Up the Downstair

Being a weeklie podcaste from Madison, Wisconsin featuring several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of live music from divers artistes

Show #233: The Dead in Madison ‘73

February 10th, 2011

For today’s show by the Grateful Dead I’ve enlisted the aid of local Deadhead Michael Edmonds to write the notes. In addition to being a fan he wrote “More Groovy Than Woodstock: The Sound Storm Festival of April 1970″ for the Wisconsin Magazine of History. It looks back at the Sound Storm Festival which featured the Grateful Dead and took place in Poynette, WI which is about 30 miles north of Madison.

gdmad2 73 Show #233: The Dead in Madison 73
(Photo found at Musical Stew Daily.)

Once upon a time, long ago in a galaxy far far away, the Grateful Dead were more than a cliché.

Sometime early in the Clinton years they became a shorthand symbol for tie-dyed, dread-locked stoners selling burritos to each other in stadium parking lots. But a generation earlier they had made some of the richest, most challenging music that ever rolled off an American stage. They played the Dane County Coliseum 38 years ago next week when they were at the peak of their powers.

It was the first stop on their spring 1973 tour, which included 19 shows in six weeks. They were breaking out a rash of new songs and experimenting with a much-enhanced sound system that would soon turn into the fabled Wall of Sound. They’d been on the road for five years, and the days when they were the house band for Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests were far behind them.

By 1973, their repertoire was huge and on any given night they could pull out traditional country tunes by Johnny Cash, original lightweight country-rock, 1950s Chuck Berry, raunchy Black blues classics, tender ballads of love and regret, ground-shaking psychedelia in bizarre time signatures, and avant-garde classical pieces consisting mostly of bass lines and feedback. Or, as they did in Madison, they could produce all of the above on a single night.

In the early seventies the Dead were still taking LSD almost every time they performed, and the arc of a show usually mirrored the course of an acid trip. The initial songs would be upbeat and easy to dance to, but the first set would end two hours later (once they and most of their audience achieved lift-off) with a jammed-out exploration. After a short break they would return to the stage and carry the audience on a journey designed to melt egos and open unnamable possibilities. “People come to be transformed,” drummer Mickey Hart said, “and we transform ‘em.” Or, as Jerry Garcia put it, “Magic is what we do. Music is how we do it.” When everything clicked, they said that they ceased performing and the music played the band. After another two or three hours of music, they glided everyone safely home again with familiar favorites.

Feb. 15, 1973, was just such a night, though it possessed more mellow, jazzy stretches than balls-against-the-wall-rock-n-roll (a phrase of guitarist Bob Weir). Listening to it today, you can be transported to another time, or maybe a space outside of time where cosmic consciousness still joyfully dances in eternity. The first set leaves the ground with a fine “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” and wraps up with a “Playing in the Band” that sails for 15 minutes without wasting a note.

The second set unfolds around an hour-long stretch whose heart is a languidly melodic “Dark Star” > “Eyes of the World” (only the second performance, and an exquisite one). Only one recording of this show appears to exist, the band’s soundboard. It leaked from their vault during the 1990s and is now available for streaming at archive.org, along with 6,000 other recordings of the Dead, 1965-1995.


–Set 1–
Loose Lucy
Beat It On Down The Line
Brown Eyed Women
Mexicali Blues
Tennessee Jed
Looks Like Rain
Box of Rain
Row Jimmy
Jack Straw
China Cat Sunflower ->
I Know You Rider
Me & My Uncle
Playing In The Band
Casey Jones

–Set 2–
Here Comes Sunshine
El Paso
You Ain’t Woman Enough
They Love Each Other
Big River
Dark Star ->
Eyes of the World ->
China Doll
The Promised Land
Sugar Magnolia

Uncle John’s Band
One More Saturday Night

Part I
Part II
Part III

Grateful Dead

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