Grateful Dead

Blair's Golden Road Blog - Instant Gratification

I just got off YouTube, where I was watching a sharp video of Furthur doing their version of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” last night (3/11/11) at the Best Buy Theater in NYC. I’d followed the progress of the show in the “Furthur” conference on DeadNetCentral.com while it was happening Friday night—one of the site’s administrators, whose nom de web is Dire Wolf, faithfully reports the name of each song as it’s played. So when I went to bed I knew the band had played that Abbey Road gem (not exactly a surprise if you’d been following the tour — they unveiled a different song from AR each night in the same sequence and song position as the album; and then did the whole big Side Two medley on Phil's birthday). But at that point we didn’t have any info on who had sung it; all we had was the title. Thanks to the YouTube video, I learned that Bob sang it; really good version, too. Much better than “Oh, Darling,” for sure.

Now, had this been a few nights earlier, during Furthur’s three-night run at Boston’s intimate Orpheum Theater, I could have heard it live as it happened. You see, there was a guy inside the Orpheum with little shotgun microphones and a Sound Devices 744 digital recorder (the same kind used by film sound effects and production recordists; top-of-the line stuff), and somehow he was able to discreetly transmit the show live over a cell phone to a site that uploaded the signal and let us listen to it on the Internet. The quality wasn’t fantastic, but after a lifetime of listening to some really poor-quality tapes of really good Dead and Jerry Band shows, I’ve trained my ears to listen through noise, distortion, echo, whatever, and hear what’s actually going on in the music. So, sitting at my computer, taking care of some work needs, I was blasting those Boston shows, all the while conversing with other folks doing the same on DNC. Good times! And when it was dinnertime and I had to retreat to the kitchen for a spell, I just cranked it up louder. My computer speakers don’t quite manage “concert volume,” as we call it, but they’re decent; I didn’t miss much.

Then, the following day, in late morning here on the Left Coast, word suddenly spread on the Internet that gdradio.net was broadcasting a soundboard recording from the previous night’s show (as they had the day after other concerts on the tour). Schweeet! Between those kinds of sources and Archive.org, where fine audience recordings are often available to stream (or download) by the next day, it’s never been easier to follow a tour as it happens. (And people who attend a show can buy an official recording before they leave the venue and listen to it on the ride home, if they like.)

Then, too, I always get an email alert either the day after a show, or a day later, alerting me that I can buy soundboard downloads from Livedownloads.com. I’ve bought a number of Furthur FLAC downloads the last couple of years — sometimes after first listening to audience versions of the show on Archive, but more often just based on the song list. I like to be surprised, and I have yet to be disappointed with one of my purchases.

(This just in: As I’m writing this on Saturday morning (3/12) around 11 a.m., last night’s Best Buy show has just started streaming on gdradio.net: “Greatest Story”; nice! Thank you, Furthur!)

Needless to say, things are a bit different today than they were in the Grateful Dead era. Back when we were putting out The Golden Road magazine (’84-’93), we relied on the kindness of friends who were on tour following the band to call us from the road, either late at night after a show or the next day, to run down the set list from a pay phone or hotel room. It was something we really looked forward to because it had an intimacy and immediacy — we could hear the excitement in our friend’s voice, we could relive it with him as he recalled the show (or struggled to: “Wait, there was a ‘Me & My Uncle’ in there after ‘Far From Me,’ before the ‘Bird Song’!”), and if he was high enough, it was often hilarious. Even second-hand accounts (“I just got the call from Sundance — wait till you hear this list!”) were thrilling.

Life in 1987: "Here ya go,
Mr. Jackson, your fall tour
tapes have arrived!"

As for actually hearing the show, well, we always had to wait for the end of the tour and for another kind Head to send us audience tapes via the good ol’ U.S. Mail. Sometimes it would be weeks before certain shows arrived. Ah, but what a wonder to find that parcel in our mailbox!

By the Dead’s later days, the Internet was well-established, and you could usually find set lists on Well.com or Rec.music.gdead and probably other places, too, but as a troglodyte in good standing, I didn’t even have the Internet at home until after Jerry died. I was late getting a cell phone, too, and was totally mystified the first couple of times I took my then-young kids to concerts of what was then “their” music and all their peers would be crowded around the stage holding cell phones aloft taking pictures of the stage or, as likely, holding their cell cameras at arm’s length and taking shots of themselves with the band a blur in the background. I remember seeing the Black Eyed Peas at an arena with my daughter and will.i.am asked everyone to turn on their cell phones and wave them in the air—it was quite a sight; I guess it’s the 21st century equivalent of my generation lighting matches of approval.

Cell phone photos are so 2007, though. Now, everyone (except me) has a smart phone with high quality video capabilities and more memory, allowing same-day or next-day uploading of entire songs onto YouTube or Facebook or wherever. There’s a video of “The Other One” from the 3/10 Best Buy concert that went up on YouTube the following morning that blew my mind: it was mostly astonishingly clear closeups of the guitarists’ hands, and the audio quality was excellent to boot. Trust me, if the Grateful Dead was still touring, every minute of every song (in varying degrees of quality) would be on YouTube the next morning.

Is that a good thing? I guess. I’m sure I’d be right there watching every clip (in order, of course). But I also can’t help thinking that something — some amount of connectivity — is lost when so many people in the crowd are distracted by the incessant cell phone activity (photos/video/Internet searching/phone calls) that is evident at every show by almost any band these days. But I suppose it’s just par for the course in this distracted, multitasking age.

What do you think? Has the avalanche of new technologies and new ways to listen to and see bands affected your overall enjoyment of music in any way? Does access to so much free music make you less inclined to buy music or go see bands live? Or are you discovering cool new things on the Web?

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lamagonzo (not verified)
I'm with you, Jeremy P

Having to fool around with the controls and change positions and generally annoy everybody around you with the flashing lights is really disconcerting. I think they should be required to be turned off during the show.

We all want what we want -- and not what we don't. Others may not want to smell certain odors around them. In the end, freedom is a difficult balance. I can live with the cell phones as long as I can have a toke.

JeremyP's picture
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Joined: Jun 8 2007
These gadgets

neat as they are, put you one step away from reality. I'm an old feller, so I don't go them. Went into a pub one day, to find four young people, all sat together, all texting . Too weird for me.

Olompali's picture
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Joined: Jun 5 2007
For me......?

"It's All Good"
~Dylan/Hunter

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Joined: May 26 2007
instant snarkification, too

The WELL had a guy who saw to it that the set list was posted right after the show ended. His name was Rich Petlock, and he died way too young.

I remember in 1993 when "I Fought the Law" appeared as an encore to great excitement in the online communities I was part of. It was amusing to see the song turn up many more times on the set lists from that tour, leading to an amusing phenomenon: there were people who grew weary of the song BEFORE THEY HAD EVEN HEARD IT.

Gotta love that. The entire life cycle of a Grateful Dead song in the space of a couple of weeks.

Gans/GD Hour blog
GD Hour station list

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Mr. Pid...

I agree with your comments about sharing. This came up for me recently when, during one of the Furthur shows in Philly this week, a kind Head emailed me with the password to jump on the live stream, but asked me not to mention it to others because they were trying to keep it as quiet as possible. This makes no sense to me. Whether 120 people or 1,200 people listen to a live stream, what's the difference? It's still happening, it's NOT a secret, so why keep it exclusive?

That said, I did as I was asked and didn't mention it, and then felt guilty about it. I was pleased when, last night (5/23) someone over in the Furthur conference on DNC violated the "rules" and let out the password anyway. Unfortunately, it was one of those nights when even the password couldn't get me successfully "into" the show; some sort of technical snafu, I guess. But some other folks enjoyed it, and I did get to hear from the middle of "Dupree's" to the end of the first set, while the second set was going on...Never could pick up that second set, though...

Hey, and thanks to everyone for so many thoughtful comments on this topic! Very interesting perspectives all around!

Mr. Pid's picture
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Joined: Dec 22 2007
And one other thing

that's been getting on my tits, and that's password protected streams of live shows. Forgive me for cross-pollinating with the Dead-er Than Thou topic, but what is up with the elitism? Seems pretty un-Headlike to me. If you're going to share, then share. Don't be a douche about it. It's not like it's "your" content to begin with. The only reason you have it available is that the rightful owners and producers are tolerating you scraping it up. Please reflect the kindness being shown to you. Likewise, etiquette flows in both directions. If you jump on a stream someone puts up, take a moment to at least thank them for their efforts. And thank the rightful owners and producers as well by buying tickets to as many shows as you can. What happens at shows if often quite magical, but that magic, like most things, isn't free. So remember to get out and support live music whenever and wherever you can.

Conversation is always more interesting than recitation, so speak your mind and not someone else's.

Mr. Pid's picture
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Joined: Dec 22 2007
Well

One really good thing I've found about hopping on a stream instead of being in the hall is that quite often I will just pick up my guitar and jam along with the show. Can't really pull that off at most venues. When I am at shows, I am still a very active participant, as I think anyone who's ever been to a show with me would readily attest. I dance loud and I sing big. The music plays me as well as the band. I am glad there are serious tapers/streamers out there so more can connect with then event, and I do try to be conscious of where those folks set up so as not to crap up their dubs with my noise. I respect the work they are doing, and if they are serious about what they are doing it is a lot of work. I've been on the work side of shows before, too. But for me, I'm not there to work any more, I'm there to revel in the circumstance, and I get my money's worth. I do actually have a cell phone which I finally broke down and got in 2005. Yes, it's still the same phone and it still does almost everything it did when I got it. And one show I actually did text out the set list in real time so someone could update the anxious heads congregated in a chat room, but it really did kind of get in the way so I haven't done that since. I am, however, grateful that there are others for whom such things aren't an inconvenience. Keeping people connected in general is a good thing. The more the merrier!

Conversation is always more interesting than recitation, so speak your mind and not someone else's.

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Joined: Oct 1 2007
interesting, cosmicbadger....

In many ways I agree, and ask myself, why did I become a taper? (for the record, I have also recorded Charlie Haden!). I think that for me it was a way of making myself/allowing myself to focus and concentrate more forcefully on the music. Dancing at shows, and just being at them, was once all it took, but as the years pasted I found that the ability of the Dead to "put me in the zone" had abated--either the Band had changed, or I had, or, as is most likely the case, both. Taping, and the intense concentration it required, got me back into that special space, at least for a while longer. But I wonder, is that really the cognitive space someone waving around their iphone is in?

cosmicbadger's picture
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Joined: Jun 13 2007
Interesting reading here.

Interesting reading here. What I don’t understand is the stress that folks put themselves under to be doing all this documentation. I never really understood the mentality of the tapers who spend whole shows worrying about levels, crowd chatter, getting caught and thereby missing out on the party (but I am of course grateful for their sacrifices). Now we seem to have not just a few, but thousands of folks fussing over phones and gadgets and recordings and tweets and such. I don’t know why they subject themselves to all those demands and stress. It’s as if nothing has any value any more unless it has been exhaustively documented, endlessly commented on and beamed to the whole world.

Hmmmm. Come to think of it ... why exactly am I bothering to write this? Ooops. Back to the music. Jazz Bassist Charlie Haden’s excellent foray into Bluegrass ‘Rambling Boy’. Dammit now I have to go and post about it in ‘What are You Listening to Right Now’ and Tweet all my friends about how good it is. So much communicating to do,... so little time. Sigh.

gratefaldean's picture
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Joined: Jun 22 2007
I saw a My Morning Jacket show

Last year, started out hugging the rail. There was a helpful young soul with his smart phone giving me the setlist blow-by-blow ("last time they played this was a year ago," that sort of thing). And everyone around me talking, taking pictures, staring at their little personal screens. It was so distracting that I moved out of the scrum to calmer ground where I was then able to actually enjoy the incredible music being played, seemingly, for my benefit alone.

We use music so much as the background soundtrack to so many things that we do, I think sometimes that some of us have lost sight of (or never knew) that when you are at a live music event, music is supposed to be the upfront, foreground, full-on experience, the raison d'etre...and not yet just another place where it's the background soundtrack for our personal comedies and dramas.

Or maybe I should just lighten up.

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