Today in Grateful Dead History: November 15, 1971 – Austin Municipal Auditorium, Austin, TX

It’s been a strange couple of weeks here at the Daily Dose when it comes to setlist abnormalities and unusual jams and today’s show from Austin in 1971 doesn’t buck the trend, with the last first-set Dark Star for 20 years (and the second-to-last of all time) and a Not Fade Away jam that defies description.

First, a little personnel recap.  Pigpen could not join the Dead on this part of the 1971 tour due to health problems, and Keith Godchaux had been playin’ in the band for a little less than a month (Donna had yet to join), so the five-piece, Pigpenless band was thinner than it would ever be.  So the boys made up for it by turning everything up to eleven.

Like the November 12th show in San Antonio, tonight’s performance has a focused raw energy – I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when you hear it you’ll know.  Unfortunately, like the 11/12 show, this recording is marred by a crummy soundboard mix.  The good news tonight is that this show was released in its entirety as Road Trips Volume 3, Number 2, which is available on Spotify.  The official release sounds a heck of a lot better than the recording on the Archive, so listen to it elsewhere if you can.

Dark Star is definitely the highlight of the first set, a nice, mellow version with an El Paso dropped into the middle of it for good measure.  The Dead don’t reinvent the wheel here, but it’s still a nice trip, and the last of its era.  There are some other great songs in the first set, like Playin’ in the Band, which, at six and a half minutes, is just aching to take flight.  The pent up jamming here sounds great and hints at better things to come for this song next year.  I also enjoyed the blaring version of Loser.

The second set starts with several “normal” songs in a row, although it bears noting that Garcia’s work during Me and Bobby McGee is especially potent tonight.  Everything after that is very down-to-earth, as if the Dead didn’t know what to do in this slot without Pigpen.  Not Fade Away provides the answer – it’s all systems go here and we get a monster performance focused, once again, on Jerry’s massive solos and Bob Weir’s hints of China Cat Sunflower.  After 10+ minutes of rocking, the Dead move into Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, also uptempo, for some additional variations on the same theme before returning once again to Not Fade Away to round things up.  This jam never gets “out there”.  Instead, it’s one of those rocking jams that typically flow out of Not Fade Away – grind it out, dance-band rock and roll.  But it’s a good one.

If you don’t have your hands on a copy of Road Trips, you can listen to the muddy soundboard here:

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