October 18th, 1972
The Fox Theatre
St. Louis, Missouri
Playing In The Band>Drums>Dark Star>Morning Dew>Playing In The Band
“8, 9, 10”! From the “Bobby-fied” count-in to the gentle chime of its opening notes, this monster sandwich from October 18th, 1972 starts off strong and only gets better as it grows. A classic Playing from this era, complete with Donna’s trademark holler, kicks things off at a slightly hurried tempo before melting into a gooey groove as the band approaches the three minute mark. Phil and Billy hold it down tighter than a hangman’s knot while Jerry delicately noodles over Bobby’s vamping chord work. Over the next ten minutes or so the boys build this jam into a frenetic frenzy only to reign it back in as they segue into an abbreviated Drums which only lasts for a couple of minutes. Then, it’s Phil who signals that it’s time to switch gears as he thumps out the intro riff to ever ominous, always transcendent Jerry Garcia showpiece Dark Star.
And this Dark Star is truly special. Clocking in at over 28 minutes long, the band are in no hurry to reach the end as they feel their way through, cautiously. Jerry’s masterful use of the volume knob creates an eerie, violin-like quality to parts of the intro section as Keith playfully tickles the ivories along with him. By the five minute mark, the band has still not settled into the appropriate tempo for Jerry’s vocal to come in, so they pull back again, but too far the other way now. Billy’s cymbal work sounds like rain falling into a deep cavern and the mood shifts to a much darker place. The music teeters on the edge of the stage, threatening to fall right off into the front row when suddenly, about 10 minutes in, everything snaps back into place like a jigsaw puzzle made of magnetic pieces.
Once Jerry does begin to sing, he struggles to find the key, straining his voice upwards in the direction of the right pitch, but not quite finding it. By the third line or so, he’s just about got it and the ship is righted from there on out. A tension builds and releases and builds again as The Dead feel their way through this Dark Star. Just past the 15 minute mark, they almost settle into a Mediterranean vibe, but that is quickly dispensed with in favor of less structured jamming. For a brief moment, it does feel a little foreshadowing of the Blues For Allah era.
Towards the 25 and a half minute mark, listen closely for a nice Uncle John’s Band tease before it all melts away into Morning Dew. This transition is smoother than polished marble. Jerry belts out this story of apocalyptic catastrophe with the soul and conviction of a tent revival preacher as the band seems to hang on his every word.
The final slice of this sandwich is a triumphant return to Playing In The Band that develops out of a transitional jam and explodes to life with a banshee wail from the incomparable Donna Jean. It’s one of the finer examples of a Playing sandwich on record, though there are admittedly dozens of great ones.
This show took place at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri and was later featured in the 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll celebrating the career of Chuck Berry. A recording of this concert was released as a double-vinyl LP titled Light Into Ashes by Rhino Records in October of 2021.