1985 is the Mr. Hyde to 1976’s Dr. Jkyll. Both are truly unique years musically – nothing else sounds like ’76 or ’85 – but where the 1976 shows have the reputation for being slow burners, 1985 is the crystal meth version of the Grateful Dead – 110 mph at almost all times.
I won’t belabor the comparison between 1976 and 1985 because it’s too much of a contrast. Instead, let’s compare the show opening Mississippi Half-Step>Franklin’s Tower from yesterday’s 1979 show from the Cape Cod Coliseum with today’s 2nd set opening 1985 version of that same sequence. In 1979, the Dead played those two songs for almost exactly half an hour. In 1985, we’re down to a combined 14 minutes. And that is 1985 in a nutshell.
Now even though the length of the songs has shrunk, this does not necessarily imply that the performance is worse, but I think that the pacing belies the real problem with a lot of shows from 1985, which is a tendency of the band to rush through things. At today’s show, for instance, there is literally no solo before the “across the rio grande” portion of Mississippi Half-Step. None. And at the conclusion of a very nice Wharf Rat, which follows a four minute The Other One (also good), the band shifts gears immediately, with no transition to speak of, into Johnny B. Goode. The only places where things get stretched out here are in Drums / Space, which has some cool, eerie passages, and on Bird Song in the first set, which is very well done and worth your time.
The most frustrating thing about this show is that you can sense the power in the band, waiting, behind all of the drug problems and burn out, to be unleashed. Jerry can still rip off great solos. Brent sounds fantastic throughout the night. The drummers are into it. But nothing really takes off. It’s like you’re revving the engine of a Corvette and then you peel out at 35 mph.
Don’t get me wrong – 1985 is a fun year, and I like this show – it’s a good one for the time period. I just wish there was a little more to it.
Here’s the soundboard: https://archive.org/details/gd1985-10-29.sbd.fix-shnid-33704.tetzeli.76118.flac16