Today in Grateful Dead History: February 1, 1978 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

We’re back in Chicago in 1978 for the last night of the Grateful Dead’s three night run at the Uptown Theater and, much like the first night, the band is playing well this evening.  This short show features a killer Sugaree and a very interesting second set jam into The Other One that provide plenty of interesting listening between the other well-played tunes.

Most surprisingly, tonight’s version of Sunrise is one of the best I’ve heard.  Now, I know some folks’ feelings about Donna Jean, so I’m not going to jump into the deep end of the pool and pronounce her the greatest singer until Whitney Houston, but I think that you might actually have a pleasant experience with this one.  Just try it, that’s all.

No one’s going to argue with this Sugaree – good God, it’s a nice one.  The real fireworks come about halfway through when Jerry uncorks a monster solo that just keeps going and going, but this works really well tonight because the rest of the band’s energy syncs up with his – there’s a lot of power here.

The second set is fairly mellow, but coming out of Drums things start to coalesce around The Other One theme without moving quickly into the song.  The drama builds as Phil thunders around the room and the drummers loop back and forth.  Jerry and Bob play with several variations on this theme until eventually we take the plunge and launch into The Other One, which steamrolls through the theater, taking no prisoners.  I’m not always into 1977 and 1978 versions of this song – I think the band tends to get lost in it more often than not – but here they’re focused and on point throughout the entire thing.  It’s a good one.  When this wraps up there is a pretty transition into Wharf Rat, which slows things down measurably before the inevitable rocking and rolling of Sugar Magnolia and the Around and Around encore.

This little run of shows in Chicago is pretty tight, and the magic continues as the band makes its way up to Wisconsin and down to Iowa in a couple of days.  Hang on!

Listen to the patched soundboard here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: January 30, 1978 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

Dancing Skeletons

As some of you long-time readers may know, I listen to almost all of these shows on desktop speakers during the work day.  I fully acknowledge that this is not a great way to experience this music.  In fact, it’s probably one of the worst ways to take in the Grateful Dead, but it’s the method I’ve got and I’m eternally Grateful that I have the opportunity to listen to music in the workplace at all.  That being said, on certain occasions I’m able to plug in the headphones and really tune in to a show, and when that happens, it’s like the fog pulls back and everything becomes incredibly clear.  Or, to borrow a taper analogy, it’s like going from a 5th generation recording to a 1st – everything just pops out.

I’m explaining this to you because today I was lucky enough to switch from crummy speakers to headphones right before Estimated Prophet, and when the “chorus” (or is it a bridge?) kicked in, the power and the coordination of this band brought tears to my eyes.  There was a force to this song which obviously exists on many versions, but it was powerful to be able to hear it in all of its brilliance after hundreds of listens through tin-can speakers at low volume.  And the same could be said for the rest of this show from one of the great venues, Chicago’s Uptown Theater.

For instance, Peggy-O is not a classic version, but hearing Bob Weir play his staccato ramblings behind Jerry’s tale of woe was tremendous.  (After finishing the show, I went back to the beginning to hear the whole thing on headphones).  Looks Like Rain is much the same – pure Bob all over the place.

But for me, the most interesting musical moment of the night takes place late in the second set, when the band plays a spectacular version of Stella Blue and then shifts, very confidently, into Franklin’s Tower.  Not only is the late-blooming Franklin’s Tower unusual, but the Stella>Franklin’s pairing is unique – the Dead never did this before and they aren’t going to do it again.  After killing the transition, the usual Grateful Dead being the Grateful Dead shenanigans take place and equipment problems threaten to derail the whole song, with Jerry laughing through it.  However, with around three minutes to go, the crew irons things out, and, as if to reward the fans for putting up with the weird glitches, the boys rear back and deliver a tremendous blast of energy during the last part of the song, playing so loudly that it throws the speakers off and radio signals start to bleed through.  This is a classic Grateful Dead moment and it’s makes this very nice 1978 show even more interesting for the casual listener.

There are hit or miss parts of this night, so if you’re running low on time, focus on the highlights.  But if you want the full show experience, you’re going to have a fun time with this one.

Listen to the soundboard here:

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: