Today in Grateful Dead History: November 30, 1980 – Fox Theater, Hotlanta, GA

Dancing Skeletons

I’ve been away for a week – hope all two of you had a great Thanksgiving.

We return to this show from the Fox Theater in 1980.  The soundboard portion of the recording is not going to blow anyone’s socks off, but when it switches over to the audience recording you’re treated to a very interesting mix.

The first set of this show kind of rambles along, with a short but sweet Bird Song that catches your attention mid way through.  The highlight of the set is Lost Sailor>Saint Of Circumstance>Deal, with some honest vocal work from Bob Weir and a thrashing Deal to end the set.

The second set begins with Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  From reading the comments on the Archive, you’ll find that people are divided into two camps over this sequence – some think it’s the best Scarlet>Fire ever, others think it’s overrated.  I’m in the second group, but the transition does sparkle and there is a depth to the playing that is not easily heard the first time because the tone of the music is very light and airy.  I think that Playin’ in the Band, on the other hand, is a top-notch killer version from 1980, certainly one of the best of the year that I can remember.

The rest of the show is what it is – a good Wheel>China Doll and some party songs.  The Uncle John’s Band encore is a nice touch.

This is a pretty decent show in a fun year.  Check out Playin’ for sure and weigh in on Scarlet>Fire.  The rest is not essential.

You can find the soundboard/audience composite here:


Today In Grateful Dead History: November 19, 1972 – Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston, TX

stealie The Grateful Dead played two nights in a row at the Hofheinz Pavilion at the University of Houston in 1972 – this is the second night.

The Dead really turned a corner on this fall tour, moving towards the much jazzier sound that we would come to know and love in 1973.  But there are still a bunch of rough edges here that link the fall 1972 version of the band to it’s more raucous past.  Tonight’s Dark Star is one of those rough songs – a beautiful, feedback-and-Phil Lesh heavy piece of work that goes into some pretty dark places for a show from 1972.  Near the end of the song, the jam builds up until it comes crashing head over heels into the second ever performance of the Weather Report Suite Prelude.  This melody only lasts for a couple of minutes before we’re back into more feedback and psychedelic wanderings until the band pulls things together with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.

As good as these songs are, they aren’t even the best part of this show – that would be Playin’ in the Band, a fully immersive twenty minute journey that shows off the best of the fall 1972 lineup.  Everyone is playing off of everyone else here and the results are tremendous.

Finally, it bears noting that the Dead played Dolly Parton’s Tomorrow is Forever at this show.  This is a song that the Dead would only play nine other times, mainly during this tour (and once in 1974).  While I don’t think that this is the Grateful Dead’s best performance of this song, it is illustrative of what a powerhouse country band the Dead could be when they wanted to.  (Check out the 11/13/72 show for the best version I’ve heard to date).

The Archive is being uncooperative tonight, so I can’t post the link to this show.  I’ll try to swap it in some other time.

UPDATE 11/30/15:  Here’s the link to the show:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 18, 1978 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

On Monday, while reviewing the November 16th show from Chicago’s Uptown Theater, I talked about the uneven quality of Grateful Dead shows from 1978 .  Skip ahead two days and the November 18th show at that same venue finds us once again on shaky ground musically, although today’s show is arguably better than the performance from two days ago.

The first set of this show has a couple of interesting moments, including a long, winding Sugaree that is sloppy but features lots of Jerry Garcia runs.  After having to sit through Donna Jean Godchaux’s butchery of From the Heart of Me, a song that wouldn’t be good no matter who the singer is, we get a spirited version of The Music Never Stopped that, like Sugaree, isn’t going to win any awards for tightness but at least the feeling is right and the band sounds engaged.

The second set actually features a few of the same songs that we heard on the 16th, and once again the Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain is disappointing.  Then we get to I Need a Miracle, one of my least favorite Grateful Dead songs.  However, this I Need a Miracle is actually pretty great, with Bob and Jerry bombing away and everyone else sounding like they are enjoying playing the tune, which is incredibly rare.  Put this on your all time best I Need a Miracle list.  Eventually, Miracle devolves into He’s Gone, which is nowhere near as good as the version on the 16th, but it is followed by a good-for-1978 version of The Other One.  The rest of the show is just meh.

Once again, 1978 strikes with an uneven show with few true highlights and a couple of minor disasters.  But that’s ok – we did get to hear that I Need a Miracle.  Check out the Charlie Miller soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 17, 1973 – Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

stealie Today’s lights out show at UCLA in 1973 features one of the all time epic Playin’ in the Band sandwiches .  (Don’t know what a Playin’ in the Band sandwich is?  There’s more information here and the Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a useful description in its write up of this show here).  At today’s performance, the sandwich is played thusly:  Playin’ In The Band>Uncle John’s Band>Morning Dew>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ In The Band and oh boy is it a good one!  (There are a ton of mistakes when it comes to the lyrics, but all is forgiven because of the quality of the music).  I’m not going to get into a detailed description of this sequence, 1, because none is needed and, 2, because the Listening Guide is, as always, spot on.  Just let the music play and get lost in the flow.  (If you’d like to compare 1973 to 1974, check out this same sequence of songs from the Cow Palace on 03/23/74 to get a sense of just how far out there the Dead got just five months later).

Since this is 1973, the rest of the show is also incredible.  I think that 1973 and 1974 were the apex years for the Dead in large part because they were playing together, but at the same time, they were all playing amazing solo passages that interacted with one another in a patchwork mystery that can’t be readily explained.  The “basic” songs at tonight’s show illustrate that principal – check out what is going on during Deal and Row Jimmy to hear this dynamic at work.

And if you want more jams, listen to Here Comes Sunshine, the second song played at this show, which is a blast of jammy energy that must have knocked everyone for a loop as they were in all likelihood still streaming into the venue.

Oh yeah, you also don’t want to miss China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  And Stella Blue.  And Eyes of the World.  Get the drift?  This is that kind of show.

Enjoy it here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 16, 1978 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

Caveat: 1978 is my least favorite year of the 1970’s for Grateful Dead shows.  In fact, I can’t even come up with another year from the 70’s that I can say anything fundamentally negative about at all.  I love them all.  But not 1978.  1978 is a sloppy, distracted mess of a year that has much more in common with, say, 1987 than it does with 1977 or 1979.  This doesn’t mean that 1978 is bad, because any year with Grateful Dead shows is a good year, but the highlights in 1978 are fewer and further between than any other year of the 70’s and even most of the early 80’s.

I should post that disclaimer every time I write about a show from 1978.

So, this show from the Uptown Theater in Chicago . . . guess what?  It’s a typical 1978 show!  Scattered and not particularly well played.  And the recording isn’t great, either.  So what should you listen to here?  Dire Wolf is ok, as is Looks Like Rain.  My favorite song of the second set is He’s Gone, which is very nice and transitions into a cool version of Drums that finds Phil and Jerry playing along with Bill and Mickey for the first part of the song.  But that’s about it.  Everything else just kind of muddles along, including a second set ending Truckin’ which peaked my interest on the setlist but didn’t do much on tape.

Sorry for the negativity – I just don’t have a lot of patience for 1978 today.  Here’s the full audience recording:

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 12, 1971 – San Antonio Civic Auditorium, San Antonio, TX

stealie Keith Godchaux joined the Grateful Dead in October, 1971 and immediately began a seven and a half year quest to see how quietly he could play a keyboard while still actually playing a keyboard.  This journey was incremental, like all epic pilgrimages, so the fall of 1971 finds Keith Godchaux, new member of the Grateful Dead, at his most assertive.  (In most normal rock bands, the members, even the scrubs, fight tooth and nail to be heard more as time goes on, but in the Grateful Dead, Keith, and then, much later, Jerry Garcia, tried mightily to fade away to nothing.  Contrarians, those Grateful Deads).

At this show, which took place about a month into Keith’s tenure, the band still had no idea how to place an acoustic piano into their live p.a. mix.  As a result, we get this soundboard recording, with Keith front and center and blasting away with a honky tonk sound that became less and less tonk and more and more honky as the 70’s progressed.  This is also a good show for Keith listening because there is no Pigpen to spray organ all over Keith’s playing.

This is not a good recording in the audio sense of the word, but it is a good show, primarily because of the light it sheds on Keith’s playing at the start of his career with the Dead and also for the monster Cryptical Envelopment>Drums>The Other One> Cryptical Envelopment> Big Railroad Blues in the 2nd set.  Obviously, had the show been mixed properly, we wouldn’t be able to hear Keith as clearly as we do here, so I’m thankful they couldn’t dial in the sound, because it gives us an opportunity to really ponder what could have been had Keith stayed this aggressive.

See, for example, the insanity that is El Paso, of all songs.  Here, Keith is plunking away with complicated! lines, sounding like a frontier saloon piano player on meth.  Ditto on One More Saturday Night, which is simply ferocious.

The second set gives us a chance to appreciate the leanest, baddest version of the Grateful Dead that ever existed, with no Pigpen, only one drummer and no Donna.  This comes into play primarily on the aforementioned The Other One, which is pure slashing power from start to finish.  This transitions into the second half of Cryptical Envelopment and then right into Big Railroad Blues, a unique (meaning “the only time these two songs were played together”) pairing of songs that works perfectly here.

As I said, the sound quality is not great here, but Keith is, so check it out:

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 11, 1985 – Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ

dancing-bear The most notable thing about this typical 1985 show from the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey is the opening sequence of Walkin’ the Dog>Deal, which is a strange way to start a show.  Going into this, I was worried that Walkin’ the Dog would be one of those train wreck Grateful Dead covers that the band doesn’t take seriously, a la Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, but today the band plays the song with purpose and it leads into a perfectly adequate Deal.  This is a good one-two punch to get things going at the Meadowlands and the energy carries through the first set, as it often does in 1985, with good versions of Big River and Bird Song.

Things come slightly off the rails in the 2nd set, as Jerry’s voice and guitar start to slur.  Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain would be ok were it not for Bob Weir’s incredibly assertive playing during the transition – this is not typical Bob Weir playing and it sounds like he was trying to shoo a bee off of his guitar for about twenty seconds before he lets up.  Very strange . . .

Later on in the 2nd set, I turned off the music in the middle of Eyes of the World to go do something.  When I resumed listening an hour later, mid-song, I was surprised at how sloppy it was.  It think my mind got used to the 1985 messy vibe and the break reset my synapses – this is not a good version of Eyes.  As for the rest of the performance, you’ve got Drums>Dear Mr. Fantasy>Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Throwing Stones>Turn On Your Love Light which goes about exactly as you would expect.

In summary, first set good, second set not so good. Typical 1985.  Check it out here: