Day 20: Sugar Magnolia, 4/25/71

Ladies and Gentlemen The Grateful Dead

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.

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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.

Complete Setlist 4/25/71

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  1. “For some reason Sugar Magnolia always seems like a set starter, probably because this was often the case in the later years”. This is the exact opposite of true. Sugar Magnolia was a show closer for all of the later years, in fact, one of the most popular, at a rate of every third or fourth show. It was the rare occasion when it didn’t close the show, mostly opening a set on New Year’s Eve or a very rare encore.

  2. Xians, thanks for pointing out the error in my thinking. Mea culpa. Perhaps I latched on to the idea of starting a set with Sugar Mag and then doing the Sunshine Daydream coda at the end of the set (e.g. 3/27/88). I’m sure that wasn’t as common as I think it was, but that’s what was stuck in my mind when I was writing this. In thinking about your comment, while my statement is off base, it’s still worth noting that the placement in the set did not conform to what would become common practice. I will go ahead and fix the error you point out. Thanks for the assist!

  3. Disc Two opens with a concise, rocking version of this song, fairly new at the time. It begins with a tentative ramp-up to its cruising altitude, but once there it flies with ease. Jer’s first solo is cutting and goofy, meaning that it gets the job done just as it should. The final verse/chorus part rocks pretty well, then a long, fun, whirling wah-wah solo by Garcia breaks down for just a second during the false ending and it’s back to full-throttle through the real ending, unlike the later versions that featured a more punctuated and gradual return to the rock. Lean and mean, this take is perhaps more satisfying in its simplicity.

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