Day 86: Blow Away, 7/7/89

Grateful Dead Crimson White and Indigo

I know, I know. I was just complaining about the “rap” in Blow Away the other day. But listening to this again I think I may have overstated my case.

In listening to other shows from the period in my collection I noted another version or two of Blow Away that had Brent’s rap and the content of it didn’t diverge too much from this version. After reflection, my issue is not so much with the rap/vamp itself, but Brent’s lack of lyrical improvisation during said raps. Say what you will about Pigpen’s raps back in the day, and I have, but he certainly was good about tailoring his ad libbing to the context of the evening.

I recently asked on Twitter what people’s favorite Brent song was and got a few responses for Blow Away, which inspired the present re-examination of the song. Thoughts? Leave them in the comments.

The intro on this version seems longer than usual, but it may just be me. Once Brent starts singing, Phil gets really busy. He’s all over the place. Jerry is playing slide and it sounds pretty sloppy. I expect that more from Weir, but to be fair slide wasn’t a superb technique for either one of them. Oh well. The rest of the song is pretty straight forward.

Around 5 minutes in with the bulk of the structured song finished the band starts to vamp on the main riff progression and Brent starts to ad lib lyrics. This continues for about a minute until Brent cuts everyone off with a “Wait a minute.” After a brief respite, the band starts up and Brent starts a Pigpen-esque rap. It’s not the hands in your pockets variety, but it’s in the same spirit. I noted last week in the Hard To Handle comments that the Blow Away rap had worn on me a bit, however, the first few times I heard it I really liked it. Only after I heard similar raps on other tapes did it start to seem a bit banal to me. But as Brent spins his tale Jerry manages to break free from the vamp on occasion and spit some hot fire runs. It’s obvious that Brent is getting the crowd worked up as they roar along with him. The fact that this interaction is so evident in the audio recording, let alone the video helps to endear this version of Blow Away.

Complete Setlist 7/7/89

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  1. You could read in the liner notes about how significant this version of this song is. Or you could just sit back and hear what happens. Brent works his way through the changes of the sad tale of love lost while Garcia switches to an unsteady slide guitar excursion. The short solo in the middle is meaty, then Mydland resumes his mea culpa, wishing his bad deeds could puff away in a stiff breeze. At around 5:20 he begins hammering the sentiment home, stopping the band repeatedly in overly-dramatic fashion. It is pure theatre here, and given the outcome a few months later, it’s hard not to fall for it. The outpouring of expression goes on for several more excruciating minutes and depending on your opinion of this kind of thing it is either very moving or entirely pathetic. I’m on the fence. I am rooting for this Brent guy, but I’m pretty uncomfortable hearing him bare his soul quite to this extent. Is it real? Probably. Either way, the band supports him with the toggling groove. Okay, I’m sold. This will probably grace my CD player again and again as the very dramatic ending to this big first set.

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