Day 108: Weather Report Suite, 5/14/74

Grateful Dead Dave's Picks 9 album cover artwork

1974 was the last year that the full Weather Report Suite would appear in setlists. After “The Last Ones” in October 74 only Let It Grow would emerge as a permanent resident in the canon.

The Let It Grow segment is always the highlight for me, especially the jam at the end. Of course, I’m starting my second week of paternity leave right now and the song’s themes of rebirth and growth are quite apt at present. As one loyal reader mentioned in a comment last week, with kids time flies and only accelerates. I can certainly attest to that fact. It’s amazing to watch growth occur and evolve. My first week of leave just flew by. Of course, I have plenty of projects, in addition to taking care of my son, to keep me busy, but it makes me think that the breakneck pace of the jam that often emerges from Let It Grow does a nice job of mirroring the idea of accelerating time, and it’s quite fitting that as the song, well, grows, it gets faster, just like life. At least that’s my interpretation for today.

Other versions of the WRS or plain old Let It Grow that I should look into? Let me know in the comments.

Once described by Phil as “the quiet part” the first section of Weather Report Suite is very delicate and purposeful. This version has Jerry playing some slide guitar that almost adds another voice to the vocal arrangement. An unexpected Phil bomb jumps out of no where! What the what?! The actual backing vocals sound nice here as Ms. Donna Jean hits her marks. Toward the end of Part I Jerry adds some wah-wah that is subtle, but killer given the song’s vibe and arrangement.

Almost on a dime we turn to Let It Grow. Keith is much more present here, his playing very bouncy and playful. Jerry meanders through the verses adding choice fills and runs. Billy emphasizes his cymbals during the chorus section and they really stand out to my ear. The following solo section is all Jerry with Keith filling in any holes left by the big man. After Bobby tells of the “rise and fall” it’s up to the musicians to demonstrate that phenomenon and Jerry sets out to chart the rise right away, with the rest of the band right on his heels. After one more run through the chorus Jerry’s musical exploration takes on a very jazzy quality. Weir and Keith are very adept at conveying a sense of forward motion in their playing, especially when they’re comping under Jerry’s solo. This is both and admirable and impressive quality. The voyage continues until the ship drops off everyone at Dark Star‘s door.

Complete Setlist 5/14/74

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  1. Weir’s guitar lights up in the left speaker immediately and the Adams Field House chirps to life in kind. The other band members quietly enter and contribute little bits of accompaniment. Garcia lays out until his big moment with the slide. The first words are sung gently and Lesh creates a minor ruckus during the first verse with a note or two that challenge the limits of the magnetic tape. Donna chimes in and adds interest. Her hubby rides the electric piano to great effect while a slippery trip is made around the lead guitar fretboard. The second verse is as nice as the first and the transition is made to the next movement, where Keith is all over a wah pedal. I like this flavor of the “Suite” and please sign me up for more of the same. Oop, a small miscalculation on Garcia’s part slightly mars the approach to “Let it Grow” but that is quickly forgotten as the song picks up tempo and shifts to a Latin-themed story of fertile soil and human strength. The circular track is danced and the work is measured. The band plays with precision and winds up the jam to a looser approach. Once unleashed, Jerry emotes all over the place with his wildly accomplished guitar prowess. This part is short as always and next thing you know we are rising and falling through the transitory segment that gets us to serious jamming. Garcia leads into this perhaps a bar or two before the others are quite ready, but they blur the line perfectly and follow him into a short but intense reading of the improv. The breakdown happens too soon and we re-visit the chorus part and round the final corner. Donna is especially on-target with her “I am” line, surprisingly. You have to love that. The out jam is a notch undercooked, interestingly. I didn’t expect that. Maybe everyone knows the destination and is saving up weirdness for that. Garcia eeks out a few last chords and choppy licks before tweedling into oblivion. By that, I of course mean into “Dark Star”.

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