Today in Grateful Dead History: February 3, 1978 – Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

Dancing Skeletons

A healthy chunk of this show was used on Dick’s Picks #18, the Grateful Dead’s first release of 1978 material as a part of that live series, which says that the powers that be thought that this was something special.  And they’re right – today’s Dane County Coliseum show has several incredibly inspired moments, including one of the all time greatest performances of The Music Never Stopped.

If you’re not into audience recordings, you’re going to have trouble listening to this show on the Archive, since none of the first set and only parts of the second set are available on the soundboard recording.  Ditto the Dick’s Picks experience.  My advice is to spend the first couple of songs dialing in your graphic equalizer and enjoying the ride from there forward – once you get it going, this audience recording is just fine.

The first set, other than The Music Never Stopped, is a good 1978 first set, with very high quality performances of Loser and Passenger.  (Neither of these songs is on Dick’s Picks #18, by the way).  As I mentioned before, The Music Never Stopped is the best song of the first set (in fact, it’s the best song of the night).  I like this tune, but I get frustrated when the band is ripping along through the first solo portion only to collapse into a pile of garbage when the song changes direction near the end.  This doesn’t happen tonight – everyone hits their cues perfectly, which was probably quite difficult because right before that point, the Dead were locked into one of the tightest, steaming hot jams you’ve ever heard.  And it’s not just Jerry here, but everyone, together, doing what the Dead do best.  The follow up jam doesn’t disappoint either and the crowd goes crazy at the end.

The second set opens with a basic version of Good Lovin’ and then Ship of Fools is cut off halfway through.  The rest of the second set of today’s show became the second disc of Dick’s Picks #18Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>Playin’ In The Band>The Wheel>Playin’ In The Band.  This is a wild ride, but things never get completely detached or meander too far.  This works very well during Eyes of the World, which can often drift along aimlessly.  Tonight, the band is as tight and focused as it’s going to sound while playing a fifteen minute song.  Likewise, a great Playin’ in the Band is cut in half by The Wheel, which gives us a little time to catch our breaths and breaks up the “monotony” of what would have otherwise been a 30 minute Playin’ – a monster for any era, even if you judge it by 1972-74 standards.

This recording is missing the Johnny B. Goode encore, but after that second set, I don’t think anyone is going to care.

You’ll get the best parts of this show by buying Dick’s Picks #18, but if you can’t locate it or if you want the full experience, check out the audience recording here:  https://archive.org/details/gd78-02-03.aud.warner.19465.sbeok.shnf

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