03 – Fillmore West 1969 Complete Recordings

Dark Star back to the beginning, it’s the opening number. Hi, we’re laying this on you.

 This initially seems like a more exciting and upbeat take, on the Sunday show. (It is a tiny bit faster.)

We’re laying this on you means that between the last time you heard Dark Star open a set and this time, it’s grown a bit. Jerry plays the riff but once and then begins tapping his guitar for resonances while everybody else strives to play the song. 

It’s Sunday, I’m guessing they’re just stoned. Takes a little to settle, Jerry comes in eventually, with a bright tone playing sparsely and picking quietly. TC has a reedy sound, Bobby’s guitar actually sounds really good this evening, round and not overly distorted. By about 2 minutes we get some interesting statements, but then he settles on a riff while TC does a big swell, a key sweep to try to initiate a thematic statement, but JG follows slowly upwards with a bright tone, a crying stretch eddy at the top, and then it goes into a sputnik area, what the? Where the when are we? And then JG is changing the mode… oh yeah, but it’s gonna come down into a quiet riffy area with little eddies on the lower notes. 

Quarter to 5 minutes, Jerry takes off with a leading scale up to the bright star type of statement, finally the theme at 5:20 and the first verse.

Gongs? Or cymbals and mallets on the verse.  The spy theme rhythm is a bit subdued on line 2. Sort of going-through-the-motions verse, actually, guys…!

Into the sea of space. Phil is up and about, he seems to be in stereo, didn’t realize they had this going this early. Or is it bleed from the vocal mics? We’re moving into the bells tolling hitting the guitar… a jazzy lead intro at 7:45. TC changes tone for when he comes on, more flute and lower stops. Bobby and Phil are having a rhythmic blast while the pulse is just the shaker. Until weirdly a lull at 8:50. TC comes in after with some nice whirlwind rolling around, but it flowers and fades. JG backs off. The band backs off. Sparse voids between stars. JG is focusing in on something, a leading tone to a note, then a modal riff, and into the the jam, boys. Phil’s going places. They’re all going places, actually, but it’s sort of in and out as for the togetherness. They finally come together on a tension spot at 11:30, drums have definitely switched to trap set. (Is this Mickey? Or is he gongs/cymbals on the other side?) in a minute we’re going sputnik with drums. TC going wild! Big fast arpeggios build till he hits and end note… but JG’s not there. He’s still in the nebula, as we leave it, and he’s suggesting a new rhythm! Drums drop out trying to figure it out. Good thing he’s loud!

They hit the verse sequence in a quick jam, but JG is all in the insect weirdness tone world instead! So by the end of it Phil goes outside. He’s suggesting something else, a descending sequence. (15’) 

Jerry never comes out into ‘normal’ playing until a new theme-riff at 16’ he’s heading upwards, but brings it back down before a Dark Star theme statement at almost 17’, with the verse sequence in the rhythm section, we can really hear Bobby’s got a cool hammer on lick for it now, line three going into a sparse a quiet intro theme jam. Wait, it’s going into the bright star at 18 minutes! Brought down now, we’re going to get verse 2 at ~19’.

Nice rendition of verse 2, nice with Bobby’s good amp sound here too, and more cymbals and mallets. Very ornate and beautiful tones from all on the outro and intro to St Stephen. I think the strict ensemble playing of the verse 2 and chorus, and outro is sort of grounding, like we’ve come back to the pier.

Ok, maybe this one was my favorite. 

#46 3/15/69 SF Hilton: 20:30  

Set and setting, as they say. The Hilton Hotel in San Francisco is really trippy from the inside, it’s an open atrium pyramid. I never checked out the Ballroom area, but I’ve eaten there. And ridden around in the glass elevators. 

Coming out of GMLS. Intro hint from J, then they start for real and it’s very stately, like the the original version of the song…ROR, then none as TC stretches the moment with Bob … Jerry comes in and the Repeating Organ Riff comes back.  Jerry stretching upwards in a dark tone early on. Sort of amazing how he can switch from blues to this sort of previously unknown. They sound like they’re feeling it, the guiro is in so it’s auto-beatnik. Keeps the mood for a while.

Now, this is a weird gig too, right? Black and White Ball at the Hilton Hotel, Bob’s mom was the in. 

Gorgeous band togetherness (mix is very centered, like all guitars middle, drummers L-R) through the first peak and trough, TC organ sweep at 3.5m and back to another adventure toward the theme. I like the way TC is integrating now, even with his ballpark organ stuff. Levels are better. He’s got a thing he’s developing, I guess, this upward flourish. Again into the flourish to a little jam with Phil, but we’re gonna head on to the verse in a bit.  JG comes in with the theme, heading to the verse.

Verse 1 is played to form, Jerry with warbly horror movie voice on some of it already. Everybody on the spy theme rhythm on line 2, everybody searching for faults in the clouds. TC still swells the reverse way through. 

TC goes with his up thing. the rhythm intensifies. JG starts the bell tolling. Fuck, ok, if I were a debutante at a ball and the punch had been spiked… When Jerry enters, he’s screaming it outside, and then brings it down to some raw end at 8:45 with a minor second leading tone. But we’re jamming, both drummers, Bill is playing trapset, right? (left, I mean, is that correct?)

By 10 we’re hard at it, but suddenly there’s a textural change to a wide arpeggio. 

I’m realizing by looking at the waveform on that you can see each wave, and you can time them and I bet somebody has done all that before, haven’t they? Or can somebody train an AI? That chart shit is a data set that seems conquerable by smart Deadheads. I think I’m out after one!

…anyway, 3rd wave of the jam is funky and somebody switches to hitting a block with a stick as if that helped. Oh lord, it’s a close mic’ed guiro. 

Sputnik proper 13 minutes, like—we knew this part was going to happen. Regardless, it’s nice with the wandering bass and Bob really jams out. Man the weird specialty of mic’ing the weird hand sound is probably tedious, but to great effect this evening. After a contact mic style noise jam, JG goes directly into insect weirdness at 15. 

Ok, see, the reason that I’m writing this at all probably comes down to a series of re-sparked interest in GD maybe 15 years ago, from directions that are tangential in multiple ways, one of them being electronic and sound/noise based music. While listening to this part of the percussion attempts, I thought, oh, contact mics, man, they’ve been around for years. Somehow I don’t take Bear for a guy not acquainted with WW I & II audio history, and yet they struggled for the acoustic mic’in of these things (ok, it sounds better, but the feedback issues in this sitch vs audience satisfaction, come on.)

They build it up to a really quiet jam that has some upward momentum, but I can’t hear Tom very well on this, I think he’s been sacrificed to the mic’ed percussion. Cowbell, in fact. 

Sort of an abrupt song form statement at 17 min, but everybody drops in immediately and plays immaculate renditions of the lyrical versions, JG jams it up for line 2,   in a long singing line, but they all wander on line 3, convening a little later to go get that Bright Star. 

They groove out a bit. Into the verse 2: Mirror Shatters, kids! Full on warble for the first couple line— or is this a tape speed problem? It seems like it’s almost a half step out. He’s enunciating super clearly, I’m looking at you all you dancing young adults: mirror shatters. Maybe they’re all heavily tripping at a debutante ball, who knows? Wow, man, psychedelic lyrics from the dude with the beard, Veronica. Or the punch is spiked and by the time the band starts, well. Sounds like maybe not enough vocal mics and they are shared.  Are there pics of this one? I’d guess they’re private.

Lots of reverb at  the start of the outro on Jerry’s amp! Ha, secret sauce*. He steps on the switch. Into St Stephen. And the ornate William Tell, like a pop concert, Bob is looking good, baby. Who is his mom setting him up with? Turn on your love light, that’s pretty raw for this crowd!

*Twin Reverbs are loud aF, and piercing. Good thing a guitar has those dang knobs! Big reverb tank, sends that signal down and back like an echo. 

#47 3/22/69 Pasadena, CA: 14:47

Quick start, riff, ROR, little playing around the mode, some tuning, 

Jerry is crossing the stereo spectrum, is he with 2 channels or bleed from other open mics? (Listening a little more in the concert it sounds like bleed from Bill’s drum mics.) First wave is under 2 minutes, the second goes right to the verse intro immediately. It’s gonna be a quick one this evening, gents.

Warbles in the first verse, it’s already scary, but it seems to mellow a bit by the transitive nightfall. Some old blog that’s no longer hosted (still there on the Wayback machine,) the guy was saying that his understanding was that this entire jam between verses was an audio description of  “the transitive nightfall of diamonds.” 

Ok, then!

The jams contain a bunch of abrupt entrances and melodic statements, and both drums seem a obvious way to handle that. All drums in early right as Jerry does a startling Theme at 6:00, then trapsets, Bill gets onstage, and so we have a very rhythmic pounding jam now, he’s got a low tom thing going on..

They’re on after Jethro Tull. I wonder if they watched each other? Lots of melodic flourishes. Well, I’d bet Martin Barre was watching. Arpeggios and fast flourishes all around. TC finally does some downward ones.

A cool intro to the song form with rolled off nasal tone I’m guessing lead pickup with the tone rolled off, transits to a bright tone when he rolls it on

An immediate tolling Bells after the initial wave of jam 2, bringing up a rhythm jam! These guys are hyped at this show, quick set in between and off.

These sections really delineated, they’re sort of rushing through the possible forms. Now we start sputnik, next, heh, TC does his fanfare and JG goes for insect weirdness.

After this they do the longest strongest bright star ever! Led into again by Jerry suddenly stating the themes, he’s leading this song quickly through sections this evening but then lingering on sections. How do you get to a verse from there! Well, Bobby knows, it seems, and we’re back into the song.

Followed by 5 minutes of St Stephen and 4 of the Eleven, rest of the set is Lovelight. That’s all that’s captured, or short set… Let’s get this show done and head back to Hollywood to jam at Thee Experience. Leaving whoever was playing with Butterfield in ’69?

#48  3/28/69 Modesto, CA: 22:45 (Formerly mislabeled “Merced 3/27/69”.) “the little (feedbacky) DarkStar that could” — bzfgt

Nice fill-in gig between LA and Las Vegas (wait, shouldn’t that be Barstow? Or somewhere within the week?), GMLS opens with lots of harp from Pigpen, he must have “rested up” during the LA experience. He’s on at the start of the show, to suck those kids in, make ‘em think it’s a blues band, then

Anyway. Dark Star is next, it’s a long one at 23 minutes. Some false starts beforehand though, testing mics, etc. “How ‘bout these monitors, Bear?” Trying to avoid electronic Gnat?

Which Jerry demonstrates but ringing out some resonant freqs in the stage. Jazzy intro that I think signals that some exploration will happen. Going low for a while, feeling it out. 

Into some weird areas, but out into the main theme… for a second. They get there by 5 min, then to a static spot, but I think we’re verseward.

Which verse? Oh yeah, Verse 1 comes in eventually.

Nicely done. Pigpen doesn’t sing on this, so he’s off? It’s total bait’n’switch. Risky unless they delayed start time until they had dosed the crowd.

Bobby leads it into the nightfall. The episode. A distant bell from the bass but its melodic signal is muffled. A note emerges at 8.5, it’s searing with sound, organ tinsel falls off it in arpeggios, somebody is practicing feedback.  

Cool buildups, and continued referral to the “bell” rhythm long notes from different parts. No drums, though, or maybe is Pigpen on congas off mic? Man how beatnik, that would be cool. I love those Dark Stars. 

I hear a hand percussion on the left too, at 11 minutes. Sound people, I swear. 

There’s a lot of cool new riffs, at 13 minutes, they are doing a counterpoint arpeggio thing, mirror… shatters and comes back to a lull that starts the sputnik A-Suspended stuff. This goes on til about 16 minutes, when it suddenly dies and JG goes into the insect tone. He’s tapping the bridge I think?

Bright Star emerges at 17 minutes. Not ready for another verse when this dies, they wander around (musically) and probably look at one another. There’s a trapset now. Makes Jerry do a flat 3 country lick, they rock so hard. 

Into the theme at 18:20, and rockin’ it. And an even Brighter Star, they are really wanting to be here tonight, how bright it is! 

The intro riff into verse 2 this time. Gotta wait a bit, though. Verse 2 at 21:30. A warbly “glass.” 

A loud mic connect. Yeah, I only hear Jerry’s mic, the others a bit in the background.

And the song ends. There is no jam after verse 2. 

Excellent version. Very inspired. 

#49  3/29/69 Las Vegas, NV: 21:01

Ice rink! Yeah, an ice rink in Las Vegas. I don’t hear the hall much in the recording. Doin’ that rag, but no (recorded) Mountains, no acoustic mics? 

Dark Star: “We wrote it this morning” Especially for the Ice Palace in Vegas, he says.

Classic tight intro to a jazzy guiro-fueled feel, with brief ROR, and immediate feedback play. (I blame Jorma.) JG goes through several tonal areas. They’re going for a long jam pre-verse. Great long builds, the 4-5 minute area is a stunning energetic whirlpool, which winds down to the theme, and a little pre-play at low levels. Bill is in on cymbals. Into the verse at 5:50, now pretty set form-wise but a mellow playing of it. 

Nice upward counterpoint on the downward “Diamonds”. 

Playful light feel into this section, TC does the big upward thing, Bobby’s hammering on. JG comes in with the bells and scrapes, but when the other guys die down, he comes in on a new themelet with a very round tone. He goes off with Phil, sounds like BW is off to pee. It’s a pretty spacey but swinging Jerry and Phil jam, then they land on some weird notes when BW comes back. He’s trying some odd tones and feedback stuff. JG backs off his tone knob but they’re in the swinging groove, trapsets on ride cymbals and all. But before 11 min, some tom toms! Instead of going for the all out jam, it backs off and starts a low sputnik. TC doing waves up and down. He always ends too soon! Sputnik with sidestick tonight. before 13 a weird minimalist section has come about, sparse notes, then feedback and sound, that goes to the insect weirdness sound. How does he do this? Ok, the guiro starts guiro’ing with it, it’s pretty ffing weird. Bob and Phil form a chord progression. JG comes in like he’s gonna lead them to a brighter star, but there’s still elements of the A Sus. 

At 15.5 a sudden statement of the song intro theme. The fucking guiro. To have suggested micing Pigpen’s congas instead…

To the main song form theme, strongly fleshed out in and then exploring on the third line, heading to the star. Takes a long way around, gotta visit some more spots first. But we get to a high end bright statement, which is then taking us home to verse two in its own sweet time. JG is purposely stating the theme to slow the tempo, the players eventually get with him. 

v2 about 19:50. Modest percussion, all parts there, some interesting wandering on “Lady in Velvet.” All vocals, madrigal and ornate lead in to St Stephen. 

#50 4/4/69 Avalon Ballroom, SF: 20:03

Lovelight before, so a little fiddling and then the stark proper intro. Ooh, tuning, guys… TC has an interesting reedy organ sound, sort of ROR-ing around. It all sounds a bit disparate, everybody is sort of going their own way in this intro jam section. JG has his tone rolled off, he’s trying to find some interesting arrangements of notes for his statements, gets into some odd modal areas. Settles down on a honk sound. I’m a goose, guys. 

Ok, by 3 minutes he’s in a different register and there’s a drum set playing, what is happening with this Star! Still, despite the drums, nobody seems to be paying attention to each other, Jerry tries to play a Dark Star riff, but it all dies off. So Phil starts it up again. This is a weird improv, I would have thought they’d be doing some sort of more cozy stuff on home turf at the Avalon after some SoCal gigs, but it is herky-jerky, up and down all the way to the verse. Loud rolling cymbals/gongs (is it a gong?) taking over the mix on the verse. Weird percussion punctuations too.

Even going into the second jam area, it’s feeling odd. This acid is making me clench my jaw. Cymbal overload! Finally at 7.5min, Jerry is ready to play lead guitar, right? But, no, he’s still going in and out of the mode and it’s very up and down. TC still trying his weird fanfares. Jerry settles into an eddy with some chromatic pull-offs. Bill wants to jam, he’s ready to play some damn music, isn’t he? We’re getting some good tidbits, but the waves are all choppy and short with big lulls in between. Very unlike other Dark Stars. Jerry is really pulling the mode around to chromatic oddities this evening. Some interesting stuff developing in the quiet places, but again, it seems unfocused. I think Bob even drops out for periods. Maybe they’re trying to follow Jerry but he’s in an even weirder place than usual and it’s not working well. 

Almost a percussion jam that leads him to start the Sputnik, whereupon most of the people seem to get an idea where they can fit in, but TC is wildly flailing up and down the keys, the drums are bashing away, Mickey is playing that annoying squeaky percussion thing. JG’s tempo is going up and down as he continues the Sputnik area for a long time with Bill Phill jams it out. A stop, and immediate switch to the insect weirdness, very outside, nonrhythmic percussion brings on a noise jam! We are indeed in outer space! I believe the odd feelings have brought about a new type of improvisation in this part! It’s outside, free improv! Oh boy, they got here, I daresay this may be the first Dark Star with atonal/free areas here? For a short period, and then as suddenly as it started, JG starts the theme and they fall in with a loose thematic jam. Building to a sort of repetitive Bright Star, and then that will get them back to verse 2. With too much cymbal/gong again. Halfhearted backing vocals for the madrigal, and they head woefully off toward St Stephen.

Definitely a weird one, not one of my faves, but with all that chromaticism and choppy ups and downs, they did briefly exit normal musical space for the void for a minute! That’s another step forward, in a series of steps.

#51 4/5/69 Avalon Ballroom: 17:27

Opening the first set with Dupree’s and Mountains of the Moon, into this Dark Star. Same sort of mix as the night before, loud drums from the board, hard right and left.

Jerry has switched to electric in the end of Mountains, but it takes a lot of muddling about with the intro riff before Dark Star gets on its feet. Jerry is set on his tone-rolled-off sound, he’s trying it in different registers. They sound a bit more together this evening than last, or at least Jerry is staying within the modal notes more, so everybody else is too. (Side note: I wonder if his adherence to mode or structure really has the effect on the other players so much that, like the previous night, when he’s more free with his scales, they get either confused or feel the license to break out more?) He finds his chromatic roll offs again, but it’s all seeming to fit within the Dark Star world more. Shakers, or guiro I guess, are keeping it real, no Bill on the drumset for this pre-verse jam anyway. A few odd little eddies in the stream, but they get to the thematic area at about 3:30, heading toward the first verse by 4min.

The cymbal and mallets accompaniment is more subdued, which is good (int this mix) because we can hear some interesting wandering on the Searchlight casting about. And they play the classic middle jam intro with the descending guitar against the bass, sort of a regrouping after the previous night… 

The tolling bell is coming. 

Jerry breaks out with some strong lead tones and some overreached high notes, into a crying bend, “crying star”. Having stated that, he’s exploring more, everybody plugging along in this medium tempo. Bill slowly sneaks in to the jam… it’s ebbing and flowing. Sounds like Bob has found his own ringing bell while JG, Phil and Bill start climbing a wave, which comes down the backside into staccato arpeggio and tom toms, into several little eddies of notes…. Sounds like TC wants to lead into Sputnik, or he’s anticipating JG going there next. Phil is still jamming away at it, JG goes into the higher register and it gets delicate. Phil is still walking all over the place till he finds a riff that allows a little build up. Oh, that guiro comes in…

Jerry is finding some feedbacky insect tones, which seems to cast doubt on everybody else and they stop or sparse out. The song almost disappears by 12.5 min. Jerry is almost alone with a guiro almost keeping time. TC makes some stabs at chords. It’s definitely a more static space section, but I can hear some intimations of the theme. JG gets up in register enough to start a proto-Bright Star, which builds to the real thing, with both drummers on trap sets. As this wave crests, they are heading to verse 2. 

Nice vocal delivery, Jerry really sticking the high notes and only warbling on the low slides. All vocals are very effectively presented for the verse 2 last lines, the outro instrumental has Jerry up and down on the St Stephen intro, but they get there. 

Note that the Avalon run continues the next day, but no Dark Star on 4/6. Then they’re out on tour again, across the country!

#52 4/11/69 Tucson, AZ: 19:59

2600 people! This was probably a watershed moment for psychedelia in Tucson, at the University of Arizona, there are some nice reviews posted:

I have a personal association with UofA also, because my mom took a year’s sabbatical job there in 1974, when I was 11, and walking up and down 4th Ave after school poking into the record stores, those clerks changed my listening and entertainment habits immensely! (Psst, kid, ever heard Alice Cooper? Led Zeppelin?) I remember the look of this auditorium, having gone to a Science Fiction film festival there over a weekend as well! (First viewing of “Un Chien Andalou,” as an opening short film, for example. Shit. I came back to NorCal as a changed kid.)

These tapes are not great, Dark Star is low and noisy, but overall it’s very competent, sort of a “normal” version of the track going through the sections. (The Barbarella version cleaned up but lower overall volume may be easier listening.) “Normal”, with the exception of hearing The Main Ten in there… sure, is there anything between 4/6 and 4/11 or were they just practicing, getting ready to go out on the road? 

So Dark Star starts a set! That sets a tone. And it’s 20 min long. I’m loving this despite the noise. Classic start and some wandering. toward and from thematic stuff. Nice jam until TC whips out his slide and the wave crests, onto the next in brighter areas. No real eddies, it’s been climbing from theme to theme, now we’re approaching the verse. 

Song form, I can’t hear much casting about, nice performance, great vocals from Jerry only. 

The TN (Transitive Nightfall). Bell coming, cymbals. Nasal rolled off tone, breaking high. Eventually an eddy in the continuous current of the music, Jerry continuous counterpoint with Phil, the drums come in, it sounds like both drummers. A formal song form section comes in, but the spy theme line two is gone already, three is out already, onward. 

Really nice play going on and here comes that main ten theme, even JG gets on board, but he takes off and they get out of that territory. What a great way to telegraph a song to an audience. 

It dies down to a tenuous section, it could go full on noise or stay modal. Oh he’s going Sputnik. TC goes wild up and down. Guiros are back! But I think Bill on drumset still. Really nice in tune sputnik up and down developing new rhythmic stuff. into weird feedback, bass solo? The insect. Somebody yells, “Bob!”  It boleros to a Dark Star song form theme with all sections, line 3 suddenly quieter and more delicate. Bobby’s doing some wild playing in this song. Into a quiet bright star building up. Bends. Back down to the  riff into verse 2.

Nice outro, and intro to St Stephen. This is a great upbeat version, not many sidetracks but a lot of forward momentum, and for 20 minutes. I like this one.

#53 4/12/69 Salt Lake City, UT: #21:35

Utah. Well then. A concert put on by the Students for a Democratic Society two months before emergence of the Weathermen. 

Dark Star is a set opener for the second set, and they sound ready to explore, Jerry rips it up within a couple minutes and then settles down for a theme, which immediately mutates and dies off into the verse, hit before 3 minutes! …There’s missing audio, I assume.

The bell comes in after the verse, while the rest of the guys were starting a jam, but they feedback and mallet right in, and then JG goes off again with a bright tone, and switches it up for some windy ways with Phil and Bill, in with the trap set already. Some nice little eddies in the current, plenty of little waves within a bigger jam with a lot of forward momentum from the band, drums pushing it. This is a pretty exciting version! Lots of exploration in the “normal” mode (E Dorian-ish). Jerry comes down to have a little rhythmic jam with Bob, then goes out of it with some volume swells and back to the exploration. Up and down, settling into a Sputnik. With drums. Somebody in the audience is thrilled! Drums lead a big Sputnik buildup, into a chordal rhythm jam on the chord. This is all still before the 10 minute mark!

Now that the volume has back off, we’re still in the Sputnik space, but with weird guiro and chord jams. Aha, I hear string scrape noises, we may be entering a sound improvisation, and JG goes into the insect tone (I gotta figure out how he does this.) However, with Bill in there, it still has a pulse and forward-pointing rhythm. It does get weird, but comes out into a tone-rolled-off section of lead playing with a few experimental out-of-mode notes crying out, stretching the sounds. It sounds like heading toward a bright star theme area, at 14 they go through the song-form theme, with really strong line 2 spy rhythm, but then weirdly as line three starts to go astray, it all dies down into a quieter area with some Bobby jamming and TC wandering around. TC does some riffing, JG has dropped out. String change? Bob playing super melodically with his chords and hammer ons, Phil jamming along. 

Jerry comes back, maybe he was just lighting a cigarette. He’s back in the eight notes, heading to the higher register but taking his time to state a bright star theme, when he gets there, Phill is up in his higher areas too, and they rock out on the initial 5th, E-to-B, part of the riff, and as it builds, JG stretches the notes to make ‘em cry. Theme proper a little after 19 minutes, as it quiets down to get to verse 2. 

People applaud at the return of the singing, wow, we all got here with you! 

The multi-part vocal ending leads perfectly into the outro, toward St Stephen.

#54 4/13/69 Boulder, CO: 24:01

Coming out of Morning Dew (which has been really affecting me. Some folks I know, The Third Mind band, recorded a version that came out about a year ago, and I couldn’t listen to the song for a while due to the intensity of its meaning. I recently happened across a version that Bonnie Dobson did with Robert Plant, which was also quite intense. I’m so used to the Dead version that the original/Dobson version lyrics sounds weird—“Take me for a walk in the morning dew” seems odd and rushed! (also GD altered the chord progression, where Dobson’s goes D C G D/ G F C D, the Dead do D C G D/F C em D. Which sound right to me now!)

Anyway, Dark Star opens cold, and is very long this evening, as people have noted, they seem relaxed and able to stretch out. The opening jam drops right after the intro and there’s a foreshadowing bell. Space ahead? Really nice tone and medium volume level improv. Tempo is floating around but picks up with volume and goes at it, lots of exploration. A little sputnik em  leads to the defining jam to the theme, then brought down to what could be the verse, but goes in a stasis tonally, a large eddy. It follows this to a tiny whirlpool and then develops back out the other side to an altered thematic area. Really nice sound from the band without much drum, very coffeehouse jam but bigger, only getting to the verse intro after 8 minutes!

Great singing and perfectly executed song and chorus parts. And the classic “transitive nightfall” statements before the jam proper, JG drops for the bell coming in. Trapset is coming in with the gongs and cymbals, but washy rhythmically. JG comes in strong and weird before settling into the mode, a very rhythmically driven jam and then he goes into the diminished mode with gusto! It’s weirding out folks, more jazz maneuvers. This develops into some serious music with forward momentum, stylistically very much on the progressive-jazz side modally and with respect to parts. TC is coming through occasionally, and in areas he’s very present, but his parts are classical in contrast to Jerry’s ‘been practicing’.

Sputnik em 6/7 at 15 minutes, it’s gonna stretch this one out too. Um, into a weird guiro and JG duel. Phil going for a solo, but he takes it down instead of up and this leads into the insect weirdness. Side of pick scraping the string to excite the notes? Like, looks at the guiro, oh, I can do that too. And it’s right into the theme, back to the groove. Song form jam at ~19, line three takes it high and fading, volume knob action. They listened to a lot of music that day driving (what vehicles were they in?) We’re gonna build it up Allman’s style on A for the bright star. And back to the song theme, heading toward verse 2 and the outro. And onward. 

This version had some musically developmental strides, especially in the jazzier stuff, which lends well to the coffeehouse vibe versions with the hand percussion. But it was really nonstop jamming, and long jams. It seems like they could all hear each other and react and keep the groove going, so it worked. Sounds like decent levels on the amps, like they were confident that the PA was compensating. Nice version and growing. 

#55 4/15/69 Omaha, NE 20:20 AUD

Phil’s bass sounds like a tuba. They’re pushing the amps getting the volume to hear in the Music Box. Particularly jamming second or last part of set where Dark Star follows CE/TOO, the audience recording has some awesome field recording of a couple near the mics, “I don’t know how much to take!” “Half?” during the quiet parts of CE, and the conversation continues til right before the start of the DS intro” “I have a ramp” “You said it!”

The band start at a guitar note suggestion. The conversation continues. The music is pretty well mixed, sounds like, a little pushed, but not bad. But the crowd are just talking their way through it, some girls and a guy, but when the band gets loud enough to cover them it’s good. Some nice eddies, sounds like TC is louder in the hall/box tonight so his sound is a bit overdriven. Weird loud low E from Jerry, like, oops we all spaced for a second, lets get going again. He’s got a rising thirds theme going these days to get to higher registers, TC still following along with scales.

“G’night!” Some dude on mic leaves before the verse! 

Decent verse, onto the nightfall bells with feedback developing, and overtaking everything. Volume swells from the organ, very PF! Nice psychedelia. Into a theme jam the eventually provokes mic feedback and out of tuneness, full steam ahead build to brightstars. That dude missed some amazing stuff. developing into a new type of groovy jam, but not as jazzy as the nights previous and more based in the thematic material. Sputnik has wilder arpeggios from TC, again very, um, British. But beautiful waves of these make the clouds of this section really nice, as JG selects a tiny bit of the arpeggio to take with him somewhere. Into a new kind of sea of volume swell notes and drone strings. The insect tones that come in don’t sound like scraped pick like I thought for the Boulder show. There are some points where it comes out of the sound into “normal” feedback, but you can hear both like rolling off an ebow . So I can’t figure out how he was making that sound.

Directly coming out of the quieter nebula into a Main Ten, but trying to maintain it as a jam is still weird, I guess, and it doesn’t last, so they opt out for the verse2 intro theme.

Some slow claps at the entrance of the vocals. Cornfed youth doesn’t know what hit them.

Outro toward St Stephen includes some synthy-sounding weirdness. 

Really amazing contrast to the Boulder show 2 days earlier that was modally and rhythmically more “progressive” and this one is all rock. Plus the audience tape really give a different perspective on the presentation of the sound! 

#56 4/17/69 St. Louis, MO 21:36 – Download Series vol. 12

Guitar in the hard intro sounds almost banjo-like! The intro is a small noodle but with Repeating Organ Riff then into some feedback and high notes, where TC starts to play around with his ROR notes, which is cool. I could stand more of that. It builds into some nice happy melodic statements, and has some waves of intensity, but in general a sedate, jazzy intro jam with few eddies of notes in the stream of the jam—though when Jerry gets caught up in some stuff at about 3 minutes, the band goes sideways—even with some minor mode notes. In general though, it’s a floaty world that brings us into the song, I can barely hear the shaker trying to keep time. JG goes for some new interval play and some Wes Montgomery octave stuff at 4.5″. This is quite amazing in itself, every night the track enters different territory. Phil gets into a descending riff stuff that sounded like JG wanted to use to head to the theme, but instead he settles in on sputnik-y arpeggios. Which, instead of developing into the Sputnik proper, winds in on itself and emerges with the Dark Star theme, and drums enter. Some arpeggio fanfares from TC and they settle into the area that leads to verse one at 7:20! Long way to get here.

Verse One is played in its composed form, you can hear the little pre-set bits all in order, the chords in line two (TC moving melodically F#-G on the e min to A, that’s cool), the searchlight casting sort of slowly this evening, the swells are there on the “Shall We Go.”

On to the Transitive Nightfall, jam section 2, classic intro with the guitar and bass counterpoint.

Only cymbal swells accompanying, Phil drops for a moment and the waves part, there are a lot of little isolated bits happening before bells come in. Maybe they were all distracted by something offstage? “Hey man, check that out!” Bill coming on drums during the ebbs in the bell tolling. Ooh, a gliss of the bell chord up over the frets a few times, leads to a strong guitar lead intro, but oddly doesn’t hold intensity continuously, despite drums holding the beat together. TC back on chords, while JG goes for some tricky fingerings. It sounds like they aren’t quite sure where to take any idea exactly, so they bounce up and down. Bob with some interesting minor hammer-ons as it heads to an ebb in the 13 minute area. I’m hearing Bob’s guitar from two spots in the stereo mix, one hard left and one behind or near Mickey’s drums—or something weird is going on. The sputnik starts and seems like a way to get forward, but with weird guiro and Bill’s actual drumming, flourishes from TC, octaves from Bob, Phil and a trebly kick drum (Mickey’s? This mix is weird) develop a rhythmic pattern up and down. This exits to a weird guiro and insect area, with Bill keeping a beat all ride cymbal-wise, like a jazz cat. It’s got a sort of a groove, but in a lot of ways Bill is alone in that world!

In the next little melodic backwater, they seem to be trying out some song-type chord stuff, but it’s almost immediately going to the Dark Star theme and heading for verse two. JG warbles the first line, and the “glass hand”, but not a long “laaaaady” 

Classic outro lines, with the organ swell and multipart vocals, into the mysterious St Stephen intro. At least some whistling once that starts.

Sort of a weird one, in my book.

#57 4/20/69 Worcester, MA: 21:12

This was scheduled for the 19th, postponed, the poster says with Roland Kirk! Did they play with Rahsaan the 20th? That’s cool as F and must have blown their minds if they attended his set. Ah, I read now that he closed the show, so they didn’t hear him before *they* played. Too bad. Weird stories from attendees on about the show/scene, etc, including heckling from Weir, Rahsaan with a gun. Ok never mind, then! Several stories from people who helped schlep gear from the airport, drinking out of the lemonade jug… I can see flying out to these shows, but I can’t imagine the short hops between the west/midwest shows were much better economically nor time-saving-wise than driving between. That just must have been weird, The Dead at airports all over.


A very understated hard intro, after Doin’ that Rag. Jerry is running with the mode, TC following. Classic shaker rhythm section, but some interesting interplay in the guitar/organ parts. It sounds like Bob’s chord are striving to hammer on upwards, and Jerry is heading toward a higher note to harmonize with them. Some nice harmonies happen and they cause some ebbs in the forward momentum, the band checking their sound out as observers. TC goes for a sweep flourish, but it just takes them to a new tidepool. JG gets caught up in some little melodic eddies, switching his tone around in them to emerge with either a nasally or later a brighter tone. This is a very “band listening to the sound” jam. Nice, I like that. Eventually before the 6 minute mark they play the DS theme, and after waiting for some mic feedback to clear as JG plays the low string, he starts the verse.

Verse One, in great form per line, with some cool noodling on the Searchlight line. The organ/cymbal swells takes us “through”, and the Transitive Nightfall starts without the counterpoint intro. JG hammers into the bells, but stops pretty quickly to get into some melodic playing. With some interesting low note bends and extra-modal activity, it’s opening up when he gets to a mid-register G and then as he starts the lead playing again, Bill comes in on trapset. Really nice mid-tempo-forward momentum, a few interval eddies, but otherwise very much band-as-a-unit togetherness, some new ideas in the 10-12 minutes area, coming out into a sputnik arpeggio section. When the wave breaks, the low tide area is revealing some odd creatures scuttling around (that guiro, for example) which JG seems to follow toward the insecty notes. It all dies off of a sudden at 14” and starts in on a theme jam which has a few plays on outside notes, but for the most part is classic DS jam, though with Bill drumming and building it to a bright star with some wide runs and that weird guiro still holding forth. Jerry goes for some blue notes before the bright theme, which never quite comes to fruition. Some crying bends, but never actually stating the Dark Star theme and instead playing around it. When it comes back down, it seems to dissipate as JG plays on some odd arpeggiations of notes in the scale before *sort of* playing the intro theme and heading to verse 2. It almost dies entirely before it gets there. Shore is in sight, but landing seems rough, or we are very tired.

Verse two comes in very quietly, everybody is very careful. JG is mirroring his vocal line, but in a tone-rolled-off sound. They have all the vocal parts and the counterpoint ending to a beautiful harmonic E from JG before the St Stephen intro.

Nice one. 

#58 4/21/69 Boston, MA: 22:41

Foxy Lady Jam, what? Phil makes a quick stab at the DS intro but cuts it off as the tuning starts. So we’re going to get a hard start for the Star. 

He makes a few post-tuning tries to start it again and then finally gets everybody’s attention.

Nice intro, TC is wandering around the ROR, which is pretty cool. Guiro accompaniment sets the vibe, very clear Bob and Phil tones, seems like the band has control of the stage volume enough to hear each other pretty well. JG runs around melodically in a floaty way, this is nice. TC follows JG to some notes as an echo and Jerry starts to take it a little sideways mode-wise. But it’s solidly Dark Star. The tempo picks up into the theme statements, and then they get into a small plateau that builds the intensity a little more before laying it down into the relaxed volume, but JG is still experimenting, some new pockets of notes to explore before bringing it down to do a little jam on that intro theme, breaking it up a bit. This pre-verse jam is stretching out these days! 

Verse One is classic but TC has some interesting things to say in line 1, and a little more backed off on his 9ths-to-7ths on line two’s rhythm.

Beautiful and emotional vocal delivery brings it on to the Transitive Nightfall. JG is slow to bring the tolling bell in, so it’s a slow build here with Phil doing the em-A as chordal accompaniment to it!

Jerry comes in and is feeling each note, squeezing them gently for all they have to give before he starts to go more melodically around, at which point Bill comes in on trap set. Some quick little runs from Jerry, echoed in the organ, some choice notes for an arpeggiated section that sounds like it’s going to break out into the bright star area, but it’s a feint. 

Next wave has Jerry trying out some new flourishes, with TC doing his old ones. Bob is stretching his chord tones out, how many added notes can I play! At about 10 minutes, things change and a sort of insect bell sweep of the strings (with yet another weird clackity percussion thing, goat toenails or something…) and I hear some slight acknowledgement from the audience. We’re heading toward some type of sputnik. Mickey is testing his percussion arsenal, now bells… The Sputnik arpeggio starts around 12” but it drops volume fairly quickly. Note that the volume commander is Jerry, for the most part Bob and Phil remain at the same levels. Bells from Mickey, like he’s trying to find the B-C#-D of the movement in the arpeggio. 

Phil jams along, Bob becomes more sparse as Jerry goes into the Insect Weirdness. He’s testing some new “notes” in here, some flat notes and intervals. It might go fully into space. Mickey’s got some hand drums now. At 15.5” some very sparse spots, but JG is going to come out into a thematic area, the mode is set. Phil has some chords to play, and then picks up on a Jerry downward riff that leads them to the bottom of the sea from where they will build up to a “regular” modal jam, but Jerry is stretching his runs into arpeggiated leaps. (classic voice leading, kids.) Some blue notes, he plays a funny bizarro world version of a lick that commonly goes: A-GG, A-EE, but here he’s in the mode up a third, making it C#-BB, C#-GG. Cool, man. So he starts playing with that C#-G tritone like he does in the sputnik but it’s heading into the Bright Star at 19”, yes indeed! And stretching it out. The Crying Star! people, we’re stating these themes, and that means we’re almost at the far shore, doesn’t it? 

Oh… but wait, a lull in the tides, tone knob is rolled off, some bell tolling, Phil taking it sideways modally! With feedback! How can we continue the journey… then suddenly at 21” JG states the intro theme and people clap! Verse two starts. 

A horror-movie warbly Gla-a-a-a-ss Hand, but again a very clear Lady in Velvet. Nice swells on cymbals and organ for Shall We Go. And a cool hammer on from Bob in between. Phil’s vocal is a little out, but he’s trying. And they move on out in a strangely nearly-atonal outro that heads to St Stephen

Wow. Nice recording, nice version, some really interesting exploration in the “normal” mode, some opportunities to go elsewhere that may happen in the future. Must have been a great show!

#59 4/22/69 Boston, MA: 27:22 (brief tapeflip)

The never ending jam: not counting the end of Mountains of the Moon’s outro jam (oddly counted on as a separate track of almost 3min itself, I guess denoting that MotM ended and it isn’t Dark Star because Jerry is on acoustic for the first 2 minutes? Sort of sounds Star-ish at that point on, with Bobby on a two chord thing), and even with a cassette flip, this Dark Star clocks in at 27:22! Longest version to date. 

They slide into it with some intro riffs coming directly in the noodling. And TC starts the ROR, Mickey goes for the guiro rasping. The band is sort of working around the Dark Star modality testing some extensions for the chords and the rhythm, oddly there’s bits of the melodic climb that are usually in the outro thrown in after about 2 minutes, but after a lull, and some cymbals we’re getting some spacey suggestions of DS thematic material. They take it up a wavefront and down the other side, but still no proper thematic statements. Take it up and down again, let’s see where it comes out. Bobby’s found a bunch of notes that are similar to a chord that he seems to like. At 5:45 the ebb has some weird scratching and tremolo notes from JG, Bill is entering on the trapset, JG is playing with the same flatted note he was in the MotM jam. So after a climb he suggests the theme, but it’s abstracted still, and he gets caught in some riffiness. This wave of the jam seems to be picking up some rhythmic propulsion and yes, at about 7:30 we hit the theme. 

They play with it for a while, TC rolls around, Bobby plays the chords, they stretch the theme idea out, some notes reaching their spot from different angles. JG goes to the low E string and comes in with verse 1. People clap, they were waiting for it.

First line comes off as if it were a song, Reason tatters is a scary warble, Phil is changing his notes on what was a spy-theme rhythm, he’s subdued in his statements, not super strong. Nobody really casts about on the searchlight.

A nice verse outro into the Transitive Nightfall, the classic intro to the jam. JG steps back to start a slow bell tolling and the rhythm section starts responding to the bell more and more instead of playing the , JG’s got some feedback attached, lots of cymbals. Phil takes a sideways note, then they come in with the song-form jam, through line one it holds together, line 2 is rhythmically stronger, but then line 3 really takes off with Bill’s drums and everybody moving forward, and now we’re into a good old jam session.

Bill is rocking it! The band heats up and JG steps into some pools but with a strong tone like we’re gonna explore these areas with some bright light on them, they get into a serious propulsive rhythm at 13”. It might go elsewhere, but we seem to be locked into the mode. It’s full speed (as such) ahead for awhile, then JG leans back a bit, but the band comps full on at whatever volume level he’s setting. TC, when you can hear him, is still flourishing his dumb classical riffs, JG steps into a feedback solo but it doesn’t space out so much as come back to notes. When it comes down he tries one of the AG-AE riffs, lots of mini hills and valleys, then at 16:45 we move into a new rhythm that is like the Main Ten setup, but never goes off that way, and instead comes back to the Dark Star comp. But JG steps into a slight Sputnik, but does some weird tuning/bending before he decides his guitar has the right notes for the Sputnik. Feedback from mics. Sputnik continues with the weird guiro way up front. It’s odd how that chewy weird guiro has some moments in space sections before, but he’s thinking it fits in the sputnik now. 

The sputnik exploration is limited to a few of the chordal notes rather than arpeggios. They come out into new modal territory, emphasis on some different notes. Sounds like Phil has a new riff to play with with some flat chords, JG goes for his Insect Weirdness tone, but it’s not super insecty, when he comes out he has some round tone to play some very Dark Star mode notes, but not exactly thematic, more wandering. But they want to build it slowly, Phil has some resonances he wants to stay on. At 23” they play on the intro riff idea, sort of a backwards approach to it, but it nonetheless instigates a DS comp jam area, which goes through the song form again, this time, Phil and Bill actually do the strong  line 2 spy theme rhythm. Line 2 takes it wandering off, lulls a bit, but heads toward a Bright Star. The normally crying notes are individually stated, rather than cryin-bent at the top.

Into the them, TC does his arpeggios. On to verse 2, slightly before 26”. Very enunciated vocal delivery, the backing vocals are more on tonight, but still a little weird. The outro goes normally, though Phil is playing with it these days. Bill has some rolls in before St Stephen starts.

I have to say, despite the length (I do like an immersive musical experience, y’all), not my favorite, though I did like the comp-jam going on for a longer time, it didn’t really “explore” much. 

#60 4/23/69 Boston, MA: 20:56

Here we have the last night of the run, the announcer says “I said it last night, I’ll say it again, the best Rock and Roll band in the world” and they launch into “He Was a Friend of Mine,” a slow country number! ok then. But Dark Star is  next, second song of the set. 

Some noodles, with Phil jump starting the intro. Somebody in the Audience yells “Morning Dew” and they say, “NO, fuck you. You gotta stick around to hear Morning Dew.”

It is a handdrums and shaker intro jam, very mellow Bob + Phil jam for a while. We’re moving slowly into this evening. Jerry in at 2 minutes, but also with a hesitancy, some weird notes, and some little eddies in the flow. He doesn’t settle really, just exploring some wide intervallic phrases, and some chromatic pulloffs, interesting stuff. Eventually he gets into the mode, but he’s got some weird ideas of where to take it, he does the  AG-AE riff on the low strings for a while before 4”. He’s easily distracted into little exploratory bits, some cool backing from TC, in his classic arpeggios and such. At about 5” he goes for a long upwards run using the classic rock riff thing, groups of three notes, down one then back up, to the next note in the pentatonic. (Is there a name for that? Weedelee weedelee weedelee. Every guitarist does that, even still. I’m gonna do it as soon as I can!) Oddly he lands on a C natural, the minor third of A, where usually this mode has a C#. Back down to the B, Bb, then B and into the intro theme jam a bit,  before directly starting a song-form jam for a minute but they’re still caught up with some ideas of using flatted notes. Back to the theme heading to the verse. Jerry’s really playing around with chromatics beforehand, the leading tones to the notes he’s circling in on. 

TC cops the weedelee downwards for backing the first line! Ok, interesting. Line two has the syncopated rhythm strongly, though not loudly, and Jerry hits some weird notes. Mild casting about on the Searchlight line. Phil is chomping at the bit to head into the jam

Which almost gets through its counterpoint intro before there’s feedback and cymbals, bells, everybody goes outside into space! Wow, this is new and interesting. JG finally pegs some lead notes and the band sort of comes back together, but the band sounds like they want to go somewhere for sure. JG plays some strong lead material, but oddly drifts past some other (semi)known riffs, like the thing he plays in The Eleven right before they start the eleven beat phrase. Then he backs off his tone, Phil take some chord tones as if it’s gonna go elsewhere, but comes into the Dark Star chords-ish. JG seems fascinated by sets of notes quite often this evening. And breaking the mode, and switching tones between pickups and tone knobs. 

A riff almost starts in the 11:30 area, but it doesn’t take off and they take the level down We can hear TC doing his arpeggios. At 12.5” the weird guiro is coming in to freak people out. Jerry falls into repetitive short phrases, then continues that endless lead, throwing some wild notes out of the runs, here’s one that jumps out high, here’s one that’s a minor note outside the mode we’re in. He brings it to the lower strings and taps out, PL and BW take it. JG follows with melodic flourish. Sounds like a Sputnik is coming but nobody is settling into the classic arpeggio until almost 15 minutes. And even then, it’s not the same as before, they’re playing with bits of it. Oh, Bill is in on drums, almost didn’t notice. When it drops down, it Jerry is playing with the sputnik idea, but then he goes off into some weird riff territory. And again, outside the mode, he gets fascinated by some riffs that are not in the normal DS territory, He’s chasing something else tonight! Trying out some new tricks too, some sweep arpeggios. (Take note, metal guitarists, this was 1969.)

Both drumsets start pounding away in the 17th minute. Everybody is circling around something, like hawks looking down from high in the air, we’re sort of sounding like it may burst into the Bright Star, but it doesn’t and when it comes down, JG hits the theme like, “what? We were here the whole time.”

Into Verse 2, people cheer loudly “what just happened?”

Vocals sound pretty good, all parts. Outro seems longer to me before St Stephen starts and into the rest of a long long show.

Really interesting version closing out the Ark run.

4/26/69 Chicago, IL: 1:37 (instrumental)* – Dick’s Picks 26

 “Dark Star Jam” Chicago 1969-04-26, between Mountains of the Moon and China Cat Sunflower. Um, well, I guess it’s a Dark Star jam? Jerry sort of plays with some of the melodic ideas for a minute (literally) and then they go on. So I don’t really think this counts… I mean, I’ve heard bits of the DS thematic material in other jams too. I’d put this down as simply a MotM jam.

#61 4/27/69 Minneapolis, MN: 25:46 – Dick’s Picks 26

Lots of nasal tone, a mellow jam, ROR and all, going off the rails a bit, TC doubles up on his notes and settles to a chord. JG still with the nasal tone. Full on hand percussion accompaniment, but Phil is being mellow and chordal, then he starts a descent within the line, he’s heading off somewhere. Everybody is heading somewhere. It’s like a multi-armed anemone of melodies. Settles down again at 2:45 or so, but JG has a lot more to say, he’s trying some new bends and riffs, TC providing a bed. A thematic-ish statement, but tonight nothing is going to be exact, everything is a representation of those old tried-and-true themes and riffs! More exploring than ever. This is incredible. Developing the sound in a more band-like together way now after spending some time each exploring on their own, they are going in and out of being individuals in the sound mass and being a single unit. 

At 5 minutes we enter new territory as people go on their own developments, Phil still trying his descending line, Jerry on his riffy bends. But we hit and island at 6:30, Phil has some chords to play, atemporally, he even plays around with the intro chords. 

Sounds like Bill is is in there on sidestick on the drum set, but it takes a bit to convince everybody that we’re gonna play the theme. Let’s do it! But we’re gonna make it weird. Is it gonna go to the verse? Not just yet. We need another building up jam. The weedeloes upwards while TC goes downward… 

9 minutes before the verse. Funny accent from mr G on the first line, then second line with feeling! Searching light crashing? What?

Intro to the transitive nightfall as usual, but it’s like waves instead of bells coming in. Waves of cymbals, feedback, organ swells, all overlapping! Wow. 

Bob has some great statements building under this area before JG steps in with the strong bright tone playing “lead guitar” like he’s got a lot to cover this evening. And he does. He gets caught in a few eddies in the current, alongside Phil, drums kicking out the jams. They start a multi-headed hydra jam with Dark Star intentions, all parts moving forward, up one side of the wave and then back down the back of it. TC switches tones for some more high end, hand percussion wailing on everything he’s got. 

Everybody hitting on a swinging rhythm that JG is deftly stating Dark Star hints, but Phil keeps going modally sideways with his descending riffs and then weird arpeggios. Some spacey exploration, everybody going their own way. Wide sweeps on sputnik, you can really hear TC on this recording and he’s going for it, super wide swept arpeggios, no exact rhythm for this Sputnik, people seem to be in their own worlds orbiting each other. But Phil wants to state his descending riff in a choppy rhythm, JG tries to sync with the guiro. It’s settling into it’s own new rhythmic statements, but then holding onto tremolos as it quiets down. 

Wait what happened at 18m? A tape cut? into lead guitar that settles into a riff type bit, new low string stuff. Some throwing the riff around, JG doing a building statement getting higher each time, then with little pull offs at the top making a new melodic statement. This quiets into a soft thematic area, with a bed from TC, PL and BW drop out and leave JG to say some things in that rolled off tone. TC eventually stops “playing around” and gets on some chords, while JG makes some solo statements and noodles around playing with a brighter tone. When Phil comes in he’s on a half-step riff of some sort, an interesting new “progression” that TC joins in on (around 22”) this is going to build into a new way of stating the theme, coming in at 23”. Then we’re back for Verse 2. Nice vocals, very matter of fact from Jerry after the very “feeling” verse 1. No warbling on his held notes, just strong vocal statement.

Lots of vocal filigree on the madrigal outro, the counterpoints perfectly stated going out into St Stephen, with bell tree and other weird percussion.

Fantastic version, two nights in one! New areas explored, new riffs and styles. 

#62 5/7/69 Golden Gate Park, SF: 22:19

The Bob and TC melding the ROR with the rhythm guitar makes so much sense. It’s like we never heard it right before. Loud guiro as the sole percussion in an outdoor show also! Phil seems ready to take it out almost immediately, he’s into some descending line thing as he was before. 

A little intro jam settles into a pool of single notes and scrapes. Are we out of the intro jam…? I don’t think so, some more places to explore. TC this loud in the mix gives us a better insight into his place in the jam, it’s a good sound in there with al those guitars. 

Mickey sounds like he alters what he plays after Jerry, and then TC follows that. They wind it up and then a strong thematic statement at 4:20. Which builds the theme into a riff with blues notes. Back down the other side of that, we’re heading toward verse 1.

Cymbal crashes with the vocal introduction. Some weird notes coming in the off-beat chords on line two, from both Bobby and Tom. The searchlight’s casting is mellow. Nice counterpoint for the outro of the verse and intro to the ‘transitive nightfall’.

A jam is building on Phil’s descending idea while the tolling is coming, but the chaos is taking over from a straight bell tolling idea. It almost falls apart entirely into noise but Jerry comes playing out of it, with some odd stretched notes, they go back into a groove, now with Bill on drums keeping the rhythm. TC switched to a reedier tone, but still keeps with his various pentatonic riffs. Phil and Jerry are grooving toward something, keeping the jam moving forward. A few little eddies on Jerry’s part, but for the most part it’s classic “Dark Star” mode. Bob with his extended chords, Jerry heading around in little circles toward a brighter star. 

Some interesting stuff at 10 minutes, strong bass notes indicating roots, but no real chord progression. Out of this, JG has a sputnik-like arpeggio, but he’s on a new rhythmic idea for it, it’s coalescing everybody into a chordal jam, TC and BW on chord statements. 

Into a little quieter part with a lilting rhythm. Jerry finally switches into a brighter tone, which is leading the jam back upwards in intensity, to a head at 14:30 or so. Then a die off, some light notes, Phil playing double stops. Sounds like a sputnik is going to emerge, but it’s got some odd notes, not the usual 5-6-7-6. Even when JG switched into a higher register, he’s playing the arpeggio differently. Finding new melodies in it and then jumping in patterns of 3s, the band hops on. 

The song lulls. Phil takes up an intro riff type melody. He’s carrying it back toward the intro area, but the rest of the band is playing with volume swells and melodic play of specific notes. Eventually Jerry erupts with the bright theme …ish. Nothing is obviously written in stone, these are melodies to be played with and around. It dies off with weird bends like a dying bird! Into feedback and stasis, Phil on one note for a minute. Some small pools of new ideas in the 20th minute, seems like Bobby is holding a song together there somewhere, will it emerge? But Phil and Jerry are onto something new, and by 22 minutes, it seems like we won’t reach the other shore, they dissolve into drums by themselves. Never to come back to Dark Star. 

Is this the first time we lose the second verse? (I hate that, I always want it to come back home from the journey.) Regardless, exciting outdoor improv in the Polo Field, a lovely place for outdoor rock shows. Must have been a hoot!

#63 5/10/69 Pasadena, CA: 20:59

Warm up jam has some nice odd twists and turns from Jerry, bending the strings in and out of phrases. I love how he gets caught up in little note groups like they’re gems to be examined. Lovely descending run into the theme at 2:30, but the jam flows onward. Some really soaring statements in the mode, it’s a very (relatively) uptempo jam, reaching for new heights. The whole band gets caught up in an eddy at 4” and continues onwards. Dipping down to the intro theme, heading to verse 1. 

Decent vocal delivery, but pitchy, maybe not the greatest monitors and he’s listening from the hall bounce-back. TC has added his chords to resolve a extension in the second line. Searchlight has an extra reach, and he uses a vocal ornament on the “through”. Really nice light and dark verse/chorus.

The transitive nightfall starts with the band floating about for awhile before a tolling bell comes in. Then it starts blowing this world away as another takes its place, TC wildly arpeggiating. JG comes in and Bill joins with him, strong jam ahead! Riffs galore as much as  lead lines. TC is bright and loud in the mix, in fact the balance is pretty good frequency-wise between all players (except low drums overall). 

At 9:30, they seem to start a rhythmic jam that is plowing ahead for awhile before sort of settling into the swing of the Dark Star style jam. JG is now in his lead pickup, but he’s testing out some tone variants. It gets to a tidepool of clarity, Phil settles down for a while, playing with off beats s they head off into a sputnik-y thing, JG on the previously-usual notes this time. But out of this short sputnik-y area into new forward-moving jam, the multi-headed single instrument style of band playing, until it goes into a “real” Sputnik with the e minor arpeggio, moving the B to a C# to D to C# (5-6-7-6). Then they take it off into a rhythmically cropped version of these chordal stabs. 

at 14:30, we’re heading into a new modal jam, nasal tones from JG. He gets stuck on a particular riff, but swings out of it while Bobby splays out some chords. They’re heading to a brighter star, all moving apace, but it dies down. Quietness. Not gone, but low. Small statements from everybody. Phil is moving it along a bit, JG has an idea of upwards runs, but then goes the other direction into a chromatic downward thing, before they all bring it up again and at 17” we’re into the actual bright star territory, with long melodic version of the thematic material before some more literal thematic statements. And back to the intro riffs.

Verse 2 preceded by some Phil chromatic oddness. He wants to go somewhere else? But JG and Bobby lead it to verse 2. Line 2 has solidified again with its offbeat rhythm, now with more chords up and down the spy-movie rhythm. It’s interesting, it had solidified in late ’68 versions into the strong rhythmic statement against the vocal line, Phil and Bobby got it together, then when TC joined in he was right on top of that, and then subsequently they fell off playing it as a strong rhythmic counter to the long vocal lines. Phil seems to be the instigator of the strength of line 2’s rhythm. Now it’s been building back, with TC using specific extended notes on the tops of the chords (9ths and 7ths), and here he’s even using more separated chords, different notes per hit in the offbeat rhythm, while Bobby and Phil are both back on the strong rhythm for that line. Line 3 (searchlight/lady in velvet) allows the wandering against the bubbling rhythms. 

Another oddity is that *sometimes* they go through these within a jam section, the song-form area of three lines: 1st is usually with the vocal theme, simple rhythm, second line with the spy-theme offbeat rhythm, third going wandering off into melodic jam, though of course, sometimes they just get to line two of the song-form and it wanders away. Anyway, no song-form in the jams lately. I expect it will come back…

Nice madrigal vocal outro, and lovely counterpoint instrumentally, off to St Stephen.

#64 5/23/69 Hollywood, FL: 18:57 – Road Trips Vol.4 No.1

(Seminole Indian Village? what is that?)

Bright and cheery intro into a beautiful singing set of phrases from JG, really nice playing from everybody. JG is really upping his playing here, he’s playing the sounds I’m seeing, man! TC on chords mostly, Bobby with some beautiful fluid chordal playing. Oh boy. The hand percussion vibe is right-on here, though apparently there’s a vibraslap happening, which is weird. JG continues with neck pickup tone while the band plugs away at the rhythm (perhaps ignoring the vibraslap)

Lovely windup into 3” mark. New more sparse accompaniment, JG still grasping notes out of thin air and bringing them to our attention. Bobby spaces for a while in some feedback or something, but JG is still wandering around in this new garden of flowers. At 4:45 or so, he switches to a nasally tone for a bit and tries out some old riff, they’re bringing it back up and he’s got some new riff ideas to play out before it settles. Oops, percussion mic feedback then some tapping weirdness from the percussion. Inspired by that feedback, they’re finding some frequencies floating in the air. TC has been chordal this whole time, I believe? Into the intro at 6:30, to verse 1.

Lovely delivery with the cymbals washing behind. 

Strong intro to the next section, Bobby playing it very directly. We’re expecting the bell and it’s coming, bringing some feedbacky tones with it and some strong cymbals washing from both sides, when this has blown the world away, we’re left in a small place with Jerry exploring introvertedly. We have the whole band here, Bill has joined, but they’re holding back from any forward propulsion until JG takes it upwards and TC starts with his riffing and arpeggios. At 10” Jerry starts some fast runs, TC following behind. Like butterflies chasing each other. The waves of sound build up and down, but it’s not dying out at all, they are building and building until JG takes a staccato approach to some notes, heading to a Sputnik right before 12”.

This one is also going into some choppy rhythmic statements, but they die down to a tiny little chittering before settling into a new set of notes with a flat 5.

They burst forth into a theme statement, but so brief that it seems like only TC tried to hold onto a song-form backing set of lines. He gives up on that and Jerry moves right away and on then into the Insect Weirdness tone at 13:50! Freak out, people! This band is going somewhere not of this earth. 

TC comes down with some cool trills up and down, they band is holding steady, Jerry hits some strong notes, they bring it way up and it blossoms on into a Dark Star chord and them jam. “Theme” in quotes I mean. It’s always a restatement of the thematic idea, some great sense to it this evening, the hand drums are jamming along. And back to the intro with some cool little timbres from the organ. 

Verse 2 comes in nicely. Very performative. Hand drums still live and active during the verse/chorus. 

Nice outro, with one flat clam on the counterpoint. All in all an amazingly creative and fluid version, really upbeat and happy-sounding! They were clearly enjoying themselves.

#65 5/30/69 Portland, OR: 17:02  Springer’s Inn

Interesting little lick after the intro, leading into a mellow jam with TC building as Jerry does a bell-like toll. (Maybe he’s tuning). Takes a minute before JG starts off in the mode to explore the Dark Star idea and then he does. Beautifully. Some little points of interest explored, a pull off, a riff, a collection of notes. The band sound very together, they build little complexities together and then unknot them. Jerry has some cool guitarisms to play with, the guy was always practicing, wasn’t he? At 3 minutes an almost-theme statement, but then off to explore more, Phil does little groups of threes to play with the rhythm. Bobby playing with interesting chord extensions, with that flat 6th. At  4 min the theme comes in for real, TC on reedy organ sounds before the verse comes in. 

Strong line-by-line variants for the verse, though the “searchlight” is limited in its casting about.

The jam begins with guitar statements from Jerry before he thinks, “oh, bell, right”. Somebody is yelling “Hey! Hey!” The bell’s not developing feedback so much, so he starts trilling. It dies off, and then they start a nice jam with Bill in on drums, it sounds like everybody has a piece of a rope and they are tying little knots and untying them over and over. I love this. Each wave of intensity is like a little knot or mandala. JG’s got some new guitar things he’s playing with, arpeggios going up to new notes, but everybody is firing on all cylinders. 

A dip at 9 minutes, small statements, could almost go to a drum jam, then JG starts off with a volume swell thing. Bobby coming in on feedback. Ok, kids, we may be heading into space… but they sound like they’re going to build this into a new knot of pull offs and forward-moving drums (both drummers on kits by now, I should have mentioned.) At 11 min, new little eddies of notes, but it’s breaking out into a country-sounding Dark Star riff area! With fast tremolos from Jerry. This moves oddly into a Sputnik as Jerry tries to tune his E string. Sputnik continues, TC warbling about, Mickey has decided cowbell is the way to go here. It comes up, has a lull and JG continues with the high version. But Phil is jamming out on the bottom end for a while. They develop it into the rhythmic Sputnik version they’ve been trying out lately. It’s going on for a while, JG settles into some fast note trems, then seems to break it apart in sweeping behind the bridge and it falls apart into low note feedbacks, odd scratchy sounds, warbles on organ, insect sounds, but Phil comes in hot and heavy with a riff after 15 minutes while Jerry is in the insect tone. 

A lull again, some pull offs, (more cowbell…) a static insecty weirdness, and feedback. It leaves Phil alone for a moment, then JG comes in with a 6/8 thing, or more swung bluesy-cowboy type stuff and Cosmic C riffs… uh huh, I can see where this is heading… Cool, we’ve transcended Dark Star, no second verse, and instead we move into Cosmic Charlie! Wow. That was a nice surprise.

#66 5/31/69 Eugene, OR: 23:58

Coming after a very moving rendition of “He Was a Friend of Mine”, Dark Star starts very ‘traditionally’ with shaker and ROR, but it quickly shows its going to be a new thing. New twists to the intro themes come in, the ROR stops almost as soon as it started and goes into organ playing bits of chords and trills. Bobby strumming it up, but he and Phil follow Jerry to rhythmic worlds suggested by the lead. Cool little area at 2:30-on almost like a new song in there, and even when it starts to suggest Dark Star-proper a bit more, there are darker harmonies. And some odd ones. It’s like some players are having the Dark Star in their minds and others are stretching out of that. Awesome quieter area at4 min, sounds like Phil yells out “yeah!”, when JG comes in again he’s playing around on the Sputnik bits but refraining from actually moving into it. Man this is some together playing, they are really making music happen for this whole section. The 5-6 min area sees Bill switch from shaker to drums while Mickey stays on guiro. They develop it up to some proto theme area and then JG jumps in with the theme by 7. We’re back to Dark Star territory, so the verse comes in.

TC playing a bunch of lines on the first line, Line two has the offbeat spy theme but Bobby hammers it on to swing it more. Line three, everybody wanders, and it comes down to the “chorus” lines. Great vocal delivery from Jerry.

They start a strong jam section with the classic intro, but when JG comes in with the bells, everybody is getting on that in their own way, no strict rhythm and it leads to feedback and chromatic noodles from the organ. Drums and cymbal splashes, bass feedback! Noise feedback! Volume swells on odd notes, hammerings on. This section doesn’t have anything spring out of it, so they die down and then JG starts in on a mellow toned beautiful lead area with Phil and Bob figuring out some chords to back it. It develops quickly into a sort of classic “Dark Star” jam section, but Bob’s chords are not the usual ones. He’s getting caught up in certain sonorities he’s finding. Phil is jamming it out. This is great stuff. JG building it up, they get caught in a knot of notes at almost 13 minutes, it drops off, sounds like JG is gonna start the Sputnik, but he has to tune some strings. So it goes slightly sideways and he gets distracted into a new set of alternating notes/chords. Mickey is working on some weird bell things. It’s a rhythmic jam, *sort of* sputnik based. It may get there. 14:30 we’re approaching an actual Sputnik type area, with TC doing his arpeggios. Nobody is really committing to the Sputnik of yore, they have already abstracted it. Even when JG starts the high arpeggios, there are still odd notes floating around in the mix. And they bring it down and back to a rhythmic style of it, Phil doing some “bell tolling” on low notes. Some serious weirdness interrupts at 16:49, sounds like a prankster on stage, the band goes sideways again, into atonal messiness, from which JG emerges with the insect tone. Whoa, this is a real trip, I can hear some people on stage vocally careening around back there too. (Sounds a bit like Babbs?) At 18:30 we get a tremolo section with some excited yells from said prankster, but JG breaks out of the lull into more beauty, mellow tone melodicism, with melodic statements coming from who knows where—they’re *related* to Dark Star notes, but it’s gonna take a while to get it back to being the, um, “song”… and at 20’ we are almost in Bright Star territory. But only for a second, there, kids. Gonna build it up yet again to get near that peak, and they do by bits of the scale, landing at the theme at 21:30, and are we getting a verse 2?

Oh yes, thank you, at 22’ we’re back in the song. Verse 2 comes in, with a melismatic “shatter” and a warbling “glass hand”, reminding us that while we’re home again, it’s always a scary trip. 

All vocals present for the last lines, classic outro accompanied by hand drums and a drone organ and guitar back there, and into a slow intro for “Doin that Rag” which builds side-eyed into the song careening around like a drunk, at least until the chorus. (The song is just like that to begin with, of course. Especially with what sounds like extra singers on stage.) This cuts off, and I guess Cosmic Charlie afterwards to close the set, or anyway there is a small bit captured in the tape of the show. 

This was a phenomenal version, so I thought, seems like a great concert overall. Wowzers. New vistas, new music made, pulled right out of thin air.

#67 6/5/69 Fillmore West, SF: 20:32

Second set, China Cat leads with the acid spaciness and a nice jam at the end and then right back down to earth with Sittin’ on Top o’ the World, then some chomping at the bit to start Dark Star, the guys sort of running over themselves to play the intro lick. Song starts and the ROR is signifyin’, boys and girls. Jerry comes in with a strong tone and full of melody dripping out of the guitar. The recording is really clear and it seems obvious that the players can hear each other really well, and are very carefully playing off each other. It’s like the coffeehouse vibe with the hand drums and percussion again, but the electric players are volume-adjusted really well. They are really taking this opening jam into some new form of Dark Star, it’s so casual and yet intimate. The eddies and little knots that the band gets caught in in the jams have a really wide dynamic available. By 3 minutes they’ve taken it up, but it’s not *loud*, it’s strong. They come back down, and at 3:50, Jerry states the theme, almost out of “nowhere”, but we’ve been in the DS chords off and on. TC comes in on chords and it’s a feint to the verse, and instead, JG goes for small feedbacks and volume swells, precipitating an arhythmic area leading to chromaticism and cymbal swells and hits, really off into space for this early in the song! A little hint from Jerry as to ‘hey what song are we playing?’ and they move slowly back into a DS mode jam, with Bill on drums now, quietly. Some chromatic stabs at the theme take it to the theme and they may actually get to the verse, at almost 7 minutes. 

Strong vocal recording, he’s playing with the emotions of the words, the band does the classic three part form on the lines, but TC’s ‘casting searchlight’  is restrained, slower, it’s very nice. I like him more lately in general, better sound and better ideas for fitting in the sound. (I should try to find his book.) 

I love Jerry’s accent on “while we Cäääään”, I guess I miss Northern California. 

Into the transitive nightfall, they’re aleeady taking it down low, the bell(s) tolling, cymbals and gongs, blowing away the reality of the Fillmore and bringing us into the new fairy world. Lots of little chromatic/noise statements from everybody, Bobby hinting at chords, eventually Jerry comes in, some strong tone from that SG (right? sounds like a new amp though, ) he’s playing with building feedback at medium volume levels, the band follows it up and then the wave breaks and they launch into a classic DS jam, it’s all systems go. Everybody is sounding great, right in the groove with the sounds at the right time and place. This builds and falls to start a Sputnik at 11 minutes, TC going wild as they build it up, Phil reaching higher. Then suddenly Jerry going hyperspeed with the banjo-style picking on the Sputnik arpeggios! Playing with volume swells, Bill is still in a groove though, carrying, while everybody considers (banjo style, like Sitting on Top of the World after China Cat, should be a grounding in reality, right?) and Jerry goes off on this new way of dealign with the Sputnik, the bass is tentative while it goes up and down, TC still arpeggiating. 

And then moving into the insect weirdness! Bobby and Phil are taking this more minor-key than usual. Breakout at 14:15, new mode, very stately lines from Jerry, some static chord playing from the band. Right before 15’ there’s an amazing odd counterpoint section, everybody on lines moving forward at similar speeds, Jerry eventually takes it down and hints at the DS theme, by 16’ they’re on it, but it’s mirror world version number n+1. Bobby’s got some weird chords to play with it, stretching it up, by the Bright Star, he’s rocking out under the high melody statements from Jerry. 

Even when Jerry lands on the theme proper at 17 minutes, there’s more guitar jamming going on still. Is that Bobby or someone else on stage now, hey now? I thought Elvin Bishop played the next night’s show… 

Phil sticks to roots for a while, eventually more to that, but after the new dude’s soloing, we’re back in a sort of rhythm comp jam. New guy has some non-Dorian ideas for what to play it seems. At 19’ they all decide on verse 2. Interesting slight variations in the rhythmic progress of the lines from Phil, nice bounciness below line 3. 

Really nice and intimate version, almost a new level of inter-band communication and playing. I’d say we just leveled up! It’s great when the band can obviously hear themselves and each other really well, well enough to play quietly or loudly and have everybody be able to be there. 

#68 6/7/69 Fillmore West: 20:46

After 6/6/69-night’s show without Jerry (mostly) they open this one with the acoustic set, so Dark Star is after the Mountains of the Moon + extended jam in d minor/dorian. Phil wanders a bit before they settle to start the intro. Guiro and congas are the vibe. The ROR, etc, all as if normal. But Phil is rolling some low end this evening, covering it. Nice full-band playing to build it up, ideas passed back and forth, both JG and BW doing multiple pull-offs, then when it crests it all becomes a bit iffy, not as forward moving. Everybody is zoning into their own little whirlpools more, a beautiful crest of this wave with Bobby on wide chord, Jerry spills downward and then Tom. Then they start over again in Dark Star territory, everybody on really odd statements complimenting one another. This also is really new level improvising though much of it is ‘when in doubt, hover’.

TC switched to a reedier tone, JG gets into one of the old riff, the AG, AE, thing. Eventually to the theme by 5 minutes. Verse is coming.

TC on new chord statements in line 1. Phil makes the Spy Theme rock, he bounces it more for line 3. All cymbal and organ swells on the “through”s.

And into the nightfall. 

Odd hints at bells, but it takes a while to get a solid low one from Jerry and then somebody is going off on a minor second up, entering a new mode, lots of cymbals and gongs, this wizard is taking us to another land and I don’t know if I like it!

JG comes out of the crescendo with a bright tone, he and Phil start tearing it up to head to some melody hints. Now all the drum sets are jazzing it up, Bobby gets into some comping on the chords. JG responds with licks. It falls into an arpeggio scrub like sputnik style, but then breaks into fast riffing! 

Super jazz rock jam. Some little whirlpools still, JG manages to catch everybody in some of them. 

After 11 minutes, JG gets into some chordal stuff while Bobby jams out a bit. They break it down into a pulsing thing, JG and TC on it and it builds to a big rhythmic jam, which breaks directly to a quiet Sputnik! Nice. 

Sputnik goes on with Phil playing odd melodic and sometimes chromatic lines against it. Bringing it way down at 13:30 and then back up again. Then down to nearly solo guitar and bass with occasional drums, building back in, a slow descending line from Phil and TC, followed by a series of upward spirals from Jerry, bringing it back to the jazz-rock style jam. Very chromatic playing from everybody, in and out of the normal mode. Then at 16, Phil is the one to bring it back to Dark Star! He makes the call on the bass line building it up. So we get back to the song by way of traversing several jams, Bobby really getting caught up on his tremolos and chord building, and they break into the Bright Star at about 17:30, it jams out with a very throbbing pulse afterwards. Nice gestural following, rhythms passed back and forth between them, and it comes back to the theme, and back to verse 2.

Jerry with the emotional delivery again, but a strong and straight “lady in velvet”. 

Cymbal splashes accompany through the outro and St Stephen intro, but it takes a while to get there this evening.

#69 6/14/69 Monterey, CA: 15:10

 After Dire Wolf… ok then. A few stabs at the intro licks by Bob, then they start it properly all together, ROR and all. Jerry assesses the world before coming in, he’s playing with some specific notes and their resonance in the gymnasium. When he makes a melodic statement it’s in chords and pretty outside. Maybe he’s influenced by the previous songs’ 6ths in the cowboy harmonies. A Sputnik-like statement before 2 minutes, almost like “Working Man Blues”… hmm. Ok, he’s finally getting into lead playing, and it’s aggressive, they’re already building it pretty fast, and when it settles in a Dark Star type jam, BW is strumming it up, Phil is plugging away, drums are crashing. They build to great heights very quickly, and some fast playing, then it drops into the DS theme area at 4’ ready to get into the verse. 

I hear Jerry playing his vocal melody on guitar again now. Strong and loud vocals. Per-line intricacies all there, I like the new “casting” about on line 3 from TC, more stately and melodic. 

Jam starts with volume swells, sounds like people expect to start a bell tolling to blow us to the next world. It takes its time getting there, a slow build with various feedbacks emerging, crashing cymbals all around, feedback jam, fluttering keyboards! 

A sputnik is emerging chordally from JG, drums are in some new groove, lots of congas too. Sputnik moving forward, against bass grooveout with drums, super strong jamming, organ chords. 

Jerry emerges at 9:20 with the insect tones on a Dark Star mode mostly, but full on forward-momentum from drums and bass still. They crest this wave into a lighter melodic area, still the drums are jamming heavily. This is great gymnasium-as-dance-hall jamming. JG plays with modes a bit, but it’s pretty solid, and when he switched to the lead pickup, he’s heading to a strong Bright Star. TC has discovered how powerful organ chords are. They hit the Bright Star at 11:50, really strong playing. When they come down to pre-v2 sort of area, it’s still moving along at a brisk pace. Slowly coming down and Jerry jumps in on verse 2, some slides on vocal pitches. Phil and TC really go off on “Lady in Velvet”. And it all dissolves on “Shall we go…” followed by drum rolls. Outro with warbling on the backing vocals, and we head off toward St Stephen, people yell and clap as it begins.

Strong and fast version! The whole show sort of picks up again at this song after the acoustic middle and heads off toward endless jam.

#70 6/21/69b Fillmore East, NY: 7:#21 (nearly all of central jam missing)

Lotta fish sticks making the vibe as a rest from…Well, they were mostly playing folk music till this point in the show it looks like.

Jerry forward mix beautiful statements and following from TC, he’s starting to fit much better in the vibe of it. 

Crashes on cymbals with the Dark Star verse crashing. 

I’m hearing the intro of this jam as trying to change worlds, the cymbal swells and bell tolling, until it erupts in the Dark Star jam, only to run out of tape until they’ve already come back, but now with TC on rock organ! He’s heard some shit out there and he can play rock organ chords.

Woulda been nice to hear the whole thing.

#71 6/22/69 Central Park, NYC: #11:26 (missing start and cut in the middle) AUD

Outdoor show, Dark Star comes in to serve as the transitional song between the country-folk tunes and the rock trip out. Interesting choices of sets of notes to play with to gain some entryway into a jam. JG steps on some odd ones on the way, and then steps again to make sure he heard it right. It’s a mellow intro in the park today. I’m guessing nice June weather, they’re sort of meandering with the shakers/guiro beatnik vibe for a while. I hear TC on some higher, longer phrases, nice juxtaposition. Sone cool whirlpools. Despite the bad quality recording, everybody is audible, so you can hear nice play between them, Jerry really isn’t playing super hot today, very relaxed. He gets caught in some weird pull-off eddies and into odd arpeggios, Phil seems to want to take up the lead-slack. Nice exit from the whirlpool at 5:40 or so, into Dark Star proper and the verse on its way. The audience seems to have been not super into the jam, but once it catches as a “song” they cheer and then clap (slowly) along.

Nice first verse, obscured by lots of cymbal crashing. I like TCs new verse maneuvers.

Classic intro to the middle section (the “nightfall”). Some Bobby and Phil jamming, Jerry isn’t going for the bell this time although the cymbals are sort of trying to go there. TC on his standard swells and arpeggios. Until it goes south by 10 minutes into noise jam in the park, kids! And feedback, but then suddenly it’s in an actual Jerry lead jam for a few seconds. (Sorta sounds cut, actually.) But he is caught up in small sets of notes, little eddies int he stream today and no big gestures.

And odd version, park/daytime space jam with tiny little statements and no great sweeping improv. I guess JG wasn’t feeling it and wanted to move on to The Other One.

#72 6/27/69 Santa Rosa, CA: 26:07

Classic intro, and a bunch of tuning going on as Jerry veers around over the percussion comparing notes against open strings. Bobby has some strong ideas, they’re sort of chugging along slowly, Phil is in a mellow groove. Jerry gets caught in a little sets of threes at about 3 minutes and it sort of sets up the roll of the swung rhythm into a 6/8, I think for the entire version of this song they’re feeling a rolling 6/8 more than the swingin’ 4/4. The leads are much more like “Cryptical” style applied to the Dark Star mode. Nice Leslie-sounding vibrato on TC’s organ there in the background. Once we’re like 6 minutes in, it’s very much “cryptical” 6/8 feel. Even when they get to JG starting to make DS type motions at 7:30, and toward the verse, it’s more rolling than swung.

Slow verse with gongs and cymbals very high in the mix, so it’s tough to discern the Phil and gang setup for the lines. 

The jam center starts with disparate statements from the percussionists (three of them?) and build into a noisy sea of sounds. TC scrubs the keys chromatically, Bobby stretched the strings on his chords. It dies down into a low volume area with volume-knob note swells bringing it down before making some melodic leads. Percussion gives way to drum sets via the cymbals by 12 minutes. Some odd stretching in a harmonically and rhythmically static area, which Jerry leads out with some chromatic runs up, the drummers are still stuck on the 6/8 feel. TC gets in on the 6/8, with chords. 

At 14’ some very “Other One” 6/8 stabs, both drummers and percussion building this up. It seems like there’s some confusion about what this jam may lead to, everybody is way into the 6/8 pulse, which is sort of odd for Dark Star. When Jerry starts up leads, it sounds like he really wants it to get to Dark Star but the rhythm is implying other songs. By 16:30 or so, this is almost a new jam based on the rhythm, but then Phil comes in with the Lovelight chords for a minutes. Jerry takes it away, though. Getting toward a falling star theme and then toward the Bright Star, in a very rolling 6/8 or 12/8 that Bobby is able to find the 4/4 in to do the Dark Star chord progression (I saw a short interview with Bill Kreutzman where he talked about that 4/4 swung = 12/8 and it blew his mind [groups of 3s in 4 beats!] and then everything became obvious to him.)

At 20’ a Sputnik starts but it’s very static on Jerry’s part, which leads it to be fairly quiet. Even when he jumps up an octave it’s quiet. Lot of percussive stuff and drum sets still happening. Sputnik goes on a while and builds with that guiro loud in the mix to a chaos. 

Out of this they are at a crossroads, ‘when in doubt, hover’, until Jerry slowly starts up some meandering lines and eventually states the theme, whereupon everybody jumps in and we’re back in the song. Jerry sounds like his much older self singing verse 2, weirdly.

In the outro somebody yells “Hey can I have my microphone back!”

Gotta say, not one of my favorites. The constant rolling 6/8 sort of took me out of Dark Star world and the percussion was loud in the mix (and Mickey just bugs me with his hippie drum circle style rhythm). I think if I heard this out of context I would have thought it was a later version, it lacks the gusto on the part of the lead guitar and bass that has been there so far and is dominated by “rhythm devil” type stuff.

#73 7/5/69 Chicago IL: 18:19

Song starts, the ROR is there for a minute, and JG takes a sec before making some very “Jessica” type melodic intro before settling into the Dark Star world. Jerry has some interesting chromatic ideas for how to play in this mode this evening. Some feedback issues (probably percussion mics?) TC has lead aspirations early on here and he goes into some odd chord stops. He’s playing with organ timbres. Jerry is building it in strength and intensity, up and down. Comes down to the theme and heads toward a verse. 

Sounds like some resonant frequencies are threatening feedback in the room, but a nicely executed song form for the verse/chorus. 

The jam starts with the rhythm intact and Jerry suggesting a bell tolling that seems to break it apart, Phil follows in the unraveling of the song, then TC and Bobby, blowing away the current reality into this new world. Jerry emerges from a lull with some choice notes, crying out with a rolled-off tone. Phil is still casual about heading toward a real rhythm, he’s testing notes out. TC is wandering, Bob is tickling his strings. 

Eventually it seems Jerry is going to bring us into Dark Star territory and the band follows him in. JG sets up some patterns and takes them outside and then back in. Some bad tube sounds hit the system from the bass amp at about 9 minutes, eventually this breaks it all down and they take it into a Sputnik. This one is more dynamic, Bobby’s got some nice chord comps to play with here. And they take it sort of elsewhere, but when JG takes it to the higher octave, he kills it off for a string rubbing sound. Side of the pick maybe? Comes back with more high delicate Sputnik. Sounds like the bass amp is fixed and Phil starts riffing away under it so they build it up for another wave. 

Jerry comes in with some insect weirdness (Alien Whine!) New Theory: his SG has a Bigsby bridge and whammy bar, right? I think playing behind the bridge on the tensioned string ends will resonate the strings across the bridge and over the pickups without direct plucking…

Coming out into some unknown territory with an octave technique until he starts some melodic leads in the Dark Star territory, a slow build to a brighter star. It’s a long a chaotic build to the theme as a recovery point at 16:30 or so and into verse 2. 

Jerry’s voice is good, but again he’s sounding a bit more like his older self now, more cigarettes have passed through that throat on this tour. 

Some weirdness in the vocal outro, but they pull it together to go on to the next part of the set. 

#74 7/7/69 Atlanta, GA: 26#:50 (brief tapeflip)

Another outdoor Dark Star, bringing the audience into new vistas right there in the light of day.

Classic opening into shakers and pounding on the guitar to test feedback before some notes. (No ROR? I didn’t hear it.) Sounds energetic, very upbeat in the band, despite some feedback issues (most likely all those open mics on hand percussion.) Jerry has a few peaks and eddies, he’s got a very strong tone going on right off the bat. Playing around with some fragments of theme, going back and forth in register, Phil seems to be plugging away in a fairly swung forward-momentum. TC plays with some pyramid building in the background. They come to a plateau at about 5 minutes, back off and you can hear cheering from the audience. JG backs out of this with volume knob note swells, for a new feel. At 6:30, they seem to start a new section, Phil on a low pedal tone. In this section JG seems to suggest the Dark Star theme, but it never coalesces as Bob is fiddling on some chords. So off it goes again, a bit more chromatically now. Then at 8 minutes the theme comes in and they play around it for a while. TC seems to have his own interpretation of it now, and he’s jamming off on his side while the band break it down and build it back up again to a strong theme area until 10 minutes or so, I think I hear people clapping when they back off the volume. The band plays around on the chords. JG could come in with verse, but he wants to play around more! He’s on some long downward runs, over and over. Everybody seems to want to play around with the chords, adding a D major in between the em7 and the A7. 

Verse comes in at 13 minutes. Strong vocals from Jerry. Lots of cymbals. Line two is basic in its rhythm, line 3 has minimal casting about ‘searching’. Nice hand drums in the ‘chorus’. 

Into the center jam. Jerry is playing notes, not bell tolling for a bit, but the cymbals are blowing back and forth, eventually he joins in the noisy tolling, and Phil starts scrubbing his low notes. TC trills around. Drum sets enter but it quiets down nicely to wait to see what happens. JG comes in with delicate lines, and it goes arhythmic for a bit, then builds back to a pulse and some riffing, building up a wave of sound and the drums are carrying the rhythm. 

a cut, which leaves us in an ambiguous territory of quiet free jamming, isolated sounds popping up until JG starts a sputnik at about 18:30 in this tape. TC arpeggiates all over. It grows into a noisy chord, TC scrubbing his keys up and down. When it dies off, Jerry goes for the insect weirdness over a plain of odd noises from everybody else. TC seems to be suggesting more Sputnik. The drums head to groove but take a while to get there, up and down, waiting for Jerry to start with some lead lines at about 21 minutes. JG suggests some DS theme melody but then goes for the rhythmic style of Sputnik, in threes against the beat. Seems like they want to get into a groove segment but somehow Dark Star is fighting back and it’s very chaotic and it takes a couple minutes before Phil starts a pedal tone to hold it together, and then JG hits the Bright Star theme. It goes on for a while at high energy, into the Dark Star theme, and as many times before, it seems like when TC steps up to play a strong thematic thing, the band drops down to leave him hanging! Ha. It drops into the pre-verse chords, verse 2 comes in at 25 minutes in—it’s a long one! Again, nice vocal delivery but subdued rhythm on line two and three instead of the super ornate and definitive versions of these earlier in the year. 

People yell yay! The band breaks it down to segue into and oddly relaxed but punchy St Stephen, contrasting the energy of this Dark Star. 

#75 7/12/69 Queens, NY: #9:52 (missing first half?)

Cuts into a jazzy DS jam, sounds like organ chord comping with Bobby, Phil and two drummers, all quiet-like. What’s been going on? By a minute into this, a drummer starts a beat, but it breaks down soon enough. Where’s Jerry, guys? Changing strings? He eventually comes in slyly on some runs, still tuning that string, sounds like. He’s got running fingers up and down, lots of pull-offs. He’s suggesting DS themes, and still tuning. But despite suggesting a potential bright star, he’s heading for a Sputnik. TC arpeggiating widely, it builds. Drums play a stark beat underneath (JG still tuning that string in between phrases.) The jump to the higher octave drops the volume and he adds the flat 5 and plays on the groups-of-three-eighth-note things, a drummer follows him there for a second, but it’s dropping into that flatted note area with a new vibe. JG using a very bright bridge-pickup tone on crying notes over a spacey section. Crying notes over hovering band sections… eventually melodically leading to the Dark Star chords, and the band jamming out on it. At 8 minutes into this tape, it drops into a slow chugging thing that wends its way into a mellow theme jam area, and some insect tones over an arhythmic rhythm section. Phil’s bass almost sounds like an upright. Then they seem to build this up into The Other One, which then goes to St Stephen… or the tape is a bit of isolated Dark Star. Or who really knows? 

#76 8/3/69 Family Dog SF 23:20 (standalone DS with saxophone & violin players)

With David LaFlamme and Charles Lloyd! Very cool to open the jam up to new musicians. It starts with the classic intro and cruisin’ jam rhythm, hand drums and that guiro fish. TC wandering around. JG plays around a bit before soaring, stopping to perhaps invite others onstage. Nice bass sound from Phil. Some jazzy substitutions from Jerry outlining chords that aren’t there, he starts a theme with saxophone response at 2 minutes. Lets it go into the sax groove. JG picking up on how Charles Lloyd hits the modes, so they’re both jamming on it. At 4.5 min there’s some tuning on a pseudo-Sputnik to settle, then they continue. Bobby is finding some nice harmonies for his chord comping. Violin sneaks in, brittle tone (it’s hard with a violin into a guitar amp with no EQ, believe me.) They settle, violin, sax and guitars on some odd long note chord structures, and then JG is back in the lead with the rhythm section very subdued. Mickey plays a bunch of cowbells and then tom toms. Yeah, dude. JG comes into the insect tone at 7:20 or so, sax trilling in response. Sax goes chromatic and low as Jerry enters a Sputnik, going into the rhythmic version almost immediately. The sax and violin stretch this out harmonically quite a bit, it dies down and starts a semi-thematic jam with the sax taking lead, as the band ladders up and down on the chord/mode. All the instruments are jamming out, Jerry is going for a kind of a bright star, but with the sax and swinging drums it’s very jazzy, and he’s not the front line of the melodies! Chaos of star. It ebbs, the band gets back on track with the intro theme and into the verse! 

Funny delivery of the verse lines, the line two rhythm sets on its last beat for a keystone, the wandering of the third line continues upwards over the whole line. 

The new guys seem to know the melody and how it shifts. When the center jam starts, LaFlamme is playing the Dark Star melody over the incoming bell tolling, very interesting maneuver. Some ups and downs before Jerry whips out a long introductory lick and the band settles into a mellow jam area. Phil and Bob have moved into a groove, Lloyd is comping on long notes. The drums come in. It builds. LaFlamme and Lloyd are finding some long tones in the tops of the chords, following the vocal melodic line. Soloists building alongside each other. By 18 minutes in there’s a slow chordal building up from the extra guys, Jerry is jamming full on, then it peaks and Bob leads back to the Dark Star song area, Jerry follows with a happy skipping melodic DS theme, and carries it onwards. They build it more, the sax coming in with some bluer notes, but bring it back down and get to verse 2, with little sax interjections. 

Nice vocal delivery on verse 2 from all involved, all parts present—plus! Again, Phil and TC are emphasizing the offbeat A chord within the last beat of each bar in line 2, a new rhythmic take on that spy theme thing. Sax tries to play along with the outro melody, which for some reason sounds to me like Albert Ayler from roughly this same time period…Witches, I think? I think some of the sax parts in the entire recording reminded me of Ayler, melodically, but it wasn’t until this outro that it fell into place in my mind.

This is a lot to listen to. I’d speculate that a lot of serious deadheads don’t like this kind of thing with the extra guys (?) but I thought it was very cool, new takes on the song *within* the band’s own idea of it. I liked this one!

#77 8/16/69 Woodstock, NY: 19:06 – Woodstock: 40 Years On

Well, this is a disaster show for these guys as we have all heard, musta been some strong stuff! There’s 11 minutes of nothing but tech issues before Dark Star, then they start. They sound like they’re attempting to play the song, the ROR is there for a sec, then some wandering ensues using a very round organ tone. Jerry seems out of time in some spots, as he was in earlier songs in the set. By about a minute in, it’s actually sounding nice. Bobby plays with the song form a bit and goes out, doing some arpeggios. The hand percussion seems to be all mic’ed at this point, they actually got the sound together. Man. 

TC with some cool shimmering organ swells in the 2-3 minute area, before the 4 minute mark they hit the theme fairly noticeably, but loud organ stuff until he grooves back into it and changes his stops back to the flute tones. Jerry seems to like this and continues exploring. It drops in intensity for a little tidepool and some outside stretches from JG. Another little ebb before 6 minutes and then back to the Dark Star where JG seems to get involved in the groups-of-three-eighth note rhythm that he’d been playing with in sputniks recently, but doesn’t stick with it. Somebody yells something about strings? Or Rain? They continue. This is actually a nice mellow version so far! They’re playing around the song themes. 

At 8 minutes they enter the verse, a nice calm version, JG sounds a bit scary on some of the lines, TC has the flute stops, they do the accent on the last chord of each line thing. And then they enter the Transitive Nightfall.

People clap. Drums enter. Lots of cymbals, extended chords. No real bell tolling, but repetitive extended chord playing. Eventually JG climbs in with some lead lines! Bringing it up, Bobby is still stuck on some chord. JG gets into a fuzzier tone, I guess overloading what amps they had there. Phil seems to be sticking with a semblance of the chord progression, the drums are cycling in song-form lines for a while, eventually Phil breaks out and TC has some louder chordal ideas. Once it comes back down they play in key still but lower, JG plays out some fast licks at lower volumes. It’s still sort of holding “in song” for a while, but at 13 minutes something new happens, a minor pull off set from Bobby and dissolving of the “song” into spacey hovering. TC flits about. The drums come in with a beat after a while and they are sort of back in a pre-Sputnik, and JG goes for a rhythmic version, sort of the sets-of-3/8ths for a bit, with drums alongside. At 15 it’s *similar* to a bright star idea but not there really. Bobby on some cool weird chord changes, then they come back to the intro theme by 16 minutes, but Jerry takes it to country licks after a minute! They do some chromatic bits and continue in this country/chromatic area passing by any opportunities to get to verse 2. At least on this tape. It falls off and heads toward High Time…! Weird. Not really a bad rendition of Dark Star, though.

#78 8/21/69 Seattle, WA: 6:33

Lots of (actual) flute at this show, hippie vibe all around. Dark Star comes out of the second half of a slow Cryptical Envelopment, toward the end of the set, is relatively short and heads off to end the set with Cosmic Charlie. Out of Cryptical, they were already on hand drums, and there are many intro theme stabs before it seems to settle and they start. It’s slower than usual, seems like. Immediate verse 1 after the intro, no pre-verse jam! It seems all based on Jerry playing his vocal melody while singing very emotionally, subdued. And messing up the lyrics. This is pretty neat, it reminds me of the versions from early in 1968. Pretty straight middle jam, some people hint at the bell, but it never really tolls, instead a lot of wandering around on all parts. Some emotive bends from JG. Hand drums/guiro in the middle still. Jerry hits some chromatic notes to bring the scale into more weird territory, he’s very expressive this evening, but again, in a subdued way. The band settles into a DS chord sequence for a mellow little jam. JG comes in with a “star” lightly falling at about 4:40, it even quiets down more from there. And then verse 2 comes in. The song form is fairly exact, not much wandering on line 3. They don’t really hold the end notes of the chorus for very long like they usually do (such as on “shall we gooooo”), and it quietly goes through the outro notes and immediately start Cosmic Charlie.

Interesting version, short and subdued, very delicate.

#79 8/23/69 St. Helens, OR: 26:#57 (1st vocals missing)

Sounds like Phil is into it but a bit out of tune at the start. It wanders around after the intro, TC has that lovely warbly roller-rink-flute tone on his organ. Weird tapping on the hand drums before the theme statement at a minute and a half in, then some stretching strings from Bob (?) sounds like they are trying to figure out who is actually in tune here. This wandering listlessness seems to go on. Ok, they’re relaxed maybe. Right before 3 minutes, Phil settles on his low E string to tune it up. In rhythm. The next section gets very spacey, TC holds some long tone, eventually JG does some stronger theme statements to get them on track. Some aside vocal yells on stage, something isn’t working right. At about 4 minutes they head into an odd jam that develops in some outside ways, and ends with Jerry swirling on a couple notes, TC adding some reed stops. They get to the verse intro theme by 6 minutes. BUT it doesn’t go there. Jerry starts some high pull offs and the band dies down, he’s being very quiet and hard to follow. By 7:30 there’s still some runs but no verse, though the vibe is starting to sound nice. Relaxed, still. The go to the intro theme again. Maybe Jerry has no vocal mic, he goes off on chromatic runs. TC is loudly following along, they build it up, almost to a crying star/bright-ish. And the drums come in around 9 minutes. 

It all sounds like lead in to the verse, but Jerry is fooling around. At 10:20 is almost entirely dies out. Phil has a few choice notes, but this space is building up like looking into a Dark Star from the outside. Threats of Dark Star. The bell starts tolling from the bass, but it doesn’t develop into the “Transitive Nightfall” jam really, it dies off and starts a new thing at 11:30, sort of Sputnik-based but not exactly. 

Then a tape cut, we enter again in classic DS chords and strong bass, no JG, but then they drop out to leave malleted cymbals pulsing around, with some weird swells and twirls from the organ. Super space! Sound bath jam! Nice one, this is real space, people, it’s quiet and odd. Some volume knob guitar note swells come in to add tone to the jam, bass sneaks in with a few notes. TC is really the dominant tonal sound here though, making some very weird trilling organ sounds falling down the keyboard. It’s an organ space! Wow. 

Some string scraping leads into a quiet Sputnik at about 17 minutes, TC still leading in a way, with arpeggios. Sputnik goes to the higher version, some bass and guitar enter bit by bit. It drops down to allow a new section at 19:20. Jerry starts a quiet tone based slow lead area, it’s going to bring them back, TC hits the intro theme notes. A minute later a very mellow Bright Star starts and begins a build. The band comes in to back it up. It’s slow and deliberate, but building, even to a crying star lead as TC starts to hit straight chords. 

22 minutes, Jerry heads to the bridge pickup for a brighter tone and continues the brighter star area. This goes on for a while, to the theme statements proper at about 24 minutes in. JG starts some arpeggios, Phil jams on it, then back to the crying star, after which it dies down. 

Verse 2 at 25:15! Strong vocals, the song form is skeletal, for example line 2 has the offbeat rhythm only in bass until that last A chord, minimal wandering on line 3. Slightly out vocals for the outro, a long build into the St Stephen intro.

Weird one! No first verse, and that amazing space in the middle with organ and cymbals. But otherwise slow and not exactly “in tune” in many ways. A lot of aimlessness in the first half. 

#XX 8/28/69 Family Dog, SF: 47:#33 (Dark Star 31:16 # 16:16 > Eleven jam 16:40) [with Howard Wales and flute; without Weir, McKernan, or Constanten]

This Family Dog show with extra guys is sort of hard to judge this as a Dark Star, the recording is mostly Howard Wales ripping on the organ! I hear some Dark Star intro themes and a few times ‘Garceeah’ alludes to it within the next hour of jamming. (Honestly I don’t get the track separations, there’s some Dark Star melody licks in the tracks labelled “jam” also.)  Regardless, Wales is awesome, but by the time the mix is ok on the recording, they’re jamming on something else. It’s a nice jazzy session. No DS verses or anything, just an intro and then modal jams. It doesn’t sound like Wales knew the tunes beforehand, the things he places within the “Dark Star” and The Eleven are interesting but definitely out of left field with respect to how the band had presented the song previously. He’s very into fast funky organ playing, and he’s definitely rockin’ it. JG is playing well this evening too, and Phil gets in on the funkiness as well.

#80 8/30/69 Family Dog: 28:56

Now we’ve got the whole Grateful Dead band at the Fam Dog. Musta been a cool scene out there! 

Intro then some plateaus immediately, JG just sits on one note for a while! The band rhythm ebbs and takes a while to come back. No ROR, just jamming, with a drum set (or cymbals with sticks anyway) in there already. Nice organ playing happening. Takes a while to settle into any sort of groove, JG playing with chromatics, swung like Dark Star is, Phil seems to be the keystone of rhythm and he takes it in and out. They are really taking their time settling into anything, it goes up and down. Some tuning in between lead areas. At 3 min it enters a new sort of space. Bobby is there but barely playing, it seems, he’s on some weird idea of the song this evening. TC rolls on with his vibrato-roller-rink sound, not all the high stops in yet though, still a bit flutey. They are very spacious. By 5 minutes it’s in a chromatic hovering cloud, coming out to intimate Dark Star, but still very chromatically. Phil is not moving with straightforward momentum, and the whole thing ebbs and flows, lots of quieter mellower passages losing the motile rhythm. Spanish Jam (phrygian) hints even. Jerry starts a set of longer runs up and down, mellow tone, Phil follows a bit, but they then take it to the theme at 7 minutes, and verse 1. 

Nice easy vocal delivery, no warbling, quiet and delicate. Line 2 only with the last chord emphasized, line three with minimal “casting” about. Slow  treatement of the “chorus”. Intro to the transitive nightfall is tentative. Organ building with cymbal splashes. Phil leads with solemn chords, similar to bell tolls but fading out. At 9:30, it’s space! tinkling hand percussion, little noises from the electric instruments, cymbal splashes, very quiet. String scraping and stroking slowly, small sounds, tinkling. Organ mischief comes in, atonal statements and then swipes. String swipes and hits from the guitars, a serious jam of “sound”, some higher note-like sounds from the insect weirdness variety, maybe with a slide sliding around on the strings. This is nice ‘outside’ improv, atonal and sound-based. Some odd feedbacky elements coming in, building the noise level up from all parties involved. Rumbling bass hits, occasional notes. 

The bell is coming. At 13:30 it’s tolling in a sea of noise. But the noise overtakes it. Bass feedback. Eventually some small intimations of tonal notes are forming, with volume knob swells and some struck guitar “bell” tolling. The bass starts some notes, back and forth, while some high notes are swelling in. The percussion is still swelling around. Volume knob swells of slow arpeggios in the 15 minute area, percussion still arhythmic.

A guitar note! Suggesting thematic material slowly, the bass bringing up from slow walk to a bit more ‘a tempo’ over the next couple minutes, at 16:45 they settle into a new groove/chord progression, a slow minor key one. Jerry starts some actual lead runs, Phil is still plugging around with slow motion. A very slow build up, though a drummer is in there. Bob has some minor key choice going on, not quite chordal, more like an alto line. Phil speeds up in the 18 minute area though it hasn’t hit Dark Star groove still. Taking its time to get there, building and building very slowly faster and louder, Bob starts hitting *some of* the actual chords, the drummers are hyping it up. At 20 minutes, JG steps aside, TC takes a long (and bluesy) organ solo over a loud bass and drums, Phil hyping it up with bass chords in a new progression, which Bobby picks up on and it’s a jam (with that maj7 chord)! What! Honestly, this thing sounds more like “Grazing in the Grass” to me than Soulful Strut. Especially when they do it later in the coming versions.

Something weird goes on at 22min, sounds like Jerry tuning up a new string in the background, they keep the maj7 chord groove going, he joins in and plays some licks. At 24 min we have a IV-V-I chord progression going on here, with some Santana inspired rhythms. Sort of flailing jamming happening with this progression, and some tuning still happening in between licks. Some stabs at a Dark Star theme in there, but it’s clearly not ready, even by 26 minutes in. The rhythm is just wrong. How are they going to get back? JG forces the theme like a slow bright star, but Phil does not get to Dark Star until almost 27 min. Sounds like the band reluctantly follows Jerry to the theme and they start verse 2 with a weird off-beat rhythm to it, which dies off for line two, leaving an odd em-A presentation. Almost no wandering on line 3, just playing the notes. Crashing into the chorus, angry sounding hits to punctuate, but a nice-enough vocal exit, and instrumental outro, slowly taken, to the chords into St Stephen.

Weird one, guys! Nice exploration in the middle, but weird jam rhythms afterwards. And a pretty unnatural return to the song, I’d say. 

#81 9/1/69 New Orleans, LA: 17:39

This Dark Star is a shift in the set, where the first half was all the country stuff, then a “yellow dog story”. Then they start the suite, the tape has some weirdness at the beginning in the intro, but the song itself goes smoothly into the initial improv section, it’s pretty relaxed. Takes Jerry a while to get up into the upper registers, TC toodling along with him. Interesting takes on the theme-idea and improvising with it, caught in the first of several eddies in the flow by a minute and half, then back to thematic improv. After the first few minutes, the wave dies down, but TC goes on and then Jerry catches up and takes over this time. They’re playing really nicely, Phil’s tone is subdued, not aggressive and he and Bobby find a very jazzy backdrop to the JG leads. By 3 and a half, JG takes his neck-pickup tone into a nice rolling area and the band rolls along with it over the hump and toward the intro theme heading toward a verse at 4:45. 

Strong vocals, with organ chord accompaniment, the line two rhythm is still hinging on that last offbeat chord, very small casting about in line 3, all with cymbal splashing and congas.

Ornate outro and I hear somebody laugh as they go through it and start the ‘transitive nightfall’, which is slow in starting with cymbals, small feedback, organ tinkling, it’s going outside, kids. Very delicate space, small sounds and some volume-knob notes and spectral clusters from the organ, very “electronic music”-ish. There is no real lead sound, though the volume swell notes seem to be taking it somewhere. Everybody is producing odd noises, and slowly building the tension. Some string taps, rubbing the strings takes on a chord, similar to the Sputnik chord… and Jerry starts playing notes, slowly, like they are dripping from an icicle. Some trills and double stops from the bass and rhythm guitar, starting up some chords, JG starts with some melodic lines at about 10 minutes, though it takes a while for the band to follow into any actual rhythm. The hand drums are joined by drum set and at 10:50 it sounds like they are jumping in to the Dark Star music again, the chords are there, but some nice extensions from Bobby, lots of chord play from TC, building the volume and the lead is getting higher and more intense, and almost into a Sputnik, but it dies off and Jerry goes into fast runs with a nasal tone over a static band quietly moving slowly underneath. Then out of this mire, a Bright Star begins strongly at 13:40, land-ho! And to the theme, heading to verse two with syncopated chop-chords from TC, a little thematic jam first, with some strong riff-like bits, before it backs off for the verse at 15:50.

Strong vocals, very dramatic reading, the song form has morphed into a new style these days.  All vocals for the outro, though a clicky-syncopated bit before the outro chord stuff that heads off into St Stephen. Now two years since those first melodic Dark Star drippings into Dancin’ in the Streets.

#82 9/26/69a Fillmore East, NY: #16:50 (missing start) AUD

Oooh, bad audience recording here unfortunately. It is the beginning of a set? Hard to understand the start despite the tape cut, and there’s either feedback or high organ notes for a while. Sounds like the rhythm section is moving, JG is just trying out a few modal notes. TC is hovering on chords. Sounds like they start to really get into it after a few minutes, some strong forward motion, then backing off toward a theme statement. It’s not super fast and Phil seems to be holding on pedal tones a lot. A lot of preamble before the verse hovering with organ chords floating over it all. Verse 1 at 3:40. Strong held notes in the vocals with no more horror movie tremolo warbles. Line two is still still doing the last chord fulcrum thing instead of the stronger spy-theme rhythms. 

Transitive Nightfall starts with the band grooving away, but it is slowly being blown aside by cymbals and odd sounds, like entering a new world, landing in a new land before 6 minutes. Volume swell notes, some bass maneuvering underneath. Cymbals blowing the realities around. Eventually Phil settles down and the vibe is space. It hovers for a while before JG comes in with some extra-modal material in melodic lines above it. Weird organ swells with the bright stops out. JG is playing around with atonal chords, Phil with small phrases in between gaps. Arhythmic space still happening with occasional lines form the musicians. Phil seems to be in his own world. 

At about 10 minutes, drums enter with a side-stick rhythm, it sounds like the band is going to drop in and head to thematic jamming, but it takes a while (also hard to hear all the parts in the cassette hiss.) A chordal jam/Feeling Groovy-ish by 11 minutes, they are building it up stronger and stronger, toward a theme statement at 12:40, but curtailed, only using the first part of the phrase. Then upwards again, some really fast lead playing from Jerry at this show. He’s really rocking out! Would be nice to hear a soundboard of this show. Bright Star at 14:20 following many minutes of spectacular guitar playing, you can hear people yelling and clapping as they bring it down in volume *and* tempo very starkly by 15 minutes to verse 2, with odd drum rhythm accompaniment and a funny dropping lick from the organ. It sounds like it’s still dropping in tempo through the verse, like a sudden drop from orbit back to earth. 

Outro is all there but covered in tape hiss, off to the chords (with some odd ones) and into St Stephen, where again the audience claps and yells yay!

Must have been an amazing show. I really like the “transitive nightfall” jams that subvert reality like this by starting one way and having it casually blown aside by the cymbals and volume swells into a whole new land. Reminds me of the breeze coming in through the window that you didn’t notice before you smoked the DMT and now it’s gone and blown the reality you had been living in away bit by bit until you are entirely somewhere else. 

#83 10/25/69 Winterland: 22:02

Nice to be back at Winterland and starting off with a Dark Star. After Stills/Nash? Relaxed intro, nice little repetitive motifs from TC, Jerry comes in slowly with motion around the theme, playing down into his strings, Phil trying out some low string ideas. Nice tone from everybody. This is another where they can hear each other and themselves well, so it’s got a lot of room to play. JG teases a theme and then switches tone up for some darker area, comes out into some stretching outside the mode. Really nicely exploratory, settling into little tidepools before teasing theme ideas again at 2:30 or so, heading brighter (and tuning) and into little rhythmic riff areas. It comes down from this wave, TC does some upward flourishes against Jerry’s downward ones. Jerry’s and Phil’s tone are both great on this recording, and they are relaxed. To the intro theme and TC takes it to do some solos. It sounds like it will head to a verse, but Phil takes it sideways into arhythmic lulls, and the cymbals wash away the scene. We’re in a harmonic static space. I hear some pokes at theme material, and drums sidestick their way in to a jazzy/funky Dark Star area, sliding into the chords from a half step below, building it up as a chordal jam on the intro theme. 

Verse at 7 minutes, Jerry sticks the notes, no warbling. Phil takes the line two rhythm, casually, on line three it wanders a bit but not excessively, slows considerably for the chorus. Through the Transitive Nightfall is very slowly stated, but after the jam intro, they hop right back into it and Jerry starts soloing, the whole band grooving along. Some new chord ideas enter before 9 minutes and then suddenly some splashes, from cymbals and Bob and then Phil kicks it in, they’re manually killing the groove by pushing it under the waves. When this quiets down, Jerry goes to the volume knob swells and they each settle on some small figures in a sparse pool. This picks up a bit with Jerry on a delicate but bright-tones lead entering, Bob on very outside chords, struck in an odd sequence, but they build it up like this over the next few minutes. JG kicks it up with a pedal of some sort at 11:45, they are stating things strongly, but Bob is keeping the harmony very outside the mode very atonal. The groove is still underlying but not super evident with everybody off on their own. TC still plugging his arpeggios. They go into a chordal jam section for a bit at 13 but it keeps falling out of it with Phil not keeping the roots intact until he starts the descending “Feeling Groovy” thing for a bit. This moves along semi-together for several minutes. It’s fully the new section eventually by 15 minutes, with an upbeat rhythmic and major key melodic feel (as I said before, I dunno about Soulful Strut, this still sounds more like “Grazing in the Grass” to me) To a build up in the 17th minute and they strike big chords and kill it off at 17:45, Jerry slowly leads it out and back toward Dark Star territory, but when it gets there it’s got harmonic lead stuff from JG and BW, weird! Theme hits hard this was at 19:20 and then they slow it down, slow it down, slow it down and back to the verse 2 intro are, at a much slower tempo.

A delicate verse 2, hardly anybody wandering on line 3. The outro vocals are ok, the instrumental counterpoints sound kinda like they’re just throwing their fingers at the instruments to make it happen. Off to St Stephen after only a few chords.

Nice one in that they extend it and play with new sections, odd that they don’t play entirely together though they obviously hear each other, and some very atonal stuff from Bob. Weird usage of harmonies in the theme stuff toward the end, and the serious rubato heading back to the verse. I started out thinking I would love it with this recording and stage volumes, but didn’t really. 

#84 11/2/69 Family Dog: 30:06

Oh, that tuning. But some pedal tones from Phil straighten them out. Jerry makes some strong arpeggio to a high notes fanfares in the slow moving intro area. Seems a bit like they’re getting it together still, but some interest in a specific fanfare statement, TC wandering around with a reedy sound. Jerry gets caught up in some eddies, relying on certain specific notes, Bob comes along for the ride. They sound relaxed here, no hurry. Up and down the statements, large gaps in between. A big wave comes in at 4:20, riff-like leads, big chords, carries them for a bit and then leaves them floating as it breaks up a minute later and then picks up again and carries them in a new set of modal notes for another minutes where it leaves them all strewn about on the beach after a long wheedly-wheedly section from Jerry with a mellow tone. That’s one of the things I love about this piece of music, the natural ebb and flow, like the sea.

A very delicate area is happening here for a while, the theme material coming in very quietly at 7 minutes or so. Noodling from TC over a quiet Dark Star chord area, occasional stabs from JG, going on (some guitar tuning happening, again, Phil assists with open strings.) Cymbals start splashing around. Hints at the theme. A funny little chordal riff from TC. The verse comes in at 9:30. Very delicate one, but with steady and strong vocals from Jerry. Mellow rhythmic statements on line 2, a repeated upward line for line 3 instead of the wandering around. Slow chorus, and classic counterpoint intro to the “Transitive Nightfall.”

I hear a slow bell tolling coming, the band hovers. It dies down, sparse cymbals and organ play, bass drops out. Cymbals are left with some organ weirdness, string scraping, some guitar-body-strikes, sparse string hits, lots of quiet scraping and noisy space in general, organ stop spectral play with sweeps, sparse hits from everybody. The sea of holes. JG on some volume knob swells into feedback! After a big wave, tiny little notes emerge among other odd electronic sounds. This is a great space. JG enters with some modal notes now at 14;30 or so. The drummers are both using only metal at this point, with some toms entering but it’s all very quiet and sparse. A Sputnik arpeggio section quietly emerges from JG and then TC follows. Phil comes in with a rhythmic idea but on mostly root notes. It builds with some chop chords from Bob til 16:50 then drops off and comes back as a new section building to a groove riff which Jerry goes soloing over. He’s much more twangy now with a Stratocaster instead of the SG. It’s Dark Star-ish but straighter rhythm, sort of a I-IV-V chord thing with descending bass, Feeling Groovy. By 22 minutes it jumps into a new thing. This has that proto-“Eyes of the World” vibe, Amaj7 -Gmaj7 feel (which Jerry said came from Walk on the Wild Side: “the colored girls sing doodoodoot” ) This is the “Soulful Strut”? It falls out of this jam at 25 minutes in and then tries to build toward Dark Star again with elements of the previous rhythm and maj7 chords, but jumps right back in at 26:40. Jerry heads for the Bright Star maneuver. The rhythm is very static, not very swung, even when they come back to the intro theme it takes a bit to settle it back into Dark Star. TC on flutey organ stops, they start verse 2. 

“Mirror Crashes!”. Similar verse treatment as verse 1, the chorus is quietly played, all vocals on outro, some Tibetan bells with the chords on the transition to St Stephen.

#85 11/7/69 Fillmore: 26#:00 (18:33 > UJB jam 1:45 # 5:47)

Back to the Fillmore, they are really jamming it up at this show, lots of songs breaking into jam sections, and China Cat is moving into I Know You Rider for now and for always. I suppose that was inevitable from the previous year’s change of the song’s main key from E to G major—you land on a big old G and then where can we go?

Dark Star even has jams within jams, coming after IKYR. It starts cold with the intro riff, medium to slow tempo, but Jerry has some little upwards statements to make, as does TC. JG comes in with lead notes in sparse sentences, they are really changing the mood of the concert here to a more somber and quiet area. It develops a heavier overall tone, the groove seems held back a bit, but some very interesting guitar bits from both Bob and Jerry, leading to some very extra-modal whirlpools by about 3 minutes, into almost thematic areas, still very subdued, and slow this evening. Relaxed. 

Bob has some hammer ons he wants to play with. More semi-thematic play before settling again and possibly moving towards verse 1. Cymbals splash around, it takes a while, JG starts noodling again, Phil steps into some lower notes, stolidly stated. Out again and back to the theme area a little more deliberately now, verse 1 starts right before the 6 minute mark. Dramatic and sort of soft reading of the lyrics, it’s a but slow and quiet. Rhythm is a bit more succinct on line two and the wandering a bit more pronounced on line three.

The jam intro starts with cymbals splashing, some static notes from Phil, rhythm slowly falling apart in favor of sound, a trill from Phil, some struck guitar bits, the cymbals, volume swells and feedback. Phil heading toward getting some bass feedback as it builds in volume. Volume swell arpeggio bits, sweeps from the high-harmonic stops on the organ, a slide on Bob’s guitar swooping down. Some lead notes emerge, the band still in noise/sound jam territory. Both drummers are present but very sparse hits. Very spacey jam. Odd strong bass notes, a drummer is starting up a rhythm slowly, but it takes a while to gather any sense of tempo. The musicians are playing with sounds emanating from their instruments more than notes or phrases. JG starts to take it towards phrases in the 12 minute area, Phil follows, drums start an actual pulse. Bobby is taking the harmonies outside and back in by sliding up and down a half step and coming back, they build the volume and intensity, but it breaks down at 13:30 again, back to the void. Jerry still in a plucking mood, he’s playing some melodic phrases sort of alone in the wilderness here for a bit, other musicians slowly joining in, lots of cymbal splashing. 

A thematic version, with riffy chords and bass is building here, very interesting 1-2-3 hits then a build from below back to the one, then Phil steps on it and by 16 min they’re in a Dark Star jam, with a sort of trudging bass line, all on-beats (weird for Phil) but it’s heading somewhere else harmonically (and yes we know that it is going to the Uncle John’s Band chords) and it gets to the point at 18 minutes where the Uncle John’s Band minor key riff starts, and they move into the UJB melodies and chord progression. Playing with the melodic bits and to the song chords. I guess they must have had lyric ideas for this already? It seems dependent upon being surrounded by the intro/outro riff idea and when they hit that again, they go back to a jam that takes them back to Dark Star area. They head to a bright star world, but it takes a bit of finessing to fit it and pull it into Dark Star, but coming out of the higher notes, they’re back in a now-much-faster version of the groove. Jerry states a theme strongly but then that wave pulls back and leaves some little whirls of notes building up again, still int he DS groove. Then the whole band essentially states the theme together (drums and all!) and they bring it down into the pre-verse area.

Mirror shatters, now the vocals are much stronger. Line two has Phil strongly on the offbeats and then doing his casual wandering on line three. All vocals on the outro sort of relaxedly sung. Phil takes new routes on the outro build to the chords, which then go to Cryptical Envelopment!

Nice new ways to break up the set, guys! I really love that the experiments in the jam are also developing ideas that will later become other songs (like the almost Eyes rhythm and maj7 chords on the other nights’ version, the almost Weather Report bit here, and then more full-band rehearsal space jams like Uncle John’s riff that happened here.) The whole audio ‘telegraphing’ thing is a major part of what I like about the Grateful Dead, the way they do it within a song (like, somebody plays a lick that signals somewhere they might go, though it might take several minutes, either for everybody to get on board or just that they all know that that’s where they’re heading to regardless) and things like these nascent bits in Dark Star and the Main Ten riff happening in these period’s shows that grow out and separate like amoeba into their own songs, either a night or two later or years later. Whole new ways of playing with time.

#86 11/8/69 Fillmore: 21:03 (DS 14:03 > Other One > DS 7:00 [DS 1:04 > UJB jam 2:33 > DS 3:23]) – Dick’s Picks 16

After a particularly rousing Good Lovin’, complete with drum jams, some intro stabs from various musicians and then they start for real, at a decent tempo this evening. TC has a little motif he’s playing with at the intro chords. Jerry is playing on some harmonic content, and they start rolling on it all together, then it comes back to the groove. Lots of playing around on the Dark Star chords and groove, in and out of time, but all very relaxedly (though not as slow as the night before). It stalls a few times, like at 4 minutes in, and starts back up again. Phil seems to be exploring, trying to find a new thing, bringing the band up and down. He starts a new root-on-the-beat sort of progression (1-2, 1-4) before 5 minutes, but then they go into the theme proper at 5:30 or so, and head toward a verse at 6minutes. 

TC contributes some long lines on the first vocal line, oddly. The entire verse rhythm statements seem to be on Phil’s shoulders. A nice and 

Shakers and some bell tolling from Bob start the middle section, TC rolling around on the keys, Phil bringing up some volume on noisy notes, then it backs off again to nearly nothing after a short time. TC still rolling around, less high-harmonics on his stops now, more flute tone. The percussion takes over with sweeps and cymbals, then backs off to the new world. Volume swells, cymbal sweeps, odd notes coming in and held. Some odd chords, TC now going chromatic with more spectral organ stops. Space jam with sparse sounds, a sputnik threatening quietly from underneath at 10 minutes! It backs off, sparse sounds occur, then the arpeggio sputnik idea starts up again, but on odd chord notes. Phil beats some blasts out of the bass, lands on a low note and Jerry starts a rhythmic line. He’s already suggesting some “The Other One” rhythms and licks in here, telegraphing, but going back to 4/4 and back to the 12/8, they start up a jam in the Dark Star mode but TOO sort of rhythm. Bob is comping some chords, it’s gonna get somewhere else, it’s a I-V-IV-V Feeling Groovy thing. It breaks down again after 14 minutes and then Phil takes The Other One more seriously and begins it for real, then band falls in. Good example of refuting the suggested cue and going elsewhere for a while!

They takes this off into a long up and down 6/8 jam which takes many minutes to get to the song. They get to the first verse after 6 minutes, then off they go again, and after another 5 or so of TOO, they start to head back to Dark Star melodically, still in the 6/8. This breaks up rather quickly as Jerry starts a Dark Star theme and the band switches the pulse into more of a swung 4. It’s fast and only “Dark Star” for a minute before heading to the Uncle John’s Band riff from Phil, everybody goes there, Jerry on a melodic thing above it for the first few times through, then they go through the song chords and JG plays the (future) vocal melody on guitar. It’s a whole song statement, really, minus the vocals. 

Back to the riff stuff, and noodling comes out of it and it winds down tempo-wise with the Dark Star intro theme, then to a little quieter DS jam area.

Verse 2 comes in and it’s mostly bass and vocals, small guitar accompaniment. More wandering from TC on line 3. It seems to be continuously slowing down during the verse and chorus. Outro gets to the stately dissonant chords, which go on a bit long and on to St Stephen again with a Jerry-only start as it seems like Phil was still moving around while working on those chords.

(complain, complain: I must say, I really don’t like the way these bits are separated on, it gaps out on playback plus it screws with our attempts to calculate times for the Dark Star! )

This is a pretty intense multi-layered set as a whole, regardless, lots of ins and outs of various songs, and even of future song tries, telegraphing Uncle John’s Band and even Playing in the Band that will come in later years. Really creative, very cool stuff. 

#87 12/4/69 Fillmore West: 30:14 (and not the “New Old Fillmore” Auditorium!)

 This is a historic show/run in many ways, the announcements for the show cancelled at Golden Gate Park moving to Sear’s Point, (then to Altamont) while the band plays Black Peter for the first time, with long instrumental breaks, and later Uncle John’s Band is free of Dark Star and lives on its own and with lyrics. Dark Star itself is 30 minutes long! 

It starts with guitar, bass joins in, TC has his lead in lick now, Jerry is leading tone sliding into it. They get caught in a  groove early on, setting a medium tempo for a long cool jam. Drums are already in, sidesticking away. Jerry does a few China Cat-type licks by 2 min and more groove. Jerry is testing high end on the Stratocaster a bit, resetting the amp at 3 minutes, back for more relaxed Dark Star jam. He goes outside the mode for a bit, jazzy, but it sounds like slipping up a fret and going with it, he’s getting used to this larger scale neck still and it sounds to me like this show has more ‘testing the limits’ of the Stratocaster versus the SG, possibly just due to whatever amps he’s using. There’s more groove, testing the pickups here. Really finding little eddies of quiet sets of notes or chords. 

The jam builds sort of sputnik e minor shape but comes out before 6 minutes with the theme and gets to verse intro territory repeating the chords, more guitar testing, he’s being very quiet and trying out the guitar for country bending. Even a few banjo flourishes very quietly. TC is in a more mellow set of stops, sort of taking lead and JG drops out. Phil sticks to the riff area mostly. Sputnik-like build up back into the DS chords, into an ascending riff, and a sudden change of downbeat with the DS theme for two whole notes before breaking it off into a new higher energy jam, all they to a brighter star area. Drums have built to a solid groove even as the guitar fades away again. Waves of in and out, whole new riff jams, the drums go out for a while. Bobby holding it together with some slappy chord progression. Allusions to Dark Star. Phil takes the lead, Jerry comping for a while. Jerry needs to tune a bit. The theme comes in again at a slower pace at 13 min. And to the verse.

Leisurely reading of the verse, JG’s voice is strong on all notes, he sounds relaxed. Lots of cymbals on the 2nd and 3rd lines, and outro. I really love the composition and reading of these lines on every version. 

Out into a sea of transitive nightfall… they hold statically for a bit and then it launches into space, a few choice notes and long chords from the organ, odd percussion, volume swell guitar space, with feedbacks and organ. A very introspective aural space, for a while, some organ trills and swells. 

At 18 min Jerry is quietly doing some banjo rolls on the guitar, TC arpeggiates, he sounds like a modern sequencer, or pre-Tangerine Dream. Lotta modal organ playing, and quiet, very Pink Floyd, into a very nice theme-based counterpoint section with guitars and bass coming back in. 

Now they’re getting into Uncle John’s groove territory, but it gets more groove oriented with claves and stuff. Phil jamming out on the Dark Star theme idea. Nobody is really playing lead for a while. JG comes and follows for a while, then takes it up and changes a few modal notes. They build the jam up, JG is trying out some new Strat sounds, sort of folksy-bluesy stuff, using open strings. To a rolling crescendo and over the wave to the theme statement at 26:30, brighter star area, but with a tolling open A string for a while. After a minute it’s bright star and the wave passes, they drop back into the low key groove before verse 2. Verse 2 comes in at 28:30, a little scarier delivery, telling the story. Very tender “Lady in Velvet.” The wandering in that line is limited to TCs rising keyboard. 

All outro vocals flying, off to the counterpoint outro tag, but it’s a little messed up as JG pops on something, falls out and catches up, then they sort of fade out instead of going to the chords and it starts High Time.

Awesome version of the song. The verses were beautifully rendered, the jams had a lot of Jerry backing off and leaving different aural areas, which is of course both cool and not (less Jerry), but offset by the neat new things he uses in the jams stretching out the Stratocaster sound with the open string Richard Thompson-y stuff and also the weird Brit-psych quiet sections with long organ chords and the bass soloing that took up the slack he left. 

The singing has definitely evolved, after the first “single” version where it was sort of a psychedelic pop song, a lot of the 1968 presentations had more “scary movie”-type warbling tremolos on the long notes (possibly drug-related, who knows), but in 1969 it’s gone back and forth with many different ways of presenting the lead vocals. Some have been soft and relaxed, some with the warbles, but by June, Jerry has relaxed more with the long high notes that start the line phrases. (In ethnomusicology they talk about “expenditure of energy” melodic phrasing, really common in drum + voice musics, where the phrases start high and loud and come down from there in pitch and in volume.) But at some of the shows, (~June 1969 for example) he sounds very tired, more cigarette throated like his voice sounds later in his life. Here, Nov and Dec 1969, he’s nailing it: strong and relaxed first notes, holding the pitch well and steady, not straining. Phil and Bob almost always pull off the outro counterpoint lines pretty well, though obviously that varies with monitor presence or levels, (if you can’t hear yourself, you never know what you’re singing). Though we know that Phil, as a singer, is more an idea guy than an vocal artiste. 

#88 12/11/69 Los Angeles, CA: 20:32 – Dave’s Picks 10 bonus disc

A couple of false starts, even with a count in that goes nowhere! They finally do it altogether and head into the song. Phil is taking lead for a while. Jerry enter with a little flourish and it settles into a relaxed groove with the shakers almost keeping the beat while everybody stretches out a bit. It climbs up and comes back into the Dark Star thematic area for another wave with lots of string stretching from JG. When this crests they come back to the verse intro. Nice vocal delivery, a little distortion makes it sounds slightly raspy, but his notes are held nicely. Cymbals crash on the chorus area.

Jam intro counterpoint and hints at bells emerging from a groove, everybody in their own tempo, the cymbals splash, the guitars strum, and it dies off into a new world. We weren’t quite breezily blown here, just picked up and deposited. 

Volume swell notes from the bass, TC still wandering around. Out of the quiet the bell tolling comes in a bit, striking the guitar to elicit sound. High harmonic spectral timbres from TC dive in and out. Small sounds from guitars and bass. Some sounds like hitting the guitar strings with a metal slide maybe? String scrapes and hits and odd organ sounds make for a very spacey alien conversation. Oddly I’m reminded of the middle of Interstellar Overdrive for a bit! Volume swell notes get higher in pitch, the bass is sparse, and a sputnik is quietly emerging! At 11 minutes it’s developed into Sputnik proper from Jerry, but the band is jumping around it still. No rhythmic groove from the drums to accompany, it breaks and Jerry emerges into melody playing, the band falls in bit by bit, drums and all and it goes to Feeling Groovy! 

Major key jam on this for a while, with full band (one drummer just on claves, other ride cymbal grooving.) TC has mellowed his tone for this jam to a more flute sound. The chord groove is moving into a semi-Dark Star set within this groove, with heavy emphasis on the A on the downbeat, which eventually leads to Phil just playing A and D on downbeats. He experiments with different rhythms on this, but they go off into the sky jamming on this and he gets in some Dark Star phrases, while Jerry heads almost to Bright Star territory, Bob strongly states the DS chord version of things and at 18:30 they actually play the theme. Then, that done, they retard, retard, retard backing off the tempo into verse 2. 

TC plays around a bit on line one, but comes in with Phil for the line two offbeat rhythm. Some odd slow moving around on line 3. “Shall We Go” has its full madrigal vocal outro and the guitar/bass counterpoint to the stately chords and organ drone leading to St Stephen and The Eleven. 

Pretty classic version, not the best recording. Some of the lead stuff is great, and we got a Sputnik, though maybe (I am? They are?) still getting used to this idea of the newer progression of things in the “Transitive Nightfall” jam moving from the intro counterpoints being blown aside as the band enters space and then coming out of that with such a short Sputnik area directly into a major key “Feeling Groovy” jam, which has to ratchet down so explicitly before it gets back to Dark Star. Felt like the transitions were fairly musically abrupt. The whole idea of “feeling groovy” is a little odd within the story-landscape of Dark Star maybe? Though the monster movie aspects of it seem to have left the vocal delivery these days and the whole vibe is maybe different. 

#89 12/20/69 New Old Fillmore Auditorium: 20:38 – Dave’s Picks 6

This show opens the big space with Mason’s Children, a personal favorite of mine ever since I was introduced to it by that Henry Kaiser album “Those Who Know History Are Doomed to Repeat It”, from 1989. It’s a great album, and he covers not only this tune but Dark Star! Seriously, and at a time when he was doing more avant garde stuff in general, and the Dead were no longer cool in that gang, very much. Also I think this turned my ear toward Dark Star for real, after having heard it live on NYE 81 and not understanding it.

Anyway. Nice clean Dark Star intro with TC’s new riff, some winding up from Phil right off the bat, JG settles it with a melodic intro with a few chromatic passing tones in his lead playing. Sounds like guiro more than shaker for the pulse. Nice exploratory passages between medium-tempo gathering-up bits, it’s not extending out into long statements yet, though with a few eddies in the current of slowly floating downstream for a while. Some double stop lead play and extra-modal excursions, building it up into a full band jam in the 3-4 minute area, Jerry bursts out with a long rising lead up to the crest of this wave then back down to the theme and verse teases. Somebody yells “woooo!”

Verse comes at 5 minutes, super strong lead in with a little warble and even a bit at the end of line two, line three has Phil taking a new route in casting about, more rhythmic stutters on chordal notes instead of his usual hammer on noodles. 

Phil is controlling the rhythm through the outro ‘chorus’. 

And tuning is obviously an issue going into the jam. Phil mostly does the jam intro by himself, not much counterpoint, then hitting and odd bell tones, as the cymbals come in and the organ trills. Space is quietly moved into. The trills swell, Phil finds some odd harmonics. 

At 7:20, a wiping metal slide (Bobby?) makes some interesting noise, with some volume swells from guitars and bass. Cymbals still crashing. Some bell-guitar hits to slight feedback. More organ trills and wide arpeggios against the static sea of sounds. Larger swells in the tide with some louder noises of scraping and feedback coming in against the more spectral organ stops wiping up and down. Low toms and cymbals take over in waves, odd popping bass things. A proper space is reached and we’re interstellar now as the band quiets and a very small sputnik starts with hiccups and odd blue notes, sort of slower banjo style, accompanied by sidestick, it takes it into a more melodic area but harmonically subverted by Phil and Bobby. A little more odd modality and it seems to be sort of phrygian, perhaps a Spanish Jam reference. Then it moves with some melodic suggestions, grooving back up into the major key Feeling Groovy world by 13 minutes. It’s interesting that this major key jam is sort of lacking a specific melodic component when they’ve been doing major key rock out jams the whole of their existence. 

It dies off after a couple minutes into a quiet version of the mode, then JG states some changes that move it back into Dark Star territory, though it’s still pretty fast (and remaining quiet). He leads it up to a high note and sticks on it while the band builds and then after a clam try at it, Bright Star comes out strong. I think Jerry is still getting used to the Stratocaster. 

They take it down in the theme area, in volume and tempo till I guess it feels right for a verse to come in. Interesting play with the theme notes, two at a time for a while, before verse 2 comes in after the 19 minute mark. The verse is marked by sidestick drums, the rhythms fairly clearly stated on the different lines. Vocals are *ok* on the outro, and it goes to the counterpoint and off to the chords that head to St Stephen. 

#90 12/26/69 Dallas, TX: 24:00    

Bobby string breakage during Me ’n My Uncle right before Dark Star, so a couple minutes of stage banter where Jerry says the audience is really quiet “You all sitting in the dark watching us?” There’s been a lot of talking to the audience at this show already, especially between the acoustic songs at the first part explaining that Bill was still in the air flying to meet them! 

String changed, Phil starts the intro riff, JG joins in and they take it into a medium-slow Dark Star chords jam with a lot of melodic feints from Phil and it enters the theme after a couple minutes and stays on it a bit. Jerry is playing back and forth with some leading tones and they get caught in a couple of small whirlpools of riffing notes, with occasional outsiders. Long builds of threes to the 4 minute mark where Bobby holds a harmony, then they come out again into the theme and toward a verse. JG is really into this glissando swoop to the high A beginning of the theme phrase these days. 

However, it doesn’t get to a verse this time, and they get quiet and play around with very delicate bits of the theme material and chromatic three-note pull-offs. A serious thematic statement starts again at 6 minutes and this time they start the verse. Weird delivery, strong first vocal note, then backed off and rest is meeker. Maybe he caught a bug in his throat. Almost a full stop before a quiet ‘chorus’. The Transitive Nightfall intro counterpoint is shaken, not stirred, and they enter into it at 7 1/2 minutes with a groove from Phil while the cymbals start to blow it away. Phil sticks with it a while, the band sort of disappears into the mist, eventually he fades out and we have a static space. (Is there a colloquial name for this section besides ‘space’?) Little feedbacks and occasional long organ notes or chords fading in and out with the cymbal splashing. Some super weird electronic-y sounds popping up amidst string scrapes and general quietude, though sounds like Bill is at his set and tapping away at points. Swells, Phil finding some bass feedback, TC goes for his arpeggios which lead to a quiet Sputnik entrance, side stick drums accompany. It goes up and down, inside and outside of the old em chord. JG breaks out with a mellow tone (for a Strat especially, he’s discovered which tone know controls which pickup). Some blossoms of lead and rhythm guitar together, building in tempo and intensity. A jam with minor key overtones (C natural in there) building up and down and into a major key version toward the Feeling Groovy/Uncle John’s Band descending bassline groove, which heads toward the Soulful Strut thing with full on A Major (even the minor 7th G is a G# now). JG sounds like he has some really specific melodic ideas this evening for these parts, like he’s heading toward something he wants to remember.

They reign it in at 17, but the drummers are still into the groove (ish. Mickey sounds like he’s randomly throwing things at his drums still) but they keep at the groove with Bobby rocking it and Jerry heads toward the high tonic note and stretches up and into it, like a falling star bit, but they are still in the maj7 chords. 

At 19, JG does that gliss up to the A that signals the start of the Dark Star phrase, but again, we’re still on Maj mode, so he starts insisting on the G natural and they get back into the DS chord idea, but fast and not really in DS territory still. At 20 Phil decides he’s gonna solo for a while instead. After this, it’s back to the Dark Star chords, still fast and it takes to 21:30 for JG to play the Bright Star, very slowly stating it over the quick rhythm section to try to slow them down? But when they all fall in after a half a minute, they take the tempo back down and play the theme, and Jerry takes off with up and down riffing scales, then down again to the theme toward verse 2 at 23:12. 

First line has TC on chords very specifically, downbeats all the way, then they do the full spy theme rhythm for line 2 but with no accents, so it’s very plain groups of 3s with shorter 2s at the end of each bar (spondees and dactyls, y’all, if you remember your poetry iambs.) Phil does his hammer ons on on the first half of line 3 and then stays still.

Not great outro vocals, but then the tape cuts so who knows what happens!

I think the band is getting used to a method of doing the middle section jam with space segueing into  the major key jams in that order (Feeling Groovy/UJB jam/whatever this one is, then Soulful Strut/Tighten Up/Whatever it is) but it’s still a little forced to bring it back to Dark Star territory, and involves very blatant tempo reduction like winding it all down in a short space rather than moving naturally or cutting directly to it. It sounds a little unnatural to me, though it feels like the major key jam areas are more in line with the new style they’re working toward with the folky Americana stuff. This feels like juxtaposition of the two with these last few Dark Stars. 

#91 12/30/69 Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA: 19:23# (end missing) 

Middle night of a 3 night run toward NYE, coming out of the China/Rider pair (after a bunch of futzing around and Phil suggesting the intro riff a hundred times) and cut at the end of Dark Star, so unknown where exactly it went before there’s a bit of Alligator and into drums and the Eleven (then back to Alligator and feedback and WBYG.)

They start together at a medium-to-slow tempo, intro amended with a giant cymbal. Many intro statements in a very staid structural rhythm, not much swing to it initially. It seems to be pretty listless for a while, Jerry’s eddies are slow series of notes, he even gets caught on one note for a while, it is taking its time to get into a proper jam. The guiro picks it up a bit, but JG is coming in and out, and the waves follow him. He gets into more quiet stuff in the 3 minute area, volume swells already. They seem to be getting into a little chordal groove, but it’s very slow and understated, very delicate statements from JG and even Phil is a bit delicate. 

At 5:30 or so they start a riff and try to build it up for a bit, but it keeps falling away back into the mellow pond of the mode. JG has some flourishes, even Bobby is following with melodic bits. At 7:00 they do start the theme, very quietly, and it gets to verse 1, a mournful version with the lines stated very much like a year previous, but more mellowed. Not much movement under line 3 still, these days. Organ swells on the Shall We Go, etc, they transition to the counterpoint and start the Transitive Nightfall.

Very quiet, it trails off into odd percussion and bells, some guitar striking sounds but very low, a few organ sweeps. Not so much having reality blown away into this new place as just dropping slowly into a still pond. Cymbals, bells, descending string scraping bits, sparse sounds. Odd swelling bass notes, like backwards tapes. Very electronic-music-sounding free improv jam! A very still sea of sounds. Here comes some feedback from bass and guitars building the tension with cymbals.  Held organ chords with volume pedal, a Sputnik is arising out of the ocean int he 13th minute, the classic arpeggio version. 

Up and down it goes, he switches chords to a minor and then up, as it crests it comes out into a sidestick trapset rhythm with roller rink organ stops, slightly jazzy feel, Phil is finding a new riff as Bobby searches for chord, then the settle on some A and D stuff at 16:30. But it wanders, not settling into one of the newer jams nor any riff really. Sounds like hints of a song, and then Phil does a Dark Star theme statement but it goes into the Feeling Groovy chords now. 

Major key jam. Sounds sort of like a mellow Uncle John’s Band for a bit. Then they stick on a specific chord for a while before getting back to hints at DS, but with stops slowing it down. Jerry glisses up to the A like he’s gonna do a Dark Star theme but doesn’t quite do it, plays around a bit and the tape cuts. Aw. No verse 2 recorded!

Sort of a weird and nice yet aimless version, never really landing much of anywhere. Jerry has been in and out of these Dark Star jams quite often in the previous month or so, he keeps dropping out after short melodic bits, not quite sure where it’s going maybe. Possibly it’s getting used to the new guitar and needing to tune it. As bzfgt said, it sounded like heading for the insect weirdness in there, but I’m thinking that the insect tone was a product of the SG and having the string excitation coming from behind the bridge (between there and the Bigsby vibrato unit) and that doesn’t exist on the Strat. Or maybe he’s waiting for the inspiration to take it elsewhere now that the song is almost 2 tour-years old. We’ll see!

“The 70s are gonna be weird, man” -Jerry, 12/31/69


#92 1970/01/02 Fillmore East, NY

“We’ll give you some easy listening music.” -Bob, in the tuning beforehand.

Nice clean start with medium tempo, TC’s intro lick is warbling with vibrato. Lots of shaker and guiro all together. Takes a bit before Jerry gets into this world, he enters with short licks, developing slowly, getting caught up on a few string bends. Up over the wave and back down to the groove again, staying in the Dark Star world with a new cresting wave at 3:30 and back to the verse feint, but they take it to a rhythmic jam of the chords and build it up again. Some cymbals accenting. More theme hints, more chord play Jerry doing some harmonics and casual tuning. TC comes in with a brighter tone for a little side lead as they build it back up to a theme area and into the verse at 6:55. 

A delicate vocal reading, very intimate sounding. Nice version of the verse and chorus and the counterpoint. 

A few chords to introduce the new section, but it’s quickly faded into bells and small sounds. “Negative Space” one reviewer called it. Lots of odd arhythmic percussion sounds, a few guitar sounds. Sparse organ. Very internal headspace. Scrapes and controlled feedbacks. Cymbal swells and crying sounds. A volume breakout at 11 minutes with low organ rolls and louder guitar swells, organ moves through stops, guitar using on-off switch for beeps, many long low feedback tones over the organ sweeps, leaving spectral stops on the organ. Tiny sounds from the guitar string scraping, a few loud spots in the sea of stillness. 

A trill starts quietly, semi-Sputnik, developing towards that arpeggio. Very banjo-roll, persistent but mostly quiet, it comes up in volume and TC hits his arpeggios. Bob starts a different set underneath, but it fades out. 

Drums are hinting at coming in at 16:30. Some guitar notes hint from the theme notes, but isolated, and as more are played they take on other more minor modal “Spanish Jam”  characteristics. Sidestick rhythm comes in a minute later, JG has some flourishes. When Phil comes in the drumset and claves are at tempo, and they are heading into a chordal jam of A and D, then G to A, D A. A Mixolydian, the “Feeling Groovy” is in there somewhere (D A GGG A) but not explicit quite until Phil actually plays a descending line in the 21 min area. Jerry seems to have some other song idea in his head about this, complete with a melody, one that ends with a I-V-I (A-E-A). So it goes. Pleasant enough to switch to the A Major, and at 22:45 they go for the Maj7 chords, the Soulful Strut (or Tighten Up?) Jerry develops this into a nice and very bright lead that goes wandering up and over the clouds. I imagine seaweed dancing is happening. TC is comping chords this whole time. Some thematic melody statement at 26:30, continuing the major key jam. By 27:3o they’re all just on the maj 7 chords and suggesting switching back to the Dark Star chords, which has happened by 28 minutes, brought back in tempo a bit, but still grooving. Theme at 28:30, even going to a crying star after a bit, then that gliss to the A, verse intro theme and…verse 2 at 29:30, poppy organ accompaniment, we get two lines and the cassette runs out. 

Nice version, very structural in the transitions, space->minor key->mixolydian/FG jam->Soulful Strut->Dark Star. 

#93 1970/01/17  OSU, Corvallis, OR

(I really wanted it to be the 21:12 version just cuz 2112, but that one was a half step flat, so I’m going with the 20:00 version)

Following Mason’s Children and High Time (and an announcement for everybody to take off their shoes so as not to ruin the floor of the gym…), a classic start into a medium tempo groove with hand drums and shaker, TC on his new riff, theme statements and leads taking off from there.  I like this groove and feeling this evening, nice playing from everybody together right off the bat, and very “classic” Dark Star sounding. Nice ups and downs in the mode, very small eddies in the flow which is constantly moving forward with riffy bits and melodic lines. A static area shows up by almost 3 minutes and it comes out right into the Dark Star riff again. Beautiful. Into pre-verse territory, the verse at about 3:45. 

Verse strongly sung, with intensity contrasted with delicacy, interesting rhythmic play on line two from Phil while TC maintains the offbeat accent, the wandering on line three is exploratory. Chorus is perfectly played with the cymbal and drum accents, off to the counterpoint outro and into the Transitive Nightfall.

Some full drumset statements, the band seems to start to play *as if it was going normally* and then it all peels away.

To near silence with spectral organ trills, small guitar sounds and cymbals, some hand drums still. Bass notes poke in with a feedback coming from guitar, and some guitar string strikes. Feedback play with whammy bar! (Very Hendrix, guys.) Also with cymbals and organ chords. String scraping, the organ starts going a little wilder, lots of cymbal splashing, waves come and go. A super distorted bass note/chord enters and Jerry plays a few soft notes. Continuing toward trills and feedback, the Sputnik is entering quietly toward the end of the 9th minute. Drums and organ comping with it. He changes chord and it goes more a minor for a bit, but it left a groove in the drums and Jerry comes back in after the wave with lead playing in the normal Dark Star mode, but quicker, this is a cool jam, Phil is working the D and E over the A, at 12:30 it’s a very plugging Dark Star but Bobby takes it to the Feeling Groovy chords and Phil joins with the descending bass line (which still says “Uncle John’s Band” to me). Sounds like Bill is grooving with toms more than ride cymbal here, Mickey on claves still. It dips a minute later and comes back up with Dark Star theme like bass lines, but more with the major key feel still. They play up a rocking Dark Star theme area at 15:30, into the endless lead playing we used to have with this sort of jam here a year previous. It is slowly heading to a Bright Star a minute later, in a super strong, very forward-moving jam. At 17:20 or so, Jerry signals that it’s gonna reign in a bit, and they start an interesting break down that isn’t exactly. like slowing the wheel like they’d been doing, but comes down to the theme and slows down into the pre-verse tempo, verse 2 at 18:30. 

Nice delivery, where it grooves normally on line one, with some trills from TC then line two opens up to the offbeat rhythm with a wide chord and cymbals on the downbeat and strong statements on the offbeat chords, on line three, Phil plays sparsely and lets the wandering happen in a small way from TC. Nice madrigal vocals from everybody on the outro. Counterpoint followed by a long set of the chords with little tinkly percussion that lead to St Stephen, which elicits applause, everybody knows this one. 

Excellent version, in my opinion, lots of the endless whole-band improv on the Dark Star groove, Jerry rarely steps aside like he had been on several versions previously and continues moving forward with his lead lines. Even the “Feelin’ Groovy” section felt more “Dark Star” than some random major chords shoved into the space. In many ways this one reminded me of the versions from the winter 1968-69 area versions. 

#94 1970-01-23 Honolulu, HI

    Contrasting most of these others, I’ve listened to this one several times as I’ve had the Dave’s Picks 19 album for a while. I got it because I was always interested in what they would play/how a show would go in Hawaii—I mean, I assumed they were pretty stoned, for example. My frame of reference was a long-standing love of the hippie/mystic Hawaii weirdness in relation to rock music that was presented in Hendrix’ Rainbow Bridge album movie, though of course that was on Maui and not Oahu. Same year though.

I didn’t realize until just recently that this is the final Tom Constanten Dark Star! 

Oh, TC… After, what, 15 months of being in the Grateful Dead, I guess he got to be pretty good. I sort of have a divided sense of him and his playing, I want to like his playing more than I ended up doing, but there were things that I really did appreciate about his contributions. He did get more “rock band” during the run—though he never got as cool as Pigpen’s organ playing. Also, I admit I’m weirded out post-facto by the whole Scientology thing, it makes me dislike or distrust the Incredible String Band in the same way (Dr Strangely Strange were better anyway). I know, I know, you have to appreciate the art separate from the artist, the music from the musician, but… well, sorry if that offends anybody.

And: I was a Mills music student too, so I always want to root for the home team and the avant-garde that they might bring, but in the end TC sounded much too “classical” in his approach. Even the cool weirdness, like the organ swells and spectral organ-stop play he brought into the space sections in late 1969, had roots in the late 50s avant-garde electronic music, it’s sort of obvious where he was coming from. 

I just this week started reading the book Phil wrote about his life, and learned that he and TC had been friends since the late 1950s. And they had done some serious weirdness prior to the formation of the Dead, but I guess TC eschewed that by the time he was in the band. Too bad, maybe. I sort of wish he went further out than he ever did, as well as wishing he had gotten down on the organ like a rock organist, which he almost did. He moves on to, what, a mime company doing Tarot readings? Yay. Whatever. 

Anyway, Dark Star. Segueing from a long Cryptical Envelopment-The Other One suite, Phil starts the Dark Star riff and Jerry comes in on part two of it, they start the song. Some out of tune guitar (during the whole show, humidity I’d guess), the the groove is there and it’s enough to contrast the clave-driven Cryptical outro and make it into Dark Star, it only takes a minute before a new motif is stated that precedes the Dark Star theme then continuing extemporizing on it over the groove, now with guiro. Some really nice guitar work. It dies down to enable some sly tuning. 

Instead of heading to the verse, it has an area of volume swell notes and organ chords and then heads off again in multi-headed full-band improvisation, albeit relaxedly. Theme comes in again, with weird guiro, and the feints toward a verse, but again swerves to avoid it for a bit. Verse 1 at 4:30. Steady delivery, classic arrangement. Classic, like, the verse grows organically from the theme, but then takes a turn at line 2 for the e minor and offbeat rhythm, and then moves on. Here, line 3 again has hammer-on wandering from Bobby. 

The jam starts as normal, as if they’re going to just continue straight ahead, but as it has been lately, it starts to break up, though this time it’s like each individual’s line fall apart until they reach a silence. (And more tuning.) The percussion enters with a bunch of weird sounds, the guitars make small physical strikes on the strings (somebody yells “wooo” from the audience.) Very sparse space of isolated sounds. The cymbal washes get going for a while with the percussion shaking some shells or something. Isolated small sounds from guitars and organ, feedback long tones, but quiet and controlled. Phil sounds like he’s got a ring modulator or something, modulating his notes. His notes are shaking oddly from interference from other notes or a pedal. Feedback builds against the cymbals and plays against it until it fades and a sputnik is rising very quietly out of the silence late in the 9th minute. It takes root a minute or so later, Bob has a counter-arpeggio, Jerry starts playing melodically again. In and out of the mode, Bob playing with a G7 with flatted 7 for a bit, both of them making little jabs out out of key chords, and it builds up with the chords for a bit, but doesn’t gel really, and TC is still using the Dark Star chords, so it’s sort of an amalgam of that and the newer jam with the Maj7 chord, but this time mostly only on the regular G7 and leaving the A chord alone, then they sort of go to more Dark Star after 13 minutes, making it decisive with some strong downbeats on the A. The full drum set is in, but still maintaining a pretty mellow groove. Long build up towards a Bright Star, coming at 15:30. It stretches out into a long brighter jam, coming to thematic statements at almost a minute later and reeling it back in toward verse 2. 

As it comes down in volume, Jerry takes it down in tempo right afterwards and starts verse 2 at 17 minutes in. Nicely orchestrated verse line, interesting upward lines on line 3, funny country lick into “Shall we go” and out of tune vocals coming in for the chorus (it’s the humidity.) Nice outro, a little clumsy, and it goes into the static chords that lead to St Stephen.

I like this sort of jam where it segues more easily between section instead of straight transitions, and this time it kept more in the Dark Star modal world even when having the G7 chord in the “major key part” that had been the Feeling Groovy/Soulful Strut jams. Nobody really ever went for those exact chords. This version has a lot of long periods of extended Jerry lead jam, really nice, where the band is following in the flow in really responsive ways, both in the beginning and the post-space. 

#95 1970-02-02  Fox Theatre, St Louis

Nice recording. Directly into a rolling jam right after the intro riff, Jerry and Phil cruising over a sharp chordal set from Bobby. Leisurely entry into the theme and after-theme jamming and back to it stronger to crest the wave and get somewhere else, landing on a new chord area after a couple minutes, coming back with some open strings to emphasize the A again. At 3 min, some bright tone, Stratocaster lead pickup. You can hear bleed from the amps into the vocal mics, like a reverb. I hear the organ! Gotta be Pigpen again now? He’s playing some long tones. 

Nice little tidepools before getting to the theme again and lining it up for the verse. But a little waterfall pool gets in the way before the long slide up to the A and theme and into the verse

Verse 1 at about 5:30, beautiful rendering. It gets very delicate over line 2 and three, minor noodling on line 3. Counterpoint outro, then a climb to outside notes, the cymbals and Bob’s chord come in and fade into a cymbal bell tolling and soft feedbacks and hits begin. Space is vast. Phil has some odd struck notes, the feedback is atonal. An organ riff into a brief note! Rubbing strings with things, rocking something on the strings, probably a slide. Pedal tones from the bass. 

Jerry comes in with some lead playing instead of a sputnik plucking, delicately at first, with no steady rhythm section, they start to build it up from nothing, eventually side stick drums come in to give it a pulse. Bob is playing around with the F# and how it fits in the chords, and then changing that to an F natural before hitting the Feeling Groovy chord progression at 13 minutes, but they have a very relaxed groove for it this evening. It only last a minute or so, then breaks down and out of the break Phil starts a slow Dark Star groove area. This goes on toward a new minor key sounding area that has some arpeggiating similar to sputnik but not quite. Relaxed jamming follows with occasional references to the theme starts. Jerry is playing some nice runs this evening and the band has their ears on doing some on the spot creative improvising. Brand new music creation. By the time it builds to a Bright Star-like area at 18:30, the groove is very different than normal, and slowed down, almost latin-groove, the actual Bright Star theme statement at 19 is really drawn out, and then when that wave breaks and they get back to the theme it’s really slowly stated but with an underlying intensity, then suddenly and immediate verse 2, with the side stick drums still for the first line, dropping to cymbals for a stately Line 2, drums come back in for line three at this tempo, it’s very sort of “swingin’” in a mellow sort of way. The chorus comes in with not the greatest harmonies, outro counterpoint goes on to the chords before St Stephen and people clap at its first notes.

Nice playing all around, I (still) like Pigpen on organ! The Soulful Strut groove it gets into in the second half is funny, it always reminds me of swingin’ 60s bachelor pad Latin music with the sidestick drums and especially with this evening’s rather slower pulse. It’s almost the same groove as the really early iterations, when it was almost proto-Eyes of the World, but it seems like lately he’s only on one Maj7 chord instead of two. 

#96 1970-02-08 Fillmore West

Audience “yeahs!” from the introductory riff, into a ponderous intro jam. Shaker is taking the rhythm. Jerry is hypnotic on a few note clusters, moving slowly. When he hits a thematic statement, Phil wanders away and then Bobby goes into weird substitution chords, like a long drawn out dissonance (based on G, the “other” chord from the root of A) so that when the tonic A comes back, it’s strong. All of them are throwing in more country-music chromaticism and Jerry uses a bunch of chordal 6ths in the jams. Long build with many scalar bits back to the thematic world, great full-band, forward-moving togetherness, with a nice return to the theme at 6 minutes and the verse thirty seconds later. 

It’s a very moderate tempo, the verse is strong in that, cymbals crash on line 2 where the rhythm breaks, Phil does the wandering on line 3, can’t hear any keyboards… wait, there’s a tiny note of bedoop bedoop after the Shall We Go lines maybe? Way low in the mix. It’s not a great tape.

Classic counterpoint intro to the jam, heavy cymbals, they break it up and break it down. I do hear some held organ chords in the background. Into volume swells and sparse note space, cymbals heavy. The percussion comes out, you can hear him picking it up and shaking a bell tree. Feedbacks, a rolling low end tremolo. Waves of different sounds crash out at 10:30, then the slide-bouncing on strings and feedbacks, interspersed with muted-cymbal hits. String scraping taking over, slowing it down, some sort of ratchet? Isolated notes start coming in at 12:30 or so, atonal space notes, building in intensity, and more waves of cymbals. JG starts some short phrase playing, eventually making a more definite statement at 14 minutes, melancholy melodies, the drum set starts a little groove and the bass comes in, but JG stretches out of the path a few times, though they are alluding to the theme after a while and it gets grooving with the claves and drum set, they start in on full band jam at 16 or so, with some 6/8 stuff as if they might go into TOO again, but it’s still in Dark Star territory. At 18 minutes the tape quality changes and there’s more bass and he’s essentially walking the 6/8 into a swung 4/4. Continuing the jam with the Dark Star chords and some feints toward a bright star, sort of spread out a bit, and they play back and forth with the swung versus 6/8 The Other One rhythm. They hold onto this for a long time, and the theme comes in strong at 21:15, slow against the walking-style bass. 

Ok weird, at 22:30 it cuts to the soundboard tape and directly after this they start a slow Feeling Groovy area. It only lasts a minute and a half or so before it’s back in Dark Star chords. Verse 2 at 24:30, sort of abruptly. Delivery is similar to verse 1, same arrangement but a little more from Bob on line three. Backing vocals are rough on the outro, the counterpoint outro is slightly off rhythmically, and they take it through the chords to St Stephen, which gets some yells from the audience as they start it—and it goes into Not Fade Away for a while in the middle!

This is actually a really good version, nice space and return to reality, really excellent 6/8 (or swung) Dark Star jam. Too bad about the tape quality. 

#97 1970-02-11  Fillmore East  

Plucky start to Dark Star, at a good tempo. Soundboard has a 4 minute gap in the middle. Apparently extra guitarists are involved, though the soundboard tape has no mics on their instruments, so the mix is sort of a Bob-and-Phil perspective with an intermittent Jerry and occasional hints of Peter Green coming in with the blues scales over Dark Star’s mixolydian setup. Later, the song veers off into a Spanish Jam, highlighting Peter Green and Duane Allman. 

So, I’m switching to the audience tape. 

Ok. Sounds like it begins into a jaunty jam with the band, Jerry and Phil playing co-lead for a while (and some Allman-y licks in there, like when they come back to a theme area at 1:50 it’s in major-key runs…) 

Slightly before 3 minutes in a second guitar (Green?) is figuring out some notes, and they drop it down a bit to let the two lead players find their spaces. By 5 minutes it sounds like superimposition of multiple lead guitars, sort of like Greyfolded! I think it’s Jerry doing more sputnik style chord things, and Green still working on scale notes. A minute later it’s quieter and Green is more in sync there, they go back to the Dark Star theme area (or at least Bob and Phil do) and Jerry heads to the melody, it’s slowed a bunch now. 

They find a new groove at 8 minutes in, now it sounds like 3 lead guitars, this is nuts. Bob and Phil are grinding it out to keep a steady base. Lots of rolling melodic bits from the lead players. Phil sticks on a riff for a while. Some guitars are playing the classic rock pentatonic in here, but by 11 minutes somebody has discovered a nice G-F#-G-A riff to land it into the mixolydian world again. It’s not a loud jam, for having three lead players, they’re all sort of deferential to each other.  At 12 minutes I hear organ coming in, building to some chordal stabs from guitars also, entering a sort of Batman groove! Some classic country rock licks, sort of hard to tell who’s who. I think Peter Green has the brightest tone of the guitars. It develops into a trading 4s set of licks before 16 minutes, sounds like Green and Allman, though I think it’s actually Garcia on one of those side, because I doubt he’s the guy stabbing the 7th-#9th chords. 

Nice segue into Spanish Jam, the rhythm section leading it there. They bring it down after a few minutes and the guitars continue playing around, building it back up slowly with all guitars screaming and crying and then organ and bass soloing. Amazing. And still with only one drum set and claves. Jerry starts ripping it up at 8 minutes into the Spanish Jam while the others are stretching their wailing notes. 

As far as being a version of Dark Star, the song itself is minimally there, no verses and only minor hints at themes though a lot of plugging away at the chord progression ideas. Exciting jam to attend, I’d bet, sort of confusing to listen to after the fact. It goes on jamming into a gigantic 34-minute version of Lovelight coming directly out of the last note of the Spanish Jam.

#98 1970-02-13  Fillmore East

After an electric and then a really nice acoustic set with mostly just the guitarists, they do Uncle John’s Band with Phil and some claves, then let Pigpen do a solo of Katie Mae. In the minute or so changeover from this, Phil already hints at the Dark Star intro, they eventually start it, nice feeling to the groove, (loud guiro, though. Very ’68.) Jerry is into some new ideas right at the intro. He’s got a nice control of the Stratocaster tone gamut now, it seems, which is great. This is nicely recorded (Bear) with all parts audible and the jam is relaxed but creative, a great combo. Waves of intensity come and go, volume is up and down with all players in the flow. Bobby tries out some nice ‘second chords’ before it comes to the theme before the 4 minute mark, and they go off again with some chromatic and then modal areas, long fluid runs from Jerry. Phil comes along after a while too. They are able to hear each other well even in the lower volume areas, so this goes on, a few eddies in the flow, netted notes that build and let go. At 6 minutes some stretching notes into quiet pools, brought down so low that we can hear some tapping on the strings. 

Phil comes up a bit with the theme, while there are rubbed strings from Jerry, and some volume swells. Very delicate. At 8:20 they start to build it up again, to the theme and then on to a delicate verse at almost 9 minutes in. 

Nice verse delivery, the cymbals crash the second line, lead guitar doubling the vocal melody. A relatively sedate reading, but beautiful. 

And the drums signal the counterpoint and they start the Transitive Nightfall, the bell-toll string is picked up and the cymbals crash, the groove falls away with some bell-tolling, crying notes, into space space space. 

Everything dies away, leaving some metal percussion noises and small feedbacky notes, cymbals rolling up and down quietly. Then we have a section of shorter sounds from percussion and bass strings, some hand drums even (Pigpen? He wasn’t on organ.) Some notes come in from a tone-rolled-off guitar, odd sounds from bass strings and feedback bits from Bob. JG starts some modal notes, interspersed with Bobby rocking a slide or the whammy bar on the strings. A melody slowly emerges with side stick drums in a groove at 15 minutes or so and it builds to a groove, Bobby playing with a G7 as the second/other chord after the A, so an F natural in there. Nonetheless, with that odd modal element it’s very much using the Dark Star groove and hinting at Spanish Jam simultaneously. Jerry builds it to a chordal plateau of sound before coming in strong with lead stuff, whereupon it suddenly changes to the Feeling Groovy riff/progression. Or a type of it, the chords come at wider rhythmic intervals. Plus they’re using the swing to move toward emphasizing the 6/8 feel at times. Building this to a funny chord progression for a while, sort of like the Stones “Last Time” before settling more into a heavy Dark Star, which breaks off into more noodles from JG and PL, that almost head toward The Other One. 

At 22:30 Jerry starts a Sputnik! Phil is totally jamming on it, even with Jerry’s volume ups and downs. A minute later it lands back on Dark Star, to a slow Bright Star. 

We *could* of course enter verse 2 territory now, but it goes on to a quieter thematic jam, with both drum sets but mid-tempo and volume. This wave builds slowly to an incredible peak at a newer Brighter Star with long runs up to it, back down and we’re finally getting set up for verse 2 at 27:40. 

Nicely and perfectly pitched vocal lines from Jerry, with strong and feeling delivery. 

Outro vocals are decent, all present with elongated notes, and a perfect counterpoint outro into the static chords, and lands on the Cryptical introduction. 

A really great version, a half-hour long and followed by a half-hour That’s It For the Other One (with all condiments), then a half-hour Lovelight. Dang. I think this is one of the best recent Dark Star versions, the modal shifts in the central jam are cool, and not really the same ones used before. The band is playing together and seem to all be there, firing on all cylinders, good sounds coming out. The exploration and discovery in the improvisation is obviously piquing the players’ interest as they play it and they have the energy to keep it up. This weekend must have been fun for everyone involved. 

#99 1970-02-14 Fillmore East

Third night of three here this weekend, this time Dark Star is the 2nd song in the Early Show, after Cold Rain and Snow and some technical monitor issues. 

A vocal count in even, to the intro riff and immediate jump into a groove improv, that’s moving forward. With guiro/shakers, all three guitars are in full-steam ahead mode on it, even hints at Bright Star theme stuff early on, it stays up for a few minutes before dropping into more ponderous eddies of sound, and Jerry changes his pickup settings to a darker one, but with the Strat it’s still a very round and bell-like tone, theme following at 4 min with Bobby on his classic chord groove method, and verse 1 30 seconds later. Good vocal delivery, a little tired sounding by the third line. 

The jam starts with an aggressive groove, Bobby and Phil plugging away before it starts to slide away into space, Jerry eventually comes in with some high repeated notes and into the small sounds and they devolve into noise making, rubbing the strings, small hits on the guitars, cymbals. The bells or chimes comes in, small feedbacks in the mix, popping out. This space has mostly small guitar sounds and feedback play. Arhythmic noises and decelerating strikes with a slide or something, JG comes in with notes and then some volume knob swells by 10 minutes. A minute later he’s making quiet melodic runs, instigating the band to come in, and they do with a groove, Bobby using the A7-G7 thing from the night before again, so Jerry plays with the B-F tritone in his licks. This is an interesting jam, sort of dissonant and aggressive. It mellows after a few minutes, but Bobby is still sticking with the G7 for a while, Phil comes in on a new bass line with an E Major, but it doesn’t stick them into the major mode quite. Drums are in, side-sticking. 

Jerry starts a casual Sputnik at 15 minutes, this area dies out into a more chaotic area, drums fade nad then come back quietly, the guiro still taking charge of the rhythm. Phil makes a stab at the descending “groovy” bass line but it doesn’t stick really either. They’re taking the cues and casting them aside one after another. The jamming continues forward, but no real riffs stick (Phil tries an A-to-E major again) eventually Jerry hits a slow Bright Star right before the 20 minute mark and it goes into a sort of chaotic sounding theme area, loud and odd, and at 20:50, Phil goes for the descending bass line and they actually do the Feeling Groovy chords for a while, but it comes back to a Dark Star theme stated like stomping boots on the stage, slow and loud and drunken-sounding. Immediate verse 2 follows at 22 min, bringing the volume down through the lines, starting loud. Almost no strong rhythm statements for line 2, and almost no wandering on line 3. 

Outro has drum punctuation between the madrigal vocal lines, very embellished “transitive nightfall.” Outro counterpoint heads to the static chords leading into St Stephen, the Eleven, Lovelight.

This is a very confident version, everybody is playing very strongly, though the forward motion ends up a little chaotic and loud. It almost sounds drunk at times. Bobby is really into his new G7 modality in the jams in the middle, he stuck with it for quite a while. A good recording, again, decent version but not as creative as the night before. 

#000 1970-3-17 *no tape* — with Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  Oh how I wish there were a tape of this, this really seems like the perfect version for #100 on this list, but oddly nobody at the school thought to record the event! Dark Star with additional orchestral players sitting in (possibly.)

A bunch written about the event here:

“The program will open with conductor Lukas Foss as guest pianist with the Grateful Dead in a non-improvisation – pianist Foss playing the Bach Concerto in F Minor and the rock artists surrounding him with a rhythmic and electronic counterpoint.

At 7:30 PM “The Dead” will orbit on their own – two drummers, organ, guitars, trumpet, congas – for an hour of their album settings in whatever version inspires them at the time.

At 8:30 PM Mr. Foss and a battery of sub-conductors will lead the orchestra in the American premiere of the Foss “Geod,” complete with laser show.

At 9 PM “The Dead” will take over again. At 9:40 PM Mr. Foss will conduct Variations II and III by avant-gardist John Cage.

Then, 10:15 PM to closing, the Philharmonic and “The Dead” will jam in a musical challenge session.”

#100 1970-03-23  Pirate’s World, Dania FL

Middle of the set in Florida here. Medium tempo, decent groove established right off the bat. 

Great lead in jam up to the gliss Jerry does to start the theme proper about 2 minutes in. This is more relaxed togetherness in the rhythm section (guiro alone from the drum area to start with shaker after a few minutes). Nice playing from Jerry, it builds into some strong whirlpools, and into riffy theme jam area which backs off drastically at a little after 4 min and goes into a quieter jazzier jam, and then the tape cuts to the space section after the verse! Crud. 

Space has volume swelled notes and swirling strokes on guitar strings. Drums making small rhythmic cadences. JG and Phil start the build back into melodies at about 6 minutes into this tape, the side stick drum set wants to come along, but it’s not settling into a rhythm for a while. When it does get to a groove, Jerry sticks on a G for a while, before starting longer runs. Bobby still wants that G7 sometimes, but at 9:30 they start the descending bass FG/UJB groove progression. Jerry is continuously streaming notes, and hits a Bright Star run area within this section, and builds it further to a real Bright Star by 11 minutes. 

They rein it in, back to a moderate groove, and get caught in a weird arpeggio area for a bit (both JG and BW) as they build it up, and then it drops away with a slightly different feel and Phil pedals for a while, and they continue arpeggio-building and then when it finally actually sounds like a Sputnik for a second, it changes to The Other One! And off they go. 

Decent version, actually, though with a cut so we lost verse 1. Lots of forward momentum in the jams, and the energy is high, and it continues into the Other One jam and beyond. 

So that’s the first 100 extant recordings. Onward it went. Expect another blog post in a few years.

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Posted in Music

Digging holes, filling them up again.

No more hobbies.

I guess I’m done.

I just saw an ad for an old guitar case (just the case!) for $10,000. I think that’s the turning point on trying to be involved in the “Vintage Instrument” world.

15-year-old self

I have always been into old guitars, especially old Fender Stratocasters (see previous blog posts about these things!), but I’ve never been able to afford a “real” one, by which I mean a solid, stock, early 1960s Stratocaster. Even when I was a teenager: I found a Christmas wishlist I had written from Dec 1978 (I was 15) that had “Pre-CBS Strat neck” listed on it, ostensibly to put on the “Memphis”-brand Strat copy that I had. As if my mom would know what that was, let alone where to find such a thing.

Like pretty much every hobby or collection I’ve had, there came a point where I was priced out of being able to be part of it—I have not kept up with my age group, success and income-wise. In the 1970s and into the 80s I collected comic books, the classic old 1960s “Silver Age” DC and Marvel, and when Camper Van Beethoven was touring in the 80s, I’d try to find comic stores and buy $5 or even $20 comics to fill in my collection. But things changed, and in 1989 that first big time “serious” Hollywood Batman movie came out and suddenly those $5 things were $50 and the $20 ones were $200. So I pretty much gave up. And then when the band initially dissolved, I was a bartender during the 1990s, so my spendable cash mostly went to food or beer. It still does, I’m embarrassed to say. At my age where most of my peers have houses and savings, I’ve got a bunch of parts-made guitars. (I did “own” a house for about a decade. The house story is on this blog as well. It’s sad.)

I sold my comic collection in 1997 after moving to LA, via a fairly new thing back then called eBay. Got $7000, though it cost $1000 to send it all off to wherever via UPS. That money lasted for awhile when I was interning at Danetracks Studio before they started paying me. And of course, I quit working there to join Sparklehorse anyway, where I made a full $800 a week. While on tour, anyway. That lasted until that very last show, after which I never heard from any of that crowd again.

Many guitars have come and gone, I’ve sold several (and of course I regret selling each and every one!) and lots and lots of parts to build those modular Fender Stratocasters: all the parts are interchangeable! Well, mostly, anyway; it depends on the model year a bit, but for the most part there’s a lot of commonality. I had one (named Honey by a kitchen label sticker) that was “stock” as it came from the factory, a 1971 model, that I used on all my post-CVB solo and band albums and touring with Sparklehorse and then again with CVB when we started back up in ~2002. It was stolen in 2004 in Montreal. I got a brand-new guitar to replace it (a black “1962 American Vintage Reissue” model, so it was sort of like the old ones I always wanted. I added a racing stripe to it) and I always bought parts to build more. It was fun! A great hobby, guitars, especially modular ones. And the hunt for old parts was fun, like when I had motorcycles, I worked on my mid-80s Moto Guzzi V65, and rebuilt a few old 1960s Triumphs and a couple 1970s Ducatis as well! Super fun to try to track down the proper headlight ears or oil reservoir for my 1966 T-100SC, for example. (Similarly unaffordable now.) I sold some of the motorcycles when I was in LA—not as fun to commute with all those straight streets and stoplights—and the remaining ones left me in the process of moving to Sweden in 2012. My brain is filled with trivia of years and parts, correct markings and idiosyncrasies of the different model years of guitars, motorcycles, cars, comic books. Yay. Valuable information, that there. (All of which makes spotting fakes or just plain old wrong information all the more obvious on Reverb or eBay, though for the benefit of no-one as it happens.)

1966 Triumph T-100SC. What a great bike that was.

The biggest problem economically with “Partscasters” is that they are worth less than the sum of their parts! For example, if, last year, you had spent, say, $2000 (1 – see below for footnotes. Blog format is stupid) on a 1963 body, $2000 on a 1965 neck, and another $2000 on the pickups and plastic/celluloid parts, the guitar as a whole would be worth maybe $5000. Because it’s a collectors’ market, not a players’ market: stock, untouched, un-disassembled items are worth the most, like Mint Condition comics, and the prices drop precipitously from there, by halves or more per condition downgrade. So where a stock/mint model might be selling for $15-20k, and the individual parts for such a thing sold for relative fractions of that, a whole item made of various parts was considered Poor Condition and worth less than the parts! So my current collection of guitars is sort of ridiculous in the collector’s view. And of course, markets sell at retail, but buy at wholesale. For my own interest, I am (was) a player, so I’d always been trying to build myself that perfect guitar, that one single instrument that would be mine, the one I would play only and forever. And I guess I could say I kinda, maybe have that one… sorta… or these two maybe…, but then… well, then I only record with them anyway, because you don’t take that old shit on tour, it gets stolen.

Man I hate thieves.

So during this past year while everybody has been locked inside, the prices of not only “Vintage” whole guitars have gone up, but the prices of parts as well. Maybe it’s the tail end of the Boomer money freaking out on the stocking of man-caves, so it’s just down to that old supply and demand, where demand had risen massively while everybody was needing to do something at home. But why old guitars? Do people even still play guitars in modern music? It must be Boomers (2) expressing a faux-nostalgia, still admiring Eric Crapton or Jiminy Page despite their irrelevance to popular music these days. We (should) all know about the presence of “Blues Lawyers”, those dudes who are so cool that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a 1959 Les Paul to hang on the wall of their office, and they venerate players like Joe Bonamassa who play the perfect blues licks on quarter-million dollar guitars—in concert, even: “look, bro, he’s playing a 1958 Standard ‘Burst! That thing is worth $xxx! Man!!! That’s cool.” I assume these guys are the tech biggies and CEOs that got massively richer during the pandemic as the workers struggled (you can go read about that if you want), so anyway, now, June of 2021, the asking prices for what a year and a half ago was a $20k guitar are now $40-60k, what was a $5k guitar is now $10-20k.

I’m out. Actually I was really never “in” in that I never had that $20k to buy one of those instruments anyway (and then what do you do with it?) I mean, I literally have a couple thousand dollars in the bank to pay rent with over the summer. I guess it’s good I’ve never been super into Ferraris or something like that. So it’s another hobby down the drain… or, well, perhaps it’s not exactly down the drain but the reality of these objects as an obsession has confidently moved beyond my narrow slice of reality. Finally, right? I guess I’m gonna have to take apart these guitars to sell them in pieces. What a shame.

And a hassle. I hate selling things, I’m not good at it. (Duh. Can’t even sell my own music. Nor my own services.) Even, or especially, in Sweden where I live, which as you probably know is one of the overall richest societies in the world, …so I guess that makes the people super stingy? I don’t get it. They try to haggle on everything, it’s fucking disgusting. Makes me sick to my stomach to try to deal with selling things on Blocket (nobody uses Craigslist even though CL is free and you have to pay to put an ad on Blocket…! And there are ads on every page! But, but, Craigslist isn’t “Swedish”…) I have tried to sell some pedals and parts here, I price them low, super reasonably, and still people are like, how about half? And you pay for the postage? And I get ripped off. Halkan the Slippery, famous proprietor of one of the guitar shops in Södermalm ripped me off one time, and I tried to get some of the parts back, but no way. (Plus he paid me in cash. Nobody uses cash here and even trying to deposit it into my bank was a extreme hassle: only one branch office of my bank in the entire city of Stockholm deals with cash and then you have to fill out forms to say exactly where it came from, what it was to be used for!) That combined with the fact that the postal service here is fucking awful (Postnord. In a wave of neo-liberalism, the state sold the post office to a Danish corporation a decade back) and they have a built-in fee to deal with the added value tax so that if I try to get something from outside the country (like American made parts for American made guitars) I end up not only paying way more for it, but then even more to the postal service than the customs tax office simply for the privilege of being able to pay these taxes through them! (There is no other choice, apparently, beyond filling out a 6-page spreadsheet for your one “imported item” as if you were a commercial importer.) Even for books or records, even gifts (if they are valued over $50). Last year I probably paid a thousand dollars to Postnord for the privilege of paying Tullverket a hundred. And that’s every year. Sweden sucks the joy out of everything in any way it can (3), this sort of thing is typical and of course dampens any gladness from buying or collecting anything that isn’t made in Sweden. And what is made in Sweden anyway? Nothing that isn’t a sad copy of something made somewhere else better. I mean: especially the music. What’s touted here is only what’s successful, and not what’s good. And what’s successful is always a sad copy of something else. From Abba to First Aid Kit. They sound to me like Westworld robots trying to be authentic something-or-other, it’s almost there but something always puts it right into the uncanny valley, some accent or phrasing. (I will ruin your appreciation of Abba any time you like, but let me start with this: Orientalism. You may think they are cute and funny, but that’s just you “othering” them. They’re actually neither cute nor funny, they’re just mistaken in their attempts at translation.) And to think that Izzy Young moved here because he was so taken with Swedish folk music, something that was actually and truly beautifully Swedish. Well, Benny Andersson even ruined that with his semi-musical take on it. (I mean, of course there is some good music, but you’ll likely never hear about it and these bands will never go anywhere. The export model is built only on previously successful conclusions. The current model for all music is to feed the tech-machine anyway, so no band that isn’t in the top 5% will have a lifetime of more than a few years by design.)

So I dunno what’s left for me in terms of interests. Flower arrangement? Bird watching? I collect books too, or used to. When I moved, I sold all my records, and shipped many of my books. That was dumb. It’s very difficult to find books in English here too, especially cool old books or hardbacks or First Editions, and that postal service—well, the UK used to be in the EU and I used to at least be able to get English books sent from there. So I guess that’s out now too unless I’m up for those excessive VAT and Postnord fees. And the “valuable” books that I have (in English) are worthless here as well, being English. And being books. I recently helped (well, I didn’t help much) a friend clear out her late multi-lingual father’s apartment of its books and even the University didn’t want the academic ones, nobody wants books. Books are passé, so last millenium. I despair for humankind.

No more “career” (as such) either.

I used to be a “professional” musician and composer too. Not so much lately. I do have a gig next month, the first in 17 months. I’m shelling out money to pay to travel to the show in Copenhagen just for the chance to play. Like the meme-joke about a musician being a person who spends $150 to get to the gig, brings $1000 worth of equipment, and then gets paid $50. It’s not a joke. I have to practice too, I got no callouses, man. And serious ulnar nerve issues in my left arm/hand—half my fingers are numb or painful these days.

I tried, I really did! For 40 years, trying to make this “hobby” into a profession. When I look at the classified ads for gear, musical instruments and even recording studio equipment are listed in a subcategory within the “Hobby and Free Time” category. I guess I should have caught a clue earlier. Now here I was wanting to express something real about existing, hearing, being, developing music as part of the expanding spiral of human endeavor, but that’s not a real thing, now is it?

Even while, for example, the Grateful Dead were not cool in the 1980s (4), I had jammed on those old songs in the UCSC dorms in 1981-2 and I loved the expanded form and subtle audio cues they used to segue into new material or the next song… I had always hoped that CVB would develop into a more improvisational outfit. We had our moments, but David was always into some ideal of how a song was “supposed to be” so that pretty much never developed. Even in Cracker, with Johnny’s guitar solos, they have their specified sections: this many bars for a solo, this is the form.

My intention with my first solo album, “Storytelling” (1988), and indeed all subsequent albums, was always that that should be some type of studio version of music that was to be developed or expanded upon (5). (Like how “Anthem of the Sun” is, with respect to “Live/Dead”, as an example.) But you know, when you have no interest backing, no agent, no manager, nobody but yourself to sell yourself, gigs are hard to come by. And music doesn’t develop unless it’s played, and often, so the isolated shows that happened for that album, for the subsequent Hieronymus Firebrain albums, for the Jack & Jill albums, for any and all of my solo albums from 1988 to the present day, have always been barely getting it together enough to even play the songs correctly to begin with, much less to develop and expand them! Look at the extant recorded shows I’ve done that are on, there’s no touring. It’s always isolated shows, no steady band. As much as I tried to work with the same guys, these guys were often only doing it to be nice to me. (Thank you, though. I do appreciate it, that it happened at all.) It’s my show for this year! Come on, it’ll be fun! I could barely pay anybody, if at all. Which never goes far, of course. Nobody likes to play for free…

…or, well, I do I guess. I mean, most of the work I do I don’t get paid for, studio or touring. Never did. If you look at my discography probably 80% or more of that is work that nobody paid me for. Even now, in this past year where all I’ve had is recording tracks at home for other people. Sometimes somebody has $100 for a track, but more often nobody has money. You’d be shocked to know what little money I’ve made. And what little royalties have ever come in, especially now. And of course no record company has ever paid me to record (again, no management, no agents, no nothing on my behalf.) But I did it anyway. Or I mixed other people’s music. For that $100. Because that’s what I do.

My dream of course was that the music from an album like “Honey” or “All Attractions” should be played over days, months, years, to develop into Dark Star or something (Dark Star as a song started as a 3 minute single!) But you know, you get one show at the Camp-Out and one at a local bar, and pay each guy $100 from the $100 you get for the gig and… we barely knew the songs. I eventually gave up on that and started just doing improv sets at the events. The last set of shows that I did where I played actual songs (August 2019, West Coast USA) were mostly by myself (and a couple with Victor, and a couple with Kelly Atkins, thank fucking Glob!)

I don’t even like playing solo. I like playing with other musicians. I don’t like to be the guy that has to hold the song together entirely, and having that stress of essentially forcing a band to play my songs for ONE GIG meant that the pressure was on me to play everything exactly right so that the other folks could have less stress of having to be on top of it, because, hey, they were my songs after all. And they aren’t especially easy, I guess. I had to hold it together to make it seem like I was together enough to be a guy to back up. But really, I wanted to float, to have the song play with or without me so that I could be free to let it grow, to expand it. But I had to be the center of it, the guy to hold it together. Not my thing. I do relate to Jerry on this front.

I gave up on that with bands, so any “songs” that were played were only ever played at solo shows, and when there were other musicians to play with, we just improvised at any show that I managed to get in the past number of years. I tried to do a couple live streams in the first few months of the pandemic as well, playing songs and allowing as much growth in them as I could without the song entirely falling apart or fading into single notes. I gave up on that too, it just wasn’t real to me. It felt like I was practicing in my living room (I was) and that experience was not communicating with any people who might be listening. I relearned all of that first solo release “Storytelling” (a particularly difficult one), and managed in a few streamcast tries to get through the entire thing. I succeeded! Yay. What the fuck was that all about?

I tried improvised music streamcasts too, but it was similarly weird. I really want an exchange of energy, I guess. And I’m not much of a solo improviser, I like the interaction: action, reaction, creating the music so that we all hear how it’s going forward together. Picking up on those subtle or even subliminal audio cues to move into new territory. That’s probably why I started doing more computer programming in Supercollider or Max/MSP, so I could have something play sound back at me to react to. That’s beyond me now, the programming. I can barely figure out how to make a blog post here, now that WordPress has updated to use this weird-ass Gutenberg format. Fuck it.

I was studying music composition at Mills College from 2001-03, and among other notable professors there was that guy, Mr Fred Frith. In a composition practicum with him I asked him a lot about solo improvisation, as he successfully does that quite often. And he does it really well! He was like: play. So I did, but it was all “active” and not reactive. I guess I have a hard time reacting to my own impetus? Or I get so caught up in the idea of creating an impetus that it never pauses to assess itself. Dunno. Still learning how to play music.

Anyway, there’s no place for all of this in the world these days. There’s no band to help me with that dream scenario. “My dreams have withered and died” as Richard (or rather Linda) sang. I don’t even want to perform, I just want to play music, with other people, for other people. What you have seen if you saw me “perform”, say, with CVB, is the excitement of playing music. If I’m moving or jumping around, it’s not a performance, it’s the music moving through me. I’m not into the bullshit of mask wearing and pretending to be something, never have been—which is of course, an issue with “songs”, in that my songs are mostly “me” and only somewhat abstracted as character writing or acting. But character writing is what makes most successful songs popular. There’s this weird shift that seems to happen as musicians/songwriters age: they start out by writing “themselves”, what they know, who they are, but they seem to run out of it or something and start writing “characters.” Especially people who become successful. Back 20 or so years ago when I was in Sparklehorse, our peer group was made up of many extremely famous and successful musicians and I actually got to interact with them sometimes… I mean, if Mark was taken, of course; it wasn’t like Thom Yorke sought me out to talk to as his first choice. Anyway, I got into a conversation with Polly Harvey about this, and I ended up thinking about it a lot, how she was approaching 30 and had essentially stopped writing “herself” (as I took her earlier albums to be) and started writing vignettes of “characters”. David Lowery said once that he does that because “nobody can fill nine albums with their own experience”.

jes and thom

I call bullshit on that. One experience of love can forever inspire! One life contains multitudes! Or could, I guess, if you are willing to examine or re-examine. Or grow. To be frank, though, I pretty much stopped listening to PJ Harvey by the 2000s, because I didn’t hear her anymore and it was her that I liked.

Obviously none of that is Hard-And-Fast true. I mean, I did love Harvey’s later “Let England Shake” and the big concert I saw of that music was amazing. And David has recently been writing “autobiographical” songs for his solo albums (although his stories aren’t exactly true, of course…) And people like Richard Thompson who are essentially unknowable to begin with continue to write songs that are excellent and about who knows whom? But with regard to my own writing, it’s mostly directly from my heart to you, to quote Mr Zappa. Which is maybe what puts it in a niche (a very narrow niche) of popularity. I could probably count on my digits the number of people whom I believe actually enjoy these songs. Maybe it’s a genre problem, that is to say, unless you’re squarely within a marketable genre definition, nobody knows how to sell, or even buy, your music. Even with Camper Van Beethoven back in 1988 when we signed to Virgin, they said: just do what you do and we’ll sell it. But they gave up on that within a year and wanted a hit, so they made the band (sans moi by then) go back and record a cover song.

(More likely, it’s the sound of my voice. I do find that people mostly listen to singers who sound like other known singers, and I don’t, really. That’s how you know it’s viable, though, right? It sounds like music, music that I’ve heard before and was told that it was music!)

Well, the end result is…what? I did what I could. I have nothing to show for it, really. (Daddy, what is that shiny round piece of plastic? Huh? How is that music?) Like many artists over the centuries, I salute thee, I join thee in obscurity.

I haven’t written any lyrics for a year. I tried forcing myself to write song ideas earlier this calendar year and got a bunch of, say, demo chord progressions recorded. Nothing stuck…I think it’s the lack of input and idea sharing with others. Or I’m just done. But whatever. That’s neither here nor there and as Phil Ochs sang, “it doesn’t really interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.”

So maybe it’s time to sell the guitars, see how long I can live off that. All that writing and composing I did over the past 35 years stopped recouping anything royalty-wise once Sporkify came along. I argued the royalty rates even during the 3 years I worked at Pandora (2009-2012—where I made $20/hour, the most money I had ever made in my life! Then I got fired and lost everything anyway… So it goes.)

I lost. We lose. Music loses, I’d like to believe. I’m still beating my head against that wall by trying to get our (that is to say my and Victor’s, our publishing company called Bumps of Goose Music) song catalog listed with the MLC, the Music Licensing Committee, a new entity responsible for collecting and paying digital mechanical royalties from the streaming services, but even doing this is arcanely difficult for those parts of pennies. There are now several new companies devoted entirely to the process of qualifying data for ingestion into the MLC! That’s the biz. The fact that the writers themselves are responsible (or must pay one of these partner companies) for data movement between conglomerates that don’t give a shit about anybody who isn’t in the upper 5% income bracket, well it’s insane. And time consuming. And probably on purpose. I mean, you’d think that BMI, for example, would be able to provide a spreadsheet of all the songs a writer has registered with them for radio and TV broadcast collection, with all their IPI and ISRC and ISWC etc etc numbers attached and get it directly to the MLC, but no. There is no interaction. It’s my last battle to get this done. Then I give. Uncle!

I have no retirement fund, obviously. I guess I actually believed that there would be a “long tail” or indeed a tail at all. I do live in a welfare state now, yes, but I’ve never worked here: all my income during the last decade has been from touring in the US, hence I have been paying taxes in the US. So when I get that yearly Swedish Orange Envelope that shows your accrued pension? Zero.

Maybe I can find some other hippies or a circus to bum around with for the rest of my life. I mean, once my daughter is 18 and moves out. If she has somewhere move out to. If there’s a world to bum around in. If I’m still alive by then. Till then, aloha.

footnotes, in the only way I could figure out how to do them in the new obligatory WordPress input format, which sucks ass. Blog form in general is antithetical to writing, in so many ways—nobody reads a book back to front, and yet with this format, time is upside down, this post is the end of the story and yet it appears at the top. Fuck the internet and all it has spawned.

  1. Now $4000-6000.
  2. Baby Boomers are of course technically those born in the post-WWII Baby Boom, 1946-1964. I was born in the fall of 1963, but I have never, ever, felt myself to be that part of cultural America.
  3. Secular Lutheranism? Protestantism with its work “ethic”? They are extremely Puritan (e.g. pot is an ILLEGAL NARCOTIC! HELP! You will be a drug addict! But alcohol, tobacco, hey, no prob. Cuz they’re LEGAL.) The whole concept of behavior is about “Lagom” or just enough and no more. You don’t stand out, you don’t have or do more than anybody else, stay unobtrusive and everything is “lagom”. Nobody gets to experience joy! That would be too much. I mean, unless they are drunk, and then suddenly it’s like they’re tripping. Fucking weird (Seriously, drunk Swedes are intense.) People say Swedes are stuck up and snobby, Swedes counter to say, no it’s just that we are shy and it appears that way! But the reality is that, indeed, they are incredibly stuck up and snobby: they believe inside that they are always right and they have the best understanding and view of the world, but god forbid that anybody would know that you felt that way! So they wear a continuous mask of “lagom”. What a bullshit culture. So incredibly hypocritical—look at the lip service given to Greta Thunberg: that poor girl was shocked to learn of the realities of the world and the destruction of the planet, while her classmates heard the same lecture and went right back to their phones and cared not a whit. She (has Aspergers, so, like me, unable to process the hypocrisy of this social stance) was like, we need to fucking do something! Nobody cared at all. Until her school strike was picked up by global media, because in other cultures, there are people who actually do feel and care. So she became famous and then, only then, Sweden was like, OH YEAH, Greta, she’s one of us. But they didn’t change anything about Swedish behavior. People still drive their fucking cars around the city (why? Great public transport!), still count on the arms factories to build new offshoots in the Middle East to provide tax money to the Swedish state, and then, then, when they’ve made arms and vehicles and sold steel for a couple hundred years, they complain about the immigrants forced to move from the destabilized areas. I know, the US is worse, but the US capitalists and extraction merchants are blatant about it (like the US racists, they’re pretty much in your face. We get to argue to their faces.) Here, nobody can even understand their own part in causing human migration patterns even within a relatively short period of historical time. “What? We’ve been good, though…?”
  4. Indeed, the several times I saw the Grateful Dead in the 1980s, they sucked ass. Sorry 80s/90s Dead lovers. Post-heroin any band is usually not good and my opinion hasn’t changed with re-listening. That said, the Dead weren’t cool in the 1980s in my world mostly because my world was College Rock/Alternative Rock and that was essentially a continuation of Punk, which meant that pretty much anything big and popular and especially from the 1970s Arena Rock world wasn’t cool. I still liked Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but I had to hide the Yes and Jethro Tull or be prepared to take crap for it. Whatever. Some things stick and some don’t, I only recently realized that I don’t think I like LZ much anymore, but writing this paragraph, I decided to put on Yes’ “Going for the One” and I still know all the words. In high school (1978-81) my “punk rock” band Bürnt Toäst still did covers of LZ and Hendrix in the mix, and I also played bass in a band with older dudes (so I could get into bars) who taught me Dead songs when the singer took a (coke) break, so I knew a bunch of Dead songs—as a bassist. I didn’t really listen to them then. Now, on the other hand, I am very into early Grateful Dead, pre-1970. It’s shockingly good. I’m even amazed at the development of their improvisation from there through the early 1970s, what they did and the fact that the audience was with them the whole time! What I’m not much into, however, is the Americana era stuff, and I know that American Beauty and whatnot were their breakthroughs, and everybody loves all those songs. They’re OK, I guess. Not my first choice to hear, and mostly if it comes up in shuffle I’ll skip it. The acid primal stuff though, it’s incredible. I started last summer on a forum thread listening to every Dark Star to analyze the development, we’re at ~#50, early April 1969.
  5. And you know I love the studio and especially mixing the recorded music: it’s like sculpting sound. You can listen to any of my albums, or the ones I’ve mixed for Øresund Space Collective, and you can understand that I’ve been working in studios for 40 years. I do love it. Playing music, especially live, is like painting. Mixing it is sculpting with the paintings. Admittedly, though, recording in a “Recording Studio” can be weird, like you bring your blank canvas and your paints, but you have to rent the brushes and paint it all as fast as you can, though then at least you can get a look at it/listen to it later and figure out how to structure it in 3-dimensional space. And time.
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Posted in Music

Reblog from Scott Heller’s blog

Interview with Jonathan Segel

Scott Heller: Jonathan Segel is one of the most creative musicians that I have ever met and worked with.  Both of us are from California and only about week apart in age.  We first met in the SF bay area in the early 90s when I would attend the concerts of his band, Hieronymous Firebrain, who would play the local clubs.  After many years, we both ended up in Scandinavia (JS in Sweden and myself in Denmark).  Anyway, it was good to catch up with Jonathan to learn a bit more about his history in music- past, present and future..

SH: How did you get started playing music?

JS: That’s hard to pinpoint. I mean, my parents were both music listeners, but not players really, outside of church choir or high school band. My dad still had his trumpet, though, I think a nephew of mine has it now. He has always had a huge classical music collection on LP and CD, they had many varied LPs I listened to growing up. During the time that I grew up in the 1960s, they actually had music classes in school in elementary school (“da-da-ditdit-da and the like”) and I was already playing songs on recorder by then (wooden flute) and I tried to have piano lessons but had one of those mean teachers who physically mushed your fingers into the correct key to get you to remember it, so I quit at 7 and started messing around with my mom’s classical guitar. But I was also already drawing little hairy figures like cousin Itt with electric guitars and bat wings and top hats, listening to my clock-radio alone in my bedroom late at night—I got my own room when I was four or so, that’d be 1967-68, so I’d tune in to an AM station from San Francisco which was mixing in local bands with the bubblegum, so Jefferson Airplane caught my ears early on. I didn’t start playing with other people until I was 12 (1975-76) when I got back to Davis after my mom had been on sabbatical in Tucson, which was where I got turned onto much heavier  music by the record store dudes on 4th Ave; I’d walk up and down the street after school, they were like, whatcha listening to kid? I said, Beatles, you know, they said, here’s some Alice Cooper, (etc.) So when I got back to Davis, I was like, hey have you heard this Led Zeppelin, they’re phenomenal! And found a guy in my neighborhood who was into playing bass, and then we met another guy at school whose parents ran a “Pickers and Singers” folk group at their house, so they all played (folk and country music, mostly) and had several instruments, so we formed a band, acoustic at first. Stayed together until we left for college! Mostly covers, but we wrote about a half dozen songs. 

Did you try out other instruments besides violin and guitar? 

Well, I stayed mostly away from keyboards after that first thing, and in fact developed a thing against keys even for a while in high school, like was not into bands with keys. Except Pink Floyd. (I got over it). But, while I was, say, liking the Queen records where Mercury played piano, I did note that they had liner notes that said “And nobody played the synthesizer!” And when suddenly that liner note was absent was the beginning of them losing me. A lot of the 70s big timers lost me with their later 70s albums, I wasn’t that into The Wall or In Through the Out Door by then, in favor of more out-there and DIY stuff that I was hearing on the UCD station, KDVS. 

Anyway, yes, I should say that I started playing violin when I was 10, but I quit after 7th and 8th grade Orchestra, I broke my left hand in PE and pretty much stuck with guitar after that until I was in college. I did get a mandolin when I was about 15, as much because of Heart as Led Zeppelin!

You studied music at the University of California, Santa Cruz?  I was reading recently about the electronic music laboratory and how they had some of the original modular synthesizers.  Was modular synthesis part of the program? Did you get to play with any of these and make recordings??

Yes! So I went to UCSC in 1981 and was initially a philosophy major, but I tested into the second year music theory classes right off the bat and they were intense! Every day at 8:30am for four quarters (3 per year, summer break) 1.25 hrs MWF, 2 hrs T-Th, plus labs, so after that first year, I could get a music major in 3 years, so I switched to Music Comp, minored in Classical Languages. Before you got to go in the studio, you had to pass Gordon Mumma’s Mus35 class in the history of electronic music, which was amazing (and all 20th century, an anomaly in all the other music studies) but involved hours of listening in the library basement listening rooms. Then we got to work in the EMS, with Peter Elsea as mother hen for the studios and him and Gordon teaching the classes or seminars. One studio had 4 Revox B-77s, a Tascam 16-channel 8-buss mixer, a modular Moog system and a few awesome rack examples: an Omnipressor, the Eventide Harmonizer, some parametric filter device… an A/DA Stereo Tap Delay, just awesome gear. A big room, and mics (can’t remember which). The second room had a Buchla and an Alpha Centauri digital system, these were tougher to control, more code-writing instructions and fed by cassette-modem! The Moog of course was pretty old and drifty, but it was fun, had a 8-step sequencer and the filters and oscillators of course and ADSR units. We did a lot of tape collage stuff too (duh, you can tell by how I work in ProTools…) And then second year you could get to book time in the middle of the night, so we started recording bands and stuff, even though there were obviously other engineering labs in the building. Which reminds me, the stairwell was a great echo chamber, it was concrete, a 5 story building, we could run lines to the top and bottom.

So to answer your previous question, while a teenager I played guitar, bass, mandolin and violin, but when I started the music major, I had to pass a “keyboard proficiency” exam which meant lessons and playing Bach and stuff, which I muddled my way through. But also I was studying composition so I tried to learn how all the instruments worked and felt, I’ve gone through numbers of instruments and attempted to learn what I could, clarinet, trumpet, flute, organ, cello, contrabass, marimba, vibraphone, etc. I don’t know if I’d say I can really play them, but I have a better understanding of them. I’ve recorded myself playing any one of these things at some point or another to use in some recorded music somewhere.

UCSC was known as a really cool school. I went to UC Berkeley but it was 30,000 students, where as UCSC was much smaller and tucked away in forest!  What are your best memories of going to school there. You could have gone to UC Davis which was much closer to home.

Oh, I have so many intense and interesting memories of UCSC, I was at school 1981-85, started playing with Camper Van Beethoven in ’83 and our first album came out the day I graduated in 85. I lived on campus the first year, then moved to a little town called Felton in the mountains behind the school for two years, about 45 minutes to get to school by road but we could also walk across the forest in the same amount of time, then eventually moved back into the town. The campus is on a hill overlooking the northwestern part of the town, so it’s very separated from the town in that you have to expend energy of some sort to get up there one way or another. But it’s beautiful all around that area, the cliffs over the ocean are incredible, the redwood forests above the University are incredible. Definitely some tripping events took place out there. There were lots of very creative people living there when I was, like in my second year of school the music theory class had tons of jazz guys, (most of whom are still playing, in whatever capacity professional musicians play in these days. That is to say, I see their names around still.) That was a little daunting to me (I was 19 or so) as I wasn’t super into jazz, I was listening to a lot of classical to try to basically ingest music history as I learned about it, and a lot of avant garde/20th century “western art music”—which included the minimalists—shit all these are long stories—and weird 70s stuff like Can and Art Bears when at home, and other prog rock, and then my high school girlfriend was also at UCSC and on the radio KZSC doing a punk show, so that too. But that year, the jazz cats won and the theory had a lot of Coltrane or Miles as examples… 

So anyway, there were always people interested in or doing all kinds of music, so I went to a wide variety of shows. On campus was one thing, but in downtown Santa Cruz there were rock and jazz clubs, and you could go up to San Francisco to see all sorts of things if you were committed to driving back in the middle of the night (about an hour and a quarter.) From Sun Ra at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, next night a gamelan ensemble, then later that week Philip Glass or Robert Ashley in SF, or maybe a punk show or a concert of baroque music on campus. And then in the dorms there were tons of kids who were typical Santa Cruz deadheads, so I saw the Dead several times too. A band called King O-San that I played with in high school, the guitar players were super deadheads, so they would teach us Dead songs for when the singer “took a break” (i.e. went for a coke bump or whatever) so I played a lot more Dead in the dorm lounges that first year, despite the antagonism between punks in the other campus bands and the Dead world. I was sort of oblivious, I just liked to improvise. There were several bands on campus or students that lived off campus but practiced on campus, so CVB also had our own shows there too. And when I graduated, Camper made a record and even toured out to Texas and back later in the year, but we lived and got jobs in town for another 5 years and played at parties there for a few of those years. By the late 1980s, CVB would tour the whole United States twice or more every year, even Europe and the UK, and then come home to sleepy old Santa Cruz, like, whew we’re home, but then after a few weeks you’d get restless, wonder what’s going on in the real world out there? Santa Cruz is sort of a whirlpool, I think it’s one of those places that people get caught in and maybe don’t escape. I moved to SF in 1989, the earthquake hit and SC really changed after that too.

What was the first band you played in? What is the last band you have played with? 

First band I played with was with those guys in Davis, we called ourselves Bürnt Toäst. At that same time, or between times when Bürnt Toäst had a drummer, I also played in other cover bands in Davis, including King O-San (whatta name!) who were older dudes in their late 20s who played guitar and even older (oh my god) singer with a moustache who crooned the “Tuesday’s Gone” type stuff, I played bass and another guy I knew in high school played piano. The drummer was a ex-biker who would freak out about gigs and drink too much, so we’d call in another high school guy we knew, we got to play in bars, have beer, so we stuck with it just to get beer and play music… um, pretty much still doing that now.

It is well known that Camper Van Beethoven has been your main band for the last 30+ years.  How does that work these days with you being in Sweden for the last many years?  

Well, we had a schedule up until early this year where we would play the West Coast between Christmas and New Year’s, then do some middle US or the South or Texas, and the East Coast by President’s Day weekend in January, later adding in a festival (called Camp-In) in clubs in Athens, GA for the end of the month. As well, we started an indoor/outdoor stage festival in 2004 in Pioneertown (the Camp-Out) near Joshua Tree in California, which usually ran four days in late August or early September, so we’d tour to it or from it in the Southwest or Midwest, say, Chicago to Minneapolis, then south through Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, NM, AZ, to the Joshua Tree thing, or vice versa. So it was pretty easy when I moved here in 2012 to just fly to the US twice or three times a year and tour for a month or six weeks. In that time, we played in the UK once and in Germany/Austria. Since the singer also fronts Cracker, we almost always (except for the UK/EU) played with Cracker headlining. They had big 90s radio hits and are still the bigger draw, of course, more publicly recognised and accepted. At the festivals in Pioneertown and Athens, each band got headlining nights, and we all got solo sets to do songs or improvise, which I built a tradition of at the Camp-Out festivals, and then brought it indoors at the Flicker Bar in Athens for the past 4 or 5 years. I turned a lot of listeners on to the Øresund Space Collective in that way too, and Sista Maj. The truth is that even straight rock music listeners (like the Cracker fans, who are a little country, a little rock n roll, like a lot of 70s bands) like to hear a good jam, and the CVB rhythm section—who just happen to be half of the Monks of Doom—with me wailing on guitar, we can jam out some decent stuff now and again, so they were interested in hearing more, which was really cool to see happen. I’m sort of the “weirdo” of the band family, which is fine I guess. 

It has been quite a few years since the last CVB studio album. Anything in the pipeline?? 

To be honest, I have no idea. We’ve each been on our own this year, there have been a couple attempts to work on things over the internet but it hasn’t amounted to much. Mostly concept album ideas that petered out, but damned if I didn’t try to write outlines for several songs based on North Korean popular propaganda song titles… Everybody in the band worked on solo projects, and Victor Krummenacher (bassist) also had band with Dave Alvin and David Immerglück called “The Third Mind” which put out a record of songs and jams, very cool stuff like covering Alice Coltrane or Butterfield Blues Band, and they were going to tour last spring, all cancelled.

You were always quite busy with lots of music projects even when CVB was around. In the 90s you had a few groups like Hieronymous Firebrain and Dent, each of which made a few albums.  What was HF like?  How did you meet the guys in that band.

That band went through two distinct lineups, the first before it was even really named was with Berkeley guys from Barrington where we practiced, with David Immerglück (also Monks of Doom, in the Ophelias at the time. Later with Counting Crows, which he has stayed with as a career… ick, but what can you do. He’s an amazing guitarist, can play anything at all.) Immerglück got hired to make up for my absence in non-violin things after I got essentially kicked out of CVB in 1989 and they hired Morgan Fichter to play violin, so Hieronymus Firebrain v1 dissolved and I advertised in  local mags (BAM, maybe? I can’t remember) and a Berkeley student named Russ Blackmar auditioned to play drums, and played everything off the HF tapes I sent him perfectly right off the bat, and a bass player from Oakland named Ted Ellison (later of then band Fuck) and then my then-roommate in SF Mark Bartlett played guitar and sang also. Mark was the person who convinced me to continue the band, and he’s a great player (look up Four and a Half Pounds of Sunlight sometime, if it’s even on the internet anywhere!) but what happened was that he and Ted got more and more proggy over the 90s while Russ and I got more Can and simpler. Eventually we broke up and Russ and I got his roommate, Jane Thompson, to play bass and formed a classic pop rock trio. 

Dent was a project that came after HF broke up and you guys were living in rural New Mexico. What was life like for you there compared to the intense SF bay area? What was a day like? Did you guys just sit around and get stoned and play music??  The two CDs you made are quite interesting. One is more poppy mainstream while Verstärter, more experimental in someways. I always loved the title, There must be less to life than this!

Our friends in the band The Whitefronts, who were a psychedelic art collective, several of them moved out there to Questa and built a studio out of adobe, so we went there. We’d mostly just play when the mood struck us, work on things right there in the studio to record, make it up as we went along. In 1997, I moved to LA to work in a studio there, (film sound, doing sound effects and that sort of thing) so I just took the tapes and mixed them at home. Dent was whoever was around, which was often me or Victor (from CVB, Monks, etc) and the Whitefronts/Lords of Howling/Art of Flying people (go look them up!) but also sometime somebody coming off their drugs heading out in NM to dry out, but could play a lead somewhere, that sort of thing. 

Obviously with the Covid 19 lockdown your normal life of a few tours in the USA with Camper, one tour with Øresund Space Collective and local gigs was highly disrupted (as was your income).  How have you dealt with this? As many musicians, I guess you made a lot of new music, dug into the archives?? What was the most interesting thing you found in the archives??

It’s been a tough year! Last year, the LAST of the Camp-Out festivals (number 15!) happened in early August, we had toured from Chicago to it, then I did three weeks of solo shows playing songs I had written over the course of the previous 25 years and then one last CVB show, headed home, went back for the winter tour, ended that by playing improv sets at the Camp-In, came back and did two solo shows with Donald Lupo in Finland in February and then wham! nothing. 

At the very end of the time I was in Athens, I got together with Bryan Howard and Carlton Owens, the rhythm section from Cracker, cuz Bryan was setting up a studio at his house, so we jammed, just on what instruments he had there, which was fun—unfamiliar guitars, a ES335 and a set-bridge Strat with heavy strings! Anyway, the first thing I did was work on those, and that came out as the Transatlantic Space Connection.

And I thought, hey, last summer I played tons of songs and sang and shit, I can do a streamed live show. It took a few tries to figure out how to, and the time zone differences between Sweden and the bulk of what audience might listen in the crowded world of the internet was in the US, but eventually I got it down and did a couple shows and one at Larry’s Corner, with an audience of Larry. I made a few attempts at playing songs from my first solo album, Storytelling, from1988, so I got it into my head to try it in its entirety. It was a double album from late 1988, even more on the cassette I think. Remastered by Myles Boysen in 2011 on 2-CDs. I did streamed live sessions of side 1&2 first, then 3&4 and then the whole thing and then only the “Thinksong” parts as a suite, the improvisable-with-set-arrival-progressions stuff. Then I started burning out on songs, and singing to nobody in my living room, staring at my phone, so I did a couple instrumental improv things in between these, then I sorta stopped. I had been working for a couple years on a bunch of weird recordings I’d made of recorded environments and/or field recordings worked into music, so I just continued with that. That one came out finally in August of this year, called Outside Inside. It’s esoteric, but I was very isolated (am still) and that was what was going on in my head, I think there’d be some people who must relate to it. Not sure still, but it’s out there for you. Then also, the rights to Superfluity ceded to me earlier in the year (3 years on Floating World UK) so I had to wait for the “sell off period” and the contract was over. Luckily for me, they had 100 2-CD sets with 4-panel artwork by Richard Gann (one of the people I’ve worked with since forever, he did all the HF CD covers, all the Sista Maj CD covers, etc. The other person is Edie Winograde, who’s been photographing us all since the 80s, lots of the CVB covers, and several of my albums have her photographs) so I got to buy those and finally release the album on Bandcamp, using the 48khz 24bit masters! Yeah! Released this last week! Please take a listen all you readers, it’s like the bookend for Storytelling. We’re moving onto a different shelf now.

Aside from all that, I’ve done lots of individual tracks for people, a couple Astral Magic albums, Spirits Burning with Michael Moorcock, couple of Buck Down’s songs, some on albums by Taperecorder, and we finished a bunch of the ØSC live and studio stuff, just today finished a mix of a friend’s cover of a hokey Swedish song he wants to put out for Solstice …and I did finally do a Dead cover, Here Comes Sunshine. In other words, not getting a job, going way up and down, trying to continue, not playing as much as I want to nor feel I should do. Trying to keep recording chops up but I feel self conscious in an apartment building when many people are home most of the time now. I have this cool little Vox AC4 and an AC15 but they’re both so loud! Crazy. So mostly if I need to play electric I use the Princeton Reverb with a cleaner signal at lower volumes into the mic, then use amp and effects stuff in the computer! I feel like it’s cheating, but especially in context if you’re doing something for somebody else, it’s quick to get controllable tracks with the Universal Audio guitar amp emulators or Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig or even Amplitube. If I practice at night, I do pedalboard directly into the UA interface with their amp plugins, or Softubes’ Amp emulators. I love NI’s Guitar Rig (still on 5) for mixing guitar signals into mixes, so many weird choices. I guess one day I’ll have to get a real job.

The last 6 years or so you have been quite active with the Scandinavian music collective or supergroup called Øresund Space Collective.  For those not familiar with ØSC, it is a totally improvised rock music collective with lots of different members. How did this all start?

….Well sonny, back in abouts 1992 or so, if’n I recall… I think Scott Heller was at the Starry Plough taping a Hieronymus Firebrain show? Local music head, maybe you knew Russ Blackmar (from HF, J&J) from KALX? I think he’s still on KALX now does a metal show? Anyhoo.

Yes.. I was at the Starry Plow and recording the show.  I probably won tickets to the show on KALX as i usually did to some show every week. I  did visit Russ once at his apartment in Oakland, I think. 

I moved from Oakland to Stockholm in 2012. Backstory is that I married a Swede in 2003 and we lived in Oakland, I taught music theory and computer music at College of Marin and Ohlone College, probably unsuccessfully but who knows, and worked at used book stores in SF, until that financial crisis in 2008, so while in Sweden in the summer of 2009 I learned that the colleges couldn’t keep the part timers’ contracts, so I had to get a new job. I had musician friends who worked for Pandora doing “analysis” where they multi-choice a piece of music or song for its component parts, to build a database that matches specific elements to suggest new music to you. I thought, cool! So I got a recommendation, but they didn’t need any more music analysts, so they sent me to the listener support team. See, customer support is actually for the ad department, the customers are the advertisers, the listeners are the people that pull the sausage through the pipe. But the interview was mostly about how computers work, which I knew from using computers since the 80s, and using them in sound studios or record labels, and then in graduate school at Mills, doing computer music, so sound issues, I thought, I could handle. And handling sound problems for people was mostly ok, if it was just computer fuck ups, like, scripted responses to people. But if the algorithm fucked up, tracking it down was really funny. For example there’s a band called Anal Cunt from Rhode Island, and their song titles are misspelled version of, say “Pavorotti” or “Greatful Dead”, so the hapless listener would misspell something they wanted to hear and suddenly have this horrific noise, as they would say. But I also got complaints about ads, so I started checking into what sort of things were being advertised to whom, and found several rightist/christian/homophobic groups were targeting midwest colleges, and I complained to the company… and this went on for a while, I had arguments with the head of the engineering about the ethics of tracking people’s phone to target ads, about whether they should accept political ads, then these same arguments with Tim Westergren, which was useless obviously, because one day I came into work and they were like, take your shit and go. On the way out the elevator (big building in downtown Oakland) I see David Immerglück coming out because the Counting Crows were gonna do a noon concert for the employees…

So I was fired and we had a kid who was 1. The only choice was to barge in on my wife’s parents in Stockholm, so we lived in their apartment till we found our own. 

Anyway, while at Pandora, I had access to a huge music library, so I started trying to find cool bands from Sweden, and I did. Many older prog and psychedelic bands, but also I found the ØSC “It’s All About Delay” and “The Black Tomato”, so when we moved I started looking them up and found out that it was indeed YOU, Scott Heller, who was behind this band. I promptly volunteered, and I think the first thing we ever did was play together in the studio in Copenhagen in 2014? Anyway, I’m a fan for life and if I can play, all the better. And if I can even work on the recordings, bonus, I just like it, any aspect of it.

Thanks Jonathan.. the Collective have changed a lot since you have been part of it and we have released some of our best recordings ever…The band is known for playing quite long concerts for the fans. How do you and the others approach, getting up on stage with no songs and just creating music for 2-3hrs?  How do you come up with the next idea? Do you often lead the jams?

The answer to these questions is impossible to put into words, and I think that’s why we play it as music. Often when we start I think it has as much to do with where the first person to make a noise has put their fingers. You hear it and find where you are in relation to the other sounds. Sometimes we have to step back and listen is someone is making sounds to find how it’s going and how we might fit, sometimes, your fingers just do a thing in response. When we’re live, jamming with Jiri on bass, for example, I remember so many times when he and I would be standing next to each other on the last tour and just occasionally look to the other person, fingers, eyes, then change the music. Often, for me, improvising music is a combination of some sort of hearing in my head all the things that people are playing (at best, in live situations) and having my ears add in many parts that I could hear going along with it, (probably just tinnitus), and my fingers doing something that compliments it or makes sense. (and pedals). Sometimes your fingers just play and you just listen. It’s hard to describe it: where does music come from? Some people say it’s there already and we just play the notes. 

I guess it is similar for all of us.. Listen, listen to all the sounds and let your mind and body flow and hope your skills adapt! At least for me, as the least skilled one in the collective.  
You have been on quite a number of releases, many of which you have mixed yourself…   Describe how ØSC goes about making a record from recording totally improvised music in the studio creating a record?

The sessions that I have been involved in have happened in either the Black Tornado studio in Copenhagen or on the road in the EU, captured either on the band’s digital recorder (*) or the house’s system or digital mixer—which, btw, as much as live engineers seem to rag on them, they are great for this. I have plugged the USB cable directly into these boards and recorded 32 tracks all night long, direct, using Logic to record with the 2013 Macbook Pro plugged in. One night even with it projecting video. Anyway, that was impressive.

So, in either case, I continuously harangue the recording engineers for all files and abscond with them after the tour/session. Then safely at home in the Magnetic Satellite, I can transfer the raw audio data into ProTools on my Mac Pro from 2010 with Universal Audio Apollo I/O and a couple UAD-2 cards. 

The mixes are mapped out then, I usually do the classic left-to-right drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, violin, (banjo, etc), (vocals, in the case of Scott’s vocal mic live), then Aux sends for reverb, delay, other effects—often another reverb, like a plate for some things when there was a convolution of a physical space for the main reverb—then a master buss, then the output. I’ve had sessions so big and long that I had to make stereo master busses for section on the extreme right, but in the virtual/screen space world, that ends up confusing me. In a real mixer, you could just use your hand and no eye.

In a studio session, we make roughs at this point for trying to: first, see what’s good, and second, see what goes together. And sometimes both or neither.  Then mostly Scott, Hasse and I discuss them. 

So I could go on and on about eq and compression and effects. I usually end up putting some of Scott’s modular synth into a moving spatial field, and I’ve ended up using mostly Melda Production plugins for that. There are free ones, I’ve bought a few of their modulators, they have amazing pan/trem/rotary plug ins, you can change the waveform that it uses across the stereo spectrum to have little loops in the middle instead of just back and forth, for example (e.g. modular synth on some ØSC album…)

Sometimes I add VCAs to control overall levels of groups like drums or guitars, usually I use the bass signal as a line with a compressor (Empirical Distressor) and the amped signal with Softubes’ Bass Amp room to put it in a world. Lotta UA Neve stuff, or Helios EQ for guitar (especially Vemund), UA channel strips for keyboards. I use Altiverb for primary reverb space and to set the band into a specific environment, on a lot of ØSC I’ve used the EP-34 tape echo, or SoundToys delays. And sometimes a UA Plate Reverb for snares or other things. The Altiverb convolution reverb has such an amazing library of mapped spaces that I play around with it a lot, several ØSC mixes live in old churches or halls, even outdoors like the Austerlitz Forest. Some of the live ones in specific clubs (like Paradiso in Amsterdam) or concert halls. On “Experiments in the Subconscious” the last track “Hieroglyphic Smell” resides in the main room of Alcatraz Prison!

What are some of your favourite ØSC records and tracks?  

So many. I loved all of Different Creatures, that was the first thing I was involved in, so many great musicians and great musics happening. And Kybalion is amazing, just cuz it’s so weird, the weirdest tracks. And the Ode to a Black Hole.  

So what do you think 2021 will hold in store for you??  Will CVB tour the USA again?  Do you have other releases planned??  

I honestly have no idea. I don’t have more planned, I wrote some songs, but I don’t feel them right now. Not sure what music I should be working on, I really miss playing with other people! 

I want to see what happens in the world, I think. I’m pretty disappointed in humanity, especially the US, even though they (we) finally voted Trump out, there’s damage that will take decades to fix if ever, and the world political landscape gives lip service to things like climate change but doesn’t do a fucking thing, I don’t even know if I can count on any of us being around for any lengthy period of time. 

Anything else you would like to mention??  

I’ve said too much already! Most of the music we spoke about can be found on the bandcamp sites.

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Posted in Music

Outside Inside

A new album, out August 7th, 2020!

Whenever I make a new album of music I am so proud of it; it always feels like the best music in the world, the culmination of everything I have learned to write and play and everything I have heard and studied up until this very moment. I’m so happy to release it, and I expect of course that everyone else will feel the same way. For awhile it was like, there are albums and then there are albums, I guess depending on how public you expected them to be, how outside, how much money to spend on even making the album (as if you could recoup in sales these days), not just money spent on recording but whether it was made into some physical form. More precedence and importance to LPs, CDs, than cassettes, say—but even just making CDs—so for a while we could pretend that there were albums more important than others based on production values or format. But I could still make private, more inside, albums of what I was currently excited about, that I could release even on CD for a while, but then only digitally. For example, albums like Echopraxia or Artificial Relics that are sort of sets of etudes, or the music I’ve done for dance companies or other milieu. Every time, I feel like ‘this is the pinnacle’. Though, of course, once I release it out of my private listening zone, into the outside world, I rarely come back to it. I think lots of artists are that way, once they’re done with a piece.

Having no other representation, all of my releases are on Bandcamp and only digital anyway,  and on my own I’m losing the distinction between things like major releases and minor releases. And now after being stuck isolated for a while, the things I’ve been working on are even more inside, which makes me think even more that it’s the best thing at the moment. I’m losing touch! What music is worth releasing and what isn’t? I have favorites in both inside and outside types of music from many artists, interior and exterior, private and public music. And often the most inside music is the most “outside” stylistically, and vice versa. But maybe the music I make in my room might work somewhere else too, in someone else’s room. And of course I expect that everyone else will feel the same way about it!

Usually, of course, there is little response beyond “huh?”, and as time marches forward, musicians and any managers/agents/publicists that may have existed are left home in our shacks in the dusty wilds of the overcrowded and leveled plain of the internet, unnoticed by the masses of virtual humanity scrolling by, getting that front page of only google-related “search engine optimized” content in any search for anything anyway. And as I age out of the pop demographic, what music I do make becomes less relevant to the church-of-what’s-happening-now in music journalism (as such) and popular culture in general, and only of mild interest to ‘a small circle of friends’ as Phil Ochs put it. Yeah, yeah, we know. No matter—it’s art, man!

Regardless, I always feel like I should explain myself in order for you, the rare potential listener, to understand what I’m doing with this music and understand why I would make this music, why it is important to me. Why would I do that? Well, I want you to get the joke, too!

That said, this particular album is some weird-ass music. It’s definitely not destined to be one of my more popular albums. Late night listening, maybe. Take it with you on a trip. For me, this was a means to focus, a meditation.

So, a manifesto, then, like some 20th century art movement? I don’t have a good branding name for my “style”, and in fact my point is only that this is music, within the world of what “music” is or may be. I do like deconstructing in order to reconstruct, and as much as people tend to disregard post-modernism these days, I’m still way into it. Meta always makes the best jokes best. 

Since NME and Rolling Stone aren’t ringing me to answer these pressing questions, I’m gonna be proactive and answer them myself. I’ve had some time to think about it.

So, yes, this is being released during a time (Summer of 2020) when everybody is simultaneously stuck inside and worried about the outside, and that period has enabled me to finish this project, but I have been recording and working on these tracks for about two years now, so the “meaning” is not embedded at all in the angst of pandemic.

The meaning is embedded in the superimposition of the inner and outer, the listener and the listened-to. The beauty of it, the joke, is context. Sampling was a great idea, right? The earliest tape collagists knew that context was where the art lay. Pierre Schaeffer presenting a steam train in a concert hall forced a listener to hear it out of its own locale and try to hear it as sound in and of itself. It’s the same idea as John Cage’s famous piece 4’33”, where the audience hears a pianist not playing the piano, meaning that what they are listening to is the space that they are in. Music is where you find it, right? In the ear of the beholder. This of course is why I love tape collage, or musique concrete, as an art form, and I happily still adhere to the idea that these sorts of pieces should be part of albums* that also contain other types of music (e.g. “Phenomenon and On” from 2017’s “Superfluity”, digitally mis-titled as a “Mystery Bonus Track” by streaming, um, “services”). And as an avid field-recordist, I’ve been using collage technique in studio music for almost 40 years, superimposing outside recorded items on top of studio-recorded sound, or turning the outside inside. Or vice-versa! I remember presenting one piece in the UC Santa Cruz Electronic Music Studios for some course final for Gordon Mumma’s class (maybe 1983?) where I had made it sound as if all the sounds were happening in the other room, like we were trying to hear the “music” through the walls. 

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In the latter 1990s I worked for Dane Davis doing sound for film in Hollywood, (I loved it and only ended working for him to go play music on tour with Sparklehorse) and it gave me the opportunity to up my game in the field recording world, and thus to make more music from ‘non-musical’ recorded elements. You can hear it a bunch on the album “Scissors and Paper” from 2000, and of course on all the Chaos Butterfly albums subsequently—I consider them, as electro-acoustic music, to be highlights of psychedelic music, though for certain my definition of what psychedelic music is is not standard among genre enthusiasts. I have always used a lot of recordings of rocks, whether or not that (rock) was the genre. They have nice resonances. I guess you’d consider this sampling still, though sampling’s use in popular music by this point in time, well, the idea has eaten its own tail: mostly people aren’t making musical sounds with out-of-context recorded sound, but strictly sampling ‘music’ to make more music. Or worse, shoving its head right up its own ass, sampling specifically only, say, dance music to make specifically more dance music. Self-referentialism can be fun, of course. Meta can make a good joke.

If there’s humor in it. 

And, of course…

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As a recording musician, you always have many options with respect to how to capture sound—and none of them are real. You can never record what you hear, how your ears hear things. So we fake it, usually: in recording studios we try to hyper-accurately record perfect performances of people playing instruments, but then we filter the frequency spectrum and dynamically compress the recording so that it’s easier to hear what we want to convey, or at the very least to highlight the aspects of a sound that you want to be more present in the mix. And music, that undefinable aspect of sound, can come through regardless: you could use an ultra-high-fidelity recording of a shitty instrument or a shitty recording of a beautifully made and perfect instrument. People react to sound as they hear it, as Mozart laughed at the Steppenwolf listening to Händel on a transistor radio in the Magic Theater, pointing out that as marred as the mechanism was, the spirit of the music still came through.

Whatever that is. 

And we as a culture go through trends in what is the appropriate sound quality, hi-fi, lo-fi, distortion, “clean”, whatever. Similarly, of course, popular music goes through what it accepts as harmonious, each new dissonance becoming normalized with repetition, from the ubiquity of the blues-and-then-the-Beatles’ sharp-ninths over major chords to the distortion of the electric guitar, the electronic machines making rhythms, vocal-fry singing styles, etc, etc. Nothing is sacred, period. It’s all just sound, in the end. 

I’ve written before about why I like seeing/hearing/playing improvised music, a lot of which boils down to the fact that a human being is doing something and we are hearing that. Often, in real time, …though of course recording can allow a listener to experience this post-facto. The element of human action is what I am into. The element of human action in the moment, in time, as it happens. Being an improviser, of course, is to “be” the music, to try to let yourself go into that psychological flow state where you are not thinking so much as doing, acting and reacting to make the sounds as it is appropriate to be to be making music. Again—whatever that is. As a player, you try to prepare by learning as much as you can about how to play the instrument so that you no longer have to think about what you’re doing in order to do it. Or not! You might just use something that makes sound that you don’t know exactly how to operate to make sound with it in the moment by the sheer will power of physically expressing your living actions! Children, of course, do this all the time, and they make some great sound!


I mean, I also like hearing music where people are physically and consciously acting in consensus to make a pre-planned series of sound events, e.g. playing a written piece of music or a song, simple or complex. That’s powerful, right? Orchestras with all those musicians working together to create a sound, it’s amazing, large choirs (back when we had these things, remember that?), and bands, rock bands with the amplification to strengthen each part of the mix. All funneling these myriad sounds into a single unified whole. That’s amazing, and can make it easier for a listener to abandon their self and be absorbed into the whole of the sound, to be a part of it, a piece of the whole, being the whole. 

I’m currently profoundly missing that human interaction. (As are we all, currently in 2020.) And it’s giving me the opportunity to get back to my recordings of rocks and ice and other sounds, to re-examine these recordings I’ve made while trying and not trying to make music. Many of these tracks are the result of either purposeful misdirection in the process of recording or trying to make sound while not specifically making music. Let me try to guide you through this as a listener. I recommend headphones, and either an environment of nature where you might be fooled into thinking that not all the sounds were coming from the headphones, or maybe you are just wrapped up in a blanket in bed and drifting off with your eyes closed. Smoke a big fatty and let’s go.

There are only two songs in this collection, really. The first track, “All Signs Point to You’ll See” and a cover of Chuck Prophet’s “Rider or the Train”. I say “songs” in that they have sung lyrics, really. And they have Kelly Atkins singing on them also. “All Signs…” does place this album critically within this pandemic time period, at least lyrically, but that was not intentional. What was intentional was recording the instruments and voices from near and far, and allowing the sound of both types of recording. Obviously I left the doors open. And put multiple Kelly-voices together into an single room. The electric bass track is recorded acoustically, a microphone close to an instrument intended to be amplified. That mic track was then amplified. Allowing the outside inside, etc. 

“Till the Cows Come Home” and “Real World Lessons” are based on recordings of our neighbor in the Swedish countryside, who does Kulning, which is an old Swedish form of singing that allows the voice to carry extremely far out across lakes and valleys so the cows can hear it and find their way back home. And for as much as I talk about the sounds of human action, when I get inside the computer I try to make it make sound that I have far less control of! Going back to Chaos Butterfly,  for example, I was coding a lot of SuperCollider and Max/MSP computer programs to “interact” with us, the musicians, and produce sounds that we didn’t, based on our sounds, but not exactly controlled by us. And I’ve coded many “musical boxes” to make “music” by themselves as such. Just because, right? I mean if I’m so into seeing, hearing human beings and their actions making sound, what about enjoying music made not by human beings? Can I still enjoy it as music? (The answer is yes, I do. Ear of the beholder and all.) So anyway, here you have two different things grinding up the sounds made by a human being. One is a computer program regurgitating a human kulning. The other is children (a different kind of computer program) having heard kulning, trying it themselves, and getting a learned response!

“Responsibility For One’s Actions”, “Standing Apart From”, “Marking Time” are all the result of recording when I had been so deflated by the idea of making music in the he modern world at all, essentially given up. In my mind, I know that what I do is pointless, and the very fact that I dedicate my life to it is ridiculous, given that it does not benefit me nor my family in any realistic way, as the neo-liberal world likes to point out. (And I fully admit to not being very realistic about much in general.) Regardless of my actual ability to play the guitar, for the most part all I could manage at this point in time (these were recorded initially in the summer of 2018) was to lay the guitar on the ground and rub rocks on it. (Rocks always sound good.) Or set a fidget spinner spinning on the bridge. Weirdly, to me anyway, music still happened.


“Pulse Check” checks my pulse. I’m alive, right? Apparently also I am not a machine: despite playing with an unforgiving delay time, I fluctuate. 

You may be wondering at this point, if you are listening, why is there a pulse or a drum machine in these pieces anyway? That’s a very good question and I have several very good answers for you. The first is that our kulning neighbor’s husband happened to have brought an ancient Baldwin Tempomatic drum machine back from the US some years back and had no use for it (no use! I have a 110v transformer!) But more importantly: a pulse can mark the time passing. That’s one way you might know that it’s music that you’re listening to.

Baldwin Tempomatic

What is music, again? Usually it’s sound that happens in time, over a specific amount of time (4’ 33” for example). As Jaques Attali theorized in his book
“Noise: The Political Economy of Music” (1977/85), humans probably used music as ritual demarkation of the duration of a ceremony of some sort (he posits sacrifice) and similar to Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra, it becomes separated from its initial use and takes on a life and meaning of its own. But as the ear of the beholder can hear it anywhere, I like to be specific and point out that very ear: that pulse you hear? that’s you, the listener, listening. Usually in a reverberant space, as if it were an internal monologue, like they do in movies: reverb means it’s inside. Like your brain has reverb on its internal sounds, bouncing against the inside of your skull. It does, right? 

I mean, even the Grateful Dead played blues songs initially, simply because there had to be a song to play to have something to improvise on. Otherwise what the fuck? Now, I love a good 45-minute Dark Star as much as the next guy, but often to fill time when playing a concert there has to be something to play. Like, say, a song. A song, in this context is just a time limitation, a structure for the musicians to relate to while they explore sounds. I mean, a song in any context is that too. But my point in having the pulse in all of these pieces is to point out to you that you are listening. I could record birds singing and overlay a track of pulse, and suddenly the context is changed. Or, you could be like Messaien and transcribe the birds and have Yvonne Loriod play their songs on a piano in a concert hall, and again, the context is changed and the listener is forced to understand that they are listening to something, something specific, planned by human action, and not just hearing sounds happening in space and time. 

I guess I should point out that, yes, I also studied composition with Pauline Oliveros at Mills College about 20 years ago, and the impact of her ideas of Deep Listening have made huge impressions on me. Compare what I’m droning on about here with her ideas of actively making sound and actively imagining sound, especially in the context of improvisation, and her writing about processes of attention and awareness when listening and playing sound and music, remembering what sounds have happened, hearing what sounds are present. So yes, in essence this entire album is an exercise in Deep Listening. 

Moving on, there is the exploration of inside spaces. As with “All Signs…”,  the idea of recording loud sounds (amplified electric guitar, for example) from close and from far away has been used in rock music recordings for years (like Jimmy Page’s recordings of guitars and drums on Led Zeppelin albums for instance, creating large spaces and tight spaces.) I like a good “room recording” mixed in, …sometimes. Or in these cases, mixed up. Often, you can hear the player’s actions beyond playing their instrument, like stepping on an effect pedal switch in the space. I think I’ve included these sorts of sounds (and incorporated many types of sounds) as far back as “Scissors and Paper” (2000) but I think that before that point I mostly tried to exclude sounds that weren’t “the music being recorded”. For the most part, anyway. I can hear pedal switches in the room on “Little Blue Fish”, for example. 

Anyway, earlier this year, in late January 2020, after a tour of the US with Camper Van Beethoven, I stuck around Athens, GA for a week in the hopes of recording some new ideas with other band members, but circumstances left me alone in an A-Frame building—but with all the equipment. The building had two floors, one of which essentially overlooking the other, so naturally I set the amplifier at the bottom and the microphones at the top. I did manage one recording session elsewhere, with Cracker’s rhythm section of Bryan Howard and Carlton Owens, a jam session that I took home and jiggered into this album, the Transatlantic Space Connection: one track here is titled after a joke I made about throwing a party at the A-Frame I was staying in. The bass line suggested it to me, even, I still sing along “party at the a-frame” to that bass line. Hence, on “Outside Inside” we have the “Afterparty at the A-Frame”, apparently a more introspective or even sullen social gathering. Well, not a gathering at all. I was alone. This continues with the “Explanatory Gap” and “Eventutation”, which are concerned with the idea of a thing happening at all. 

“Blow Up My Crocodile” is really about human reaction, now isn’t it? There are several recordings here, the mics on the balcony are there to record the weather or car-bys (as we called them in the film sound world, cars going by across the stereo spectrum), though once placed, the recordist goes in to make coffee. Also, there’s mics up to record some guitar improvisation. The child, however, sees that on the balcony is her deflated pool crocodile, which obviously needs inflation. But then, what’s this? Live mics that are moving meters? I need to sing, obviously!

“Icewater” has some of my favorite-ever recorded sounds, the ice in the Mäler lake breaking up and moving around in the wind. Ice is probably as good as rocks. I do tend to use a lot of ice and rocks in my recordings, but hell, they sound cool. And “Snowfoot” is the sound of feet walking in snow. I did loop a section for consistency, but I was walking pretty steadily there, wasn’t I?

“Rider or the Train”, well, mostly this is about the sound of the near and far mics on the guitar, the open door letting the thunder in, the song itself about the conflation of all these things. I think I had recently played a show with Håkan Soold opening for Chuck Prophet and the song was still floating around in my head. Also at the time I was in some serious pain and approaching a back operation, (successful) trying not to be on any opioids (also successful, within two weeks after the operation.) I made up some extra words, sorry Chuck.

The guitar solo in “Rider or the Train” is, again, just rubbing rocks on an electric guitar on the floor, but it almost sounds like an honest blues-rock solo. Completely unintentional, but there you have it.

“Distant Thunder” is just that, and “Vectored Space” is also just that. These are very literal, just that drum marking the time against listening to the world around you, pointing out to the listener that you are here, listening, and the world is here being itself.

You may drift off to sleep now.


*This idea of course was prevalent when people started using the studio as an instrument when making albums of songs, and many groups in the 1960s seemed to be quite aware of the inherent psychedelia of tape music as they heard from the modern composers coming out of the 1950s (members of Can, for example, were students of Stockhausen), but by the time I was 7 and had heard “Revolution #9” on the Beatles’ White Album, Jefferson Airplane’s “A Small Package of Great Value Will Come to You Shortly” on After Bathing at Baxter’s and Zappa & Mothers of Invention’s “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music” on We’re Only In It for the Money, I assumed every album was supposed to have a post-modern audio deconstruction of itself and environs. I didn’t hear much more of it in the pop/rock music world until Game Theory’s “Lolita Nation” (1987) and of course I tried to carry that flag on my first solo album Storytelling (1988) —to disastrous response.

Posted in Music

What’s all on that overcrowded Bandcamp page?

5 June 2020, Updating for 7 May 2021, it’s another of those first Fridays of the month when Bandcamp foregoes their share of sales and all proceeds go to the artist.

It’s a good day to explore and buy new music.

Go to:

(also check out where the music of Sista Maj lives, a band I had in Stockholm from 2016-2019, improvised/composed spacey instrumental music, and for the real space rock: where I’ve been involved playing and mixing often since 2014. I’m not personally on all of the albums or shows, it’s a collective, man. But if you look at the notes, you can find me.)

holds ears

Here’s what’s all at there that place the link page graphic display of files:

The first row now has “Superfluity”, a huge opus that essentially bookends “Storytelling” (1988) enclosing everything in between. It was a double-CD, released by Floating World UK in 2017, now the rights are back in my hands, so it’s available digitally here (and if anybody wants to license this, or anything, really, for LP or CD production, let me know.) Next to it, “Superfluousness” is the outtakes, that is to say the superfluous music from the production of “Superfluity”. The steps along the way.

“Outside Inside” didn’t start as a Pandemic album, but it kind of became that. It’s experimental, odd, conceptual whatever you like to call it. I wrote a lot about it when it came out in the summer of 2020:

“Here Comes Sunshine” is the Grateful Dead song, done as a single for the summer solstice of 2020. With dub b-side.

In the second row, the first three: “Transatlantic Space Connection” and the two live at Camp-Out XV and XIII are essentially space rock, improvised rock music (TSC was in studio, subsequently overdubbed/composed a bit in studio)

“Moving Through Loneliness” is music made for dance and then film, it’s heavy, long and dark.

“Shine Out” (2014) and “All Attractions” (2012) are albums of songs, for the most part. “Apricot Jam” is an instrumental comp-provised companion to “All Attractions”, while “Turn Slowly…” is extras from that period.
Similarly, “Honey” is an album of mostly songs from 2008, while “The Space Between Stars” is a piece made out of on of its jams.

“Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”—i.e. no direct hits, a collection of “popular” tracks from 1990-2012

More albums of songs: Storytelling (1988), Hieronymus Firebrain’s “Hieronymus Firebrain” (1990), “There” (1993) and “Here” (1993), Jack & Jill’s “Chill and Shrill” (1995) and “Fancy Birdhouse” (1997), “Scissors and Paper” (2000) and “Edgy Not Antsy” (2003).

The next rows are mostly electronic/electro-acoustic music. Eclectronic!
“Storm Starts Stopping” (2014) is a single piece, “Summerleaf” (2006) is many shorter pieces. “Amnesia/Glass Box” (2005) are pieces made for Curt Haworth’s Dance Company, “Rauk” (2005) is electronics with rocks or violins as sources, “Non-Linear Accelerator” (2003) is a set of electronic and field recorded pieces. Most of these use SuperCollider, Max/MSP and Reaktor as the coded or synthetic sources.

Chaos Butterfly is improvised and composed electro-acoustic music, most of the time with Dina Emerson singing or playing wine glasses, while both of us processed the sound in our computers. “Radio” (2006) is live in the he KFJC pit, “Live at Studio Fabriken” (2005) is live with Biggi Vinkeloe on saxophone and flute, “threelivingthings” (2005) is a studio recording. “Unforeseen Events” (2006) contain some live and some studio pieces, also with Kiku Day on shakuhachi and Helena Espvall on guitar and ‘cello.

“The Secrets Sparrows Keep” (2015) is music made form shared ideas back and forth, with Mattias Olsson. Similarly “Current” by Shale is with Tom Shad. Dent’s “Stimmung” (1995) and “Verstärker” (1998) were shared ideas passed around while out in New Mexico at the adobe studio used by the Lords of Howling/Art of Flying. (go and search those guys up, you won’t be disappointed!)

“Echopraxia” (2015) is a set of (mostly guitar) echo etudes made into composition after the fact. Similar to this is “Artificial Relics” (2018).

“machines” are code-based musical boxes that generate sound with small nudging or input from the composer.

“Underwater Tigers” is a single long piece to draw one into sleep.

Sideways’ “The Minutiae of Ephemera” is all the recordings I had of a rock band that existed in the early 1990s in San Francisco that contained several members of local bands from that era.

Dr Geronimo Firebrain’s Plane Crash Tapes Vol. 1 (1993), Vol. 2 (2010) and Vol. 3 (2010) are all outtakes, mistakes, exercises, etudes, weirdnesses, and generally things that didn’t fit anywhere else. Highly mercurial and eclectic.

“BIll’s Run”, “The Invisibles”, “Love Will Travel”, “Bunny”, “Kickin’ Chicken”, and “100% Human Hair” are all movies scores, several full-length and a couple shorts.

“Shibuya”, “Emotional Geographies”, “How is a Church Like the Sea”, “Hotel of Memories”, “The Desire Line” and “Site” are all music for live dance company performances. Most of these took place in theaters, though “Shibuya” was improvised on the spot while busking near a subway station and an impromptu dancer appeared.

“Storytelling Demos” and “Questions Answered” are the cassette demo tapes for “Storytelling” and the first Hieronymus Firebrain album, recently transferred.


Posted in Music

(Mostly) Universal Audio and mixing the space rock

It’s the end of an era.

Well, for me anyway, in terms of mixing and recording audio. You see, for the past number of years, almost a decade now, I’ve been on the Universal Audio “Artist’s extended demo” roster for their plugins. In the course of this time, I’ve spent the money on several pieces of their hardware (Apollo 8 Channel Quad processor, a PCIe 2-sharc card, an external FW800 2-sharc card, and more recently Apollo Twin Quad Thunderbolt just for use with the laptop) and recorded tracks for tons of albums, and mixed, mixed, mixed. Even sort-of mastered some albums. But now, I’m losing my “artist” status as the churn moves on to the more important folks. Ah well, all good things, as they say. 

I’m a ProTools guy. Still. Started with SoundDesigner II back when I first saw it used in 1990 or so, immediately stepped into the world of digital recording and mixing. I’m really into being able to view the waveforms and edit them like graphics. Part of the synesthesia of hearing sound in a stereo space, seeing the analog drawing of the energy going out the speakers. I can’t say I’m super psyched about Avid in general though. I haven’t updated Protools since my “subscription” to whatever ran out, and I’m running an almost 10-year-old computer, so I’m still working on PT 12.4 here. Nonetheless, all the Universal Audio plugins are still working. And I’m super good at working with audio in ProTools, in a way I just can’t figure out how to do in other programs. I’ve tried many over the years. I do have Logic X on my laptop, (which is lucky because then I can just plug a cable from a digital board at a club and record all the tracks onto the interior drive (SSD) and it *just works* in a way that Apple stuff should. But then trying to deal with mixing or editing in Logic and I can’t even.)

Universal Audio is a Santa Cruz company, so they’ve been nice to us in Camper Van Beethoven, we being (initially) a Santa Cruz band. I had always loved their audio hardware, especially the preamps, but the direction they’ve taken with hardware emulation plugins is astounding and keeps getting better. I’m hooked. 

I’ve got my favorite plugins to use, of course, by now, but I change it around. Right before leaving on tour with Camper Van Beethoven this summer (2019), I was trying to get some mixes done relatively quickly, several Øresund Space Collective shows from eastern Europe in May and June were recorded multi-track (either directly out from a digital mixing desk at the club or board outs to a hard disk recorder) so I’m trying to make ‘em sound good. I’m gonna go through my methodology here.

So, I got 6 concerts multitracked, you’d think I’d make a template to just dump all the audio in wouldn’t you? I guess that would be smart, but the thing was each night had different mics and even different drums sometimes. So it wasn’t like I could just make generic settings, so I just loaded all tracks into their own sessions and started from nothing on each one.


Classically, I like to set up tracks starting from the kick drum, snare, (hi hat if the channel exists) toms, overheads. Then on to bass tracks, guitars, synths. Like normal old-school mixing board set up. ØSC is an instrumental all-improvised space-rock ensemble, so usually only one live vocal mic for Scott Heller (Dr Space) to announce things. I’ve mixed several of our studio albums as well, so even though the lineup changes (it *is* a collective, you know), the vibe is usually a groove with wailing guitars and synth, with Dr Space doing modular synth wind/noise/sweeps/bleeps’n’bloops, etc. Think 70s Hawkwind or maybe Gong. 

Most of time I will make a drum buss with its own VCA and possibly a buss that controls overall guitar-and-maybe-synth levels. If I’m doing studio mixing I still go the classic mixing board method and have stereo busses for drums, bass, guitars, synths, (vocals), reverbs and effects, and I put them all the way right on the other side of the master fader. 

Starting with our kick, I’m trying to get a decent sound out of either the drum set that resides at the practice space in Copenhagen, now parading around Europe at the mercy of whatever mic some club in Dresden or Warsaw may have for it, or an opening band’s gear. Tim Wallander, the drummer (from Agusa and several other Malmö-area groups), usually brings his own snare and cymbals, and his snare sounds like a drum, it retains a lot of drum-shell sound and less of snare-y high end (especially with a crappy old mic on it.) 

I’ll usually resort to my favorites for these, UA Neve 1073 or Neve 88RS. The 1073 is just the best, in my opinion. I end up using it a LOT, desert island preamp and EQ. The 88RS of course has the weird Neve compressor/gate, and while I try not to gate any of the drums (if I have to, I’ll edit tom tom tracks to only have their hits, but…),  I do end up with slow gates on the kick sometimes, depending on how much low end is bleeding from the bass nearby or if the stage has subs under it (why do they do this!?) In any event, one tries to get some sense of the size of a kick drum shell in terms of low-end resonance, with some elements of the sound of the beater beating the living hell out of its skin. I usually end up making a kind of bactrian-humped EQ where the bass guitar can fit in between—minus a little 90-120hz or so on the bass, but then bringing a little bit of very low under that from the kick and the bass also. I find that the classic compressors like the UA DBX 160 or LA-2A are working nicely after EQ on the kick, if indeed the signal isn’t recorded with compression to begin with (again, different clubs.)

The UA Neve 1073, as I’ve said, is the best on everything. It just sounds good. I use it on snares, on guitars, on vocals. Even without starting to alter the EQ settings, I feel like just inserting it on the channel brings a lovely sound, a little quality distortion that brings out the harmonics of the sound. As I mentioned, the snare ends up being recorded live as well as it can be, which isn’t always excellent. In the mix, I end up needing more “snares” sound, more hi-mid white noise elements to add to the drum’s cracking and popping sound. There are some great presets for the 1073 to start out with, many “70s” sounds, for example. One thing I dislike, however, is the sound of a super squished snare that pops instead of cracks. So I try to be very sparse on compression. What I *do* do, though, is often duplicate the snare track and EQ it radically (UA Cambridge EQ!) to bring out the snares themselves and then crunch that up a bit with something like SoundToys Devil Loc or maybe even a SansAmp. 


drum processing, kick and snare EQ/preamps and compression, Overheads EQ and parallel buss comp

Toms are a problem on these live recordings, because they are inconsistent and almost always open mics that pick up everything. I try to tune them to get some more resonance and a little stick, the bactrian camel curves again, a little higher than the kick for resonance, and possibly lower for the stick with a dip in between. Say ~150hz for the floor tom, and a little 1k-2k spike. I wonder if a superimposition of all these EQ curves would look like a herd of camels. Depending on what’s going on CPU-resource-wise, I maybe just use the ProTools native 7-Band EQ and possibly their gate/comp. Tricky though, with the gates, due to what freqs may be bleeding at what levels. Especially for mixing a live show, I want it to sound more natural and less studio-jiggered. Gates can bring in some weird elements when the drum track has a sound that aren’t the sound of the drum in the recording, can end up sounding bizarre, like sudden high pitched electrical noises coming in with each drum hit. Not fun.

For Overheads—if there are recorded tracks! I’ve mixed some shows that had no cymbal mics, so had to duplicate other mics and radically EQ them and try to place them in space to fake it—I mostly use the UA Cambridge EQ, some hi-pass, then depending on what cymbal or toms are on what side, make some cuts in the middle and boosts in the high end to match the instruments’ tones. I run a parallel drum buss through the UA Fairchild 660. Wow, what a roomy compressor/limiter. Really ties the room together, that guy, like a nice rug.

I’m mixing drums from audience perspective, by the way. For live, anyway. I think I unconsciously do from drummer’s perspective (L-R) when doing studio recordings, but for live shows, I try to match the placement on stage as if you were in the audience. So for these, floor tom is left channel, rack tom is right channel. 

So a little ear-candy now, since I’ve got a decent drum set going on, with a parallel compression, both summed to a drum buss controlled by a drum-group VCA. But it’s dry! So, rather than trying to mix in a room recording (which I could do and have done, of course) I’m gonna fake it. Two reverb busses are in place at the far right of the mixing console, one of them is my all time favorite, the AudioEase Altiverb. I’ve been using this convolution reverb for what, 20 years now? Still the best. (for me anyway.) In this situation, I’m finding either a club to put the band in or possibly a theater space. For several of these shows, I’ve settled on the Club Paradiso in Amsterdam as a substitute for, say, Hydrozagadka in Warsaw or Vaastavirta in Helsinki. Sometimes the New York club Tonic works really well for a club space background. My weird methodology is to send a little of the snare track directly into the Altiverb reverb, and then take another send from the parallel comp drums track to a *different* reverb with all the drums. Often that second one is a plate, like UA’s EMT140, but they recently brought out the Capitol Echo Chamber and so I’m using it while I can. What’s cool about it, besides sounding like an old recording studio’s echo chamber, is that, in stereo, the sides are unequal: it actually maps the real space, so the bounce is different on different walls. This can be cool, especially just a touch to create a sense of space for the ensemble to live in. 


Now on to the bass. Jiri, the bassist, plays a left handed 5 string bass with a low B string, and he uses a lot of effects. Including fuzz, octaves and echoes. So he tells the sound man that he likes a microphone on his cabinet instead of a DI, as that will actually get the full frequency spectrum he’s using. Sometimes he sounds like a bass, sometimes like a synthesizer. For the most part, I just need a little bit of control, so first thing I will do is notch out a tiny bit of low end in that 100hz range, maybe 90, maybe 120, to fit his signal around and between the kick drum. Then compression. I’ve been using the UA LA-2A’s a bunch for bass compression, but I’ve recently been on an Empirical Labs Distressor kick. (for guitars too!)

It helps *me* if there’s a DI line also, because what I like to do is send that signal to the UA/Softubes Bass Amp room. I love this plugin, it’s amazing on line-recorded bass. I’ve used it on nearly every album I’ve made in the past 7 or so years. It sounds like a bass amp (or three) in a room. I have two 70s Fender basses, a Precision and a shitty Musicmaster with the frets filed off and a Seymour Duncan pickup, either one plugged directly into the Apollo and then through the Softubes Bass Amp room, and that’s all I need. In Jiri’s case, for these live shows, I use the plugin in mono-to-stereo and bring it in under the original track. That way I can EQ his original track to get all his high mids and then the amp room brings up a bit of the ultra-low floating around in the space. Especially good when balancing a fuzz bass with the band. It’s a lot of two-humped EQ curves going on between the bass and the drums, all fitting together in notches. Herd of camels.

On this tour, we had two guitarists and usually a keyboardist. Our normal touring synthesizer player, Mogens, had to stay in Copenhagen due to just starting up his own acupuncture business! So we tried to get locals each night to jam with us, and we got some great and varied musicians. On these shows in the screenshots, in Warsaw, it was Marysia Bialota on some Korgs, while in Helsinki it was Vesa Partii playing a synth with a guitar: Boss GT-10 Synth and EHX Key9!

In general I want the keys to be relatively centered in the mix, but of course that depends on the music and where they might be on stage (bleed-wise). Or if it’s an actual organ or mono-synths or what. In Hamburg we had Anders from Liquid Orbit with his touring setup: a chopped Hammond with tour-boxed Leslie speakers, a Mellotron and a mono synth! Unfortunately, we don’t have multitracks for those, just room recordings. 

I started using UA’s CS-1 Channel Strip a long time ago when there was a starting preset called “Synth Tamer”. Well, I can’t find that preset anymore, but that doesn’t stop me. It’s got an EQ section for some shaping (hi-pass to get out of the way of the bass, for one, some upper mid sculpting, maybe some hi end sparkliness) and then it has a compressor, and some time-delay and it’s own reverb. I try to get a little subtle chorus out of the delays and maybe a rectangular room for a little bit of its own space. Might nit need more than that.

The other guitarist on this tour was Vemund Engan, from Black Moon Circle, who was most of the time playing through a big Peavey combo (from the Copenhagen rehearsal space again), his tone is very rock guitar, very Marshall-y, with either an SG or a baritone guitar. I was playing my Fender Stratocaster (the ’62 reissue, now with a super comfortable leather strap which was very cheap in Poland. It feels like you’re sliding into a luxury sports car to put it on) into a Peavey tweed classic, my tone ranged from more Strat-clean to fuzz, with echoes of course, etc… I could go on about pedals and guitar tone forever. Maybe I will someday.

Anyway, we are usually on opposite ends of the stage, so I put us there in the stereo space as well. EQ and compression. Lots of volume editing. And one trick: I put each guitar into one of the reverbs, with the send panned opposite to the track’s placement. I love this trick, I automate the send levels for solos to send the track into the other side of the space, it’s especially cool with the UA Capitol Studios chamber because it has a distinct bounce on the left side, you can take the left-channel guitar, send it to the echo chamber right side and it bounces a bit back to bolster the initial track as well as spreading the signal a bit for solos. I do this rather than change the pan of the track on live show mixes. 

guitar synth helios

guitars: Helios and Distressor, 1073 and Smack (an old ProTools comp) and the CS-1 for the synth

These screenshots are from Warsaw and Helsinki, at the former I was left side (looking *at* the stage) and Vemund right, at the latter, it was the opposite. Again, I often use the UA Neve 1073 on guitars, but I’ve also become smitten with the Helios 69. The Helios really brings the crunch out and can tame some of the low end as well, so I have been using it on Vemund’s guitar signal. I only became aware of this EQ due to recording some Camper Van Beethoven with Jason Carmer in Berkeley, CA, and then discovering the preset on the older version of UA’s Helios called “Carmer’s Charmer.”

I’m usually more “classic” electric guitar-sounding usually with a Fender amp (the Peavey Classic is excellent, by the way), so the 1073 works really well on my guitar or violin. That and the Distressor! I was turned on to the hardware version of the Empirical Labs Distressor when I was playing with Sparklehorse 20 years ago, I mean, you can tell Mark Linkous loved his compression, and the Distressor was a hit with him. I have never owned the hardware version, but UA’s plugin is kicking ass for bass, guitar, violin, etc. It has some harmonic features as well, hi-pass and harmonic distortions that can work wonders on midrange and treble instruments. 

So that’s all pretty simple, straightforward. Get good sounds and leave them in the mix. I’m not doing ornate effects sends like I would do in a studio session (where I do really go for it with the different echoes and filters and whatever.) However, I do want to make Scott’s modular synth and Kaoscillator make the space to lead the listener through the sectional changes in the improvised music. Scott usually has a mono signal live, so I get to play with it in the mix. Depending on the quality of his signal, there are different options. Some places are crappy DIs and there’s a lot of line noise which is a bummer, but a good signal from the modular is also tricky because it’s producing a very wide frequency spectrum and sweeping through it. I would like to compress or limit the signal, but again that can be messed up by the sweeps of different frequency areas, so one thing I started doing recently was using the new UA Oxford Dynamic EQ, that can limit levels for specific ranges, in a graphic EQ window. If I set it for a basic De-ess type and then wiggle it around, I can get a decent signal when his noise or tone sweeps go through the high end, 5-7khz. I mean, oscillators don’t care, they just output signal regardless of your old ears and the Fletcher Munson curve. I also have been tending to hi-pass the modular, he rarely goes into super low end and usually it’s just line hum down there. 

Then I auto-pan him. I started using Melda Production modulation plugins a few years ago, they’re really good but I still find them really difficult to get to the controls! Have to look it up in the manual each time to find how to slow down the LFO, it’s not intuitive. I started working with their Leslie cabinet emulators for organs, but have recently really gotten into their Pan and Spectral Pan modulators. You can alter the waveform of the controlling LFO, so I usually put a couple harmonic bumps into the sine wave so that it hovers back and forth in the center before panning out to the sides. Like a spiral. With the Spectral Pan, I can specify a frequency range or ranges that pan differently. And then, he gets echoed, with the sends reversed left and right, so the echo follows his panned signal across the stereo space, almost like it has a trajectory of its own. Maybe he gets a little sent to the Altiverb also. For echoes, I’ve used a bunch of different things. I like the UA EP-34 tape echo, but haven’t been using it on these sessions, instead I’ve gone with a SoundToys EchoBoy for straighter echoes in stereo (lots of options here too, including some tape drive or prime-number echoes) or their Crystalizer, which is a granular echo so I can have a certain quantum of the echoed signal fed back and reversed in time, which is super cool with Modular Synth sweeps. Other commonly used delays are the UA Cooper Time Cube, which mimics a weird hardware unit that has a hose coiled up inside it to delay the sounds (hardware version used mixing CVB at Chase Park in Athens, GA), or my old favorite, the A/DA Stereo Tapped Delay. The A/DA is something I used a lot back in the early 1980s when I started down this road of audio sin at the University of California Santa Cruz Electronic Music Studios. We had an Omnipressor, the A/DA Stereo Tap and an Eventide Harmonizer and a few other crucial pieces of hardware, now almost all available as emulation plugins from UA or Eventide. The A/DA made the UA roster last year, at a time when I was working on a piece for a choreographer that was coincidentally premiered at the UCSC Performing Arts Theatre (in multichannel!) So I really got my Stereo Tap groove on very heavily for that one as I recalled the EMS there.

modular 2

Modular synth precoessing

Back to the live set, the lonely vocal mic will sometimes get a little work, but again, it’s mostly just for Scott to introduce the band or talk to the audience between pieces. Maybe I’ll freak it out a bit with a UA Moog moving filter, and send it to echoes or reverb or something. 

So we’ve moved across the (virtual) board from Left to Right, then my Aux channels are just two reverbs and a delay, then a Master Buss that has some faux-mastering plug ins if I’m in a hurry, then the master fader. For these shows, which are mostly straight-to-video, I mean, straight to the Bandcamp site or the internet in general, I just do the EQ/Compression/Limiting right there and that’s that. For studio mixes, I mix and then set up a whole new session to master. I’m not the greatest mastering ears, I think, but you know, you do what you can. There are a number of pieces of UA gear that really can make you realize what mastering is all about, and I have a number of ways and means to work on the final mix on the master buss. 

For EQs, I like the UA Chandler Curve Bender, it’s not a radical EQ but it can carve out a nice shape and it has some super-high end air to work with. The other route is the UA Precision Multiband. Wow, what an instrument. It’s a multiband compressor that can control separate frequency bands in separate ways. I’m trying to *not* alter my mix super much, just trying to get some cohesion and enhancement. Especially if it’s gonna be flac or MP3 listening on the other end. The Precision Multiband is a hog, though, and it means the whole mix is offset by about 16000 samples in delay compensation, so playback looks a bit weird. Not suitable for tracking. 

For compression or limiting, I used to use the UA Precision gear most of the time, but lately I’ve gone over to the dark side using the UA/Sonnox Oxford Limiter. It’s a boss, has its own EQ enhancement curve levels, and the normal input and threshold settings, as well as some control for compression attack and release. I don’t just want to squish and get more “loudness” out of it, I prefer to have a slower attack and let some drum transients come through. And since most of this stuff will never be aggregated to streaming services, I don’t have to worry about their weird loudness measurements and specs. 

For more nuanced compression, I love using the UA Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, in one of its more gentle modes. Sometimes I also will put the UA/Katz K-Stereo ambience recovery stereo field manipulator, it can widen the image or shed some light into the corners of the reverb spaces. I also tend to try using the UA Ampex ATR-102 tape machine for the master buss. I’m into the hi-fi settings, 30ips, 1” tape, not slammed on input. The tape machine emulators are interesting, in fact my very first experience with UA plugins was when we were recording Apricot Jam and All Attractions and the engineer threw the UA Studer A-800 across all the drum tracks, it blew my mind. I will sometimes do some tape deck on drum tracks as well, or at least kick and snare.

mastering 2

Mastering/mixing master buss with Precision Multiband, K-Stereo, ATR-102 and Oxford Limiter

Anyway, that’s a quick run through of my process for mixing these live recordings. I love mixing music and/or sound. It’s like a big 3D sculpture in time. Mixing ØSC is super fun, but always a little tough due to the length of the piece—some jams are 30 or 45 minutes long, so moves you make on volume or EQ might need changing or going back to check how it gets there, trying to get the sense of where you are in the overall timeline. I’ve tended to draw in the volume and send level automations by hand rather than controlling a virtual fader, but I have recently tried to use the ProControl EUcon app on iPad, or the Softube Console 1 controller which I got a couple years ago for use with UA plugins, but really I don’t go to it first. Yet. Old habits and all. 

In terms of the 3D Stereo space, it’s funny, because a long long time ago in the late 1980s, I was working with an engineer named David Gibson on my first “solo” album, “Storytelling”, and he and I discussed our various synesthetic takes on the stereo field of sound, at different levels and frequencies, and he was coming up with an entire methodology on mixing based on a visual model of the sound field. Which I could easily see, we worked well together on that album’s mixing (done at Hyde Street Studios in SF in 1988. Sandy Pearlman kept coming in and muttering, calling me “Frank” for some reason.)

There you have it. I wrote this up during a flight layover at Gatwick on my way to the states to play music. One day I should describe one of the studio mixing sessions. 

Albums I have worked on using Universal Audio plugins include:

Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida, El Camino Real and Sharknado songs

Jonathan Segel: All Attractions, Apricot Jam, Shine Out, Superfluity, and several others in between.

ALL Sista Maj albums! (Though the “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” LP was mastered by Eroc at The Ranch in Germany so it’s even better.)

Øresund Space Collective: (studio) Different Creatures, Visions Of…, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle, Kybalion, and upcoming releases and (live shows) Live in Karlsruhe,  Live at the Little Devil in Tilburg, NL, Live at Urban Spree in Berlin, Live at in Tampere, Finland

And many violin and guitar tracks recorded for other peoples’ projects. 

I have to thank Universal Audio profusely for the opportunity to use their software for these past number of years. It has been invaluable and has bettered my output as a recording musician and as a mixer. They have brought me back to the realm of the physical studio while being able to work on my little sessions in Pro Tools on a 2010 Mac Pro. It really changed my audio life.

Posted in Music

Songwriters and composers! April 22 2019 is the deadline!

Songwriters and composers, lend me your ears/eyes/brains for 20 minutes here, this is IMPORTANT and critically timely. And it affects writers globally, if your music is streamed in the US. Please take time to read this and research a bit.

In the US of A, the Music Modernization Act passed last October. There are several parts to it, but NUMBER ONE is setting up a non-profit agency to collect and distribute digital *mechanical* royalties. This will be called the Mechanical Licensing Collective, duh. Historically, mechanical royalties were paid to songwriters when a copy of their work was manufactured. The copy in the digital world is of course the data file itself being transferred to your streaming device, and as our musical contributions to the world of art have been re-evaluated as being worth near-nil due to the very fact of digital media format, we’re talking about some hundredths or thousandths of a penny. Regardless, none of them streaming services actually bothered with acquiring the actual mechanical licenses to allow them to stream some millions of songs, and that was what those class action suits were all about last year. 

What is happening now is that the Copyright Office is choosing an organization to be an entity called the MLC (Music Licensing Collective) and it will be set up to get the information on all streamed works from within the USA, collect the mechanical royalties, match them to a database of songwriters/rights holders, and then, yes, distribute the money. A key component of this is the development of that database, of course, and the accruing of *unmatched* royalties and the subsequent “black box” that holds them. 

SO. All proposals and comments on the Copyrights Registrar’s government site are now open, until April 22nd. There are two groups competing to be chosen by the Registrar to be the MLC. (And one proposal for who will be the DLC, the Digital License Coordinator, and that was made by people from, the digital streaming services organization, which includes representatives from Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, etc.) And then there are comments from people supporting one group or the other. You! You should support one group or the other. You should write a comment on the Copyright Registrar’s site:

Before you just go running your mouth off like I am now, let me fill you in on the two groups. One is the AMLC (American Music Licensing Collective):

The other is just calling themselves the MLC as if they were already it:

You can tell my bias already. Things to know: I am currently designated to be on a committee within the AMLC designed to resolves conflicts with the license matching and payout. My illustrious bandmate in Camper Van Beethoven (and sometimes Cracker, when I’m playing with them), Mr David Lowery—a known artist rights activist and troublemaker—is designated to be on a committee within the MLC that deals with the “black box”. 

I’m gonna lay out my thinking on why and where all of this is good or bad:

The MLC (or the group calling themselves the MLC, intending to be the MLC) is mostly made up of people from the major label publishers, Universal, Warners and Sony, and a lot of Nashville and Los Angeles industry heavyweights. They obviously know what they’re doing, right? Therefore when they expect startup costs of ~$50Million dollars and an ongoing cost of $26-48M per year, we should think they are on top of shit. However, if you look at their proposal (it’s in 4 parts, PDFs, downloadable from that comments section/ “view open docket” on the Copyright website) the tech architecture they’re talking about is wimpy. A straight pipe, oh money comes in and then it goes out. Right. 

Should it go without saying, that I don’t trust these guys, exactly? Here’s something to think about: that black box. If they have unmatched royalties sitting in that box for three years, guess what? They can distribute them as they please, which they intend to do “by market share”. That was how they interpreted the Music Modernization Act’s wording of percentages. The AMLC believes that the greatest percentage of unmatched money would be a large number of independent songwriters that would need to be paid. I think that’s pretty obvious. However, as I said, Mr Lowery will be on that MLC committee…

You can also download the AMLC’s proposal, which begins with an estimated startup cost of more like $7Million, and check out that tech archictecture. It gathers from multiple databases that are currently extant, utilizes machine learning algorithms to understand the flow of information for the system and guide license and writer matching. I’m way more convinced that the AMLC will get songwriters the money owed to them. 

Now check out the board and the people involved, the MLC (cheeky to name themselves that, I think.)

It’s all big publishers.

And the AMLC:

It’s small publishers and independent songwriters, for the most part. With a hunk of tech knowledge behind them. 

Again read the info yourselves, think about it. The big boys have a lot of know-how, of course, they can do it, but at a cost. I think that very cost will be passed on to the independent songwriters, but the current big payees will benefit. I trust that the AMLC will actually get people paid. 

These organizations are soliciting for support in this now, so I will end this by asking you—if there is no conflict of interest, but even if you may be published by one of the entities on the board of the MLC!—to write, film, post your verbal support for your choice of who should be the Music Licensing Collective, and I’m saying straight out, I think the AMLC is better. Not just because of my personal involvement: I am involved because I trust them more. 

You have until April 22 2019 to post a verbal comment on the Copyright site. 

Thank you, Jonathan Segel, songwriter and composer.

Posted in Music

Links and still playing catch-up

[This is an amalgam of information from the front page of my website from the past few years, just gathered in one place toward the end of 2018. Here is info on my solo material, my work with Øresund Space Collective, Sista Maj, Camper Van Beethoven and others!]

From Feb 2017: “Superfluity” is out, it’s a 2-CD album, with artwork again by Richard Gann, this time with a four panel foldout cover. It’s out on FreeWorld/Floating World Records from London.

(Actually, now, a year and a half later, The Orchard has put the entire album on youtube, so I guess here you go):

Mastered by Gary Hobish at A. Hammer Mastering , a double album of songs of all sorts, lots of guitars, basses and drums, a little violin, and some beautiful singing from Kelly Atkins (from 20 Minute Loop Kitka and other projects!) and more cover art by Richard Gann.

It’s big, it’s massive, it has everything you have ever wanted in an album.

Look for it wherever records are sold (hah.)—and if they don’t have it, ask for it!

Nice reviews are coming in. totally gets it.

A great interview from StarTrip in Japan

Here’s a long interview about the writing of this album on Nakedly Examined Music

Superfluity CoverFinal

And there’s more. If you didn’t know before reading this here, there are more superfluous pieces that never made it into the stream of phenomenon and on. Outtakes from Superfluity. I gathered a bunch of them for you here, even more Superfluousness:


You can find free downloads of several things by Jonathan Segel & Band on Bandcamp. Here is an improvised concert at the Camp-Out XIII from Sept 1 2017 on bandcamp!


I’ve been working with the Øresund Space Collective for several years now, recording, performing, mixing, etc. Not on everything they (we) do, mind you, but many. All the vinyl is on Space Rock Productions/Sapphire Records. (Click for info)

Here are several of the Øresund Space Collective sessions I’ve played on (and mixed all of them at the Magnetic Satellite, except “Black Hole” which was mixed by Dr Space):


HallucinationsLivein BerlinKybalion Front

Different Creatures

Ode to a Black Hole

Visions Of…

ØSC/Maat Lander Split LP

Hallucinations Inside the Oracle

Live in Berlin 2018

and this winter: Kybalion


Sista Maj!

Sista Maj started on the last day of May in 2015, as a band it lasted about 3 years. The musicians are all busy with their myriad other projects, all of which are incredible.

Sista Maj started as a trio: Andreas Axelsson on drums, Mikael Tuominen on bass and other things, Jonathan Segel on guitar, violin and whatnot. Instrumental hypnotic intense psychedelic space rock in the grand Northern European tradition that runs from Krautrock to Swedish Progg. We got together to improvise, mostly, then sometimes take those improvisations and re-work them. We performed live very few times, and sadly the only recording of a live show I have cut off toward the end of the first track.

Per Wiberg joined us in 2017 to play keyboards, opening up our sound to new territories. The latest release, “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” has all four of us and a bit of Mattias Olsson as well. Later this year we release “The Extreme Limit.”

To research these guys, go check out Kungens Män, Automatism, Fanatism, Eye Make the Horizon, Lisa Ullén Trio, AAM, (oh and maybe Opeth…)

All at, recorded in garages and a bit at Mattias’ Roth Händle Studios. Here is a double-CD from Sista Maj, Series of Nested Universes


Other musical additions to the world on the web:

SHALE is Tom Shad and Jonathan Segel, with some help from Ralph Carney and others. A collaboration made on the web, sharing ideas back and forth!

Another recent thing I was working on was “remixes” of the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble for their Remix Project. Find my additions HERE, scroll down, I’m there on the lower left.

Also in the midst of all this super psychedelia, I also played some mandolin and violin on Björn Brunnander’s new release, “Galler” on Poolhall Recordings, and played violin on a Townes Van Zandt song for the Lowlands (and friends) cover of his entire last performed set.

I also contributed some violin to Gong family folks Spirits Burning and Clearlight on the releases “Roadmap to Your Head” and “An Alien Heat

ØSC has toured through Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgian, Austria and Switzerland in May 2016, and again in May 2018. Many of the shows are online to listen to at Some were recorded from the board to a multi-track, two of them sofar can be found on the Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp site, including the newest, Live in Berlin.

I also added a little “jazzy/ethnic” violin to “West, Space and Love, Volume II“!

And also a nice evening improvising at Larry’s Corner with Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, you can listen to that here on also.

As Scott Miller wrote in his song “720 Times Happier than the Unjust Man”:

“I fill my days with work because I am lazy

The way a coward is hungry to get in any fight

That he can win”


Just so you remember:

Camper Van Beethoven, still alive and kicking after 35 years, has two recent albums “El Camino Real” (2014), and its 2013 companion “La Costa Perdida.” We also have two brand new songs premiering in the SyFy film Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! You can find the soundtrack CD HERE! 

Of course, also in 2014, Jonathan Segel’s “Shine Out” came out on CD and digital. Physical copies are now sold out.

Check here for info and music: SHINE OUT


Here’s an interview and review at Music Web Express 3000!  This site is great, there are tons of great interviews, check it out! And you can learn about the making of the above-mentioned albums.

I had a vernissage for my artwork, drawings I had done while riding on the subways around Stockholm, at Larry’s Corner (Grindsgatan 35, Stockholm) in November 2015. I have soem prints that I will sell while on tour anywhere. Check them out on the ART page! Also, I played some spacey odd music while I had the space, most of it is collected here on ARCHIVE.ORG

Though admittedly not all of it may be listenable!

Almost all of my own music is on the Bandcamp page at

More music may be on its way.  Who knows? I sort of thought that Superfluity might be my last slew of songs, but you never know.  More superfluous art.

Find me talking on The Partially Examined Life, episode 115, about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, and with Victor Krummenacher on episode 118 about songwriting, reality, authenticity, that sort of thing.

Omnivore Recordings, who recently rereleased Camper Van Beethoven‘s 1988 and 89 albums “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” and “Key Lime Pie” released an expanded verison of our 2004 ‘comeback’ album, “New Roman Times” in February!

(And check this out: there are even more extras available for download from

Camper Van

The Shine Out CD and digital release is only available at the above links. It’s now on iTunes HERE. There are only a few copies of the CD itself right now, will be available on-demand from Finetunes through Amazon.

One thing to note if ordering is that I am in Europe, so I can send CDs from here (but please include a bit of postage) but I did leave a bunch on the west coast with Victor Krummenacher, so hopefully he can send some if they go to the US.

Also recently added: Horsehoes & Hand Grenades, a “greatest hits” (or misses, as it were) digital package of songs from the past 25 years of Jonathan Segel albums… dip a toe in the water and see where it may lead you, it’s a good place to start with the 25 years of rock music. I haven’t yet made a compilation of the “other” stuff….

Camper Van Beethoven finished a good long while of playing shows in 2013 and 2014 promoting the CDs “La Costa Perdida” and “El Camino Real” out now on Savoy/429 Records!  See here to get it on Amazon .   here for iTunes!

The newer  CD, “El Camino Real“, is the companion to “La Costa Perdida”, mostly concerning Southern California (where La Costa is about the Northern part!)…Out June 3rd 2014!

When not touring, Jonathan lives in Stockholm and is adjusting to living in Europe (see blog entries) and sits in as a guest sometimes for shows with The Plastic Pals or Gösta Berlings Saga or maybe someone else… (sat in with Built To Spill  even.)

All Attractions and Apricot Jam were both released in 2012, the physical package was a 2-disc set with both, out of print now, we did print up a second batch of the CDs as individual packages. Currently they are sold out,  but digital is available at or from CDBaby or even from iTunes, or of course you could look in the merch piles at any Camper Van Beethoven show.

The Jonathan Segel band has played shows at every Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Annual Camp-Out, Numbers ONE through FOURTEEN in Pioneertown, and there is audio available to listen for free on, even some video of the 2012 show on YouTube. Soon there may be audio or video of the 2013 or 2014 or 2017 or 2018 show.

Here’s audio from the acoustic-guitars-through-echoes improvisation from Camp-Out XIV, Sept 1 2018

Chris Pedersen, Victor Krummenacher and I:

Here’s a recent live set, improvised in its entirety at Larry’s Corner in Stockholm, Sept 26 2017

Victor Krummenacher on bass, Mattias Olsson on drums.

Here’s more live chaos, Chris Pedersen on drums and Victor Krummenacher on bass:

Posted in Øresund Space Collective, Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

2018 updates

Hi, it’s been over a year since I wrote anything here. Partially it was because I wrote that thing about the New Pornographers and then apparently AC Newman read it, and then I saw them play and talked to him a bit. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly collapse the private/public nature of writing and the internet and music and everything. I felt pretty embarrassed, actually, that he had read it. When I write words, a lot of the time what I’m doing is trying to solidify thoughts bouncing around in my head, coalescing them into words that sometimes fit right and sometimes don’t. But writing them down, you do see if they are working or not. So it’s a personal sort of thing, in many ways, trying to understand how I think or feel about something. But then the internet, you know. It amplifies and broadcasts—complete with the ultra-compression that large media does to content (I mean that in sort of an analogous way to dynamic compression in audio: Loudness Wars!) so the smallest asides are equal in weight and meaning to the largest idea presented. I guess in the end, I was not sure I was comfortable with the thoughts reaching out of my head and being scrutinized outside of the context of my own  mind. And so time went by and I didn’t publish anything word-wise.

Well, and then other things. Anyway, I was just going to update this blog to point to all the music that has happened from my world since. Right after that aforementioned post, Camper Van Beethoven went to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, our third time there, mostly for the celebration of the memory a friend from there who had died recently. I started to write a tour diary of the experience, and all the music I saw, but I stopped in the middle and there it sat. Oh well.

And then Camper did our 13th Camp-Out Festival in Pioneertown, I came home and worked more on Øresund Space Collective albums I was mixing.

In November I had some difficult travel to Trondheim trying to get there to play with Øresund Space Collective and Black Moon Circle, but I did eventually make it and we did record a lot of music there, none of it out yet. It instilled me with a fear of travel. It is difficult enough to continue holding it together as a musician without the added complications of trying to get somewhere to do what you do when nobody at all gives a shit. Especially those working at airports, or more like the parent companies. They really do not give a shit. I am more and more convinced that in fact there are very few people in the world that actually care at all that I personally should continue trying to be a musician, to make, compose, perform music. Much less write about it. But what the fuck else am I gonna do?

At about this same time, an old disc injury in my lower back decided to not be held back by continuing to do yoga or swim or walk, and I developed an ongoing sciatic problem than started moving constant nerve pain down my legs. Pain is bad. Nobody likes it. I went to the doctor, they just sent me to the physical therapist for ten sessions. That didn’t actually help.


“Be Mine” – Austin, TX motel parking lot, Jan 2018

Camper went on tour after Christmas (2017) and everybody got the flu on tour and it was difficult to remember all of it. We played the Camp-In Festival at the 40-Watt in Athens, GA in January (2018) and I do remember that  the Monks of Doom played and that Chris, Victor and I did a stellar improvised set at the Flicker Bar next door.

When I came back I worked on several tracks for various people, and mixing more ØSC and trying to finish Sista Maj recordings. The band was supposed to play in February, but it didn’t happen, and everybody in Sista Maj was busy with their other projects, so the band disintegrated: Mikael Touminen is in several bands, (Kungens Män, Automatism, Fanatism, Eye Make the Horizon) and they’re all amazing. Andreas Axelsson is as well, (Eye Make the Horizon, Lisa Ullén, AAM, etc.) and Per Wiberg had started playing keyboards with us, but you know, he’s just famous! Anyway, I had a number of garage tapes of us, took some to Roth Händle and played with Mattias Olsson, eventually got them all mixed and into collections. I was hoping that one of the labels that does Mikael’s releases would be interested, but they are scaling back of course, so the first of these, “Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy” is out this week on Bandcamp.

In the spring I worked on music for Cid Pearlman’s dance performance called “Bluets” based on text by Maggie Nelson, I composed for 4 -channel dispersion in the UCSC Performing Arts Theater. That was fun, recorded some with Mattias Olsson and made some cool music. We’re waiting on potentially more performances of the piece before I get to release the music.

Here’s a mix of bluet-ish music that was made for background play in the lobby of the UCSC Performing Arts Theater during the run of the show.

In May (2018), ØSC went on tour in Europe (supporting an album called Chatoyant Breath that had just come out—it’s not one I was involved with in playing nor mixing, but that certainly doesn’t mean much, it’s got amazing players! That’s the beauty of having a collective that actually works, I have heard that some members have even played in Copenhagen without Scott Heller (Dr Space)! Anyway, we were touring with Black Moon Circle from Trondheim, whom I had recorded a track for their “Psychedelic Spacelord” album, so Vemund played the guitar with ØSC also on this tour. We cooked, for the most part. The last show on the tour, in Berlin, was recorded in multi track, and I mixed over the summer, it’s out on a limited CD release!

The tour was hard, actually. It was hot, we were in a cramped van with a whining transmission, underfed and underslept, no money. It was like touring in the 1980s. When we were in our 20s. It was much easier then. Scott wrote about it on his blog, so I didn’t have to. Also my legs hurt. but by this time I had actually managed to convince the doctors to do an MRI. They immediately sent me to the back specialists.


The next shows were ØSC in Portugal in late June (2018). Again, I got so screwed by the airlines, all flights cancelled, no way to make the tour, I missed it entirely. At that point I totally gave up.

In July I holed up in the countryside. I tried to record, but I couldn’t find much meaning in it, I ended up rubbing rocks on electric guitars and such. I also played a bunch of acoustic guitar with echoes. Camper Van Beethoven’s bassist, my good friend and co-consiprator Victor Krummenacher came to visit, which was great, and we played a bunch of music together. We recorded some of it. Still thinking about what to do with it.


My brother and his family came to visit later in July as well, and after a couple busy days in the city, we also went out to the country and relaxed a bit. Then when they left I went to the back specialists and got an operation where they removed some exploded disc material and scraped away the sides of the bones in my lower back. No more nerve pain. Well, except that I got addicted to Oxycontin for 5 days. Seriously, that shit is despicable, after 5 days I tried to stop taking it and went into the worst black hole a person could be in and still be alive. That took a bit to recover from, but by the time I flew back to California to start a short tour with Camper Van Beethoven, I was only taking Advil again.  And CBD balm (California, still not legal in Sweden.)

Victor and I got to play more acoustic guitars together before the tour started, so we were able to work out what we would do at Camp-Out 14, the following week. Instead of playing the now-normal electric improv set, we did an acoustic space rock set.

It was a rushed two weeks, only a few shows, a few visits. Back in Sweden, now 55 years old (as of Sept 3) I started moving a few collections from SoundCloud to BandCamp, like these, “Artificial Relics” (guitar with electronic music) and “machines” (SuperCollider coded music.)

about machines:

These machines are all music written in code, in an application called SuperCollider. The oldest ones are the “Cars” pieces, (originally begun in 2001, in Supercollider v.2—this code is too old to run now!) these all use very similar timbres, but for each one I made a graphical interface to control parameters to “play” the synthesized sounds, so each one is a live improvisation: the controls included start/stop buttons for the different types of sounds, and sliders or range-sliders to determine possible sets of choices of pitch, length, time, envelope, even scale elements for the synth process to choose from for the next sound iteration. All of the tunings are Just Intonation, basic major or minor usually, pentatonic or hexatonic scales.

The beginnings of this compositional code were pieces that were to accompany a dance piece by Ellie Leonhardt, as were several pieces on the “Non Linear Accelerator” album (e.g. “Ellie Altair”). The Altair name came from the movie “Forbidden Planet”, which was somehow important at the time, and the “Cars” name comes from the fact that the pieces titled “Breakthrough Cars” were to be played from automobile stereos in a site-specific performance of the dance piece.

As these pieces are contemporaneous to most of the music on “Non-Linear Accelerator”, they also form some basis for much of how we used SuperCollider in the music in Chaos Butterfly. I did perform many of these types of pieces live, some with audio input from violin or guitar, including one memorable computer-only show at the Tonic in New York in 2002 during the very first run of shows by a resuscitated Camper Van Beethoven at the Knitting Factory. I had been invited to play at Tonic by TimeBlind, another SuperCollider composer. During the set, most of the half dozen or so people just sat around spacing out, but about half-way through, a woman came up to me and asked if I were doing the audio or the the video. I told her I was making the sounds.

She said, “Can you fix it?”

The “Machine in the Garden” pieces (~2016-2017) are similar machines, they were made in SuperCollider v.3, attempts at a composing a soundscape for Edie Winograde’s film of the same name for museum exhibition.


These pieces use only harmonic series excitations of enveloped pulses, all sets of possible rhythm or pitch (or number of harmonics) choices pre-programmed so the pieces just ran as they were, choosing what to do next when the time came. These are some captured possibilities of a potentially infinite process.


Later this fall the next ØSC album, Kybalion, will come out, with a virtual reality type experience designed by Batuhan Bintas. I’ll keep you informed.

So that’s the last year or so. Maybe I’ll try to write up a few of these events in a more detailed way if I can.





Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring

The New Pornographers’ “Whiteout Conditions” and my interpretation thereof.

So far I’ve refrained from writing ‘reviews’ of albums or other music or bands to this extent. I’ve written an awful lot about music, of course, (well, mostly my own, see every other blog post) and its interpretation and/or effect, but here I’m gonna just tackle one album like a rock critic, or some idea of what a rock critic could be.

The New Pornographers are a popular pop-rock band who’ve been around for about 20 years, formed from the ashes of other popular pop-rock bands. I’ve been a fan since they started. They’re kind of a supergroup, with most of the members having solo careers or other bands as well. I am a huge fan of the NP—I love a good hook in my pop music, especially when it’s combined with cool lyrics and executed with superlative musicianship and a beautiful array of tones in the recordings. These guys have pretty much consistently provided pleasure to my ears with every album release. Oddly, I have never seen them play live, though that will change this weekend, when we go to see them at Debaser Strand in Stockholm.

I also don’t know them personally, though I met Neko Case (one of the singers) when she played with her own band at our Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Camp Out Festival, probably about a decade ago? (I can’t exactly remember.) I tried to give her one of my poppier CDs, “Edgy Not Antsy” (2003) in hopes of eliciting some sort of camaraderie on the pop rock end of being a rock band person, but to be honest I have no idea if she even took it with her when they left. At some point on tour in Boise, ID, several years later we did cross paths with the NP, as their tour bus rolled up the the Super 8 as we were leaving, though I only ended up talking with the drummer for a bit to find out what band it was, when A.C. Newman (main singer/songwriter) got off the bus, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t interested in human interaction that morning.

So, they have a new album. They’ve had new albums before, of course, but I’m finding this one to be particularly thrilling. For one thing, it’s *all* A.C. Newman-penned songs, none by Dan Bejar who was off working on his own band, Destroyer, apparently. (Or not, who knows. Their press is obviously contrived, as I will get into more later.) They’ve settled into this style that uses sequenced synthesizers with the normal retinue of guitars and synths (and bass and drums and lots of singing). The result, after an obvious learning curve on their last album, “Brill Bruisers”, is so well-honed now, and so extremely pleasing to hear with your earholes, clocked soft and hard sounds pulsating and phasing through the stereo space. The singing is still incredible, with Neko, A.C. (Carl, I guess? I don’t know him well enough to know which to refer to him as) and Kathryn Calder doing multiple interconnected parts, and without having Bejar’s sneering Hunky-Doryisms, it works much better as a whole album. But here’s the thing: the lyrics are genius. They’re just oblique enough to give a listener some words to work information out of while providing some keywords with obvious dramatic effect, while simultaneously being full of fanciness: rhythmic alliterations, internal and external rhyme schemes, smart word combinations, etc, all accented by the co-lead singer duties within any particular track. Where Bejar’s lyrics always seemed to hinge upon him finding some witty-sounding phrase (like “myriad harbor” or some thing,) Newman’s are actually clever. Or even smart. Even if neither you nor I know exactly what he’s singing about

So what is he singing about? I personally love lyrical puzzles, and the poetry of fancy wordplay, so as the melodic hooks started seeping into my brain, the pop music virus that repeats itself in your ear forcing you to listen again and again until it finally burns that earworm out, I started delving more into the lyrics. The online sites suck, many were simply plain wrong, had entirely wrong lyrics listed. Admittedly, it’s tough to understand them all (as words let alone as meaning,) but I think some of the lyrics sites use some stupid AI transcription software to get lyrics to new albums, or it seems so. This site,, seemed to be mostly correct.

And here’s what I think: This is a meta-album. It’s an album of songs about an album of songs about playing music about the music industry and being a lead singer in a popular pop-rock band therein. Now that’s my take on this, and of course, not knowing these people personally, perhaps I’m projecting my own experience on this interpretation (as one does) and reading into it everything about the music industry and being a songwriter and whatnot. Perhaps that’s one reason I like the album so much. But let me clarify my conclusions a bit, and then I’ll admit to also seeing Illuminati references everywhere, or whatever psychotic pattern-recognition thing you, the readers, might attribute this interpretation to.

Again, I love lyrics, I love interpreting them, and on some level that’s what songs are about: the interpretation in the mind of the listener. I have no idea if any of this has anything to do with what the songwriter(s) were thinking, and that doesn’t really matter. It’s not quite like trying to interpret Yes lyrics (I didn’t want to know, for instance, that “giant flying purple wolfhounds” was actually a reference to a military plane, nor that mountains coming out of the sky and standing there was just cuz Jon Anderson was stoned in the tour van in Scotland.) Nor is it important to know the writer’s intent, really. What if that love song you love is about a taking a nice dump?

Here’s one thing to keep in mind, though: nobody talks about this, the meaning of the songs. On the New Pornographers’ website, everything just says “Whiteout Conditions” is out and the band is touring. If you go to the band history tab, it only says who plays in the band and then has some press quotes about how the record sounds. In fact, even the quotes from Mr Newman are about instituting some idea of Krautrock into their sound, somehow riding the “new motorik” wave of popularity (there’s a lot of it going around) and how it doesn’t sound like Krautrock even so. Well, you know, the Buzzcocks and the Jam said the same thing, just FYI. (Well, so has everybody.) Reviews I’ve read, NPR, PopMatters, No Recess, etc. all seem to focus on the sound of the album more than what it says. I think that’s common, in general, in rock criticism nowadays. That’s all people need to know, really! That’s why we stylize genre descriptors in press releases, so that the reviewer knows what kind of music this is! Even way back when I once wrote album reviews for Puncture Magazine, I ended up not knowing what to say about music at times and just described the physical music, that is to say, how the chords and melodies were put together, what kinds of sounds were used.

And many people say they don’t even listen to the lyrics. Personally, lyrics are extremely important to me, to the point where they can make or break a song for me. I remember being really into the Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream” when hearing it on the jukebox at the bar I worked at, and then one day reading the lyrics. On the other hand, I have always loved Scott Miller’s lyrics/melodies/music through Game Theory and into Loud Family, and his way of manufacturing lyric was, similar to Newman’s, ornate yet oblique, playing with words and sounds and language until it could say several things at once, lyrical depth which combines the art and the craftsmanship of poetry with a hooky melody. (A.C. Newman also wrote about being a fan of Scott’s after his (Scott’s) death a few years back.) Cagey lyrics are of course also a way to hide, where you don’t have to reveal everything about your trip in some obvious verbal way. You can be humorous and deceptive about, say, depression or other mental illness, or develop your own code for things that are meaningful but potentially embarrassing for yourself. I mean, I write that way, always have. I tried for a while (starting maybe with Jack & Jill) to be purposefully more direct, but I’ve crept sideways from there. like a crab, right.

Neko Case and A.C. both are indirect lyricists, which I personally love. Neither say things directly. Case seems to paint verbal pictures that you fill in to understand the story at hand. Newman is more a player with the sounds of the words. While I love to think of the person singing the songs as the writer of the words that they sing, and I would love to think of each singer on this album as the lyricist, the liner notes do state that all of it is written by Newman.

So what does A.C. Newman have to say?

The album starts with the song “Play Money,” which of course is not about fake play money (so much as maybe the fakeness of money—when you have it, that is) but about playing music for money. The song seems so end-of-tour to me that I automatically adjust into that mindset when I hear the starting pulsation. “I only play for money, honey. Look at what this run has done to me.”

I only play for money, honey
Look at what this run has done to me
It has me gunning for the country
Sky's memory and moonless
A vision copied from the bootlegs
We are out of tune so mostly tuneless

For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll take any blow

I only play it cool and bruising
But only when my lips are moving
You've been careful here to keep the tempo
Only play with money, careful
Not to trigger some reversal
And to live by an obscure example

For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll stop any show

I know -- have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view

I beat the path of least resistance
Over the hills and out of wisdom
And just when I thought we beat the system
I knew a gentleman of leisure
He loved to talk about his treasure
And of how he got it for a song, song, song, song

For a fee I'll right any wrong
For a fee I'll right any wrong
For a fee I'll fight any foe
For a fee I'll stop any show

I know -- have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view
Have an eye on you to get this right
Have an eye on you to climb these heights
Have an eye on you--oops, pay-per-view

Only live for happy endings
Stop them like we started
Pardon my affinity for clothes and Clueless
Never been an opportunist
I accept the prize if I somehow surprise us all 
and get there soonest

I only play for money, honey
I only play with money, honey
I only play with money, honey
I only play with money, honey

The song (the song)

…I don’t exactly know what “gunning for the country” means (beside being a nice homophonic slant rhyme) though I take it as “I need to get the fuck out and head out to the country where there aren’t so many fucking people.” Though of course, it could be something patriotic and weaponized, who knows. But they continue about the quality of what they do in playing music live, a vision copied from the bootlegs, out of tune, etc.. Then they equate to the mercenary: for a fee I’ll fight any foe. Fum, goes the guitar, fum as Jack’s giant would add to the end of that phrase, fee fie foe fum in a lovely syncope rhythm of labial fricatives (distorted, actually. The mixing/mastering has bandpassed many of the consonants on this album to a discreet upper-midrange/lower-highend  that is pushed and compressed to be almost like a percussion instrument. Useful when you’re using the vocal fricatives to propel the otherwise-clocked rhythm.)

Nor do I really get “only play it cool and bruising” except that it’s obviously cool, and perhaps a reference to Brill Bruisers,  the lead track on their previous album of the same name. “Only when my lips are moving” is the joke, you know, about when a lawyer is lying. So the focus is maybe moving off the performers… For a fee I’ll stop any show. Again, probably an internal band reference to “All the Old Showstoppers,” another song about fame-versus-numbers. As would be the outro “the song (the song)” which itself is a repeat of their first “hit”, “Letter from an Occupant” from 2000. So they are talking about playing “the song” (“that’s shakin’ me”) that makes them famous enough to tour and play “the song”. And then, just when they think they beat the system, they meet the “gentleman of leisure” who got his treasure for “a song, song, song, song, song”. Obviously Jack, who ended up with the giant’s goose that laid the golden egg. Fee fie foe fum. Who are those guys that are rich from “the song”? Well, nobody in our day and age, it’s sort of an outdated occupation for songwriters, that’s for sure. So possibly some Geffen-type industry person. Or like, led zeppelin, “over the hills.” Or more likely more the Westergren or Ek type these days. And what does that mean? All your work is for naught, peon. You’re just the music maker. You may think you can get ahead in this music biz, you’re doing so well, aren’t you? “Have an eye on you.”

Is the song itself the golden egg? Is Newman himself the goose? NP refer to “The Song” a lot, I think it’s more like the Platonic ideal. The song referred to is “the song”, the one that works, the one that catapults the band, but also the one that is the creation that they make, the one that is the craft that they work.

(As an aside, I wonder if the band makes money, actually. New Pornographers, I mean. You’d think so, right? They’re famous and great and everybody knows them. They tour all over the world. I imagine that having a couple songs in TV commercials did well for them, but I sort of think that even at their level, admittedly above mine, though I play similar sized places with Camper Van Beethoven, CVB doesn’t have the pop draw nor radio love that NP do nor tour as much. And I don’t make money. So it’s possible that they do, though again, I’m betting it’s all in sync fees and not in record sales nor touring. I mean, we’re going to see them at Debaser Strand this weekend, that’s a 8 hour tour bus drive from Oslo to fill a 300-person place. )

I only play for money, honey. I only play with money.

Title track is next, Whiteout Conditions.

Flying and feeling the ceiling
I'm barely dealing
And the faces, the faintest of praises
Are too revealing
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say
It's such a waste of the only impossible, logical way in

A fly-in in LA was open
I wasn't hoping for a win
I was hoping for freedom
You couldn't beat 'em
So you crumbled, you doubled your dosage
you wanna go, said the inhibitor blocking the passage, 
that thing is massive

And the sky will come for you once
Just sit tight until it's done
The sky will come for you once
Just sit tight until it's done

Got so hooked on a feeling
I started dealing
in a stage of grief so demanding
I got a stand-in
Every radio buzzing, it wasn't the dream of the moment
Wasn't the current that carried me, keeping me going

Only want to get to work
But every morning I'm too sick to drive
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget the mission, just get out alive

Only want to glean the purpose
Only to scratch the surface, raise the plow
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget your mission, just get out somehow

Everyone suddenly busy
Suddenly dizzy
You're so easy, it's pushing you over
You're taking tours
Of a treacherous strip of the badlands
You have your demands
Maybe you riot for nothing - it's just a bad hand

Only want to get to work
But every morning I'm too sick to drive
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget the mission, just get out alive
Only want to glean the purpose
Only to scratch the surface, raise the plow
Suffering whiteout conditions
Forget your mission, just get out somehow

Flying and flat on the ceiling
I see myself
And the revival, it suddenly hits me
It's going viral
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say
It's such a waste of the only impossible, logical way in

Got so hooked on a feeling
I started dealing
But the days spent kicking the cages
Are too revealing
So committed to your misfortune
But still a cheater
Such a waste of a beautiful day
Wish you could be here

So this could be about many things, but obviously the gist is trying to deal with life. On meds, or drugs, or something. Maybe a migraine. It’s a funny combo of drug lingo and med lingo, though, the first great hook that caught me on this record is the incredibly funny “got so hooked on a feeling, I started dealing”, which, given that it’s been nearly 50 years since “Hooked on a Feeling” came out, I was shocked nobody wrote this before. But it’s so funny to reference a hit song when (ostensibly) talking about being a musician hooked on music and starting to “deal” it like a pusher. And later “kicking” the cages, he says, and days spent doing that are too revealing.

The opening verse seems just like trying to deal while either taking your brain meds or forgetting to take your brain meds (says I who takes brain meds.) What pushes me toward this conclusion is not just the language of “inhibitor blocking the passage” etc, but the whole flying/ceiling/barely dealing + dizzy/buzzing stuff that goes into the existentialism of “such a waste of a beautiful day” and “waste of the only impossible, logical way in”. I have no idea what the only impossible logical way in is. But it’s big, it’s the only impossible logical way in, after all. So are “whiteout conditions” caused by drug-drugs? Or your prescription? Impossible to know, but “only want to get to work but in the morning I’m too sick to drive”, yeah. “Forget your mission, just get out alive” —been there! Maybe it’s just an ocular migraine, a scintillating scotoma (been there too…)

The sky will come for you once? I dunno. Maybe that’s his personal experience of the scotoma or the crash itself. Or something, anyway.

But I hear a familiar depression-vesus-meds in this one. (Meds being whatever medication is needed, pills or booze or whatever.) In all these lines. And like he says, maybe you riot for nothing, it’s just a bad hand. I think Scott Miller wrote an awful lot about depression and dealing (with himself, with people, with music “business”) in a similar way, that is to say: cloaked in artifice. And later it got the best of him. I do it too, I think that writing this way, circumloquatiously, is a way to mask it, to try to save some of the embarrassment that one feels in admitting to the world around you that you are depressed, or manic, or mental in some way. I have no doubts that Mr Newman is a hyper intelligent person, (given only these songs as evidence, yeah) and I do know that that makes things difficult when it comes to either fitting in, or being who your handlers want you to be if you are the cash cow. I mean, I play in a band with David Lowery. Lowery ends up mostly writing in characters that he assumes the identity of. It’s possible that Newman does too, but I hear it as personal, especially here. I think the “you” at the end, so committed to your misfortune but still a cheater” is himself. “Wish you could be here.”

The single is next, “High Ticket Attractions.”

You can imagine all the factions
That form around high ticket attractions
High on the spirit, hopped up and mystic
After the flame baptism you’re fearless
You know the science of falling
You have your calling
You know the song

The Magna Carta, it’s underwater
We left it there for the sons and the daughters
One day they’ll find it; they’ll be reminded
When we live undersea like we ought to
Didn’t know flying from falling
Clueless the poor thing
Sad to report
Didn’t know losing from learning
Wheels were turning
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

You feel the suction, the call to action
That will surround high ticket attractions
You want to travel, want to unravel
Take the experience to the next level
With no respect for the warning
The violence of yearning
Defiance of learning
In protected encryption
The voice of addiction
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

You know the song
You know the song
You know the song
You know the song

You can imagine all the factions
That form around high ticket attractions
Just like the Mayans took all their science
And dumped it all in the drink and went silent
They knew the science of falling
They had their calling
You know the song

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

This thing could go two ways
(Won’t be another exit for days)
So pack a small suitcase
(Anything else can be easily replaced)

This one seems to be about, yes, high ticket attractions, those high-money touring artists. You know the song. And you can imagine the hangers-on. And trying to keep up with it on tour. Perhaps it’s about a specific diva, but I’d guess not. Also, it has that weird “vision of the world of the high class” thing that many other NP songs of the past have, implications of hanging out with the ultra-rich or upperclass, or royalty. I never really got that, even if I liked the songs that had those things in them, I never understood if it was supposed to be literal or not. Maybe the guy does hang out with countesses, I don’t know. (My brain went immediately to “I am the Countess,” My Little Pony’s take on Gaga.) I mean they went with mermaids, right?

You know the song. The suction that is felt is the pull from the buyers; to sell records, you have to create suction at the public end to pull them to the stores. And the suction of charisma, of famous personages, you’ll just do it. And the suction that is just plain old sucking. Here’s another reference to “Clueless” as well, which may be a pet phrase or maybe he’s really into the Alicia Silverstone coming-of-age movie, I don’t know. (I haven’t seen it.) I think either is possible.

Why is this the single? I have no idea. It’s a song about fame. About famous songs and the mad practice of presenting them in public. Again, songs about the business of music. Maybe the reason for it being the single is magic, it’s a spell to invoke fame by singing about it. But then there’s the video, which is horrific. I won’t include a link, you can look it up if you want. It’s the epitome of stupid, has nothing to do with the lyrics, it’s a slow-mo, hi-res high school riot that starts off with the male and female models pretending to be high school students in a fake chemistry classroom start teasing each other. It’s so slick and crass that it’s disgusting. Maybe that’s what you get when your band is from Vancouver instead of LA, you get something like the cast of The 100 faking being young and hot and ritualistically destroying their very own Riverdale High like true rebellious teens would if they could. Icky, for so many reasons, not just overblown production values. But, possibly it will get the band exactly what they want in an audience?

(And then, there’s also this video for the song, which I think is really cool.)

But, you know, “This is the World of the Theatre.”

Since they've come, I've tried to go it straight, 
but I've got no clue how to
Was gonna make it up just now, 
try to come up with some high-brow move
Kid gloves, and stranger loves you've known,
you sort it out somehow
You used to chime in quietly, you sing, but you're a moaner now
Think of all the life we're saving
Think of all the legs we're breaking

Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it 
yes we're all elbows

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre

All the phantom minor notes they pass you on your way to dine
They call you from their hiding places on 
the shoulders of your chimes
Think of all the cold they're braving
Think of all the ways we'll cave in

Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it -- will it come to blows?

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak

This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre
Is it too late to live in your heart, too late to burn all your civilian clothes
As you break into a million parts, too late to learn it, yes we're all elbows

Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak
Conquerors of the daybreak

This is the world of the theatre
This is the world of the theatre

Yes, indeed, it’s all theatre. You’re in SHOW biz. But it’s so important, isn’t it? Think of all the lives we’re saving. But are you yourself? Who is yourself? Can you be yourself when you are acting? I once tried to piss off some actor friends of mine when I lived in LA by going on a rant about how all actors were basically lying, never being true to who they were. It was funny at the time. Recently I’ve been in more discussions about what people represent when they’re on stage, if indeed a person can be “who they are” when they are performing. It just makes me hate politicians even more, why I would rather read politics and platforms than hear any politician speak.

I do like the referred-to phrases, though: think of all the cold they’re braving.

I do appreciate the military jargon of burning all your civilian clothes (no, forget your mission, just get out alive.) As a member of a touring band, everybody outside the world of the tour is indeed a civilian. It’s a natural way to see things. But here, giving up your identity as a civilian is predicated on “living in your heart”, i.e. secretly being yourself in the face of facade.

This also was an early adoptee song for me on this album, which started me looking for the lyrics online—and finding some incredible mishearings. Check out this take on these lyrics: Cockle, reese and poutine break? Yeah! They are Canadians after all. Yes, we’re on a boat.

Next is Darling Shade, our shadow.

When you add your voice to bad choices
Then your noise so white becomes [melted]?
It's dripping down the walls like quicksilver
Dripping down [as] slowly [as sabbath]?

And for you: the Pulitzer Prize
For stepping into traffic
Now the new: the Americas
You broke through, you're laughing

We have found a use for the profane
Searching for the gods in the corners
With the ignorance of the poet
An unbreakable focus of mortars

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

Was a [singer] from the bad choices
On a [sayer] without a pretense
When you give your mind to your voices
You accept the terms of your sentence

And for you: the Pulitzer Prize
For time served, you're walking
Now the new: the Americas
You broke through, it's nothing

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

You began to climb the new tower
Thinking you could learn a new language
That you would return a few favors
Since you left everybody hanging

Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow
Darling shade our shadow

Shadowed by an underworld figure? Or journalist…? Well, the music biz is infested with shades, it’s true. Darling Shade seems more like a character from a Bowie song, even with Dan Bejar not taking part in this album. Maybe the song is about him! More likely it’s singing “you” to yourself again. You broke through, it’s nothing. More military imagery (focus of mortars) and music biz cliches like the break through. But Darling Shade left everybody hanging in the end.

Second Sleep

Been awake for awhile
Going deep, going long
Rifling through what I keep

In the floats, what we found
Under glass, all the hours
Filled with Hail Mary passes
It all sort of fastens to you
As you sleep

Been awake, thinking fast, cannot sleep
Second thoughts, second rate Socrates
At dream's door, feeling flat, searching high
Left outside, like a vampire in light

At this time of the morning you'd swear it was night
It's enough living proof of the use of lights on (lights on)

Been awake for awhile

Somebody on a lyric site wrote that this was a reference to the thing going around a couple years ago about polyphasic sleep, how everybody “used to sleep two times a night, separated by a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night.” There are numerous examples in old literature, but I have to say that I always thought that this phenomenon probably had more to do with the fact that people used to drink all day, so they probably woke up after a few hours of sleep when the alcohol was detoxified in their system. This song seems more like normal (“normal”) insomnia, especially the fast thoughts and rifling through “what I keep” and “hours filled with Hail Mary passes.” Lord knows I understand that, I wrote a bunch about sleep and the lack thereof on my latest album as well. Again, though, it could also be the meds. But I bet that doesn’t account for the cool rhythms of the sung consonants. Again distorted, but cool word-cuts like ‘like a vam/pire in night’ in great rhythm.

The next track is my current favorite, “Colosseums”. Obvious, perhaps, in the context of rock music, stadium rock is really its own thing. Although probably dominated these days by country or pop stars, I tend to envision U2 or Coldplay: some crap fake-emotive singer with soaring anthems banking on the fact that the space the noise fills appears to add profundity. A Second rate Socrates could really sound wise here.

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
An ancient con, the shadow of a song
Exhibitions, international in size
I close my eyes, I can see the lion

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
Right on time, celebration in the ruin
Elation is moving in a wave
I avert my gaze, but still I see the lions

Say it like a soothsayer
On repeat for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Colosseums, colosseums of the mind
A scalper's price, built into the design
Jubilations, laughing out the place
Look in my face, you can see the lion

Say it like a soothsayer
It will keep for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Say it like a soothsayer
On repeat for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way

Say it like a soothsayer
It will keep for days
Don’t listen when the fool says
You can’t fool your way
You can’t fool your way

Here, he’s using the extended metaphor of the Roman colosseum and the whole bread-and-circus spectacle of lions eating Christians to rock it out. Complete with the entrance of the marimbas in the intro, the rattling bones (like on XTC’s “Poor Skeleton Steps Out,” though I got the impression that Paul Fox had no ideas of his own when producing “Oranges and Lemons” back in 1989 so he dug up their earlier albums’ production for ideas and settled on “It’s Nearly Africa” for this one.)

Right off the bat, we know that the spectacle can’t present the real, “an ancient con, the shadow of a song”. You can’t even play the damn song in a stadium, the size makes it into something else. (“The Song”, I mean. The ideation of “song”. The artifact of “song”. The [second rate] Platonic ideal of “The Song”.) The colosseum is huge, and its size is in your mind. The singer singing the song here is singing it in the colosseum, and closing his eyes, he sees the lions. Because that’s what the audience really wants, anyway, isn’t it?

This is also the first song with a lyrical twist, finally. Even after the second verse’s celebration in the ruin, averting his gaze he still sees the lion, but in the critical third verse we look in his face and can see the lion, he has become the lion in the colosseum.

Say it like a soothsayer, a nice alliteration, indicating the methods of sounding prophetic or holy in the colosseum. I still think of Bono here, even though the advice is obviously to oneself in the context of the song. Fake it big. Don’t listen when the fool says you can’t fool your way, because obviously (if Bono, for example, is any indication) you can. Say it like a soothsayer, on repeat for days, (“keep for days”? I hear “it will hold their gaze”, that is, if you can say it like a soothsayer, it commands the attention of the audience. Which is what you want, if you’re soothsaying.)

I would love to hear them perform this song in a colosseum!

…but. We’ve Been Here Before

Here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
We couldn't find a way out
When we were here, the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

Didn't choose what we mean
Just hummed along with what's played
There were rules once back when
There should be rules again

Here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
And we couldn't find a way out
When we were here, the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

And oh, to leave them behind
And gold to trade for my life
Where we end up again
The gods of bad parties reign
Chased by invasion lights
Round the same block again

So here is the quick rundown
We've been here before
It's best not to wander far
'Cause we've been here before
And we couldn't find a way out
When we were here the first time
Now it's mines we're leaving behind
Mines we're leaving behind

We've been here before

We didn’t choose what we mean, just hummed along… well, you gotta choose it now. Even if you’re stuck in some labyrinth of post-colosseum after-show parties, which sadly end up with you as the semi-famous reigning god. I’ve seen it a few times. Unfortunately. What a sad state, and I can see how after catching yourself there once, you’d wish for the gold to trade to get your life back.

But, ignoring for a moment the paradox of “if you couldn’t find your way out the first time you were there,” how could you be stuck a second time, and moving on to leaving and leaving behind mines… So, mines that destroy that entire scene? Impossible. I suppose you could leave mines that destroy your own credibility as reigning god so that you could never reliably find yourself accidentally falling into that labyrinth again. Redefine yourself and your persona.

“Juke” is the next track. I only know the word in the context of the jukebox, I assume it meant a kind of dancing. I looked it up and found that it’s a word for a quick fake, or a quick move to fake you out (or a stabbing!) and probably that quick fake move is why it got associated with dancing. Probably a Gullah/West-African based word meaning bad or disorderly. However, I have certainly never heard it used as it is here, “Juke you.” Though followed by “feels like the dawn took you out” may be a continuation of the last bad party.

Been through here, crystal ball
You crashed, shattered into [songs?] above you
There are rules here, into shapes
You can, can and so you will surrender

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)

You pass through here, on the way, to call
Call to tell us, 'Stop. Surrender.'
Some of you fear it has come to pass
At last, last September, what? you lost me

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)
Took you out

I been through here, some of you can run
Underneath the world beyond earth
Been through here, crystal ball
You crashed, shattered into souls above you

Some of you
Some of you get life
Some of you
Some of you get Lifetime
Some of you
Some of you will run
Some of you
Some will feel the strange cold
Some of you will run
Be [accused?]
Some will take a lifetime

Juke you (Feels like the dawn took you out)
Took you out

Juke you

It may be like a continuation of being here before, what with the crystal ball and talking about rules. I don’t know, I don’t get this one, I think. Some of you get life may refer to the poor idiots sentenced to life in the stupid scene, though, “some of you get Lifetime,” like the cable channel? I guess some of you do. Or maybe some people “get” Lifetime, I sure don’t. I don’t really get life, for the most part. Some of you will run. Indeed. Juke you. Whatever that means, you got faked out?

Next, we move another step clockwise in the story of the dealing with the life of being a singer of songs in a business of selling songs and singers.


We were not quite young when you called it clockwise
Go unchallenged in the light of the life
In the struggle to rule the second string
In the valley of the middle fingers
In the valley of lead singers

We are not quite done you could call it clockwise
Power surges and the backups are fried
We are live [with 'we brought from the blue'?]
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

We were not quite done, yeah, you called it clockwise
Hold the looking glass up to your eyes
See The Saviors are still asleep in the men's
See invaders that look like their dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

Low Life

We were not quite fun, you could call it clockwise
Allow me here to accept the demise
Accept it proudly on your behalf
As you oversteer -- every star turn in here
In the valley of lead singers
In the hopeful haunts of all your dead ringers
In the valley of lead singers

As he says, struggling to rule the not-quite-top level, the second string of players in a valley of lead singers and their dead ringers. Replaceable, easily. A valley of middle fingers, enough and we could have ringers sent in from the coast in a heartbeat, to quote Buddy Rich. I guess if this album is a “rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust” sort of story, this is the downfall, not exactly fatal except to one’s career. The path of the lead singer is from star to low life when they aren’t revered anymore. Awesome synth tones moving around in there, though.

For an album that is touted as being some pop interpretation of krautrock, there is surprisingly little Neu in here, but in the final track, Avalanche Alley, we finally get the full Für Immer beat promised at the beginning of the album in “Play Money”.

Cover your eyes, surprise your fate
It's only an avalanche away, you're safe
It's only a scratch, you're great
Several years after the flood
Your singularity under the gun
So late, so late to the game, so late
We thought it was wise to wait

Sent you blues from the last world
News from the future
Blues from the last world
News from the future

Several miles behind the wave
We needed to cross the ocean, we missed the ride
Lord knows we could use a ride
You summon the breath to finally say
It's only an avalanche away, feels right
And you can stay here tonight
Yeah, you can stay here tonight

Sent you blues from the last world
News from the future
Blues from the last world
News from the future

Better angels formed the cottage industry
The testimonials, warning weather
Rules of the house
Are all graffiti scrawled
Ceremony calls, the tarred and feathered
Jewels in your crown
Are loud and proudly fake
Ceremony calls, the overthrowing
Consigned to the dustbin, all good lines thrown away
Defined by the daylight waves we found in Avalanche Alley
Controlled demolitions of the times far away
In line for the festival that we call Avalanche Alley

News from the last world
News from the future
News from the last world
News from the future

It’s definitely tough to interpret this as a song, let alone as the closing track of the meta-album about itself in its own context. The titular avalanche could be the one that brings the singer to stardom, though it could be the one that wipes them out. I think hanging out in the festival called Avalanche Alley makes it more like they’d be waiting to regain that feeling of importance that comes with being a big shot on stage, that same feeling that they were so tired of at the play money beginning. This alley is next door to the valley of lead singers, I’d guess. But if the industry machine has abandoned you, maybe the cottage industry might help build you back up again, even if you’re faking the content. These lines seem like they have some specific reference (to the singer) that isn’t obvious or known to me as a listener. That’s ok, of course. It is definitely a bad thought to feel that you have been consigned to the dustbin of history, as Trotsky said, with all your good lines thrown away. I have no reference point for the “daylight waves” that define these lines. Maybe that goes with either that it’s the Kurzweil singularity he’s talking about and it’s not coming fast enough or that they “missed the ride” offworld, I mean who knows.

And the important thing here seems to be the sending of news from the future. Or the blues/news from the last world? So long as there’s something new in the damn future and not this same old shit (I don’t mean that about the album, I mean in a more universal sense). It sure is a hopeful sounding chorus, especially as the final track in the sequence.

So anyway, there you have it. I didn’t even mention how incredibly pleasurable the sounds on this album are with the ‘motorik’ beats, combos of beautifully squishy synthesizers with the pseudo-techno sequencing mixing effortlessly with a human drummer and bassist and the jangly power pop guitars. Currently it’s worming its way through my cochleae and it won’t let go.

And I concede that everything I’ve written here may be entire bullshit, of course. And don’t tell Mr Newman that I wrote this.


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Posted in Music, Touring

photo by Ian Weintraub

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