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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 8, 1982 – Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, WI

dancing-bearToday’s Grateful Dead show from Alpine Valley in 1982 is not nearly as jammed out as yesterday’s affair at this same venue, but it’s still a very alive performance, enhanced by several all-star guests.

The band is certainly “on” in the first set, but the song selection, by 1982 standards, is pretty blase.  Here it is: Alabama Getaway>Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried>Mexicali Blues, Loser>Little Red Rooster, Brown Eyed Women, Looks Like Rain, Peggy-O, Samson & Delilah.  Now, just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with these songs, and some of them are tunes I actively seek out, like Loser and Peggy-O.  But I’m not going to wait to go to the bathroom because the band is playing any of these.

Fortunately, the band is playing these songs really well.  Jerry’s guitar work on They Love Each Other, in particular, merits special attention, and after the Mama Tried>Mexicali Blues twofer, he’s right back at it, ripping it up on Loser.  Looks Like Rain is a pretty good version, too.  And, finally, check out the setlist placement of Samson and Delilah in the closing slot, something that only happened two other times out of 364 total performances of the song.

Speaking of setlist shenanigans, the band comes back from the break and launches into . . . Far From Me!  Now, Far From Me was not played nearly as often as Samson and Delilah, but out of 74 performances, the Dead only opened a set with it one other time – next month on 9/24/82 in Syracuse.  So this is a rare event.  I won’t say it’s enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd, but so be it.  Rock on, Brent.

With that classic opener out of the way, the band gets down to business in the second set with a 24 minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain that rages for a good long while.  In fact, just when you think they’re done, the boys run back into Fire on the Mountain for one last, two minute blast of guitar heroics.  This blends right into Estimated Prophet, which, like a lot of versions of this song in 1982, is used as a vehicle for the deep space jamming of the night.  As Estimated Prophet winds down, the Dead are joined on stage by Indian drummer extraordinaire Zakir Hussain, who plays with the band for the rest of the night.  As Space eventually fades, frequent Dead guest John Cippolina emerges to play guitar until the bitter end.  What comes next is a lot of heavy guitar action, especially during The Other One>Not Fade Away, as one would expect.   When we get to the encore, the band busts out Satisfaction, which is not normally one of my favorite Dead covers.  But tonight, it’s worth hearing, as Cippolina, Garcia and Weir all weave together into a very interesting montage.  Since everyone’s in a good mood, we’re treated to a second, calmer, Brokedown Palace encore to end the evening.

This past week + of 1982 music is a really sweet run for the Grateful Dead, with top-flight shows in Austin, Kansas City and these two Alpine Valley performances.  (They also played three other shows during this time which aren’t the best you’ll ever hear but they aren’t complete clunkers either).  If you want some serious ’82 Dead, you’ve come to the right week.

Unfortunately, none of the recordings for this night is wondrous.  But as AUDs go, this is pretty good, so I used it:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 3, 1982 – Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO

dancing-bearThis is a show that falls somewhere short of legendary but well ahead of a “typical” 1982 performance, but the first half, in particular, is great listening on a sunny summer day.

I kind of fell into a half trance following the mammoth Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeelo>Franklin’s Tower opener, but had one of those eye-opening moments four songs later during Cumberland Blues – “Jeez, they’re really feeling it tonight”.  (After this happened, I went back and re-listened to Peggy-O, which fell in the middle of my stupor – it’s really good too).  Jerry, as usual, is the reason everything seems so bright tonight – his slightly unhinged guitar wailing on Franklin’s finds a little more focus on Cumberland, and he just plays continuous runs throughout the entire 6 minute song.  The same thing happens a few songs later on Big Railroad Blues.  And, as usual, when Jerry is feeling it, everyone else seems to up their game too, especially Bob, who is engaged and ripping during Cassidy and Man Smart (Women Smarter).

The second set maintains the up-tempo feel of the first with an interesting Shakedown Street>Samson & Delilah opener.  This is 22 minutes of spit-fire playing from all involved, even if we never really get any truly “out there” moments.  The crowd falls under a spell as the band slows down for a gorgeous To Lay Me Down (the last of three played in 1982), but they are quickly revived for a furious, and slightly sloppy, Let It Grow.  Bob must have been enjoying himself at this point, because he stays out with the drummers for the first few minutes of Drums, noodling chords and contributing where he can.  Things stay pretty calm post-Space as the band gently plays through He’s Gone which transitions into a bumping The Other One.  Like Let It Grow, this one doesn’t go out far, but there is a ton of energy swirling in the air and the band is riding it.  Continuing the back and forth momentum, Jerry pulls out Stella Blue (a second ballad in the second set) and sticks the ending, a gorgeous four minute ride that I thought was going to end halfway through, as the band drops down to almost complete silence (you can hear a pin drop on this Matrix recording) before rising up again into a second, thrilling run.  After Sugar Magnolia closes things out, we get a special treat – a Casey Jones encore!  This is only the second performance of this song this year, and it would be the last performance for almost two years.  It’s a just reward at the end of a pretty sweet night.

Don’t come here expecting deep, dark jams.  But if you want up-tempo, stretched out versions of some classic Dead tunes played by a band that is cranking in top form, you’ve come to the right place.  None of the recordings is great, but this Matrix will do the trick:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 25, 1982 – Compton Terrace Amphitheater, Tempe, AZ

stealieWhen Jerry forgets the first line of the first song of the show (Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo – the title is the most difficult thing about it), you know you’re going to be in for an interesting night.  When the second song is Franklin’s Tower, more lyrical problems are coming, and, sure enough, Jerry mixes up the verses with aplomb.  The rest of this first set coasts by with minimal issues, and Bird Song even manages to rise up pretty high, considering the beginning.  Still, by halftime, this show is pretty standard.

Most of the second set is fine – nothing to write about in detail, but nothing you’re going to regret hearing.  The one exception is Estimated Prophet, a 17 minute spaced-out mind-warp of a tune that goes so far afield that I wondered if the boys had skipped Drums and plopped right into Space.  This is the real deal, folks.  Listen to it.  Oh, yeah, this is only the second Crazy Fingers since 1976 – it was busted out a week earlier in Ventura.  It isn’t as sloppy as you’d expect, but it won’t peal your eyelids back, either.  It’s just that kind of night.

Listen here: