This is the only Grateful Dead show that I attended in person and while I’m glad to be able to say that I saw them live, the show itself was actually a turn off that took years to overcome.
I’ll quickly set the stage. A friend of mine (who has since achieved a lot of deserved success as a musician) and I tagged along to this show in the back of my parents’ station wagon while my father hauled my 14 year-old brother and a few of his friends to see the Dead. I wasn’t even 17 and my brother was definitely the bigger fan of the band, but we knew a lot of their music. I think we figured, why not go and see them so that we can say that we did? So we showed up and bought upper deck tickets at the gate, way way out there, while my father and the younger kids got to sit on the floor with their pre-purchased tickets.
Giants stadium is not an optimal place to see any concert – I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen play there from almost the exact same seat location and even he had trouble filling the vast concrete space. So you can imagine what things were like for the 1995 Grateful Dead with a 1995, pre-Time Out of Mind Bob Dylan opening for them.
The stadium wasn’t even one-quarter full when Dylan took the stage in full sunlight. I couldn’t tell you anything about his set other than it was impossible to hear (I’m not talking about his voice, I’m talking about the sound itself, which bounced off of every empty seat and turned into a cacophony of god-only-know what). It was like listening to very loud, jangly ambient noise. Then there was a long break before the Dead came on, during which time the place started to fill up. While we were waiting, the powers that be were constantly playing public service videos from the band telling everyone not to jump over the wall separating the seats from the floor. Someone, probably Bob Weir, had the catchphrase “You can’t dance with a broken leg”. We must have heard those warnings a hundred times before the band came on.
I’m not going to pile on Jerry at this point, but it was clear to everyone in that building, no matter their psychic state, that he was a hot mess. He looked like he would keel over at any time.
That being said, listening to this show for the upteenth time on a recording, I can honestly say that it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time, owing almost entirely to the ridiculously bad sound in the stadium. This audience recording was taped on a hand-held mike on the floor and sounds pretty good, for 1995. It’s objectively better than the show from the previous night.
The first set is actually fine, with an adequate Ramble on Rose and a bouncy Lazy River Road (they don’t make up for the mess of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl or It’s All Over Now, but let’s take them as they come). The biggest problem here is the first part of the second set. The band came back from what seemed at the time to be an endless break to play the following: Iko Iko, Unbroken Chain, Samba In The Rain, Corinna > Mathilda > Drums > Space. This set of songs took over an hour. Any energy that was present in the building departed on the June winds long before we got to Drums. The place was just dead (no pun intended).
The band almost redeemed itself after Space with The Other One > Stella Blue, Throwin’ Stones > Turn On Your Love Light. The Other One is OK, although by this point Jerry had completely turned off his guitar (maybe that’s why). Stella is sentimental but sloppy, especially looking back on it, and Throwing Stones and Lovelight are what they are, no matter the era. (I take that back – Lovelight in the Pigpen era was awesome).
Then, at the very end, as if not to leave 50,000 people with a bad taste in their mouths, the band came out and played an almost perfect version of Brokedown Palace for the encore. Musically, it’s the only part of that show other than Iko Iko (which is easy to remember just because) that I remembered for years afterwards. Otherwise, I was just incredibly turned off by the scene, the lack of energy and the terrible sound. So much so that I really didn’t listen to a lot of Dead for a while, until I got back into them after college.
So, almost 800 words later, what can I take away from my only live experience with the Grateful Dead? 1st, and most importantly (this being Father’s Day weekend and all), I am very thankful for my Dad who, to this day, still takes us to see shows he knows he’s not going to like. 2nd, 1995 Dead shows aren’t as bad as you think they are, especially when you hear them on crisp audience recordings and not from the last row of a football stadium. 3rd, even though it wasn’t a great experience at the time, now I’m very grateful that I had it. That Brokedown Palace will stay with me forever.
Here’s the audience recording: https://archive.org/details/gd95-06-19.naks.10934.sbeok.shnf