Today in Grateful Dead History: October 25, 1985 – Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL

dancing-bear The Sportatorium sounds like the name of a team handball arena in Bulgaria, but it happens to have been located in South Florida, which is pretty close.  (If you’re looking for a good read, check out the venue’s Wikipedia page.  In case you’re too lazy to do this, I’ll give you the highlights: a Robert Plant concert was rained out at this indoor venue, Roger Waters called the acoustics a “real compromise” and there was a massive riot at a Rush concert.  Seriously – Rush.)  Despite the arena’s shortcomings, the Grateful Dead typically played well here, and tonight’s show is no exception.

I have to warn you that the pace of tonight’s show is somewhat rushed, as in crackhead on a mission rushed.  The first set opens with Deal (unusual, but not the most unusual thing about this show) and the band maintains that energy throughout.  It’s All Over Now, tucked in with a bunch of other good songs, may be the first set highlight since the song fits the band’s energy to a T.  Even Loser can’t be slowed.

The second set opens with Morning Dew (see, I told you there would be stranger things than Deal).  You’re not going to believe this, but the band rushes into it and it takes a few seconds to mesh, but then we’ve got a pretty good version.  Even better is the Estimated Prophet that follows – a real killer performance that segues into a completely out of control Eyes of the World.  I always like to wait for the moment when these mid-80’s cocaine versions of Eyes get completely ridiculous.  Tonight’s version stays coherent for about 10 seconds, which makes it a middle of the road attempt.  Drums / Space are their typical good 1985 selves, and the rest is a little mushy.  But the fact that things stayed relatively unhinged for 2/3 of the show makes it a damn good listen.

As this project marches one, one of my main takeaways to-date is how much I’ve enjoyed the shows from 1985.  They’re not typically intricate and they’re certainly fast, but in certain scenarios, that’s just fine.  I grooved throughout this entire show, and I think that you will too.  The soundboard is augmented with the audience recording in some places, and be forewarned that the pitches on the two recordings don’t match up.  Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: October 21, 1983 – The Centrum, Worcester, MA

Dancing Skeletons

We started the week with a great 1983 show from Lake Placid, so let’s end it with an even better 1983 show from Worcester, Mass.  In fact, this show is so good that it is included in 30 Trips Around The Sun as the representative show of the year.

The pinnacle of this evening is the exceptional Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain that leads off the second set.  This is one of the greatest Scarlet>Fires there is, with a ridiculously good transition between the two songs and many magical moments in both.  I played this sequence three times today and it got better and better with every listen.  Please indulge!

But that’s not all.  The night begins with a great The Music Never Stopped that keeps rolling and rolling, long past when you think it’s going to end.  Cassidy wails.  Big Railroad Blues rocks.  Even The Promised Land is great tonight.

Back in the second set, once we’re done with Scarlet>Fire, the band kills it with:  Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ In The Band>Drums>Space>Truckin’>Wharf Rat.  Try that setlist on for size.  The playing throughout this part of the show is all exceptional, and Space gets into some very far out stuff before slowly rolling into Truckin’.  Wharf Rat unleashes all of the pent up emotion at the end, and then the band is off to the races with the rockers to close out the night.

It’s been a good week of shows, and this is an A+ effort to close things out.  If you want to add it to your collection, the audience recording is very high quality.  Since it’s 1983, I did the Matrix route and enjoyed it tremendously.  Listen to it here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 20, 1968 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

skeleton&rosesTime is of the essence today, so I’ll keep this relatively short.  This is a normal 1968 show, so it’s good.  We open with Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, and the levels are all messed up, with Phil drowning out everyone in the mix.  But, you get to hear Phil lay it down with authority, which is a wonderful experience.  Phil levels off after this, but there are still problems hearing the vocals and Bob’s guitar throughout the show.

Turn on Your Lovelight is good in places but doesn’t overwhelm, and this Dark Star is a generic 1968 Dark Star, which is, again, very nice indeed.  On to St. Stephen, and, more importantly, The Eleven>Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks).  This is the meat of the show – a very spirited The Eleven and a huge Caution that carpet bombs the audience with sound.  Caution fades into Feedback to end the show.

As I’ve said before, when you’re dealing with the Dead in the 60’s, most of what you’re getting is good, and this show is no exception.  I disagree with the commentators who say this is one the best (UPDATE: The folks running the Grateful Dead corporate show agree with the commentators – this is the 1968 show in 30 Trips Around the Sun), but it’s a good 1968 show, and that makes all the difference.  (It’s also the last time that the Dead will play the Greek until 1981, so there’s that, too).

Check it out here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 19, 1974 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieIn October, 1974, the Grateful Dead played five shows at Winterland that were billed as the band’s farewell performances before its year plus hiatus.  Tonight is the fourth of these five shows, and it is canonical.  While the jamming tonight might not reach the heights of the final show on the 20th or the Dark Star>Morning Dew on the 18th, all of the songs from this show (and there are many of them) feature an incredible amount of collaboration and finesse.  So, in honor of this masterpiece, you’re getting my thoughts in list form.

  • This show opens with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  This, translated from Grateful Dead speak, means that it’s going to be a good show.
  • Friend of the Devil sounds like no other version of this song that I’ve ever heard.  It’s got a swing to it that you just assume will stop when Jerry starts singing and brings it back to normal.  This doesn’t happen.  Strange (and great) throughout.
  • It Must Have Been the Roses.  Not a definitive version, but listen to what they are doing with each other, playing back and forth with the melody and counter-melody like wizards.  Pay close attention!
  • Oh boy – this is one loose Loose Lucy.  (Couldn’t resist).
  • When a pre-Fire on the Mountain Scarlet Begonias gets this spacey, you know things are going well.  There are sections of drums / piano / bass here that are going to blow your mind, and the sparseness of the jam is something to behold.  Like Friend of the Devil, this one is unique.
  • Okay – now we have to talk about Eyes of the World.  For my money, this might be the best version ever.  Not so long that you lose your mind, but not an eight minute version either.  The coordinated parts of this song are are played perfectly, and the jam. . .   What can I say about this jam?  When people talk about the Dead being a multi-headed monster, this is what they mean.  There are parts of this song where Keith is playing one note, Bob is playing off that one note and Jerry is playing around that one note, all in time and in tune.  And that’s just one portion.  While Phil’s bass solo is great in its own right, listen to everything going on behind it.  Again, that’s just one portion.  And Billy?  Well, Billy puts on a clinic here tonight.  This is a perfect Eyes of the World.
  • Followed by a great, meaningful China Doll.  Seriously? Can things get better than this?
  • Well, after Big River, we get a crazy Seastones that morphs into Uncle John’s Band.  What a way to start the second half.
  • What follows next is a lesson to not skip the “minor” songs.  All of these tunes are great, especially the very rare Tomorrow is Forever, one of the few times that I think almost all heads can agree that Donna sounded great.  We also get one of the slowest Dire Wolfs you’re ever going to hear.
  • Here we go – He’s Gone>Truckin’>Caution Jam>Drums>Jam>Truckin’.  He’s Gone is awesome, as you might expect, and then there is a short Truckin’ before, out of nowhere, the boys fire into a double-time performance of what is being called the Caution Jam, which is essentially Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) without Pigpen on keys.  This is a monster wake-up call, a straight up assault on your senses, which may have been lulled by the two-plus hours of music that have already been played and the laid back He’s Gone.  And good Lord, does Phil Lesh go crazy on this one.  Drums follows, marking the last time Billy would play Drums on his own without Mickey Hart.  Shed a tear, Mickey haters, and savor this 1:20.  The following Jam back into Truckin’ is very wide open and features a ton of Jerry and not a lot of everyone else until the second half.  Enjoy.
  • I’m not saying that everything else after this is a let-down, because all of these songs are great, but other than an excellent Black Peter, I just can’t get 100% fired up over Sunshine Daydream, One More Saturday Night or U.S. Blues.  That’s okay.

There you have it.  If you wanted to play someone the second set from last night’s show, this entire show and tomorrow’s full performance, you’d probably have enough Grateful Dead music to last a lifetime.  Savor this one for the smaller songs and the Eyes of the World – it’s one of the best.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 18, 1988 – Kiefer Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA

terrapinPrepare yourselves, fellow travelers.  On my seventh try, I finally found a show from 1988 that I would listen to a second time.  (Small sample size, I know . . .)

The Dead only played nine shows in Louisiana, and tonight would be the last one, in a ten thousand seat basketball arena on the campus of the University of New Orleans.  This show has quite the Louisiana feel to it, with members of the Neville Brothers joining in during Drums and for the Iko Iko encore.  There are also a slate of rockin’ tunes to close out the show, including a Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away that almost comes off the rails but hangs in there.

But that’s not why we care, loyal readers.  Tonight’s show is a keeper because the Bangles join the boys for the second encore – a very strangely played (the key and tempo just aren’t quite right) Knockin’ on Heavens Door.  Words can’t begin to describe . . .

Nah, let me try to describe. . .

On second thought . . .

Just try to picture the backstage scene. . .

Moving on . . .

There is some serious juice during the rest of this show, especially in the second set opening Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain and the Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World that follows.  Neither of these pairings is going to take you to places you haven’t been before . . . Wait a minute, let me rephrase that.  There is one portion at the end of Scarlet Begonias that sounds a whole lot like a typical Bird Song outro jam, so that’s unusual, but besides that, these are just fun, good late 80’s versions of four great songs.  And given that it’s 1988, this makes things even a little more special.

Speaking of Bird Song, it’s the first set closer and the first set highlight.  The boys get pretty well out there in the middle of this song, barely anchored by Brent, who is definitely the unsung hero of the night.  His playing fills all sorts of holes all over the place, for example during Little Red Rooster and When I Paint My Masterpiece, another highlight.  And since we’re near the bayou, we might as well get a pretty cool Peggy-O too.

There’s a lot more to this show than just these tunes.  You’re going to want to hear the whole thing and develop your own opinion, but to-date, this is my best of 1988.

Here’s the only version with the encore – it’s a pretty good but not great Matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 17, 1983 – Olympic Arena, Lake Placid, NY

Dancing Skeletons

This show starts off with a sixteen minute bang of a Sugaree that sets the tone for the rest of the first set, which is uniformly excellent.  Think about settling in for the beginning of a long night with the Grateful Dead and getting sucker punched by this monster at the very start. This is just minute upon minute of Jerry Garcia spitting fire and the rest of the band swirling behind him.  On this Matrix recording, you’re also treated to Bob Weir, high in the mix on the left, leading Jerry on.  There are probably better Sugarees, but for sustained excellence over a very long duration, this one may take the cake.

The rest of the first set is all killer, no filler.  Little Red Rooster, which would normally be the weak link in the setlist, is hot, as if Bob heard what Jerry had to offer and set out to match his intensity.  Friend of the Devil and My Brother Esau both have that certain groove that 1983 shows can fall into – white boy funkiness, so far as it goes.  But then we get a lovely, dynamic Bird Song that thrills from start to finish.  Hell in a Bucket transitions into one fired-up version of Deal.  This is primal Deal action, here, people.  And then we come up for air.

The knock on this show is that the second set can’t keep up with the first, but does it really have to?  Nope.  At least on a setlist level, a second set that starts with Touch of Grey into Samson and Delilah isn’t doing anything slow, and tonight is no different.  The boys do bring things down a notch with the only To Lay Me Down of 1983 and the last performance of this tune until 1988, so we’ve got a little history going on as well, and a nice version of the song to boot.  The middle portion of the second set is nothing special, but we still get to hear Terrapin Station, and the post-Drums/Space rocking section really lives up to its reputation with I Need A Miracle>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Good Lovin’ .  I’m not going to say that any of these tunes is high on my list of must-hears, but taken together, you can hear the power the Dead were pushing out on this night in the heart of the Adirondacks.

This Matrix is pretty sweet: