Ace Of Bass

The source I’ve been using for the ‘40 years ago’ events says of April 14th, 1972: The Grateful Dead played their first paying concert in front of a foreign language crowd, in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Tivolis Koncertsa. (They played a free concert in the grounds of the ‘Honky Château’ in Hérouville, France in 1971, meaning good old Wikipedia is technically correct). So, as I don’t need to construct a tenuous link today, I’ll just play a song from what was the first of two nights at the Tivoli.

This is one of several from Ace, the ‘solo’ album they’d been helping Bob Weir to record just before coming over the Atlantic: Looks Like Rain.

Weir introduced it as a ‘crying song’ and, despite the clunky lyrics in the second verse, it delivers real emotional punch. Garcia’s pedal steel guitar was lugged across the Atlantic just for this song but he only gave it three outings: this is the last of them. I’ve picked it not for the pedal steel, however – it’s good but I can understand why Garcia abandoned it – but for Phil Lesh’s contribution on bass. The notes he chooses to play and the spaces he chooses to leave are, in my opinion, absolutely exquisite and his vocal harmonies are just as perfect.

For contrast (SR: this is from the end of the Brent Mydland line-up) you’ll also find a version of the song played in March 1990, sonically more rounded, more dramatic and yet….. Well, which do you prefer?


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16 thoughts on “Ace Of Bass

  1. It was a real toss up until the vocal intruded at the end of the 1990 version. I really like the pedal steel, so delicate and tasteful but then I had to re-assess when I heard the gtr in the ’90; to that point they were both great but that final vocal killed it. Interesting piece about Poe and the meaning of the lyrics on the annotated lyrics page.

  2. I loved both versions, I knew what to expect at the end of the newer one, because I have a fair few versions of Looks Like Rain from the Brent Mydland period.

    I like Jerry’s pedal stell playing but live I think it is better to have him playing a proper guitar.

    The early version has a wonderful delicacy and Phil’s bass playing is special. As the saying goes “When Phil’s on, the band is on.

    Looks Like Rain is one of my favourite Dead songs. I don’t think it is really possible to screw it up.

    • Hi Carole! I always associate you with LLR these days.
      I’m not going to look for it but I strongly suspect there’s a performance somewhere that would disprove your last assertion…. (And I tend to agree with gf that Bobby’s end-of-song antics often don’t work terribly well, cf. Sunshine Daydream…)

    • Ta, tfd, but I don’t think poor old Adam gets many responses to his review requests. He picked my White Chalk write-up a while ago for a ‘Best PJ Harvey Album’ thing: I was probably the only person to provide one.

  3. I hands down preferred the first version. It really is a beautiful song. I had the same sort of beef with both versions though – you and Carole probably aren’t going to like this. I fully realize that it’s Bob’s solo album, but would have infinitely preferred to hear Jerry on vocals on this one. Bob’s vocals are weak for this song to me, and nearly unbearable towards the end of the second version.

  4. And you’re not even going to argue with me over Good Morning Little Schoolgirl on the mothership. But the Dead are un-PCily pervy on that one.

    • Why would I argue: a) with you?; b) about Good Morning Little Schoolgirl?

      It’s pretty difficult to listen to a lot of Pigpen’s raps in our modern world where men respect women and women respect themselves….. Oh, sorry, wrong universe…

      I’m kinda with you about Bob’s voice. He certainly can’t do convincing end-of-song histrionics but I think the 72 version works because of Phil’s harmonies. Jerry’s voice could be sublime: full of emotion and sincerity. He just didn’t look after it, as with the rest of his health, and it got old and weak way before its time. Some of his later vocals are difficult to bear.

  5. Still a Grateful Dead virgin, so finding this series interesting, deinitely prefer the second version, don’t think I like the pedal steel guitar on he first one, though the vocal harmonies are excellent. Thanks Chris.

  6. Well, I like both, but prefer the first for the pedal steel, the bass playing and the harmonies. But the guitar in the second one is amazing.

  7. Sorry to take so long to get to this. I wanted total interruption free time, which I now have. It’s such a beautiful song.

    Version 1 highlights are the pedal steel, the bass and the vocal/s are in
    perfect symmetry. It makes for a perfect ballad.

    Version 2 was lovely but didn’t hit the spot in quite the same way, although the guitar was superb.

    So, for me, it’s the earlier version. Most definitely.

    Thanks, Chris. Awesome.

  8. Not a song I’ve find easy to like over the years, as with many of the Weir/Barlow compostiions. (And in truth that’s in part influenced by dubts about JP Barlow – part radical ex-hippie libertarian, part conservative Republican; just what is he?)

    Anyway back to the song: no doubt in my mind about which is the better of the two. For all the drama and musical trickery of the second version, it feels over-blown and rather pointless – something which could be said about much of the Mydland years. I love the spare simplicity of the first version. Weir’s vocal is full and controlled and though the pedal stell is relatively the lesser part of the sound, it works well with Lesh’s superb base.

  9. I meant to add to the comment above (not Anonymous, just incapcable of logging-on properly) that the guitear playing on version 2 is a really good example of what Chris talks about on another of these 40-year anniversary postings, namely the way that Garcia weaves delicate melodies around a song structure …. not a route that many took, sadly.

  10. Pingback: The Story So Far « What Another Man Spills

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