Today in Grateful Dead History: August 31, 1985 – Manor Downs, Austin, TX

dancing-bear After dragging a slowly decomposing Jerry Garcia up a 7,000 foot ski mountain last week, the Dead thought it would be a good idea to come back down to sea level and spend a few days in Texas, where the 100 degree heat in Austin probably did wonders for Jerry’s condition.  (I’m sure that I’m ripping this joke off from Thoughts on the Dead, or his comment section, but, for the life of me, I can’t find the specific post to link to, so I’m going to credit him anyway).  In any event, the boys don’t play poorly today, they just don’t play for very long, making this a below average show from 1985.

The first set passes without much to discuss.  The commentators on the Archive think that the set-closing Let It Grow is good, but it’s pretty ho-hum to me.  Jack-A-Roe does make a very unusual appearance here, one of only two performances during the year and the last until December, 1988.  But there’s not a ton going on during that song on the best of days, and this is not the best of days.

The second set opens with my favorite kind of Terrapin Station, a relatively short one.  From there, we get a standard Estimated Prophet, but right when you think that the Dead might be picking up steam, with a strange ending that doesn’t really belong to any particular song whatsoever, we bump into Drums.  After two songs.  So you just know that the boys didn’t want to be anywhere near that stage, which is confirmed when Space ends and we get Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad by way of explanation.  Like Estimated Prophet, Stella Blue sounds like it might grant us one of those miracle summer night closing solos of bliss, but Bob hijacks things and steers the band into Throwing Stones.  No one on stage seems to mind and they tip it over to Not Fade Away and that’s that.  The She Belongs To Me encore, a rare Dylan song that only got played in 1985, is gorgeous, so we’ve got that going for us.  In fact, I’m calling it the highlight of the night, and when the encore is the highlight, you know you can probably skip this show.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 28, 1981 – Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA

dancing-bearLike many a good Grateful Dead show, I stumbled across this one during my travels through the always excellent Grateful Dead Listening Guide.  Please check out his post for another take on this show.

The reason that this show ended up on the Listening Guide in the first place is that it is, in fact, a very good 1981 Grateful Dead concert, from the beginning through the post-Drums/Space Truckin’.  From there, you’ve got a decent Wharf Rat and the standard rockers.

The pre-Drums second set is where most of the action is set, including a very solid Shakedown Street to open the set and a Wheel that morphs into Brent’s slow blues Never Trust a Woman and back again with some beautiful flourishes along the way.  Brent, in general, is a major player during today’s show, nowhere more so than during this entire sequence, where he layers feelings both vocal and instrumental throughout the songs as they segue together.

The other major nugget comes at the conclusion of the first set, with a tremendous Let It Grow flowing into a surprise China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider to end the set.  Jerry’s tone throughout these proceedings is stellar and the band lets it rip on the fast-moving China>Rider, driving through the transition with force.  Sometimes it seems like Jerry can’t get the ideas out fast enough, but this is a really solid trip through some great material, and the sound is perfectly balanced.

There are other good songs in the first set, like the rugged and raw Althea and Little Red Rooster, but the forceful stuff takes place between Let It Grow and Drums.  Enjoy this tour through 1981’s bounty.

Although the audience recording of this show is fantastic, I still prefer the Matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 24, 1985 – Boreal Ridge Ski Resort, Donner’s Summit, CA

dancing-bear Sorry for missing the last few days – hectic work schedules sometimes intrude on this fantasy world.  Keep your day jooooob!

Today’s show is a legendary boondoggle that always pops up on the “worst of” lists of Grateful Dead shows.  So I’ll dispense with the history lesson and get this out of the way right now  – this recording is not nearly as bad as its reputation.  I think that many of the problems associated with this show had to do with the experience at the performance itself – the heat, the horrible stage setup, the crappy sound, the lackluster performance, etc.  But on tape, things are much easier to deal with.

This doesn’t mean that this is a four star performance by the Grateful Dead.  The drums are out of sync for much of the show (even if Mickey and Billy are banging the hell out of them), Jerry’s voice is terrible, and Bob’s guitar is busted up.  Still, songs that garner a lot of negative attention on the Archive’s comment section, like Friend of the Devil, actually sound quite fine (until the trainwreck of an ending).  The same can’t be said for Hell in a Bucket, which is legitimately terrible today.  But China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is pretty decent and so is the very fast Truckin’.  The encore is the Dead’s final performance of Day Tripper (presumably selected because the whole show was played during the day), and when you hear it, you’ll know why it was retired.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 18, 1989 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bearTonight’s show is the middle night of the Dead’s final stand at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, a place they played every year from 1981 on but outgrew as the decade came to an end.  The Greek shows, like a lot of the Grateful Dead’s Bay Area performances, tend to be a little laid back, but this easy-going vibe usually translates into fun performances, like this one (and the previous night’s show).

Brent Myland is all over this performance tonight, almost always making the songs better.  For instance, on the very good version of Iko Iko that opens the second set, Brent tips things over the edge into the stellar category.  However, his playing during the first set’s Row Jimmy is a little disorganized and gives the song a slightly slipshod feel.  Everyone else is playing well, and the song doesn’t suffer so much as it never achieves what it could.  He’s much more dialed in on the very sweet version of When I Paint My Masterpiece.  The Dead do some serious exploring on Bird Song (a great song for this kind of thing in 1989) and the first set closer, The Promised Land, is piping hot.

As I’ve said before, Terrapin Station is not one of my favorite live Dead songs, although it has its moments.  Tonight’s version is a full on assault on the back half of the song and it holds our attention from beginning to end.  One of the cooler moments of the evening takes place when the band transitions out of Space and into a special version of Crazy Fingers that just ends perfectly.  Stella Blue has a similar magic about it tonight.  And of course, those encores – Black Muddy River and a rare And We Bid You Goodnight are both amazing.

There are many good versions of this show on the Archive – I stuck with this soundboard, but feel free to experiment:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 17, 1980 – Kansas City Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, MO

Dancing Skeletons

For those of you out there who still doubt the potential power of audience recordings, please take note of today’s show from the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium in 1980.  There are multiple patches in the soundboard, and every time we hear one, I want to keep listening to it instead of moving back into the soundboard.  These audience clips are clear, well-blended and capture the energy in the room.  The soundboard is muddy and doesn’t pack close to the same punch.  So why not link to the audience recording on the Archive?  Because that recording is not the one used for the patches on this soundboard – the AUD on the Archive is farther away and sounds like noise reduction was layered onto it.  Sorry to start off this review with a paragraph-long discussion of tape quality, but I think that I would have liked this show more if I was listening to the right recording.

That being said, I still enjoyed this one, especially The Wheel>Truckin’>Wharf Rat that comes out of Space in the second set.  The Dead had not played The Wheel since February 1979, so it’s a welcome return for this beautiful song, and it launches right into a furious Truckin’.  This Truckin’ doesn’t plumb the outer limits, but it succeeds in blowing the roof off the joint and sounds like a very early version of the tune combined with one from the 80’s.  The energy continues into a spirited Wharf Rat, too.

Aside from this three-song combination, the second set also holds a pretty good Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  There is nothing particularly unique about this version, but it has a lot of energy and will keep you entertained, at a minimum.

The first set is fine, but it’s marred (on the soundboard recording) by Jerry’s guitar levels, which are unusually low, killing Jack Straw and hurting Sugaree as well.  Friend of the Devil is a good version and the set-ending Lost Sailor>St. of Circumstance is nice too.

Listen to the (patched) soundboard here:

To get a better version of those first few songs, you can hear the audience recording here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 16, 1987 – Town Park, Telluride, CO

terrapinYou don’t pick a 1987 show expecting to hear thirty-minute, gooey jamming from the Grateful Dead.  This first post-coma year was spent gelling as a band after almost losing Jerry Garcia, and the effort shows, with typically clear, solid playing from the entire band, but not a lot of risk taking.  Today’s show, like the previous show here in Telluride, is one of those 1987 performances that brightens a gloomy day but doesn’t really go anywhere particularly special.

The entire first set, other than the opening Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo (and the following Little Red Rooster, which, at nine minutes in length, is five minutes too long), is made up of short, sweet numbers like Iko Iko, West L.A. Fadeaway and Big Railroad Blues.  No harm, no foul.

The second set begins with When Push Comes to Shove, a very unusual opener that only happened on two other occasions.  I like this song, but neither the fans nor the band seemed to agree with me, as it dropped out of the rotation by the end of the decade.  Samson and Delilah is a basic version, but I would like you to take  a minute to listen to the He’s Gone that comes after it.  Notice, if you will, how solid Brent is on this song, really providing all of the color and interesting fills throughout the performance, not to mention singing soulfully on the harmonies.  The late 80’s really saw Brent bring things to a different level, and this song really shows off his contributions to the band.

I don’t normally recommend Drums to anyone other than the hard core fans, but this one is a spirited performance, especially the climax, with Mickey railing on the percussion.  The rest of the show stays true to form – well played, nothing really interesting going on.  There is a two song Jerry encore of Touch of Grey followed by Brokedown Palace, which provided something for Touchheads and old-timers alike.

The soundboard isn’t tracked correctly, but it sounds nice: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 10, 1982 – University of Iowa Fieldhouse, Iowa City, IA

dancing-bearAs I said a couple of days ago, the Dead were really playing well during this Midwest tour in 1982, capping the run with this wonderful show at the University of Iowa.  Now, according to the comments on the Archive (and Phil Lesh himself, who complains from the stage), the Iowa Fieldhouse was apparently not the best place to listen to a rock concert.  But you wouldn’t know it if you listen to this incredibly well-done Matrix, and the band’s playing certainly isn’t harmed by the acoustics.

Like a lot of 1982 shows, the first half tonight is up-tempo, starting right off the bat with Feel Like a Stranger.  Friend of the Devil follows – it’s an incredible version and shows off the growing Jerry-Brent dynamic very nicely.  New Minglewood Blues is only notable because Bob Weir calls the women in attendance “corn-fed fillies”, showing off the wide range of his early 80’s sexism.  Bob keeps things going strong a couple of songs later with a very nice version of Cassidy, too.  Equipment issues arise and slow things down a notch, but the band rebounds with a few upbeat numbers, including the last Stagger Lee for almost three years, before ending the first set with an unusual Bertha that almost falls off the rails as it careens around the Fieldhouse.

That speed continues unabated in the second set, when the band comes out and rips off an incredible China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider to get things going.  There are a lot of good China>Riders floating around in the early 80’s – this is definitely one of them.  After a good Lost Sailor>St. of Circumstance, we get to the heart of the matter, a canter-wheeling, coked-out, twelve-minute version of Eyes of the World that, if it were played at a 1973 tempo, would have lasted for half an hour.  But the band is on fire tonight, and while this version feels like it’s going to collapse, Jerry manages to produce run after run that pushes right up to the edge of sloppy but never falls into a mess.  This is a good one.  Post-Space, the most notable moment for me comes when Jerry finishes the second verse of Stella Blue and the band just rips in behind him with incredible, unexpected force.  It’s chilling.  The rest of the song is just so-so, but that moment catches you by the throat.  At the end of Stella, Jerry launches into Around and Around, but Bob directly contradicts him and starts playing Sugar Magnolia instead.  Although things don’t fall apart completely, it takes the Dead a minute to regain their footing before finishing things off on a high note, capping quite the run of 1982 Grateful Dead shows.

Check out this amazing Matrix here: