Today In Grateful Dead History: June 30, 1984 – Indianapolis Sports and Music Center, Indianapolis, IN

dancing-bear If you like your Deal smoking, then this is the show for you.  Almost five minutes of Jerry standing there and just wailing away makes this version one for the ages and makes this show a must hear, at least for this one song.

Of course, Deal isn’t the only highlight.  We’ve got very good versions of Lost Sailor / Saint of Circumstance and My Brother Esau in the first set and a great (but short) Playin’ in the Band in the second.  Jerry’s final solo on Stella Blue is tremendous, and while the transition into Going Down the Road Feeling Bad is not optimal, I’ve heard much worse.  Of course, the absolute, no questions asked best part of the show comes at the end – keep your daaaaaaaay job!

This is one of the only Dead shows to be played on a tennis court and some of the comments about the live experience are worth reading, especially when folks talk about stacking the chairs in the center of the court to get more room for dancing.

Here’s a link to a very high quality audience recording of this show:


Today In Grateful Dead History: June 29, 1976 – Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL

stealie This show is basically a cross between the almost-too-laid-back Beacon Theater show on June 15th and the pulsating experimental masterpiece from Portland on June 3rd.  The first set strangely opens with Tennessee Jed and also contains one of the better (and one of the only) Grateful Dead versions of the Jerry Band staple Mission in the Rain.  The definite highlight of the first set, and I say this with a gulp because they’re not favorite songs by a long shot, is Lazy Lightning / Supplication.  I think the slower ’76 pace helps this song, which can get a little unwieldy in ’77 – ’79, and the band takes full advantage of the space to throw down a jazzy exploration that doesn’t run out of gas before the end.

The Samson & Delilah and Candyman that start the second set never really get going and the band takes an almost four minute pause to collect itself before launching into a truly psychedelic 35 minute Playin’ in the Band>The Wheel>Playin’ in the Band.  The playing on The Wheel is particularly fierce and shows off everything that the Dead are capable of at this point in their career – intricate back and forth musical conversations with nary a false note.  This exploration is followed by a pretty sloppy St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen.  However, there is a passage of bliss midway through Not Fade Away where Jerry and Keith coordinate their runs and the drummers quiet down behind them, making the tune much more subtle and therefore more powerful.

I think that this is a pretty average show from 1976, but the highlights are interesting and worth a listen.  You can hear the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 26, 1988 – Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Dancing Skeletons

Did you know that there’s a Grateful Dead song called Gentlemen Start Your Engines?  It’s on So Many Roads, but I honestly don’t remember it.  This little historical nugget, which debuted today, is why we’re doing two 1988 shows in a row.

I guess now is as good a time as any to address a topic of seemingly endless disagreement within the Dead community (then again, what isn’t) – Brent songs.  I’m not going to get into the debate about Brent’s voice or keyboard playing although I will say for the record that I’ve always loved his voice and I think that he was the best keyboard player other than Bruce Hornsby that the band ever had.  His keyboard tone is another matter entirely.  This is about his actual songs.

I remember watching a Brent-era show on DVD with a couple of friends who were the main catalyst for my really getting into the Dead .  I don’t recall what song it was – maybe I Will Take You Home – but I do remember calling it cheesy.  This prompted a very long argument.  At the time I didn’t have a clue about what I was talking about when it came to the Dead, and the people who I was arguing with already had a long relationship with the band.  They insisted (and forgive me if my description of this conversation is not as nuanced as their argument was) that Brent’s songs were passionate and forceful and pretty great.  Responding more as a music fan in general and not as an experienced Dead fan, I stuck to my guns and said that no objective listener would think that Bent’s songs were good in the way that a non-Deadhead would respond to something like Uncle John’s Band.  We never agreed.

Fast forward thirteen years (dear lord).  Suffice to say, I’ve heard a lot more Grateful Dead music since that conversation.  I’m no longer able to approach the band’s music as an objective listener, because they are a much more important part of my world.

Now I like the Brent songs, for much of the same reason that my friends did back when we first had that argument.  There is a feeling behind these songs, a deep heartbreak and anger, that comes out every single time Brent sings them.  This passion is something that’s typically missing from other Dead songs, despite the incredibly high quality of the music and lyrics.  It’s hard to get legitimately worked up about streetcats making love (although Bob Weir gives it his all), but when Brent sings “Soon as I finish tearin’ myself apart / Like the Devil’s Mustangs / I’ve been ridden hell for leather / Put away wet and angry in the dark” like he does in Gentlemen Start Your Engines, you believe that he really feels this way.  NOTE – John Barlow wrote the lyrics to both Looks Like Rain and Gentlemen Start Your Engines, which proves that he was definitely writing with the singer in mind.  In an era when the band was slowly coming apart only to come back together again, Brent and his songs provided a much needed burst of pure rage and feeling that you don’t hear anywhere else in the band’s repertoire, ever, but especially not in the 80’s.

All of this doesn’t mean that Gentlemen Start Your Engines is a great song, but it’s actually pretty groovy, in a swampy, late in the evening kind of way.  I enjoyed hearing it here.

The rest of the show is pretty good, too, and certainly better than the previous day’s performance.   Mississippi Half-Step opens the show and sets the mood as the band goes on a joyous, up-tempo romp through the first set, culminating in a pretty quick but nevertheless well-done Music Never Stopped.  The pace doesn’t slacken in the second set, what with a set-opening Touch of Grey leading into Playin’ In The Band>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ In The Band.  Even the Drums/Space is dynamic.  The show closes with a pretty fired up version of Turn on Your Lovelight before Jerry brings us all home with Black Muddy River.

This recording is labeled as a Matrix, and it sounds like it could be, but if it is, the volume on the audience side is really low:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 24, 1985 – River Bend Music Center, Cincinnati, OH

dancing-bear The powers that be have selected this show as the 1985 entry in the 30 Trips Around the Sun box set, so you’ve got to figure that it’s held in high regard and rightfully so.

The first set is a high energy performance, typical for 1985, but there really isn’t much that stands out until Let It Grow at the end, which wails.  Jerry shreds several passages and the drummers just pound the heck out of their instruments.  It’s a nice way to end the set.

The second set is fantastic for 1985 (it’s actually a really good 80’s show, not just an ’85).  Iko Iko features some “interesting” lyrical digressions from Mr. Weir, but sets the tone for a strong Samson & Delilah and a burning Smokestack Lightning (apparently there was a lot of real electricity in the air during a huge summer storm).  The meat of the performance is Cryptical Envelopement>Drums>Comes A Time>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopement>Wharf Rat.  Unlike the bust out show from Berkeley on the 16th, here Cryptical works like a dream on both ends.  The Comes a Time, sung in Jerry’s strained, smoked-out 1985 rasp, is wonderful and then The Other One blows the place down.  At the end of Wharf Rat, the whole band turns it up another level and just powers over the audience.  It’s a great segment.

The usual caveats about the sound of 1985 shows apply here – the soundboards are horribly tinny, so you get a Matrix instead:


Today In Grateful Dead History: June 22, 1973 – PNE Coliseum, Vancouver, BC

stealie I have to confess that this is one of my all-time favorite shows, but I don’t have a lot of time to talk about everything that makes it great. So I’m going to make a quick list:

  1. You can hear the taper dragging his microphones apart and across the front of the stage for the perfect stereo sound on an audience tape.
  2. Once you get past Bertha, the sound is pristine.
  3. Box of Rain – short but great.
  4. BIRD SONG is my candidate for greatest version ever.  Two unique jams, ebbs and flows and pristine tone and instrument separation.  Just a delicate, wonderful piece.
  5. Sugaree wails.
  6. Row Jimmy shows off all of the band’s instruments and highlights the interplay between the members.  Some of the back and forth is magical for such a simple tune.
  7. Unfortunately, China Cat Sunflower is cut and I Know You Rider is spotty.
  8. Big River is upbeat and features some great mini-solos.
  9. Playin’ in the Band is also a favorite, just a massive, smokin’ version with everyone tearing into it.
  10. A stellar Here Comes Sunshine opens the second set.  The first part of the song is actually recorded in mono – when the stereo comes back, lookout.
  11. He’s Gone is sublime.
  12. Truckin’>Jam>The Other One>Jam>Wharf Rat is spectacular.  The band just kicks it up a notch between Truckin’ and The Other One.  Incredible work and Phil bombs galore.

Keep in mind, the Dead played 34 songs at this performance (33 on this recording) – these are just the highlights.  Enjoy the ridiculously good audience tape here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 19, 1995 – Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

giantsstealie 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: