Joe Miller: When the “Dark Star” Crashed Into KCK with Grateful Dead

A friend of mine told a story not so long ago about how she was looking for a place to have breakfast downtown and she saw a historical marker that said, basically, “something cool used to be here.” And she thought, That’s so Kansas City.

Like it could be a slogan for this place. Kansas City: Something Cool Used to Be Here!

In that spirit, and in the spirit of Cowtown Ballroom… Sweet Jesus!, I offer my current favorite document of Kansas City yesteryear — a bootleg recording of the Grateful Dead’s concert at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in downtown KCK on November 13, 1972.

It’s a great show, an auditory portal into KC’s hippy days. And it was recorded by Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the scion of a Kentucky Political dynasty (his namesake was a Senator and governor) who made all the acid that fueled the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967.

Dead bootlegs aren’t even remotely rare. You can download thousands of them for free on the Internet. But this one is unusual in that it’s one of the few that’s only available as an audience recording. The Dead habitually recorded all of its performances straight from the soundboard, and almost all of those were leaked out into the public. But this KCK concert came at a time when their recording equipment was either broken or stolen, according to David Lamieux, the Dead’s archivist.

Lamieux recently featured the show on the Dead’s website. “It’s a good one that might be held in higher regard if there were a board tape of it,” he told me in an email.

What I love about it is the crowd. Being an audience recording, you can hear their every reaction to the music — clapping along on the uptempo tunes and moaning in ecstasy during the psychedelic numbers.

The part is the seamless jam toward the end of the show of “Dark Star” and “Morning Dew.”

“Dark Star” is the ultimate space jam. The Dead wrote it in 1967 as a short song with just a couple of verses. Over the years they stretched it out to an improvisational vehicle that would typically last 20 to 30 minutes. The KCK version is one of the longest they ever did, at a little over 34.

Though there’s no script, the song is surprisingly cohesive, with only a few passages that descend in to chaos. For the most part, the music morphs in and out of jazzy and rock-and-rolly rhythms and riffs and each time the melody shifts the crowd responds a little louder.

And then, when the band brings it all together for the vocal part it sounds like a group orgasm. One guy in particular lets out this long, ecstatic moan just as Jerry Garcia sings “Dark star crashes…” that still gives me chills even after listening to it dozens of times.

The crowd cums again when the band busts into “Morning Dew,” which the most under-rated ’70s rock epic, in the tradition of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” — a towering masterpiece that goes from near silence to sonic thunder and back again several times and features two monstrous guitar solos.

I’ve been trying for the longest time to find someone who went to the show so I can ask them about it. The Dead’s website shows has 11 people who logged in and said they went but I can’t get ahold of any of them. The one guy who posted a comment says what I already know: “Sweet, sweet Dead…. A classic 72 set, had all the elements of a great show and the vocals were killer, Garcia was pulling the strings every which way on the strat….A monster Playing jam, Dark Star, oh I could go on and on.”

This guy headed down to catch them in Wichita a few days later. And this one went to Oklahoma City to catch two shows the following two nights.

My friend Tony Ladesich, who helped make the Cowtown Ballroom documentary, says that when he told people what he was working on they would often say, “Oh yeah, I saw the Dead there.” They didn’t. The Dead never played there. But maybe that’s an indication of high a night it was in KCK in ’72.

Joe Miller

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2 Responses to Joe Miller: When the “Dark Star” Crashed Into KCK with Grateful Dead

  1. Anonymous says:

    Turd McDurgle
    Awesome Joe. Thanks man! My parents actually WERE at that show. I love that poster too.

    Before everything went the way of CD’s and eventually MP3s I had HUNDREDS of shows on cassettes…most of which were horrible 2nd and 3rd and even 4th generation recordings. Made no matter at the time…if you knew the tune your mind would fill in the bad spots and mask the hiss and white noise.

    Being a 2nd generation Head myself I was fortunate enough to see them a few dozen time with Garcia. During college that would have been every winter break, spring break and summer vacation man!

    I am interested in knowing more about your Cowtown Ballroom documentary, could you shoot me some info?

    Was just in Chicago a couple weekends ago and caught Widespread Panic two nights at the Chicago Theater with my best friend…saw a funny tee shirt (how many stories start THAT way?) that said “I see Head people”.

    I am sure you can relate. Thanks for the great story! Yet another reason why I am proud to call KC my home!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rick M
    Was too young to make that show, but did attend their two-night stand at Memorial in ’79(?) and was blown away. If memory serves, that was the final time they played a relatively small venue in KC. After that, they really blew up in popularity all over the country.

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