Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2: October '77
Douglas Heselgrave's #20 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Thu April 24, 2008, 07:00 AM CDT
Itís hard to go wrong with anything that the Grateful Dead did in 1977. Even a compilation of material like Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2 comes out smelling like roses. Although nearly all of the shows from the era are worthy of release, the realization of this vision is impractical and commercially unviable, especially if a consistent level of sonic clarity is to be achieved. Of course, the utmost care must be taken when pulling the bandís songs out of context. In this particular instance, however, the collectionís jigsaw puzzle construction ó which delicately reassembles the bits and pieces of a trio of concerts that were held within the span of five days in mid-October ó arguably fares better than the full-length performances from whence they came.
In fact, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Road Trips series is its presentation. Much like its predecessor, which emphasized material from the Grateful Deadís sojourn in the fall of 1979, the sequencing of Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2 will keep the ensembleís longtime followers feeling somewhat off-kilter and disoriented. The familiar patterns into which the group increasingly fell over the course of its career are only marginally present within the composition of the three-disc effort. Yet, this time, the overall flavor of the affair ó despite its surprising twists and turns ó is utterly believable. In effect, the mood that has been created evokes the same level of excitement and anticipation as the Grateful Deadís performances once did, and the end result inevitably forces fans to view its music from a fresh perspective.
The mock first set, for example, begins with a powerfully intense rendition of Let It Grow, which undeniably serves as an attention-grabbing, opening number. The Grateful Dead aggressively attacked the tune, and the relentless blast of energy that the band used to propel the melody along its path also fueled Jerry Garciaís exhilarating flights on guitar. Yet, for as hard as the Grateful Dead drove Let It Grow, it also pulled back at the last possible moment in order to allow the song to conclude with a gentle, mournful sigh. The fighting fury the group had demonstrated during the previous nine-plus minutes of the composition suddenly dissipated, thus echoing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Sugaree, the subsequent track on Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2, exhibited a yearning thirst for connection. As it progressed, its weary plea mutated into bittersweet reflection, and with every circular spiral that was sketched in notes by Garcia, the air of confident determination that lurked deep within the song grew stronger. Although Let It Grow and Sugaree were culled from two different shows, they surprisingly fit together quite nicely, and in due course, they effectively establish a tone that lingers for the duration of the endeavor.
As was the case with many of the Grateful Deadís concerts, Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2 contains stories within stories and songs within songs. Moods shift and change, and passages that initially appear to be standing at odds suddenly mutate to reveal different views of a larger picture. When the wide open, majestic expanses of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo narrow their focus to depict the tale told in El Paso, the move appears to be deliberate. Yet, there also are moments when the band seems to be driven by some greater force to find the brilliantly colored connections that lie among the rapidly firing synapses of its collective, subconscious mind.
Black Peter and Around and Around might stand, both lyrically and musically, in sharp contrast to one another. However, when the gut-wrenching anguish of Black Peter dissolves in the joyous release of Around and Around, the latter tune gains meaning from its predecessor. The end result is that the pairing, once again, draws attention to the hidden spiritual context that consistently drifted through the ensembleís work. The descending stairway that led from Help on the Way into the darkened shadows of Slipknot! and the ascendent climb toward the ebullience of Franklinís Tower offer microcosmic glimpses at the images of creation and destruction and Heaven and Hell that the Grateful Dead frequently painted with sound.
One certainly could argue that David Lemieux and Blair Jackson, who were responsible for deciding what songs to showcase on Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2, played God by slicing, dicing, and re-sequencing the material. With careful consideration, however, they merely highlighted aspects that always have existed within the Grateful Deadís performances. It helps, of course, that Lemieux and Jackson left a lengthy string of tunes intact from the ensembleís October 16, 1977 concert in Baton Rouge. Yet, the progression ó which shifts from the tumultuous rush of The Other One to the sprightly bounce of Good Loviní to the epic narrative of Terrapin Station to the gospel-hued blues of Black Peter to the explosiveness of Around and Around ó is so delightfully weird that it suitably ties everything together by keeping fans on their toes.
The bonus disc ó which also includes material from a fourth concert ó misses the mark slightly. Problems with a microphone plagued an otherwise lovely rendition of Donna Jean Godchauxís Sunrise, and the Grateful Dead careened in and out of synch during both Iko Iko and The Wheel. On the other hand, the trilogy of Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet was stunning (as usual), and Wharf Rat was positively perfect. Thereís no question that the act of assembling a compilation of highlights from the Grateful Deadís archives ó as opposed to issuing full-length shows ó always will draw some level of controversy. However, Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2 provides proof that, if it is done correctly, the magic that made the band so special can be recaptured and put prominently on display. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2: October '77 is NOT available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, please visit the Grateful Dead Site!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box