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:


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