The Grateful Dead played a Bay Area New Year’s Eve show every year from 1976 through 1991 (and several more in the early 70’s), so picking one is a difficult task. Therefore, I’m just going to go with my favorite of the ones I’ve already heard, this monster from 1981.
Joan Baez opens this show with the Grateful Dead as her backing band. If you like Joan Baez, you’ll dig this performance. If you don’t like Joan Baez, this show isn’t going to convert you.
The Dead’s first set starts with an incendiary Shakedown Street that gives you a pretty good indication of where this evening is headed. Even the short songs are booming tonight, Cold Rain and Snow and Beat It On Down the Line being good but not exhaustive examples from the first set.
There’s a break at the end of the first set prior to the New Year’s Countdown. At this point, Ken Kesey, one of the Dead’s first champions, gets on stage and just goes hog wild, blowing on his harmonica and ranting for five or six minutes, injecting a very heavy dose of 1966 into the heart of the Reagan era. When the clock strikes midnight (actually a couple of seconds before), the band launches into a furious Iko Iko to ring in the New Year.
What follows is a pretty epic 70+ minutes of music, some of the best the Dead played in the early 80’s. Check this out: Playing In The Band>Terrapin Station>Playing In The Band>Drums>Space>The Other One>Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Morning Dew. John Cippolina from Quicksilver Messenger Services sits in for The Other One, Not Fade Away and Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, adding even more fireworks to this conflagration. I don’t have to say anything else about this passage (which is something I almost never do) – just listen to it and you’ll understand.
Although the exact timing of things is a little unclear, it appears that after the Dead’s second set, Jerry Garcia married his long-time consort, Mountain Girl, backstage. This must have been inspiring, because the band comes back onstage and busts out the first Dark Star of the 80’s and only the 4th performance of the song since the 1974 hiatus. It’s not the best version from these wilderness years, but who the hell cares? It’s Dark Star. On New Year’s Eve. After a two year absence. We’ll take it.
Post-Dark Star the band ramps things up with high energy versions of Bertha and Good Lovin’ before an encore of It’s All Over Now Baby Blue with Joan Baez singing along.
This is prime stuff, through and through. Plug this in tonight and ring in the New Year with style. Here you go: https://archive.org/details/gd1981-12-31.sbd.fix.walker-scottor.miller.96107.flac24