Day 92: Dark Star, 3/2/69

Fillmore West 1969

What an epic boxset this one is. This is one instance where my knack for collecting things came in handy. I was in my first or second year of graduate school when this came out, living by myself and having very little spare cash. Nevertheless, the prospect of a 10 CD boxset from the series of concerts that helped spawn Live/Dead was too great to pass up (plus a bonus disc!). The price was quite reasonable too, under $100 if I recall correctly. Needless to say, I’ve been very happy I got this when I did.

I like the tone and delivery of this Dark Star‘s intro so much that I’ve actually made it the primary ringtone on my phone.

There are so many Dark Stars out there and each one is so different. I’d love to hear some of your favorites – released or not.

Dark Star starts off the show here so the first minute or so is actually the band trying to get everything just exactly perfect. Once the familiar intro to Dark Star scream out of Garcia’s guitar the world is simultaneously set a-right and turned on its head. The band meanders through the ether of Dark Star for quite a while. Everyone is well presented and mixed here, in my opinion. The primary percussion is some form of shaker which contributes a sense of sparse movement to the song.

The first verse comes after about 5 minutes of jamming or so. The percussion remains sparing, but there’s some gong work added once in a while too for a shimmering uniqueness. During the verse Phil seems to drive the bus and this continues into the ensuing post-verse jam. There is some great organ work in this section too. It takes a while, but the drums fall into line and the pace quickens as the band goes further and warms up more. Around the 13 minute mark Jerry is starting to find something to say musically and everyone seems to latch on. Somehow the band manages to push the pace while maintaining a sense of calm. It’s quite amazing really.

Finally, around 17:30 Jerry emphatically states the main theme briefly, and you think the next verse is coming, but never trust a prankster because the band re-enters exploration mode. It’s not until just after the 19:30 mark that we end up getting the second verse. In this case, the structure provided by the lyrics essentially functions as a bookend as the band moves slowly into St. Stephen.

Complete Setlist 3/2/69

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  1. For the last night of the run, the Dead decide to start with the centerpiece suite with no warmup nor introduction other than some mic checks. They hit their stride confidently with no signs of tentativeness on anyone’s part. This is a weird way to begin a concert you must admit. Jerry and Tom duel it out on chirping guitar and gliding organ for a stretch near the top. Then Jer takes over and works out some puzzles, sometimes landing on odd notes that he re-visits just to make them less odd after all. At about 6:00 into the track, he sets up the verse and sings it much like he has on the other nights. The sound is now warm and clear. Again, the rhythmic engine is just that lone shaker, now and then supplemented by mallets on a cymbal. After the verse, Jer disappears for a short time, letting Bob handle the guitar duties. But he is back soon, again dominating the conversation with crabby bleats and doleful bends. TC gets active hereafter, then a whisper-quiet breakdown finds Phil carrying the torch while Jerry toys with some high figures. Phil and a drummer build this up to a big, loud jam that pops and sparkles like the best of them. Here comes that Doppler figure that seems to crop up in each of these versions. It is chased away by an insistent organ line, then it re-emerges in a meeker form, slowly morphing into a full-on bug buzz. Garcia and Lesh fight it out, irritated dragonfly versus dopey elephant and call a truce with TC’s mediation. A new battle crops up right away, this time more midrange and direct. Jerry cooks up the theme loudly at 17:30 and lets it cool on the sideboard while the tempo shifts around looking for a groove. He builds up a big noise, releases it and re-states the theme quietly, seemingly in preparation for the second verse. Yep, here it is, with all its mysterious chords laying on top of each other while Jerry sings it, sounding exactly like the Live/Dead. You know, despite what they tell us, I am beginning to think that some or most of this version got used on the album. Call me crazy. It all falls down into the intro to “St. Stephen”.

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