I was a bit torn by this one because on the one hand I don’t want to disrupt sequences, but on the other hand this track can certainly stand by itself. This version of The Eleven is preceded by St. Stephen and goes directly into Caution. I guess St. Stephen > The Eleven is a bit more of a consistent sequence than The Eleven > Caution, but my original thought with sequences was established ones, like Scarlet > Fire, China > Rider, Help > Slip > Franklin’s, and maybe the occasional Estimated > Eyes. That said, the entirety of Dick’s Picks, Vol. 16 is pretty sick and worth a listen. Consider this a preview.
One of the things I really like about the Dead, especially this period, which I’ve heard called Baroque Dead before, is their experimentation with time signatures. The Eleven, as the name suggests, is in 11/8 time and has a really cool groove. The only other song I know of that is in 11/8 is the intro to Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers, but that switches to 6/8 for the rest of the song (or maybe it’s a 12/8 shuffle. I can’t remember off the top of my head. Regardless it’s not 11/8 throughout). Once the band moved on from some the songs from this era I can only think of 2 songs in the repertoire that stayed in consistently that had compound time signatures – Estimated Prophet (7/4) and Playing In The Band (10/4). Perhaps there were others, but those are the only ones that really jump out at me.
The other thing that’s great about this era is the energy. The sheer energy of the performance could overcome a number of foibles or miscues in a given song. I don’t think there are any major trainwrecks here though. Enjoy!
The band jams the beginning of the Eleven after finishing up St. Stephen. I’m a bit torn as to include the St. Stephen here, but ultimately decided to just stick to The Eleven. It takes a good minute and a half to actually get into the main progression of The Eleven. Jerry and Phil are both very upfront and present here, which is exactly how I like it. There’s a lot of organ providing sustain here as well.
Jerry starts to climb and Phil follows suit before yielding the floor entirely to Mr. Garcia. There seems to be a certain urgency in the playing here, as though everyone is eager to reach the next peak and valley. This feeling is the essence of “primal Dead” to me. For a lot of bands an 11/8 time signature might prove difficult, but here the Dead move through the changes as if it was almost second nature.
The main theme emerges again around the 6:30 mark, and the band finally starts with the vocals. Jerry’s lead sounds fine, but, as is often the case for this period, Bobby and Phil are a bit out of sync. They hit their notes as far as I can tell. No one is off, so to speak, but the lack of synchronicity makes the background vocals difficult to understand.
Whatever your opinion on the Dead’s singing, they get back to jamming rather quickly, something at which they undisputedly excel.
The feel changes a bit and there is a flurry of cymbal action. Phil and Jerry seem to be taking simultaneous solos for a brief period here. After a brief lull things pick up in a hurry and before long the band is hitting on a all cylinders, and really rocking. Phil is clearly calling the shots here as the feel changes once again and he leads the way. Caution soon follows.