Back in the good old days of the early 2000’s, before this “focus” on the music of the Grateful Dead had fully taken hold, I used to work with a guy named Larry who was a pretty big Deadhead. During those years, I was just getting started on this “journey” and I hadn’t listened to a whole lot of shows, especially compared to Larry, who had seen the band live a bunch of times back when they were still consistently good. But oh boy did I have opinions. One of those opinions related to Brent and one of the other big ones dealt with Bob Weir. And at that point in my career as a listener, I was of the opinion that Bob Weir was basically terrible.
Larry and I would often find ourselves driving around in the same vehicles at work, usually early in the mornings, and, as two people with a shared interest (albeit with vastly different levels of experience) will do, we talked quite a bit about the Grateful Dead. From my end, this wasn’t because I was completely enraptured by the music, but because Larry and I didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of other things in common to talk about. One of the frequent subtopics within this overall Grateful Dead related discussion was the role of Bob Weir, and my point, at the time, was that he was a joker with no musical talent who managed to glom on to a good thing with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh and basically existed to give Jerry a break from signing all of the songs.
Larry was not the world’s most demonstrative guy, but whenever I spouted some variety of this particular line, he would get incredibly worked up. “What about Playin’ in the Band?” he’d ask. “What about The Music Never Stopped?” “Are you actually listening to the music?” “Bob Weir’s a genius!” (This last one always cracked me up. When we talked about this, Larry’s face would actually flush and, if he was driving, I’d have to remind him to pay attention to the road because of how flustered he would get. These outbursts would pass quickly and I would continue on my merry way, believing that Larry was crazy and that Bob Weir was junk.
I’m not going to waste any space here explaining why I was wrong. Suffice it to say, I was completely wrong, and have since come to appreciate Bob Weir as the musical genius that he is. (Actual, overall genius, well . . . you’ve heard him interviewed, right? ) So why tell this story at all?
Here’s why. I thought of Larry today while I was listening to this show from the Rainbow Theater in London, complaining all the while that I couldn’t hear Bob Weir’s guitar at all. This is not an unusual problem in the early 80’s, especially when you listen to the soundboard recordings from this European tour, but during today’s show Bob’s guitar was almost completely inaudible until midway through the second set and it was driving me nuts. You need Bob on these recordings to round out the sound and deliver his own brand of magic that almost always elevates everyone around him, except when he’s “playing” slide. So as I was cursing this recording and wishing for Bob, I smiled and thought of Larry, who would be grinning from ear to ear if he knew I was writing this.
That being said, if you like Brent Mydland (and I’ve come to appreciate him too), then you’ll love this recording because he is super high in the mix. If you aren’t a Brent person, and if you aren’t going to ever be convinced of his skills, then you’re going to need to skip this one.
Despite the issues with the recording levels, this is a pretty cool show from a strange little tour of Europe in 1981. The first set is just so-so, but the Shakedown Street opener hints at good things to come. The second set, on the other hand, has a couple of nice pieces, including standout versions of High Time and Estimated Prophet and a stellar He’s Gone.
About that He’s Gone, and the subsequent Blues for Allah jam that takes place during Space – rumor has it that the band played these tunes in honor of Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated earlier that day. Why would the Dead do that? Well, the band had worked with Sadat’s wife while organizing their trip to Egypt in 1978, and had apparently gotten along well with her and her handlers. Who knows if the story is true, but in any event, He’s Gone is inspired tonight and the Dead didn’t really play that Blues for Allah phrasing after the mid 70’s, so draw your own conclusions. In any event, the jam from Space into The Wheel is very subtle but beautiful in its own way, too. Unfortunately, the Brokedown Palace encore, which brings the night to a fitting conclusion, is cut off before it ends.
The soundboard recording of this show, as previously discussed, has some nasty problems with instrument levels, but what are you gonna do? Check it out here: https://archive.org/details/gd1981-10-06.sbd.miller.103627.flac16