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: https://archive.org/details/gd78-08-30.aud.wiley.11479.sbeok.shnf/gd78-08-30d1t06.shn
and switch to the soundboard for the second: https://archive.org/details/gd78-08-30.set2-sbd.barbella.8038.sbeok.shnf