Today in Grateful Dead History: November 29, 1980 – Alligator Alley, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Dancing Skeletons

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:


Today in Grateful Dead History: November 28, 1980 – Lakeland Civic Center, Lakeland, FL

Dancing Skeletons

It’s been a few months since we traveled to 1980, a fun, dynamic year for Grateful Dead performances.  Today’s show is stop two on a four-stop mini-tour of Florida and Georgia, and it’s captured on this lovely audience recording that I believe offers much more depth than the soundboard or the matrix.

Things start off tentatively with a muddy Jack Straw opener, but the band quickly settles down with a good version of Peggy-O and an up-tempo Little Red Rooster that suffers, as it often does during these years, from some serious Bob Weir guitar mishaps.  After a couple of lyrical miscues in Tennessee Jed, the band begins firing on this smoking version of Passenger, which is followed by the first electric version of Deep Elem Blues since 1970.  After hearing a lot of this tune during the acoustic performances earlier in the year, it’s fun to find the band switching things up and rocking it out instead.  Looks Like Rain maintains the show’s upward trajectory and a scorching Deal ends things on a high note.  For a first set, this is nothing spectacular (aside from the rare Deep Elem) but it sounds great and keeps your foot tapping.

The second set doesn’t rise to any serious heights either, but the setlist choices are notable.  After starting off with a typical Feel Like a Stranger to open, the Dead calm things down with a very nice rendition of To Lay Me Down.  As several commentators on the Archive point out, the crowd is very quiet during this piece, and with good reason – Jerry pours his heart and soul into the lyrics and his guitar work is like a cool shot of ice.  Like Deep Elem, this is the first electric version of To Lay Me Down since the 70’s (in this case, 1974), so it’s a treat for the Florida crowd.  From here, we get the jammy highlight of the night (and an unusual selection in this position), Let It Grow.  The boys aren’t doing anything supernatural here, but they’re doing it well.  The strangeness continues as they transition into Terrapin Station, which is loose but fun.

A key, short moment of bliss takes place on the way out of Drums / Space and into Not Fade Away.  It’s unclear if everyone is heading in the right direction, and as the guitarists start to join forces, Brent keeps his fingers on the keys and lets the sound of the notes sustain over the slowly forming song, brightening everyone’s night as Phil finds the right groove and the band takes off.  It’s a cool transition and one of those special, quick pieces that always pop up in unintended places.  The rest of the show is fine, but nothing surprising takes place.  For what it’s worth, everyone seems to enjoy digging into Sugar Magnolia tonight, but that’s about it on the back end of things.

This isn’t going to be a first-team all 1980 show, but it delivers the goods if you’re looking for a good groove and a couple of interesting songs.

UPDATE:  It has come to my attention that the folks at Grateful Dead, Inc. determined, in their infinite wisdom, that this show indeed should be a first-team all 1980 show, since they selected it for inclusion in 30 Trips Around The Sun.  They are wrong.

As I said before, I think the audience recording is the pick of the litter today.  Listen here:

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: 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: 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: