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Last week we talked about why we love the Grateful Dead

Nate LaPointe | Photograph © Bob Minkin

Deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than you’ve ever gone before
by Nate LaPointe

Last week we talked about why we love the Grateful Dead. This week we look at my top five Grateful Dead moments. We could go on and on about the jams, about the history of the group, about the personas of the members, and that would be all fine and dandy. These could change daily, but let’s settle in with this list, shall we go?

Number 1:
So you’re gonna think I’m mad, but the noodling before the “Scarlet” on 8/6/89, is electric. Weir and Brent are playing A chords while Jerry toys with his envelope filter in the key of B, so you get this nice B/A tonality and the crowd is catching on, possibly before the drummers even realize what tune is about to start. And then Jerry commits to driving the band and they just settle into this groove unlike any other “Scarlet” I’ve ever heard. Somehow, you just know it’s gonna be a good one.  

Go find the music—you know where to look. 

MUSIC: before “Scarlet,” 8/6/89.

I’ll have a column about Jerry’s solo from this version in coming weeks. It deserves its own issue.

Number 2:
Along those same lines, the band intros during the Help On the Way vamp from 8/13/75, better known as One From the Vault, is somehow perfect. Bill Graham has a knack for literally just saying their names. And his timing for Jerry and the Grateful Dead is flawless. Listen…

MUSIC – “Help On the Way” One From the Vault

Number 3:
So this next moment might be best when paired with video. This is the jam during “Bird Song” from October 31, 1980, at Radio City Music Hall. This is not the version from Reckoning, but it’s the version from Dead Ahead, the video that came out commercially, documenting the end of this epic month-long run of shows that featured both acoustic and electric sets. At around 4 minutes, 48 seconds, Jerry starts into this repeating figure that just cracks him up. He starts moving his head in a unique way and really just amuses himself for about 15 seconds. It’s a fun listen and an even more fun watch. Here you go…

MUSIC – Bird Song: 10/31/80. From Dead Ahead

The D# you hear in that last little run is a nice flavor as well. It’s a major 7th on a dominant chord, but it creates some tension. Overall, just a great version.

Number 4:
Jerry’s second chorus on “They Love Each Other” from 7/28/82 Red Rocks, my first show. In his first chorus, he plays with this quacky plucky technique using the bridge pickup, almost trying to get a telecaster sound from it. I think he enjoyed it so much, he came back to it but stayed down on the 6th and 5th strings for a good 25 seconds, not common for his solos. Take a listen:

MUSIC – TLEO solo: 7/28/82 

Number 5:
Last but not least, possibly the greatest segue in the history of the Grateful Dead is from Pauley Pavilion UCLA on 11/17/73. They do “Playing in the Band”>”Uncle John’s Band”>”Morning Dew”>”Uncle John’s Band”>”Playing in the Band.” It’s 48 minutes and worth listening to the entire suite, but if your time is limited, just check out the segues. So natural.

MUSIC – Dew sandwich 11/17/73:
Did you hear the climax of “Dew” going back into the “Uncle John’s” reprise and back into “Playin’”?

I really could go on and on, playing my favorite moments from the Grateful Dead. They seem endless. I chose these particular five because you won’t necessarily find them on other top fives. Again, I urge you to check out complete versions where you can find them and spent time finding your own favorite moments.

More detailed music analysis coming in future editions. Stay tuned.