1971 is not a year known for its Dark Stars. Audiences used to the Live/Dead album shrieked ecstatically whenever those first notes were played, but in '71 the Dead were concentrating more on being a straightforward rock & roll band. This is an important year for Stars, though - they become more loose and unpredictable, in fact full of surprises. There is more variety in the Stars of '71 than in '70, as the Dead experiment with the structure. The jams become more expansive through the year - especially after Godchaux joins, the Dead take a leap closer to the unearthly improvisations of 1972.
From a 1971 interview, Garcia talks a bit about Dark Star -
Reich: Each time it comes out in a different way?
Garcia: Yeah, pretty much. There are certain structural poles which we have kind of set up in it, and those periodically we do away with. That's why we came up with such a thing; there are a few things that we do which are vehicles for that openness.... There's something on our new album [the Other One] that unfolds in the Dark Star tradition, so to speak. This new one is even more amazing. It is really some of the best playing that we've ever done...
(Signpost to New Space)
1971 saw Dark Star stripped down and rebuilt - many of the themes familiar from 1970 Stars are no longer present in '71. They didn't play it as often, and early versions are often sparse, almost minimal, as if the Dead are holding back from their epic 1970 voyages. By contrast, as Garcia indicates, they were more excited about the directions the Other One could go in as it opened up and became spacier. The Other One was a regular set-II setpiece that year; whereas Dark Stars uniquely could be dropped into either set, when the mood struck. The Stars of this year are also generally less 'complete' than the giants of '69/70, as the Dead made a habit of exiting early into one song or another.
But after Hart left, the music became more dynamic and open-ended with Kreutzmann alone on drums. This year has numerous examples of turn-on-a-dime jams where the Dead can suddenly wheel in unison like a flock of startled birds. And by the fall, with Godchaux onboard and a new instrument in the mix, the jamming was much less straightforward and closer to the telepathically trippy jams that would come next year. Though their jams might have progressed the same way without Godchaux, he was obviously an inspiration to the others, giving them a richer, fuller sound and expanding the ideas they could pursue. By the end of the year, the Dark Stars are extremely loose and open, mining the realms of the unconscious....
To illustrate how the Dark Star format developed, we'll first take a look at a sample late-1970 Star. This one follows the usual '70 pattern: thematic jam > first verse > a weird space > a melodic theme > the second verse.
This is a poor tin-can AUD tape even by 1970 standards, complete with obtrusive audience chatter.
The Dark Star is very energetic tonight. The beginning is lost in a tapecut, so the Star comes fading in as they jam on the theme. The music is upbeat, the band revved-up, the drums very active - it sounds like we're already in the middle of the Star, as the band quests for a climax. Garcia tries to bottle the energy back up in the Dark Star theme, and they settle down for the verse. After the verse, gong crashes drop us into a tense space, which sounds a bit like a horror soundtrack...percussive string scrapings, cymbal splashes, feedback hums, hanging dissonant chords... Eventually Garcia starts slowly plucking his strings, so he sounds like a koto! The space turns into demented Japanese ghost-chamber music, the notes twangy and shimmering. (This gets the chatty audience to shut up!) Lesh storms in with a dense thundering drone, and electricity surges through the music. Garcia flashes like metallic lightning into a Sputnik jam, wah-bending his lines. The madness over, he switches to his usual tone (signaling the others that the 'space' is over) and they slowly ease into a regular melodic Dark Star jam. This builds gradually - it doesn't hit the heights of ecstasy like some other Stars, but it's satisfying and very rhythmic. The music become bright and happy-sounding, driven forward by the rhythm. Caught up in the mood, Lesh hints at Feelin' Groovy, but Garcia swerves back into the Dark Star theme instead, and the band quiets down for a slow reentry to the verse. The jam-ending is different than usual - Garcia prolongs it, drifting on trebly chords a while before he starts the verse.
Dark Star segues into St Stephen, much to the crowd's delight. (It's strange to remember that Live/Dead listeners at the time wouldn't have heard the full segue, as it was split across sides on the album!) Anyone hoping for the Eleven, though, would have been surprised by the quick turn into Not Fade Away, and after that, the first performance of Goin' Down the Road. Not Fade Away is turned into a mere three-minute bookend to the new song, which is how it would stay through the first half of '71....the days of the giant 1970 NFAs ended on this night!
(This show also has a fine Dancing in the Streets jam, which sounds at times like a wah'ed Playing jam of two years later, though the sound is too poor to be sure what's happening....)
(Note: For those who're wondering what a "Sputnik jam" is, it's a label for the eerie, fingerstyle repeated chiming notes Garcia plays in many Dark Stars [and some Other Ones] from late '68 through '72. The best-known example is after 11:40 on the Live/Dead Star. This jam was most extensive in '69/70, but the examples we'll see in '71 are often just Garcia on his own, doing variations.)
The Dead were in high spirits for this show, the first in a long run at one of their favorite places, the Capitol Theater. They even brought multitrack recording equipment to catch any moments of magic that might arise. The first Dark Star of '71 is one of the most unusual - for starters, it's the only Star with Mickey Hart, and the last time we'll hear him playing that guiro (or 'scratcher') in the intro jam. Not only that, but there's another instrument tinkling like little bells throughout, giving this Star a very distinctive atmosphere. I used to think this was Mickey Hart on glockenspiel (something we'd heard in the 11/8/70 Star) - but it turns out it's actually Ned Lagin on clavichord! His first show with them had been the Boston 11/21/70 show (where he can't be heard); now that they were in the area again, he found himself onstage again.
(As Lagin said, "I brought my clavichord down precisely to do acoustic music with Jerry. And I sat in the first night.... I did not sit in after the first night because everyone was adjusting to Mickey's departure from the band... Jerry and I jammed during the days, clavichord and acoustic guitar." You can also hear him occasionally later in the set, as in Candyman.)
Dark Star comes early, in the first set - the crowd screams when they recognize it. Garcia loses no time after the intro in taking the music to a more 'mystical' level with a few carefully chosen high notes. The feeling is calm, meditative - but the jam flows like a liquid surge into a brief burst of ecstasy after just a couple minutes, provoking more screams from the audience. Garcia quickly calms it down for the verse, which he sings very emphatically. (Then Weir completely blows his usual post-verse notes!) Rather than going straight to a space, the band tests the waters for a bit, Garcia trying a couple different approaches as the others drop out. This is where Lagin enters the jam, with some ringing chimes. Garcia finds a high note he likes and stays there (with one delightful peal of feedback). The music slides into a luscious harmonic space (Weir echoing Lagin's chimes), but Garcia quickly bursts into the Wharf Rat chords, and the others follow - the crowd realizes they're in another song now, and cheers. This is certainly one of the most dramatic Wharf Rat entrances.
The sad tale of August West unfolds for the first time. Garcia's singing is strong, and though Wharf Rat has a few rough edges in its first outing, there's so much conviction in the song, it's still spine-chilling. (It's also uncharacteristic for a Dead song, in that Garcia just strums the chords throughout, while Weir plays the melodic part.) The little solo at the end morphs before our ears into a Dark Star space, and with a little twist of the riff Garcia brings us back to the Dark Star theme. The music speeds up, and they start a new melodic jam around two alternating chords. (Many people say this is a Tighten Up jam due to the chord resemblance - but it's not.) Garcia uses a breathtakingly piercing tone; and his playing is especially ethereal with some swoops of harmonized feedback. But Weir and Lesh also play perfectly in support, the music guiding them, all playing with one voice. The jam goes through several variations, pausing and resuming - once Garcia has had enough, he heads straight to the second Dark Star verse while the audience whistles. As the outro slowly unwinds, everyone wonders what will come next - of all things, Weir starts Me & My Uncle. After this, the band decides it's time for a break - Weir announces, "We're going to take a break, and you can watch our dust."
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-02-18.sbd.cantor-crouch-diebert-gmb.85478.sbeok.flac16 (7:02 + 7:19)
As it is, this is the least-jammed Dark Star in a long time - they wouldn't play it again for two months. It's hard to say if they just weren't in the mood for another Star, or if Hart's departure after this show made them more conservative in their song selection, or if recording the shows made them decide to focus more on songs; but the shows after this were not very adventurous. A couple days after Hart split, Weir explained to the audience, "Mickey's under the weather....he hasn't been feeling well for the past few nights." (Garcia adds, "It's strange.") Lesh says in his book, "Mickey's departure left a big hole in the band's aura...and for the first few months after that, we didn't play as well as we could have. We were in essence tiptoeing around the hole he'd left."
The main innovation of this Dark Star is not in the Beautiful Jam (if they planned that to be a regular part of Dark Star, it was short-lived since they never played it again), but in the way it breaks into a different song. In '69 and '70 they sometimes segued into a song in the middle of the jam; but they'd try it a lot more frequently during '71.
These are some earlier Dark Stars in which they'd done a mid-jam segue:
5/30/69 Dark Star>Cosmic Charlie
6/22/69 Dark Star>Other One
7/12/69 Dark Star>Other One
8/16/69 Dark Star>High Time
11/8/69 Dark Star>Other One>Dark Star
2/11/70 Dark Star>Spanish Jam
5/8/70 Dark Star>Dancing in the Streets
6/24/70 Dark Star>Attics>Dark Star>Sugar Magnolia>Dark Star
11/8/70 Dark Star>Main Ten>Dancing in the Streets
Weir's juxtaposition of a cowboy song out of the delicate grace of Dark Star was also new - they liked the effect, and would explore it a lot more in '71/72.
And finally, a discussion of the Beautiful Jam wouldn't be complete without Phil Lesh's reaction. David Gans played it for him when Lesh appeared on the "Dead to the World" radio show in 1997:
Gans: Well, you asked me to turn you on to some Grateful Dead music, Phil, and that's about the prettiest passage I know.
Lesh: Wow. Ah. Ah. When was that from?
Gans: February 18, 1971, Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY. It was coming out of the first "Wharf Rat" ever and back into "Dark Star."
Gans: Pretty stuff.
Lesh: Oh, that's just gorgeous.... Aw, that, that -- I'm sorry, that just, that brought tears to my eyes.
Gans: Well, good. I'm glad you liked it!
Lesh: Yeah, that's gorgeous. Is it longer than that? I mean, is there more of it?
Gans: No, that's pretty much it....
This Dark Star is more conventional, even restrained. Garcia doesn't seem to be in top form like he was on 2/18. (Weir, by contrast, is very high in the mix, so he jumps right out.) The big surprise of this Star is that Ned Lagin is playing electric piano! He's very quiet in the background (picked up only by vocal mikes?), but definitely present and influencing Garcia's playing. In fact, they may have played Dark Star just because he was there. (Actually, hearing him was a big shock for me, since he was completely inaudible on my old tape underneath the hum - when I listened to a digital stream and heard this mellow vibes-like sound in the intro, I first thought, "That can't be Pigpen?!")
Dark Star opens the second set. The intro is similar to 2/18, brief but dynamic - there isn't a long jam, but it swells up and fades down again on a dime; the group is tuned in and synchronized. After the verse, a big space seems to be coming, but Garcia skips it and starts a new gentle melodic pattern. The music almost dissolves into noodling - there's a cool spacy sputnik-type bit where Garcia and Lagin echo each other. As they amble quietly, Garcia keeps adjusting tones - at one moment he hits the '72 watery tone, but moves on. Almost indiscernibly, the band builds up into a jam - they turn it up, Weir slashes chords, Garcia finds a stinging tone, and before you can tell how it happened, they're in the midst of a nice, fiery climax, Garcia wailing away. Suddenly they drop to quietness again, and Garcia hones in on four soft descending notes (sort of like Feelin' Groovy). The others pick this up, and it segues into a soothing chordal jam, sounding much like an extended Wharf Rat intro, with Weir playing arpeggios around Garcia's chords. But there's no Wharf Rat this night - Garcia returns to the Dark Star theme. There's a brief cut in the second verse, then the usual transition to St Stephen.
The following Not Fade Away is very laid-back, but notable for the long Weir/Garcia dual solos into Goin' Down the Road. It's also unusual for being in the middle of the set - after a few more songs they close the show with a punchy Good Lovin'.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-04-08.sbd.unknown.14397.shnf (the loud hum is filtered out more, sounds cleaner)
This is the first of only two Dark Stars the Dead played as a quartet. It comes in the first set again, after one of their ridiculously extended tuning breaks. Within moments they sound much more energized than they had on 4/8 - everyone plunges right into the jam. This Star has that mysterious quality - purposeful, questing, exploring little corners of the music. They're easily diverted, in no hurry to reach the verse - Garcia plays a line then dances away into something else. The ever-shifting jam becomes trancelike, and time slips away - finally when the theme returns, they speed up quite a bit as they approach the verse! After the verse, they start zooming into a jam, but pull up and halt the momentum as Lesh rumbles and cymbals tap. We enter a space, the audience cheering - Garcia plays a little silvery Sputnik that opens the door to another realm of bass drones and frantic guitar notes trying to escape - Lesh slams big bass chords as Garcia's guitar twists & howls. Then the cloud lifts - Garcia changes tone and leads them out of space into a lilting, bittersweet jam, which is all too short before it peters out. Kreutzmann is right on top throughout, cruising through the guitarists' changes almost telepathically. After a few moments' indecision, Garcia starts Wharf Rat - the song still feels a bit rushed, but by now the ending solo is much more extended. This time, instead of going back into Dark Star, they just end Wharf Rat and start Casey Jones instead.
This is another pointer to the future - a Dark Star without a second verse. It's a bit disappointing that after such a promising start, Garcia would bail out midway, making this one of the shortest Stars of the year. It's also rather sad that with Duane Allman possibly standing by, they didn't invite him on for Dark Star! (Beat It On Down The Line isn't the first song I'd think of to use his talents...)
4/26/71 isn't currently available for streaming on the Archive, even though apparently not a single song was used on the Ladies & Gentlemen set. (This Wharf Rat was used for the "Grateful Dead" live album, but with many alterations, so it slightly resembles the original live version.)
Just two days later, the New York faithful were treated to another Dark Star. (This was quite a bonus in a set that had already included tremendous jams in Morning Dew, Hard to Handle, and the Other One!) The ghosts of '69 stalk the stage as Tom Constanten joins the band, though he mostly stays in the background, and the Dead are not as expansive as the days of yore. The intro jam is short and concise tonight, the music calm but insistent. The space after the verse is more relaxed and pretty than on the 26th; there's more space between the notes. Constanten adds a lot to the space with his swirly organ sound. Garcia quietly enters a Sputnik at the edge of hearing and turns it up - it's extended this time with the others poking in. This shifts into a kind of Cumberland-style jam - Lesh starts hammering Tighten Up (as in a Dancing climax), Weir goes wild on top of this, and the music explodes in a frenzy. But all too soon they drop back into a moment of unrelieved stasis - here they fall into a second jam that slowly teases its way into the second verse. This was another very economical Dark Star! They'd already played Wharf Rat after the Other One; so with Constanten aboard, what else could follow Dark Star but a nice, rowdy St Stephen?
Released on the Ladies & Gentlemen CD. (Note that the 4/28 Other One was used for the '71 Grateful Dead live album, and the following Wharf Rat was put on Ladies & Gentlemen.)
This Dark Star is something special. The Stars we've seen so far in '71 wouldn't make any of the 1970 versions break a sweat - but this is the first '71 Star to pass 20 minutes, and it finds the band on a new level. (Either they did a lot of practicing since April, or they're much more confident.)
Until recently, the only recording known of this boisterous show was a decent but audience-heavy AUD, until an SBD miraculously surfaced for the Road Trips release, revealing new depths in the music. (The AUD tape used for a patch here, perhaps the master, sounds good enough to have been an excellent release on its own....) One thing the Road Trips omits is Playing in the Band - one of the early, heavier jam-free versions, which the audience claps all the way through. Surprisingly, the moment it ends, the Dead launch right into Dark Star.
Though it's been three months since they last played Dark Star live (and only five shows in the interval), it's clear right away they're getting to a new space. The playing sounds much more dense, even jazzy, the band diving into the depths of the music - in the first few minutes they flirt with several jam ideas without settling on anything. As they start the verse riff, Garcia changes his mind and they wander off again into a mini-space, the momentum suspended for a little side-trip into the void, where the music floats over a dark sea. (The audience loves this.) Lesh nudges the theme again as the music gets heavier, but Garcia is reluctant, and instead pushes the band into a remarkable, heavy little sheets-of-sound jam - finally singing the verse over 10 minutes into the song!
They're playing roughly, forcefully - the space is menacing, Lesh booming, drums rattling, Garcia doing volume swells and weird glassy chimes, the tension building up. The jam that ensues is more turbulent and raging than usual. Garcia marches out of this with a run of anticipatory notes, which in no time becomes a triumphant, soaring Feelin' Groovy that's like rockets bursting in the air. (It's worth checking out the AUD just to hear the audience shrieks here!) Garcia is so energized at this point he almost bursts into Bertha (!), but they manage to channel their focus into a new melodic jam that sounds like a new song being born. This slowly settles down into a Lesh-grounded pause, out of which Garcia starts the Dark Star theme again as the audience goes crazy. He sits out for a while as the others gently groove on the theme, and comes back for yet another jam, calmer this time, sounding more like a soothing Bird Song... Then the unbelievable happens - Garcia decides to screw the second verse, signals the others to stop, and they BLAST right into Bird Song instead!
As it happens, they're too revved-up for Bird Song to have that enchanting lullaby quality it had in the spring; but Garcia plays a mighty nice solo to end it. (And they still haven't finished the first set of the show!) There were two more Bird Songs this summer, on 8/5 (not on tape) and 8/23 (AUD only); they even rehearsed it with Godchaux, but it wasn't played live again til 7/18/72.
The SBD is on the Summer '71 Road Trips; the AUD is here -
Unfortunately, the Dead didn't play Dark Star in their August '71 shows, though they did some amazing Other Ones. (Ned Lagin apparently joined them again, though unheard, on the two Berkeley Other Ones.) In September they picked up a new piano player who would radically change the nature of their jams. Although, sadly, we don't have a Dark Star in the circulating tapes of Godchaux's rehearsals, they must have worked on it as they started featuring it much more frequently in the next tour. There are as many Dark Stars in Godchaux's first month as there were in the first eight months of '71! It wasn't yet the every-other-night regular it would become in '72, but you can hear the band's excitement with the music on this tour. Just hearing the progression in these first three Dark Stars is quite impressive, as they go from good to great to awesome...
Dark Star starts at a slower tempo now - it sounds somewhat tentative, as if the band is feeling out the new player. Godchaux fills in the spaces between the guitars, but he's not just backing the band by sketching out chords, he's also taking a kind of dual lead with Garcia, following him down odd melodic paths. At the same time, his playing is very percussive - with his choice of acoustic piano rather than organ (the instrument the Dead had always used before), he doesn't go for sustain very much. (This is something the band would get rather tired of, seven years down the road!)
The music is very spacy, kind of ambient without going anywhere. Though subdued, it's interesting to hear everyone follow each other as Godchaux throws out little teases. After a few minutes, Garcia turns up the heat with a little bit of frenzy before they climb into the Dark Star theme. As the others play the theme, Garcia riffs off it for a minute, delaying the verse. Afterwards, there's no real space, they just quietly noodle for a while. There even seems to be a duel - who can play the softest? - as they get quieter and quieter. There's a nice brief bit where Garcia's volume-swelling his notes as the others tinkle like windchimes (!). Finally Garcia starts stringing some rhythmic notes together and starts a cheerful melodic jam - the way they tear into this, it's a clear embryonic ancestor of the 4/8/72 jam, with Godchaux giving more density to the rhythm. This turns into a stomping Feelin' Groovy climax that's just mind-blowing. (It's even more impressive coming after such a long stretch of quiet low-key aimlessness.) This quiets down and gives way to a short passage of atonal discordancy. In a sudden turnaround, out of nowhere Garcia starts Sittin' on Top of the World, and everyone jumps on it right away. (This was the first version since 11/5/70. I suspect they planned it; Lesh hints at it earlier.) Garcia forgets some words, but sounds enthusiastic, and Godchaux adds strong honky-tonk rhythm. Over the last chord, Lesh neatly slips in the Dark Star theme - and without any more jamming, Garcia quickly sings the last verse. As the outro ends, Weir smoothly starts Bobby McGee.
One Compendium reviewer (who was at this show) said, "Their performance was so lethargically abysmal, I thought they might as well just hang it up." (He spoke too soon! Two other Compendium reviewers, though, note this as a blissful, fantastic Star, which goes to show how subjective all this is.) Except for a few minutes in the middle, this is definitely a lazy Star, but it does point at things to come. This was the first time a country song was placed in the middle of Dark Star; and there's also some early similarity to their 1972 style, in the way they pass quickly from quiet meanderings to bursts of melodic intensity. (True, they'd been doing that in 1970 as well, but the melded focus and sudden transitions seem different now.)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-10-21.sbd.cotsman.5071.sbeok.shnf (14:53 + 2:16)
(Now released on Dave's Picks vol. 3.)
1971 was the year where the Dead went wild with the idea of a jam>country song>jam medley. The first Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One of the year was actually the famed 8/6/71 show. The Dead were happy enough with it to try it a couple more times that August (8/15 and 8/23); then it became a constant feature of the fall shows, and we'd see some variations in the Europe '72 tour as well.
There was a precedent in 1970 though, at the spectacular July Fillmore East shows:
7/10/70 Other One>Attics of My Life (!)>Other One
7/12/70 Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One
It's odd that it took them a year to pick up on this idea again! As we saw in the earlier list, Dark Stars were being 'interrupted' by other songs long before the Other One was. But fall '71 was when the Dead started messing with audiences by diving from unhinged Dark Star jams straight into traditional country tunes, and back again.
Just three days later, there's a big improvement. There's more tension in the music; Garcia is playing with more bite. This Dark Star is more of a voyage, constantly going in unexpected directions, never slowing down for long - there's always a feeling that something's around the corner. On my copy, Weir and Godchaux are in the same place in the mix, so it's hard to differentiate them; they blend into one big rhythm machine.
The long intro jam climbs imperceptibly, taking its time, poking around here & there. There's a nice transition to the Dark Star theme as Garcia throws out sparkly lines over the riff. After the verse, once again there's no space, the jam simply continues uninterrupted! It starts out unhurried, then Garcia starts playing fast runs, and the others speed up with him, and soon we get that Cumberland feel. All of a sudden, the band jumps into the Tighten Up rhythm, but it's soon dropped in their fervor as they race ahead. Things get even more exciting when Garcia changes the direction of the jam and the music seems about to explode, Garcia barely able to keep up with himself. Nearing escape velocity, they quickly hit the brakes and swerve into a breezy, calming Feelin' Groovy. It soon ends, and they recharge for some moments, Lesh bubbling away high on the frets while Garcia paves the way to a new jam. The music pours out insatiably, Garcia spilling over with melodies. He repeats a pretty bright riff, and the band rips into another bout of white-hot jamming. Garcia cuts it off with a little flourish, and they suddenly coast down to a half-speed glide to prepare for a beautiful re-entry into the verse. Once again, from the outro Weir quickly segues into Bobby McGee.
This Star is much more consistent than on the 21st - rather than having one big climax, it's steadily inventive all the way through. (Garcia in particular is nonstop tonight.) It's also notable for being the last '71 Star to include both verses. (There would only be a few more in '72.) It was also one of Dick Latvala's favorite Stars.
Having heard this Star so many times, it's hard not to hold it in special reverence. The playing seems especially calm, possessed, focused. From the start, Garcia's lighting a path to infinity with unimprovable playing - for example, check out the repeated notes he hits after first introducing the Dark Star theme, about five minutes in. He takes a long, piercing detour around the riff, then blazes right into into the Star theme again. After the verse, there's still no space; Garcia plays a cyclical pattern (similar to a '68 Cryptical), then he picks up on Lesh's bobbing line, and bang, they're in the middle of a hot jam. But he quickly lets it go, searching for a different approach; the others follow him, trying to establish solid ground. Garcia's very restless in this performance - he keeps shifting around, gets a handle on one line and then reaches for something else, dropping jams before they can build - so this Star doesn't have the driving forward momentum that 10/24 had. The other guys seem to be just keeping up!
Finally Garcia starts the Tighten Up riff, the first full-fledged Tighten Up in Dark Star for a year. Once the others have picked it up, he solos over the chords. In the middle it pauses, then resumes; at the climax Garcia holds onto one repeated note for several bars, then soars into a higher pitch. As the jam winds down, he changes styles, playing a sputnik-type pattern that slows to a smooth stop. It's the perfect opening for the second verse, and they hint at the Dark Star theme, but Garcia's not yet ready. He's still switching tones, nudging the others; the music gets wiry, with a more frantic edge, and they take it into a little discordant-flamenco bit (a distant ancestor of the Tiger jam). They're building up to something, tensely sustaining their notes. Godchaux brings in a stabilizing chord, and the band coalesces around it, all their overtones blending into one giant drone. Garcia holds feedback over the piano notes as Weir and Kreutzmann start Sugar Magnolia beneath the din - and a moment later, they're all in the new song. It's one of the most amazing segues they ever pulled off. (In the Europe '72 tour they'd try the Dark Star>Sugar Magnolia segue frequently - 4/14 is another striking example like this one, with Weir boldly cutting to Sugar Mag while Garcia's off deep in space.)
(Note that Godchaux is very quiet in the mix; so he sounds like more of a background player in this performance, though he does get louder as it goes along. The Compendium reviewer, by the way, called this Star flat and lifeless! "Too careful and pensive, void of any feeling," he says...)
Later on, the last St Stephen for many years is rather stiff, but Garcia pulls off some very unique soloing. He's not through for the night, either; Not Fade Away was going through a tremendous revival this fall, and his solos in this Not Fade Away will - as they say - steal your face right off your head....
Released on Dick's Picks 2. (23:14)
Although this show is famous, the Dark Star is not one of its highlights. This Star is more condensed and fragmentary than the last two - their technique of flitting from one little jam to the next doesn't pan out so well this time around, as it seems they're not all sharing the mood. (Godchaux is a bit low in the mix here too, reduced to an echoey presence in the back.)
It starts well to audience screams - Garcia sustains a nice feedback note at the start. The intro jam is gentle, introspective, Garcia playing gracefully. Lesh is feeling rowdy tonight, playing quirky solo lines off on his own, and ignores Garcia when he tries introducing the Dark Star theme. Garcia returns to it; they digress into a little jam, and then come back a third time. The verse drops right into spacy string-scrapings, which doesn't last long as Garcia quickly abandons that idea and heads for a jam. This comes together, Garcia playing a pretty lead; but a unified jam doesn't cohere for long, as Lesh seems to want to travel his own path. After a bit of melodic noodling, finally Garcia starts playing the Other One riff - the others agree to this, and they stop for the drum solo.
By contrast, the Other One is tight and coherent. They drift into a quick spiralling space after the verse, and Weir throws in a Me & My Uncle - then the Other One resumes again in a mellow fashion as if nothing had happened. After some nice spacy jamming, they return to the verse, and come to a stop. Lesh explains: "We probably wouldn't have stopped there but we got a broken string." (The Not Fade Away to end the set isn't too shabby, either - Garcia revisits the same zone as on 10/31.)
Dark Star returns to the first set tonight for the last time - this version is exceptional, the closest yet to their '72 style. It's taken at a faster pace, and the intro jam is very wide-ranging. Garcia is on, his guitar lines like streaks of silver - the music ebbs and flows easily, carrying the audience down a soft transitive river. The jamming soon loses any reference to the song and becomes pure instrumental bliss, the band merging into one being - it's almost a surprise when Garcia returns to the Dark Star theme. The verse out of the way, the band plunges right into space with a boom - Lesh rattles the walls with feedback as the others enter a frantic bluegrassy jam. Weir tries to start El Paso at that tempo, but the others drown him out in a clash of wills, and the jam flows on. Garcia plays some beautiful lines to a drone string; then he & Lesh get into a brief demented duet. Weir starts El Paso again, resolved to have his way - this time Lesh joins him, and Garcia comically scratches his way into country-pickin' mode.
El Paso is a hot, dreamy version, carrying the intensity of the Dark Star jam. They come to a stop at the end, then Garcia starts a new exploration, noodling off into the unknown. Weir and Godchaux join him for a spacy interlude. (This is very much like a Europe '72 space, not really Dark Star-related but its own entity.) It soon heats up - the music percolates and things start to get hairy. Lesh goes ape in a mini-meltdown - Garcia trills his way out of this into a dark zone where the bass booms scarily over frantic guitar warbles (much like Tigers to come). But Garcia abruptly changes the scene, and slams into some hard r&b chord chops over Godchaux's piano riffing. Weir and Lesh take it up, and Garcia plays a fiery Lovelight-type solo. Eventually they calm down, and bring the jam to a trilled finish; then seem to be looking around for a transition. Garcia hints at Dark Star, but after a pause he jumps right into a surprise Casey Jones instead, the second verse of Dark Star once again forgotten.
We get another unexpected jam in the second set, in Not Fade Away - once Weir hits the China Cat jam, NFA is left behind in an uncontrollable wave of pure jamming, and it's a shock when Garcia comes back to earth & signals Goin' Down the Road.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-11-15.sbd.set2.jupille.7735.shnf (12:49 + 7:45)
(Now released on Road Trips vol. 3 no. 2.)
This is a strong, unique Dark Star which doesn't have any verses! Whenever you think one's coming, they head for a country song instead. It's also very spacy - the Dead continue in the same vein as 11/15, of pure jamming without structure. Here the music is a lot like it would be in '72, flowing unconsciously into realms of extended moodiness. The FM broadcast has a very rich sound - like a matrix, it includes audience mikes, though they're turned down during the songs.
The crowd is delighted to hear Dark Star. It starts out relaxed and confident - there's a very jazzy feel in this one, enhanced since the piano and drums are mixed louder than in other versions. Lesh is in a melodic mood, Kreutzmann drumming circles around everyone, and the music drips like butter, never staying still for long... The band gets so involved in the jamming they don't even bother with a verse. They build up to a mini-Feelin' Groovy jam, then slide helplessly into a wild little meltdown. Out of that, it seems like they're heading into a melodic jam, but it suddenly turns into a blazing Me & My Uncle, an incredible segue.
The last chord of Uncle returns instantly to the Dark Star jam, the tempo guided by Kreutzmann. But immediately, before you know it, they're back in a reflective quiet zone. The music floats weightlessly, notes lingering in space - Garcia plays pretty, melancholy lines, culminating in violin-like volume swells, as Lesh presses in threateningly. They all enter an intense space, high-pitched notes echoing off each other and the drums kicking in. Godchaux pushes upfront with mad clusters of notes while Garcia becomes more frenetic (in another proto-Tiger). Garcia scrubs the way into another drawn-out meltdown of scrapes, rattles, hums & drum-blows. They emerge into another ominous space, Lesh droning while Garcia trills. The music teeters on the edge until they reach a crescendo of primordial noise. Godchaux insistently repeats a little riff over and over, until the others form a new jam around him - but it quickly dissolves and returns to the void. They hover in stillness, dominated by bass and drums. Finally, Lesh starts the Dark Star theme, but Garcia's found a chiming trance-riff and ignores it. They head for another jam, but Weir seems to be having trouble, as his amp is just making strange buzzing noises. Disregarding him, they go into the Dark Star theme anyway, sounding a bit hyper and speedy. When Weir returns, it seems like they're ready at last to start the verse - but Garcia doesn't feel like it and instead nags the others with the Sittin' on Top of the World intro until they catch on, then they dive into that song - an awkward segue, though the crowd appreciates it!
(It's not the best Sittin' either, as Garcia sounds unready for it and it takes a while to build up steam. They hadn't played it since 10/21, though it became a little more common for a few months after this.)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-12-05.fm.matera.100316.sbeok.flac16 (8:01 + 12:16)
Dark Star starts the second set tonight - this one's more conventional, but just as inspired. It starts out smiling, with a long ten-minute intro jam that streams along intuitively. It's amazing how closely they follow each other - they pounce on the slightest hint and change directions in an instant, weaving like a school of fish. The band often drops out to let Garcia take the lead; there's one quiet section where he leads, that builds astonishingly to a loud, intense climax - this gradually unwinds in a rushing cascade that sounds like it's heading for an Other One. About nine minutes in, it's like the heavens suddenly burst open as a frantic jam pours out - then Garcia drops the energy in an instant and switches to the Dark Star theme.
There's a very nice, quiet space after the verse (you can hear the crowd digging it). To a backdrop of Weir and Godchaux's tinklings, Garcia rides some volume swells, then trembles his strings with a slide. Their notes are swallowed up by darkness, as the space fills with silence. In the stillness, Garcia starts noodling and gets into a little quasi-sputnik, but in the meantime Weir, Kreutzmann, and Lesh are piecing together bit by bit an odd, unique lounge-style instrumental (sounding more like something from '73). Once the band has eased into this, they play it at length, til it slowly dissolves and transforms into a more spirited, driving jam. Garcia brings this to a finish with some high notes and quickly hops right into a honky-tonk Deal - which is unremarkable.
The set is notable for ending with a rare late-'71 Lovelight in which Pigpen is back on form, including a blues jam in the middle and ending with a wild raveup.
After our little tour of '71, it might also be worth taking a look at the first Dark Star of 1972. Turns out, this Academy of Music Star is not much like the half-hour monsters that would soon follow in Europe. It most closely resembles the 10/21/71 Star, in being mainly aimless until redeeming itself in a climactic jam. By now Garcia has developed the Tiger jam - he'd been doing some meltdowns in his January '72 shows with Wales, and this Star has a distinct resemblance to some of those crazed jams. (Sonically, Garcia's tone sounds thinner here than in '71. He and Lesh are way up in the mix here though, so this Star is mainly their show - it doesn't sound like Weir is doing much.)
The intro jam is much shorter than in late '71, less than five minutes. It stays close to the Dark Star theme - Garcia tries out a quiet sputnik variation, then awkwardly launches into the Dark Star riff. He has a hard time adjusting the tempo and strays off-time, so they keep coming back to the riff. After the verse, they settle down into space and drift quietly, Garcia and Godchaux tinkling high notes. Garcia starts a lightly wah'd trickle, while Lesh putters around off on his own, testing out the speakers. Garcia digs into an aggressive repeating riff, and the others join in for a little jam which immediately dies down. Here the mayhem starts as Garcia starts spiralling around, Lesh spurts out atonal bass grunts, and Kreutzmann kicks into action. Lesh, determined to go farther out than Garcia, turns up the volume and disgorges random, bizarre chunks of ground-up bass innards. (Or as the Compendium puts it: "Bonk, bonk, BONK!") The band descends into a meltdown while Lesh revs like a motorcycle - Garcia launches a short Tiger, and discordancy rules the stage. Lesh rams in loud chords as if trying to drown out everyone, but the others have calmed down and a more normal mood is returning. (This was much hairier than the Tiger they did in the 3/21 Other One!)
Around the 15-minute mark, a more structured jam finally starts - out of this, Lesh starts a 'happy' chord run. Garcia picks it up right away and soars spontaneously into a waterfall of melody. The band catches fire, and out of nowhere this tremendous jam turns into Feelin' Groovy. After a few minutes Garcia gracefully winds it down - but then unexpectedly bursts back into a Sugar Magnolia-type variation. For a few moments any direction is possible as the music opens up (Weir even hints at China Cat) - but Garcia drops back into the Dark Star riff instead of going further. We get the second verse, which would be a rarity in '72, then they totally screw up the outro. Kreutzmann sounds like he wants to start the Not Fade Away drumbeat, but the others just stop.
(There's a possible early version of that ending jam: it's a short, laid-back 40-second jam in the tuning break after Sugar Magnolia, in this show:
https://archive.org/details/gd1971-12-02.142970.set2.sbd.eaton.miller.clugston.flac1648 (track 3)
Just when the jam starts to take off, they stop it dead for tuning, of course. But it's possible to hear a similarity...)
That last Dark Star makes me wonder how much they'd practiced it over the winter months - while a song like Playing in the Band had grown by leaps & bounds from its '71 counterpart (probably due to rehearsals for Weir's Ace album), the Dark Star is uncoordinated and hasn't progressed much since '71.
They didn't do any more Stars in the Academy of Music run - however, they did do three Other Ones. (Unfortunately, the one from the 26th still doesn't circulate, being locked in the Vault, but it's an enticing-looking Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One>Wharf Rat that hopefully will see daylight soon.)
These shows, in hindsight, were something of a test run for the Europe tour [they were meant to help finance the trip], and we can hear the band growing in confidence even in the shows we have. Check out the astonishing jump from the relatively restrained 3/21 Other One to the spectacular blowout on 3/28! (Which is then put in the shade by the next one on 4/7.)
Our next Dark Star, from the damp shores of England, takes the music to a new level. One reason the Dark Stars of 1971 are often ignored is because of what would happen in Europe. Not only are the Stars performed much more often, at twice the length of most '71 Stars, they're touched by the fires of inspiration and filled with the songs of the spheres. But that's a story for another day....
"If it were possible for us to be able to survive playing music that was as potentially free and open as Dark Star, it's likely that we would do that... We're trying to guide ourselves into a place where we can become more music, where we can play more music and have it get to higher places and express finer and subtler things."