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
Holly Bowling at Woodlands Tavern, Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 10, 2017
When Holly Bowling plays a bar, as she did last night in Columbus, it’s a battle between her fans’ ears and their livers.
The livers tried warbling along.
Ears tried to shhhhh! the singers into silence.
Other livers tried to talk over the classical music wafting from the stage.
And the ears tried to shhhhh! the talkers into listening.
And so went the push and pull in the audience as classically trained pianist, Dead Head and legendary Phish phan Bowling performed her favorite bands’ music before an exuberant crowd of about 100 revelers during her Friday-night show at Woodlands Tavern.
The ears wanted to listen. The livers wanted to pretend they were at a rock show. And although collective groans went up every time someone broke a bar glass and shattered the sound of the piano, the livers were in control in the second set.
“Stop shhhhh-ing!,” was the new battlecry.
And by the time the woman seated next to Sound Bites broke her glass, yelled “that was me!” over the music, fell out of her chair trying to reach the shards under her seat and sat on the floor talking about how not drunk she was, the ears’ battle had been lost.
Playing a full-sized grand piano that took up two-thirds of Woodlands’ postage-stamp stage, Bowling engaged in some push and pull of her own as she segued between her interpretations Grateful Dead and Phish songs across two sets.
Alternatively staring intently at the iPad that contained her sheet music and losing herself in the music that emanated from her supple hands, Bowling played the part of quintessential classical pianist for the most part. But she occasionally went rogue and employed a mallet or tuning fork to coax unorthodox sounds from the piano’s strings.
The joy that Bowling gets from playing shows on her face as expressions of surprise, ecstasy, giddiness and good humor passed by one after the other.
Bowling also brings a lot of joy to her audiences.
“You (bleeping) rock!” someone yelled toward the end of one particularly energetic moment.
Bowling, dressed like a rock ‘n’ roller in jeans, tennis shoes, a dark top and a cap, does a lot of things.
And even though she does not play Rachmaninoff or Chopin, she most certainly does not (bleeping) rock.
Bowling plays piano recitals that happen to feature rock songs.
And like the bands she emulates, she says virtually nothing from the stage.
She spent the bulk of her 70- and 60- minute sets playing expansive - 15 minutes and longer - versions of songs like “Estimated Prophet,” “China Cat Sunflower” and “Tweezer” and tossing in snippets of tracks such as “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” on which she mimicked Bob Marley’s vocal lines by plucking the piano’s strings with one hand while playing the keyboard with the other.
At the end of each set, she stood briefly in front of her piano, beaming and soaking in the adulation flowing her way. And you couldn’t help but love the fact that this classically trained pianist has found a way to make a living playing the music that moves her the most to an audience of like-minded, fun-loving freaks.
Grade card: Holly Bowling at Woodlands Tavern, 2/10/17 - A
I had the enormous pleasure and privilege of joining The Quireboys at their gig at The Shepherds Bush Empire in London on Saturday the 27th April. Guitarist Paul Guerin organised an AAA pass for me which meant I was able to go anywhere I pleased. This allowed me to get some great backstage shots along with some side stage and front of house shots. Every music photographer dreams of an AAA pass so this was basically a dream come true.