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Why a ‘77 sounds different than an ‘85

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Now that tour has ended, I thought this topic could stir up some good insights.


What are the reasons that we can tell a 1972 show from a 1977 show?  And once we get past that, what are the reasons that I can tell a 1972 show from a 1973 show?  😎


We know the primary answer is repetition, i.e. we listen to the music over and over.  So (unlike Donny) we are not out of our element.  I mostly don’t mean to focus on us, of course, but rather the sound of the boys and how it has evolved over time.  And why.


What lead me to this is imagining if China/Rider from Alpine 89 was offered in 1976?  Can you imagine the reaction to that interpretation (good or bad)?  And that level of power?  S/F is a great example, as demonstrated over at that HeadyVersion site that I’ve shared here before (I have no affiliation with that site).  The debate around the 77 S/F’s vs. the one on 3/22/90 is pretty funny.  But imagine if the boys trotted out in 1977 and played the sounds - MIDI and all - that they offered in Hamilton in 1990?  Jaws agape, people.  And how about vice-versa?


Same songs.  MUCH different presentation.  Why?



Anyway, if the boys liked the sound of 1977, why did it change so drastically by 1979?  


Equipment.  New guitars, new mics, walls of sound, etc.  They got new gear.


Experimentation,  They purposely wanted to reinvent their space.  Not only the equipment, but arrangements of songs, tempos.  Drummers and keyboards made a huge difference throughout the years. 


Players.  Voices change.  Bobby started when he couldnt drive a car.  Being a fan we have watched and listened to the guy grow into a man and now a senior citizen.  Jerry’s health and his weight certainly impacted his vocals and his play, from his oxygen intake to his energy and stamina.  All of the players have gotten so much better at their craft.  Practice and perfect and all.  Yet, ironically, we mostly recognize the first 15 years of the band as being superior to the latter 15 (with great subjectivity, of course).


Venues.  Fillmore East is a lot different than Madison Square Garden.  


So while there should be lots of input on all of this relatively low-hanging fruit, I am curious about my previous thought: one has to believe that the boys liked the sound after (during) Europe 72, for example.  Then why did they tinker with it and create the different sound of 1973, leading into the much evolved sound of 1974.  


Then a break and 1976 comes.  And THEN Spring 1977 happens!  Whoa.  What led to the disco duck sound of Cornell Dancin to get us to Days Between in 1995 other than lots of partying and some computers?



Please share your thoughts.  

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Wow! Great post, hard to elaborate on those thoughts. Just a couple of points,

  The drugs they chose to use changed over time. LSD, then coke, then heroin took over. God only knows what else was sprinkled in there. That had to play some kind of part. 

  The band members changed. Pigpen was the front man. He moved on, his influence stayed. Keith and Donna came and went. Brent left an impression, So did Vince.

  After that, music changes, the ‘times’ change. It’s human nature. The nature of the human beast. The boys always seemed to possess a keen understanding, insight, into that. Something had to lead them to evolving the songs. They did a great job of it. Just another attempt to describe the indescribable and what makes them not the best at what they did,  but the only ones who did what they did.

  I’ve learned to love and appreciate the great job DSO does in presenting different eras of the music. I get to experience the music they were working on before I got on the bus.

  Again, please share your thoughts.

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Interesting topic......I've often wondered the same thing. For instance, I can identify a Spring '77 recording within 5 seconds every time.

There's a spaciousness and arena-like cavernous quality to this tour, especially on Garcia's vocals. The drums sound is a give away as well......shimmery cymbal sound and spacious playing with lots of 8th notes on the ride cymbal (instead of riding the hi-hat).

Then there's the absolute confidence and musical command of each of the musicians. Apparently this can at least partly be credited to Keith Olson, who demanded that the band do exhaustive repeated takes of the songs on Terrapin Station...….so the band was super well rehearsed and ready for the Spring '77 tour.

But it all changed by Fall '77......poof

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Always changing, evolving, is the nature of the Grateful Dead. So many factors involved- many already listed. Their music included and reflected the times. They included disco without becoming disco...always the Grateful Dead, taking on many forms. It's reflective of the music itself. Take a look at something like a dark star or playin jam. The music is being created in the moment, constantly mutating and morphing into what we hear in the present moment. Mostly undefined, it will slip through your fingers if you try to capture it. For the music to be as dynamic as it was/is it had/has to always be launching into and discovering new space. I love feb 69 but I'm glad they didn't stop there. This Music is intrinsically linked with LSD and the psychedelic experience and therefor is linked to the evolution of consciousness. We do our best to dance Peace and Love into ethers so that it may be absorbed by the collective- in this way we fight for freedom. 


That being said, Thank you DSO for simultaneously creating in the present moment while preserving the past. The music can't be not improvised; It's the only approach.

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Well, for one thing, 1985 had probably the most varied setlists in the dead's  history. Tons of new covers and the crypticals, comes a times,  by fall everyone was completely out of their heads and it was full throttle.  I think it all started in the fall of 1984, but man, 1985 had to have the broadest selection of songs then any other year. Ya think?

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I kinda think of the 30yr evolution of the grateful dead and their music like a person evolves. They were young, dumb and full of cum in the 60s, really honing their craft in the 70s, exploring different ways to make sound and filling stadiums in the 80s, and finishing as a wise, mellow finely tuned machine in the 90s. I fall in that last category and it's pretty nice, ok my wisdom could be debated.

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