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Dead of the Day: May 19, 1974

Portland Memorial Coliseum
Portland, Oregon
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The tremendous second show from the Fox Theater in ’77 is on this date, but our Dead of the Day is an evening from Portland, Oregon, in 1974 that is at least as epic. The first set is long and good, with Black Throated Wind, Sugaree, and Jack Straw as some of the high points. We also get one of only three live Money, Moneys, for whatever that is worth. But the China> Rider is, once again, a standout closer to the first set. The China Cat is an absolute rocker, and, while the playing on Rider is also excellent, it is Jerry’s high energy, emotional vocals that really make the latter tune special. The second set opens with Keith leading the way on a flat-out Promised Land that heads right into a scintillating Bertha. The Greatest Story Ever Told that follows is similarly hot. But watch out for Donna's vocals towards the end; they will either have you rushing for the skip button or grinning ear to ear, depending on your proclivities. Ship of Fools provides the deliverance and also leads to a rich and textured, beautifully rendered Weather Report Suite. The transition from there into Wharf Rat is pretty funky, and the tune itself comes together in spectacular fashion with Billy providing some somewhat subdued, but superb drums that set off the rest of the band. The boys really figure out how to wring all possible pathos from this tune, using changes in tempo, pregnant pauses, needling guitar work, foreboding keyboard fills, and Jerry’s rough but resonant voice to reinforce the deep melancholy of the lyrics. What’s crazy is that the Weather Report Suite> Wharf Rat is probably not even the biggest highlight of the set. That would be reserved for the Truckin'. After a slow and sweet Peggy-O, the Dead launch into their biographical standard, which turns out to be nothing but straight up, dear god, rock and roll jamming, as hot as it comes. And that is pretty much how the rest of the night goes, with a steamy Not Fade Away heading into a nearly out of control Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad before sending the set out with a One More Saturday Night and the show off with a US Blues.

By this point in 1974, the Dead’s Wall of Sound was fully operational, and they had had a few shows to really fine tune it. But the band was still discovering all the new sounds that they could create by taking advantage of the lush opportunities that the Wall of Sound provided. Although there are some mix problems in this show, you can hear the band, like kids with a new toy, experimenting throughout and, quite often, finding some intense new spaces in the music. It is a real treat to listen to the '74 sound as it develops over these couple weeks in concert with the Wall of Sound.

The Memorial Coliseum in Portland was completed in 1960 and dedicated in January 1961. Built in the International Style, the building’s exterior is made of glass and aluminum, highlighting form and aesthetic considerations over any grand social statement. However, the building is also a memorial to war veterans, with two black granite walls inscribed with a list of local veterans who died in combat. With its many windows, the building is sometimes referred to as the Glass Palace, and boasts some 9,000 permanent seats, but it probably had a capacity of around 14,000 for the Dead show with portable chairs and bleachers. The Dead only played five of their 22 Portland shows at the Memorial Coliseum, one in ’73 and three more in the early 80s - 6/12/80, 8/15/81, and 8/26/83 in addition to this 1974 date.

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