Excerpted - A Key To Every Door: The Grateful Dead In The Pacific Northwest 1973-1974
"After all, Dead shows were always rituals at heart, not just events but ceremonies—gloriously unspecific, perhaps, but still deliberate, still designed to court the muse of improvisation and explore her gifts anew each night."
Dive in deep with PACIFIC NORTHWEST '73 - '74: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS scribe Nick Meriwether. We'll be sampling tidbits from the liner notes all the way up to release day.
[The Pacific Northwest] was a region that exercised a powerful sway over the band, eliciting some of their best work and linking it indelibly to the place, making it a part of the literary and artistic heritage that defined the Pacific Northwest. There has always been a kind of literary quality to the best Dead shows, not only intrinsically, in the stories told by the lyrics and their interpretation told by each show, but as a whole, providing a text that gave listeners insights into their own lives. The Dead attracted writers, befriended them, read them, set their words to music. Jack Kerouac inspired them and so did Beat poets like Gary Snyder. Ken Kesey helped to define their project as it first took shape. The band’s lyricists viewed their work as a part of literature, as oral poetry, and that can be seen in the songs they wrote and sung in 1973 and 1974, especially those with lyrics by Bobby Petersen and Robert Hunter. And all of these writers shared deep connections to the Pacific Northwest.
In a late interview, Garcia and Hunter mused about the power of the historical consciousness in the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and its effect on their own songwriting. History is shaped by geography, though, and the shows in this box get at the counterpart to what Garcia and Hunter were discussing: geographical consciousness. That is the idea behind this release: a close look at three of the Dead’s enclaves, bound by a specific, vital geography, over two consecutive, critical years, 1973 and 1974. Those were peak years for the Dead: a time when they were flexing their prowess, exploring their limits on every front— musically, organizationally, technologically. And geography grounded those explorations in a place, providing another limit to explore and challenge and interrogate.
...Portland was a Dead Head stronghold, having hosted the band ten times already; when this show was announced, fans responded quickly, selling out the Coliseum in record time. On the day of the show, journalists were amazed to see thousands of fans braving the Portland drizzle to stand in line for hours to stake out a good spot. One reporter marveled at the distances some fans had traveled. “The Grateful Dead are hard to explain,” he wrote: “just what brings the people out time and time again?” His more experienced colleagues knew. “The scene is always the same with the Grateful Dead,” the Oregonian reporter wrote. “No super-hype vibes and a laid-back feeling that brings immediate rapport between stage and audience.”
That was obvious from the first note. “Promised Land” made a nice nod to Portland and the effort that locals had made to welcome the band, with “Looks Like Rain” and “Box Of Rain” both referencing the climate. A strong first set, it covered a wide sweep, fifteen songs drawn from every era of the band’s career, and all of their influences. Critics were surprised at the relaxed but warm reception. “I don’t think there was any overpowering need to hear any particular song all night,” one reporter observed. “It was enough that the Dead were playing, and playing well.” That changed in the second set. The Oregonian thought it had been a “mellow” concert until then; then it “slipped out of that laid-back, informal mood and turned the velocity around” in the second set. The heart of the set, and the core of the show, was the “Dark Star” > “Eyes Of The World” > “China Doll,” universally hailed as “an incredible medley,” and “the must-hear territory” of the show, with each segment full and beautifully developed. The most restrained description hailed it as simply “quite unique, and worthy of multiple listens.” Others were more vehement: “It’s not exactly perfect—but it’s pretty damn close.” There were worlds within the space it covered, carved out by what one fan called “what may be the best recorded and lengthiest extended dual guitar interplay” in the band’s collected record. When that finally gave way to “Eyes of the World,” one fan there thought it felt “like a sweet breeze blowing from the stage.” And when that finally, beautifully, easily became “China Doll,” everyone knew that they were hearing history, with a performance that experienced Dead Heads hailed as “among the most confidently played versions ever ...” A nicely executed “Sugar Magnolia” picked up the pace to end the set, with a rousing “One More Saturday Night” encore to round out what one reviewer called “a grand night for the rock culture.”
1973 was the year of my first show and for that reason and because looking back on the whole of their years I think they were so tight, focused, experimental in the years from 72-75, that this box is something I could not pass up. The way I see these special releases, it's like getting tour tickets to shows you haven't seen. Although I do so love it when occasionally a show I was actually at turns up as an official release, the shows I didn't see are like a continuation of the opportunity to hear Jerry play something again I've never heard before.
the art, liner notes and music preview from the Pacific Northwest project are beautiful thank you.
I mostly watch these special projects come and go, but this one... Something is calling me.
Love to brothers and sisters everywhere.