Today in Grateful Dead History: December 21, 1978 – The Summit, Houston, TX

Dancing Skeletons

Today is the penultimate show on the Grateful Dead’s 1978 southern tour, and, like its brethren, it’s a good one, even if the band isn’t taking things to the limit.

The first set has some very good playing – Peggy-O is amazing and Passenger is at its high-flying best.  Jerry Garcia is playing hot tonight, and, on this very muddy audience tape, his interaction with Bob Weir is about all you’re going to glean from the murk.  While the sound quality is annoying, this allows us to hear how Bob’s complimentary playing really allowed Jerry to pull out all of the stops.  Bob never gets in the way (even on slide), and Jerry works around Bob’s quirky chords like the two guitarists are one player.  It’s interesting to hear.

The second set opens with I Need A Miracle>Bertha>Good Lovin’, which is a ton of rocking to start the second set.  The jamming follows in the form of a beautiful Terrapin Station (like the Dead’s show in Birmingham earlier on this tour, the best parts of tonight’s Terrapin come prior to the “inspiration” section, but tonight the playing at the end of  Terrapin seems a little better) and a great Playin’ in the Band which is missing what seems to be a small section.  Like the other songs tonight, this one is all about Jerry and Bob, who seem to be dialed in and loving life.  After Drums (no Space, yet), we hear a very solid Black Peter.  This is one of those songs that I never skip but I never seem to really get that into, either.  Tonight, Jerry is singing along with his blues solo at the end, thoroughly engrossed in the music and driving things down into that swampy, dirty blues feeling that the late-70’s Dead almost never created.  It’s here to tonight and it deserves your attention.  This devolves back into Playin’ in the Band, but the end of the song is cut.

So, now I’ve reviewed four of the Dead’s shows from this southern swing, and they have all been good to very good performances in a year that is very hit or miss.  You can definitely feel this energy carry over into 1979, a really fun year for Dead shows and, in my opinion, a significant improvement over most of 1978.  But as this project has shown me time and again, you can’t ever make any definitive statements about this band – just when you think you understand them, you get four great shows from December, 1978 to set you straight.

As I said earlier, this audience recording is not great, it’s missing a couple of songs and there are problematic cuts in a few others.  But it’s worth the ride – just play around with the EQ to get things where you want them:


Today in Grateful Dead History: December 15, 1978 – Boutwell Auditorium, Birmingham, AL

Dancing Skeletons

Longtime readers of this site know that 1978 is by far my least favorite year of the 70’s.  However, I really liked tomorrow’s 1978 show from Nashville, so I figured that maybe the boys were on a hot streak during this part of the tour and I gave today’s show a shot.  (It was also cool to listen to a very rare Alabama show during this week in politics).  Well, the stars aligned and the Dead, in Donna Jean’s backyard, provided a warm bit of music for a cold cold day here in the Northeast.

This is not a very exploratory show – the songs don’t stretch out much.  But the band plays well and there are some thoughtful bits of music throughout the night and the energy doesn’t flag.

My favorite part of the show comes during Terrapin Station, which is thankfully not an excessively long version.  In this case, Jerry busts out a gorgeous solo prior to the transition into the “inspiration move me brightly” portion of the tune.  It’s unexpectedly moving.  Jerry’s not done with the poignant playing, either.  During Stella Blue, he delivers a perfect closing solo that just shreds the audience.  It’s worthy of hearing twice.

Hidden here is an interesting Playin’ in the Band sandwich, which starts six songs in to the second set, after Terrapin Station, and concludes at the end of the set after Stella and a rocking Truckin’ (plus Drums / Space).  I had almost forgotten that the band didn’t finish the song when they came back to it, and Jerry and Phil tease around a bit before bringing us to the final conclusion. It’s a neat trick that would turn up more and more during the 80’s and 90’s.

In terms of the shorter songs, the big surprise of the evening is how good I Need a Miracle sounds.  I’ve noticed this before about this song in 1978 – it’s still new and the band seems to enjoy riffing on it.  (This would change).  But, for now, enjoy the fireworks as it opens the second set.  Brown Eyed Women is also good tonight, anchoring a first set that opens with Promised Land (and its shout-out to downtown Birmingham) followed by a mellow Shakedown Street.  The boys even let Donna do her thing in front of the hometown crowd with From the Heart of Me.  It’s not a good song (the performance tonight is fine, as far as it goes), but it’s nice to hear her get the chance to sing in Alabama shortly before she would leave the band.

Well, the Grateful Dead have gone 2 for 2 on this 1978 southern tour.  Hopefully there will be more fun in store during the rest of it.

There’s only an audience recording of this show available – if you play with the EQ, it’s going to be fine, but the levels definitely move around a lot:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 17, 1978 – Rambler Room, Loyola College & Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

Today is a first for me – I get to review two shows from the same day.

The first is the “Grateful Dead’s” benefit acoustic performance at Loyola University’s Rambler Room in the afternoon before the band’s nighttime show at the Uptown Theater.  I put Grateful Dead in quotations here because the band was billed as Bob Weir and Friends and Billy, Keith and Donna weren’t there.  But if Jerry, Bob, Phil and Mickey are playing together, then we’re going to talk about it anyway.

I came across this recording years ago and always liked it – it’s a short and sweet acoustic performance in front of a very small crowd in 1978, which makes it highly unusual.  The song selection is also very eclectic – there are a few songs the Dead had never played before and wouldn’t play again (Whinin’ Boy Blues, Tom Dooley and KC Moan, for example) and there are a few tunes that had been retired for years and would be resurrected during the 1980 acoustic / electric shows (Deep Elem Blues and Dark Hollow).  On top of that, we’ve got Stagger Lee (which they played at the Uptown Theater the night before and the night after), Oh Boy, a great Buddy Holly tune that the Dead should have played more often, and the debut of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, which the boys wouldn’t break out again until 1987, when it would become a fairly standard encore song.

Let’s be clear – this is not a pristine performance.  The sound quality is pretty bad and they’re not playing perfectly, but it’s fantastic to hear the band loose and live, playing on acoustic instruments for the first time in years.  It’s also interesting to hear how the arrangements of the songs changed just a little bit between here and 1980.  We’re also missing a piano.  But putting all that aside, this is a fun part of any Dead fan’s collection of shows.

After playing the Rambler Room, the Dead moved back to the Uptown Theater for the full band’s electric performance.  Unfortunately, there is no complete recording of this show – we’ve got Shakedown Street and Cassidy from the first set and the entire second set, almost all on a very, very distant, muddy audience recording.  The upside is that the band actually plays pretty well on the recording that we have.  There is a good Ship of Fools, and the Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World>Drums>Space>Terrapin Station sequence is surprisingly good (especially Estimated Prophet) considering the uneven nature of the other two shows from this run.  It makes one long for the full show on soundboard, which is not something I say very often about shows from 1978.

You can hear the full acoustic show at the Rambler Room here:

Shakedown Street and the entire 2nd set of the Uptown Theater show reside here on the audience recording:

Cassidy, Bertha, Ship of Fools and Estimated Prophet (all of which, save Cassidy, are on the AUD), can be heard on a soundboard 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: 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: