In the process of putting this post together I noticed that I haven’t picked a Loser since the beginning of this project. While that version is a very good one I’ve always liked the song a lot so I’m surprised it’s been so long.
That said, this rendition is a great example of making something out of nothing musically. I was listening to Dick’s Picks volume 10 and this Loser jumped out at me. Kind of like yesterday’s Stagger Lee upon close listening I wasn’t as taken by the track as I was initially. But as I kept listening the band finally got around to Jerry’s solo and the whole thing changed. What was a somewhat complacent take on the tune turned into a soaring epic. These types of transformations, taking the ordinary to the sublime, are one of the reasons that I love the Grateful Dead so much. It’s also a testament to their ability in the live environment that they could produce these magical metamorphoses with such regularity.
I’m not going to lie, the first few minutes of this Loser aren’t much to write home about. I wouldn’t say the band is mailing it in, but there’s just not much to distinguish it from other well-played versions. However, when we finally get to Jerry’s guitar solo he just takes giant strides through the atmosphere. This starts around the 4:30 mark and it’s clear from the outset that Jerry means business. He’s got a bit of a snarl to his guitar tone, and the treble is cranked way up for some of those ice-picking type of sounds. Jerry bats around the melody here like a kitten with a ball of yarn, keeping it close by, but not afraid to kick it across the room either. The juxtaposition of the intensity of the solo and the placidity of the rest of the song is striking. When you think about it in that context, perhaps we’re not dealing with a kitten but a much larger cat. Regardless, Jerry saves the day here and the crowd’s reaction suggests that they agree.