The Zoo Amphitheater is one of those venues, like Pirate’s World (3/24/70), that brings to mind legions of clapped out Deadheads terrifying people in a normally benign public place like a zoo or an amusement park. A little research reveals that the Zoo Amphitheater is actually located next to, but not in, the Oklahoma City Zoo, thus separating the animals and children from the Heads, which is probably for the best.
Today’s show is frustrating because it is so damn good, but the band’s playing is, I don’t want to say wasted but I’m going to say wasted, on a C+ setlist. Everybody is completed tuned-in throughout the entire performance, which is often not the case in 1985, and the interplay between the boys is tremendous. I noticed this within the very first notes of Bertha and it only gets better from there. The synergy between Phil, Jerry, Brent and Bob is most apparent on West L.A. Fadeaway, but that is by no means the only place – Ramble on Rose is filled with subtle wizardry and even Minglewood stretches the bounds of dynamism. There are some bass problems throughout the first set, the most obvious coming during Me and My Uncle, with Phil dropping a series of bombs in an apparent attempt to isolate the offending amplifier and creating awesome sonic results.
Normally when the Dead fire off an excellent first set in 1985 (which they frequently do), they lose energy in the homestretch, but today they’ve still got the goods after intermission. China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is awesome and the transition is altered just enough to call it unusual. Once again, the Jerry/Brent/Phil/Bob connection is strong throughout this sequence. Playin’ in the Band is the other second half highlight (although everything the Dead play tonight is good). Playin’ stretches out a bit longer than you might expect and the move into Drums is subtle and fun.
So what’s the problem? The Dead play both Iko Iko and The Women Are Smarter in the same show, which is like playing the same song twice. (The worst thing about The Women Are Smarter in this context is that Jerry and the drummers are clearly trying to take the band into The Other One out of Drums, which would have been awesome, but Bob overwhelms and overrules them). We also get Around and Around, I Need a Miracle, Good Lovin’ and a Day Job encore. And while I loved the performance in the first set, it’s not exactly filled with the best songs on the roster.
A while ago, a commentator on this site named lgreen666 noted that ” things markedly improved in 85 compared with 82 to 84… heard as matrix recordings I think summer and autumn is possibly as good as summer and autumn 89!” I didn’t remember this comment until I found myself with a huge grin on my face throughout this show. The Dead were killing it on this night in OKC – I just wish they played the songs to match the effort.
Check out the pretty darn nice audience recording here: https://archive.org/details/gd1985-09-02.Senn421.Darby.117762.Flac2448