Road Trips, v. 2, no. 2: Carousel 2/14/68 – Grateful Dead
Rhino/Grateful Dead Productions
The Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series continue to feature sublime material that is not only exploratory but fascinating for even the most hardened Deadhead cynic. Recorded at a venue soon to become Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, but co-leased briefly in early 1968 by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service, the latest release from the Dead’s vault captures a moment when the band finally found their footing. This maturation process reached an early apex on Anthem of the Sun, an album that featured a combination of studio and live recordings culled from the Carousel—including this show—and a February tour of the Great Pacific Northwest.
On the newest Road Trips—the first complete show release in the series—the Dead appear to be venturing from their past as a really heady blues rock outfit with an acid trip edge and a weird bluegrass and folk past. The bulk of the material has long been circulating among collectors via a 1968 KMPX FM-broadcast, and a partial soundboard discovered in 1996, but the songs have never sounded this outstandingtruly in its HDCD-headphone glory. Officially, none of these nuggets has ever been released, and from February 14, neither Morning Dew nor Good Morning Little Schoolgirl has ever circulated.
Indeed, these two songs, heard here for the first time, are embryonic and a product of their times. Dew is rushed, and remains in one tempofast, sturdy, and without the patiently powerful ascension that created its great drama throughout the songs 30-year career in the Dead’s songbook. Sonny Boy Willaimson’s Schoolgirl, however, is always a sweet treat with Ron Pigpen McKernan handling harp and raunchy narrator duties.
Elsewhere, Dark Star is a brief paint-by-numbers, demo-like version of the soon-to-be improvisational monster, but the remaining segued sequence of China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Turn On Your Lovelight really cooks, and shows the band almost in a Wizard of Oz state of mind. The Dead are collectively moving together as one unit, slowly and with assured but stoned grace, from their sepia toned past into a full Technicolor realm, shortly after Dorothyuh, or in this case, Captain Trips himself, guitarist Jerry Garcia, opens the doorway to an entire generations group mind.
The second set begins what would become the Anthem sequence, and portions of this section do appear within the complicated mix of the album. The Other One suite is rolled out after a dedication to the late Neal Cassady, who is, of course, also name-checked in the Spanish Lady section of the suites lyrics. This version is focused and taut before one of the most beautiful segues in Dead history as the band effortlessly
flows into New Potato Caboose, and its warm and inviting textures. A brief Born Cross-Eyed is merely an appetizer for a spectacularly dark and spacey Spanish Jam, quite frankly, this passage is the highlight of the second set, but is the only song that was not included in the eventual Anthem album sequence from this second set.
Alligator > Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) pick the pace back up before the dissonant descent of Feedback. Pigpen, Garcia, and bassist Phil Lesh are in fine form, while rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and the twin drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart rotate the tempo at will. The Dead encored with In the Midnight Hourjaunty and boisterous, Pigpen doing his patented Motown gestures with a booze-fueled twist.
A third disc features bonus material from tours earlier that winter. Included on the first disc is an extraordinary 20-minute version of Viola Lee Blues from Eureka (1/20), cursory versions of Beat It On Down the Line and Hurts Me Too from Seattle (1/23), and a nearly seven-minute Dark Star looking to climb out of its shell from Portlands Crystal Ballroom (2/2), a venue Phil Lesh returned to play in recent years in a nice little bookend to its Dead existence.
Another barnstorming sequence of Dark Star > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Turn On Your Lovelight, also from Seattle, helps enhance the bonus trip, while, from that gig, one gets yet another funky version of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. Finally, from Eugene (1/30), New Potato Caboose is given a great primal Dead workout as part of an essential Road Trips release in a formidable HDCD mix from the legendary vaults.