The Grateful Dead and the early 1970’s

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1971 was an important year for the Grateful Dead, but 1972 is often lauded as the best year for the band, and the band’s following greatness is hinted at in the previous year’s fall tour. The Northrop show, performed in Minneapolis on Oct. 19, 1971 was the first show of a fall tour – one could feel the band’s palpable excitement when opening with a tremendous, stomping version of their song “Bertha.” The show progressed with the band playing fast and tight through their live catalog.

An important moment during the show was the live debut of “Jack Straw,” a song later played during many of the band’s live shows. This version of “Jack Straw,” a well-timed downshift of the show’s relatively fast speed, gave the band time to soar on the vocal harmonies and main chord progressions.

The Grateful Dead toured with one drummer, rather than two, after the departure of Mickey Hart in 1971.

Drummer Bill Kreutzmann took this version from good to great, along with a closely harmonized chorus from Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh. Another standout track is a terrific version of the classic “Uncle John’s Band.”

During this show, the band played an infant version of “Playing in the Band,” which was expanded to be much longer in later shows, for better or worse. A May 1974 show at the University of Washington boasted a somewhat tedious 47-minute version of the song.

While 1972 often receives lots of attention from Grateful Dead fans as the band’s peak (Europe 1972 is a modern classic), it also seems that 1971 is an important part in appreciating what was to come of the Grateful Dead’s later live shows.

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