Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rehearsal with Furthur

Artifact of the Week: Furthur Rehearsal Photos
Tape of the Week: 5/25/2010 
Furthur Rehearsal at the Palm Ballroom

Last night, Dark Star Palace was lucky enough to be invited to attend one of Furthur's "stealth rehearsal" shows at the Palm Ballroom.  Held in San Rafael, just one block over from Front Street and the Grateful Dead's old studio and rehearsal hall in the marina district, I felt like I was on planet Mars the entire night. What's next?  Remixing Aoxomoxoa for surround-sound with Phil Lesh in his living room? I mean, this sort of thing was unthinkable just a few years ago. Now, it seems like they are doing these shows every other month!

Heading north on 101 from San Francisco with my friends Ty and Cecelia, it was very difficult to contain our excitement to see this band in a venue that holds less than 300 people.  The fact that it was to be a rehearsal for the upcoming Furthurfest insanity this weekend, and a tiny rehearsal in the Dead's hometown of San Rafael just a hop, skip, and a swim from Front Street...well it was just all too much. Due to all this excitement, I might repeat myself 7 times in this blog apologies in advance!

After having an amazing meal at the Sol Food Restaurant (a wonderful Puerto Rican joint on the same block as the Dead's old office on Lincoln Street), the Palace did a quick tour for my friends of the local Dead sites in the hood (and got to put some new photos into the old Front Street and Dead Office blog posts too!) before meeting up with another friend over at Pier 15.

Now, Pier 15 happens to be the bar/restaurant that I described in a previous post in talking about Bob Dylan's time with the Dead and his come-to-Jesus moment that hit him in this bar. We had some drinks to celebrate this hollowed ground and then went down the street to the Palm Ballroom (located at the very Long John Silver'ish Seafood Peddler restaurant on the water) to catch the show.

Now, for the 50+ Jerry'ized Grateful Dead shows that I saw from April 1987 until December of 1994, my seats were usually somewhere in the back of the 70,000 seat arenas in the big city haunts of Chicago, New York, Denver, Baltimore, etc.  Big places. Arenas.  Football fields.  Lots of concrete.  I think the smallest show I attended may actually have been my first Dead show (UIC Pavillion 4/11/87 in the final pre-Touch of Grey days..but yeah, I'm a NEWBIE)...which held around 9-10,000 Deadheads. To think that I would someday see a few of these guys doing some amazing jamming on the old Dead catalog in their hometown in a cheesy little ballroom...well, it was like being on Mars. Or at least being in the Mars Hotel in the Tenderloin!

Just after we arrived, up drove Phil Lesh and his wife Jill in his fancy-pants Ferrari.  Stylin'!  Phil gets the best parking in the joint award!  Then, Bob Weir pops around corner looking like he might have arrived off a boat in the marina (turns out it was his Lexus SUV...again...weird. I would have rather have seen his '63 Corvette).  But, it was a good omen to arrive with the band! We were already in sync and the night was still young!

The Palm Ballroom was so small that you could have done 3 cart-wheels and covered the entire floor (assuming you can do some big-ass cartwheels).  There was a bar in the back.  Check!  But bathroom.  Turns out, you have to leave the ballroom and head to Long John Silvers to hit the head.  Weird, but kinda a hoot too.  There were no tickets.  You had to show your ID at the door, whereupon you were given a psychedelic wristband and a stamp of the Eye of Horus! Egypt! The Dark Star! Jerry's pig-tails!

I somehow was given the opportunity to be right up front...first row, next to some good 'ole Deadheads who had been following the band around for the past year and a half while they were giving their jobs a bit of a vacation.  When the band came out to start the show, I was shocked.  Furthur was one foot away from me... I could reach out and help them tune! I could roll the ends of Bobby Weir's fancy mustache!  I could slap a Garcia Wolf sticker onto the top of John's Carvin guitar to take it one step Furthur! And finally, I could tune Bobby's axe to an open G chord to help out his slide playing! There wasn't going to be any late-70's Weir attempts to do a Charlie Patton on my clock! I jest of course.  Anyway, it was such a relaxed evening, it just all seemed so normal to be hanging out with the band as they rapped and joked and commented on their new arrangements. I felt like a member of the band as I threw in background heckles to Bob during "On the Road Again" since Bob was spitting all over me. Yes-sir-e, it was a normal night.  That is, if being a few feet away from Bob Weir and Phil Lesh at a private rehearsal in San Rafael could be considered normal.

The show/rehearsal turned out to be just fantastic. There was some very tasty jams going on, despite it just being rehearsal.  They tried some new arrangements on several tunes and did a bust out or two, but really, it was all about the jamming. I like the one-drummer set-up!  It's very 1972-74 if you ask me.  And Joe Russo killed it! Wow, I like the way he thrashes and jazzes those skins.  He's like a cross between John Bonham and Elvin Jones. And he seems to always keep a toothpick in his mouth as he plays.  Is that the drummer equivalent to a baseball player chewing tobacco out on the field?  The new backup singer, Jeff Pehrson, did great for his first trip with the band. Something tells me he wasn't a Deadhead a week or two ago, but check him out in 90 days.  I bet he'll be trading tapes and buying veggie burritos on Shakedown Street for summer tour.  Sunshine is always amazing...what a great addition to the band. And Jeff Chimenti has chops as good as Brent Mydland, but doesn't sing "Tons of Steel".  A double win!!!

There were some outstanding psychedelic sections throughout the show...and it was a thrill to see the bass and guitar finger-work so up close.  Bobby broke out 2 of his old Dead axes: the weirdest guitar of them all...a PINK Fender Stratocaster, and his old Wall of Sound Gibson ES335.  Phil wasn't on the Ritter bass like he has been for the past few years, but busted out his old Grateful Dead Modulus bass! Great to see the old gear.  There was UltraSound and Meyer gear all over the little place...just like old times.

This week's Tape of the Week will be filled in as soon as we get a decent tape up from this rehearsal!  But, I see no alternative but to say that it will stream from here!  Here's the set list breakdown:

May 25, 2010 (8:20pm - 10:45pm)
"Live Rehearsal Sessions"
Stealth Show
Palm Ballroom - San Rafael, CA

After Midnight
New Speedway Boogie
Playing In The Band >
Eyes of The World >
St. Stephen >
The Eleven >
Unbroken Chain
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Days Between >
On The Road Again
Truckin' >
Smokestack Lightning >
Donor Rap

E: Ripple

Until next time at Dark Star Palace........

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Grateful Dead Office

Artifact of the Week: Grateful Dead Office Pix 
and Office-Owned 1985 Tour Lithograph
Tape of the Week: 4/28/85

This week, thanks to a variety of requests to do another "then and now" post like we did with Front Street last month, Dark Star Palace is going to visit the Grateful Dead's San Rafael home office of over 25 years!

We'll check out a variety of photographs of the band and business crew at the office and show you what the office looks like today. We will match this up with a 1985 tour poster that hung at the Dead's office for 11 years before they closed up shop, and link to a stream of a wonderful Charlie Miller soundboard remaster of a kickin', double-encore, Palo Alto home-town show down at Stanford at the Frost. 

As many a rock and roll fan knows, a solid home office can make or break a band.  Look at the Beatles.  Their Saville Row Apple office headquarters in London started as an ideal home base to run a label and a band.  It turned out to be a significant nail in the Fabs coffin (check out The Longest Cocktail Party if you would like an interesting read on this subject).  The Grateful Dead had already made an early business mistake by trying to run their own ballroom, the Carousel Ballroom...which became the Fillmore West after Bill Graham snagged the property lease right from Dead (due to, perhaps, some unprofitable financial business sense). The short of it was that the Dead ran the Carousel like any bunch of hippie musicians would...they were "experimenting" with a new style of business which would pay off years later...but which didn't do well in the short term.  So, after the Carousel letdown, they moved their office up to Marin and decided to open a real-deal, official, almost straight, office!

Sometime around 1970, the band decided to get a classic old Victorian house in the heart of funky San Rafael to set up their new shop.  Located at 1016 Lincoln Street (also known as 5th and Lincoln), the Dead's new office was in an ideal location. It was basically at the center of where the band and crew would live over the years...Mill Valley, San Rafael, Fairfax, Novato, etc. When not on the road, the band spent the bulk of their time jamming away and tweaking their Neve console's faders over at Front Street Studios (see Club Front blog post!).  Club Front was only a short few minutes under the freeway and around the corner drive from the office.  The office was situated just a few blocks from the 101 North/South on/off ramps.  It was also just a one block walk to food, coffee, cigarettes, etc., all located on San Rafael's 4th Street (which was where my wife and I hooked up with Owsley for a cup of coffee).

Over the years, the Dead's office housed all sorts of various Grateful Dead plots, schemes, businesses, charities, archives, and so on. There is some nice "writings in cement" out by the doubt a late addition, but it's a tribute to the fallen and writes out members of the band who had passed away. More likely a deadhead strolled by like the du-dah man and wrote it, but there it is all the same.

 In 1970 and 1971 when the office was just getting set-up and employees growing in number, the house had a bit more room for hanging out, meeting up, and various meetings.  As the old Victorian added new personnel and projects that would be run from 5th and Lincoln, the band navigated a bit more of their hanging time over to Club Front...which made the office more and more like a "regular" office.

Inside, the office was broken up into various departments and areas.  The band had a large old oak table that they set up in the conference room for the monthly band meetings with roadies and other key family members (the table is now with Santa Cruz's Grateful Dead Archive).  The Dead's office had an area for press activities, interviews, Grateful Dead Ticket Sales, hotline, Rex Foundation, publishing company, merchandising, travel bureau, tour bookings, etc....  Jerry even had his own office! They crammed that house good!!

1016 Lincoln housed all this various activity until 2006 when the band finally dissolved the good portion of their businesses, real estate, operations and bickering. Nearly all the goods that were stored by office chief, Eileen Law, at 1016 formed the bulk of what the Grateful Dead donated a few years back to Santa Cruz's Grateful Dead Archive.  But, when the office personal were given their final pay stubs as the Dead closed shop, the employees all got to take a some memorabilia home with themselves as part of their parting package (exactly like how the Dead's rehearsal/storage hall was shut down). Thanks to a new Palace pal up in Mill Valley in Marin who was given a few severance items from his neighbor who worked at the Dead's office from 1989 to until it closed, Dark Star Palace can show you one of the pieces of art that hung in the main Grateful Dead office for 21 years.

This week's Artifact of the Week is just that item...a tour lithograph that the Hampshire Grateful Dead Historical Society sent to the office in 1985.  The office took the litho and had it adhered to poster board, made a homemade hook with tape and string, and slapped a very cool Grateful Dead sticker on the back that looks like it came directly out of the original folk tale.  The litho has a Steal Your Face image in various sizes placed over every city the Dead had played in (up until 1985).  We hope to do a post on the Hampshire Grateful Dead Historical Society in the future, but know that it was one of the student hippie centers of GD study and knowledge from the 1970's until today, and had such eminent Dead scholars like John Dwork, who put together the so-very-perfectly-over-the-top book series The Deadhead's Taping Compendiums, vol 1-3.  

We'll pair this great 1985 touring artifact, with this week's Tape of the Week. Culled from a fully Jerry'ized show from the very tiny Frost Amphitheater down at Stanford.  4/28/85 is a special show, not just for the tight and rockin' playing by the band that night, but for the double encore as well.  Fire it up and and enjoy!  Until next week....

I: Gimme Some Lovin'-> Mississippi Half Step-> Minglewood Blues, Bird Song, Tons Of Steel-> China Cat Sunflower-> I Know You Rider 

II: Hell In A Bucket-> Crazy Fingers-> Playin' In The Band-> China Doll-> Playin' In The Band-> Drums-> Playin' In The Band-> Wharf Rat-> Throwing Stones-> Not Fade Away

E: U.S. Blues

E: She Belongs To Me