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 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 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, 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 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 “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 or 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 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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Underthevolcano's picture
Joined: Feb 6 2008
instant community

the technology gives us an instant take on what is happening -for good or ill. It is virtually impossible today to control the disribution of information-for good or ill. The key is figuring out how to use it for the best benefit for all-the maker and the consumer. I think the Dead model works pretty well-other bands are successfully using it. It may lead to loss of revenue but it may also lead to revenue enhancement when folks want high-quality versions of the music. MP3 doesn't really enhance anyone's listening experience but it can create hunger for the high quality version. Youtube also becomes an archive of a lot of happenings which can be universally accessed and experienced. Someday those videos will be historical in nature just like Coltrane videos are today.

Joined: Dec 31 2008

Another interesting thread from Blair. I am slow on the technology front-- had to be forced into a cell phone a couple years ago and still only use it for true need. Two thoughts come to mind.

First, I think that technology gets in the way of living in the moment for a lot of people. How many smart phone users truly engage in good conversation anymore? They are too busy looking up stuff to engage. The earlier description of the "kid" recording "The Other One" at a show is a prime example-- instead of enjoying the music live, he instead wants to post a second-rate video on YouTube. I was at Niagara Falls and was taking in the amazing power of it with my wife and all around us people were using their cell phones to take video of it and never stopping to take it in at the moment. It really struck me at that time.

In re: to the Grateful Dead, I wonder how the experience of going to shows would have been altered had the internet been full-blown at the time. By this, I am considering fans' knowledge of shows. For those who went on tour, you knew what they had played the last ten nights and would not be surprised that Scarlet-Fire wasn't coming because they played it last night, but for those hitting only one show or a run of shows, guessing what they would play was half the fun. Sitting down next to a tour Head who talked up the tour was always a treat. With the internet, now there is no guessing what they played last night-- it is all right there. When I saw Furthur last year I forced myself to not look at setlists for two weeks before the show so I could be fully surprised by the set.

On the music end of things-- I love having access to recordings. This is a good thing.

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
I realized that the world was changing

And not in a way that I appreciated, the first time I witnessed a guy in the men's room at a show talking on his cell while relieving himself. THAT was a conversation that just couldn't wait? Multitasking is one thing, but it just seems as if there should be at least a few things that deserve your complete attention...

But for whatever reason, technologically I recognize that I take the pluses for granted, and get annoyed beyond words at the minuses. So, in a lot of ways, same as it ever was...

SpentthenightinUtah's picture
Joined: Jul 4 2009
Taper Rob

I would hope through technology we all follow the philzone. Dude named taper rob has been sending us streams for years now. Thank you Taper Rob... you rule. I get the stream and I love it night in night out. That being said... I use to break out the iphone and record some tid bits of the shows but I have stopped. I takes away from (my) experience. I do not need to have a personal (clip) of the show, and besides, what a pain. All I want to do is see and hear the band with my own eyes and ears. When I am not present I do appreciate people like Taper Rob, people like him have the technology to make it, really worth it. A quadrillion people holding up there iphones don't. Seriously the magic cant be recorded on your iphone, so stop it!! Just my point of view and in this wonderful community there are many other, different and cool views. I will finish with a cool quote I saw from Phil (again technology)

'It's the vibe, and the vibe says we really, really, really want it. We want the magic and we want it badly. And making magic is one of those things where you just don't know how or when you do it. Magic happens when the stars are aligned and the energy flows brightly." Phil Lesh March 18 2011.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
Okay, I admit I am old and cranky. However.

When your technology starts interfering with other people's enjoyment of the show and then you have the bleepin' nerve to guilt-trip them about it, you have crossed the line in my opinion.

>I finally tapped him on the shoulder and
>asked if he knew how annoying it was. He replied, "I just
>want to put it on YouTube, man. There are
>more than just 2,000 people who like the Dead."

JackstrawfromColorado's picture
Joined: Jan 2 2009
It's really not that big a deal

I am not a big fan of cell phones but that's the age we live in. People have their phones out everywhere, a concert is going to be no different. Obviously bands don't care, they are just as submersed into technology as the fans are. They know that if they don't cater to that technology, their business will slide. It's called keeping up with the times. We used to hold matches up and then it was lighters and now its an iPhone app and who nows what it will be next. I use my phone to capture the set list, maybe text someone who is on the other side of the stadium - "Can you believe they played Dark Hollow"?. If my wife, who loves live music but still she loses her attention here and there especially by day 3 of a 3 day run, wants to check her email during a 3 hour long show, I'm not going to get too upset.

Some of that stuff is really annoying I understand, but there's no way you are going to stop it and it gets old and tiring to constantly tell people "Can you please put your phone down", constant little confrontations all night long just aren't worth it, and you will definitely not have a good time if you dwell on it too much. You don't know why that person is on the phone - maybe the sitter called and the baby is sick, I mean there are a million reasons and most of which probably aren't anyone's business.

I personally am all for instant gratification, again that's the age we live in, now-a-days our society is no longer set up to wait for anything. I also think it can only enhance a band's business -more access to their music means better chance for people to get into them who otherwise wouldn't. I have downloaded plenty of music form an unknown band, found that I liked them and then went and bought a ticket to see them live. That's good advertisement in my opinion, it has nothing to do with stealing, it's advertising. Plus music on torrent sites are from bands who allow free trading - and they allow it for the reasons I just stated, again that's not stealing.

"It's got no signs or dividing line and very few rules to guide"

Joined: Sep 29 2007

Generally, technology has enhanced it. In no way has it diminished the desire for the real live juice. Personally, I've always loved it that someone else was into the tech and/or chronicling of the experience/history. I have consciously tried to attend shows with the thought that my job is to bring good vibes and if so SongsfRown

Joined: Jun 7 2007

>>Has the avalanche of new technologies and new ways to listen to and see bands affected your overall enjoyment of music in any way?

Things like YouTube have enhanced my enjoyment as you've described, with a wealth of live footage readily available.

>>Does access to so much free music make you less inclined to buy music or go see bands live?

I firmly believe that an artist should be paid for their music, so I refuse to D/L albums via torrent sites - I still buy records/CDs or their digital equivalent. However, some of the bootlegged video simulcasts make me less inclined to see a band like Phish live when I can do the couch-tour for free. They're starting to experiment with online PPV, which I'd happily partake in.

>>Or are you discovering cool new things on the Web?

For me, the internet has really facilitated participation in any band-based community (dead or otherwise). It's an invaluable tool for learning about music, whether it be through sites like this one, or virtual encyclopedias like Access to live recordings through torrent sites are wonderful, but, as I said above, when it destroys album sales and artist revenues, it's too bad.

pomo1's picture
Joined: Jun 5 2007
I Am Not Smart Enough

to know all the answers, but when someone is sitting next to me and constantly texting throughout a show, I know things have gotten out of hand.

"Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own."

Chef Free's picture
Joined: May 25 2008
Chef Free You hit it Blair!

Chef Free
You hit it Blair! The more people who are paying attention, the better the show, the audience is actively effecting the players and vice versa! The best venues are therefore the biggest ones where the architecture will not let you ignore the band. Winterland was a perfect example, enough people to get that big crowd rush but small enough that there's no way to ignore the band. Lots of great shows there dispite the overall crappy sound quality in the place.


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