Grateful Dead “Dave’s Picks 22” Felt Forum, NYC 12/7/1971;
with set second-set from 12/6/71 – 3 CD’s; and
with a rare (limited edition) Bonus-Disc; first set from 12/6/71
The Felt Forum was barely three years old when the Dead graced the thirty-five hundred seat semi-circle concert hall. It’s still there renamed: The Theater at Madison Square Garden. I don’t recall but after the Fillmore East closed some month earlier, I suspect The Dead and other Rock bands were probing and trying out alternative Manhattan concert venues. The Grateful Dead performed at the Felt Forum on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, December 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1971. This was the band’s only appearance at the Felt Forum which was/is an annex to Madison Square Garden. Do you remember when tickets were priced at $3.50, $4.50, and $5.50? Such was the December, 1971 Felt Forum deal and you even got an opening act with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. (*) Since Bill Graham shuttered his historic Fillmore East and Fillmore West concert halls, these four Felt Forum concerts were his first concert productions since those closings.
There’s a lot to like about these recordings, first and foremost the band is a stripped down sextet, with core players; Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Kreutzmann, Pig Pen and the recently added Keith Godchaux; without his wife Donna. Those who read these columns know my preference for an uncluttered one-drummer Grateful Dead.
Disc One: If it’s December in NYC, why not open with “Cold Rain and Snow” it’s pretty good too, as is the rocking “Beat it on Down the Line,” and other tried and true first-set regulars that are not (yet) overplayed/overbeaten songs. Other first-set standouts include a (then) brand new Garcia/Hunter authored “Sugaree,” a blistering “Cumberland Blues,” and the set closing “Casey Jones.” It’s also sweet to hear long-lost Pig Pen classics; “Mister Charlie,” “Next Time You See Me,” and (it almost Santa time,) “Run Rudolph Run.” This disc also includes the second set opener “Sugar Magnolia,”
Disc Two: Commences with a leisurely “Ramble on Rose,” followed by a deeper-than-usual Blues cover of Pig Pen’s rendition of “Big Boss Man,” where Garcia lobs guitar hints towards “Smokestack Lighting.” “Mexicali Blues” romps at a high pace; “Brown-Eyed Women” is taken out for a stroll that’s followed by speedy “Me and My Uncle.” Garcia’s “Smokestack Lightning” hints become reality as the band deeply digs into the Blues and stretch-out (for almost thirteen minutes) on this Chester Burnett/Howlin’ Wolf classic. Garcia counters with his own Blues “Deal” it’s also brand-new, so much so Jerry misses his first guitar cue, it’s mostly laidback; as an unusually sweet rendition than latter-day revved-up versions. And away we go with (the also bluesy) “Truckin’” where you’ll hear Garcia (briefly) liftoff and explode! “Truckin’” is performed all by itself; then Kreutzmann kicks with the familiar/pounding drum rhythms to Buddy Holly’s classic “Not Fade Away,” into their traditional Blues cover and their definitive interpretation of “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” that roars, and beautifully segues with a stunning instrumental passage that finds its way back to a bring-the-house-down “Not Fade Away” reprise with Weir and Pig Pen neatly trading “Not Fade Away” vocal bouts. Encore time with the then new “One More Saturday Night” from Weir’s first solo album “Ace,” that finds a tireless band led by Garcia’s Chuck Berry like chords that likely had the crowd wanting more.
Disc Three: Takes us back one night for the entire second-set from 12/6/71. “Big Railroad Blues,” the band is in a good mood and in a bluesy bag as their opener, followed by the somewhat bluesy “Me and My Uncle” (by Papa John Phillips,) and a basic “Ramble on Rose.” Weir’s “Playing In the Band” reemerged onto his first solo project “Ace” and like the studio version there’s a heady instrumental jam passage, which wasn’t originally found on the live “Skull and Roses” double LP. Trippy time with a brief (almost two minute) “Cryptical Envelopment” that sets-up Kreutzmann for a short (about two minute) “Drums” segment that rolls into Kreutzmann and Weir’s “The Other One,” that explores faraway territories landing on the familiar notes of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster’s (gorgeously performed) “Me and Bobby McGhee.” Then back to a lengthier (almost fourteen minute,) but just as spacey reappearance of “The Other One” this time with Weir’s vocalized lyrics – returning for more instrumental planetary explorations, that finally land onto Garcia’s “Wharf Rat.” This “Wharf Rat” is one of the longest I can recall (nearly twelve minutes,) it’s sumptuously captivating. They end their set with Weir’s “One More Saturday Night, and encore with a (seven minute rendition) of Garcia’s “Uncle John’s Band.” Nice, as Jerry Garcia says “goodnight everybody thank you very much.”
Bonus Disc: Is (mostly) the entire first-set from 12/6/71, though probably due to space limitations “Run Rudolph Run,” “Next Time You See Me,” (both Pig Pen songs,) and “El Paso” were omitted. But the always boring (nearly eleven minute long) “Black Peter” survives, go figure? The first song is the seemingly flexible “Truckin’” (nearly twelve minutes.) Though “Truckin’” hasn’t been fully woven into the Dead’s second set jams yet, this version (all by its lonesome) kicks butt! I was never a big fan of Garcia’s “Loser,” but the Pig Pen – Hunter “Mr. Charlie” is as nearly as Blues Heaven as it gets for The Dead from the sorely missed Ron Pig Pen McKernan. Who doesn’t love a good “China Cat Sunflower” regularly segued to the traditional Blues standard “I Know You Rider”? Though not as sophisticated as later versions – I particularly enjoy these early performances as Garcia always seems to reach back to the band’s former sounds, call me nostalgic.
This is a solid set of vintage (late 1971 Grateful Dead) music. The only disappointment is the bonus disc. Historically speaking these bonus discs are highly collectable but I’m betting this one will not be as pricey. The good news is that those who didn’t receive the bonus disc got a good deal as the third CD collects a bulk of the best of the 12/6/71 night, other than the kicking (nearly twelve minute) “Truckin’.” (**)
**Note as to why The Dead never returned to the Felt Forum to perfor: I’d lay odds that the Madison Square Garden’s tighter rules for earlier closing times were too demanding for Bill Graham and The Dead. This wasn’t the case at the Fillmore East, nor at The Academy of Music. This is just an observation, but it’s probably correct.
Limited to 16,500 numbered copies, “Dave’s Picks Volume 22” was originally captured and recorded by Rex Jackson. It has been mastered to HDCD specs by Jeffrey Norman, features illustrations by Dave Van Patten, with liner-notes titled “New Venue, New Keyboards, New York” by Gary Lambert.
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