Today in Grateful Dead History: April 26, 1983 – The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA

Dancing Skeletons

The Grateful Dead sound excited to  be playing here in Philadelphia in 1983, so much so that they frequently let the beat get slightly ahead of the music.  No matter – this is an average, up-tempo night with the Dead.

The first set is bookended by highlights – an opening Shakedown Street which is much more dynamic than the typical show starter and a closing Let It Grow wherein Jerry Garcia attempts to play as many scales as possible over the course of ten minutes.  Good stuff abounds in both of these tunes.  The rest of the set is pretty basic.

Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower opens the second set with a bang.  Slipknot! has a lot of nice work from Brent and Jerry is still feeling frisky during  Franklin’s Tower.  Unfortunately, this moves into The Women are Smarter and then Drums and Space, so the momentum dies pretty quickly.  Coming out of Space I thought the boys were going into The Other One but at the last minutes they changed course into Truckin’, which is a normal version.  Morning Dew follows, with run after Jerry run.  This typifies this show – lots and lots of notes from Jerry and above-average playing from Brent at times.  Phil only pops up into audible territory every once in a while.  After Morning Dew we have Throwing Stones, not one of my favorite songs but tonight, like in a lot of these earlier versions, the bridge of the song is well jammed out. The rest of the night is up-tempo but typical.

There are ups and downs here, but if you want the Garcia pyrotechnics, you’re in the right place.  Listen to the Matrix (with some faulty track listings) here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: April 25, 1969 – Electric Theater, Chicago, IL

skeleton&rosesIn many ways, the Grateful Dead and the Velvet Underground (two of the three bands on tonight’s bill at the Electric Theater in Chicago) represent the two poles of the 60’s counter-culture.  (I’m liberally borrowing during this post from The Grateful Dead Guide’s excellent post on these bands and the comments posted afterwards).  The Dead were from the west coast, liberally imbibed LSD and were sponsored, to a certain extent, by Owsley Stanley and Ken Kesey.  The Velvet Underground were from the east cost, were widely associated with heroin and played as the house band for Andy Warlhol’s Factory.  Despite their glaring musical and lyrical differences, both bands, especially at this point in their careers, were famous for playing momentously long versions of songs, and this could often create problems when they were playing on bills with other bands.

Which leads us to a bit of (probably apocryphal) history about this show.  According to some accounts (which are contradicted by other accounts and further muddied by still others), the Velvet Undergound played a really long set prior to the Grateful Dead’s performance tonight, which forced the Dead to play the truncated, one-set show we have here.  In response, the Dead allegedly played a very long opening set of their own at tomorrow night’s show in order to keep the Velvets off the stage for as long as possible.  This story appears to have been debunked, but it’s pretty clear that the two bands were not exactly kindred spirits (although most of the hate seems to flow from east to west), so the energy in the room tonight must have been something to behold.

The Dead’s performance here is fairly ragged in comparison with a lot of their output from this point in 1969.  However, there is still that rugged Grateful Dead charm, especially during Doing That Rag and Sitting on Top of the World.  But the “jammy” numbers – in this case, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Turn on Your Lovelight – are not particularly impressive examples of the form.  Maybe the Velvets blew the Dead off the stage?  Maybe the mood wasn’t right?  Whatever it was, this isn’t a great 1969 Dead show (it’s not bad, either).  But the backstory is a pretty interesting one.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 24, 1972 – Rheinhalle, Duesseldorf, Germany

stealieWhy is it that every time I have a show this good to write about, I don’t have the time to do it justice?  I’ve owned this one for years – it was officially released as Rockin’ the Rhein with the Grateful Dead, and it was the first full concert from the band’s famous Europe ’72 tour to be commercially released – and it’s a whopper .  So I could have written this earlier and been more thorough.  Sorry.  If you don’t want to read my random notes, just pop it on any song – it’s that good.

The key takeaways from this show are as follows:

  1.  For my money, this European tour represents the greatest stretch of amazing playing in the history of the Grateful Dead.  Barring a few mishaps, almost every show from this run is incredible from start to finish.
  2. The opening Truckin’ is flavored in so many ways by Keith Godchaux, who just excels tonight.  This is the first of many songs that he simply crushes.
  3. China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  There are no words.
  4. Good Lovin’ is one of the best ever, with a jam through the middle third that is waaay out there and a superb ending.
  5. This up-tempo He’s Gone features a loud Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in total communion.
  6. Dark Star, which is a two-parter separated by Me and My Uncle, is 40 minutes long and goes through every possible Dark Star mutation possible except for the most obvious ones.  You’ve been warned – this is one of the greatest of all time in a year that is just loaded with amazing Dark Stars.
  7. Sugar Magnolia and Not Fade Away are as hyped up as it gets for this band in 1972.
  8. Ditto One More Saturday Night.

This show is the real, real deal.  Unfortunately, the sound quality on the Archive versions is garbanzo.  The good news, for those of you who don’t own it, is that Rockin’ the Rhein is on Spotify and other streaming services, so if you can’t find a copy to buy, you can listen to a much better version there.  For those of you who want the Archive version, here it is:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 23, 1977 – Springfield Civic Center Arena, Springfield, MA

dancing-bearYou know what the “problem” is with Grateful Dead shows in 1977?  They’re almost all pretty good and the song selection tends to be fairly standard, so in order to give any sort of a useful review of a show, you start focusing on hyper-specific issues with recordings and setlist selection.  This great show from Springfield (one of many reasons why I love having this 1977 “problem”) is a good example of a show that rewards a sharp focus on the details – it might not seem like an over-the-top performance, but there is a lot of nuance here.

The first interesting moment of the night comes during Loser, a song that the Dead played well in 1977 but it often gets overlooked because it’s not a “jammy” tune.  Don’t overlook it here – this one is ruthless.

A little bit further on, the Dead ramp up It’s All Over Now.  You can tell they’re having fun here – even if this isn’t a great tune, it’s a energy boost.  Which leads into . . .

. . . a very rare first-set-closing Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  Please keep in mind that this is only the third time that the boys have ever played Fire on the Mountain, but it is more than fully worked up tonight.  The jam in the transition is very sparse – a beautiful touch that I’ve never heard played this gently before.  And woa boy, the soloing at the end of Scarlet Begonias is awesome.  This is a very interesting version of this song pairing, and it really opens up the second time you run through it and know what to listen for.  Do it up!

The second set opens on Estimated Prophet.  Like the San Bernardino premier a couple of months ago, the Dead are still working out the sound of this tune, which results in all sorts of interesting guitar tones and effects throughout the performance.  It’s a good one.  Bertha chugs into an interestingly-placed 2nd set The Music Never Stops, which is a little ragged but oh-so-good.  After that, the main event of the 2nd set – Help on the Way>Slipknot?>Franklin’s Tower with Keith playing on what sounds like a Moog for part of Slipknot?  Like the transition jam in Scarlet>Fire and the guitar on Estimated, the use of this keyboard on this song is unusual and grabs your attention right away.  It might have been a little too assertive for day-to-day use, but for tonight it’s a welcome “say what?” moment.

After this, we get the power Dead of 1977, rocking out with Around and Around>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away.  If this doesn’t get you moving, I don’t know what will.  And One More Saturday Night brings the hammer down as the encore.

You’re going to like this show, and the little Easter eggs that pop up will keep you coming back to it time and again when you need a dose of the unusual in a year that tends to be a little more staid.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 20, 1984 – Philadelphia Civic Center, Philadelphia, PA

terrapinSurprise!  Here’s a new show on a Friday.  (Work has been messy, listening has been sporadic, chances to write have been non-existent.  This will be a pattern for the foreseeable future, unfortunately).

Thankfully, the first full Dead show I’ve listened to in a week and a half is a smoker from 1984, a year I’m starting to really enjoy (despite previously including it in the “mailing it in years” column).

Everything in the first set of the show is in the decent – to good category, especially My Brother Esau and Little Red Rooster.  But the peak first set highlight is the massive, blistering Let It Grow that burns the house down at the end of the set.  This is fourteen minutes of wild jamming, capped with Jerry and Phil completely dialed in and tearing things up.

The magic doesn’t end there, either.  The second set opens with a masterful 80’s version of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, one of the better ones I’ve heard from this era.  The transition, in particular, is amazing, with Jerry sounding clean as crystal wailing away into Fire on the Mountain.  (Don’t be put off by the very low volume at the start of the song – it gets better right before the singing starts).  The other major second set piece is Morning Dew, which appears after a fairly rousing post-Space I Need a Miracle.  This is one great Dew that holds up in any era.

Last but not least – Day Job encore!

This audience recording makes listening a pleasure – other than the low volume at the start of the second set and a brief cut in Drums, it’s all good!

Listen here and remember to trust the process:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 10, 1971 – East Hall, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA

stealieLet’s face it, fellow travelers.  Despite boasting one of the most unique and innovative rock and roll bassists of all time in Mr. Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead were, at their heart, a guitar band.  And if you really like your guitar playing loud and not neatly placed into a nice, friendly mix of instruments, then look no further than today’s show at Franklin & Marshall College.  Because, for whatever reason, the only surviving recording of this show on the Archive has Jerry and Bob (but especially Jerry) turned way way up, so you’re going to be able to closely study that early-70’s Grateful Dead guitar sound.

And what a sound it was.  This show came right at the point when the Dead were beginning to mellow their tone.  But not tonight – this one is fuzzed out and blasting from start to finish.  And since the vocals are, at some points, almost non-existent, you’d better be ready for riffs, because there are riffs galore here.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of mind-blowing highlights tonight to compliment the guitar wizardry.  Hard to Handle is probably my favorite song of the night – 1971 is the year for them.  And I was really excited by the prospect of a 25 minute Good Lovin’ – I don’t recall every hearing one this long.  However, most of the song is sparse and built around Pigpen’s raps, so there isn’t that full-band cohesive rocking that you’ll find on some of the shorter versions from the late 60’s.  In the Midnight Hour definitely rocks out towards the end of the night, and Sing Me Back Home is really swell.  But overall, the overwhelming force of the guitar here drowns out the greatest part of a “Grateful Dead” performance, which, in my opinion, works best when all of the members of the band can be heard interacting with and playing off of one another.

This does not mean that this show is a waste of time – it’s a great document of Jerry and Bob and their skills at this point in time. But it’s not one that I’m likely to dip back into any time soon if I want to hear some good ol’ 1971 Grateful Dead.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 9, 1983 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

Dancing Skeletons

We’ve talked about seven shows from the Hampton Coliseum on this site so far, and most of them feature something notable.  Today’s installment, from 1983, has a blistering China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, the first east coast Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower since 1977 and a Smokestack Lightning  jam in the middle of Truckin’.  How’s that for interesting?

The first set tonight starts off with a fairly sloppy Bertha>Promised Land pairing that, nonetheless, finds Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in fine mood and voice.  Next comes My Brother Esau, still in its infancy.  The early versions of this song were much funkier than what it would become, and you’ll need to be prepared to hear Brent figuring out what to do with himself on the fly tonight.  Still, for fans of this tune, this will be a good version.

The rest of the first set is unremarkable until the closing China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, which wails.  This is a fast one tonight, but it holds together and leaves the crowd on a high note before intermission.

When the band returns, they pick up with Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower.  This pairing was put down in 1977, and the Dead had only recently started playing it again at the start of 1983, so you’d expect there to be some musical bugs.  However, tonight everything is played with elan, even though Jerry does miss a few lyrics in Franklin’s Tower, as is his want.  After jamming on a solid Truckin’, the playing slows down into Smokestack Lightning, a song that the Dead hadn’t played since 1972.  Unfortunately, we’re not going to hear any singing tonight – just a slow rolling, four minute run through the song that’s a neat tease before Drums / Space.  Coming out of that sequence, we’re in for another newish song, in this case, Throwing Stones, which is also quite interesting, rhythmically.  The rest of the night is the usual end of the night high-jinks, with no particular highs to speak of.

Once you get to the 80’s, it’s hard to find shows that are perfect through and through, but tonight the goodies definitely overwhelm the mediocre (there’s no badness here).  You’ll be treated well if you stop for a while.

Listen here: