Today in Grateful Dead History: June 20, 1980 – West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK

Dancing Skeletons

It’s day two of our Alaska journey here at the Daily Dose, and tonight’s show is a notable improvement over yesterday’s warm up.

For starters, the recording, a Matrix, is much better than any of the other offerings out there – on the soundboard recordings, the vocals are too high in the mix and the audience is a little muddy.  So this is the best of both worlds.

Second, the band’s energy is up.  The Jack Straw>Franklin’s Tower opener cooks.  Now, Franklin’s Tower isn’t going to win any awards tonight, but it’s still a zinger through and through.  Ditto the Bob Weir cowboy tunes that follow before we get a casual Friend of the Devil.   At this point, the show takes a dramatic left turn, with an unusual mid-set Let It Grow>Althea combination.  Everyone gives it their all on this Let It Grow and Althea, while not as good as yesterday, is still Althea and therefore almost always worth hearing.  Things meander a little from here until a slightly ragged Deal ends the first set.

The second set contains the meat of this show, but not before the upbeat set opening combo of Alabama Getaway>Greatest Story Ever Told and a great Ship of Fools with a two round melodic solo from Jerry.  Now that everyone is limbered up, the boys dive deep into Estimated Prophet>The Other One.  As far as I can tell, this is the last time that the band ever played this sequence, after visiting it occasionally between 1977 and 1980, and they really let us have it, with an intense, fire-breathing Estimated and a short but oh so sweet The Other One that hits all of the good notes right off the bat during the transition and doesn’t let up for five solid minutes of improvisational glory.

After Drums and a good Space, the band seems to want to let things rock, and they do so with gusto, playing a bunch of the expected rockers plus an up-tempo version of Black Peter.  The Don’t Ease Me In encore completes the party.

Tomorrow is the solstice and the final show of this little run.  But for now, listen to this fun night in Anchorage here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 19, 1980 – West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK

Dancing Skeletons

Today is the first in a series of three concerts that the Grateful Dead played in a 2,000 seat high school auditorium in Anchorage, Alaska in 1980.  Now keep in mind, the band’s previous three shows took place at the Portland Memorial Coliseum (13,000 seats), the Seattle Center Coliseum (15,000 seats) and the Spokane Coliseum (8,500 seats), so it’s not like they were playing nightclubs during the summer of 1980.  So how did the Dead find their way up to a high school in Anchorage for three nights in front of a combined audience that didn’t equal the crowd in Spokane?  That, like many things about the Grateful Dead, remains spectacularly unclear.  (Although this article does set the scene pretty well).  Suffice it to say, the Dead’s only Alaska concerts make for an interesting story and for some good 1980 listening.

Today’s show is, in my opinion, the weakest of the three nights, but it’s still a fun show.  There are a couple of unusual second set quirks here.  First, we have one of five second set Peggy-O’s ever played out of a total of 264 performances of the song (not counting the ones that were played during the first electric set, and therefore the second overall set, of the three-set acoustic/electric shows in the fall of 1980), and it’s a good version with a sparkling Jerry solo.  We also have one of only 11 second set C.C. Riders out of a total of 127 played.  This one is also interesting, with Brent leading the way.  So, strange things were in the air in Alaska.

The rest of the night is straightforward 1980 Grateful Dead with minimal jamming.  There is some cool soloing on The Music Never Stopped to close the first set, and Jerry rocks on Althea, as usual, but, beyond that, things are pretty dialed down tonight.  Sound problems mar China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, and everything else in the second set is pretty blase, except for the playing near the end of Wharf Rat, which is good.  But if you think of this as the warmup night, you can catch snippets of where we’ll be going later on in the week.

Till then, listen to the soundboard (with many patches) here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 14, 1985 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bear The Dead opened their three day 1985 run at the Greek with this show that featured several revived tunes and a new one.

Sound problems plague the first part of this show, so much so that the boys actually stopped for a while midway through the first set to clear things up.  When they came back, they premiered their version of Derek and the Dominos’ Keep on Growing.  Like many first time Dead covers, this one is sloppy, but Jerry plays a really nice solo midway through that makes up for the ragged edges.  This transitions into Stagger Lee, which hadn’t been played since August 1982.  Unlike Keep on Growing, the band nails this one with gusto – it’s their tune (more or less) after all.  From there, we’re off to the races with Let It Grow>Deal, a great way to end a set.

After the break, things get real interesting real quick with a set opening Morning Dew that brings the crowd to attention.  Jerry rips into this one and the rest of the band trails happily along with him right into a fine Playin’ in the Band>China Doll.  Check out the delicate little repetitive sequence at the end of China Doll that will warm your heart.  Drums and Space follow, with some interesting jamming during Drums with Brent, Billy and Mickey playing tag around The Other One without actually playing it.  Truckin’ appears post Space and eventually merges into Smokestack Lightning, a tune I’ve always enjoyed hearing Bob sing.  This sounds like it’s going to move into Wharf Rat (Brent in particular goes in that direction), but instead Jerry pulls a left turn and we get the first Comes a Time in almost five years.  Although the beginning is messy, the ending is great, which leads to worries when the first notes of Sugar Magnolia take shape.  No need to worry tonight – this is a great version, a smoker with awesome energy and playing.  Brent even starts yipping and yawing half way through, causing Bob to crack up.  The encore – Keep Your Daaaaaaay Job!  Not on your life.

The band had sound problems all night, and this matrix doesn’t really hide them.  But you still should listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 13, 1984 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

terrapinIf you were going to graph standout Grateful Dead shows from 1983 through 1988, you’d draw a lopsided bowl with a ragged edge on the right, with things getting progressively worse from 1983 through 1986 and then rebounding in 1987 through an uneven 1988.  1983 and 1984, in particular, strike me as the “mailed it in” years, with not a lot of spectacular playing but not a lot of terrible nights either, although 1983 certainly has its share of good shows.  So when I listen to a show from 1984, I’m always on the lookout for a transcendent moment to rise above the crop of typically short, standard tunes.

Those moments are fleeting on this rainy night in Colorado, but they do arrive, briefly, in the second set when The Wheel emerges out of Space and then, after a pause for I Need a Miracle, when Stella Blue shines like a beacon in the night.

The Wheel is one of those tunes that sounds like it was built for the transition from something else, since it can ramp up from a thousand different directions.  Tonight, Space congeals into this pretty version, slowly but surely gaining ground until the song is upon us.  This little passage, like many of these Wheel transitions, is great.  The rest of the tune is fine two.

Stella Blue is pitch-perfect tonight, especially the delicate soloing near the end as Jerry weaves his spell.  According to the Archive, after a very wet first set, the sky cleared during the second half of the show, and these haunting notes must have been stunning to hear on a clear Colorado summer night.

Everything else tonight, as usual for 1984, is just fine, but nothing stands out.  The sets are short and the only portion of the show that could charitably be called a jam comes during the last five minutes of Let It Grow.  But hey, the boys were drenched and doing their best, right?  Right.

Listen to this sub-par soundboard (the recording quality is sub-par, not the show) here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 30, 1980 – Milwaukee Auditorium, Milwaukee, WI

Dancing Skeletons

This tight show from 1980 flies under the radar but is filled with some really solid early-80’s Grateful Dead.

According to a couple of comments on the Archive, there was a very active police presence at this show, so much so that the Dead didn’t come back to play in Milwaukee until 1989.  You can definitely hear a tightness to the playing.  Now some of that is just because that’s how the Dead sounded in 1980, but if the commentators are correct, the vibe in the room probably contributed to the feeling on stage.  In any case, none of these songs get jammed out in any great depth, but the Dead, and Jerry Garcia in particular, make up for it with some great, muscular playing.

Franklin’s Tower, slotted into second place in tonight’s first set, is an example of this.  Jerry’s runs are tight and on point – no aimless meandering here during this hoppin’ twelve minute version.  Two songs later, the boys really dig into Big River, and a little later, Passenger also bores ahead.  The entire first set is in control but focused – good solos, not a lot of mistakes and a palpable drive to the music.  The Music Never Stopped closes off the first set, and while it’s not going to be on anyone’s top-ten list, it’s a rockin’, fun version.

The second set begins with a great sequence of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, Playin’ in the Band.  During the Scarlet>Fire transition, Bob Weir throws in all sorts of little bumps and bleeps that perfectly compliment what Jerry is throwing down.  The Playin’ is grounded and smooth throughout.  Drums/Space represents a pause in the action before the band bumps the energy up a notch and a half with a very spirited beginning to Not Fade Away.  However, the song quickly calms down while Jerry solos and Phil weaves his magic in between the drums, one of the first times we can clearly hear him in the mix as everyone plods into Black Peter.  As if to make up for the dip in energy, we get short, enthusiastic versions of Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad and Good Lovin’ to close things out.  The Alabama Getaway encore, one of only 13 ever played (all but one came in 1980), is clearly rushed and is kind of a mess.  But that would be the only time tonight where the band seems off – the rest is just good old Grateful Dead.

Listen to the serviceable, but not exactly pristine, soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 22, 1982 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

stealieI’ve talked here before about the little moments that often stand out from an average Grateful Dead show – pinpoints of brilliance that make listening to 3+ hours of sometimes similar sounding music pop.  I counted two of those moments in this show from the Greek Theater in 1982.

The first comes during the spirited Sugaree that follows Jack Straw as the one-two show opener.  This is a good Sugaree, with those repetitive Jerry Garcia runs that are a trademark of this song from this era.  But midway through this version, Jerry slows things down for a minute and the song opens up, with the space between notes acting as its own instrument and standing in contrast to the fluid sprinting that took place before.  This openness is not unusual for Sugaree in the 80’s, but on this particular Matrix the notes ring clear and true and they send shivers.

The second moment occurs much later but it involves similar use of open space in the music.  We’re going to fast forward to the end of Space, which is slowly turning into Not Fade Away.  At this point, we’re experiencing the reverse of the situation I just described.  Instead of hearing the song open up, we’re hearing Space gather slowly together, bit by bit, into the coherent, heavier song.  This often happens in Grateful Dead jams, especially at this point in the show.  But once again, the clarity of the playing, the crystalline sharpness of Jerry and Bob working their way into Not Fade Away, stands out.

Those are my favorite moments.  The rest of the show, especially the first set, is nicely played and there are some fun versions of classic songs like Cumberland Blues and Deal.  There are lots of rockers in the second set and not a ton of jamming, but if you’re interested in having a party with the Grateful Dead, this would be a good show to listen to.

It’s the 80’s, so if there is a Matrix available, I typically like to work with it.  Listen to the very nice mix here: