I spent the last few days listening to the Complete Winterland 1973 box set, and while there are lots of gems on there, and likely some that will make an appearance in the near future, I decided on something a bit more raw today.
Ladies and Gentlemen…The Grateful Dead is a compilation of the Dead’s performances at the Fillmore East in New York City in April of 1971. This was the last hurrah for the Fillmore’s east coast location at the time and the Dead were part of the send off party.
For some reason Sugar Magnolia always seems like a set starter,
probably because this was often the case in the later years (Edit: It’s been pointed out that this assertion was incorrect. In fact, Sugar Mag closed a set more often than not. Apologies for the oversight), so to find such a super charged version in the middle of set 2 is kind of cool, at least in my opinion. This is a reminder that the Dead’s setlists weren’t always so structured. Yes, yes, I know the band didn’t use formal setlists, but it’s clear that after a while songs settled into their “typical” slots, whether it was first set, second set, pre-drums, post drums, etc.
Bobby starts this one off, as one would expect and the rest of the band gradually falls in. What immediately jumps out to my ear is Jerry’s use of the wah-wah pedal, which adds some really cool texture to the song. The harmonies on this one sound pretty good as Jerry joins Bobby at the microphone and shows that everything is indeed “delightful.” With the wah pedal still in the on position Jerry takes a quick solo and it’s got a lot of bite. All that treble from the wah pedal makes the notes scream, but in a good way.
The next verse goes off without a hitch as far as I can tell. Once they get to the “cuckoo’s cryin'” verse Jerry seems to hit some power chords or something along those lines to generate a sustained growl from his axe. As the band works it’s way into the Sunshine Daydream code Jerry comps his way through the main chord progression a few times before letting loose for another solo. Phil starts to rumble right around the 4 minute mark, and Bobby adds some improvised fills of his own in this section as well, straying from his standard rhythm part for a few brief moments.
Sunshine Daydream kicks in and the boys are off and running. Phil moves up and down the register and Billy pounds the skins right with the proper amount of urgency. A few coordinated hits at the end and the song comes to a close.
Clocking in at right around 6 minutes, this version of Sugar Magnolia, kind of like the Truckin’ covered previously, has the band working within the framework of the song, and while they play it straight forward they pack a major punch as well. Short, sweet, and snappy are not adjectives commonly used to describe the Dead, but they seem apt for this version of Sugar Magnolia.