[Author's Note: Not for the first time, I find myself posting past work in order to avoid present work. Here's a short story, entitled "Jolene," which I wrote for my Intro to Fiction/Poetry Writing. Most likely I'll revise it further at some point, though I think it's at least come into some maturity. Any feedback is appreciated.]

I'd been courting you for months by then, a sinuous process that demanded every resource my art could supply. As I opened up my soul to you in the only way I knew how, I studied your response, every encouraging twitch of your lip, hoping, through refinement of my technique, to impress on you what I couldn't say outright—that no feeling I'd ever known could compare with what I felt for you.

“Jolene,” I wanted to say, “I love you. This is love. We know it when it comes along, however crudely we express it.”

It wasn't love at all, you say to me now. You didn't love me. You didn't know me. Can you even remember one thing I said to you?

No, Jolene, I cannot. In the dizzying, thrilling body of everything that passed between us, I can only now remember things unsaid—except for one thing which was said and which should never have been said. And for that I'll always be sorry.

Snack crackers. That was our undoing. All my lamented shortcomings crystallized in those baked cheddar bites. My paucity of romantic imagination, grotesquely imaged. My profoundest regret imprinted like a grease stain on my soul.

And yet, somewhere within me, I was intimately acquainted with love and its subtleties. In my dreams, you and I led a placid, wondrous existence; you would wear the beautiful, floral-printed dress I came to associate with summer's approach; we would sit out on a grassy field beneath the sun, holding hands or taking turns stroking each others' hair. Our nighttime doubles knew no uneasiness, no desperation; they did not grasp erratically for love's expression. But by day, things were different. By day, I offered stories about pogo sticks and space aliens as love's proof, or walked into the classroom quacking like a duck. I staged fights with chairs for your amusement. I offered up every pratfall, every pun, every performance at my disposal. Wooing you with all the antics I dared and living for your every giggle, I came to inhabit a permanent state of manic exuberance. Even Miss Gerhard could tell. She told me, in so many words, when she pulled me aside one day:

“Alex, your flirty pursuit of Jolene has grown to such disruptive excess as threatens to derail the educational mission of the fourth-grade team. In fact, I think it fair to say that I've never witnessed such disruptive and antic flirtation in the fourth grade before.” (The educational mission of the fourth-grade team: a casualty of my love for you, Jolene.) “I'm afraid that we will not cover the Revolutionary War before Christmas if I do not remove you from Jolene's table. This is the stated policy of the fourth-grade team. You will sit in isolation for a while, until the academic focus of this classroom has had a chance to recover.”

A banished Romeo, I watched you from a distance at which I could barely see the whites of your eyes. I watched as every day at ten o'clock you opened up your bag of snack crackers and ate away at our future.

Which is not to say I lay blame on you, Jolene, or your crackers. Nor can I blame Drew, with his short bristly hair and stocky build and look of perpetual cluelessness. He was my friend in those days because he was a good audience, meaning he would guffaw after almost everything I said.

“Drew, Andrew, sir, amigo,” I might have said, “Ferrel here says the reason he didn't want me on his soccer team is that I can't kick for beans. But I tell you he's wrong—I could kick five beans, even.” And through little verbal coups such as these I could cue the desired chortle. Such was my relationship with Drew, my ever-enthusiastic trial audience.

Things might have turned out so that he would have had a share in my downfall, helped form the clumsy words with which I lost you. He was a friend of mine, after all, and I might have made him my co-conspirator too:

“Let me draw out for you, Drew, this wonderful scheme I've concocted, a stunt which is sure to amuse the whole class and Jolene most especially, sure to show her my love in the close observation I've given even the minutest of her habits and preferences, these snack crackers of hers.” You must understand, Jolene, I thought both nothing and everything of my scheme: nothing because it was intended like any other, and everything because it was intended for your delight. Its critical flaw was not yet apparent to  me. As it was, I never got a chance to implicate Drew in this misguided opus, the calamitous shot heard round the world, because Drew had an opus of his own to share.

He'd shown me his writing before, stories in the same farcical vein I was working in, and I admit I thought they were rudimentary, shoddy, frankly unfunny—a pale imitation of the sort I was crafting for you, and infuriatingly peopled with talking animals. At some point, he must have understood his own mediocrity, because he stopped bringing them to me after a while. I'm sure I was never anything less than encouraging of his efforts, though at times Drew could strain my patience. His neediness was the worst; there wasn't a single snowy day that winter he didn't call me and ask me to accompany him sledding. Imagine my surprise, however, when thick, bristle-haired Drew read a composition at the front of the room and received ringing laughter from the entire class. I was more than surprised, I'll allow—I was shocked. I don't know how much I registered the piece itself. From my isolation off to the side, I saw every nine-year-old body contorted in helpless mirth, their hands clapping feverishly when he'd finished. Their fervor seemed almost bloodthirsty. I saw it all and I recognized it: it was the total exposure of admiration I longed to receive from you, and I very nearly had to despise him for achieving it.

Can you fault me, Jolene? Months spent working toward some great ecstasy always just out of sight, wearing the gold hat and bouncing higher till one day my love would be plain as sunshine—to have had all my efforts utterly eclipsed in one stroke, and by Drew—

Needless to say Drew hadn't really been capable of such an upset. Miss Gerhard had a few words for him after his exhibition, and from my nearby desk I caught the gist of her admonition:

“Drew, later this year, after we cover the American Revolution, you will learn about the Barbary Pirates. They were so named because they came from Barbary and plundered goods from ships. You have committed a deed in every way equal to the deeds of those vicious pirates. You have plundered your story directly from a television program which aired last night, one which happens to be the fourth-grade team's particular favorite. I must inform you that any further acts of piracy, either intellectual or nautical, will result in disciplinary action.”

As he walked past my desk, I was ready to elicit another guffaw from my perennial congratulator—“Aaarr, avast, Drew, that be a hoot of a story ye be readin'”—but no guffaw came. He took his seat silently without looking at me. We spent less time together after that, which at first came as some relief, though I'm sure he regretted it in the end. Few people in that class apart thought much of Drew at all, but I can know that I, at least, tried to be his friend. If we fell apart, it's not my fault. The responsibility can't be mine if he felt ashamed for what he'd done, if he rejected my friendship out of bitterness or jealousy.

You are quick to seize upon this. You weren't ever a friend to him, you say, any more than you were to me.

But I was a friend to you, Jolene. I know I was. Drew was Drew, and I did my best for him. But you were different. There was more between us.

All there was between us was you and your egomania. You just kept spewing that act of yours, and I was polite, nothing more. I never found you amusing or interesting.

But I watched you. I know you did.

You don't know that. You couldn't have known my feelings any more than you did on the day you hurt me. I was never a real person to you. Only something in your head, just like now, a fiction for you to tinker with. “Jolene.” You see you treat me the same way you treat anyone else. “Drew.” “Miss Gerhard.” But I have a voice again, and I can tell you that you were blind. You never meant anything to me.

No, Jolene. I won't let even my own guilty conscience rewrite history as uncharitably as that. It's true, I was consumed in my own performance; I was erratic, and I was desperate; but it was the fever of love, and I know it moved you. There are some things about you, Jolene, that I am sure of, that I have an absolute knowledge of, and you can't take them away from me now. I know the smiles that crossed your face. I know the way your mouth hung agape in that incredulous laughter of yours, as if everything that brought you mirth were also somehow indecent. I know what hoped-for result prompted my every word and deed, sustained me when I did not achieve it. I know all of this, because I know what I lost.

*    *    *

DOLPHINS AND FRIENDS!” I sang to an improvised melody as I marched toward you. “BAKED CHEDDAR SNACK CRACKERS!” You looked up from your snack where you sat. I punctuated the musical performance with a number of aquatic noises such as I imagined dolphins or their friends might make. It was a feeble effort, I know, and in the unclear design of an artistic failure so much was misunderstood.

Miss Gerhard led me out into the hallway within an hour. I couldn't fathom what she might want. She fixed me with a stare and began:

“Alex, I understand you've been making fun of Jolene's snack crackers.”

I was shocked by the very suggestion. Of course I hadn't been, Jolene, I hadn't meant anything by it. Just when I might have said something in my defense to Miss Gerhard, I caught sight of you behind her. You were crying. I couldn't say anything.

“Clearly, Jolene is deeply hurt by your insinuations that her Dolphins & Friends snack crackers are somehow inadequate or inferior to the leading brand. I don't suppose you considered even for one second the socioeconomic implications of your mockery. In light of your cruel gibe and your still unrelenting classroom antics, I am compelled to telephone your parents tonight, and you will sit out one week's recess. This is the stated policy of the fourth grade team.”

By then I was crying too, and after my parents scolded me I cried some more, but I knew this was good. I was not sorry, either, when I missed out on kickball and soccer at recess. Having known the look of pain on your face, I came to despise my own happiness. I only regret that I had but one week's recess to offer you, Jolene, as penitence for my sin.

Wooster 2009 "Stage Door" Fall Dance Concert

[Author's Note: I wasn't necessarily going to post this review, but I received some positive feedback from Kim Tritt, professor of dance, which prompted me to share (because why not, really?). The review appeared in slightly different form in the Nov. 13 issue of the Wooster Voice.]

This year's “Stage Door” fall dance concert is doubtless one of the most compelling showcases for student work to be presented this semester. The intimacy of dance “in the round” immerses the audience fully in each piece, and even under such intense scrutiny (or perhaps because of it) the concert succeeds wildly.

Each of the ten pieces was created by a different student choreographer (all of them under the direction of Kim Tritt, professor of dance), and the breadth of these assembled creations is one of the great joys of “Stage Door.” The sequencing highlights profound contrasts in mood, rhythm, and form in such a way that each successive piece is its own revelation—not a single one of them feels stale or derivative.

The first set, for instance, takes leaps of nearly bipolar extremes in three successive standout numbers. The instantly grabbing “Maniacal Somnolence” unfolds at a frenetic pace that reinforces its sense of mischief and surprise. It's followed by “Full Circle,” a beautifully focused piece that plays out like a celebration of sisterhood, and one that knows the compositional value of blank space. This gives way to the starkly dramatic “Interference”; taking its cues from traditional ballet, “Interference” is as tense and fretful as the Prokofiev music to which it's set. The cumulative effect of these contrasts is disorienting in the best sense of the word—there are no safe assumptions about what any dance holds.

One of the most distinctive aspects of this year's “Stage Door,” however, is also the glue that holds these disparate numbers together as a concerted whole. In the way “Stage Door” has long spotlighted a broad range of student talent, composition major Paul Winchester '11 is featured as prominently as anyone during the performance, creating free-form piano improvisations between each dance number. This serves not only a practical purpose, giving time to set up the next piece, but adds a crucial sense of continuity and reflection as Paul draws on the musical themes that accompanied the previous dance.

In addition to his improvisations, Paul also performs an original composition for the delicately nightmarish “Woven,” perhaps the strongest overall achievement on the program. The music, in perfect tandem with Kaitlin Yankello's wonderfully restrained choreography, builds to a breathtaking climax followed by a chilling coda. Quite simply, “Woven” is superb.

Equally noteworthy is the aptly titled “Animation Play,” which unfolds in the lobby during intermission. “Animation Play” boasts taut, theatrical performances from each of the three dancers that emphasize the piece's cartoonish humor. It's a very entertaining play on the dancing space itself and a suitably lighthearted divider between the two longer sets.

Each half of the program ends in similar territory, with a large-scale number that reminds me of contemporary Broadway. These, “Write Me a Tragedy” and “Not Juliet,” might be faulted for lacking the focused intensity or subtlety of the most memorable dances, but their placement effectively lends a sense of unity and balance to the concert. These are also ample reminders that there really is something for all tastes at “Stage Door.” As an exhibit for student music, lighting design, and dance, “Stage Door” is highly recommended.

The “Stage Door” fall dance concert will be presented Friday and Saturday at 8:15 in Freedlander Theatre.


On the Wooster Freethinkers Club

[Author's Note: This Viewpoints piece is slated to appear in Friday's edition of the Wooster Voice. I'm not sure it's especially elegant, but it says what I wanted it to. Also, I hope to soon be posting some other things I've written this past year that just haven't made it here yet.]

Last Monday, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Wooster Freethinkers Club (freethinkers being atheists, agnostics, etc.) and left feeling what can only be described as elated and deeply relieved. It was an instance of not realizing how much I felt the Wooster campus was missing just such an organization until after it came into being, and it transformed my understanding of how valuable diverse student groups can be to their individual members and to the campus as a whole.

I've considered myself an atheist for as long as I've given the issue of God any serious thought. I'm not sure that I parade that fact openly, but I certainly don't hesitate to lay my views on the table when the subject comes up. However, before the meeting, I could identify very few other nonbelievers on campus with any certainty. I suspected there were others, or even quite a few, but I had no way of knowing.

Therefore, that the first meeting was extremely well-attended, just about filling Babcock basement lounge, really surprised me. I already knew a good number of the people there, too (it's a small college, after all), without realizing that we all had one fairly significant trait in common. It made me aware just how taboo the topic is, and the feeling of breaching the silence was exhilarating. I was floored, for a moment, by basic gratitude that I could look around the room and know I wasn't alone in my views on a topic of great importance to me.

The fact that this taboo does exist, then, indicates how valuable the Freethinkers Club is not only to its members but to the greater student community. There's no reason that at a liberal arts college the nonreligious should feel like there's a tacit blanket of their views. No sort of gag exists officially, of course, or is even, to my knowledge, advocated by any individuals at Wooster. However, up to this point, the discourse on religion on this campus has been severely limited. Religious student groups have always been a visible part of campus life, and there's a definite spotlight on “religious diversity,” but where does this leave atheist and agnostic students?

It's essential that what I imagine is a fairly sizable portion of the student body have some kind of organization representing their views and interests, especially given that atheists are statistically the most discriminated-against population in America. If that's ever going to change, we need for the nonreligious to be able to “come out,” to identify themselves as normal people and not to feel like they can't express their views for fear of offending someone. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the Freethinkers Club is capable of doing for Wooster.


[Grateful Dead: To Terrapin: NOTES]

[Author's Note: This is the obsessive's breakdown of May 28, 1977. For everyone else, the more concise and polished review is published below.]

Grateful Dead
To Terrapin: Hartford '77


Bertha. Starts with a little less wild exuberance than in the early 70s, probably my favorite overall period for the song. Jerry's singing is likewise a little more low-key, but nonetheless expressive. The Godchauxs are doing a fine job: Donna's harmonies add some lovely color, and Keith's rather rhythmic fills, while hardly virtuosic, complement the easygoing '77 vibe. Jerry's solo is, again, considerably less frenzied than it would have been only a few years earlier, but it's both lyrical and precise. It's Keith in the background, actually, who really pushes the ROCK out of the song in the latter stages of the instrumental, and it's a welcome development. (He actually was still playing quite well in the spring of '77; that would change somewhat in the fall.) It's really quite a fine version by the end. >

Good Lovin'. Usual key maneuvering to get to the C riff. (Gotta love the '77 rhythm section; Mickey and Bill were such a part of that beautiful feel.) (MIX: Very nice, crisp with good instrument separation, but I wouldn't be complaining if Phil were even higher—there's no such thing as too much Phil.) This version is great not only in execution but VIBE, and I think that's a huge part of the '77 appeal (which I totally get, even though I might prefer the pre-hiatus years). Bobby's vocal freak-out at the end nicely underscored by some bass thumps. They draw out that last C chord for all it's worth until Jerry announces >

Sugaree. Here we go. Very little is better than a May '77 Sugaree. First instrumental: Jerry starts those slow, spiraling notes, those glistening strands of dewy melodic invention, and everyone else bears out the counterpoint so beautifully. This is perhaps one of the greatest representations of what this band could create with only two chords. I dare you not to be moved. The feeling that drips from every line here and lots of Sugarees from this era is really just one of the best things they ever tapped into. Builds in momentum, through double-time notes and chord riffing and Phil ascents... but this is really music beyond words. Bobby's brighter guitar color meshes with Jerry's darker, fluid one so perfectly. Second instrumental: Keith starts us off. Just graceful triplet patterns, as lilting as can be. (His sense of inversions/part writing is excellent, for those of you who pay attention to that kind of thing.) His arpeggiations fuse seamlessly with Jerry's. Just once, for a brief period, neither Keith nor Jerry seizes the inventive line, and it flags slightly, but Jerry revives it quickly, building the second instrumental to its shredding peak (this isn't dark shredding, by the way—it's just an expression of incredible sentiment). Jerry gives it all to the singing, too, and his voice is perhaps my favorite, if I may make a subjective choice. Third instrumental: very placid opening after storm of past two instrumentals. Jerry explores a lot of his lower register at first; the effect is suitably mournful, and when he moves up higher, it's like crying. This might be the most rhythmically varied of the three instrumental segments, though it never rises to the auspiciously BIG peaks of the other jams (its intensity is in its focus and restraint). In the last verse/chorus of the song, it becomes apparent again just how expressive Jerry's voice is—he's really acting the song. Thus ends a HELL of a half-hour opening segment. Wow.

(Best-ever Sugaree? Irrelevant. There are some others from the surrounding weeks that I like as much or more, but that's just a matter of personal preference.)

Jack Straw. Ah... another typically beautiful May '77 artifact. Again, much more placid than the versions before retirement, which I tend to prefer, but there's no denying the easygoing, gently dancing merits of these '77 specimens. Jerry's guitar playing is just so good, even if the instrumentals don't get as intensely jammed out. Every phrase seems to say something. Jerry's vocal lines aren't given nearly enough feeling, which is a drawback. The second instrumental is given a much lengthier treatment, gradually stretching out to the howling beast it would become in '78 (this one's still tamer, but still has a beauty and a strength). I prefer 5/8 or 5/25 from this month, but this one's lovely nonetheless.

Row Jimmy. Keith on early-'77 organ-thing, which has a weak sound. It's a drawback, given what his contributions were on, say, a Fender Rhodes in '74. As beautiful as this song is, it doesn't do enough to captivate with every listen, though there are some really remarkable versions out there. I'm not feeling this one. It's also possible the '77 tempos are starting to drag to these ears. Maybe this one will open up to me more on subsequent hearings, but right now 5/8 and 5/21 are my favorite Jimmys of the month.

Minglewood. This song could have some definite kick to it during this period (actually, fuck what most people say—I can think of a lot of, say, mid-80s versions with lots of kick too—dig October '83!). But this is a crisp version that's rounded out by Phil thumps and there's no slide guitar that would tend to dominate starting '78. I wish Keith were higher on the mix here (he tends to get buried in rockers this year)—he takes a solo, but it's more rhythmic playing that the melodic invention he would have put into it in '76. Jerry's playing is typically excellent, but it's not going to blow your mind if you're a Deadhead with a steady intake of Minglewoods (which I am). Bobby's playing actually fans the drama pretty significantly at the end of the last instrumental.

Candyman. Keith back on organ for another Jerry ballad. Bobby throws in some nice shimmering fills when needed. Three-part harmonies in chorus nicely executed. It's fascinating how in-transition Jerry's voice sounds in '77—he's a few years past his youthful singing, and the next few years would really scratch his voice up into its famous latter-day tone. Here he's in a nether-zone, singing with less exuberance, an older sensitivity. His wah-wah solo is a thing of delicate beauty, and a good example of the group (the support) backing Jerry (the focus) in '77, rather than the more collective jamming of '73-'74.

Passenger. Quintessential late '70s howler, and always a good place to hear some Phil thumps, not to mention Keith's funkier contributions (which sound a bit like squelching bugs, and it's awesome) or the thrill of some of Jerry's slide lines. Donna really growls (not howls!) on "raging beast." A fine version, but nothing unusual. Forgive the relentless comparisons, but in May '77 it's got to be done: I prefer 5/19.

Brown-Eyed. Another one I definitely look forward to this month. Keith back on piano distinguishes himself neatly paralleling Jerry's vocal lines. Donna's harmonies are much better than Phil's were, let it be said. WHOA! Jerry's first solo really gets off to a surprising and thrilling start! You'll just have to hear it. Damn... this is a version that lives up to some very high expectations! Keith is really playing about as well as he ever did this year, too, and that's still quite good. In comparison to early versions, "tumbledown shack" bridge doesn't get a lot of punch, but the solo gets SO MUCH that it would be a petty complaint. The remainder of the song is just typically great, but this has already been pushed into first-class territory. Up there with 5/8 and /9.

Promised Land. This rocker is bursting with typical '77 fatness (pre-retirement Chuck Berry numbers were handled differently). Keith's solo is very nice, if rhythmically even, but that's consistent with the general tendencies here. Jerry doesn't handle the harmonies on the last verse as well as I might wish, but they leave a good space of time after to rock out—and they do. Highly enjoyable way to end a set.

Set One Summary: Total time 76:37. The opening sequence is phenomenal, and the Sugaree is the rival of any, worthy of every bit of praise that's been heaped on it. The rest of the set, apart from a gem of a BEW, is comparatively lackluster, which is to say it's well-played to a fault but low on energy. I'd take most first sets from April through June '77 over this one, but it's still a 7.5 or so.


Samson. This is definitely a song that was frequently stellar this tour. Introduction sounds very fine, with Keith making his presence known. (The official releases tend to be mixed in his favor more than the bootlegs.) He continues to distinguish himself with inventive harmonies backing Bobby. Jerry begins his solo on something of a weak beat, but his playing is more than up to upping the ante as he goes. His punctuation to Bobby's vocal ferocity is also noteworthy, though Keith is the best instrumentalist throughout the verses. Jerry's second solo is even stronger, a barnstormer—some really inventive lines really shake off all expectations. An excellent Samson worthy even of its formidable '77 peers.

Tennessee Jed. This tune I generally think lost a lot of sparkle in its transformation to '77 rhythmic evenness. The wash of drums, slower plodding tempo, and relative tameness of Keith's playing doesn't do it any favors. Sure enough, there's not a lot here to distinguish it from countless other Jeds. (Verses will pass and just not spark that much comment, honestly.) Keith starts picking up some spark just in time for the closing instrumental. Bobby and Phil's complementing Jerry is very interesting to listen to here, but Keith and even Jerry are just too rhythmically even to stand out consistently. A pity, because it climaxes very nicely. Still, nothing like a really good pre-retirement or even '76 Jed.

Estimated. Ah! That glorious bass thud, the wah-wah... could a Deadhead not love the introduction to Estimated? Not quite as crisp as some—this is a gooier beast, for better or worse. It shows its infancy at a few moments—namely, there just aren't enough fills in the right places, and the vocal harmonies aren't always 100% sharp. Jerry, however, is clearly practiced with the song and nails the often difficult bridge into the G maj. jam, which itself is FAR shorter than it would become or than one would like. But we get a good length of time to move out of Estimated, at least. The jam out is largely dominated by Jerry—it's not as rich as versions to come where Brent would help push that envelope. Jerry's also playing with fewer accidentals than he would work in over the next few years, so this take remains rooted to the bass framework more than some. The last couple minutes break from any symptoms of blandness. Bobby's really adding a lot of nice melodic counterpoint, and Keith's at least a big part of the funky texture. Phil's holding down the basic pattern more than anything else, which is probably important in a song as slippery as this. >

Playing. Keith's synth-organ tone is a little unusual to these ears. Bobby and Donna blend well, and Jerry's playing is very crisp. The opening is just as jubilant as one would want to the ending reprise coming out of the darkest jam to be. Playing still takes the immediate drop into D minor for the jam that was so striking of earlier versions and would be forestalled in the years to come. Indeed, multilayered rhythmic characteristics aside, this Playing hasn't entirely lost its pre-retirement vibe. It is, of course, much less Keith-driven (though he's toying with some really interesting and bizarre electronic textures). This version has a lot of really excellent jamming, however—it's likely about as good as Playing got in '77, which is still a decently high standard, even if we're not talking '72-'74. For the electronic weirdness, this is actually one of the strangest versions I've heard (though the freak-outs like 12/2/73 or 5/21/74 are another matter entirely). This last few minutes occasionally leave the Dorian mode for increased dissonance. Likely the Dead know they're not doing a standalone version. >

Terrapin. Very smooth and interesting transition. This is the second release named after a Terrapin as the centerpiece of the second set. 3/15/90 Terrapin is wonderful, so we'll see if this one lives up to that precedent. This song works so well in the year of its debut because it fits this incarnation of the band so impeccably: the way Keith and Phil and Bobby frame the verses show they're really paying attention and enjoying their latest and perhaps most idiosyncratic extended composition. (In that respect, one can see why it was this song Phish dug up to pay homage to Jerry in August '98.) Lady With A Fan altogether is executed PERFECTLY, really everything one could ask for. Let's see how Part II goes off.... Keith plays some really sparkling arpeggios in the transition (he's really wonderful throughout this track). Beautiful dive into "Inspiration!" (Move me brightly...!) I just have to turn up the volume here... this is so beautiful. This is one of the best Terrapins I've heard, without a doubt (I see where they got the title now). There's a flub or two, but they just keep on, and it's wondrous. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Keith is playing this song just about as well as his successor ever did (and in his own idiomatic Keith style). Phil's all over this, too. Everyone is. This is just glorious... I can't use enough superlatives. They dive back into the Playing jam, rather thrillingly, too, giving us a beautiful thirty seconds of that before >

Drums. They strike up the NFA rhythm from the beginning of the duet. You can even hear some faint E-chord explorations off in guitar-land. (These weren't the days of leaving the stage.) >

NFA. This song could rock as noisily as anything the Dead ever played in '77, especially in the fall. I really like the days before NFA was confined to a set-closing role. The band provides considerable buildup to the considerable song for minutes on end before the vocals, consistent for the year. Vocals at 4:30. They really keep jamming at a very even level of intensity here, neither playing for dynamic, melodic, or rhythmic variations or fanning the heat as much as they would by the fall. After the second vocals, Keith plays some very cool upper-register lines over the chord changes. Jerry's doubled-octave sound is a staple of this era, and always a pleasure to hear. There's nothing radical about this NFA, but it's consistently enjoyable and engaging. Phil's bass is perhaps the most inventive component. The even E jam starts fade away in the last five minutes of the track, moving into freer explorations on the same mode (in terms of departure from a template, the most spontaneous jamming of the night). Turns toward A major in an even more spontaneous jam in the last two and a half minutes, proving the Dead still had the flexibility to pull this off in '77, if not as often as before. Its key and texture say Dark Star to me, but as we all know it's the slow approach of a Wharf Rat. (GDM could have called all that "Hartford Jam" if they'd wanted—it would have merited the title.) >

Wharf Rat. A lot of attention seems to be given to the basic sound in this version. The vocals and the way they blend are great. The instrumental placements are precise, restrained, and effective. A very pretty Wharf Rat. The jam out takes on a powerful edge by Jerry from the beginning, and Keith's chords play to a lot of effect here. Bobby's shimmering A and G chords occasionally call to mind the Cryptical end-jam. I'm sticking with the Pretty and Formally Perfect assessment here—it doesn't have quite enough whoop-ass in the right spots to match the absolute best Wharf Rats. >

Playing. Sudden drop back into D minor, at first with a slightly skewed rhythm which resembles something from Let It Grow, which was currently on sabbatical until the fall, so that's not a choice. The jamming remains cemented to The Main Ten, albeit in a very pleasant way, but it's a conclusion track, not an extension of the earlier Playing jam followed by a conclusion, a la an earlier Playing sandwich. Keith's synth sounds a little out-of-place here and at other times. We welcome the piano back with great pleasure... and the immediate return of the synth with increased displeasure! The full piano sound would make for such a more majestic conclusion, though everyone else is certainly throwing that kind of weight around, and we're getting majesty anyway. Jerry, unusually, quotes Main Ten a few times and the opening riff only once before the song closes. Virtually a segue into:

OMSN. The really fat sound serves this rock-'n'-roller in C fairly well, as it did the other rock-'n'-roller in C at the close of the other set. Other than that, things are fairly standard, in the best possible '70s way.

(Encore.) U.S. Blues. Jerry's voice is considerably weaker here than it was three years earlier when the song debuted. Less Keith and a heavier rhythm section don't play to the song's advantage either, in my book. For contemporary versions, the 6/9/77 is a step above this, too, but the instrumental break here does have some balls. Jerry brings his voice up a little more for the critical "You can call this song the United States blues!" The coda has got some fire behind it as well. Altogether better than good, but not excellent.

Set Two/Encore Summary: Total time 95:31. Better than set one! The main sequence of music, the Estimated > Playing sandwich, is exemplary: everything is well-played, the Estimated, Playing, and NFA have enough jam in them to keep things from being a recital, and the TERRAPIN is just exactly perfect, about as epic as anything the Grateful Dead ever played. This is a good set for non-Deadheads, and on par with the other classic sets of April through June. 8.5

Total time 172:08.

Overall: Deadheads like shows from 1977 (especially May). GDM likes releasing shows from 1977 (especially May). As such, any one show or release is subject to ruthless competition and held to Herculean standards. How well "To Terrapin" acquits itself is likely a matter of personal tastes. For me, it's not quite the apex. I would take Dick's Picks 29, 5/8, 5/25, and the June Winterland run over 5/28, but that's a trifling distinction. If you call yourself a Deadhead and you haven't heard this show, you need to—you'll be glad you did. If you're a casual fan, this is a great place to start exploring 1977, especially given that "To Terrapin" is being widely released. B+.

Grateful Dead, To Terrapin

[Author's Note: The following review will be published in Friday's edition of the Wooster Voice.]

The Grateful Dead's newest archival release, “To Terrapin: Hartford '77,” is pitted against some intimidating competition. This May 28, 1977, concert was the last from a month that many Deadheads consider the best ever, and while plenty others (this one included) would beg to differ, there's no denying that the band was delivering exceptional, career-defining performances nearly every night of the tour.

This means two things for “To Terrapin”: one, it's marvelous by default; and two, it will forever be subject to ruthless comparisons to its May '77 predecessors.

How does May 28 acquit itself on the latter score? Moderately well. It would certainly be hard to think of a better opening sequence. After rocking through a typical pairing of “Bertha” and “Good Lovin',” both of which boast a polished, sparkling sound, lead guitarist Jerry Garcia seamlessly steers the band into the ballad “Sugaree.”

With its lyrical treatment of love, loss, and regret, and its roots deep in the American folk tradition, “Sugaree” is signature Grateful Dead—and everything about this version falls into place beautifully. The song proper, especially in Garcia's aching vocal lines, is executed with a profound expressiveness, but the three instrumental breaks between verses are where “Sugaree” reaches its most transcendent peaks. Here, in endless but purposeful melodic invention over two chords, the band conjures up a love story more vivid, dynamic, and intense than could ever be put into words, mining every corner of the song for its emotional truth. I dare you not to be moved. The track total runs nineteen minutes, and not one is wasted. Even in a month studded with epic takes, this “Sugaree” is the rival of any.

After “Sugaree,” however, the first set loses considerable momentum. The rhythmic evenness of 1977 Dead begins to drag, and while Garcia takes a truly arresting solo in “Brown-Eyed Women,” backed by some adroit fills from pianist Keith Godchaux, the latter half of the set still feels somewhat underwhelming.

But this band is nothing if not able to bounce back, and they bounce back with a vengeance after intermission. The thick, dark reggae of “Estimated Prophet,” which opens a seventy-minute thread of uninterrupted music, is warped into a fiery, chromatic jam led by Garcia. They then take a jubilant stroll through “Playing in the Band” before that song dissolves like a momentary illusion into fretful, modal jazz spiked with bizarre electronic textures.

The second really exemplary moment of the show comes in the form of “Terrapin Station,” their latest and most idiosyncratic extended composition (and the namesake for this release). The lilting, ambiguous first section is executed perfectly, and not just by Garcia, but by the entire band, all of whom frame the verses with clarity and grace. The triumphant second part of the suite, however, is breathtaking. When Garcia sings, “Inspiration! move me brightly,” you can hear him basking in it. The song doesn't let up from there, but rather charges through its majestic, radiant conclusion.

It's hard to find fault with much of “To Terrapin.” All of the songs are fundamentally played well, and “Sugaree” and “Terrapin Station” are maddeningly good. But in the company of its May contemporaries, the 28th was perhaps only an average night, marred by lackluster passages in the first set. “To Terrapin” is therefore highly recommended, but even greater shows, both bootlegs and official releases, await those interested in exploring the era more thoroughly.


Wooster Senior I.S. Art Presentations

[Author's Note: The following review will appear in Friday's edition of the Wooster Voice.]

As I write this, I'm sitting on someone's senior I.S.—a piece of it, at least. Alexandra Cotter's “Collages: Exploration of Furniture Design Using Found Objects” is one of three senior exhibits currently on display at Ebert Art Gallery. The space is, as always, like none other on campus—a room abuzz with ideas, speaking through the breathtaking achievements of the featured student artists.

Cotter's furniture, constructed entirely of discarded materials, is beautiful both in concept and execution. Each of the five sets emphasizes the role of chance in art, the interaction between deliberate intent and serendipity. Relics of the materials in their past lives lend the furniture many of its most striking qualities.

“Each piece I incorporated into the collage has its own story,” she writes in her abstract. “All of these smaller stories are pieced together to create a new entity, which I find fascinating.”

Evidence of these stories are everywhere, in patterns which might connote lamps or crates reincarnated as stools or tables, raising countless questions about the way commercial or functional cues inform our understanding of art, or the way our interaction with materials shapes their destinies.

While “Collages” necessarily blends with the gallery itself, stepping into Dana Bustamante's “Imagorium for 'the Prince'” is like stepping into another world. Bustamante drew on the traditional imagorium, a Mouridiyya Senegalese space for images and objects both secular and sacred, and a single photograph of this “Prince,” a homeless man in Lamu, Kenya, whom Bustamante encountered during her study there. With almost fugal imitation, her iconic portrait of the man in profile is transposed seamlessly onto nearly every corner of the exhibit and explored in countless variations of medium, style, and implication.

More than an intense reflection on a single character, however, the Imagorium is a panorama of life, vibrantly captured, as Bustamante witnessed it in Kenya and Tanzania. The exhibit manages to be a testament to both the individual and the collective, and the fact that the two are not at war here contributes to the Imagorium's intended spiritual resonance.

The diversity of the work she displays, from patterned cloths and photographic collages to paintings and simple sketches, reveals the full spectrum of her processing her experience and the range of possibility that emerges from a single spark—an apt expression of the non-definitiveness of art.

Adrienne B. Livingston's “Clusters & Constellations: Music and Mixed Media” takes on another wholly distinct style set and visual language, at once sparse and provocative. In her abstract, she proclaims, “I believe that people's lives are political lives,” and she draws on the words of some of the sharpest and most unsparing musicians and poets as the framework for her examination of contemporary society.

Livingston's images are as big and bold as the lines with which they're paired. Ani DiFranco's snarling “My country 'tis of thee / to take shots at each other on primetime TV” is captured in a graffiti-like piece incorporating an angry Muslim face, the McDonald's “i'm lovin' it” slogan, and drooping, blood-red flowers. Next to it, DiFranco's “Just remember you were there / you were always there” is simply and memorably rendered as an elephant.

Each piece is mounted on formations of overlapping black circles, suggesting clouds or, ingeniously, LPs, reinforcing the centrality of pop culture to the language we use to render modern times.

All three exhibits are endlessly thought-provoking and transformative. Wooster students, particularly those who don't often get to see peers' artwork, owe themselves this experience.


Susan Wallin & Peter Mowrey, "An Evening of American Art Song"

[Author's Note: This review of a faculty recital from Friday will definitely be appearing in this week's Voice. I'm decently pleased with both the way this one turned out and the ease with which I wrote it—I think I'm developing something of the habit behind journalism.]

“An Evening of American Art Song,” presented in Scheide Music Center February 6 by soprano Susan Wallin and accompanist Peter Mowrey, was an evening of rare musical delights, beginning and ending with a voice one would be privileged to hear anywhere, be it Gault Recital Hall or Carnegie Hall. Wallin is fundamentally an extraordinary singer and performer, armed with a beautiful coloratura, impressive range, and dramatic sensitivity—all of which were on full display throughout the rich and varied program.

The recital began with a series of songs by the late-Romantic composer Amy Beach, whose lush, melodic style recalls Puccini or Bizet. Wallin showed a deft attention to both the passionate and the reflective, and the conviction behind her performance more than carried the most traditional set of the night.

She moved into more interesting and surprising musical territory with five contemporary songs by Ricky Ian Gordon in an art-Broadway vein reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein. Gordon's “Coyote” was perhaps the highlight of the entire evening. Wallin threw herself in to the bizarre lyrics with a finessed blend of comedy and pathos—when she proclaimed, “I'll scream until I turn that moon to wax,” you believed it.

She also proved herself superbly attuned to Americanness of Gordon's songs, subtly adapting her tone to suit their unique contours and cadences, whether in the melancholy humming of “Once I Was” or the frenzied ascent of “Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed).”

The second half of the program dived into delightfully murky twentieth-century waters with Norman Dello Joio's “Three Songs of Adieu.” Imbued with a dark urgency and extending to the edge of tonality, these offered Wallin ample opportunity to explore their contrasts—really hitting words like “pain,” or fading into an impressive softness at the end of “Farewell.”

Following these was Laurie Altman's jazz-like “reimagining” of eighteenth-century Italian songs. Here, Wallin's voice occasionally fell into a breathier timbre in her only significant misstep of the recital, but the thoughtful attention she lent the syncopations spotlighted the hybrid nature of the work and distinguished her interpretation.

The jazzier songs were proof of Peter Mowrey's exceptional contributions as well. From one composer to the next, he managed each stylistic set distinctly, and while his unshakeable facility at the piano hinted at his own abilities as a soloist, he remained a sensitive accompanist who aptly complemented, but never overpowered, the vocal performance.

The last song of the evening took a sharp turn into light opera (itself a Wooster legacy), specifically Victor Herbert's send-up of the operatic diva, “Art Is Calling for Me,” arranged by Wallin herself. With intermittent quotations from a number of famous operas, among them La Bohème and The Magic Flute, Wallin alluded to her own vast repertoire, and, though she nailed the high Fs from the famous Queen of the Night aria, she proved unafraid to occasionally tweak her ability level to suit the comedy—providing a fitting and lighthearted capstone to a recital of unflagging quality.

A Defense of the Hipster

[Author's Note: These thoughts on the hipster, which appeared in Friday's Wooster Voice, sparked enough of a reaction in me, somewhat unexpectedly, that I decided I'd write a letter to the editor. I'm hoping they'll publish it on Friday, but here it is regardless. Edit: It will actually be published February 20. The Voice forgot to check their email....]

To the editor(s):

I certainly enjoyed Molly Lehman's critique of the hipster—it was well-written and very funny. However, I find myself compelled to give a defense of the subculture lest we overlook any of its value or highly unique contributions to American youth expression.

The hipster inclination for irony is widely acknowledged, and while it can certainly approach overkill it remains a) frankly hilarious, and b) a tip-of-the-iceberg indication that “a smarmy bunch of 18-to-25's” has developed a keen sense of critical thinking and (dare I say) intellectual rigor.

Look at the centrality of culture, both high and low, to the hipster ethos—elevating it, revering it, critiquing it, tearing it down, building it up. Hard to imagine the same age group giving a damn about culture twenty years ago. Now it's the lingua franca of youth, our most basic commodity. We're all part of it, we're all participating in the same exchange of ideas.

Furthermore, look at the quality of the culture hipsters rally around. Wes Anderson films are phenomenally good.

My particular tastes and interests may not always align with that of true-blue hipsters. I'm not a hipster myself. The band I'll be seeing this summer is Phish. But the value that this generation places on cultish obsessions and cultural artifacts puts me in good (spiritual) company.

This is also, I believe, the first American youth movement that has recognizably elevated the nerd, that is fundamentally nerdy. Think of how that will shake up teenage social hierarchies across the nation.

Of course, it is evolving into a consumer-driven movement. But it's interesting and refreshing to reflect on what's now commercially viable. Think of the “Fantasy Football” shirts on BustedTees. Anachronism aside, would that have been popular twenty years ago?

Finally, one might be advised to get used to it. Nothing says Generation Y more than hipsterism—it's our biggest impact to date on the cultural landscape.


[Grateful Dead, 7/21/90 Tinley Park, IL: NOTES]

[Author's Note: As I have in the past, I'm posting my very detailed, unedited notes for the much more concise review posted below. Anyone really interested in song-by-song analysis of Grateful Dead shows might appreciate this level of scrutiny; for everyone else, let it stand as proof of my obsession.]

Grateful Dead
Tinley Park, IL 7/21/90


Touch. Perhaps because of its close association with the start of a Dead show, maybe because it's status as a bona fide hit—always lends an energetic punch as opener. The harmonies, as usual, fall somewhere behind the overall standard, but Jerry is individually in VERY STRONG voice, Brent's organ is nice and juicy, and Phil really smokes in some interesting bass counterpoint. Jerry's solo isn't too shabby. Some really weird effects during the second bridge! (SOUND QUALITY, by the way, is fantastic—this is a Miller, and it could pass for a Dick's Pick.) No true segue, but following soon is:

GSET. Brent's still suffering from whatever vocal ailment dogged him through July '90, during a month that was exceptional for his keyboard performances. (Hope he's saving up for Just a Little Light.) Bobby, however, is in as strong voice as Jerry, sounding fairly unstrained on a song that often gives him some trouble. Brent's keyboard tumbling kicks serious ass, and the intersection of him and Phil and Bobby and Jerry is right on during the instrumental. Even better than Touch.

Bottom line: Touch and GSET form an extremely well-played and energetic combo. I'm seriously pumped for whatever else this show might hold.

Jack-A-Roe. Starts off with a lot of energy and bounce! Jerry's guitar lines in between lyrics carry a lot of elegant menace. Again, this is about the best 1990 singing you could ask for. What's striking about instrumental action like such here is that is really has all the interweaving attentiveness of the early- to mid- 70's—the drummers' relative rigidity makes a difference, of course, but this is really fine playing from all (Bobby included).

Maybe I need to be more sparing with four-star ratings, because it eliminates a special class for material that's as excellent as this, but just barely shy of five stars.

Walkin' Blues. And into harmonic major. Wonderful swampy tone here, and it sounds like everyone's playing it with attentiveness and not by rote. Jerry and Bobby's skillful framing of Brent's solo is exquisite. I love Bobby's vocal performance in blues songs—idiosyncratic like Dylan's, but moderately convincing.

FOTD. I never tire of hearing this song in this era, for whatever reason. Starts fairly inconspicuously, as if the band isn't entirely sure if it's still prepping itself or if it's already begun in earnest. Every reiteration of the main riff, however, gains confidence. Jerry's voice sounds craggier here, but I think he's adjusting to the song. Almost inversely, the harmonies are stronger. The usual cycle of solos begin: Brent's more upbeat and barroom sounding than those from the early end of his tenure, which I confess to prefer (at least in this song), but however it doesn't perfectly suit the song, his playing is at its most virtuosic; Jerry jumps in with an awesome anticipating into what is, unfortunately, Bobby's solo slot, leaving the latter momentarily unsure of what he should be doing—it is, however, representative of the immense energy everyone's bringing to the show tonight. They've got their A game on. Jerry's solo is spiraling in a way that indicates he's following the tone set by Brent (though I swear he usually goes through two iterations of the solo). Very good altogether, but not 6/16/90, say.

Just A Little Light. Okay, I'm no fan of this compositionally, but it can still bring out a good performance. In the pre-song tuning, everyone adjusts to the right synth-tones. I like the collective timbre, I admit! Thick and funky. Brent's voice acquits itself decently, but it's not up to its usual standards; he sounds more than a little hoarse. And the difficulties in the singing somehow manifest itself in a considerable absence of keyboard work. Jerry's playing well, but the song continues to hobble as if everything's been thrown just a little bit out of sync. The keyboard playing is extremely thin, and the song loses a lot of energy. Brent seems unsure of when and where to come in. Let the man go back to his keyboard and leave his singing out of it tonight. (Uh-oh. We've got a Dear Mr. Fantasy coming up.) Low point of set so far.

Queen Jane. Let's hope this song picks the energy up since it came to a really unfortunate halt in the last song. Brent's still not playing like he was in FOTD, and Phil doesn't seem as prominent as he was in the first half of the set. Jerry is easily the strongest player tonight (which wasn't a given in the later years, of course). Brent's keyboard lines follow fairly basic established patterns for Queen Jane, until about halfway through, when things start to pick up more. Jerry's harmonizing his part well, too. Brent's solo is busy, but hardly inventive, and too fixed on the upper register. He leaves a gaping which Jerry fills with another solo. By the end of the song, everyone's packing some power, and it looks like the Bird Song to round things off, jam-heavy and Jerry-led, might keep this set in very positive terrain.

Bird Song. The tuning gives everyone ample hint as to what's to follow (and likely close the set). They all sound really prepped to kick into it, though. Brent's sometimes dizzying keyboard lines are much more appropriate-sounding here, but occasionally overkill. (This is, by the way, the longest GD Bird Song in my possession.) Jerry and Phil are weaving a very convincing Bird Song from the beginning of the jam, with Brent adding appropriate threats of dissonance, throwing in all possibilities of dangerous twists and turns and dark alleys. Jerry's the main player, but everyone's listening very attentively to him, following him and supporting him and mirroring him and filling in for him and giving him space as necessary. Jerry starts bending notes in all kinds of crazy ways, effecting this spacey kind of sublimity everyone's pushing toward. This is another song I really like to hear in '89-'90—less introspective than the versions of '72-'73 but equally well-played. Reaches some really piercing and resounding highs. From there, the intensity starts to come down for the last five minutes, but that's okay. They're talkin' their way back down—really a beautiful structure for a jam, too. Amazing what you can do modally.

Set one in review: Total time 67:32. Generally very strong. Highlights are Bird Song followed by Touch>Greatest followed by Jack-A-Roe. Everything else very good except for Little Light, which in context is a real downer that takes just about the whole of Queen Jane to recover from (for both band and listener). I'm calling it a 7 on the whole.


Scarlet. Jerry's singing well, and the whole thing is crisp, but Brent's organ is really all that stands out instrumentally during the singing. As usual for July, Brent's harmonies are somewhat weak. Jerry's solo won't take your breath away, but Phil supports him nicely, and you can hear the crowd digging it, even in the soundboard—maybe why the band seem to warm into it as the instrumental goes on. Brent switches to keyboard for the jam, which I appreciate in Scarlet. The jam takes an easygoing course. It's nice, but not too lengthy (the 6/16 China Cat is about as long as this Scarlet). I'm liking Brent's touches here more than in the first set (and Jerry's only slightly less). Bobby adds some really nice color, too. It's a fine thing they have going before they hit >

Fire. Scarlet may be a better composition, and yield a more obviously "interesting" jam, but Fire often outshone its prerequisite in performance. Brent's failing harmonies really mar the chorus, but in between verses, wonderful things happen. Jerry's got that wonderful "Fire"-specific tone—he's playing for VOLUME, and Brent's right with him, and Bobby knows just how to stoke the intensity even more. This is HOT. Brent's flurries or stabs of notes come off not clumsy but inspired and "ablaze." Bobby's playing is really elegant, too, and his more distorted tone is a wonderful foil for the clarity of Jerry's declamations. That Scarlet reprise-thing ends the pairing with bounce and poise, an interesting pairing to the catharsis of the past couple minutes.

In essence, this "Fire"'s on fire.

Playing. Yay—Funiculi tuning. Just a little bit. Looking ahead at the setlist, this is a nice three-part Playing, with a jam and a reprise to follow post-Drumz. Obviously, this song isn't what it once was, and I prefer many of the Bruce versions to late-Brent ones, but this is at least crisp, unflubbed. I really prefer the direct dive into D minor in the jam, too—a D major jam feels much more like just an afterthought to the "song" portion much more suitable to an unfinished Playing. The jam here starts off even more low-key than the one out of Scarlet, but by about halfway through things start to get harrier, more chromatic—Brent and Bobby responsible as much as Jerry. Bobby's dissonance occasionally robs Jerry of some inspired melodicism, but we do need some envelope-pushing if this jam is going to be worth our while. It's not badly handled at all, of course. The latter jam portion, incidentally, would be a great pre-Drums jam—I'm hoping He's Gone rises to the occasion. About nine minutes in we get some pseudo-Terrapin jamming—undoubtedly very much a possibility. Jamming cools off considerably in the last minute and sounds like something late in Space–tonal, searching for the next path to take. >

He's Gone. Interesting overlap between the end of playing and the start here. Brent's still trying to carry the high line, but he's very hard to hear. The verses can be a little monotonous, for all the neatly executed playing. The instrumental gains considerable interest. Phil starts to speak up more than he has in a while—contributing a really cool run to the second "steal your face" line. The vocal coda comes off quite well, in spite of a series of questionable uses of the dominant chord in Garcia's guitar accompaniment. Leaves us about 2:40 to get us to Drums. Very pleasant stuff. Hints at Eyes, Stella, maybe even the upcoming Miracle. Phil is very prominent and they really make this a nice, if brief, little jam. Bobby last man standing before >

Drums. Drums and Space probably best serve their function if they can pretend not to be a rote fixture—that is, if they can masquerade as the natural jam that lies between, in this case, He's Gone and Miracle. I suppose if they take on a really successful life of their own, that clinches it on different terms. I'll admit, I don't think most do either, but this is a fairly interesting Drums, and it may well belong in that second positive category. It's indicative of Mickey's world music interests, certainly, and parts recall that really cool "And" jam from Drumz featured on Terrapin Limited. >

Space. The MIDI effects really work well here, and the drastic fluctuations in volume and timbre sound really cool on these headphones. '90 Space could be pretty scary (3/19 comes to mind, not to mention 9/20 leading into Dark Star). I'm always glad to spend more time on Space than Drums, as here. Still, it's just atmospheric—it doesn't have the boldness that define a few excellent examples that solidify into a more musical statement. You'll get a cool passage or two, and they're listening to one another, but it just doesn't add up as much as one would like. My ears perk up for anything suggesting E: E is where we came from, and E is where we're going. We need to find our way back there. The transition amounts to about 20 seconds Miracle riffing at the end. >

Miracle. Nothing beats the coolness of "Lunatic Preserve">Miracle coming up on 9/16 of that year, but this show has its own draws, of course. Phil's fairly loud '90 tone is a lot of what makes this song. I just can't help tapping my foot along to Jerry's solo, giving the slightest inclination toward head-banging even though my roommate's around. This is actually one of my favorite exits out of Space, and this one really ROCKS. This is a lot of fun, and a good way to kick off what is typically the weakest third of the show. The G major transition provides a good hint as to the coming song, and it's a beautiful, natural segue into >

Crazy Fingers. I've very seldom heard a Crazy Fingers post '76 that turned out as I would have liked, but I do like them post-Space. The instrumentation during the singing is mostly just chords, and one or two isn't quite right. Brent is the best bit to listen to. And Jerry no longer sounds like he's owning the vocals. The choruses would really benefit from Brent's voice being there. Jerry's solo is weak and spindly. The instrumental outro is better. Really brief Main Ten jam/fakeout into >

Dear Mr. Fantasy. Brent doesn't sound nearly as wrong-footed as he did in Just A Little Light. Jerry really tears up the rather easier material in this song. Everyone does really well in this kind of three-chord rock environment at this point in the show. I wouldn't have minded a straight nosedive from Miracle into this (I also wouldn't have minded the Crazy Fingers if it had just been better). If you weren't looking at the set list, of course, you would think a Hey Jude reprise were on its way; Jerry's first guitar line in the coda is almost straight "na-na-na"s. >

Playing. I shouldn't have expected more of the 30-second "jam" earlier. Let's see how they bring this string of music together. It's crisp, but the coda isn't as impassioned as I would like to hear. And sounds really weak next to any ending to Playing in the 70s. No segue whatsoever into:

Saturday Night. Not as intensely rockin' or well-played as any number of earlier versions, but Phil's into it, and no one's really messing up. Probably a fun ending to the show for those there. It's certainly got more balls than the Playing Reprise which preceded it (alas—the show could have just ended with a GOOD Reprise). They milk that last C chord for all it's worth.


Quinn. It's a fun encore. Brent's keyboard playing really suits the happy-sloppy mood of the song. Jerry's guitar isn't there as much, even when he's not singing. It's a pity that Bobby's voice is the one on top.

Set two/encore in review: Total time 103:43. Very solid pre-Drums, moderately disappointing post-Space, in spite of rockin' fun in Miracle and Mr. Fantasy. Highlight of the set was the incendiary Fire, aforementioned rockers, and nifty little jam out of He's Gone. Overall, it blows its load at the beginning and doesn't leave me feeling as good as set one, so I'm calling it a 6.

Show in review: Total time 171:15. A fun, uneven show worth hearing for its share of really stellar playing. Does not have enough to recommend itself over many other summer '90 shows. B-.

Grateful Dead, 7/21/90 Tinley Park, IL

[Author's Note: I've finally done what I'd promised myself to do for ages and distilled my notes on a Grateful Dead show into a coherent review. Reviewing live music was the principal intended purpose for this blog, so I hope to make this something of a regular occurrence. This post is first in a planned three-part series dissecting Brent Mydland's last shows with the Grateful Dead.]

Grateful Dead
Tinley Park, IL 7/21/90

Brent Mydland's Last Stand: Part I of III

There's a lot to love about set one tonight. In the first fifteen minutes, the band delivers a truly wonderful string of uptempo songs: "Touch" and "Greatest Story" show both Jerry and Bobby in excellent voice, as well as energetic and attentive playing from all, which spills over into an infectiously bouncy "Jack-a-Roe." In the last fifteen minutes, we get a beautiful and expansive "Bird Song," which reaches some piercing and resounding highs at the end of its long, cathartic climb, hinting along the way at startling wells of dissonance and space—it's about as good as the song ever got.

In between these extraordinary bookends falls half an hour of more uneven fare. "Walkin' Blues" is fun and fresh, and "Friend of the Devil" is even better, if not 6/16/90. The show comes to the first of two considerable crashes, however, with "Just a Little Light." Brent's voice is showing a lot of strain this entire show, as it was throughout July, and these difficulties somehow sap his keyboard playing which in turn throws the band out of sync and derails the song. It takes them the entirety of the following "Queen Jane" to fully recover.

The second set starts off at least as promisingly as the first. After an average, low-key "Scarlet," the band creates magic with a "Fire" that truly lives up to its name. Bobby and Brent know just how to poke Jerry for maximum intensity, and tonight they really succeed—his playing is simply ablaze. "Fire" is the absolute highlight of the show and a wonderful reminder of the copious treasures of Summer 1990.

There's still a "Playing" and "He's Gone" to come before "Drums," and both are well-played, especially in the last few minutes of each. The former dissolves into a jam like something from late in "Space" as they search for the next path to take; the latter resolves into a gorgeous, E-major dew with generous contributions from Phil, hinting at at "Eyes," "Stella," maybe even the coming "Miracle."

Post-"Space" isn't nearly as successful. In between a head-banging "Miracle" and a juicy "Dear Mr. Fantasy" comes the second great crash of the show, an all-around weak "Crazy Fingers" followed by a whimper of a "Playing" jam. To round out the set, we get the conclusion to "Playing," which is crisp but flat, and an average "Saturday Night," which, along with the average "Quinn" encore, still makes for a fun end to the show.

7/21/90 offers a relatively attractive package of Grateful Dead from the end of the Brent years and boasts its share of really stellar playing. However, its frustrating unevenness, particularly in the second set, takes a heavy toll on the show, which ultimately does not have enough to recommend itself over many others from that tour.


The recent remasters of this run by Charlie Miller sound fantastic, on par with, say, Dick's Picks, Vol. 9. This is unquestionably the version you will want to seek out.