Today in Grateful Dead History: June 22, 1969 – Central Park, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesIf you’re not tolerant of audience recordings, then you’d might as well skip today’s free concert from Central Park in New York City, because the recording of this show is sub-standard.  However, if you’re willing to listen through the hiss and the muck, you’re in for a nice treat – a powerful, dynamic performance by the Grateful Dead at the height of their psychedelic powers.

The actual playlist for this show is as murky as the recording itself – Deadbase says one thing, Deadlists says another.  But this audience recording (which was rearranged to match Deadlist) holds itself out as the complete version in the correct order, so accept that at your own risk.

Oddly, this show could also be the live debut of Casey Jones.  Why do I say could?  Because Deadbase lists June 20th as the debut, and Deadlists is non-committal.  Assuming that Deadbase is correct, this would be the second performance of this classic song, and, in that case, it’s worth hearing in full since it starts from a full out jam that doesn’t morph into Casey Jones proper for several minutes.  In addition, the rhythm of the song differs dramatically from what it would become, making this performance a relatively rare and raw version.

The Dead also play a couple of real rarities today – one of ten Silver Threads and Golden Needles (with Jerry on peddle steel) and one of twelve It’s a Sin.  Both of these aren’t perfect performances, but rarities are rarities, and, in the case of It’s a Sin, the song is stuck into St. Stephen right before the jam usually explodes, so don’t expect much there.  It’s also cool to hear Jerry sing the blues – he didn’t do it enough with the Dead.

If you’re searching for the power in today’s performance, you’ll find it in the heavy jams on Dancin’ in the Streets and The Other One.  These are both really strong efforts, if a little messy.  The show-closing Turn on Your Lovelight goes pretty far out and gets pretty loose, but hey, the Dead are playing to a free crowd in Central Park, so why not?

Once your ears get used to the audio, I think that you’ll enjoy what’s going on here.  But it definitely takes getting used to.  (If you don’t want your cubicle mates to hear a bunch of cursing, keep the volume low at the start – New Yorkers don’t like it when people get in their way, as you’ll hear loud and clear).  Listen to this unique performance in all its ragged glory here: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 20, 1980 – West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK

Dancing Skeletons

It’s day two of our Alaska journey here at the Daily Dose, and tonight’s show is a notable improvement over yesterday’s warm up.

For starters, the recording, a Matrix, is much better than any of the other offerings out there – on the soundboard recordings, the vocals are too high in the mix and the audience is a little muddy.  So this is the best of both worlds.

Second, the band’s energy is up.  The Jack Straw>Franklin’s Tower opener cooks.  Now, Franklin’s Tower isn’t going to win any awards tonight, but it’s still a zinger through and through.  Ditto the Bob Weir cowboy tunes that follow before we get a casual Friend of the Devil.   At this point, the show takes a dramatic left turn, with an unusual mid-set Let It Grow>Althea combination.  Everyone gives it their all on this Let It Grow and Althea, while not as good as yesterday, is still Althea and therefore almost always worth hearing.  Things meander a little from here until a slightly ragged Deal ends the first set.

The second set contains the meat of this show, but not before the upbeat set opening combo of Alabama Getaway>Greatest Story Ever Told and a great Ship of Fools with a two round melodic solo from Jerry.  Now that everyone is limbered up, the boys dive deep into Estimated Prophet>The Other One.  As far as I can tell, this is the last time that the band ever played this sequence, after visiting it occasionally between 1977 and 1980, and they really let us have it, with an intense, fire-breathing Estimated and a short but oh so sweet The Other One that hits all of the good notes right off the bat during the transition and doesn’t let up for five solid minutes of improvisational glory.

After Drums and a good Space, the band seems to want to let things rock, and they do so with gusto, playing a bunch of the expected rockers plus an up-tempo version of Black Peter.  The Don’t Ease Me In encore completes the party.

Tomorrow is the solstice and the final show of this little run.  But for now, listen to this fun night in Anchorage here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 19, 1980 – West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK

Dancing Skeletons

Today is the first in a series of three concerts that the Grateful Dead played in a 2,000 seat high school auditorium in Anchorage, Alaska in 1980.  Now keep in mind, the band’s previous three shows took place at the Portland Memorial Coliseum (13,000 seats), the Seattle Center Coliseum (15,000 seats) and the Spokane Coliseum (8,500 seats), so it’s not like they were playing nightclubs during the summer of 1980.  So how did the Dead find their way up to a high school in Anchorage for three nights in front of a combined audience that didn’t equal the crowd in Spokane?  That, like many things about the Grateful Dead, remains spectacularly unclear.  (Although this article does set the scene pretty well).  Suffice it to say, the Dead’s only Alaska concerts make for an interesting story and for some good 1980 listening.

Today’s show is, in my opinion, the weakest of the three nights, but it’s still a fun show.  There are a couple of unusual second set quirks here.  First, we have one of five second set Peggy-O’s ever played out of a total of 264 performances of the song (not counting the ones that were played during the first electric set, and therefore the second overall set, of the three-set acoustic/electric shows in the fall of 1980), and it’s a good version with a sparkling Jerry solo.  We also have one of only 11 second set C.C. Riders out of a total of 127 played.  This one is also interesting, with Brent leading the way.  So, strange things were in the air in Alaska.

The rest of the night is straightforward 1980 Grateful Dead with minimal jamming.  There is some cool soloing on The Music Never Stopped to close the first set, and Jerry rocks on Althea, as usual, but, beyond that, things are pretty dialed down tonight.  Sound problems mar China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, and everything else in the second set is pretty blase, except for the playing near the end of Wharf Rat, which is good.  But if you think of this as the warmup night, you can catch snippets of where we’ll be going later on in the week.

Till then, listen to the soundboard (with many patches) here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 15, 1995 – Franklin County Airport, Highgate, VT

dancing-bear In the “essay” I wrote in the “About” section of this site, I said:

[W]hat I’m generally aiming for here, is an actual discussion of the music, as recorded.  This means that sometimes I do have to comment on recording quality, like when important parts of songs are missing or where the only available recording stinks.  I’ll also touch on the band’s history, or the circumstances surrounding the show, when necessary to explain why things sound like they do.

I’m going to violate that rule at the end of this review, so if you don’t want to read the rant, please skip the part after the link to the show.  But before we get to the ranting, I’d like to say that although this show is almost universally loathed, the playing is not nearly as bad as it would become over the next month.  Things start sloppy with Touch of Grey and don’t improve much until Ramble on Rose, which is not bad. Black Throated Wind and Loose Lucy at least have some energy, as does the set-ending Promised Land.

The second set starts with the ironic Here Comes Sunshine (an upbeat song at a mess of a show).  Later on, we get a new song – the debut of Rollin’ and Tumblin’.  This is a very old blues tune that traces its roots to the late 1920’s, more than 20 years before Muddy Waters recorded what is probably the most well-known version in 1950.  You’ll notice immediately that the Dead have been playing this tune since the 60’s – they just changed the words and called it Minglewood.  Here, they have a go at the original, but Jerry is singing lead and he can’t remember any of the lyrics, which makes things go downhill quickly.  The rest of the night, other than a pretty version of He’s Gone right before Drums and a sentimental Standing on the Moon, is no better, however the Liberty encore is pretty cool.  But, to reiterate, if you just read the reviews, you’d think that, musically, this was the worst Dead show ever, and it’s not even close.  That doesn’t mean that you have to sit through the whole thing.

The audience tape from this show is well recorded – at points, you forget that it’s an AUD.  (Say what you want about 1995, but the quality of the audience tapes is really, really good in general).  Listen here:

So, having talked about the music, now we have to talk about the scene, because this show is always cited as the beginning of the tour of doom that included lightning strikes in Washington, death threats against Jerry at Deer Creek and ended with Jerry dying shortly thereafter.  If you read the comments on the Archive, you’re going to learn, in painful detail, exactly what was wrong at these shows – people who didn’t care about the music showing up just to cause trouble, gate crashing, folks arriving en mass with no tickets and no plans, ridiculous quantities of drugs and alcohol being ingested by people who couldn’t handle them.  It’s all right there in the comments section, written by people who sound like they still don’t care about what they did.

As I’ve said here before, I’m too young to have seen the Dead live in their heyday – my only in-person show was a few days after this one, at Giants Stadium.  I wasn’t that interested in the music when I attended that concert – I went, as a music fan first and foremost, to hear the Dead but also to check out the “scene”.  It was depressing.  As an outsider, I had developed a picture of a Dead show as a kind of hippie nirvana, a shining holdout from the glorious 60’s.  Instead, the vibe was nasty and clearly out of control.  This Highgate show was just the most obvious example of the problem.  And the worst part about all of these shenanigans is that Jerry was literally killing himself to keep the Grateful Dead on the road, not only to feed the massive army of Dead employees that needed the band for support, but because a ton of the people who showed up at these shows actually really loved the music and wanted to hear the band and he didn’t want to disappoint them.

Anyway, that’s all history now, and if you listen to this show without knowing the background, you would wonder what all of the negativity surrounding Highgate is all about.  But once you know, you won’t hear the music the same way again.

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 14, 1985 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bear The Dead opened their three day 1985 run at the Greek with this show that featured several revived tunes and a new one.

Sound problems plague the first part of this show, so much so that the boys actually stopped for a while midway through the first set to clear things up.  When they came back, they premiered their version of Derek and the Dominos’ Keep on Growing.  Like many first time Dead covers, this one is sloppy, but Jerry plays a really nice solo midway through that makes up for the ragged edges.  This transitions into Stagger Lee, which hadn’t been played since August 1982.  Unlike Keep on Growing, the band nails this one with gusto – it’s their tune (more or less) after all.  From there, we’re off to the races with Let It Grow>Deal, a great way to end a set.

After the break, things get real interesting real quick with a set opening Morning Dew that brings the crowd to attention.  Jerry rips into this one and the rest of the band trails happily along with him right into a fine Playin’ in the Band>China Doll.  Check out the delicate little repetitive sequence at the end of China Doll that will warm your heart.  Drums and Space follow, with some interesting jamming during Drums with Brent, Billy and Mickey playing tag around The Other One without actually playing it.  Truckin’ appears post Space and eventually merges into Smokestack Lightning, a tune I’ve always enjoyed hearing Bob sing.  This sounds like it’s going to move into Wharf Rat (Brent in particular goes in that direction), but instead Jerry pulls a left turn and we get the first Comes a Time in almost five years.  Although the beginning is messy, the ending is great, which leads to worries when the first notes of Sugar Magnolia take shape.  No need to worry tonight – this is a great version, a smoker with awesome energy and playing.  Brent even starts yipping and yawing half way through, causing Bob to crack up.  The encore – Keep Your Daaaaaaay Job!  Not on your life.

The band had sound problems all night, and this matrix doesn’t really hide them.  But you still should listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 13, 1984 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

terrapinIf you were going to graph standout Grateful Dead shows from 1983 through 1988, you’d draw a lopsided bowl with a ragged edge on the right, with things getting progressively worse from 1983 through 1986 and then rebounding in 1987 through an uneven 1988.  1983 and 1984, in particular, strike me as the “mailed it in” years, with not a lot of spectacular playing but not a lot of terrible nights either, although 1983 certainly has its share of good shows.  So when I listen to a show from 1984, I’m always on the lookout for a transcendent moment to rise above the crop of typically short, standard tunes.

Those moments are fleeting on this rainy night in Colorado, but they do arrive, briefly, in the second set when The Wheel emerges out of Space and then, after a pause for I Need a Miracle, when Stella Blue shines like a beacon in the night.

The Wheel is one of those tunes that sounds like it was built for the transition from something else, since it can ramp up from a thousand different directions.  Tonight, Space congeals into this pretty version, slowly but surely gaining ground until the song is upon us.  This little passage, like many of these Wheel transitions, is great.  The rest of the tune is fine two.

Stella Blue is pitch-perfect tonight, especially the delicate soloing near the end as Jerry weaves his spell.  According to the Archive, after a very wet first set, the sky cleared during the second half of the show, and these haunting notes must have been stunning to hear on a clear Colorado summer night.

Everything else tonight, as usual for 1984, is just fine, but nothing stands out.  The sets are short and the only portion of the show that could charitably be called a jam comes during the last five minutes of Let It Grow.  But hey, the boys were drenched and doing their best, right?  Right.

Listen to this sub-par soundboard (the recording quality is sub-par, not the show) here: