Today In Grateful Dead History: October 9, 1989 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

dancing-bearToday’s show is a legendary 1989 Grateful Dead performance from the Hampton Coliseum that signaled the return of Dark Star to the band’s touring repertoire after a fifteen year absence.  (The band played Dark Star five times between 1975 and 1988, but from here on out it was frequently performed).  On the basis of Dark Star alone, Hampton ’89 holds a special place in many hearts.  But there is a lot more to this show than just that resurrection.

As I described yesterday, the October 8th and 9th shows in Hampton were performed under the name The Warlocks and are widely regarded as some of the best gigs of the 80’s.  While I don’t think that either show quite fits the bill as a once-in-a-decade performance (especially not the 8th), tonight’s concert does stand out as one of the best of the late 80’s.  The band is much tighter than yesterday, and the jams have some legitimate heft behind them.

For instance, the second set begins with Playin’ in the Band>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ in the Band>Dark Star and this entire sequence is soaked in wonderful passages and intricate moments of genuine musicianship, especially during the transition from Playin’ to Uncle John’s Band and at the height of Dark Star, which stretches for almost 20 minutes, something that didn’t always happen in the years to come.  But even if you discount the jammier portions of the show, the rest holds up as a very high caliber outing, in contrast to yesterday’s mistake-filled romp.  You hear this from the first notes of Feel Like a Stranger – everyone is tight and ready to go.  Little Red Rooster features several great solos and Row Jimmy is a slow simmering beast.

But the best “short” song of the night, in my estimation, is Death Don’t Have No Mercy, a song that got a fair amount of play in the late 60’s, only to be retired in early 1970 before resurfacing nineteen years later at the September 29th show at the Shoreline Amphitheater.  In the pre-internet days, it’s likely that a lot of the folks at this show wouldn’t have had any idea that this song was played in California, and you can hear the excitement ripple through the crowd when they first figure out that they aren’t hearing Morning Dew. They’re rewarded with a smoking, swampy version of the tune, with Brent just killing it on organ and vocals.

After all of this, we get the icing on the cake – the first Attics of My Life since 1972, with the Coliseum going bonkers.  I’m not going to pretend that the harmonies are just exactly perfect, but they are damn close given the circumstances, and it’s an incredible way to end a monster show.

There are lots of ways to enjoy this performance.  For instance, you could actually purchase the official release.  But barring that, here’s the Charlie Miller soundboard:


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