Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin
[November 15, 1971]
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2010, Volume 17, #7
Written by John Metzger
Fri July 23, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Arguably, throughout its existence, the Grateful Dead was almost always in a continuous state of evolution. At the very least, however, one would have to admit that the shows the band performed in 1971 were its most transitional affairs. In fact, where its concerts in 1977 projected a unified perspective, the Grateful Deadís sojourns six years earlier stood in sharp contrast, exhibiting a persona that was as variegated and unsettled as its musical roots. The show featured on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71 is a prime example of how deliriously scattered the Grateful Deadís performances were during this era.
Of course, in November 1971, there were a lot of internal and external pressures weighing upon the Grateful Dead. Most notably, the relatively young outfit was faced with the prospect of having to find a replacement for founding keyboard player Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, whose health had begun to fade. Considering how much of the Grateful Deadís sets had been devoted to his uproariously blues-y antics, this surely was not an easy task. No matter who was hired ó in the end, it was Keith Godchaux ó a seismic shift in the ensembleís approach was bound to take place.
By the time the outfit had settled into Municipal Auditorium in Austin, Texas on November 15, 1971 for the concert that is captured on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2, the Grateful Dead had successfully extended the Americana-imbued essence that it had put forth with remarkable perfection on Workingmanís Dead and American Beauty. Over the course of the preceding nine months, an astounding collection of new compositions ó Bertha, Loser, Playing in the Band, Wharf Rat, Sugaree, Jack Straw, Mexicali Blues, and Ramble on Rose, among them ó had become indoctrinated into the outfitís repertoire. These songs would be further developed in the coming weeks, months, and years, but already it was apparent that this material had been fully digested by the band.
At the same time, the exhilarating and edgy jams that had filled the Grateful Deadís sets during the late 1960s hadnít yet faded from its arsenal. Truckiní, for example, wasnít simply a heated blast of rock ínĎ roll fury. Rather, it evoked the writhing intensity of the Grateful Deadís countless afternoons in Golden Gate Park. Consequently, it served its purposes equally well as a rousing opening number and as a launch pad for the previous nightís atom-smashing, brain-frying, acid-test revival of The Other One. Elsewhere, the Grateful Dead didnít just dip its toe into the cosmic tidal pool of Dark Star. Instead, it enveloped El Paso within the cataclysmic forces of creation and destruction before plunging into the ominous, electric chug of Casey Jones.
Of course, the Grateful Deadís appetite for embracing new sounds and styles was immense, and based upon the music featured on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71, there is no doubt that the outfit was already en route to its next phase. Its journey would come to fruition during its magnificent tour of Europe in the spring of 1972. Nevertheless, within songs like the rolling, barroom shuffle of Ramble on Rose as well as the wildly whipping ride of Cumberland Blues, the band highlighted how well the pieces were beginning to fall into place. The Grateful Dead could still increase the intensity whenever it wanted, but its looser, laid-back approach provided it with plenty of room to roam.
Herein lies the problem with Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71 as well as most of the shows from the era: Although it was flush with new material that emphasized song structures rather than freewheeling jams, The Grateful Dead still wasnít very good at tying everything together in a fashion that felt cohesive and coherent. The band jumped from one place to another, almost randomly, and its anything-goes mentality sometimes led unintentionally to an anticlimactic outcome. Most egregiously, the group placed Dark Star into its opening set in Austin, which proved to be a challenging act to follow. The Grateful Deadís undeveloped sense of pacing reared its ugly head again later in the show when the band followed a riotous rendition of Sugar Magnolia with a laid-back stroll through You Win Again.
In spite of its deficiencies, though, Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71 is a tremendously strong endeavor. Featuring a hodgepodge of selections that crosses Workingmanís Dead and American Beauty with Live/Dead, Europe í72, and the Grateful Deadís self-titled concert recording from 1971, its track listing reads like a collection of the bandís greatest hits. All of the songs were well-played, too ó though, perhaps, none of them were better, at least during this particular show, than the pairing of Not Fade Away with Goiní Down the Road Feeliní Bad. The Grateful Dead had a habit of repeatedly finding new perspectives from which to perform material that had become ingrained within the consciousness of its fans. Walking a line between its youthful exuberance and its rapid maturation, Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71 pushes this facet of the Grateful Deadís approach into plain view.
Of Further Interest...
Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2: Austin, 11/15/71 is NOT available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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