Across The Great New Jersey (no label)
When The Band returned to live performance after their eighteen-month hiatus, they did so in a big way by playing at the legendary Watkins Glen festival in upstate New York on July 28th, 1973. Along with the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, they played a three-hour set in front of an estimated 600,000 attendees.
They followed that with two concerts at Roosevelt Stadium, a minor league baseball park in Jersey City again supporting the Grateful Dead. Across The Great New Jersey is a four-disc set containing soundboard recordings from each of the shows.
Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ – July 31st, 1973
Disc 1 (52:15): Back To Memphis, Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever), tuning, The Shape I’m In, The Weight, Stage Fright, I Shall Be Released, Don’t Do It, tuning, Endless Highway, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across The Great Divide, This Wheel’s On Fire
Disc 2 (49:23): Saved, Life Is A Carnival, Share Your Love With Me, Up On Cripple Creek, The Genetic Method, Chest Fever, The W.S. Wolcott Medicine Show. Bonus tracks, Grand Prix Raceway, Watkins Glen, NY – July 28th, 1973: Back To Memphis, Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever), Slippin’ & Slidin’
The July 31st show, which has the reputation as being THE worst The Band show, has seen many previous releases. One of the earliest is Blue Highways (Oil Well RSC 144CD), a one disc set with a majority of the tape, from “The Shape I’m In” through “Life Is A Carnival” and “W.S. Wolcott Medicine Show.”
This Wheel’s On Fire (OH BOY 1-9051), released in 1999, contains most of this tape, omitting “Back To Memphis” and “Share Your Love With Me” to “Chest Fever.” Finally this was included with the following day’s concert on a three CDR set was released in 1999 titled Roosevelt Stadium (Old Brown Boot) which is missing “Back To Memphis.”
The first two discs cover the first of the two concerts. This particular performance has the reputation as being THE worst concert staged by The Band. Richard Manuel was inebriated, the band were still tired from the Watkins Glen festival, and the deliver a lackluster performance all around. The tape is very good sounding. The first song, the cover of Chuck Berry’s “Back To Memphis,” is cut half way through and the fragment that does exist contains several cuts and dropouts. The second song, “Love You” cuts in right when the vocals begin and the rest of the set is musically complete.
The vocals cut out half way through “Shape I’m In” and half of the song is played as an instrumental. “I Shall Be Released,” Manuel’s main vocal number, sounds very uninspired. Levon Helm also has some problems when he comes in late for “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Even this tepid version retains some its unique beauty. A virtue of this tape is having an excellent live recording of the Lieber Stoller song “Saved” at the beginning of disc two.
The Band recorded it for their covers LP Moondog Matinee and the only other live recording is the fair audience recording from Watkins Glen. The latter part of this concert is an improvement with Garth Hudson’s standout “The Genetic Method” and “Chest Fever.”
The second disc ends with three bonus tracks. The location and date are not noted on the artwork, but this comes from a fair to good audience tape from the Watkins Glen Festival on July 28th. “Back To Memphis” and “Loving You” are, just like the New Jersey shows, the opening two tracks. On this tape one can clearly hear the arrangement of the second song is different than is present on the soundboard recordings.
Watkins Glen, “Loving You” begins with the group kicking the song together, while in New Jersey the song begins with a Rick Danko bass groove. This new arrangement is heard clearly on the second show (since the beginning of the song is cut in the first). The third song is the only live record of The Band playing the rock standard “Slippin’ & Slidin’.”
The song was played very late in the main set, after “WS Wolcott Medicine Show” and “Rag Mama Rag.” It isn’t clear why this three-song fragment was included except for filler. It would have been good if the label made note of its presence since it is confusing at first listen.
Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ – August 1st, 1973
Disc 3 (44:44): Back To Memphis, tuning, Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever), tuning, The Shape I’m In, The Weight, Stage Fright, I Shall Be Released, Don’t Do It, tuning, Endless Highway
Disc 4 (43:54): The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across The Great Divide, Jersey Jam, This Wheel’s On Fire, Life Is A Carnival, Share Your Love With Me, Up On Cripple Creek, The Genetic Method, Chest Fever, tuning, The W.S. Wolcott Medicine Show
The second two discs of this collection is the complete soundboard for the August 1st show. This tape was released in 2000 on Roosevelt Stadium (Deep Six 023) with “Saved” from the July 31st show as a bonus track. The Japanese release Across The Endless Highway (Polar Bear PB-076) is a direct copy.
Both of these releases are complete except with a cut in “The Genetic Method”, probably to fit it onto one disc. “Share Your Love” can be found on the Scorpio compilation Crossing The Great Divide. The sound quality is even better than the first show with a richer and fuller quality. Some claim this is the definitive show from the middle period of the group.
The set list is fairly common for the time, but the way The Band play, jam, and stretch out the songs is a beautiful to hear. “Back To Memphis” has an extended instrumental in the middle. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is tighter and is one of the definitive versions. Like the previous day, it segues with “Across The Great Divide.” The “Jersey Jam” is an untitled instrumental strut that is very catchy.
Overall Empress Valley did a fantastic job in compiling both of these shows in their most complete form. Across The Great New Jersey stands out as a definitive release worth having.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)