Dead: Road Trips
CD372 - 2-CD set
Trips Vol. 3 No. 2
Road Trips Rides into Texas for Fall ’71 Gems Years before Willie Nelson called it home, and decades before South By Southwest gave it international hip cache, Austin was Texas’ only hippie-tolerant city. It had bohemian coffee houses and clubs that served up psychedelic bands playing in front of mind-bending light shows. So is it any wonder that Austin was the first city in Texas to really take a shine to the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead? The band first played the Austin Municipal Auditorium during a swing through Texas in February 1970, surprising (and delighting) a crowd that was no doubt expecting an evening of music from their most recent album, Live Dead, by playing a lot more folk and country-influenced material (including a short acoustic set). By the time the Dead returned to Municipal Auditorium on November 15, 1971, they had resoundingly affirmed their interest in Americana by putting out the twin masterpieces Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (as well as the live “Skull & Roses”), but the band still had a few surprises up their sleeves, including a great young piano player, Keith Godchaux, and a cornucopia of fine new songs. The entire fall ’71 tour showed the thrilling impact that Keith’s arrival had on the Dead’s ever-morphing sound—talk about a quick study!—and Austin, just his sixteenth show with the band, is certainly among the strongest of that era, and a worthy choice for the latest installment in our Road Trips series, presented in its entirety. (For those of you keeping score at home, this is Volume 3, No. 2.)
There’s a freshness and spontaneity to the playing in this show that is a wonder to behold. It sounds like the group is exploring new musical worlds together, and indeed that is precisely what was happening: New songs introduced that summer and fall and played that night in Austin include “Jack Straw,” “One More Saturday Night,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Ramble On Rose,” “El Paso” and “You Win Again”; and several more date back just to the beginning of the year—“Bertha,” “Playing in the Band,” “Deal,” “Loser,” “Me and Bobby McGee.” The addition of Keith’s imaginative piano flourishes brought a new spark to all of those songs and in general inspired the rest of the group.
However, the reason this show is so revered among hard core fans is a pair of remarkable stretches of improvisatory genius—one in the first set, another in the second. On Disc One, you’ll find an amazing sequence of tunes that moves from “Dark Star” (a relative rarity in ’71) to “El Paso” (perfect for a Texas audience, of course!), back into more deep space, and finally landing at “Casey Jones.” And at the end of the show, on Disc Two, the Austin crowd is treated to what is, in my humble opinion, one of the best-ever versions of “Not Fade Away” > “Goin’ Down the Road” > “Not Fade Away,” loaded with beautiful and surprising musical turns and propelled by the can-do confidence of a band reveling in its new-found power. It’s prime Dead, for sure.
Sound quality is crisp and clean, and sonic sultan Jeffrey Norman has once again mastered the whole deal to the HDCD spec. Included, as always, is a booklet with a lively historical essay and cool period pics.