Just like 1977 v. 1978, I’m always confounded by the extreme difference in tone between 1987 and 1988. Grateful Dead shows from 1987 are exuberant affairs, full of joyous noise and an infectious spirit. The playing is also incredibly tight. While there aren’t a ton of huge jams, the songs are played well and everyone is in tune with one another. Fast forward a year and all of that spirit seems to dissipate. 1988 shows, in general, seem mailed in and flat, the playing lacks finesse and the band seems distracted. This show from the Spectrum fits 1987 to a T – it’s fun, energetic and the band seems really into what they’re doing, even though there aren’t a ton of unforgettable moments. This is a great pre-weekend show, and I’m glad that I chose it over the 1988 Madison Square Garden show that was another option today. (Yes, Waterbury 1972 happened today. I don’t have enough time to tackle that monster – it’s going to have to wait).
There’s two major historical notes about today’s show (maybe they’re not so major). First, today was the band’s last performance of Tons of Steel. I happen to like this Brent song. Most people don’t. So I guess this is a happy occasion for most of you. I’ll be wearing black for the rest of the day.
Second, and much more importantly (sarcasm implied), this was the last of the Dead’s five known performances of La Bamba, which is sandwiched in the middle of Good Lovin’ in the second set. Three of the other performances of this tune were also in September 1987, which makes sense because the song was at the top of the charts that summer after being featured in the movie of the same name. The first time the Dead played La Bamba was all the way back on November 11, 1970, where it was also paired with Good Lovin’. At tonight’s show, Jerry sings it like everybody else who isn’t a Spanish speaker sings it, by shouting “Fa La La La La Bamba” and then muttering some vaguely Spanish sounding gibberish in time with the chords. Remember, this is the last time that you’ll hear the Dead play La Bamba. Savor every made up word.
As for the rest, this is a party show with a bunch of upbeat tunes throughout, including a peppy Feel Like a Stranger>Franklin’s Tower opener and Big Railroad Blues>The Music Never Stopped to close the first set. The second set starts with Bertha> Cumberland Blues, which is awesome, and then we get Playin’ in the Band>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ in the Band. The playing by this band during the first part of Playin’ in the Band is quite good and it’s fun to hear the progress into Uncle John’s Band. Post Drums/Space, it’s more party music. In fact, it’s all party music: I Need A Miracle>Dear Mr. Fantasy>Around And Around>Good Lovin’>La Bamba>Good Lovin’ E: U.S. Blues. I know what you’re thinking, but listen anyway. This is 1987 – the playing is tight and your foot will be tapping. This will get you fired up for the weekend.
I listened to Joe D’Amico’s very nice audience recording of this show. Here it is: https://archive.org/details/gd1987-09-23.nak300.damico.90559.sbeok.flac16