Raven at San Jacinto

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Weather Report Suite

I heard the other day that we were coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of this concert, March 23, 1974. This was a monumental show for me, my first dead show in California. My mother, brother and I had moved back from Manhattan a few months earlier, to Oxnard of all places.

She was chasing her ex husband, trying to make one more ill fated go at the thing. We were along for the ride, not like we had any other choice. I was still in high school.

By the time of this show, she had a new boyfriend, Ed, a UCSD student not much older than me. We all piled into an old beater, an incredibly long continental convertible with electric door locks and all the bells and whistles, and drove to San Francisco.

I had never spent much time in the city. There was a heavy fog and it was really cold. I remember tripping down Lombard, a very spacey night.

We picked up two dead head friends of mine from New York at the airport, Gabe and Hank, and went to the show.

This turned out to be a monumental concert in Grateful Dead lore, it was the introduction of the finished Wall of Sound, the greatest sound system ever created. An early try had melted down at Stanford. It was ultimately too expensive and burdensome to maintain and was discarded for something less difficult to setup and haul around a year or two later. But listening too it was pure sonic perfection, never eclipsed to this day. Was lucky enough to catch it on several occasions.
The Wall of Sound is the name some people gave to a super powerful, extremely accurate PA system that I designed and supervised the building of in 1973 for the Grateful Dead. It was a massive wall of speaker arrays set behind the musicians, which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer. It did not need any delay towers to reach a distance of half a mile [800 m] from the stage without degradation. Owsley Stanley
The system consisted of 586 JBL speakers and 54 Electro-Voice tweeters, powered by 48 600-watt McIntosh MC-2300 amplifiers generating a total of 28,800 watts of continuous (RMS) power). It towered behind the band.

Jerry was on the left back then, had not yet made the switch stage right...
The Wall of Sound combined six independent sound systems using eleven separate channels. Vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and piano each had their own channel and set of speakers. Phil Lesh's bass was piped through a quadraphonic encoder that sent signals from each of the four strings to a separate channel and set of speakers for each string. Another channel amplified the bass drum, and two more channels carried the snares, tom-toms, and cymbals. Because each speaker carried just one instrument or vocalist, the sound was exceptionally clear and free of intermodulation distortion.

The California dead scene was so different than the New York one I was used to. Farmer deadheads, surf deadheads, mystic deadheads, everything much more laid back. It was a good show, they jammed in and out of Playing in the band into Uncle Johns and Morning Dew and played this beautiful Weather Report Suite, always a favorite. [Ed: My wife said it sounds like a dirge, slower than typically played. Maybe you need an altered state, I don't know? In my opinion, Weir's prettiest opus.]

This was the first dead show that I attended with my mom and younger brother John. The next week, if I remember correctly, my then girlfriend Abby flew out from New York with her friend Debbie. We bought a pound of crappy Mexican weed and tried to smoke the whole thing in a single week.

I must say that we were successful but also very stoned. I remember walking on the beach looking for car keys for an hour that might have actually been in someone's hand the whole time! We searched so long and we were so high we forgot what we were searching for! Almost a parable...

Ah, those were the days!

God bless you Grateful Dead, soundtrack of my life.

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