I took issue with yesterday’s show from Lakeland being included in 30 Trips Around the Sun because I thought it was a basic, good but not great, 1980 show. Today’s show from just up the road in Gainesville, on the other hand, is incredible and will be added to my personal best-of list immediately.
It’s actually amazing that I loved this show as much as I did, because the first set, at least on paper, is pretty ho-hum. But there are a couple of good things going on here. First of all, this is a primo, A+ audience recording that sounds better than most soundboards ever will. Second, the band is dialed in and there aren’t a lot of errors. Third, even the slower numbers, like Row Jimmy, have an electric feel to them – you can sense the tension building in the band as the first set progresses. By the time we get to Lost Sailor / St. of Circumstance, you can hear the boys beginning to boil – they pour everything into these songs, and the set-closing Don’t Ease Me In is barely holding on.
Now sometimes (especially in the 80’s and 90’s), when the Dead have a great first set, something happens at intermission (I won’t speculate) that tends to depress the second set, as if the band cannot sustain that kind of energy for a full show. But not on this night in Gainesville. Here, the boys come out with the one-time only combination of Shakedown Street>Franklin’s Tower, and we’re off on the flight path to Mars. Shakedown Street is massive, and Phil is all over the place (and easy to hear on this recording), blasting everything in his way as Brent wails into the tune. The transition into Franklin’s actually sounds a lot like the breakdown in Stagger Lee, but at the last moment, after some temporary confusion, the band picks up the tune and races ahead with it, driving the audience crazy. This is an above-average Franklin’s – it’s not as long as some other favorite versions, but the playing is concise and more than a little enjoyable. From there, we keep things popping with a fiery version of Estimated Prophet that shouldn’t be ignored. The band dials things down very nicely into a subtle He’s Gone, but don’t sleep on this version, because at the end the song gets twisted and turned and finally accelerates into a huge version of Truckin’. This song goes out there quickly, and sometimes it’s hard to remember we’re there and not listening to The Other One.
Drums follows, but please, don’t skip it – this is one of those Drums that fits perfectly with the rest of the evening and transitions beautifully into a full, jammy, semi-structured Space. Everyone is completely dialed in here, listening to one another and feeding the beast that slowly becomes The Other One, twenty minutes after I thought we were going there with Truckin’. The first part of this song is the craziest, a wild, runaway ride that eventually gets reigned in for the proper part of the song. As the band concludes you can hear the beginnings of Stella Blue.
Now, I, like most of you, love Stella Blue, but there are times when it makes me really nervous, because it comes at such a crucial emotional moment and I want the song to be perfect, and we all know that perfect and the Dead don’t go together very well. So when the boys began playing Stella Blue tonight, after this whole sequence of magic, I was praying that Jerry wouldn’t completely blow the solo with those flat notes he often hits and that Bob wouldn’t begin whatever rocker you know he’s itching to play ten bars too early. Well, today, everything works out – Jerry is just on the edge of perfection and Bob holds off until the right moment to launch Good Lovin’, making this a special and much-need Stella that brings the whole second set together. And the Casey Jones encore ain’t bad either.
This show is a keeper – fortunately, since it’s an audience recording, you can. Listen (and copy) here: https://archive.org/details/gd1980-11-29.nak700.wagner.miller.90104.sbeok.flac16