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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Joined: Dec 3 2007
Advanced Communication

Long ago and far away--October 11, 1983, as it happens--a friend called me on a pay phone in Madison Square Garden to tell me that the Dead had played "St. Stephen." He couldn't wait until he got home. He actually called me at my girlfriend's house in Berkeley. She was quite astonished that anyone would do this, and that it wasn't something that could be put off until the next day. Now, of course, it seems normal.

Gypsy Cowgirl's picture
Joined: Aug 14 2007
Resistance to the damn cell phones.....

I resisted it for years, still forget to turn it on & it's not a smart phone. Still amazes me how many plp are looking @ them, texting, etc......Not a texter here & I won't bring it to shows as I find it more fun to do it the way we did it when we were young/ just run into your friends......

scott1129's picture
Joined: Jun 6 2007
Cell Phone Free

That's why we have voice mail( answering machine, answering service)
And as we all know the boys loved having tapes of their preformances.
and we love having tapes of their preformances.
Especially old shows with video
1972 in Veneta Ore.
Just happened to be presented with this fine example
of grass roots organization of an event
So cool archival footage of acidtest days and then the main event
10,000+ freaks in an oregonian meadow in 100+ temperatures and
of course, a lack of drinking water.
But the boys start playing and everything is alright.
Thank you to the visionary folks who had
the forsight to film this historic concert.

Also just listen to the Fillmore West Box for the 42nd anniversary of those shows.

This is a great time to be a DeadHead.

The Sky Was Yellow And The Sun Was Blue
People Stopping Strangers Just To Shake Their Hand.

rosa rugosa's picture
Joined: Nov 23 2007
Still one of the few who is

Still one of the few who is happily cellphone free. Had the pleasure of doing all three Boston Orpheum shows, and could only feel bad for those who were apparently enjoying the largesse on their little cellphone screens. Surely something was lost in the translation.

Joined: Nov 4 2010
To me it always begins with

To me it always begins with hearing the music live. After that, capturing and distribution is less interesting. And tech improvements has been helpful in that arena. Technology is here to record the live stuff. Long live the live.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Yeah, Mary...

I have often thought that Jerry would be horrified by all those cellphones. Then again, he did love to do computer art, so it's not like he was anti-technology or anything. In fact he was quite brilliant when it came to understanding equipment and new things that came along, like MIDI, etc... The guy loved new "toys," whether they were audio or video tools...

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
picturing Jer

looking out over the smoke-filled Keystone at a sea of cellphone cameras...

Joined: Feb 10 2008
Its cool but.... is too much. Cant go anywhere without seeing people on their phones. The trend seems to be less talkinng on it more playing on it. I must admit I am as guilty as anyone. I find it cool to be able to take photos and facebook them in real time. I was recently at a Todd Snider show in Reno(Check him out if you have not already. He REALLY has a lot to say if you get my drift) and I was posting real time photos. The next day I received a request to do the same for the second night.

I used to tape but with the ability to purchase and download soundboard copies, I don't anymore. I am enjoying shows knowing there is a good copy for me later. Very cool.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
ya know

I kinda felt the same way about the NYE broadcast where the whole show was played under bright lights to accommodate the TV cameras and the whole comfy little scene (because it was still early enough that the scene was relatively comfy) was completely subordinated to the logistical necessities of videotaping a New Year's parade with a Pepto-Bismol pink layer cake. I remember being hugely alienated by the whole experience. And now I'd probably be really nostalgic to see it.

cosmicbadger's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Thanks for the thoughts Blair. I just don’t know where folks find the time to get acquainted with and indulge themselves in all this communication technology. There was a time when all these devices were intended to SAVE labour and increase our leisure time. But the trend mongers have figured out that it is more profitable for them if these things BECOME our leisure time. I remember being at a cinema in the Philippines where the glow from all the mobile phone screens made it really hard to see the movie! Nothing we can do about it though; and going on about the good old days is what many of us used to find most annoying about our parents. I just try to keep in mind that most of the finest music, thoughts, words, ideas, images ever made were created without the aid of all this stuff. And by people who spent their time processing with their minds and not processing with microchips.


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