Day 85: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, 4/24/78

Grateful Dead Dave's Picks 7 album cover artwork

Some may say that going back to Scarlet/Fire so soon is a cheat move. I call B.S. because can you really have too much ScarFire?

Based on the comments this release generated it seems like people either loved it or loathed it. I think there is enough interesting and unique playing in this show to keep listeners interested. Of course, the Scarlet Fire is near the top of the list for this particular show, and for good reason. Throughout the show both of the drummers are making a case for themselves and it’s worth listening too. There are segments in this song sandwich that reveal the ferocity of their playing on this particular night.

Where do you stand on Scarlet Fire? Let me know in the comments.

The Dead may have been in Normal, but this Scarlet Fire doesn’t necessarily fit that bill. Keith sounds energized and plays lots of nice runs here and Phil is sliding all over the place. It can be a bit sloppy sometimes when he does that, but here it seems to work. The first big instrumental break in Scarlet has plenty to be celebrated. Both Jerry and Keith seem to be pushing each other, which didn’t always happen as the Godcheauxs neared the end of their tenure with the band. Phil holds down the bottom quite nicely and throws in tasteful runs and licks throughout. Donna croons some nice “Ooos” during the last verse, and her wailing during the Scarlet outro riff isn’t too bad, IMO. Everyone seems content to lay back and give Donna the spotlight; The playing here is very sparse. It’s almost as if the band wants to end the song, but feel compelled to push through into Fire. The drummers are keeping busy and add in some nice percussion sections as we wait for the transition jam to build. Donna steps back and Jerry and Keith begin to assert themselves again. Weir throws in some scatters notes with his slide, a precarious and often dangerous omen. He keeps it dialed back for now, which is much appreciated, making it easier to enjoy the Jerry and Keith show. After several minutes of enjoyable jamming Weir brings the slide back and the band slides into Fire

The rhythm shifts and the band quickly establishes themselves in Fire On The Mountain. Weir keeps at the slide and it’s not terrible. In fact, it’s actually not too bad. Jerry plays around with some effects, switching up his tone and approach to match the effects. An interesting little interlude. During the verse things dial back a bit. Weir adds some nice guitar figures, and Donna joins Jerry for the chorus. Almost immediately Jerry seems eager to bust out another solo. No one seems to oppose the idea and Jerry let’s loose. Even Bob’s slide can’t ruin this. Usually the drummers aren’t a focus for me, but pay attention to what they’re doing here. It’s like they’re exacting revenge on every piece of percussive equipment on stage. They’re playing with a drive and force only reached on occasion. There are lots of things that make this version noteworthy so it’s definitely worth a listen.

Complete Setlist 4/24/78

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  1. Sad to say Lunchbox, I agree with your review 98.67 %. That # is as close as I can get as I kinda don’t get folks who don’t view the argument that, after this period it was never the same. We can all agree that the dead continued to have good nights on the stage., but in my view, it was never to capture the creative evolvement that was the experiment that made them the legend that they were (talk about opening up a can of diving on the sword.)
    This version is, as you describe a good one. Cured it up tonight, like other songs you identify ( which are usually, spot on ) as songs to consider, is again usually pretty accurate. i do like this show as some as you mention can argue against it. The SOUND with is always a big factor in my evaluations is great. After a listen here, I had a listen to DAP 9 and was truly disappointed with the sound. Billy was almost completely mixed out. I just purchased the box of the 3 vaults and those mixes really quantify the difference between the multitrack recordings vs the 2 track releases. Granted their are a number of 2 tracks that are crisp, but up against the multi track mixes with a good stereo, are mostly lacking.

    Not that I don’t love the DP’s as they give us a number of historic nights with great recordings, but many miss the mark sound-wise. And as you add to your collection, sound quality may or may not grab you attention or even be a factor. But for me, it matters. As an example, I love 73 for so many reasons and as great as the box set is, I still gravitate to DP 28 first as the mix is simply superior to the box.
    Not to be a downer, but truly have a hard time with trying to grasp post Donna and Keith as anything but a cover band. As I mention, they had good nights, shows, a few good additional tunes, but the gig was up in my mind. Had the luck of growing up in this era, but the misfortune, of not getting the dead for a number of years latter. Looking back at that period and putting the dead in the context of that era, I really believe they were the last hold outs to fold or hang onto the music they believed in. That ability to hold on, in my mind, was the reason they evolved into serious substance abuse and a search for a way to continue as everyone else had caved or folded.

    Tonight’s post was prompted by a happenstance of running into a friend totally misinformed about a viewpoint he promotes on a regular basis. There’s no use having a conversation with him and this post is probably just as useless, but I do believe in throwing out an opinion that might stimulate folks, with an open mind, to look at things from a different perspective. Won’t be offended with strong opinions from another viewpoint and I always keep in mind a first experience with anything is often a strong one. However, being naive ( what a brutal word ) often clouds reality from hope.

  2. Very interesting post, Joe. I agree very strongly that the Dead were never again as good as they were in 77 and before (I suppose you could stretch it to Spring ’78).
    It sounds like you’re saying they evolved into serious substance abuse because they were trying to hang on to what a good thing they had going. Correct me if I’m wrong. My feeling is that they regressed BECAUSE of the substance abuse. Long ago I felt that the 78 shows overall just weren’t as good as previous years. Certainly there are some great shows in 78, like ISU and Red Rocks but that year is inconsistent in a way that never happened before. It was later that I read that jerry, and I think Keith, started using Persian this year and it seems logical that this is where the decline begins. But like you said, there’s still a lot to love in the later years.

    • I think that the Dead tried as they could to hang onto their youth, the great music change of the 60 and 70’s and the battle of music being almost completely becoming a corporate controlled cash in. I think after these late 70’s years they feel deeper and deeper into drugs, as so much and so many were lost. Music was almost transforming into am pop music at that point with Disco taking hold and concerts becoming more and more a show of theatrics and lights than the actual music. Luckily for the fans and the new fans that discovered them from those days on they still worked hard to play the music from those early years, but it, from my view, lacked the earlier passion and became more about paying the bills than playing more the music.
      A couple of concepts I always find are fascinating are Irony and the idea of being careful what you ask for. Ironic that the Dead in the latter years were able to make the incomes they were usually hoping for, but it didn’t seem to solve the problems they thought it could. For us fans it is truly amazing that so much music is available now, many years after it was created, so many can go back and enjoy the entire legacy of the band. The good the bad and the ugly and make their own opinions of their own likes.

  3. Someone mentioned on that Bobby is riffing on Zappa’s Broken Hearts are for Assholes at the beginning of this particular Scarlet Fire. I’ve played both back to back several times and I think he has a point. Maybe he talked me into it but I hear it more now. I’m surprised more people didn’t comment on it. This is an era where the Dead seemed to be having a good time on stage so maybe Bobby was having a little fun with that. The song wasn’t released yet but it was available on bootleg albums and Zappa was playing it live already. Who knows.

  4. I live in Bloominton IL, which borders Normal, the locals call them the Twin Cities (LOL), so I fell obligated to add more here. The group of guys I started going to shows with all attended ISU and were a little older that me, but only one is native to this area and attended this show. He’s the friend I went with to most shows.
    This show was always a big favorite among us for obvious reasons. I don’t feel it’s an all time great show, but I do think its a very fun and enjoyable show and was excited to see it as an official release.

  5. Scarlet Begonias

    If I’d been at this show, I would have been very happy that this song kicked off the second set. How about you? Bobby chops out some warm-up chords, Jerry counts it, and the band bursts into the tune. Thankfully, Betty is on top of the vocal fader as the first words emit. The singing is fully engaged and as the chorus hits, Donna adds true value. The arrangement is perfectly executed, with an intense solo just where it oughta be. This goes on and on, building to a very high climax by the time the “Wind in the willows” verse hits. Oh, my. Don’t miss it. The song breaks down into its outro jam and Donna wisely finds some notes that evoke seduction. Bob works his volume knob to provide swells. Do you see where this is going? It’s pretty sexy, and it has a long way to go. Phil explores the outer reaches, as usual. Keith employs some mid-range figures that perfectly compliment the proceedings. Jerry is fairly quiet (for him) but is plenty active. Mickey can’t get enough of the cowbell for a good spell. More cowbell? Please, no. Let me say that this jam is supremely jamilicious. You will not be disappointed by it. No, you will be mighty glad that this show escaped the vault. Garcia works a guitar figure into a veritable theme nearing 12:00. Then he kicks the envelope filter while Weir finds the slide. Things could get sketchy now, but restraint is located and we transition very nicely into the changes that define…

    Fire on the Mountain

    The two-chord toggle begins and the flavor shifts audibly into this more basic song. Weir is active on slide but he does not go off the deep end this time. Garcia calmly states the theme on the Mu-Tron. He then barks out a tight verse that resembles the one first one on Shakedown Street. I guess by this time he had worked out a pattern he liked. The chorus is sung and we blast into a hot jam immediately. The slide and the envelope filter work together perfectly here for some reason. The drummers go fairly nuts on tom fills while Phil and Keith work on holding down the basic structure. Oh, here goes Bob with the high-note slide stuff that, well, ends up sounding like a chirping bird and I suppose that is fine. The second verse is the only one available at this point, and it is sung with authority before the chorus seals the deal. Jerry gets a little crazy, singing, “You know there’s a fire,” “Let it burn, let it burn,” and such fun detours. He hits the closing theme at just the right moment. A burst into a two-minute outro jam follows and this is all that, for sure. Just turn this whole thing up, please. You won’t regret it. The dynamic falls quickly, only to revert to the expected theme from “Scarlet Begonias”. The unexpected part is when the last note of that becomes the first note of “Good Lovin'”.

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