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Rock at the Movie Theater

My wife and I recently spent two enjoyable evenings attending rock-related events at our local movie theater. The first event was the showing of the documentary Springsteen and I; the second was for Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies 2013 for the showing of the concert film Sunshine Daydream. The really big screen and a pretty good sound system made for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Both events had extra material in addition to the primary films. Plus, before the shows, instead of the usual promos for movies you couldn’t pay me to see and other commercials, they had things that were relevant to the show we were about to see. (Amazing!) Among other things, before the Springsteen show they had a video of the band in concert and before the Grateful Dead show they had a film of some amazing tie dye fabric with the band playing in the background.

Springsteen and I

Springsteen and I was put together by Ridley Scott Associates. They sent out a request to fans to make a film about what the music of Bruce Springsteen means to them. The film is made up of films that were submitted in response. It’s primarily aimed at fans, and my wife (the Jersey girl) and I, having first seen him in 1975, would certainly qualify. We loved it. Here are some reviews. Searching for “Springsteen and I” on YouTube will find many of the submissions.

The emotions run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious. There are people who talk about how Bruce has provided the soundtrack to their life. There’s one from a woman who danced on stage with Bruce during Dancing in the Dark. I liked the one from the mother who, when she’s chauffeuring her kids around, will only play Springsteen. The funniest one was from a guy who went to a show in Philadelphia dressed as Elvis, and was pulled up on stage to do an Elvis song with the band. Then there was the English guy who went to the shows because his wife is a fan, and complained that the shows were too long.

The documentary is about 1:15. After that, they showed some concert footage and then some additional film of Bruce meeting with a few of the people whose films were included in the documentary (including the guy who thought the shows were too long and his wife). A wish-that-were-me moment.

The concert footage was of 6 songs from the band’s show in Hyde Park, London, in the summer of 2012. Apparently it was televised in England and, as a result, the performance is available on YouTube. The highlight, by far, comes when Paul McCartney joins them to do a couple of Beatles songs at the end. I know that, for most of you, it’s just a couple of old guys playing. Bruce was about 14 when the Beatles first came out, so he had a ‘that’s what I want to do’ moment as a young kid watching them. When introducing Paul, he says that he’s waited 50 years to do this. The set list:

  • Thunder Road (with just Roy Bittan on piano and Bruce on harmonica)
  • Shackled and Drawn
  • Because the Night (has an amazing guitar solo from Nils Lofgren)
  • We Are Alive
  • I Saw Her Standing There (with Paul McCartney)
  • Twist and Shout (with Paul McCartney)

Sunshine Daydream

This is a film of part of a Grateful Dead concert that took place on August 27, 1972 in Veneta, Oregon. The concert was staged as a benefit for the Springfield Creamery, which was owned by the family of author Ken Kesey. The friendship between the Grateful Dead and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is well-documented (particularly in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).

Since it was a relatively primitive time technologically, and due to cost, the show was recorded on 16mm video. They didn’t get the whole show, including the end because the sun went down and they weren’t able to film after sunset. Recently, the video and audio have been cleaned up using modern technology and they salvaged more of the video; that’s what we saw at the movie theater. In addition to the concert film, they also showed a documentary called Grateful Days, which talks about how the show was put together and has a number of interviews with people who were there that day. They are now selling this revised film at the Grateful Dead’s website, along with a 3-CD set of the complete concert, plus the documentary.

They may not have the whole concert on video, but what they do have is outstanding. The band was in fine form that day. The only gripe I have is that since filming ended because of darkness, we don’t get to see Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones and One More Saturday Night. The other thing you get from the concert film plus the documentary is a sense of the culture that the Grateful Dead were a part of. The Springfield Creamery was part of the then-new organic food movement, and you see how caring for the earth is part of the movement too.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the (complete) show. This is from the Grateful Dead Internet Archives, which has two types of recordings — audience microphone and sound board. The link is for a sound board recording, which can only be streamed. If you want to download the show, search on the site for “1972-08-27” — there are also audience recordings of this show. And, in case you are wondering, the site has a recording of just about every show the Grateful Dead played during their 30-year career.

I also found an older video of Sunshine Daydream on YouTube, which is linked below. It is definitely worth watching, but it’s less than what we saw in the updated version that was shown in the theater. There’s at least one more song that they were able to restore in the revised version of the film, and, while I didn’t watch every minute of the YouTube version, I didn’t see any of the “naked hippies dancing” part. You can still see and hear how great they were that day. We’ve ordered the DVD/CD package.

Grateful Dead

Truckin’ from 1972 and Bertha from around 1989.

I’ve spent more time listening to the Grateful Dead than anyone else.  There’s so much great music and so many great moments.  They covered more musical ground in a concert than most artists do in a career.  Rock, folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, country, experimental music, cowboy songs, covers of oldies (Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Motown) and a whole lot more.  Over the course of their career, they played over 500 songs.  In my mind, the quintessential Stand There And Play band.

The core of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (bass) and Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (drums and percussion) played with several keyboard players – Rob “Pigpen” McKernan (1965-72), Tom Constanten (1968-70), Keith Godchaux (1971-79), Brent Mydland (1979-90), Vince Welnick (1990-95) and Bruce Hornsby (1990-92), plus Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals from 1972-79.  Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow wrote a lot of the lyrics.  I won’t attempt to summarize the band’s history; there are plenty of resources out there.  Start with the basic biography, the band’s website, and this Grateful Dead chronology.

The Grateful Dead are the most-recorded band in rock history.  They were together from 1965 until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, and the vast majority of their shows were recorded.  They usually provided for a taper section in the audience near the sound board, so that fans could record the shows (pretty much the opposite of most concerts, right?).  There was a very active tape-trading community before the internet made it easy.  Now you can go to the Grateful Dead Internet Archive and choose from approximately two zillion concerts available for free download or streaming.  You’ll hear some crowd noise but the sound quality is usually very good.  For a great example, check out the second set of May 8, 1977 Barton Hall – Cornell University (starts with track 15 – Scarlet Begonias).  A show that’s special to me is April 17, 1971 Dillon Gym – Princeton University, because I was there that night.  If you ever wondered what’s the deal with Pigpen, here’s the answer.

Because of the improvisational nature of their playing, no two shows were exactly alike.  They generally didn’t have a set list; they just made it up as they went along.  It has been said they never played a song the same way twice.  I really enjoy listening to alternate versions of their songs – what did Jerry do on his solo this time, how did it sound when they changed the tempo.  They also liked to segue from one song to the next, sometimes stringing several songs together and playing for 30 minutes or more.  (That’s why the Truckin’ video above ends abruptly — they were going in to another song.)  As a result, a lot of their best stuff goes way past the YouTube time limit.  I was still able to find some things for your enjoyment:

This one’s a trip – on January 18, 1969, they appeared on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark, playing Mountains of the Moon and St. Stephen, along with some interview footage and a bit of Turn on Your Lovelight at the end:

Two of their songs that became fused together are Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain, because the segue between the songs worked so well. The following audios are their performances of these two songs, from the May 8, 1977 Cornell concert mentioned above:

Scarlet Begonias Fire on the Mountain

They played many acoustic sets over the years.  Here’s a nice version of Bird Song from October 1980.  I have another version of this song from March 29, 1990 when jazz saxophone great Branford Marsalis played with them (from the So Many Roads (1965-1995) box set).  This was literally the first time they ever played together, and you can hear them figuring it out.

March 28, 1981 Not Fade Away with Pete Townshend of the Who.

June 21, 1989 Touch of Grey. I really like Phil Lesh’s bass in this one.

There are a number of Gratateful Dead concerts available on DVD.  My favorite is The Closing of Winterland (December 31, 1978), the last show at the legendary San Francisco music venue.  The show is great, including some jamming with John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service.  The extras include two songs from opening act the Blues Brothers (Soul Man and B Movie), with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn from Booker T. & the MG’s in the band.  Dan Aykroyd of the Blues Brothers does the countdown at midnight while Bill Graham, dressed as Father Time, floats down from the ceiling in a giant joint, and then the Dead start Sugar Magnolia while dodging balloons on the stage.  There’s also a great documentary on the history of Winterland.  The poster for this show is in our poster collection (#8 on the east wall — click here to see it).

There is so much material it was hard to choose what to include — I’ll have to leave the rest to you. I’m sure I left out something important.