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: July 7, 1978 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

Dancing Skeletons

Today’s show from Red Rocks is tomorrow’s more famous show’s scrappy little brother.  The Dead play really well tonight, but unfortunately, the second set song selection gets in the way of this being a full on classic ’78 show.

The first set, however, is pure thrills throughout.  You can tell everyone is on from the first notes of the Jack Straw opener.  Candyman is fired up.  Me and My Uncle>Big River is lose and silky.  Friend of the Devil is smooth sailing.  Cassidy and Tennessee Jed are both great versions, with some excellent guitar work on Cassidy and Jerry singing his lungs out with added feeling on Tennessee Jed.  The thrilling conclusion of all of this is a red-hot The Music Never Stopped, which ends the set on an upswing.  This song is 1978 made into music – ragged, jagged, close to the edge but still mostly well-played and with some killer crescendos near the end.   You’re probably not going to find a better version of this in 1978.

The Dead still bring their A game for the second set, but the songs, other than Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, don’t allow the band to fully shine, which is why tomorrow night’s show is much more highly regarded.  Here is the setlist for tonight’s second set:  Cold Rain And Snow, Beat It On Down The Line, Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain, Dancing In The Street>Drums>Space>Not Fade Away>Black Peter>Around And Around.  And the double encore is U.S. Blues and Johnny B. Goode.  So there’s a whole lot of rockin’ going on, which must have been fun as a concert-goer, but listening now, it’s just a bunch of take-it-or-leave-it tunes and no jamming.   Contrast this with tomorrow night, where the least of the best is the Terrapin Station encore and you get the idea.

You’re not going to go wrong with the first set tonight, though.  So if you don’t have all day, just listen to that.  Here is the Matrix, which is much better than the mono-only soundboard and the distant AUD:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 14, 1978 – Giza Sound and Light Theater, Cairo, Egypt

egyptThe Grateful Dead took their whole traveling circus to Egypt in 1978 and the results were, shall we say, mixed.

I’m not going to get into too much of the background information about the Egypt shows.  If you want to hear the full story, well told, check out Phil Lesh’s book, Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead, which goes into some detail about how these performances came to be.  Suffice to say, it took a lot of work to bring the Grateful Dead into a Muslim country run by an autocratic regime, and the band was set to capitalize on the experience by filming the shows and releasing a live album culled from the performances.

As usual with the Grateful Dead, things didn’t go quite as planned.  The recordings were not well done (it took thirty years for that live album to appear as Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978) and the performances, according to the band members themselves, weren’t much better.  While everyone seems to have had a blast in Egypt and appreciated the experience, the band was not exactly playing at its best.  When it comes to today’s show, the first night of the Dead’s three night stand, it bears noting that the performance and the recording thereof were so bad that none of the material was included on the official release.  So be forewarned.

That being said, the first fifty minutes of this performance are incredible, as Egyptian musician and future Dead collaborator Hamza El-Din sets things off with a subtle performance of traditional music (known as Ollin Arrageed) that slowly builds as members of the Dead join in the playing.  This all culminates in Not Fade Away, which starts the Dead’s portion of the show proper.  This is thrilling stuff and captures an energy and a majesty that would probably be impossible to duplicate in any other setting.  If all the Dead got out of this trip was this fifty minutes of music, it would have been worth it.

Once you’ve listened through the end of Not Fade Away, just shut off the recording.  Almost everything else is a hot mess, with maybe Samson & Delilah excluded.  This isn’t just me talking – the members of the band all thought this performance wasn’t good.  Take their word for it and stay far away.  But definitely listen to that first fifty minutes of music.  It will change your day for the better.

As I said before, the sound quality here is not good.  You should listen to the Charlie Miller soundboard for the Egyptian music (ie the good part) here: 

If you’re a masochist, the best source for the rest is the audience recording, here:

Don’t listen to the soundboard past Not Fade Away – the vocals are almost non-existent (just one of many problems with the recording).


Today in Grateful Dead History: February 3, 1978 – Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

Dancing Skeletons

A healthy chunk of this show was used on Dick’s Picks #18, the Grateful Dead’s first release of 1978 material as a part of that live series, which says that the powers that be thought that this was something special.  And they’re right – today’s Dane County Coliseum show has several incredibly inspired moments, including one of the all time greatest performances of The Music Never Stopped.

If you’re not into audience recordings, you’re going to have trouble listening to this show on the Archive, since none of the first set and only parts of the second set are available on the soundboard recording.  Ditto the Dick’s Picks experience.  My advice is to spend the first couple of songs dialing in your graphic equalizer and enjoying the ride from there forward – once you get it going, this audience recording is just fine.

The first set, other than The Music Never Stopped, is a good 1978 first set, with very high quality performances of Loser and Passenger.  (Neither of these songs is on Dick’s Picks #18, by the way).  As I mentioned before, The Music Never Stopped is the best song of the first set (in fact, it’s the best song of the night).  I like this tune, but I get frustrated when the band is ripping along through the first solo portion only to collapse into a pile of garbage when the song changes direction near the end.  This doesn’t happen tonight – everyone hits their cues perfectly, which was probably quite difficult because right before that point, the Dead were locked into one of the tightest, steaming hot jams you’ve ever heard.  And it’s not just Jerry here, but everyone, together, doing what the Dead do best.  The follow up jam doesn’t disappoint either and the crowd goes crazy at the end.

The second set opens with a basic version of Good Lovin’ and then Ship of Fools is cut off halfway through.  The rest of the second set of today’s show became the second disc of Dick’s Picks #18Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>Playin’ In The Band>The Wheel>Playin’ In The Band.  This is a wild ride, but things never get completely detached or meander too far.  This works very well during Eyes of the World, which can often drift along aimlessly.  Tonight, the band is as tight and focused as it’s going to sound while playing a fifteen minute song.  Likewise, a great Playin’ in the Band is cut in half by The Wheel, which gives us a little time to catch our breaths and breaks up the “monotony” of what would have otherwise been a 30 minute Playin’ – a monster for any era, even if you judge it by 1972-74 standards.

This recording is missing the Johnny B. Goode encore, but after that second set, I don’t think anyone is going to care.

You’ll get the best parts of this show by buying Dick’s Picks #18, but if you can’t locate it or if you want the full experience, check out the audience recording here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 22, 1978 – McArthur Court, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Dancing Skeletons

This show from Eugene, Oregon is one of the more popular performances from 1978 due in large part to the second set jam between The Other One and St. Stephen that mirrors the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This is definitely a cool moment, pulling you in and holding you there as Jerry explores the outer reaches of space and Keith plays the movie’s theme behind him.  Things slowly, icily dissolve until St. Stephen roars into being, first Jerry, then Bob, then the drummers.  This St. Stephen boasts one of those epic “outros”, a swirling mass of power where everyone seems to be in perfect sync for at least a minute before the song concludes.  (Trey Anastasio has definitely listened to this solo before – it informs all sorts of future Phish jams).  And while some complain that St. Stephens from this era sound sterile compared to the totally unhinged versions from the 60’s, Jerry’s guitar tone here is so rugged that you’d be forgiven for thinking that late-60’s Garcia had been dropped into the late-70’s Dead.

So that’s the reason everyone is tuning in, but how’s the rest of the show?  Also top notch, for 1978.  The Grateful Dead are flat out thrashing tonight, with heavy versions of Tennessee Jed and Jack Straw in the first set and a full-steam-ahead Bertha>Good Lovin’ to start the second set.  The more delicate moments, like Peggy-O and Ship of Fools, also feature some nice collaborative playing.

In short, I don’t think that this show is overrated – that second set jam is a master class and the rest of the night is darn good too.  Check out the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 14, 1978 – Bakersfield Memorial Auditorium, Bakersfield, CA

Dancing Skeletons

I don’t have a lot to offer when it comes to this show.  I can tell you that none of the recordings are particularly great, audio-wise.  This soundboard, for instance, is very muddy, but it’s better than the matrix, which is not always synced up properly.

In terms of content, we’ve got a fairly normal 1978 show.  I’ve gotta say, I’ve never been a 1978 fan, but these January shows are not half bad, this show included.  Unfortunately, I can’t point to many highlights – the Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World sequence is fine and Not Fade Away gets the job done, but beyond that, we’re in fairly standard Dead territory here.

Instead of belaboring this, I’ll just give you the link and you can check things out if you want to:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 8, 1978 – Golden Hall Community Concourse, San Diego, CA

Dancing Skeletons

The Grateful Dead decided to stay put in sunny San Diego for this third and final night of Jerry’s Garcia’s beginning of 1978 laryngitis tour. (I know that the 1979 MSG show that took place today is a good one, but for the sake of wrapping up the laryngitis tour, I stayed here in 1978.  We’ll do MSG next year).

As I’ve discussed previously, Jerry’s voice gave out in the middle of the January 6th show in San Bernardino and he didn’t sing any songs at all during last night’s affair here in San Diego.  Jerry doesn’t do any singing tonight either, giving us a second night in a row of the Bob Weir Experience featuring Jerry Garcia on lead guitar.

I don’t know if it’s just the better (for the most part) recording quality, but, on the shorter numbers (not the jams), the Dead seem sharper tonight than last night.  You can hear a good example of this on Jack Straw, which they played on both nights.  Tonight’s version just has more oomph.   Supplication also rocks out hard, Truckin’ has got a boost to it and Sugar Magnolia seems to go on forever.

The problem, if you want to compare this night to last night, is the aforementioned jamming, which was being pulled off in high style yesterday but tonight seems to just kind of meander along.  The Other One does go to some interesting places during the last third of the song, but we don’t get the same weirdness we heard yesterday.  All things considered, this is ok – compared to later on in 1978, this show kicks ass, even without Jerry singing.

Check out the soundboard recording here: