Today In Grateful Dead History: January 29, 1987 – San Francisco Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA

terrapinToday was the only show available for this date in history.  I missed yesterday’s show (the 1987 show from this same venue), which was also the only date available for that day in history.  But I did listen to the show yesterday, and I can tell you that anything that I say about today’s show applies to yesterday’s show as well.

Today’s show is not great.  Bob Weir is a mess, lyrics are flubbed all over the place and no one seems to be very engaged until we come to Drums, which explodes with excitement after a very lackluster version of Terrapin Station.  I’m going to go so far as to say that Drums is the highlight of this show, and when that’s the case, you know the show ain’t that good.

Seriously, folks, skip all of the Weir tunes except Cassidy, which is redeemed by a very spacey and calming second half solo from Jerry.  On the Jerry tune side of things, Stella Blue is okay and Sugaree is passable.  The rest meanders.

But if this show gets you down, just listen to some show from the end of ’85 or the beginning of ’86 to hear how much better the band sounds here in ’87.  At least they’ve got that going for them.

Listen here:


“Today” In Grateful Dead History: January 27, 1967 – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThis site is premised on a fairly standard unit of time, namely the Gregorian Calendar.  Without the calendar, the entire concept of “this date in history” couldn’t exist and this site’s sole guiding spirit would dissipate and scatter on the winds.  A fixed date in history is necessary for this site’s survival.

So what happens when the calendar fails us?  Should we just throw up our hands, accept that time is likely just an arbitrary concept and call it a day?  No.  I think that when the calendar collapses, we shall hide our heads in the sand.  Like our forefathers, we will rely on myth and legend and forge a path forward until we catch up with the cycle of the seasons and the calendar again takes shape.  We shall pray that tomorrow will appear as all January 28ths have over the past millennia and we shall once again be moored on the shores of our manufactured reality.

But that still leaves us with today’s existential crisis: the only Grateful Dead show available on the Archive for this date in history likely didn’t take place on this day in history at all.

Read the comments.  They are detailed.  People are thinking deeply about this show, arguing over whether it is a composite of several dates, whether there are two drummers present, why Jerry sings a certain line in Alligator, whether the caliber of the playing could possible correlate with early 1967, whether the recording quality shifts throughout the show and a host of other variables.  Many people believe that this show comes from much later in 1967.  Some believe that the January 28th date is accurate.  But – and here is the important part – almost no one is claiming that this show (or, if you believe the composite argument, the songs that make up this “show”) didn’t take place at some point 1967 and very few people are complaining about the music.  And since we’ve decided to simply ignore the calendar in the face of this performance that exists outside of time, none of these arguments are going to matter today.  All that really matters, regardless of this site’s founding principal (and subtitle), is the music.  And the music is very, very good.

New Potato Caboose is an unfortunately named vehicle for sonic exploration, but I don’t think that any of the people in the Avalon Ballroom whose minds exited the building midway through this jam cared one bit about what it was called.

Viola Lee Blues.  A simple piece of music when it comes down to it.  But here, the Dead just manhandle it from start to finish, almost 22 minutes of total pandemonium, with some stunning beautiful passages of space trickling through the constantly moving pulse of this song.  There is a ton of feedback here, notes from the universe carried over the air in shrieks of static and indescribable sound.  This could be the best version of this song of all time, were it not for the terrible sound quality.

Alligator>Caution. Not really something that can be described – it should just be experienced, in full, without interruption.  All of the Dead’s musical elements come together here, guitars, drums, organ, bass, all melding together as one and then dividing again, rushing about the room, arriving at the same place five minutes later before diverging once more.  This is massive, heavy music from a very different place than even shows from 1968.  This exists apart from time.


Today In Grateful Dead History: January 26, 1969 – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesI’d listened to quite a bit of Grateful Dead before I ever heard Live/Dead, but for me, hearing that album for the first time was my road to Damascus moment, which makes today’s show extra special.  As you probably know since you’re reading this, Live/Dead is made up of performances from several different concerts that the Dead performed in January – March 1969, and today’s show from the Avalon Ballroom supplied the versions of The Eleven and Turn on Your Lovelight that ended up on the album.

If it wasn’t for the sound issues at the start of The Other One, there is no reason why this entire show could not have been Live/Dead – it’s that good.  Speaking of The Other One, ignore the commenters on the Archive who complain about it – there is a brief interruption, but once the band gets going, this song goes ballistic.

After The Other One, the Dead play Clementine>Death Don’t Have No Mercy.  If you’re not familiar with Clementine, introduce yourselves.  This song doesn’t end up on many recordings (according to Deadlists, only five performances exist and this is the last one), but it’s an interesting tune despite some lyrical flaws.  Death Don’t Have No Mercy was a staple around this time and the Dead show you why with an impassioned performance.

Where to begin with the second set?  There’s not much to say when it comes to this sequence – how can you go wrong with Dark Star>St. Stephen>The Eleven>Turn on Your Lovelight from 1969?  The answer is – you can’t.  Just turn this up incredibly loud and enjoy every minute of peak Dead.  Some would argue that it truly doesn’t get any better than this and it’s hard to disagree.

This one is a must listen.  Check it out here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 22, 1978 – McArthur Court, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Dancing Skeletons

This show from Eugene, Oregon is one of the more popular performances from 1978 due in large part to the second set jam between The Other One and St. Stephen that mirrors the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This is definitely a cool moment, pulling you in and holding you there as Jerry explores the outer reaches of space and Keith plays the movie’s theme behind him.  Things slowly, icily dissolve until St. Stephen roars into being, first Jerry, then Bob, then the drummers.  This St. Stephen boasts one of those epic “outros”, a swirling mass of power where everyone seems to be in perfect sync for at least a minute before the song concludes.  (Trey Anastasio has definitely listened to this solo before – it informs all sorts of future Phish jams).  And while some complain that St. Stephens from this era sound sterile compared to the totally unhinged versions from the 60’s, Jerry’s guitar tone here is so rugged that you’d be forgiven for thinking that late-60’s Garcia had been dropped into the late-70’s Dead.

So that’s the reason everyone is tuning in, but how’s the rest of the show?  Also top notch, for 1978.  The Grateful Dead are flat out thrashing tonight, with heavy versions of Tennessee Jed and Jack Straw in the first set and a full-steam-ahead Bertha>Good Lovin’ to start the second set.  The more delicate moments, like Peggy-O and Ship of Fools, also feature some nice collaborative playing.

In short, I don’t think that this show is overrated – that second set jam is a master class and the rest of the night is darn good too.  Check out the soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: January 21, 1971 – Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA

stealie This show is a perfect example of an incomplete audience recording that most listeners would probably discount because of the nearly constant talking and clapping right next to the taper.  But throwing this show out on the basis of the crowd noise would be a mistake, since there are a couple of really powerful sections of music here.

Grateful Dead Sources has a couple of interesting contemporary reviews of this performance and the comments section details the history of the recording as far as it goes.  What we know for sure is that the Dead were the last of three bands to perform at this concert, which might explain why the setlist appears slightly truncated.  But when you listen to this show straight through, you don’t get the sense that much is missing in terms of the pace of the performance – it follows the pretty standard 1971 show trajectory.

There are a couple of rare moments here, starting with Pigpen’s harmonica playing on Truckin’, something that pops up from time to time but was eventually shelved.  Also, the ending to Hard to Handle, while again not unique, is undoubtedly different from how the band was playing it a couple of months later when it formed into something a little less harsh.  This version is a monster all its own.  Finally, this would apparently be the last performance of Cosmic Charlie until 1976, and while it isn’t a best ever version, it’s still very enjoyable.

For me, the beating heart of this show, and the bar-none highlight of the night, is The Other One, which starts out with Cryptical Envelopment but rapidly turns into an eight minute drum solo.  This was not the typical way to start this song.  The drums build and build until the full band bursts back into the song with a thrilling slide, the beginning of a great fifteen minutes of music.  There are shrieks of feedback, delicate moments where Jerry and Phil play off of one another, and an aggressive section near the end where Bob and Phil are driving deep into the rhythm like men possessed and then Pigpen’s organ rises briefly into the mix to add that little extra something that pushes the song over the edge.  It’s pretty amazing to hear the effect this has on the crowd – whereas before, everyone was talking over the music, now it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop as the Dead rope the captivated audience in.  (They start talking again as soon as the second part of Cryptical Envelopment starts).  This The Other One is a master class in early 70’s psych rock and shouldn’t be missed.

Please, do yourself a favor and overlook the audio glitches and the missing material, at least for The Other One.  It’s worth the effort.

Here’s the audience recording:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 20, 1979 – Shea’s Theater, Buffalo, NY

Dancing Skeletons

There was no recorded show available yesterday, but today finds us back in 1979 for one of the only performances of Dark Star in the late 70’s.  Thankfully, it’s captured for posterity on one of the better audience recordings you’ll ever hear.

When I originally heard this show, I thought that the highs were high and the lows were low.  I stand by that assessment today – when the Dead are on, they are really on, and when they are off, well . . .

The band blazes through a pretty cool version of Sugaree in the first set, but the highlight is the slow burning Peggy-O, with a lot of great Jerry guitar work.  It’s songs like this, and the ragged versions of Stagger Lee and Jack-A-Roe, where you can truly hear (thanks again to the quality of the recording) and appreciate just what Bob Weir brought to the band.

Of course, the second set is why this show has a reputation, and it stems from this sequence: Estimated Prophet>The Other One>Drums>Space>The Other One>Dark Star>Not Fade Away>Sugar Magnolia.  This is pure gold, with a laid-back but challenging Estimated Prophet and a huge The Other One.  The transition into Dark Star is so well done that most of the people in the audience don’t even acknowledge the moment until it’s already taken place.

Dark Star itself, one of only five performances of the song between 1975 and 1988, is not a good version of the tune, but its better than a majority of the versions from the late 80’s and 90’s when it returned to the normal rotation.  The band doesn’t seem to have any direction here, but there are a couple of nice build ups that get you excited before spinning off into nothing.  Still, you need to check this out, for no other reason than it’s rarity.

In closing, don’t expect too much from this show.  It’s really not that great, but the second set, especially that middle part, is worth hearing.  As an audience recording, however, it’s superb.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 18, 1979 – Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI

Dancing Skeletons

A couple of weeks into the new year and we’re still hanging out in the late 70’s, because there are no other recorded options available.  That’s just fine, since the Dead are playing at a fairly high level in January 1979, especially considering that Keith and Donna were about ready to depart, ending the Dead’s longest era of concentrated musical success.

We’re in Providence, Rhode Island for today’s show, and the New England winter must be wearing on the band a little bit, as things in the first set seem somewhat unfocused.  Mexicali Blues is the surprise hit of the first half, with an interesting back beat (once it gets up and running) and some great moments between Jerry and Bob.  The rest of the set is pretty basic.

The Dead come out with some fire in their bellies with a second set opening trifecta of I Need A Miracle>Bertha>Good Lovin’.  Two of these three songs (need I say which ones) aren’t exactly my favorite tunes in the world, but they definitely up the band’s energy considerably.  Of course, the Dead then immediately transition into From the Heart of Me and Ship of Fools, which could have torpedoed the show.  Fortunately, they rally with a fun (but not exceptional) sequence of He’s Gone>Truckin’>The Other One>Wharf Rat>Around & Around.  Phil is all over He’s Gone and The Other One, so turn up your bass knob up as loud as it’ll go and enjoy.

Did you notice that there is no Drums sequence in the second set?  Well, now you know.

The soundboard here isn’t wonderful, but it’ll do: