Today In Grateful Dead History: October 16, 1981 – Club Melk Weg, Amsterdam, Netherlands

stealie Played on borrowed instruments in a hash bar in Amsterdam on Bob Weir’s birthday, with an opening acoustic set and an electric second set featuring several rarities and the return of a beloved classic, this is one of the most exciting and free wheelin’ Dead shows in the cannon.

How did the Grateful Dead end up playing two nights (October 15th being the other one) in a club with a capacity of approximately 500 people when they were selling out much larger venues all across western Europe on this fall tour?  Apparently it came down to the weather.  The Dead were supposed to have played two shows in the south of France after their October 13th concert in West Germany, but those gigs were cancelled due to inclement weather.  Instead of sitting around for four days until their next scheduled show in Paris on the 17th, the band decided to go to Amsterdam and play there.  But the road crew refused to haul the band’s equipment to the Netherlands, so the Dead had to use what they found at the club while the roadies went ahead and set up the show in Paris.  The show on the 15th was pretty cool, but it was just a warm up act for this one.

The first set is all acoustic and is filled with the same songs that the band had played last year during the acoustic / electric shows in San Francisco, New Orleans and New York.  The difference between those shows, which were being recorded for what turned out to be two live albums, and these performances is in the looseness of the execution here.  In Amsterdam, the band is completely relaxed (surprise surprise), laughing through some sound issues in On the Road Again and playfully passing licks back and forth throughout the set.  There’s nothing really surprising going on musically (other than the acoustic format, which is obviously very surprising in and of itself), but that’s not the point.  This is just music that makes you feel good, played by people who are clearly enjoying themselves, especially when it comes to the set ending Ripple.  Speaking of Ripple, this is the second to last time the Dead would ever play it, but you’ll have to wait seven years before you get to that final performance at the Capital Center in 1988.

The second set is where things really get cooking, both historically and from a performance standpoint.  We start with a pretty fair Playin’ in the Band that morphs into a first and only performance of The Olympics’ Hully GullyHully Gully segues into fast paced versions of The Wheel and Samson & Delilah before the Dead light off a first ever performance of Them’s Gloria, which the band proceeds to rock the hell out of.  As Gloria slows down, we start to hear a familiar base line . . . and are treated to the first post-Pigpen version of Turn on Your Lovelight, which had laid dormant since the 1972 European tour.  Bob Weir gives the vocals his all in what was probably an emotional return to the classic showstopper.  From there the band rips off an almost out of hand Going Down the Road Feeling Bad before returning to Playin’ in the Band once more.  But we’re not done yet – after Playin’ collapses, the Dead slow things down with Black Peter before blowing the lid off the joint with the show closing Sugar Magnolia.

There’s almost nothing jammy about this show at all, which is somewhat surprising given the setting.  Even Playin’ in the Band doesn’t really venture far into the cosmos.  But that doesn’t matter at all, because on this night the Dead gave us a tender acoustic display followed by a forceful rock n’ roll show that ventured as close to the band’s roots as they would ever get during the 80’s and 90’s.  This is must have stuff, folks.

All of the recordings of this show are messy, so here’s the Charlie Miller transfer, which sits atop the pack:  https://archive.org/details/gd1981-10-16.sbd.miller.110351.flac16

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