Today In Grateful Dead History: March 21, 1986 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

dancing-bear Things got really busy last week so I wasn’t able to write up a few of the shows – we missed some good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, today’s show from the Hampton Coliseum has it.  But before they get warmed up, the Dead start off with the first ever performance of (I’m a) Road Runner, a song that Bob Weir played on occasion with other bands but the Dead only played once more.  You’ll know why when you hear it.  Still, it’s a song debut and worth hearing for the history.

After a few hit or miss tunes, the band fires up Bird Song, one of those tunes that they played consistently well in 1985 and 1986.  This version doesn’t feature any transcendent moments, but it’s a good listen.  The highlight of the entire show actually comes at the end of Tons of Steel, when the band goes into a Supplication jam that eventually turns into Let It Grow.  Bob Weir is so fired up by this transition that he sings the entire first verse of Let It Grow while the rest of the band is still wailing on Supplication, which makes for an interesting rhythmic dynamic but also for a cool moment.  Once the boys light up Let It Grow proper it’s all hands on deck, with a couple of false endings and some ripping guitar solos.  This is a great passage.

The second set begins with a pretty bungled version of Uncle John’s Band into a mediocre Terrapin Station, however, at the end of Terrapin, the Dead shift into a reprise of Playin’ in the Band and the resulting jam is well done.  Drums>Space>I Need a Miracle is nothing special, but Stella Blue is its usual stellar self – a sparkling Jerry solo caps off the song and makes up for several “interesting” passages at the start of the song.  The rest is fine.

The good parts of this show are very nice and show a band that can still be very engaged when it wants to be.  Nothing here feels particularly rushed like things tend to sound during 1985-86, and everyone makes substantial contributions to the music.  It’s a good show from a difficult year, which makes it all the more worth your time.

None of the recordings of this show are great – here’s the best I heard:


Today In Grateful Dead History: March 15, 1990 – Capital Center, Landover, MD

terrapinThis is a really good show that deserves to be listened to from start to finish, as there are highlights sprinkled throughout the spirited performance.

The Dead open the evening with Jack Straw>Sugaree, and you can tell right from the beginning that this is going to be a good one – the band members are listening to one another and the interplay between Phil and Jerry on Sugaree is exceptional.  After Sugaree, Brent busts out the first Easy to Love You since 9/3/1980, and while the song hasn’t aged well (who am I kidding, it was never good), Brent’s voice has gotten much more confident over the decade, which is really apparent in the second set when he sings an impassioned I Will Take You HomeAlthea is another first set barn burner, with liquid Jerry runs all over the place.

The second set opens with a fast China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that shows off the band’s connectivity once again as they bounce ideas to and fro during the transition between the two songs.  This is pure goodness.  A pedestrian Samson and Delilah comes next, but then it’s time for the main event, a huge twenty minute Terrapin Station that will blow your mind.

I like live performances of this song right up until the end of the vocals, at which point the song usually loses me.  I just don’t think that the Dead do a very good with the jam at the end of the song – it’s a repetitive bore most of the time.  But the first part of the song is so good, both musically and lyrically, that you can’t begrudge the ending.  That’s on most nights.  Tonight, that ending is anything but boring.  Instead, it’s an ever changing tapestry, especially from Bob and Jerry, who play together brilliantly here.  Just when you think the band is going to wrap things up, there is another movement in a somewhat different direction.  This continues for a long while, and at the end, you’re grinning from ear to ear.  I can’t recall a Terrapin Station that’s had this effect on me.

The rest of the show has its ups and downs, but we do get the first Revolution in five years as an encore.  Even though the boys aren’t at the top of their game, musically, with this tune, and despite Jerry’s lyrical flubs, the song still has the power to send a chill down your spine.  “You know it’s gonna be … alright!”  And it is.

Check out the Charlie Miller soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 14, 1971 – Camp Randall Field House, Madison, WI

stealie It’s Pigpen’s world tonight, so get ready.

The three best songs of the night – a monster performance of Good Lovin’, a horrifyingly spliced Hard to Handle and a soulful It Hurts Me Too – all belong to the Pig, with some serious support from Misters Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh, who both just unload on this show with reckless abandon.

It’s a shame that Hard to Handle is spliced where it is, because the band is just reeling back, ready to fire that fastball straight ahead.  The cut throws everything off, but once you get back into the rhythm of things, you’ll be treated to a very fine, full steam ahead version of this tune that only gets better as the song progresses.

Good Lovin’ is really the signature piece of the night, with a little bit of everything for everyone, including a drum solo about four minutes in, some serious Pigpen rapping and just guitar lick after guitar lick, all of which is punctuated by Phil bombs.  This is the solid stuff here, people.

The rest of the show is fine, but these are the definite highlights.  You should check them out:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 11, 1993 – Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, IL

dancing-bearThis is one massively uneven show.  It starts with a very well executed Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower, but it also features a train wreck of The Music Never StoppedIko Iko is a great, up-tempo second set opener, followed by Wave to the Wind, an impossibly bland song that begins with a stolen Peter Gabriel riff and devolves from there.

The capstone to the whole affair is the second set sequence of Truckin’>Spoonful>He’s Gone>Drums>Space>The Other One.  The transitions between these pieces are all good, and there is some nice playing at the end of Truckin’ into Spoonful and again at the end of He’s Gone.  The band is joined by poet Ken Nordine during Space, and his unique voice works really well with the music here.  Once this segment is complete, the band plays Days Between, which you’ll either love or hate, depending on your relationship to that song.  The Liberty encore is fun, too.

This is a take it or leave it performance, but the beginning works really well and the poetry is a welcome twist in the second set.  Listen to the pretty muddy soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 10, 1981 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

dancing-bear This show, the second night of a great two night stand at Madison Square Garden, literally starts off with a bang as one of the band’s speakers explodes a minute into Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  Obviously, this throws things into a bit of confusion, but we get to hear a nice instrumental passage until Jerry picks up the verse again several minutes later.  Things remain – how should we say it – “disorganized” until the bridge.  At this point, Jerry plays a very gentle, calming solo that seems to go on forever – it’s not the most technically adept solo you’re going to hear on this song, but atmospherically, it’s brilliant.  As Half-Step concludes, the sounds issues resolve and the band fires off into Franklin’s Tower, one of my favorite show opening combos.

It doesn’t get much credit from the commentators, but Lazy Lightning>Supplication is powerful tonight, as is the set closing Deal.  The Dead are playing the Garden like an instrument and you can hear the crowd ooh and aah as the night goes on.

After the break the band busts out an almost thirty minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain which is quite good but not top-notch as it is filled with lyrical problems and tempo changes.  The other big second set highlights are China Doll, one of the better versions you’ll hear from this era, and the Smokestack Lightning jam after Truckin’The Brokedown Palace encore is always appreciated.

Last night’s MSG show, which I haven’t written about yet, is probably a better show over all – for me, that is one of the all-time great Jerry shows, with his guitar turned way up.  But tonight, especially the first set, is smoking too.

There are lots of options for listening – I did the Matrix today, but the pure AUD is also really nice.  Check out the Matrix here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 9, 1992 – Capital Center, Landover, MD

terrapinBruce Hornsby’s time as a member of the Grateful Dead was coming to a close when the band pulled into Maryland for this show, and throughout this performance we’re reminded time and again of what an important contribution he made to the Dead’s early 90’s sound.

Bruce is all over this recording and all for the better, as his ideas tonight are incredible.  There are definitely some moments of musical tension when the very-high-in-the-mix Bruce seems to push the lower-in-the-mix Vince out of the way, but these events are fleeting and everyone gets on the same page again pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, despite Bruce’s performance tonight, the show itself is pretty short and uninspired.  The first set, in particular, is devoid of any true highlights, although none of the songs are train wrecks.  The second set has some interesting moments, especially at the end of Corrina when Jerry leaves the stage for a few minutes and the band improvises until he returns and launches into a very sparse Dark StarDrums is a typical version, but Space is long and reaches some pretty interesting places, driven, again, by Bruce, until the band flies into an energetic version of I Need a MiracleMorning Dew comes next, and the first part is seriously marred by forgotten lyrics and some really off tempo playing from Jerry.  Fortunately, the band recovers, and the second portion of the song is decent.  Satisfaction is the encore, and, at least to my ears, it’s one of the better versions I’ve heard, so long as you don’t mind the Bob Weir shrieks (I don’t).

All of you Bruce Hornsby fans should definitely check this show out – the haters should stay far away.  Listen here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 8, 1970 – Travelodge Theatre in the Round (Star Theater), Phoenix, AZ

skeleton&rosesThis is one of the stranger Dead shows that’s come across my computer, starting with the venue, a theater in the round that apparently rotated while the band was playing on this crazy night in Phoenix.  (Bob Weir complains about not being able to connect with the audience because the stage keeps turning, but as you’ll see in a minute, audience connection isn’t much of a problem tonight).

The show starts off electric and features a really high voltage version of China Cat Sunflower>I Know You RiderHard to Handle is also firey tonight.

After Hard to Handle, the band switches to acoustic instruments for a few songs before switching back to electric for an impromptu “blues jam”.  This is where things get even weirder, as some member of the audience jumps on stage and sings along with the band.  For a long time.  And the Dead don’t throw him off.

One of the knocks on Pigpen (I don’t agree) is that almost any average white dude could sound like him.  Well, this “guest” vocal performance proves that while anyone can duplicate the shtick, it’s a lot harder to do it effectively.  If you sit through this entire performance, you’ll understand exactly why Pigpen is irreplaceable.  But it’s hard to sit through this whole thing, as you’ll hear almost immediately. After the blues, we get Not Fade Away and Turn on Your Lovelight, both infected with this same guest, now also on harmonica.  (Or maybe there’s a second person on harmonica – it’s hard to tell.  Apparently, all was chaos on the revolving stage by this point).

So, performance wise, the Dead are fine, but a large part of the show is almost untenable due to the vocals.  And, just to make things even weirder, this show was apparently Vince Welnick’s first time experiencing the Grateful Dead, as an audience member.  An auspicious beginning . . .

Listen here, for historical value: