Today in Grateful Dead History: May 31, 1992 – Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, Las Vegas, NV

stealieI’ll be honest with you, faithful readers.  I was intrigued by today’s setlist, which features Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower, Bird SongScarlet Begonias>Fire On The MountainAttics Of My Life>Spoonful>The Other One>Morning Dew (with Spoonful through Dew featuring Steve Miller, to boot) and a Baba O’Riley>Tomorrow Never Knows encore.  But I was concerned about that ’92 hanging around.  No need to worry – this show delivered the goods.

The post-Drums segment of this show, which is often the dumping ground for a Jerry ballad and some Bob Weir rockin’, is an incredible performance, starting with a lyrically and harmonically adept Attics of My Life (one of only three played in 1992).  Steve Miller then appears on the scene as the band rips into Spoonful, which sets the table for a fascinating, pulsing The Other One and a magnificent Morning Dew.  Although Miller’s contributions here (like many other guitar playing guests during these years) are hard to hear in the mix at times, he definitely charges the band, forcing Jerry to up his game tremendously, especially on Morning Dew.  The Miller-less encores, which, if you know this band’s history with Beatles and Who covers doesn’t bode well, are actually really good – the Dead’s spin on Baba O’Riley in particular is worth hearing.

It’s funny that, given the heat (Vegas at the end of May – seriously?), the boys get better as the show goes on, but that’s definitely the case today.  The beginning of the night is okay, but Jerry is having equipment issues that seriously detract from Help>Slip>Franklin’s.  The quieter trio of It Must Have Been the Roses, Queen Jane Approximately and Bird Song are the best parts of the first set, as if the band is testing the heat and not trying to exert itself too much.  The Bird Song is appropriately exploratory but nothing special.

This leads us to the start of set two (this was a long show), with Scarlet>Fire among other songs, some good, some not so much.  So Many Roads into Saint of Circumstance seems like an odd choice, but Bob makes the most of it and this is the point where you can feel the energy start to shift, leading into a delicate He’s Gone and then Drums/Space.  If you don’t have a lot of time to listen today, start with Saint and go from there to the end and you’ll have a nice 80 – 90 minutes from a pretty darn good 1992 desert show.


Today in Grateful Dead History: May 30, 1980 – Milwaukee Auditorium, Milwaukee, WI

Dancing Skeletons

This tight show from 1980 flies under the radar but is filled with some really solid early-80’s Grateful Dead.

According to a couple of comments on the Archive, there was a very active police presence at this show, so much so that the Dead didn’t come back to play in Milwaukee until 1989.  You can definitely hear a tightness to the playing.  Now some of that is just because that’s how the Dead sounded in 1980, but if the commentators are correct, the vibe in the room probably contributed to the feeling on stage.  In any case, none of these songs get jammed out in any great depth, but the Dead, and Jerry Garcia in particular, make up for it with some great, muscular playing.

Franklin’s Tower, slotted into second place in tonight’s first set, is an example of this.  Jerry’s runs are tight and on point – no aimless meandering here during this hoppin’ twelve minute version.  Two songs later, the boys really dig into Big River, and a little later, Passenger also bores ahead.  The entire first set is in control but focused – good solos, not a lot of mistakes and a palpable drive to the music.  The Music Never Stopped closes off the first set, and while it’s not going to be on anyone’s top-ten list, it’s a rockin’, fun version.

The second set begins with a great sequence of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, Playin’ in the Band.  During the Scarlet>Fire transition, Bob Weir throws in all sorts of little bumps and bleeps that perfectly compliment what Jerry is throwing down.  The Playin’ is grounded and smooth throughout.  Drums/Space represents a pause in the action before the band bumps the energy up a notch and a half with a very spirited beginning to Not Fade Away.  However, the song quickly calms down while Jerry solos and Phil weaves his magic in between the drums, one of the first times we can clearly hear him in the mix as everyone plods into Black Peter.  As if to make up for the dip in energy, we get short, enthusiastic versions of Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad and Good Lovin’ to close things out.  The Alabama Getaway encore, one of only 13 ever played (all but one came in 1980), is clearly rushed and is kind of a mess.  But that would be the only time tonight where the band seems off – the rest is just good old Grateful Dead.

Listen to the serviceable, but not exactly pristine, soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 26, 1995 – Memorial Stadium, Seattle, WA

dancing-bear Two posts from 1995 in one week.  How lucky are we?

Well, with this show, pretty lucky.  It far surpasses the May 24th Memorial Stadium show and ranks pretty high up there for 1995 shows in general.  Part of this is the setlist.  While there are definitely clunkers in there (I’m looking at you, Eternity and Easy Answers), the majority of this performance is full of epic Dead songs.  And the good news is that they aren’t train wrecks, even though there are many, many lyrical issues, as there always are with 1995 Jerry.

The show busts out of the gate with Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower.  While the Slipknot! passages in particular are sloppy, the Franklin’s Tower is sweet spring time music.  Skipping ahead a little, Loose Lucy (lyrics!) is fun and Don’t Ease Me In rocks as hard as 1995 Dead are going to rock.  I know this isn’t a complicated song, but it was really nice to hear the boys turn it loose and seemingly enjoy themselves, and Jerry’s guitar playing was on point and uplifting.

So, speaking of setlists, the second set opens with Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Playin’ in the Band>Uncle John’s Band.  I hate always having to write this when it comes to this year, but, for 1995, this is great stuff.  The jam on Playin’ in the Band is interesting, the vocals on Uncle John’s Band are not bad, and the Scarlet>Fire is fired up, although it’s nowhere near as good as some of the commentators on the Archive seem to think it is.  Still, if you are looking for a good 45 minute slice of 1995 music, you would be hard pressed to find anything better than this.

A special note about Space here (Drums appears truncated).  This is a really delicate Space and worth listening to with your eyes closed.  Don’t let the fact that it pours into Easy Answers dissuade you – give it a quiet listen and enjoy where it takes you.  Other than this, the post-Drums highlight is definitely Stella Blue, which is its usual 90’s self – long chorus (is the phrase “Stella Blue” sung over and over again a chorus?  does this song have a chorus at all?  discuss) and a pretty guitar solo, which is the best you can ask for with this classic song.

I think that we’re going to have a hard time topping this for 1995 shows, but let’s stay on the journey and see what happens.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 25, 1977 – The Mosque, Richmond, VA

stealieWay back in 2012, this show was the first installment in the ongoing Dave’s Picks series of official Grateful Dead live releases and for good reason.  This mellow, slow-jammed show from an incredible month of concerts is larded with nuggets that deserve to be heard time and time again.

Compared to some of its more high-intensity cousins from earlier in the month, this night’s performance is calm, almost resembling a 1976 show with its careful craftsmanship and tempos.  But just because it’s slower doesn’t mean that this show is sleepy.  Far from it.

For instance, the second set opens with a raging Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  In a month of incredible versions of these songs, including what might be the greatest ever on May 8th, tonight’s performance stands close to the top.  The transition between the two, in particular, is incredible, with peaks and valleys and blistering heat from both guitarists.  Fire on the Mountain settles into its groove and almost never lets go (Keith blows one part for a second but recovers nicely), transporting you smoothly into the outer limits.  After a very good Estimated Prophet, we get an awesome He’s Gone.  This song fits the mood of the night perfectly, and the Dead dig into it, playing back and forth between verses and nailing the bridge.  As the song ends we dive into Drums, which soon erupts into a very intense version of The Other One.  This is a fifteen minute tour de force that never lets you down until Wharf Rat takes over.  The end of this tune is laced with beauty and short, tinkly runs from Keith and Jerry before we’re back at The Other One again for another three minutes before sliding into a pitch perfect The Wheel with more wonderful keyboards.

The first set doesn’t possess the fireworks of the second set, but it’s filled with great songs.  After opening with an above-average Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo into a good Jack Straw, the middle of the set really does most of the work here, with stellar versions of Cassidy, Loser and Lazy Lightning>Supplication.  All of the songs here are good and it’s a fun listen throughout, even when it comes to the more “basic” tunes like the set-closing Promised Land.

Since Dave’s Picks has been sold out forever, we need to listen to the soundboard version.  I would love to get my hands on the official release, since the sound quality here is a B.  But it’s worth it!  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 24, 1995 – Memorial Stadium, Seattle, WA

dancing-bear A commentator discussing my old review of the 5/29/95 Portland Meadows show called this 1995 run of Pacific Northwest performances “GOOD Dead” and I’m inclined to defer to him despite my limited sample size.  While this show is short (a 49 minute first set and an hour-ten on the back side if you take out Drums/Space), there are several interesting explorations mixed in with the usual 1995 chaos.

You would be forgiven if you shut this show off based on the perfunctory Touch of Grey opener (Jerry lyrical flubs abound) that is followed by a decent Minglewood and another lyrically messy Lazy River Road.  But stick with this show through that and you’ll be rewarded with perfectly fine versions of Me and My Uncle>Big River and a set-ending Bird Song that deviates into the far reaches of space, breaking down almost completely before somehow coming back home at the end.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your entire first set.

The first half of the second set is the main course here, even if it might not look like much:  Iko Iko, Saint Of Circumstance, Way To Go Home, I Want To Tell You>Estimated Prophet.  1995 Jerry seemed to like the vibe of Iko Iko and his playing here is excited and engaged.  Saint of Circumstance, which always sounds weird as a stand-alone song, even through the Dead played it that way all the time after the last Lost Sailor in 1986, rips once the band gets up to speed.  From reading the comments, you’d think I Want To Tell You is a complete mess (see how I skipped Way to Go Home there?), but it’s actually all right and the crowd seems to enjoy it.

This brings us to Estimated Prophet, which is the clear show highlight and one of the better mid-90’s versions that I’ve heard.  Everything works here, from Bob’s vocals to the pretty significant mid-song shredding from Jerry and Phil.  If you listen to nothing else from this show, listen to this.

After this, things seem to go a little bit south, although Bob’s energy through I Need a Miracle is good and the boys make a valiant attempt at stretching out on Wharf Rat, which is sloppy but still pretty emotional as only that song can be.

In summation, this is not a bad 1995 night and it offers a couple of definite listens that should assuage the mid-90’s skeptics.   Have a gander at that Estimated Prophet (and maybe some of the other breadcrumbs) here – it’s a serviceable but not great AUD:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 23, 1969 – Seminole Indian Village, Hollywood, FL

skeleton&rosesToday’s show was the first night of the Big Rock Pow Wow, a three-day festival that also featured Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters and Sweetwater, just to name a few of the other bands.  The show has been officially released as Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 1.  According to the Dead’s official website, “‘Orange sunshine’ acid was everywhere.”

This disclaimer is important, because parts of the Dead’s festival set (not a very truncated one, either) are uneven, probably due to the “relaxed” atmosphere.  There are also some issues with Jerry’s guitar strings, which leads to some interesting passages.  Still, this is a 1969 show, so the overall quality of the playing is high.

Morning Dew is one of the clear winners today – a scorching attack on the song following a tricky Hard to Handle opener. The best part of Dark Star lies in the middle.  After the band works out some sound issues and distractions, they settle into a nice fluid pace, anchored by Tom Constanten, that winds out into a pretty nice space and some great Jerry runs before returning back to earth for St. Stephen>The Eleven.  This combination is almost always worth listening to, and today’s version is no exception.  While the playing does not reach the heights it sometimes does, we’re still in above-average territory.

The show ends with a thirty minute Lovelight.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – listening to a thirty minute Lovelight is brutal.  While it probably worked really well live, on tape, it’s problematic.  If you chopped this in half, you’d still have fifteen minutes, out of which maybe ten are exceptional.    In my opinion things really start to heat up around the twenty, twenty-two minute mark, so feel free to skip ahead.  That being said, it’s great that the Dead were able to stretch out at a festival, which they would do again the next night when they opened the show with a twenty-seven minute Lovelight.  Keep giving the people what they want.

This recording isn’t wonderful – shell out the money for the official release if this is your thing.  If you want to be cheap about it, listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 22, 1982 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

stealieI’ve talked here before about the little moments that often stand out from an average Grateful Dead show – pinpoints of brilliance that make listening to 3+ hours of sometimes similar sounding music pop.  I counted two of those moments in this show from the Greek Theater in 1982.

The first comes during the spirited Sugaree that follows Jack Straw as the one-two show opener.  This is a good Sugaree, with those repetitive Jerry Garcia runs that are a trademark of this song from this era.  But midway through this version, Jerry slows things down for a minute and the song opens up, with the space between notes acting as its own instrument and standing in contrast to the fluid sprinting that took place before.  This openness is not unusual for Sugaree in the 80’s, but on this particular Matrix the notes ring clear and true and they send shivers.

The second moment occurs much later but it involves similar use of open space in the music.  We’re going to fast forward to the end of Space, which is slowly turning into Not Fade Away.  At this point, we’re experiencing the reverse of the situation I just described.  Instead of hearing the song open up, we’re hearing Space gather slowly together, bit by bit, into the coherent, heavier song.  This often happens in Grateful Dead jams, especially at this point in the show.  But once again, the clarity of the playing, the crystalline sharpness of Jerry and Bob working their way into Not Fade Away, stands out.

Those are my favorite moments.  The rest of the show, especially the first set, is nicely played and there are some fun versions of classic songs like Cumberland Blues and Deal.  There are lots of rockers in the second set and not a ton of jamming, but if you’re interested in having a party with the Grateful Dead, this would be a good show to listen to.

It’s the 80’s, so if there is a Matrix available, I typically like to work with it.  Listen to the very nice mix here: