Today in Grateful Dead History: April 26, 1983 – The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA

Dancing Skeletons

The Grateful Dead sound excited to  be playing here in Philadelphia in 1983, so much so that they frequently let the beat get slightly ahead of the music.  No matter – this is an average, up-tempo night with the Dead.

The first set is bookended by highlights – an opening Shakedown Street which is much more dynamic than the typical show starter and a closing Let It Grow wherein Jerry Garcia attempts to play as many scales as possible over the course of ten minutes.  Good stuff abounds in both of these tunes.  The rest of the set is pretty basic.

Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower opens the second set with a bang.  Slipknot! has a lot of nice work from Brent and Jerry is still feeling frisky during  Franklin’s Tower.  Unfortunately, this moves into The Women are Smarter and then Drums and Space, so the momentum dies pretty quickly.  Coming out of Space I thought the boys were going into The Other One but at the last minutes they changed course into Truckin’, which is a normal version.  Morning Dew follows, with run after Jerry run.  This typifies this show – lots and lots of notes from Jerry and above-average playing from Brent at times.  Phil only pops up into audible territory every once in a while.  After Morning Dew we have Throwing Stones, not one of my favorite songs but tonight, like in a lot of these earlier versions, the bridge of the song is well jammed out. The rest of the night is up-tempo but typical.

There are ups and downs here, but if you want the Garcia pyrotechnics, you’re in the right place.  Listen to the Matrix (with some faulty track listings) here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: April 20, 1984 – Philadelphia Civic Center, Philadelphia, PA

terrapinSurprise!  Here’s a new show on a Friday.  (Work has been messy, listening has been sporadic, chances to write have been non-existent.  This will be a pattern for the foreseeable future, unfortunately).

Thankfully, the first full Dead show I’ve listened to in a week and a half is a smoker from 1984, a year I’m starting to really enjoy (despite previously including it in the “mailing it in years” column).

Everything in the first set of the show is in the decent – to good category, especially My Brother Esau and Little Red Rooster.  But the peak first set highlight is the massive, blistering Let It Grow that burns the house down at the end of the set.  This is fourteen minutes of wild jamming, capped with Jerry and Phil completely dialed in and tearing things up.

The magic doesn’t end there, either.  The second set opens with a masterful 80’s version of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, one of the better ones I’ve heard from this era.  The transition, in particular, is amazing, with Jerry sounding clean as crystal wailing away into Fire on the Mountain.  (Don’t be put off by the very low volume at the start of the song – it gets better right before the singing starts).  The other major second set piece is Morning Dew, which appears after a fairly rousing post-Space I Need a Miracle.  This is one great Dew that holds up in any era.

Last but not least – Day Job encore!

This audience recording makes listening a pleasure – other than the low volume at the start of the second set and a brief cut in Drums, it’s all good!

Listen here and remember to trust the process:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 9, 1983 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

Dancing Skeletons

We’ve talked about seven shows from the Hampton Coliseum on this site so far, and most of them feature something notable.  Today’s installment, from 1983, has a blistering China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, the first east coast Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower since 1977 and a Smokestack Lightning  jam in the middle of Truckin’.  How’s that for interesting?

The first set tonight starts off with a fairly sloppy Bertha>Promised Land pairing that, nonetheless, finds Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in fine mood and voice.  Next comes My Brother Esau, still in its infancy.  The early versions of this song were much funkier than what it would become, and you’ll need to be prepared to hear Brent figuring out what to do with himself on the fly tonight.  Still, for fans of this tune, this will be a good version.

The rest of the first set is unremarkable until the closing China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, which wails.  This is a fast one tonight, but it holds together and leaves the crowd on a high note before intermission.

When the band returns, they pick up with Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower.  This pairing was put down in 1977, and the Dead had only recently started playing it again at the start of 1983, so you’d expect there to be some musical bugs.  However, tonight everything is played with elan, even though Jerry does miss a few lyrics in Franklin’s Tower, as is his want.  After jamming on a solid Truckin’, the playing slows down into Smokestack Lightning, a song that the Dead hadn’t played since 1972.  Unfortunately, we’re not going to hear any singing tonight – just a slow rolling, four minute run through the song that’s a neat tease before Drums / Space.  Coming out of that sequence, we’re in for another newish song, in this case, Throwing Stones, which is also quite interesting, rhythmically.  The rest of the night is the usual end of the night high-jinks, with no particular highs to speak of.

Once you get to the 80’s, it’s hard to find shows that are perfect through and through, but tonight the goodies definitely overwhelm the mediocre (there’s no badness here).  You’ll be treated well if you stop for a while.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 6, 1984 – Aladdin Theater, Las Vegas, NV

terrapinThe Grateful Dead in Las Vegas.  Sounds like a punchline, right?

Here’s a couple of interesting tidbits about the Dead in Sin City.

Their first show, way back in 1969, was at the Ice Palace.  The Ice Palace.  In Vegas.  In 1969.

The band didn’t play Vegas again until 1981.

Upon their return, the Dead played the Aladdin Theater in 81, 83 and 84.  This was a theater in a casino.  In Vegas.  In the 80’s.

The Dead didn’t play Vegas again until 1991.

When the Dead came back to the desert, they and their fans were safely contained at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.  They played multiple-show runs there until the very end.

Why is this history important?  Well, first, the thought of the Dead and their traveling circus being allowed anywhere near a casino is just an incredible image.  But, hey, things were different back then.  (The 1969 Ice Palace show takes this to a whole other level). Second, at tonight’s show in particular, it seems as if the band may have fully embraced the Las Vegas experience, as the playing, especially in the second set, has a slightly “frenetic” quality to it.

I’m sure that it was just the natural excitement from being in Vegas (and not any of the various substances so capably documented by the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in his ode to this city) that caused the Dead to fire through one of the fastest, sloppiest versions of Eyes of The World that you’ll ever hear.  And it must have been the tinkling of all those slot machines and not chemically-induced onstage madness that made Jerry and Bobby argue, via their competing guitar riffs, between at least three songs at the end of Eyes of the World before settling, barely, on Truckin’, which also spins out at a pace so fast that Bob can’t even get the words out, let alone utter them in the correct order.  Ditto The Music Never Stopped, which was clearly supposed to end the first set, but was so botched, lyrically, that Jerry took the reigns and forced everyone into a version of Might as Well that no one other than him seemed excited to play.  Yeah, none of this had anything to do with stimulants, no sir.

This is not a criticism.  Tonight’s show is fun, and it’s captured on an ideal audience recording that is much better than the soundboard.  There are some genuine great moments here, like the (very fast paced) China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  The jamming after the similarly loaded Saint of Circumstance is the best of the night, even though it’s balancing on the razor’s edge of sloppy.  But that’s the Grateful Dead in 1984.  During 1984, they could typically make this kind of act work.  By 1985, that became much more difficult.  So rejoice in the quality of this recording and in the free spirited yet not terrible playing you’re hearing, captured live in the middle of the beating heart of one of the most decadent and depraved places in America at the height of the Reagan Era in the year George Orwell made infamous.  Buy the ticket and take the ride.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 4, 1988 – Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT

terrapinI was more than a little worried when all of the comments for this show talked about how Jerry’s voice was shot – this is 1988, after all, and the Dead aren’t really playing in peak form to begin with.  But, like many shows where Jerry loses his voice (and yes, there are quite a few of these), he makes up for it with some really good playing, and the rest of the band seems to pick up the slack, energy-wise, at least until the final quarter.  The result is a pretty good 1988 Grateful Dead show in the midlands of Connecticut.

The night starts out with a typical version of Alabama Getaway, but then we’re surprised with a second place Johnny B. Goode.  This is the first time that the Dead played this song during a first set since 1976.  Out of the 19 times Johnny B. Goode was ever played in the first set, the Dead played it as a set closer 13 times, so this is truly a bizarre tune at this juncture of a show.  But the crowd seems to love it and Bob Weir is actively engaged on the vocals.  Brent follows this with a smokin’ hot version of Never Trust a Woman, so by the time we get back to Jerry, singing a slightly diminished They Love Each Other, the building is rocking.  The rest of the first set keeps up the pace, with a fast and furious Cassidy coming right before the closing Don’t Ease Me In.

The boys look to keep the pace up, opening the second set with a sloppy Touch of Grey into a good Looks Like Rain, complete with thunderous sound effects that I can’t place with the drummers or the sound board.  Either way, it’s an interesting noise.  A short Truckin’ evolves into a lengthy, casual He’s Gone before Drums and Space.  You’d think that at 13 minutes long, something would happen during He’s Gone, but somehow, we get to the end without any major memorable moments.  The band really throws a lot into The Other One after Space, but after that the energy seems to ebb, even if Brent is trying hard (like always) on Dear Mr. Fantasy>Hey Jude.  Jerry’s voice goes out completely on the U.S. Blues encore.

Despite my documented dislike of 1988, I’m going to rate this show as a 7 for 1988, despite the lack of jamming.  The first set is fun and the second, while risk free, is still a good one to listen to.  I think this show gets at least one extra point for the quality of the audience recording, which is so good, I thought it was a soundboard at points.

Check it out here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: March 20, 1986 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

dancing-bearAlthough no two Grateful Dead shows are exactly alike, each era in Dead history featured a fairly consistent repertoire of songs.  For instance, the late 60’s was the time of Turn on Your Lovelight, Dark Star and St. Stephen>The Eleven, while Althea and Lost Sailor>Saint of Circumstance dominated the early 80’s.  In the 60’s and 70’s, there were not nearly as many surprises in the setlists as there were during the 80’s and 90’s (the band hadn’t released as many albums).   Sometimes the Dead would play a song to death (for example, 79 Playin’ in the Bands out of 86 shows in 1972 and 51 Estimated Prophets out of 60 shows in 1977), only to dramatically scale back or completely retire the same song in subsequent years.  But on a whole, the core songs (like The Other One and Playin’) remained the core songs, with additions and subtractions here and there, throughout the Dead’s career.

Because so many shows from a given era have similar songs (albeit with vastly different arrangements and in infinite combinations), many dedicated Grateful Dead listeners crave the unique live moments where new songs emerge or where old songs reappear after long absences.  And one of those legendary bust-outs occurred at tonight’s show, when Box of Rain, a beloved song from the early 70’s, reappeared for the first time since July, 1973, a gap of 777 shows.

Box of Rain is one of my favorite Grateful Dead album tracks.  Live, it’s a wonderful moment, but there is almost no room for jamming – one live Box of Rain typically sounds like the rest.  This is perfectly fine – another one of my other favorite Dead songs, Brokedown Palace, is the same way.  But because the lyrics to Box of Rain are so meaningful, and because the music can truly transport you, I’m always hoping that the Dead don’t blow it when they play it.

So it’s a little worrisome when the Dead break this one out tonight.  After all, this is 1986.  And the Althea which immediately precedes it is an atrocious train-wreck.  And they haven’t played it live in almost 13 years.  But, all that being said, this is a pretty good version of Box of Rain.  Yeah, Phil gets a little tripped up at the beginning, but the song is about his dad dying, so he’s more than forgiven.  And once the Dead get rolling, the song just takes over and the music plays the band.  The boys must have been happy with how it went, because Box of Rain would never drop out of the regular rotation again.  In fact, it would be the very last song that the real Grateful Dead would ever play together on stage.

As for the rest of the show, it follows a similar pattern to last night’s performance in Hampton.  The first set kinda rolls along, with good tunes played without serious issues (other than Althea, which is truly a mess).  The second set is pretty weak, although Bob’s hysterical, soundboard assisted yelps at the end of Estimated Prophet do get pretty far out there.  The second set highlight, for me, is the four-plus minutes that Brent spends on stage with the drummers jamming out before Drums.  The three of them produce some excellent noises together.  But a post-Space, 1986 Wharf Rat>Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away?  Nah.  The boys were probably looking forward to the backstage buffet, and it shows.

Come for the Box of Rain.  Stay for the rest here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: March 19, 1986 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

dancing-bearWe’re going through one of those stretches where work / weather is making posting difficult.  Sorry about all of the gaps last week – there will probably be more to come.

Today’s show is the first of three from Hampton, Virginia that opened the 1986 spring tour after some scattered California dates in February.  Given the time between shows and the year in question, it’s actually pretty remarkable that the Dead play anything well tonight, but they manage to absolutely crush China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider>Playin’ in the Band to open the second set.  Jerry, of course, is the catalyst here and he rips and roars for a couple of minutes during the China>Rider transition, which is enough good playing to ask “why can’t he do more of this”.  I think we all know the answer.

The first set features the first ever Grateful Dead performance of Visions of Johanna.  A few of the commentators on the Archive really love this version, but I just don’t think it’s good at all.  This song is simply too slow and too lyrical to work well with Jerry in this condition. Feel free to complain if you want.

Other parts of the first set are fine, but no highlights really grab you.  The setlist itself is larded with good tunes, so if you are in the mood for mid-80’s Dead, you’re not going to get a bad song tonight (maybe C.C. Rider isn’t for everyone).  But, in general, the 20 minutes of 1986 “magic” occur at the start of the second set and then it’s quickly downhill from there.  Truckin’, for example, is a disaster, due, in part, to problems with Bob’s mic, but he messes up the words to this tune 95% of the time anyway, so you can’t use that as an excuse.  I think the boys are just gassed post-Space, although they recharge enough to lay down about 45 seconds of bliss at the end of Black Peter.  But hey, it’s 1986, and the band has big plans for tomorrow’s show.  Maybe I’ll even write about it . . .

Listen here: