Day 40: Shakedown Street, 10/7/80

Playing music is always an interesting endeavor. Last week I got together with some folks and jammed for the first time in about a year probably. We had circulated a list of songs to play beforehand so at least everyone was on the same page. I, in my toddler induced haste, forgot to print out my charts, but still managed to get by and knock off a bit of rust in the process. I ended up having a lot of fun, even if all the songs weren’t my cup of tea. Hopefully we can turn this into a somewhat regular thing, but time will tell.

The reason I mention this is because any band endeavor I participate in quickly calls to mind the question: “What Dead song(s) can I realistically get the band to play?” It’s usually a pretty limited set, but the first one I always think of is Shakedown Street. I’ve read, or heard, that Garcia always considered the Dead to be a dance band and Shakedown is nothing if not a song to groove to. This period gets labelled “disco Dead” a lot, but it’s really more funk than disco (the latter tended to have more of a driving, four on the floor beat) if you ask me. It’s got plenty of room to stretch out or you can keep it concise, plus there are some good vocal harmonies as well. If you want to get people up to shake their bones it seems like a pretty good option. I guess time will tell if this group comes together and if I’m able to work Shakedown into the set.

I will add that I think that Shakedown oftentimes suffered from the Dead slow-down-syndrome. Most of the time I think it could be played 5-10 bpm faster than what they play. That’s part of the reason I picked this version, as it’s a bit peppier than some of the other released versions. This cut appeared on the expanded version of Dead Set, which is pretty widely available on its own or as part of the Beyond Description box set.

Immediately it’s clear that the crowd is loving this selection when the opening chords of Shakedown Street ring out. (Although the crowd noise cuts out rather abruptly on the recording. Why not a softer fade?) Jerry’s thwacking guitar tone and Bobby’s extra jangly tone complement each other so well on this tune.

Brent and Bobby sound great on background vocals. Woo! indeed.

Jerry’s got a bit of extra overdrive on his guitar during the chorus and it bites, in a good way.

I love Shakedown, but I one of my most common complaints is that the brand of funk Phil plays is usually too straight forward, too laid back. I’m of the opinion that a bit quicker tempo and a little busier bassline would serve the song well. It just sounds too sterile to me, and that is true of this version as well.

Jerry takes the tune out for a walk around the park in his first solo. He doesn’t reach any major peaks, but serves the needs of the song. The complementary playing is very solid.

Brent and Bobby do some vocal riffing on the chorus and Jerry fills all the gaps with tasty fills. By the time Jerry starts a bonafide solo they’ve brought the dynamics way down. It’s more of a loping groove now. Brent switches to clavinet to bring back some of that funk element. Jerry squeaks and squawks his guitar a bit, searching for the right combination of notes. It’s clear that they’re slowly working their way back to the main groove, and once they arrive, run through the chord progression a couple of times before calling it a day.

Complete Setlist 10/7/80

Also in rotation: Joe Bonamassa: An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House. It’s available on video and CD, but I’ve only listened to the audio. If you’ve seen the video let me know if it’s worth checking out. I assume so… I’m in the process of listening to this right now and really digging it. Just got through Jockey Full of Bourbon and Richmond and was duly impressed with both.

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  1. One of the best album covers ever, although not one of my favorite Dead albums; however, I haven’t heard the expanded version and this sounds pretty good right now.

    • Mike, I wouldn’t call Dead Set one of my favorite albums, but I do think there’s plenty of good stuff on there. I think it gets overshadowed a bit by Reckoning, and for good reason – Reckoning is amazing. The cover art is superb here though. You got that right!

  2. The crowd is on full roar at the top of this. The song grooves deeply and not too quickly. Jerry quacks along on guitar as Bob chimes and Phil thumps. You can hear them working to hold down the tempo, admirably. At about 3:30 the first instrumental section is found and Garcia thoughtfully applies his best dance feverization. The following verse falls into place and caps off the main song. There are a few minutes left with which these guys can improvise. They first tame it with a short interlude of rideout vocals then turn it over to full-blown jam possibilities. This opportunity is taken with caution rather than aggression. You could call it sluggish or you could call it groovy. In any case little geography is covered before the signal to the ending is made and the song crashes.

      • True, Phil has never been a funk bass player a la James Jamerson or Bootsy Collins. Then again, he has never sounded like anyone but Phil on any style of music. To me, his playing is as unique as Jerry’s, Bob’s, or Billy’s. Those four guys were the core of a band that touched on all kinds of styles but never precisely imitated any of them. That’s what I like!

        • Well yeah, Phil is Phil and that’s why we love him. I don’t expect him to mimic Jamerson or the like, but I would like him to feel the groove a bit more. Sit back in the pocket, play behind the beat a bit, and swing a little bit. I don’t think he does a good job of this on the funkier tunes. But that’s just what I want to hear, especially as bass player who really respects Phil. I think his playing is just too sterile and needs to be more warm and organic on these songs. Combine his improv chops with a funkier bass groove and I’d be in hog heaven.

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