Sunday, December 21, 2008

the Led Zeppelin reunion, now a year past.

By looking through past entries, you can probably guess that I'm a big Zeppelin fan. That's an understatement.

Well we just passed the one year anniversary of the most import Zep-related thing to happen during my time as a fan: the Dec 10, 2007 reunion of the surviving members with Jason Bonham (son of the departed John) sitting in on drums. It was the first full concert the band gave since 1980. I've had an audio bootleg of the show since about a week after it happened, but just recently I downloaded a full video of the concert.

I really really enjoyed watching a DVD bootleg of the whole LZ 2007.12.10 performance. Of course I'd heard 4 different versions of the audio numerous times over the last year and I knew where the band excelled and where they faltered a bit in the performance. But it was fantastic actually seeing the whole thing for the first time earlier this month. I was totally sucked in!

I sat transfixed in my kitchen with my ear-eatting Sennheiser headphones on watching the whole thing on my laptop as the hour grew very late. I didn't finish the 2 hour show until nearly 3AM and had to work the next morning, but I couldn't pull myself away until the absolute last frame.

The 4 men on stage really sounded like Led Zeppelin, but a sort of nervous and very human Zeppelin. They didn't come across like the flashy, cocky rock gods of the 70s. From their body language it seemed they knew how important it was for their legend that they nail this performance (since the two 1980s sets were crap*) They seemed to be really concentrating, almost holding their collective breath. But every now and then, they'd loosen up and smile-- often when everything fell exactly into place for a few minutes or seconds and it sounded like 1973 all over again. It was in these moments of confidence that the old rock star moves would peak out a bit. Page or Plant would do a little flourish that called to mind the constant onstage dance of their heyday.

Watching the DVD I KNEW it would turn out okay, but it almost felt like I was there and the show was happening in real time. In the moments when they were a little less than together I felt nervous for them, thinking absurdly "come on, guys hold it together. Regain your footing!" The sound came from the best AUD sources (and actually gave you a few difference audio mix options like a REAL DVD release) and the picture came from 13 different sources mixing close ups, some BBC pro-shot stuff, and distant shaky camera phone style shots. The angles came from all over the vast venue so I really got a sense of the physical space of the show.

This is perhaps the best performance from the reunion. I never would've guessed this song would be included in the set.:

Watching this set, nearly fulfilled a dream for me: seeing a Led Zeppelin reunion in person. I became a fan in 1990, just after the second LZ reunion set and all throughout junior high I dreamed of them playing together again. I wrote about Zeppelin whenever I could in our daily "theme" pieces for English class. And once there was an assignment to design a poster for a pretend school concert. Well I figured that if the concert wasn't real then I could delve deep into fantasy and designed a poster for the 1990 reunion performance of Led Zeppelin at the Immaculate Conception Grammar School Gym in Somerville, NJ. It had "Led Zeppelin is BACK!" on the top and a drawing of Jimmy Page bowing his guitar a la 'Dazed & Confused.' I was very proud of my work, but when the assignment was handed back to me, written in red across the paper in my teacher's hand was "This is NOT what I meant!"

Oh well.

*( I blame the failure of the Live Aid July 1985 performance wholly on the presence of Phil Collins. He's an easy target. As for the 1988 set, it was marginally better but Jimmy Page was out of tune and out of sorts...)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Neil Young's Farewell(?) to the Philadelphia Spectrum

Getting to the faded Spectrum went really smoothly. We made our public transit connections without much wait time and the trolley operator wouldn't even take our tokens for some reason, so we got a free ride. The last stop on the southbound Broad Street subway line puts you about 200 feet from the Spectrum, and by luck, the "floor tickets only" entrance was the closest one to the subway exit. Nick, my companion for the show, realized that he had a slice of carrot cake in his jacket pocket that of course he couldn't bring inside. So we split it and got all sugared up on the the cake with cinnamon frosting before waltzing right in with no line and a very gentle pat down.

The tickets looked laughably like second-rate counterfeits: smudgy printing and only a barely perceptible "Comcast" watermark. But they scanned in fine. If I hadn't bought them right from the box office I would've thought they were fake. And yes, the tickets were really "$19.67" There was a very limited special first-day-of-sale deal in celebration of the Spectrum's final year (it was opened in 1967.)

Walking in the hall and on the floor I tried to soak in all its dingy outdated glory, thinking "this could be the last time I'm at the Spectrum." Though I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Phish will pay it a visit in 2009 before the building's implosion. I've only been there for concerts a handful of times, but I know its music history and have heard a lot of the shows through bootlegs. Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, and most prominently the Grateful Dead. The old dingy brick of the place makes me think, this is about the same as what it looked like when the rock giants played here in their 1970s heyday. I'm reminded of that grainy picture on the back of the Kiss "Alive" record, with two shaggy headed teens on an arena floor. There are lots of benevolent ghosts still hanging around in the rafters of the Spectrum. Looking up, I smiled at the sight of the "Grateful Dead 53 Spectrum Sell-Outs" banner done like a Flyers hockey championship banner in black and orange, except the "53" was in tie-dye.

The ticket said show time was 7pm, so at exactly 7, Everest, the first opener, took the stage. And played for exactly 30 minutes to an arena that was no more than a third full. I really enjoyed their set. With their big-guitar country-tinged sound and reverbed vocals, they sounded very similar to My Morning Jacket (who in turn have been compared to Neil Young.) And I really like MMJ so I found myself head-bopping. And they got a surprisingly positive reaction from the crowd: moderate cheers after each song and only a single shout of "where's Neil?" Everest was arrayed in attire that looked as if it had been swiped from Neil's early 70s closet and one of the guitarists wore a poncho that looked liked it belonged to Stephen Stills a long time ago.

I thought about what carefree fun it might be to be the opening band in a situation like this. There's no pressure. No one is there to see you in particular, except a handful of guestlist friends, who probably love you no matter what you do. And the people shuffling into the arena aren't expecting much so it's hard to really let them down. And even though a band like Everest aren't rock stars and will probably never reach the popularity needed to headline a venue like the Spectrum, as the openers they can pretend to be rock stars. They were all smiles on stage. They seemed happy to be there. And if they messed up a solo or a verse, no one was gonna notice because no one knew what the songs wee supposed to sound like anyway. And maybe, just maybe they'd play a little something that'd grab the ears of some of the folks in the crowd; and this is exactly what happened in one of their last songs when one of the guitarists played a jangley outro figure that made me smile wide.

Everest set the mood for things to come.

Wilco was next and it was clear they had some fans in the steadily-filling arena. I've always enjoyed their music. I only have one of their early, more straightforward albums but have liked everything I've heard on the radio and from friends. And I enjoyed their performance even more than I expected. They started their 50 minute set with, "Via Chicago" a song that balanced a country pedal-steel and acoustic sound with a couple breaks of noisy chaos. During the racket the band didn't let on that all hell seemed to be breaking loose. Jeff Tweedy's vocals continued understated and sweet through the racket and the whole band snapped back together back into the melody right on cue.

The star of Wilco's set was lead guitarist Nels Cline. Kinda funny that he had a similar first name to the guitar god headliner, but there was never a Nels vs. Neil dual for ax-weilder supremacy during the show. Nels played everything from clear cleaning ringing tones, echoing shimmers, countryish lap steel and blips and distorted noise, processing his guitar through an effects board. When he soloed, a white spot light shone on him and often reflected off his shiny pick guard, sending a beam of light straight out onto the floor, hitting me right in the eyes; the perfect visual accompaniment to his sonic wizardry.

It was curious seeing Nels Cline in a huge arena on a high stage. The other time I saw him perform was in the Avant Gentlemen's Lodge* warehouse in West Philly where he played in a different ensemble as part of an evening of experimental music. The warehouse stage was about two feet high. That show was $5 at the door and I got to chat with Nels after the show as he milled about in the middle of the crowd.

The second Wilco tune featured harmonizing dual-lead guitars by Nels and Tweedy that worked the crowd into a froth and got people hooting and hollering. Their fourth tune had a Krautrock "motorik" beat to it that sounded like something from Can or Neu! I was dancing, smiling, floating on the sounds. Their music definitely tapped into a similar vein as Neil's but they could never be confused. They both sound very distinct but complementary. And by all the whoops and calling out of song titles it was obvious there were a lot of Neil/Wilco crossover fans in attendance. By the excited noise they made during Wilco's set, I figured the guys right behind me were teenagers. But when I looked back, I was truly surprised to see that they were approaching middle age, older than some of the guys in the band.

Wilco's set had a really warm positive feel to it, and by the time Neil came out I was really warmed up and ready to go. And Neil and his 5 piece band delivered. I've never heard Neil "phone it in" in the live setting. The sound and sightlines were excellent from my perspective, about 30 feet straight back from center stage. There was none of the boom and garbled echo that can come with arena shows.

It was difficult not to compare this show to seeing Neil last year. That show was definitely a cut above because of the beautiful old 2000-seat theatre venue (the Tower), the rarity-filled setlist, the solo acoustic set and the fact that it was my first time seeing Neil after being a fan for 15 years.
This 2 hour Spectrum set had a "greatest hits" focused list, but every single note seemed to be delivered with passion. And Neil's hits are hits for a reason: they're damn good.

"Hey Hey My My" may have been played to death on classic rock radio but I was bowled over by its power on stage. Neil convulsed with guitar in hands, struggling with it as if he were trying to wring the neck of some wild fowl. He was never still for a moment as he squeezed out growling, choking, crunching, heaviness.

"Powderfinger" is one of my favorite Neil songs of all time and it was great to sing along to it shouting passionately, "Red means run, son, numbers add up to nothing!" even though I've never figured out just what that means.

"Spirit Road" from the most recent LP fit in well with the old noisy guitar-jam classics and this seemed an even stronger performance than when I saw the song played last year.

"Cortez the Killer" was played very slow and heavy with mournful guitar leads sailing above the ominous sea that the rest of the band created. The instrumental section wandered, but never lost its way or intensity.

My experience listening to "Oh Lonesome, Me" and the solo pump-organ version of "Mother Earth" were marred somewhat by the Blah-blah cellphone man behind me (read the addendum "Rant" for more on this) but were still very moving to hear.

The new, acoustic "Light a Candle" was elevated by an unexpected and delicate pedal steel line by Ben Keith who continued his high lonesome moans on "Unknown Legend," and "Heart of Gold." He also played on the original classic sessions of these song. For "Old Man" a brief and precisely timed spotlight was shone on the mustachioed guitar tech Larry Cragg, so he could bust out the song's signature banjo line.

"Get Back to the Country" was a raucous pedal-steeled affair, much more lively and enjoyable than on the mediocre mid 80s "Old Ways" album. At less than 3 minutes though, it was all too brief.

Then Neil delivered a trio of new, unreleased rockers all about social change. For me, jury's still out on the first two. Neil is very prolific. He continues to release a new album almost every year, but his output is real hit or miss. It's rare that he puts out a truly bad song, but I think the first two of these new songs were just "OK." Maybe I'll get more into them as I hear them more. The last of the trio, "When Worlds Collide" was the strongest, with an ominous funk feel and minor key (intentionally?) strained chorus.

To close out the set, "Rockin' in the Free World" invoked the spirits of nearly 20 years of garage bands. The song is simple on a technical level so I've heard a lot of amateurs play it, but it's difficult to play and sing it with as much angry conviction as Neil. And though it's become a cliche, it still felt great to shout along to the chorus with fist in the air.

The encore was a very fresh take on the Beatles' classic/oddity, "A Day in the Life." I loved the sleighbells during the "Ahh-ahhh- ah-ahhhhh" break after "and I fell into a dream." And the echoing chord at the end of the Beatles' version became a noisefest in the Neil version. Neil sounded like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth (himself influenced greatly by Neil's distorted proto-grunge.) Neil ended the noise by literally ripping the strings off his guitar and then leaning it up against an amp.

I thought this would be it, but after it quieted down Neil walked to the back of the stage to the raised platform with vibraphone that his wife and back-up singer Pegi Young had been playing earlier in the song. He picked up the mallets, looked mischievously at the crowd and then hit a single clean ringing note.

He then walked off the stage, signaling the true end of the show. I just had to laugh.

As the lights came up and we filed out of the arena, I again tried to soak in the ambiance of the venue, knowing I might not be there again.

set list.

Love And Only Love
Hey Hey, My My
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Spirit Road
Cortez The Killer
Cinnamon Girl
Oh, Lonesome Me
Mother Earth
The Needle And The Damage Done
Light A Candle
Unknown Legend
Heart Of Gold
Old Man
Get Back To The Country
Just Singing A Song
Sea Change
When Worlds Collide
Cowgirl In The Sand
Rockin' In The Free World

e) A Day In The Life

Addendum: the Rant

Him (gray hair, black shirt, black device held to ear) [loudly]: "blah blah, blah-blah, blah, blah"

Neil [somewhat distant]: "Oh-oh lonesome me."

Me [to black device blah-blah man]: "Hey, why don't you go out into the hall with that conversation. Your friend will hear you better and I'll hear Neil better."

Blah-blah man: "Fuck you!"

Me: "Why don't you ask the people around you 'Hey is ok if I talk on my cell through an entire song?'"

Blah-blah man: "Fuck you!"

I then turned around because the counter productivity was evident. I didn't want to argue. I didn't really care about winning a fight I just wanted mannerless Blah-blah man to shut up. It was certainly not every night I get to see Neil. By continuing to talk to him, I was just making matters worse.

He continued to make some rude comments directed towards my back, culminating in the ultimate comeback, "Hey why don't you stand in the back because you're so tall. You're blocking people's view. It's all about consideration." His prior comments negated any weight in this statement.

Throughout this incident, I felt a shaky tight feeling overtake me. It was the fight-or-flight feeling that I remember from the handful of schoolyard fights I've been in. I had this fear that at one point this guy's fist was gonna fly out and connect with my head or that he be waiting after the show to verbally assault me when the lights came up.

And funny, during the 2nd part of this incident, Neil was performing a solo take on "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)," a song about respecting the environment. But how could we respect the Earth when we couldn't even respect our fellow concert goers and I was getting showered by "Fuck You's"?

Thankfully nothing bad happened after the initial shouts. Blah-blah stopped blah-blah-ing and the ragged glory of the Neil concert overtook my senses once again.

Still, though, the memory lingers. In hindsight it's kinda funny, but it makes me angry that people would even consider holding a cellphone conversation in the middle of a rock concert.
At any sort of seated orchestral event, red-jacketed ushers would be pulling Blah-blah out towards the exits before he even got out the first sentence. But somehow it'dsOK to get all chatty with an off-site friend just 'cause there's an increased volume and some pot-smoke in the air? I don't buy that.

I can accept having to make an emergency call and I know it's difficult to extract one's self from a packed general admission crowd. I'll give cell talkers a one minute grace period before I get angry. But Blah-blah man was really chatting it up for 2,3,4 minutes of one of the quieter songs of the show.

I can also accept the "hey buddy I wish you were here with me. Neil's playing your song" At this point the caller holds his cell in the air so some distant friend can hear a snippet of the concert in very low audio quality. Heck, I might even do that if I had more minutes on my phone. But that doesn't really involve much talking. And I enjoy the feeling of overflowing excitement that it brings. The "Oh my God, this show is so good I just have to share it with someone right now!" For any extended exchange of information, though, there's a silent little thing called TEXT MESSAGING. I believe some of these new-fangled cellphones have this feature now, though maybe Blah-blah's Blackberry didn't have this option...

*The Avant Gentlemen's Lodge ceased doing shows on a regular basis apparently after some fans, looking for the unmarked warehouse knocked on the wrong door, asking the surprised residents of a nearby house "Is this the Gentlemen's Lodge?" The residents heard "Gentlemen's Lodge" and thought, oh so there's an unlicensed strip club that those scruffy kids are running across the street. The police were called and busted through the door, but were surprised to find an unheated room full of a hundred or so kids in coats twitching to some non-melodic noise coming from some hunched over guys on stage and not a single nude woman. But since there were gross fire code violations and the building was not licensed as a performing venue the police had to shut thegood clean fun down anyway.

Or at least that's how I think it happened.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

35 years ago: a dirigible dream.

I had a joyous, vivid Led Zeppelin dream the other night. The dream put me into the summer of 1973 as a shaggy-headed teenager. In the dream, this Zeppelin performance was my first big show. A sold out arena show was a novelty to me and I was also somehow fully aware of just how culturally/musically important Zeppelin was in 1973 and how legendary they'd become. My shaggy little head knew this was an event of a lifetime.

A 40-something lady ripped my ticket at the gate. She had a big permed-out hairdo. She wasn't a fan of the music per se, but she was living vicariously through all the young fans swarming the venue. She smiled at me. She didn't say anything, but with her eyes and smile she told me "kid, you're in for a treat."

I had floor tickets and made it about half way up to the stage with the lights still up. The crowd was as important as the band for the scene. The buzz of excited talk and kids drunk, stoned, high and happy swirled in the air and passed through me. My natural high oozed out of my pores and steamed from the top of my head and joined the cloud of raucous positive energy in the rafters.

The whole scene of the dream was bathed in the colors of the Song Remains the Same live Zeppelin album/film, which was also recorded in 1973.

The band didn't play much in my dream. The dream was more about anticipation: the wait for the band to start, the floor-stomping, and the gasp and cheer that catches people mid-sentence when the lights go down abruptly. That moment is one of the most joyous things one can experience. Contradictorily, perhaps even more joyous than hearing the performance itself.

Zeppelin called the crowd that swarmed the arenas to see them, "the ocean" and yes, they wrote a song about it that they indeed performed in 1973. This clip captures that joyous human ocean and band sailing on top it, full of themselves, cocky as all hell but sucking me in every time (in dreams and awake) with vicarious rock star exuberance.

(I'm pretty sure this dream of sold-out rock show anticipation was subconsciously inspired by the anticipation of the return to the stage of one of my favorite live acts, Phish, after a five year hiatus. They're playing three nights in a row in Hampton Beach, VA in March. The shows sold out in a fraction of a second. I got shut out. Scalpers are asking ridiculous prices
but I will somehow get in the door and be part of that joyous human ocean when the lights go down on March 6th 2009.)

And of course I'll get to live that joyous lights-go-down in the arena moment in just one more day, when Neil Young takes the stage at the Spectrum...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

the first concert I saw was the Grateful Dead in '93...

Fall 2008 has been a great time for me for big rock concerts, especially ones with a jammy bend to them. I've seen the Trey Anastasio Band twice (Trey is the guitarist of Phish for those not in the know) and Phil Lesh and Friends seven(!) times (Phil Lesh was the bassist for the Grateful Dead for those not in the know.) And these big shows have been mixed in with many smaller club and bar shows. The last big show of the season is coming up for me this Friday December 12th when I get to see Neil Young at the Spectrum here in Philly.

Neil at the Spectrum will have special resonance because after 40 years of hosting everyone from Zeppelin, to the Stones, to Floyd, to the Dead, Springsteen, and Phish the arena is slated for demolition in 2009. This will probably be Neil's last show there. And it might be my last time there as well. And I've got floor tickets too!

The Spectrum is gonna be imploded to make way for a retail complex (Yay! God bless the capitalist spirit!) Though who knows if people will actually be buying stuff in 2009 with the way the economy is heading.

So with all these big rock shows in recent memory and one big one coming up, I figure it's a good time to recount my 1st ever big rock show: the Grateful Dead in 1993.:

A few months ago right around the 15th anniversary of its occurrence, I downloaded and listened to this show, from Madison Square Garden, September 20th 1993.

It went something like this:

1: Touch of Grey> Greatest Story Ever Told , Row Jimmy, Race Is On> Dire Wolf, Memphis Blues> Lazy River Road> Johnny B. Goode
2: Samson &Delilah, So Many Roads, Truckin> He's Gone> Drumz*> Other One*> GDTRFB*> Morning Dew
E: Baba O'Riley> Tomorrow Never Knows
*with Edie Brickell on vocals, (last time "Race Is On" was played was 05-04-91)

You folks at home can listen along to the show too, as a streaming source or a download in a variety of qualities:
[Grateful Dead Sept 20, 1993 soundtrack]

I've had a cassette copy of the show for over a decade, but it'd been a while since I'd given it a spin. Listening back it was obvious that it certainly was not a flawless show. The cracks/heroin were beginning to appear, but there are plenty of moments of "this is why I like the Dead!" And the show is very special to me because it was the only time I got to see the Grateful Dead. Many times since Jerry Garcia's death I've seen different configurations of GD members performing (most prominently 43 performances and counting of Phil Lesh and Friends!) but I only saw the original, legendary band once.

Since the band was legendary, and the show was a very important moment in my life--- seeing one of my all-time favorite bands as my first big rock concert--- it's worth writing down everything I remember before it all fades into old age and ether.

I got to got to the show thanks to my dad. He was a complete non-fan, certainly no Deadhead trying to teach his offspring what "good live music" was. Being dragged to a show by Deadhead parents was the way a lot of my peers got their first dose of live Dead. But my dad took me for my 14th birthday because he knew the Grateful Dead were the band I most wanted to see at the time. And he knew he could at least tolerate the GD's music, which he often heard coming from my bedroom.

Taking me to the show still stands as one of the coolest things my Dad has ever done for me. He even went through the complex mailorder process to get the tickets via the official Grateful Dead Ticket Service. As a result, I ended up with a great looking embossed ticket full of sparkles and GD iconography. This is so much better than the generic ticketmaster stock.

Of course I still have the ticket. I keep all my stubs. It was the first in an ever-increasing collection that now numbers in the hundreds and weighs about 5 pounds:

These are all my enduring memories of the evening:

Dad and I took the train in from Somerville, NJ to NYC Penn Station, literally right below Madison Square Garden. Deadheads were all over the platform in that quiet suburb. I remember in particular a middle-aged woman with long straight hair wearing a close-fitting white sweatshirt with the artwork for the Shakedown Street album printed in black on the front. On the platform the Deadheads stood in small clusters discussing the eternal jam band question, "what do you think they'll play tonight?" Switching trains in Newark, I remember lots of denim jackets and vests covered in GD patches on the platform. A man with tall rainbow-colored socks and Birkenstocks got on the same NYC-bound train as us.

On the train ride back to Somerville, after the concert, the conductor repeated each station stop numerous times in a very slow and deliberate manner. After many years of the Dead doing week-long Fall residencies at the Garden, the NJ transit works were probably used to the hordes of Deadheads, many in altered state of mind. With the condescending-style of the homeward-bound station announcements, I think the train workers were on one hand making fun of the fans and on the other hand just trying desperately to get to the end of the line without encountering a slit-eyed beardo in a wrinkled tie-dye still in one of the seats, saying "hey man, where are we? Did I miss the Westfield stop?"

For the show I wore a tie-dyed shirt I'd made the previous month at a Catholic boys summer camp and an olive drab lightweight coat that was a bit heavy for late September weather. In my coat pocket I had a copy of Willa Cather's My Antonia which I had to read for Mrs. Gottlieb's honors English class. I also had a white handkerchief with me that I ended up dropping on the floor of MSG. My Dad told me "just leave it. It's dirty."

Going into the show I knew a little about Deadhead culture and the band's setlist structure. I knew from the books I'd read that the band hadn't played "St. Stephen"-- perhaps my favorite Dead tune at the time--- since 1983. I knew that if the band played it tonight, it'd be a big deal. I knew the setlist was completely different from night to night and that without warning the band would reintroduce songs into the repertoire that hadn't been played live in a decade or more. So hearing "St. Stephen" that night was unlikely but not an impossibility. Of course it didn't happen, but the hope stuck with me to the very last note of he show.

The spun and/or drunk Deadheads in our row made fun of my Dad for being so old, though he was actually 5 years younger than the bearded fat man on stage. One of them mockingly said to my Dad, "what do you normally listen to? Herb Alpert and the Tijiuana Brass?" To me, I think they said something about popping my cherry, not that I knew what that meant.

My dad was excited that he was familiar with the openers of both sets; "Touch of Grey" because it was the Dead's only top 20 hit and that song was hard not hear if one was alive and aware in the mid to late 80s; and "Samson & Delilah" because it came from a folk-blues song that my dad knew from the Peter, Paul, and Mary version. (Incidentally, arguably the only cool concert my Dad saw in his youth was P,P &M at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens with Simon and Garfunkel as the openers(!)) I remember him at MSG singing along to the chorus, uncharacteristically with fist the air: "If I had my way!"

I knew Deadheads wrote each night's setlist down as the show unfolded, so I brought a little spiral notebook to write down what I knew of the set in a hand made crooked by the lack of light. I also knew that in the middle of the second set there'd be a percussion duet followed by a freeform ambient/non-melodic jam. I knew this segment was known as "Drums/Space."

But I still asked " what is this?" to the guy next to me during most song sin the first set until he he said (with slight annoyance) "let's just compare notes after the set." My knowledge of the Dead at that point-- the very beginning of my freshman year of high school-- was patchy at best. I think my GD collection of the time consisted of a well-worn cassette of the Best of/Skeletons From the Closet. That collection was the first Dead recording I ever got. It was the first for a lot of people. It contained everything by the band that I'd heard on early 90s classic rock radio. WNEW on a beat-up 1970s radio was my introduction to the band as I painted Dungeons & Dragons lead miniatures in my parents' New Jersey garage.

I also had Live/Dead (I'd heard of the mystique of "Dark Star" so I had to check it out), In the Dark, Europe '72, and the oddball choice for 2nd ever GD recording in my collection --- One From the Vault. This archival release of a complete 1975 concert was a 12th birthday present that I asked for and received as the first CD I ever owned.

I think I asked for it because of 2 things:
1) I wanted a GD CD with a "Steal Your Face" logo because I loved the design. Of course this logo appeared on One From the Vault. The SYF was what first made me look into the Dead after seeing Tim Jellison (an 8th grader when I was a 6th grader) wearing a SYF tie-dye at a gym dance. I immediately loved the design before evening hearing the band, but even in the infancy of my 70s rock research I'd read numerous times that the original Steal Your Face album--on which the logo very prominently appears, thus giving the design its name -- was awful.
2) I'd heard a version of "Sugaree" on some sort of Jerry Garcia radio interview/special and really liked it. And I knew One From the Vault included a version.

In addition to One From the Vault I also had a cassette of the Blues For Allah album (mildly redundant since OFTV includes superior live versions of every track on it.)

So by age 14, I was certainly a bit more than a novice. I had intimate knowledge of some obscurities, but was also ignorant of some staples--- "Dire Wolf"? never heard of it. "Row Jimmy"? what's that? A real Deadhead could sing every word to these, but I wasn't there just yet.

I remember at one point, before the show or between sets, I told my Dad I wanted to go down to the floor and touch the stage. This was my first rock show, so the whole idea of barriers between stage and crowd and not being able to get to the floor with a 300-level ticket was foreign to me. I half-remember making it to the floor as far as the soundboard. Maybe I got that far because I looked like exactly what I really was, "just a kid," six days away from turning 14.

During the show some tall bearded guys were dancing off to the right of our seats near one of the exits to the hallway. They were eating what looked like brownies with cellophane wrapping. I don't think I knew about "pot food" yet..

I'd never heard "Row Jimmy" or "Memphis Blues" before the night of the concert, but they had such catchy repetitive choruses that I found myself singing along in the Garden before the songs were over.

The song I was most excited hearing that night was, "Truckin.'" I loved its rebellious travelogue narrative. I remember the lights shining in spiraling patterns on the stage left 100&200 sections during "sometimes the lights are shining on me." And I heartily sang along to the most famous of all GD lines, "what a long strange trip it's been!" even though my own Dead trip had just begun...

The one truly unique aspect of this show in the Grateful Dead's history was the one-time-only guest appearance by Edie Brickel doing vocals on a couple of songs. At the time I knew her one big hit, "What I Am" with the New Bohemians but I don't think I figured out for certain who the mysterious long-haired woman on stage was until months later. At the time I thought it might have been Donna Godchaux, back-up singer for the Dead from 1972-1978.

At one point during the show, my dad went to the bathroom, leaving me alone in the seat. While my dad was gone, a woman from the row in front of me turned around and said, "do you want to get blunted?" She held out what I assumed to be a marijuana-filled cigar. This was the first time in my life I'd ever been offered drugs. I could've taken a few ineffectual cough-inducing hits before Dad got back, but I declined the offer without any internal conflict. I really didn't want to smoke ANYTHING. Within two years I'd be calling myself "straightedge" and going to punk and hardcore shows in suburban basements, backyards, and Elks Lodge halls.

After the encore, as the lights were coming up, the Deadhead who I looked to for setlist help turned to me and said, "you just saw a good one."

On the way out of the Garden, I remember someone selling presumably unlicensed t-shirts in the stairwell. Heading back down towards Penn Station I also picked up a couple handouts. One was a religious tract from the 12 Tribes hippie Christian community/cult. And they've had a presence at just about every GD-oriented concert I've been to since then too. Just two months ago, I ran into 12 Tribes literature-distributers outside the Dead reunion Obama campaign benefit concert at Penn State.

That night I also picked up a handout for the new Dicks Picks series of archival live CDs. Volume one from December of '73 was do out later that year. I gave my mom my allowance money and she ordered it for me with her credit card.