June 1, 2011

Dark Star 12/6/73 (Guest Post)

Here is a piece on the 12/6/73 Dark Star, by Nick.
Enjoy –

Bob: We’re fortunate tonight to have with us tonight a recruiting station for the Venusian Red Cross. It’s the gentleman over here with the big red blinking eye. If you’d just like to wander on over there and sign up…

Phil: The who?

Bob: The Venusian Red Cross.

Phil: The Venusian Red Cross... Is that what that means. (12/6/73)


I wrote this initially in response to several postings on a particular GD forum where the consensus among many seemed to be that the 12/6/73 Dark Star was over-long, sleepy, and self-indulgent. That particular Dark Star was (and still is) one of my favorites, so -- fully aware of the irony of composing a mega-review of an over-long sleepy self-indulgent jam -- I crafted this defense:

To start, context is important when talking about this Dark Star. It isn't 11/11/73, and I don't really agree with the deadlists comment that the two are "fraternal twins," which would naturally lead the uninitiated to listen to it in a certain way. Instead, let's first locate where 12/6 stands. The final tour of the year found the boys back on the east coast sans Donna (much to the delight of many folks here). 11/30 is the stuff of legends, and rightfully so, and it's a beautiful display of the late 73 dreamy melodic style of improv: "sleepy" if you're looking for something akin to 71-72 at its rockin'est best, but I say adjust your levels. 2001 isn't exactly the zippiest film ever made, but then again, exploring the outer reaches may not be the time to put the pedal to the metal -- it's all kind of relative in outer space, isn't it? Fall 73 wasn't about burning off both your ears.

Something happened in Boston on 12/2, though. My theory is that a certain recruiter from the Venusian Red Cross landed at that mysterious 11/28/73 Garcia/Hart/Ned(?) show at the Palace of Fine Arts, made some connections, got some phone numbers, rocketed back to the mothership to pick up his toothbrush, and picked up the Dead tour a few shows later. Upon his return, he caused a major disruption to the psychoelectromagnetic forcefield being emitted around the proto-Wall of Sound (somewhat similar to Phil’s discovery of the movie camera's feedback potential in the Winterland movie). You doubt this? The famous 12/2 Playin delves deep as all Playins of this vintage did, then delves deeper and deeper and deeper still. This wasn't unheard of, of course: Phil did some major dismantling of his bass and our synapses in the mightily wicked 10/25 Dark Star and certainly on other occasions as well, but on 12/2 they are nearing the source of a deep space vein that ran with them for the better part of the week. It's there again in the next show's Eyes>space (12/4), albeit in less extreme form, and later reappears in the 12/8 Other One, where it's already starting to mellow significantly. I need to listen more closely to 12/10 and 12/12, which I've never given much attention, but these shows don't seem to have jams of similar scope or intensity. The last two shows of the year, however, manage to recapture some of that energy, with a great apocalyptic space in the 12/18 Dark Star and one final laser beam blast of prime deep space mindscrambling in the wonderful meltdown that follows the Other One on 12/19.

So: the 12/6 Dark Star.

note: I wrote this using shnid=4452, though it's now been officially released on a Road Trips bonus disc. The first version of this I got on cd about 10 years ago had the Dark Star cut into 3 tracks, which I actually kind of liked: the tuning, the "prelude", and the Dark Star itself. All subsequent transfers leave it as just one 43 1/2 minute slab of music, which works just as well, of course.

http://www.archive.org/details/gd1973-12-06.sbd.miller.105560.flac16 (an upgrade, but the timings are different)

Our trip starts with Jerry noodling and Phil and Bob tuning up. Jerry's clearly in Dark Star mode from the word go, waiting for the rest of the band to get it together. At around 1:12, Keith stops helping Phil tune and starts drifting towards Jerry's zone… It's important to note that from this point on, Keith is as active a participant in this music as Jerry or Phil is. In fact, I can't think of another stretch of improv as long as this where Keith is so involved and playing his ass off -- there are plenty of wonderful moments in 71-73 where Keith steps up and counters any notions we have of him as the sleepy pianist, but here he does so for the most sustained amount of time. And the fact that he does so almost completely on his Rhodes is heaven for me -- I love love love the sound of this keyboard, and whenever I'm out digging in record store basements for old jazz lp's (another pasttime of mine), I'll usually grab anything from 1970-1976 if I see a Rhodes listed on the back cover. Digression. Back to the business at hand. The boys are getting ready to go.

At 1:45 there's a second's pause and something in the air changes. Listen, you can feel it. Keith continues, but it's clear now that they're done tuning up. Our VRC recruiter peeks his head over the stacks and gives them the thumbs up. Billy falls in with some cymbal splashes. Jerry's ready to go. At 2:10 Keith moves from his Steinway to his Rhodes, where he stays for the remainder of this Dark Star. Just then, Phil lets off some thunder to announce that he's ready to go -- they're revving up. Or maybe it's more like monks scuttling back and forth preparing for a ceremony.

Finally, at 3:22 Billy tosses out a nice, flowing beat and Keith and Jerry dive in. It's Dark Star, but there are none of the obvious signposts announcing that. Every Dark Star begins with some announcement, some statement of purpose ("free turf!" as Jerry calls before launching the one on 3/2/69). Not here. It's amazing to me that they performed this way in front of a large crowd (more on the crowd later). No one thing says "Dark Star!" but no one would mistake it for anything else -- loose, fluid, gentle, Billy dancing away back there, while the four guys upfront talk, nudge, and whisper to each other. I suppose one drawback to this one is that Bob takes his place in the backseat and doesn't say much, and this doesn't change much for the next 40 minutes. Equipment issues? A Bobby-unfriendly mix? Maybe taking a break to man the Venusian Red Cross table while our friendly recruiter climbs up into the PA to work a little magic?

Anyway, as I believe Tom Constanten once said, "Dark Star is going on all the time. It's going on right now. You don't begin it so much as enter it. You don’t end it so much as leave it."

So here we go. They groove and float for a few minutes, like five skaters doing slow loops on a pond. By about 6 min in, Phil's starting to get a little more punchy, and the jam begins to focus itself into more of a direction, thickening up, pushing into a sliiiightly more aggressive and "purposeful" Dark Star theme jam. At 10 min or so, this particular approach seems to climax: Jerry moves forward, but the boys pull up short and drop the bottom out from under him for a second, and they turn towards a new direction. I love listening to these momenets when they reach the conclusion of a particular jam, regroup and and decide where to go next, and no one's in any hurry to figure it out. At 11 min, Jerry's got the wah turned on, but it seems like Billy wants to keep it grounded for now; Keith suggests the Dark Star "verse" theme at 11:40? Not yet, pal. Phil's having none of it, and seconds later he starts unleashing some huge feedback waves. Wooosh! He's not fully taking it there yet, but it sounds like he's letting everyone know: no usual Dark Star tonight; tonight we push for the outer regions.

The rest of the boys seem happy to oblige. Or powerless to resist.

And they're off! Or are they? At 13 min, they set off but then fall back into the regular Dark Star terrain and hesitate. Is this where we want to be? Should we go someplace else? Enough indecision: at 15 min, Billy whips up a whirlwind and Jerry and Keith take off, both really pushing and playing hard. They build to another little climax, sparring playfully and getting kinda pissy with each other. At around 16:35 Jerry eases back and plays one of his standard "regrouping" licks, the same repeated arpeggio picked slowly while he finesses his wah pedal. NOW the Dark Star theme? Phil's having none of it. The beast is crawling out of its cage now. Enough playtime.

Phil proceeds to usher in one of my very favorite deep space Dead jams. This is my "primal Dead" -- for some it's 68, for other it's 77, but for me this kind of stuff is the pot which holds the bubbling primal ooze. The mothership has landed, all pretense or facades of human bullshit have been melted away, and the third eye begins to crack itself open. Phil gets prehistoric -- he starts revving up wave after wave of feedback drone, not decimating everything in sight (unlike, say, 10/25/73, where Phil's evil wizard twin appears to pulverize our synapses), but pulsing and writhing like a living thing, like a giant whale rolling in the surf; Jer and Bob keep some semblance of sanity by clinging to those slow, arpeggiated figures they keep playing, while Keith goes for broke and rides the wave that Phil is churning up.

After a few minutes of this sheer perfection, Jerry eventually pokes his head above water and starts working purposefully towards the Dark Star verse theme. Phil subsides gently, and at 21:07 it all comes together and Jerry finally plays the Dark Star theme, much to the crowd's appreciation. Elated, they groove on this for a bit; vocals at 25:10.

It's worth noting two things at this point:

1. The only Dark Stars I can think of that come close to the amount of pre-verse music that this one has are 9/27/72 and 9/10/74, but I think this one edges both of them out. For comparison's sake, 12/6/73 has almost 10 minutes more than 11/11/73.

2. At no point in any of this is Keith MIA in any way -- no vanishing for equipment problems, sneaking a cigarette, catching a nap, having a sandwich, whatever. He's plugged in and up front the entire time.


After the verse, the bottom drops out as usual. Bob strums away quietly, Keith continues to play on, then Phil steps upfront as is his usual practice around about this time. At about 28:30ish he lets off a big feedback chord, which fades away to just Jerry alone scraping a single string. Again, note the crowd response to this. They're feeling it.

Now the real bullfight begins. Phil lets off some squeals, the crowd hollers a few words of encouragement, Billy makes himself known with some little percussion taps as Phil starts to disembowel his bass. The heavy shit starts now. Words won't do this any justice. Everyone (even Keith) sit this one out as Jerry and Phil get all King Kong vs. Godzilla and do some damage. Phil lays down some monster chords while Jerry swoops above like some kind of howling bird of prey, then Phil falls back to let Jerry come from and center to lay some waste, all the while laying down a droning bed of buzzing feedback. You like this stuff or you grit your teeth and wait it out, but music like this forces you to confront it and reckon with it. At this point, I literally cannot hit the skip button -- I'm in too deep to bail out now.

That little VRC recruiter is either rolling on the floor with glee or wondering just what the hell kind of jungle cat he let out of the bag.

Finally, at around 35 min, on the back of final huge Phil feedback bomb, Keith comes creeping back, followed quickly by Bob and Billy. Phil is still in convulsions, but Jerry picks up on the new company and pushes off in a jazzier direction with Keith, the two of them reeling off these fast runs that mirror-image each other. Billy kicks in a propulsive beat and Jer and Keith race off, neck and neck with each other, tilting unsteadily back towards atonality one second, then back in the direction of jazzy melody the next. A nice run back towards the Dark Star verse theme? Hard to say where they're going, but by 40 min, Jer eases off and lets Keith run with it. The energy subsides, but Keith keeps it going, and around 41:30 he plays a little 2 chord vamp that Jerry picks up on and plays with for a second. Though the air is starting to leave the balloon, their playing is still remarkably sharp and focused -- prime 73 Dead jazz jamming, ala many other great ones from the year (3/24, 7/27, 10/29, etc). In the waning moments, it really sounds like they're considering a return to the Dark Star theme -- Keith and Phil practically cue it right up (!), but Jerry's on his own path and turns straight into Eyes of the World. Never a bad call, but jeez, how perfect would it have been if Jerry eased back and let them put the cherry on top of this Dark Star? Ah well. "You don’t end it so much as leave it."

Eyes of the World. I could say more, but I've said way more than enough as it is.

The rest of this show is quite lovely as well. I hear the HCSunshine is a good one.

Thanks for sticking with me.


This Dark Star has sparked a variety of opinions, so here is a collage of other reviews:

“A long spacey Dark Star that seems to drift in from somewhere beyond the reach of the Hubble telescope is a highlight, pulsing and beaming like stars being born in an intergalactic dustcloud…. Not much in the way of fireworks, more drifting and dreaming really and sometimes hard to bring into focus, but a bewilderingly lovely thing all the same.”

“It is extremely abstract and ethereal. It starts off in space and returns there twice in the twenty-five minutes of down- to mid-tempo open jamming before the first verse. Starting around 11' Phil starts dialing in some serious Seastones UFO tones and takes the second half of the pre-verse jam quite deep in a cubist/impressionist style. Then after the verse is several more minutes of deep Seastones abstraction (no Tiger jam this night) before rolling into a nice little melodic improvisational outro section. This kind of thing isn't for everyone, but I love it.”

“This Dark Star has instantly become one of my favorites! I've listened to it before but was never really struck with by its magic. The beginning jam is one of the best examples that I have heard that showcase just how much creativity Keith brought to the band. Around 18 minutes, Phil initiates ignition of the engines and we are pulsated to another dimension. Phil's solo at the 28 minute mark is STUNNING! We dissolve into the ethers and then Jerry takes us home. Wow.”

“I think it’s fantastic and mellow and spacey for about half the length of its 45 minute running time before it devolves into the usual '73 nonsensical meandering noise.”

“This is one of the worst "Dark Stars" I have personally ever heard, and I have heard more than a few. The first 20 minutes are not really the song at all but just some space noodling. Mercifully Jer drops in the first verse without much fanfare, and then it continues to go nowhere for another 20 some minutes w/ Phil intermittently assaulting our ears (and my woofers) w/ bass sustain and feedback. This is generally what musicians do when nothing else is really happening musically.”

“This is one of my favorite versions of Dark Star. Although it doesn't start with the signature beginning riffs, it is a great jam with a lot of fine work on the electric piano by Keith. I'm not sure they didn't just start up a jam in "A" that just eventually became Dark Star (same key of A) half way through it. Either way it is a great and unique jam… I can see why some people don't like this Dark Star…but I like it because it is very different. Yes they are just noodling in "A" for most of it but I really like the electric piano and the laid back, sleepy energy.”

“Sorry to say the whole thing is over blown hype. This is not even close to Phil at his best. If you like dull sleepy spacy Dark Stars with some cool feedback and a little jamming about 35 minutes into it then it's for you. This thing really never gets off the ground, dull boring attempt. Very slow and sleepy. I like laid back jamming from 73 but this is like falling asleep.”

“Rarely do you hear a Dark Star so out-there it sounds like the Dead are trying to split the universe in half. This is not overrated!”

“This Dark Star opens the doors to dimensions that are folded into the three dimensions we know of, whole universes compacted into a space a billion times smaller than a proton. There are jazzy segments, there's deep space, there's Phil assaulting the audience with one barrage after another (post-verse), there's a segment where they seem to be moving towards The Other One, and there are segments of heartrending beauty... [I used to think] this Dark Star meandered for a long time before the verse and then dissolved into a mess during which they were barely playing for minutes at a time. That couldn't be further from the truth. They keep up the intensity for the full 43 min, and in fact they could have gone longer. The one thing I did notice is that Weir either is missing entirely from Dark Star or is mixed so low as to be inaudible. His guitar reappears at the beginning of Eyes, but disappears again.”

(From the Taping Compendium.)
“This version is one of those rare Dark Stars from which both Phil and Keith launch the brightest volleys. Put headphones on and listen carefully as Phil alternates between plucking subtle, high percussive notes as a deliberate counterbeat to Phil’s drumming, and laying down deeply entrancing harmonic drones that seem to go on and on forever. This is Phil at his very, very best. Keith, for a change, is very loud in the mix. This allows the listener to clearly hear him inventing weblike melodic patterns against which Jerry’s picking stands out strongly. At several points Keith is leading the band, something you just don’t hear that often. This incredibly well-developed jam goes on for quite some time before Garcia steps forward with strong vocals. Back into space they fly. This evolves into one of the most beautiful explorations of feedback I’ve ever heard this band play. Neither minimalist like the Dark Star feedbacks of 1970, nor scary like many versions found in 1972, nor electronic-sounding like many played in 1974, this feedback sounds like something you’d expect as background music in a Stanley Kubrick film. After several delicious minutes of group feedback, Keith lays down a more structured riff and boom, the whole band rises up into structured melodic harmony again. Both Phil and Keith eventually find their way into Wharf Rat, but Jerry wants no part of it – he cuts them off, launching into a long, spacey Eyes.”

(From reviewer “snow&rain”.)
“This one is pretty fantastic. It makes a lot of top fives for its “contemplative” jamming and bizarre structure. It may not be the best Dark Star of the era, but it is certainly must-hear material, as there really isn't anything else like it.
The beginning of the song is never announced. It creeps up behind you, because it really starts from a Keith jam that emerges out of tuning. Usually I’m just typing away, or watering the plants or whatever, not a care in the world, when I realize that I’ve been listening to Dark Star for the last 10 minutes – and enjoying it! It’s the creeper Dark Star.
The band rides this jazzy little groove for over 40 minutes. Keith is a huge factor early, running up and down the scales with virtuoso-like quickness. Keith is clearly influenced by the great jazz pianists of the era, including Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, especially. Then Phil takes over, setting the real theme of this Dark Star – which I find in his deep, booming, feedbacky tones. It’s certainly one of the most free-form Dark Stars out there. First verse doesn’t come until the 24th minute. After the verse we get more electric space from Phil. Can’t help but think of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman’s influence on the band at this point. The band goes almost totally silent, before opening up a spacey jam in the truest sense of the word – echoes of feedback, big booming bass chords…scary stuff. I personally LOVE the scary Dead, so I’m into it, but this part won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Space gives way to a more “call of the whales” segment – similar, but less frightening, before it settles back down into a nice Jazz Star kind of groove again. Jerry picks up the pace a bit for the final movement. The drums are back in place, and we’re back into a normal song structure again, with Keith again leading the way with his rhythmic, angular chords.
With a proper grip on reality reestablished, the darkness give way to a nice version of Eyes (there’s another patch during the first verse, but no biggie). Jerry is as on here as he is the rest of the night, effortlessly slicing and dicing his way through the song’s various jam cycles and into truly spacey territory, complete with Slipknot! jams and all those funky little G#min jams you could ask for (is there a name for that?). Jerry absolutely smokes his way through the last 8 minutes of this song. Another major highlight from this amazing show.”


  1. Great post but I most point out that we prefer the spelling "Venusian". At least you (and the band in 1973) didn't use the racist "second planet citizens" (my antennae shiver just from typing it).

  2. Right you are. It's been corrected!

  3. this 'dark star' has the most un-'dark star' beginning of any 'dark star' ever. considering that they just played 'big river' before this, launching into 'dark star' is all the more impressive. and i like how garcia leads the band away from 'wharf rat' at the end - he just jumps in to 'eyes of the world'. i had to listen to that transition a few times to be sure of what i was hearing.

    I-) ihor

  4. I LOVE this Dark Star! While I can't pick an absolute favorite, this is certainly as good as they get!

  5. I had an exchange with Nick on the Transitive Axis forum about the 12/8/73 Other One, played two days after this.
    Due to its similarity, I thought I'd copy that exchange in the comments here. (Have to split between several comments due to the length...)


    When Nobody's Fault is clearly over, Phil starts this dramatic ascending build-up that seems to cue Jerry to turn on the faucet of Other One notes. Rather than build up, though, the atmosphere thins out immediately. It sounds like Phil is pondering his jazz theme (that nameless 73 jam with that distinctive bassline he plays) for a second, but after a few seconds everyone drops out and Jerry is left all on his own out in space, noodling away. Okaaaay… so it's gonna be one of those nights, eh? When they all rejoin him, it's not with the expected explosion, but with a slow measured return; Keith gets on the Rhodes, which makes me happy. The five cords braid themselves together and head off. Incredible how tight and how fast that just happened. They twist their way towards the O1, in and out of focus again. Just as they're getting somewhere, at 2:42 Jerry seems to just drop out. This, now, is a spare little jazzy jam, with Bob and Keith in the lead. Very low key, yet this is really exciting for me. Around 4 min it's just Bob and Bill, and this now is starting to feels a little excessive. But Weir gets to showboat for a bit, only to have Jerry come creeping back in 30 seconds later. They skitter back towards the O1, but keep playing cat & mouse with each other, darting this way and that way so playfully.

    This may drive you crazy or seem directionless, but to me this is magical stuff -- pardon the cliche, but it really does seems like a conversation between buddies, like they're just shooting the shit and tossing the ball around. It all seems to cohere by 7 min into a single direction, Phil thumping along in some jazzy way. Check out Jerry @7:50! This is starting to get really good. @9 min Jerry decides to pull back towards the Other One, and pull back they all do … but then it all drifts away again, and by 11 min Jerry is drifting out in the open yet again, this time with Bob at his side playing this crazy little Other One variation riff. Billy sneaks back in with some slick jazzcat rimshots and hi-hat -- hey, this is cool! Phil can't keep out of this, and Keith's back in right after. They're sizzling -- only Phil seems oddly ponderous and quiet, while Jerry is gliding about far above. Weird vibe, but very cool. Once again, Jerry veers back to the O1. Everyone's with him -- is it for real this time? No! Another jazzy left turn at 14:50 into a groovy little shuffle, led by Jerry plinking out a funny chord pattern, then dancing his way across it. Where the hell is he coming up with this stuff? Cut/crossfade at 15:53, though it sounds like next-to-nothing is missing, (though it does sound like a source or slight mix change?).


  6. Yet again, Jerry leads the charge back to O1 at 17:50. Just when I think that they're coming up on another weird corner, everyone gets all lowdown sounding and Bobby actually gets to sing the verse at 18:36! They groove it down low, but Jerry's already put on the space helmet and there ain't nothing stopping him; by 12:10 he's back out in solo space for the third time this jam! He's playing quiet but getting scratchier; Weir's still fiddling away off to the side there. Just when I was thinking "ok, seriously, what the fuck is going on?", @21:59 these electronic sound just rippled across the front of my brainpan. Phil is somehow transmitting himself directly into my head it seems. Jeez. 22:38 Bob turns on this creepy reverb/echo effect and he and Jerry, who is also now wah'ed, are now off for something with a purpose, however sinister it is becoming. Fuuuck -- this is getting way out there. Trippy. Some gentle feedback from Phil? At 23:50 some dude in the audience right up close to the stage actually has the balls to holler "Hey Bobby, Looks Like Rain!" This is so fucking weird. Just before 25 min, Bob sends off some echoed feedback, and he and Phil start really revving up. Jerry seems mostly MIA, oddly enough. Some very Seastonesish sounds from Phil. Oh shit… giant insects are starting to crawl slowly up and down skyscrapers here. This is some 36th chamber stuff here… some of the most out stuff they did that year? Craziness. Don't panic, though, cuz it's not at all out of control or anything really violent -- not a chainsaw massacre like 12/2 or 10/25, but nevertheless really heavy, deep, and really weird. It sounds kind of heroic, actually, in the last minute, thanks to this funny progression Bob starts playing under all the feedback. This is so goddamn cool. It doesn't boil over or all catch fire, just kind of changes direction smoothly, eases down, and Jerry starts Wharf Rat -- almost abruptly, given how out there there had just been. Still, it's a relatively smooth reentry. Fucking yowza, though.

    As rambling and, okay, probably overindulgent as this is, there are some real moments of primo 73 greatness in here. The last five minutes are definitely a major league deep space transmission from the motherbrain that is going into the Dec 73 space megamix that I am putting together in my own private mind garden. All fellow deep space travelers deserve to take the ride here.


  7. My reply:

    It's notable how much in the lead Jerry is throughout this jam. He's the one who decides where to go and when to go there, and the others mainly just follow. Notice that when he abruptly drops out at the start, the others don't go much of anywhere, but seem to mark time til he returns & sets the pace again. After the verse, again the band drops out waiting for Garcia to take the lead. They seem reluctant to contribute new directions somehow...

    It's mostly a very quiet, mellow jam for the Dead, even for '73 - Garcia gets up some wild pickin' near the beginning (after his dropout), but thereafter they stay pretty subdued, especially for an Other One. You've noticed the quiet, muted lead-in to the verse, which is unusual. Even the feedback episode at the end seems very deliberate & restrained...

    It's also interesting how intermittent some of the players are. Lesh in particular is not very dominant tonight, kind of fluttering around the jam putting in odd notes, but not really pushing anything until the feedback when he can let loose. (No big bass solo tonight like on 12/19.) Garcia has that one long dropout near the start (broken string, I guess) - there are spots where the others just let him noodle on by himself for a while - after the verse, Keith also seems to sit out for a very long time until it's time to bring out the drone. Weir is the most game about staying in there & keeping things going, especially during Garcia's absence - there's one beautiful spot, a while before the actual verse, where he & Garcia are dueting around the Other One riff by themselves like an '83 Space.

    Most of the first half of this is, indeed, more like an extended Other One tease as they just refuse to commit - instead they skitter around it in jazzy fashion, taking the Other One riff for a long waltz, feinting and then pulling away again. Garcia & Lesh are not in attack mode at all, preferring to putter around - neither are there really melodic or memorable jam sections. So this has never been one of my favorite versions...the band's either a bit too mellow or too laid-back on this evening for my taste.

    They do bring out the brain-fry at the end, which is kind of a mini-version of the 12/6 Deep Space - things turn threatening, Lesh makes bizarre industrial noises, Weir and Keith drone away madly, Garcia offers up half-snatches of melody, while a dark gloom descends on the stage. Much appreciated, til it gives way to a rather tired Wharf Rat. I remember the 12/19 version being much hairier & more intense....

    I may sound a little negative about this Other One, but I think there's a reason why, despite their similarities, the 12/6 Star is legendary while this 12/8 Other One is rarely ever mentioned or reviewed!

    By the way - while hunting up a copy I chanced upon the Jerry Moore AUD of this show. "What's this?" I said. "Never heard of this!" And checking it out, I saw why.... It's only an hour of the show, & missing the entire jam, cutting out during Truckin' and coming back in Stella Blue. The notes sadly lament, "Most of tape useless due to cassette machine fuck-up. Tape not saved."
    Fortunately our SBD is excellent - still, I think an AUD copy might provide a different perspective of this Other One. Audience cheers, added echo, a more forceful band sound etc. might really alter the tone of the jam...

  8. And lastly, Nick's reply:

    I agree that there's a good reason why the 12/6 DS is so renowned while this O1 receives considerably less attention, despite both being "cut from the same cloth" as it were. I find this more quiet stuff to have a pretty strong intensity of its own -- I hear the band as being very focused and listening to each other very closely. I don't think this is one of the best Other Ones of the year, but given how many amazing ones there are, I don't mind that Phil takes more of a backseat role in this one, simply to hear what happens when Jerry gets to drive the spaceship for almost a half hour. There are certain kinds of '73 jams, like (off the top of my head) the 3/28/73 Dark Star, that don't soar as high as the best, but almost make up for it in my mind with the little intricacies and wrinkles that the band create. Personally, I find this kind of stuff nearly as rewarding.

  9. Nick great piece. 12/6/73 is my favorite Dark Star.
    I feel like to alot of Deadheads, their 'favorite' takes of songs are too much about Jerry.
    Alot of the common favorite DS's feature epic noodling/jamming, but this 12/6/73 Dark Star goes somewhere else entirely. It's simply a different animal than the others and can't really be compared directly to them.

    1. I admit my Dead listening is very Garcia-centric!
      This is certainly one of the great Dark Stars for me, and not like any other. It also seems to be more controversial than other Stars, because so many people find this to be an over-long, dull, sleepy version that goes nowhere.
      For instance, one recent reviewer wrote:
      "A little more focus, and a little less aimless meandering would have made this one a much stronger candidate for the best of 1973. At one point around 1/4 of the way through, Lesh tries to inject some adrenaline into this otherwise lifeless beast by plucking Phil bombs in the hopes of making something happen. It seems as if the boys begin to follow his lead, but it is only fleeting, and the half-baked jam wanders off again into a sedated directionless fixture of sound. In truth, this version never hits the peaks and valleys of other versions from this year."
      Ahem... Some listeners need their jams more action-packed. But no other version hits the same outer-space zone as this one!

  10. So much emphasis seems to be placed on length and comparison to other versions.I found no "aimless meandering" on this brilliant 41 odd minutes of music.I would very much like it pointed out where sharper focus could have been employed to push this one into contention for the best of 73',whatever the hell that might be.Phil had not yet starting using Phil "bombs" to make up for the lack of creativity and ability to play his instrument,he was simply playing bass.He started dropping Phil "bombs" when he was bombed in the 80's.If this version in it's 41 minutes and change didn't have peaks and valleys what did it have?

    I thought Nick's review was wonderful and very much enjoyed his perspective on this incredible performance.

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  12. Concerning the Dark Star from 12/6/73, I feel obliged to chime in here. Indeed, I’m the culprit who wrote “A little more focus, and a little less aimless meandering…” (Unlike here, my user name on the GD archive is quinn_76!)

    That fact that one version of Dark Star, of the 236 played, can garner so much attention and trigger spirited debate is impressive and curious. Clearly this one’s important, regardless of praiser’s or detractor’s of it’s musical merit. I’m of the latter camp, likely in the minority, but no less firm in persuasion. I must mention the disclaimer that I enjoy this DS; Indeed, I’ve conceded that it’s unique, and certainly deserving of acknowledgement. However, I don’t think it’s the Holy Grail that many claim it is. Rather, it’s an interesting, exploratory—if not a meandering, longwinded—version that’s worth a listen now and again in the right mood and setting.

    All Dark Stars are their own beasts—more or less—and the seemingly general consensus is that this one certainly is more so. If such sentiment stopped there, I’d be in full agreement. But many folks go on to claim (or at least allude) that it’s the go-to Dark Star—the mother of them all—which I feel is a bit misguided. For one thing, taken as a whole, it’s one of the least sounding Dark Stars, taking into account that the first 18 minutes and 48 seconds sounds more like a nameless jam that could be coming into or out of a number of second set tunes. Nothing wrong with that, but the topic at hand is Dark Star! If we’re talking about definitive versions of Dark star, I’m not sure we’re all drinking from the same well. The oxymoron, for me is that Dark Star lovers often cite this as their favorite, yet besides the verse, there’s really not a moment during the 41 plus minutes to suggest that it’s a DS, save the familiar chord structure played tersely around the 19-minute mark. But since this version spans over 41 minutes, it seems like a beast to be reckoned with!

    End of Part 1, due to length restrictions…

  13. Indeed, for 1973 it is in terms of quantity… but not necessarily quality. But this depends on the objective of the listener, of course. As for length it’s not very musically economical, especially when measuring the percentage of ‘x-factor’ moments reached against the span of performance time (compared to other versions). In other words, it doesn’t fully carry it’s own weight minute per minute; too many tentative moments and to few synergetic jams; a bit too dissonance heavy and consonance light, in musical language and notation of the sounds created during this version. But, indeed this DS can take one where he/she needs to go (it has me); it just simply takes much longer to get there. The version played on 2/15 for example easily achieves the greatness of 12/6, and does so in less than half the time! I call the 12/6 version an interesting, into-the-cosmos version that really sounds more like a jazzy fusion jam than a proper Dark Star.

    But of course this is all a matter of taste, how each one takes his/her tea. I take some cream, but too much cream can spoil the brew. More is not always more. For example, the art of good writing lies in thrift. The objective is to say as much as possible, with as little words a possible (it seems as though I’ve failed at that task, alas!). The same theory could be applied to music, but the Grateful Dead could be viewed as the antithesis to this theory; especially in light of their second set material, of which I (like many) cherish the most.

    Us folks who read and contribute to such invaluable blogs as this one, already know that improvisation and experimentation before a live audience captures the true spirit of what Grateful Dead music is all about, and those who took time to read this probably did not learn anything new. But in the final analysis, I must reiterate that I do enjoy this jam… err DS! I just think it’s overrated, and has been led up the garden path in exemplifying a quintessential Dark Star. It’s still worth every effort to hear I think, but it’s sometimes fun to play (friend of the) devil’s advocate, folks!

    As a rebuttal to my recent review of the 12/6 show on the archive, a reviewer diplomatically exclaims: “That people can differ so remarkably in responding to a piece of Art - whether a painting, a novel, or in this case a song - is a wonderful thing and not to be taken lightly. If our tastes were all the same, think how banal would be this miraculous life! Is the Mona Lisa smiling in delight or smiling in rueful resignation?”

    I’ll defer to Dylan to speak for me on this one: “ Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial/Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
    But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
    You can tell by the way she smiles.”

  14. Thanks for your observations!
    You mention that a lot of this is not very Dark Star-like...which to me, is one of its strengths - it's unique in how far outside the norm they go, though there were other occasions in '73/74 when they just drifted into Dark Star from a jam (or never actually arrived at a verse).
    But a lot of acclaimed Dark Stars have sections which are also non-Dark Star-like - for instance, the famed 2/15/73, half of which is a bass solo which is just thrown in there and has almost no participation from the band - so strictly speaking, it's only half a great Dark Star. Someone else might take off points for that! The '72 Philo Stomps have nothing to do with Dark Star; some '73 Stars have jazz-fusion romps which are also totally unrelated to the theme.
    In short, I don't think it's necessary for a great Dark Star to stay 'on point,' nor to be concise, nor even to be listener-friendly. There are certainly many short & beautiful versions, even just from '73 - others are more notable for their noisy meltdowns (like 10/25/73) - others, for me, never fly (like 10/26/72 or 7/25/74).
    But there's no objectivity here! The 12/6/73 version is thrilling for me regardless, though it perhaps relates more to the feedback improvs the Dead were doing in December '73 than to the broader continuum of Dark Stars. The Dead's love of feedback in some periods annoys some listeners, but I think it's one of the best things about the band.

    1. A couple more brief comments -
      Though the Dead don't state the theme for a long time on 12/6, they're clearly in Dark Star mode from the start. Much of it is very laid-back, not too distinct from other Dark Stars from the period. (You can make a case for the playing being sharper on 12/18, and the feedback meltdown/Tiger on that night is of course more concise.) It also doesn't have the traditional big peaks in terms of climaxes, melodic themes, or sudden shifts in mood. What it does do is go much deeper into drone mode, a rare thing in Dead music, and also excellent use of counterpointing heavy drones/feedback with Garcia's lighter melodies.
      The only objection I could make to this version is that it doesn't have a strong end - after the final big feedback episode, they just putter around for the last few minutes like they're out of gas. Within the Dead's style of improv, this is hardly a complaint, given they were already into "overtime" with this long 40-minute jam - they often did have to meander for a while before striking a new theme. Here, Garcia decides it's time for Eyes.

  15. I can emphasize with your fondness for the often erratic feedback the boys practiced in December of ’73. The PITB->MLBJ from the second night in Boston is off the chain! Moreover, the DS of the 18th, and the TOO of the 19th from the last two dates of the month in Tampa are forces to be reckoned with. I mentioned in a short review of the 12/18 show on the archive that it’s a pity the Dead didn’t milk the final month of that stupendous year with a few more dates, as they were really riding a wave of inspired consistency that they never quite hit the likes of again. It seems to be a solid two-month stint that was unparalleled in their 30-year career, beginning with the Oklahoma City show on the 19th in October, and running until the December 19th show in Tampa.

    I lent a keen ear to the DS of 12/6 again this morning, and still feel it gets more love than warranted, but I regret having not mentioned the interesting feedback improvs contained therein that you alluded to. As for the 2/15 version, the Phil solo segment commences right at the 15:00 mark, and lasts for only three and a half minutes before Jerry gently drizzles in melodic notes right near the 18:30 mark. The one-minute lush interplay between Phil & Jerry (perhaps the most blissful piece of music I’ve still ever heard) ensues for before Phil plucks his ‘godfather’ with notes signifying the boys to follow his lead into EYES, which debuted just six days earlier. To be nit picky, this segment of the DS really spans just the last fourth of the version, rather than the last half.

    You likened this angelic jam (in terms of merit) to the jam of peculiarity during TOO from 7/25/72. I couldn’t agree more. This (strangely) under the radar piece of music has become one of my favorite six and a half minutes worth of sound the Dead produced. It’s probable I would have passed on this show altogether, had I not luckily stumbled upon your review on the archive singing the praises of this hidden treasure.

  16. I think the band intended Dark Star to be what ever it was on a given night.No time restrictions or dissonance quotient,outside of a skeletal theme and two short verses it was supposed to be an improvised piece.I think a case could be made that 12/6 is just what Dark Star is supposed to be,a free exploration.

    I find all the pre-hiatus Dark Star's to be proper versions,some more to my liking than others.

  17. I remembered the 2/15/73 bass solo as being longer, perhaps because it's most of the post-verse section - I tend to think of Dark Stars as being in "halves," pre & post-verse. But that brief Phil/Jerry interlude at the end sure carries a lot of weight.
    9/11/73 has a very different approach to the post-verse bass solo, which I also love.

    I usually recall Dark Stars based on their highlights - if there's one thrilling minute, it'll make up for any amount of meandering.
    In any case, 12/6/73 always struck me as being the core of Dark Star-ness, where they turn it inside out, go deep, and stay there; it's long been a treasure for me. And to have that outrageous Sunshine in the same set, is just too much to ask for...

    But there are certainly other popular Dark Stars that I wasn't too thrilled with - for instance, I always thought the one on 11/19/72 was pretty poor, with a lame Phil solo & few highlights.

    Glad to turn on anyone to the 7/25/72 jam!
    If you want under-the-radar and can handle a relatively poor AUD, I'd recommend the 10/23/72 Dark Star, which gets no acclaim due to the sound quality, but the post-verse jam is pretty remarkable, and the last few minutes are one of the most amazing endings to any Dark Star.

    This was a good review of the Nov/Dec '73 period, on a sadly defunct blog:

    1. 9/11/73 speaks to me too! And I concur with your 11/19/72 sentiments, though I have to say the final three minutes almost redeems the first twenty-two getting there. I hadn't given 10/23/72 much attention, but around the 24:50 mark one can hear Milwaukee respond in kind with melting faces following the melt down of sound. This begs for attention. Such moments remind us how rewarding AUD sources can sometimes be.

      I care to mention the 6/24/73 Dark Star, as it has always been an ol' chestnut for me, despite being (seemingly) underappreciated. Phil's almost 'Footprints' sounding groove commencing at the 6:36 mark steers this beast in the right direction in my book.

      The featured review concerning the Nov/Dec ’73 period was a fun read, though I can’t seem to locate any shows from the late 80s/90s were the boys played six (6) shows without repeating a song!?

  18. One deadbase reviewer made a stereo audience tape of this show (which unfortunately has never circulated). He wrote of the Dark Star:
    "During one of the more quiet parts, you can hear the woman behind us scolding the people who were yelling for the band to 'play something.' 'Shut up, you babies,' came her terse reply!"
    Even while it was being played, this Dark Star was divisive...

  19. Your above shared yarn had me laughing out loud! Thanks for sharing. I can empathize with those bitching rascals at that show, however, and it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there was already a chasm of opinions regarding this Dark Star as it was being performed. All criticism aside, one can only hope that this tape will one-day miraculously surface. I am of the persuasion that a clean stereo audience source would only benefit the listening experience of this one, as the sonic ambiance of crowd noise and reaction always gives a show a nice shot in the arm when listening on tape. (And for me, this version sure needs one.) Since my scathing review on the archive was published, another reviewer chimed in with (in caps): “IGNORE ANY AND ALL EVEN REMOTELY NEGATIVE REVIEWS, THEY COME FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE YET TO BREAK THROUGH.” Gotta love it, as this is what these GD literary round tables are all about. I hope folks continue to add logs to this fire! Still, I feel obliged to say that this DS is overrated. For this era, versions played on 11/13/72, 2/15/73, 2/26/73, 6/10/73, 8/1/73, 10/19/73, 11/11/73, 12/18/73 & 2/24/74 all trump it IMHO….

    1. Ooops... failed to mention 11/26/72! The playing during the 'feelin' groovy jam' segment commencing around the 20:15 mark [db entry 9248] is pure inspiration fully realized. But while on DS, I listened to 11/13/72 this morning after a long hiatus. While I love the AUD source, hopefully a clean SBD will one-day show its face. For me, the 11/13/72 DS could be the beasts of all beasts. Perhaps someone can tackle an essay on that one!?

  20. I also wish a good AUD of 12/6/73 would come out. (An AUD was used for a couple small patches in the circulating SBD, however from the samples it sounds terrible. It could still be illuminating in the Dark Star, though.)

    Another copy of 11/26/72 came out (db 123022) which does not have the bad cut in the Feelin' Groovy jam, but it is hissier. In any case, I'm glad other people also find this Feelin' Groovy jam really special; Garcia's tone is unbelievable!

    The 11/13/72 Dark Star is one of the greatest. No essay in the works, but I did do a short writeup of that one:
    "They're very tight & focused here - this Star's a great example of 'Dead telepathy.' There are certainly brighter, happier, prettier, or spacier Stars from the year - but few are darker than this one.
    The ABB were to have been with the Dead on this tour, but canceled - Berry Oakley had died a couple days earlier. That may be reflected in the jam here... On the other hand, the Dead's jams had a dark & surly vibe for the whole next month as well - could be just the zone they were in.
    Bear knew how to record a good AUD: the levels are just right. There is a 90-second cut in the Dark Star, though; Hanno 10089 patches the cut in Bear's tape with the other inferior AUD.

    Garcia's in interstellar 'searchlight casting' mode from the start (check out the audience cheering a tasty note @ :50 - someone groans after a deep Garcia passage @ 2:13).
    Keith is in Weir's sonic range at the start, so he's harder to hear - after a few minutes he starts standing out more. The band is in full-on jazzy mode in this intro jam (aided by Bill's light drumming).
    It gradually gets more intense - there's a great moment after 6:30 where they simultaneously drop into quiet arpeggios, to the crowd's delight. From here it gets spacier - Garcia brings out the volume swells @ 8m for a lovely passage, the band playing gentle chimes with him.
    By 9:30 Keith has turned on his wah, adding a new texture. The jam is rapid & loose but unhurried - they're staying in the zone of pure improv.
    The patch is from 11:20-12:55, during which they transition back to the Dark Star theme, a fine segue which thrills the crowd.

    The post-verse space starts @ 15m, and here is where this Star breaks loose from the pack. It's very atmospheric & foreboding - wispy trails of feedback, Bill rattles & splashes, Phil plays unresolved notes, Keith makes abstract wah-swirls. They take their time with this, slowly turning up the tension, not starting the spiral into a Tiger til 20m.
    The Tiger noisily crashes & clatters, and unwinds in atonal randomness after a couple minutes - but the tenseness continues, and the mood stays ugly. They wander atonally for a couple minutes - Keith really standing out here. The playing gets brutish (Phil distorts @24m), and then Garcia descends into ANOTHER Tiger, even louder & wilder than the last, finally settling in a beautiful climax of Phil & Keith chords which segues perfectly into a satisfying Philo Stomp - one of the most amazing moments in a '72 Dark Star (and there was no shortage of amazing moments in those). The crowd is blown away.
    After a couple rounds the Philo Stomp dissolves into a loose, frisky jam - the guitarists hint at turning it into a countryish direction (a la 9/21/72), but things come to a pause.
    There's no thought of segueing into another song; they just keep the improv going. Garcia whips out some fast lines & they start an uptempo jam that quickly heats up, like a Cumberland gone awry. Phil starts a fast-paced Feelin' Groovy line, soon joined by the others (this could be the fastest version, or maybe 4/14/72 is?). It's funny to hear Garcia playing this in fast-motion; they really stomp on it here - but it comes to an end.
    Garcia slows down & signals Morning Dew with a repeated D chord, so the band settles down to prepare the segue."

    1. A fine critique you offer, LIA. For all of Bear’s quirky idiosyncrasies (his meat, cheese & butter only diet, notwithstanding), he sure could captain a ship of sonic bliss. It is curious how the Dead’s sound adopted a foreboding, even sinister timbre in the autumn of ’72—a stark contrast to the sound they unleashed during the Corn Belt tour of early ’73. For me, that’s one of charms of mythical creature that comprises the Grateful Dead. I think part of the dark ambiance of late ’72 is explained by the boomy, murky quality of the recordings themselves, rather than the actual performances. Still, that period exhibits a unique sound that curiously defies the recording quality explanation. I read somewhere that some mishap occurred (stolen equipment?) at the 10/21Vanderbilt show that helps explain why the sonic quality of the shows were hindered after that date. Again, another wrinkle of mystical fate that makes for a chapter of the Dead’s sprawling catalogue all the more engrossing.

  21. I stumbled onto this Dark Star last night by accident after a friend burned me a copy of the Dec 73 road trips bonus disc. I am floored, what an experience that was. Can't believe I got through it intact. I felt like I was on a trip with no directions but somehow safely made it home. This essay is fantastic & describes a lot of what I truly loved from this epic performance.

  22. Another good review from "ginosega" on the Archive:
    "The Dead in late 1973 were as hot as they ever got - every show from this tour is strong, and they played each set and song with focus and polish. They had perfected their skills as musicians and performers, and could switch at will from hard-driving, tight rock & roll to that sweet '73 "honey" sound to deep space exploration. Phil in particular was super-energetic on this tour, often playing "lead bass" and extended jams with mega bombs and feedback. What's so great about this Dark Star is that you get the band at the peak of their powers completely abandoning all reason, logic, and control, letting themselves get taken as far into the void as they ever went.
    A funny thing about this Dark Star is it doesn't really start; the tuning after Big River simply dissolves into a series of spacey jams and soon you realize that this is in fact the plan. About 12 minutes in Phil fires the engines and turns the ship out of orbit, until at 17 minutes we have arrived in the deepest, darkest part of the galaxy, a place inhabited by giant, planet-sized beings made of multi-color translucent goo. We wander here for a while, the engines shut down, the ship's sails filled by the cosmic winds. Only at 21 minutes into the song do they actually start *playing* the song, and the melody and first verse is delivered soft and relaxed to fit the mood. We then return to our journey through time, and there follows ten solid minutes of far-out space, ranging from the quietest moments to full-on feedback from all cylinders. At about 36 minutes we start the return trip, passing through more familiar systems on our way back home. This is truly a masterwork of the Grateful Dead's darkest muse.
    The Eyes that follows is a cool, refreshing breeze after such a long trip. It's plenty Dark Starred too - listen as the chaos creeps into the jam at the 9 minute mark and the Dead pull the song back from the brink - must have been fun.
    This is truly an epic show with a Dark Star for the ages. I hope that hundreds of years from now people are still listening to this as reverently as we are now."

    And "doug the dude" writes: "The Dark Star (or, rather, Jam > Space > Dark Star) is extraordinary. If you like Phil, seek no further - this is mind-melt music for those real astral-nauts, heavy beam-ax-split-the-timber bass drone. I think the two movements, pre-and-post verse, are absolutely sublime examples of the Dead at their most fearlessly experimental. The band never very often utilized 'drone' tones ala Floyd; here, they give in to that temptation and ride the wave out way, waaaaaay beyond ordinary boundaries."

  23. Listening again to this show, I noticed that Weir all but disappears in the mix, starting in Dark Star until the end of the show. His levels are fine up until 19 minutes into Dark Star - then Phil begins his prolonged burst of feedback, and poof, Weir vanishes in the mix, reduced to faint background noise for the rest of the show. (It's painfully obvious in Sugar Magnolia.) Evidently Phil's feedback caused electronic chaos!
    Weir's still playing throughout, he can just barely be heard on tape in this section. This is one reason I hope a good audience tape surfaces for this show - what we're hearing in the last hour of the show is a reduced band, not what was heard onstage.

    1. The older copies of this show had a patch from a (poor) audience tape for about 30 seconds during a reel change in Eyes of the World, from about 1:35-2:00, in which you can tell Weir's guitar was still present in the PA.
      Charlie Miller's newest copy of 12/6/73 replaced this with an sbd patch, which had a slightly different mix. At first I got my hopes up that there might be an alternate board mix of this show, but it turns out the patch was actually taken from the 12/12/73 Eyes.
      (The end of Here Comes Sunshine cut off on older copies, but the sbd ending on Miller's newer copy is the genuine 12/6/73, it matches the aud.)
      The full audience tape remains elusive & out of reach.

    2. The full audience tape has surfaced recently!

      Very nice aud quality, I think. Weir is loud & clear from Dark Star onwards (where he's zapped from the SBD tape) - actually Garcia's the quietest of the players on this tape, so it's an interesting alternate way to hear the show.

  24. I wonder if the source he refers to with the Dark Star split into tuning, prelude, and the song its self ever made it into digital circulation, I would really like to find a copy of that

  25. I read this post and the comments first thing this morning, and I had to refresh my memory. Wow! The guitar-keyboard interplay leading up to the "Dark Star" theme (about 21:00) is delicate and quite interesting, and as a big fan of '68-69-era "Feedback," I enjoy the succeeding section. Yes, I can understand some of the observations about "meandering" and the like, but that's the Dead.

    Also, I enjoy Keith playing electric piano here. Reminds me of some Miles Davis shows from a few years earlier, with Keith Jarrett making a departure from his usual acoustic. Tremendous stuff!

    This blog and Lost Live Dead are tremendous resources, even though I discovered them relatively recently. Thank you, fellows!!!

    1. It's always worth hearing again! Keith was deep in his love affair with the Rhodes at this point, and he plays a big part in conjuring this Dark Star.