Today in Grateful Dead History: August 31, 1985 – Manor Downs, Austin, TX

dancing-bear After dragging a slowly decomposing Jerry Garcia up a 7,000 foot ski mountain last week, the Dead thought it would be a good idea to come back down to sea level and spend a few days in Texas, where the 100 degree heat in Austin probably did wonders for Jerry’s condition.  (I’m sure that I’m ripping this joke off from Thoughts on the Dead, or his comment section, but, for the life of me, I can’t find the specific post to link to, so I’m going to credit him anyway).  In any event, the boys don’t play poorly today, they just don’t play for very long, making this a below average show from 1985.

The first set passes without much to discuss.  The commentators on the Archive think that the set-closing Let It Grow is good, but it’s pretty ho-hum to me.  Jack-A-Roe does make a very unusual appearance here, one of only two performances during the year and the last until December, 1988.  But there’s not a ton going on during that song on the best of days, and this is not the best of days.

The second set opens with my favorite kind of Terrapin Station, a relatively short one.  From there, we get a standard Estimated Prophet, but right when you think that the Dead might be picking up steam, with a strange ending that doesn’t really belong to any particular song whatsoever, we bump into Drums.  After two songs.  So you just know that the boys didn’t want to be anywhere near that stage, which is confirmed when Space ends and we get Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad by way of explanation.  Like Estimated Prophet, Stella Blue sounds like it might grant us one of those miracle summer night closing solos of bliss, but Bob hijacks things and steers the band into Throwing Stones.  No one on stage seems to mind and they tip it over to Not Fade Away and that’s that.  The She Belongs To Me encore, a rare Dylan song that only got played in 1985, is gorgeous, so we’ve got that going for us.  In fact, I’m calling it the highlight of the night, and when the encore is the highlight, you know you can probably skip this show.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 30, 1978 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

Dancing Skeletons

Today’s show is a very interesting performance from Red Rocks in 1978.  As you might know, the Dead already played two shows at Red Rocks back in July, so the return trip only a month later was quite unusual.  According to Bill Kreutzmann, the Dead scheduled these shows, and especially the one-off Giants Stadium show on September 2nd, in order to warm up for (and finance) the band’s trip to Egypt a couple of weeks later.  Of course, Billy broke his hand before this set of shows and decided to treat it with excessive doses of painkillers and nothing else, so the drumming is more than a little compromised.  In addition, the only complete copy of this show on the Archive is a very average quality audience tape – the soundboard exists, but only for the second set.

So why is a half audience / half soundboard recording of a warm up show featuring a drummer with a broken hand in my least favorite year of the 70’s an interesting show?  Because there are three first-time performances today – Stagger Lee, I Need a Miracle and a very rare (as in three times played, total, rare) If I Had The World to Give.  Chew on that.

Let’s start with Stagger Lee.  The Dead played this song quite a bit over the next couple of years, only to set it aside until the mid-80’s when it re-entered the rotation for good.  Lyrically, it’s another side of an old story about the (likely) fictional murder of a man named Billy Lyons after he stole the title character’s hat.  Of course, this being a Robert Hunter song, he changes the story around, having Billy’s lover, Delia, shoot Stagger Lee in the balls and drag him to jail to be hung since the police are too scared to do it themselves.  It’s a fun song.  At tonight’s debut performance, the Dead rip into this one like they own it – Jerry fairly growls the lyrics as we go on and the guitar playing is great.  They’ll play better versions of Stagger Lee in the future, but not necessarily with this kind of feeling.

Stagger Lee falls in the middle of a pedestrian first set.  Looking at it on paper, you’ll probably be excited by the 18 minute Sugaree.  Don’t be.  No one is paying much attention during this incredibly long, drawn out mess of a song.  Even the set-ending Deal, which usually cooks in this position, is messy.  Blame Billy for all I care, just don’t expect much.

The second set is a slightly different matter, and it opens with our second premiere of the night, I Need a Miracle.  I Need a Miracle is not a great song by any stretch of the imagination, but, because it is a Bob Weir song and there are fewer Bob Weir songs in the Grateful Dead’s rotation, it got played at lot – 272 times from now until 1995.  The most important thing about I Need a Miracle is probably its introduction into the Deadhead lexicon as a term of art when a ticketless fan needed a freebie to get into a show.  So I wasn’t all that excited to hear this one kick off the second set.  However, tonight’s first version of the song is a good one to hear because of two things.  First, Donna’s background vocals are strong.  Second, and more importantly, since the band doesn’t seem to have a clue how to end the song, they just groove on it for an unusually long time, giving Jerry lots of room to tear off solos.  This is a good thing.  At some point, the song actually sounds like it’s going to transition into Truckin’ (which, by the way, it never once did across the next 271 performances, even though, musically, that makes a lot of sense), but it never gets there.  Still, this one is worth a listen for the historical value.

The second set rolls along with a very bright Brown Eyed Women until Jerry forgets a verse after a nice long solo and steamrolls right into the bridge, throwing the whole band off.  No matter, from there we’re into a very nice combination – Estimated Prophet>The Other One>Eyes of the World.  Estimated>Eyes is a pretty standard pairing, but the addition of The Other One in the middle turns this into a special piece, and The Other One is definitely the meat of the sandwich, with a great lead-in and some superb interaction in the middle.  You even hear Phil, which has been a problem throughout this show.

After Drums/Space, we arrive at the most historically significant song of the night, the world premiere of If I Had the World to Give.  This deep cut would only be played on two other nights, both in 1978, so this is a rarity indeed.  Once again (probably because they were in the middle of the recording sessions for it while these shows took place), the band nails this song.  If you’re not familiar with this tune, it’s definitely a keeper, an honest to god love song, sung by Jerry, which is unusual.  Musically, it’s pretty gorgeous, save the two short breakdowns that sound like they were pulled from Shakedown Street (the song) and plopped into it for no good reason.  There are two key solo passages, a sharp bridge solo and the concluding piece, which features some incredibly high speed fanning.  Since you’re probably not going to hear it live again, listen to it twice here.

Since the mood is pretty mellow at this point, the move into Iko Iko is subdued.  In fact, the Dead sound like Little Feat on Quaaludes, which shouldn’t be all that surprising since Lowell George was producing Shakedown Street, the album they were recording around this time.  But if you like slow burning Iko Iko’s, you’ll dig this.  The show concludes with Around and Around (Donna’s entrance is pretty savage) and a U.S. Blues encore.  Standard stuff.

Wow – when I started the day, I didn’t think I’d write 1,000 words on a casual show from 1978.  It goes to show, you never can tell.

Listen to the audience recording for the first set:

and switch to the soundboard for the second:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 29, 1969 – Family Dog at the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThe Family Dog was a small room in San Francisco that hosted 17 Grateful Dead shows over the course of nine months from August 1969 through April 1970.  The intimate vibe and hometown surroundings usually brought out interesting moments from the band, and while most of these shows aren’t the tightest of performances, they are a nice snapshot of the Dead on the cusp of a significant transition from psychedelic blues monsters to something much more nuanced.

There’s not a lot of nuance here, though.  Opening with an early version of Casey Jones and then moving into a powerful take on a brand new Easy Wind, the Dead have brought the power to this performance.  Jerry’s playing on Easy Wind, which was always a massive soloing vehicle, is already well developed here, even though this was only the third live performance of the tune.  A few songs later and we hear a couple of first time performances – New Orleans>Searchin’.  I don’t know the origin of New Orleans (try typing “New Orleans (song)” into Google and see what happens), but Searchin’ was a huge hit for the Coasters and the Dead cover both songs, which sound very similar, with gusto. Searchin’ leads into a trainwreck of a transition into Good Lovin’, with Jerry singing lead vocals, something I don’t recall hearing before or after (which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen).   An up-tempo, late 60’s Dire Wolf brings things into a folky vein for a minute before Pigpen rips the roof off on I’m a King Bee and the band follows up with a 30 minute Turn on Your Lovelight to close the night.

A couple of short musical notes about this show.  First, Tom Constanten’s organ is actually audible tonight, which is unusual and interesting to hear.  He definitely approaches things a little differently than the Pig.  Also, the drummers are well-miked, except at one point about 17 minutes into Lovelight when the crash cymbals really overwhelm everything else (and they’re definitely not keeping perfect time).  Be prepared.  Finally, the notes on the Archive hint at additional songs from this performance, but they appear to belong to tomorrow night’s show at the same venue, so if you came here looking for Dark Star, you’re in the wrong place.  Maybe tomorrow . . .

Listen here: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 28, 1981 – Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA

dancing-bearLike many a good Grateful Dead show, I stumbled across this one during my travels through the always excellent Grateful Dead Listening Guide.  Please check out his post for another take on this show.

The reason that this show ended up on the Listening Guide in the first place is that it is, in fact, a very good 1981 Grateful Dead concert, from the beginning through the post-Drums/Space Truckin’.  From there, you’ve got a decent Wharf Rat and the standard rockers.

The pre-Drums second set is where most of the action is set, including a very solid Shakedown Street to open the set and a Wheel that morphs into Brent’s slow blues Never Trust a Woman and back again with some beautiful flourishes along the way.  Brent, in general, is a major player during today’s show, nowhere more so than during this entire sequence, where he layers feelings both vocal and instrumental throughout the songs as they segue together.

The other major nugget comes at the conclusion of the first set, with a tremendous Let It Grow flowing into a surprise China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider to end the set.  Jerry’s tone throughout these proceedings is stellar and the band lets it rip on the fast-moving China>Rider, driving through the transition with force.  Sometimes it seems like Jerry can’t get the ideas out fast enough, but this is a really solid trip through some great material, and the sound is perfectly balanced.

There are other good songs in the first set, like the rugged and raw Althea and Little Red Rooster, but the forceful stuff takes place between Let It Grow and Drums.  Enjoy this tour through 1981’s bounty.

Although the audience recording of this show is fantastic, I still prefer the Matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 25, 1993 – Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

dancing-bearI’m one of those people who actually likes Jerry Garcia’s late-era guitar tone, a haunting, processed, pseudo-acoustic vibration that cuts right to the bone.  (Critics will rightly point to the “pseudo” as their ultimate reason for hating this sound).  But for me, it works.  Unfortunately, the rest of the 1993 Grateful Dead played instruments that didn’t sound anything like this, which makes Jerry sound like the guy playing a very loud classical guitar while Metallica grinds in the background.  And on a night when Jerry isn’t perfectly in-sync with his bandmates (like tonight and many other nights to come), the tonal differences within the band create tension and ultimately make everything sound even sloppier than it probably should.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I didn’t really enjoy this show.  The first set is pretty short (not unusual in 1993 land) and the only tune I found even faintly compelling was So Many Roads, which Jerry truly steps into, like he often did in these later years.  The rest is a jumble.

The second set begins with a 24 minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  No one in the band seems to be listening to each other, and while there is plenty of soloing, I think that it falls on the linguine side of the noodling spectrum.  Estimated Prophet is another one of those 90’s cool-jazz versions, again with lots of noodling, mostly from Vince.  Following this, we’ve got an 18 minute Terrapin Station.  If you thought that the first three songs of the set were repetitive, wait until you get to this one . . . 18 minutes of Terrapin . . . In 1993 . . . 18 minutes of Terrapin . . . In 1993 . . . Out of Drums/Space, All Along the Watchtower sounds like it might turn into something good, with a neat little Jerry riff leading into the main body of the song, but when the band comes in, yeesh.

Yup, it’s one of those nights . . . Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 24, 1985 – Boreal Ridge Ski Resort, Donner’s Summit, CA

dancing-bear Sorry for missing the last few days – hectic work schedules sometimes intrude on this fantasy world.  Keep your day jooooob!

Today’s show is a legendary boondoggle that always pops up on the “worst of” lists of Grateful Dead shows.  So I’ll dispense with the history lesson and get this out of the way right now  – this recording is not nearly as bad as its reputation.  I think that many of the problems associated with this show had to do with the experience at the performance itself – the heat, the horrible stage setup, the crappy sound, the lackluster performance, etc.  But on tape, things are much easier to deal with.

This doesn’t mean that this is a four star performance by the Grateful Dead.  The drums are out of sync for much of the show (even if Mickey and Billy are banging the hell out of them), Jerry’s voice is terrible, and Bob’s guitar is busted up.  Still, songs that garner a lot of negative attention on the Archive’s comment section, like Friend of the Devil, actually sound quite fine (until the trainwreck of an ending).  The same can’t be said for Hell in a Bucket, which is legitimately terrible today.  But China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is pretty decent and so is the very fast Truckin’.  The encore is the Dead’s final performance of Day Tripper (presumably selected because the whole show was played during the day), and when you hear it, you’ll know why it was retired.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 21, 1968 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesHow do you properly evaluate a Grateful Dead show from 1968 when they often played the same bunch of songs (give or take a few) every night at a consistently amazing level?  Well, I guess you can tell a bad 1968 show if you hear one, but, at least so far as it comes to this site, I’ve never heard a bad one.  I’ve never even heard a mediocre show from 1968.  They’re either otherworldly or really, really good.  This one is otherworldly.

The whole show is one big highlight reel – there aren’t any clunky moments at all.  Certain instruments stand out today – Phil, Jerry and the drummers in particular – especially the drummers, who are dialed into some other realm from the moment the recording kicks off, midway through Cryptical Envelopment.  The drumming in the brilliant Alligator is also ferocious, and what to say about where Jerry goes during that song?  You’ve got to figure it out for yourselves because my description ain’t going to work.  Phil, meanwhile, is everywhere, doing everything.

And this is only the first part of the show.  The second set has a gooey Dark Star (we had to listen to Dark Star on a day with a total American eclipse) and a St. Stephen>The Eleven that will melt your face, especially The Eleven.  Just when you think things can’t get any more intense, Jerry lowers the boom with a skull-burning Death Don’t Have No Mercy, and then it’s time for Pigpen.  And oh boy, do the boys let it rip behind Pigpen tonight, with a huge Lovelight (truncated on the tape, unfortunately) and an In The Midnight Hour encore that really brings Bob Weir’s guitar front and center for a time, which is unusual in 1968 recordings.

This is the real deal – play it loud: