Today in Grateful Dead History: August 31, 1983 – Silva Hall, Eugene, OR

Dancing Skeletons

We’re still in 1983 and it’s the final night of the Grateful Dead’s three night stand in Eugene.  The first two nights lacked the compelling “wow” moments that make some Dead shows remarkable, but they were both fun, listenable experiences.  Unlike those shows, tonight’s performance does have one unique moment in the second set that caused me to sit up and take notice.

Since recording quality was a problem for the first two nights of this run, I spent a little more time than usual trying to find the best version of tonight’s show.  This particular recording has a little more low end than the others and the pitch seems to be more natural than the alternate versions, which sound a tad high.  That being said, the drums aren’t great and Bob Weir’s guitar is buried for songs at a time.  This show is plenty listenable, but it’s not an A+ example of an audience recording.

The first set has got a few of those early 80’s funky (funky for the Grateful Dead, not funky like P-Funk funky) tunes working their mojo, specifically Dupree’s Diamond Blues and West L.A. Fade Away.  Jerry’s voice is not in great shape tonight and there are some vocal flubs, but the ragged tone adds a welcome layer of grunge to the proceedings.    Cassidy, which is sometimes a fluid beast of a song, just meanders tonight, but the Dead close out the set with a fired up Don’t Ease Me In.

The second set begins with a rare Cold Rain and Snow opener.  Although the band used this song a few times as the second set opener, mostly in the earlier 80’s, they typically played it somewhere in the first set.  In fact, this is the only time they played Cold Rain and Snow in the second set in 1983.

The heart of this show lies with Playin’ in the Band>China Doll>Playin’ in the Band>Drums>Space>Truckin’>Stella Blue.  Yeah, there are two Jerry ballads in that sequence, and they are both cool, with beautiful segues into and out of China Doll and a gorgeous, peaceful (despite the fuzz) middle solo from Jerry.  The return to Playin’ is a surprise as well.  My favorite part comes during Space, when the boys launch into a very sparse, rhythmic jam that sounds a lot like the Allman Brothers’ version of You Don’t Love Me, deconstructed.  This transitions into Truckin’, which packs a wallop until the up-tempo Stella Blue.  UPDATE – On second listen, this Stella Blue is really, really good – the ending solo just soars.  This whole sequence was the magic moment of this entire three-night stand in Eugene.  From there, it’s the usual rockin’ shenanigans.

Well, we’ve gone from two 1983 shows on this site to five, so I think my work here is done.  Tomorrow will be another year.

Listen to the audience recording of this interesting show here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 29, 1983 – Silva Hall, Eugene, OR

Dancing Skeletons

1983 has drawn the short straw on this site, with fewer entries than any year except for 1967.  I don’t know why I’ve ignored 1983, but we’re going to make up for it this week, with the first of three shows in a row from Eugene, Oregon.

Like many of its 1983 brethren, this performance is fast-paced, with speed racer versions of Might as Well, Estimated Prophet and Eyes of the World (to say nothing of the out of control Johnny B. Goode that closes the second set).  Unfortunately, some of the Dead’s subtlety is lost in the avalanche of notes, but Estimated and Eyes are both worth hearing for the sheer shredding value.  China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider don’t suffer from the same issues and are decent, if unspectacular, tunes.

If you’re looking for more delicate moments, they do exist here, with a very pretty Bird Song (a consistently good song in the early to mid 80’s) and The Wheel, which transitions into a relatively dynamic but unfortunately truncated version of The Other One with wonderful Brent organ involvement throughout.  (There’s a really nasty cut on the tape that nearly ruins the whole thing).

The recording quality for this show is not the best.  Like many performances from the early and mid 80’s, the soundboard levels are all messed up, but at least that recording gives us a chance to really hear Bob Weir in places where you don’t usually pick him up well, like on Birdsong, and there are recording-related Phil bombs in places they don’t belong throughout the first set since his bass is way to loud on the tape.  The audience recordings are muddy and the levels are too high, so avoid them on this night.

Check out the soundboard here: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 19, 1970 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesIt’s hard to beat the Grateful Dead’s August 18, 1970 show at the Fillmore West for historical value, so for the August 19th show at the same venue, we’re just going to have to settle for an above-average 1970 acoustic / electric performance.

Dead shows at this time usually featured an acoustic first set, a set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and then a set of electric Dead.  Tonight’s show has a bunch of great acoustic numbers, including two that were only played 1970, Wake Up Little Susie and Cold Jordan.  For me, the acoustic highlight is the pairing of Ripple>Brokedown Palace as the songs were laid out on American Beauty.  The Dead only played these two songs together on four occasions – 8/18/70 (their live premiere), tonight, 9/20/70 at the Fillmore East and 11/7/70 at the Capital Theater (all great shows).  So it’s awesome to hear this combination tonight.

The electric set is pretty typical for the era, but there are some definite winners that you don’t normally think of – the set opening Cold Rain and Snow and an amazing, deep Easy Wind with some ear blasting solos from Jerry.  New Minglewood Blues is also hot, with Bob howling the lyrics with a sincere passion that goes beyond even his usual full-throated delivery.  To close things out, we’ve got a thirty minute Turn on Your Lovelight that is not exceptional, but Pigpen does rock out some profane suggestions for the lovers out there and David Crosby contributes some guitar at some point (it’s hard to hear him through the mud).

Like the 18th, the recording of this show is an audience tape of fair quality, but it’s plenty enjoyable.  Check it our here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 18, 1991 – Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

terrapinI went to see Dark Star Orchestra over the weekend, and Sam Cutler, the Grateful Dead’s former road manager,  introduced the band.  As part of his talk, he said that he thought that the Dead were really a Dixieland band, with multiple soloists all improvising at the same time over the melody.  Nick Paumgarten makes the same point in his wonderful 2012 article about the band in the New Yorker.  Today’s show, the third and final night of the band’s 1991 summer run at the Shoreline Amphitheater, really hews to this Dixieland formula, especially when it comes to Bruce Hornsby, who is all over this recording.

As I said last year in my review of the August 17th Shoreline concert, the Dead’s two pianist iteration had a tendency to get in its own way, but at today’s show, Vince is turned way down and Bruce is even more up front, which is a positive development as far as the music is concerned.  One of the best moments of the first set is Bruce’s piano work on It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, a pretty boring song that is brightened considerably by the keyboards.  This is followed immediately by a total breakdown at the beginning of Beat it on Down the Line, but Bob Weir picks up the pieces and the band keeps playin’ on.  Continuing on with the Dylan theme, When I Paint My Masterpiece is a well done addition to the first set and Stagger Lee is a good time too.  Then the Dead end the set with Johnny B. Goode, one of only 19 first-set performances of a song that they played 285 times.

We start the second set with Deal, always a rocker, which segues into a fantastic Samson and Delilah that rips from start to finish with Bruce (once again) leading the charge.  The other second half highlight comes at the end of China Doll, when Jerry takes a majestic solo that transports us all away to a late summer night in California.  Unfortunately, the rest of the show is Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away.  Thankfully, the band closes its run with a Brokedown Palace encore to send everyone home happy.

This show fixes some of the Bruce/Vince issues from the 17th, but it substitutes a bunch of filler songs for yesterday’s much better setlist.  Pick your poison.

Here’s the matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 17, 1989 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bearThe setlist for today’s show at the Greek Theater does not inspire confidence, but the Dead deliver a punchy, fun show at one of their favorite venues none the less.

The first few songs of the first set get off to a slippery start with the drummers feeling their way blindly through an otherwise fun Sugaree.  The band sorts itself out with Jack-A-Roe and Queen Jane Approximately, and they really ramp up during The Music Never Stopped>Don’t Ease Me In.  The force of the jam in The Music Never Stopped builds until Bob and Brent are basically drowning out Jerry with wave after wave of sound, but it’s a great roller coaster ride while it lasts.

Now here comes the second set:  Touch Of Grey>Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Ship Of Fools, Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>Drums>Space>The Wheel>Gimme Some Lovin’>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Good Lovin’.  Hmm.  Not a great platform for sonic exploration, huh?  The good news is that these songs are all well played and the transition from Space into The Wheel is sweet.  If you like Ship of Fools (and who doesn’t?) then you’ll like this one, too.  Beyond that, I think it was probably great to be sitting outdoors at the Greek on a summer’s night in 1989, listening to the Dead rock out without excuses.  But if you came for the jamming, you came to the wrong place.

Here’s the Charlie Miller soundboard:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 16, 1969 – Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Bethel, NY

woodstockI’m not going out on a limb when I say that the Grateful Dead have a (sometimes self-described) reputation for not living up to expectations when the spotlight is hot.  Exhibit A is today’s show from perhaps the brightest stage of the 1960’s – Woodstock.

If you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you know what Woodstock was, but just in case you missed rock history 101, here is the six sentence summary.  In August, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on an old diary farm in upstate New York for a legendary concert that featured almost all of the important rock and roll bands of the time.  Originally a ticketed event, so many people showed up that they closed the interstate and let the ticketless masses in for free.  It rained.  A lot.  Massive quantities of drugs were ingested, some of them of not so good quality.  But yet, almost everyone had a good time and the festival became a touchstone of the hippie movement and an era-defining event.  In other words, Woodstock was built for the Grateful Dead.

Of course, if something was built for the Grateful Dead, the Grateful Dead had a bad habit of blowing it, which they did at Woodstock by showing up and doing what everyone else was doing – ingesting incredible quantities of acid.  Since the folks running the show were also dosed to the gills, things weren’t proceeding in a timely manner, which made everything a little glitchy to begin with.  I’ll let Jerry Garcia take it from here in a 1971 interview in Jazz and Pop Magazine:

The weekend was great, but our set was terrible. We were all pretty smashed, and it was at night. Like we knew there were a half million people out there, but we couldn’t see one of them. There were about a hundred people on stage with us, and everyone was scared that it was gonna collapse. On top of that, it was raining or wet, so that every time we touched our guitars, we’d get these electrical shocks. Blue sparks were flying out of our guitars.

So reading this you’d think, well of course Jerry was seeing sparks and thinking the stage was moving – he was on acid.  But apparently, all of this was true and then some.  The stage was so loaded with people and equipment that it literally moved across the mud and the wind blew the scaffolding like a sail.  Other, more sober people expressed serious concerns that the electricity was actually going to kill someone.  And yet the Dead soldiered on.

The band began their set with St. Stephen, which is truncated on every available recording of the performance on the Archive but can be seen in the various available YouTube videos of the Dead at Woodstock.  Then they played a passable version of Mama Tried, with Bob Weir blowing the very first lyric of the song and never really recovering.  After a ten minute delay replete with lysergic poetry screaming and  general confusion, the boys actually managed to string together a decent Dark Star that has several interesting passages in the middle third.  This muddles into High Time, not exactly the uplifting choice that a festival audience might crave at eleven thirty on day two of a three day bender.

Which leads us to Turn on Your Lovelight and Pigpen.  Now Pigpen, unlike his band mates at the time, was a boozer, not an acid head, which made him the defacto captain of the sinking ship.  So it fell to him to try and salvage whatever he could by doing what Pigpen did best – seizing the reins and fronting a forty-seven minute blast of pure blues power.  Really, forty-seven minutes of Lovelight.  But unfortunately for Pigpen, one of the countless freaks on the stage (rumored to be Ken Babbs, one of the Merry Pranksters), grabbed a mic and rambled before, during and after Pigpen’s initial Lovelight rap.  Which just made things fall apart even quicker.  Then, about thirty-five minutes into the song (I can’t believe I just wrote that), Phil’s bass amp started broadcasting radio signals into the PA feed, melding the voices into the performance itself.  It’s as bad as it sounds.

But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  That’s the takeaway here, folks.  Yeah, there are countless performances from 1969 that are better than this, but I swear to God this show is not nearly as bad as some of the half-baked nonsense I’ve heard from the mid 90’s.  At least there’s some energy and feeling here.  In spades.  Which makes it deserving of a listen.

Once you’re done with the Grateful Dead’s night on the big, wet stage, make sure that you check out the other, good performances from Woodstock.  Like Hendrix, the Who and Santana.  This was the high water mark for the hippie movement. The Dead, incidentally, would also play a role at Altamont, when the tide rolled back out.  But that’s another festival, and another story entirely.

Listen to the magic here: