Song Review(s): Grateful Dead - “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” (Live 5/8/77)
Dead Heads do the strangest things.
And Sound Bites is no exception.
Although the famed Cornell University show from May 8, 1977 - almost universally thought to be the Grateful Dead’s best ever - has been widely available in high quality for decades (for free, no less), fans crashed the Dead.net website when it was announced the show would be made available on a stand-alone CD and as part of a box set called Get Shown the Light.
Did Sound Bites bite?
You bet your sweet bippy he did.
And after listening - loud - to the 26-minute “Scarlet -> Fire” the band offered as a thank-you download until the set’s released May 5, he’s more than positive it was a wise investment.
What would become a warhorse of a combo in the Dead’s performances was still in its infancy during May of 1977. But this twofer is anything but embryonic - it sounds as if they’ve been playing it for years, yet it’s enthusiastic enough to also sound brand-spanking new and exciting.
“Scarlet Begonias” is relatively short and finds Jerry Garcia, pianist Keith Godchaux and his vocalist wife, Donna Jean, the recently reunited Rhythm Devils - hell, the whole goddam septet - at the top of their respective games.
They take their time on the patient “->” that follows; there’s lots of jamming and zero noodling.
“Fire on the Mountain” is similarly adventurous; its newness betrayed only by Garcia’s vocal flubs, which he more than makes up for with a subtle “talkin’ ‘bout” before harmonizing with Donna Jean on one of the longest choruses this song has ever known. He follows up with a lengthy, well-thought-out, wah-wah-heavy solo that plays hide-and-seek with the rhythm section - sometimes leading, other times lagging, but always subtle and always just exactly perfect.
Garcia then fans his guitar as if he’s attempting to douse an out-of-control “Fire” - which in a way, he is - before a short “Scarlet Reprise” brings the ecstatic, nearly half-hour showcase to a punchy conclusion.
Sourced from the original “Betty Board” recording and freed from generational degradation that plagues the versions in circulation, this release finally - finally - puts the 5/8/77 “Scarlet -> Fire” in the aural context it’s always deserved.
Grade card: Grateful Dead - “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” (Live 5/8/77) - A
Read Sound Bites’ previous Get Shown the Light coverage here: http://krispyweiss.tumblr.com/post/157326474203/song-review-grateful-dead-morning-dew-live