Today in Grateful Dead History: February 28, 1981 – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL

dancing-bearOften when I’m reviewing Dead shows I fall prey to the quest for the big bang – that one moment of transcendence that makes the show amazing – instead of focusing on the smaller things that make most Dead shows great.  Today’s show at the Uptown Theater in Chicago is a good example of a really nice 1981 Grateful Dead concert that doesn’t have tons of explosive sections but delivers all of the goodies none the less.

The first set has lots of subtle goodness, starting with Jerry’s understated yet amazing runs in They Love Each Other.  The post-hiatus, lethargic version of this song is not one of my favorites, but here Jerry’s playing caught and held my interest even through the slowest of solos.  A couple of songs later, the same thing happened during Looks Like Rain – this is Jerry at his delicate best.  Even Big Railroad Blues, which is certainly an up-tempo tune, has Jerry playing with a very light touch.  But this sets a nice, laid-back tone that lasts throughout the entire evening, through second set songs like Cold Rain and Snow and Ship of Fools.

There are a couple of spots where things get a little more raucous, namely Let It Grow, which is blistering, and Deal, which is all-out rock and roll.  But if you want to summon the chill again, turn to Terrapin Station, a really mellow version with some slight lyrical problems but plenty of calming Jerry runs and a gorgeous middle transition.  The closing jam of this song is a little unusual – you can’t tell where the band is going, but the playing is tight, straight through into Drums/Space.  Please don’t skip Space, since it features the most jammed out part of the evening, the minutes long drop into a furious The Other One that doesn’t last nearly long enough.  After a mellow Stella Blue, Bob Weir takes command for the rockers, but even these are groovy and calm, which is not a bad thing.

If you approach this show with the aim of having your eyebrows singed off, then play Deal and stop there.  Otherwise, relax and stay a while.  This is some really solid 1981 Grateful Dead.

Listen to the excellent Matrix here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 28, 1981 – Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA

dancing-bearLike many a good Grateful Dead show, I stumbled across this one during my travels through the always excellent Grateful Dead Listening Guide.  Please check out his post for another take on this show.

The reason that this show ended up on the Listening Guide in the first place is that it is, in fact, a very good 1981 Grateful Dead concert, from the beginning through the post-Drums/Space Truckin’.  From there, you’ve got a decent Wharf Rat and the standard rockers.

The pre-Drums second set is where most of the action is set, including a very solid Shakedown Street to open the set and a Wheel that morphs into Brent’s slow blues Never Trust a Woman and back again with some beautiful flourishes along the way.  Brent, in general, is a major player during today’s show, nowhere more so than during this entire sequence, where he layers feelings both vocal and instrumental throughout the songs as they segue together.

The other major nugget comes at the conclusion of the first set, with a tremendous Let It Grow flowing into a surprise China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider to end the set.  Jerry’s tone throughout these proceedings is stellar and the band lets it rip on the fast-moving China>Rider, driving through the transition with force.  Sometimes it seems like Jerry can’t get the ideas out fast enough, but this is a really solid trip through some great material, and the sound is perfectly balanced.

There are other good songs in the first set, like the rugged and raw Althea and Little Red Rooster, but the forceful stuff takes place between Let It Grow and Drums.  Enjoy this tour through 1981’s bounty.

Although the audience recording of this show is fantastic, I still prefer the Matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 5, 1981 – Zoo Amphitheater, Oklahoma City, OK

dancing-bear I’ve written about the Grateful Dead at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City before, and in a lot of ways, tonight’s show is the inverse of that 9/2/85 show.  In ’85, the Dead played lights out but wasted a lot of energy on a sub-par setlist.  Tonight, the setlist is very good on paper (especially the first set), but the playing is very meh.

This is one of those nights that just tends towards the sloppy.  Shakedown Street opens the show and it’s hit or miss from the get go.  Candyman does pretty well, but it’s followed by a messy Cassidy.  Even Althea is unmoored, and it feeds into a Let It Grow that goes nowhere at the beginning and rocks near the end, but it still sounds thrown together without much attention to detail.

The Dead open the second set with Samson & Delilah, another rocker that doesn’t really go anywhere, mirroring the first set’s Shakedown.   You can almost hear Jerry trying to get things on track by throwing a Don’t Ease Me In next, but the real corker comes when the band moves on to The Music Never Stopped in the third position.  The first third of the song goes almost completely off the rails, but everyone fights off their demons and they rip a very enthusiastic (but sloppy – again) ending.  The energy dips for Ship of Fools, and then it seems like everyone switches to cruise control for the rest of the night.  Even the easy songs like Around and Around and Johnny B. Goode are not well played here.

Honestly, part of the issue might be the sound, which is disjointed and thin on both the soundboard and the audience recording.  Brent has a tendency to drown out the other players at points, and Phil is almost completely missing, but if he were there, I have the feeling that it would just exacerbate the problem of multiple instruments playing different parts together poorly.

If this glowing review stirs your interest, you can check out the soundboard here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 11, 1981 – Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT

NOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

This show suffers from pretty shady recording levels and not much effort from the band in the 1st set. The 2nd set has a nice Scarlet>Fire to start and the Playin’ in the Band sequence is alright, but overall there isn’t much to shout about here. Be warned, the first few minutes of the recording are rough but it does get a little better.

Here’s a link to the soundboard:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 1, 1981 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

stealie NOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

Some (OK, who are we kidding, a lot) of the Dead’s 80’s shows have better first sets than second sets and this is one of those shows. Friend of the Devil, Big River, Let it Grow and Deal, all in the first set, are fun and well played.

The second set is pedestrian and peters out quickly once the band starts Drums, but the transition from He’s Gone into The Other One is worth your time.

The recording quality on this audience tape is top notch:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 10, 1981 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

dancing-bear This show, the second night of a great two night stand at Madison Square Garden, literally starts off with a bang as one of the band’s speakers explodes a minute into Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  Obviously, this throws things into a bit of confusion, but we get to hear a nice instrumental passage until Jerry picks up the verse again several minutes later.  Things remain – how should we say it – “disorganized” until the bridge.  At this point, Jerry plays a very gentle, calming solo that seems to go on forever – it’s not the most technically adept solo you’re going to hear on this song, but atmospherically, it’s brilliant.  As Half-Step concludes, the sounds issues resolve and the band fires off into Franklin’s Tower, one of my favorite show opening combos.

It doesn’t get much credit from the commentators, but Lazy Lightning>Supplication is powerful tonight, as is the set closing Deal.  The Dead are playing the Garden like an instrument and you can hear the crowd ooh and aah as the night goes on.

After the break the band busts out an almost thirty minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain which is quite good but not top-notch as it is filled with lyrical problems and tempo changes.  The other big second set highlights are China Doll, one of the better versions you’ll hear from this era, and the Smokestack Lightning jam after Truckin’The Brokedown Palace encore is always appreciated.

Last night’s MSG show, which I haven’t written about yet, is probably a better show over all – for me, that is one of the all-time great Jerry shows, with his guitar turned way up.  But tonight, especially the first set, is smoking too.

There are lots of options for listening – I did the Matrix today, but the pure AUD is also really nice.  Check out the Matrix here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: March 7, 1981 – Cole Field House, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

dancing-bear It’s been a few days since we last spoke – I hope that all of you are doing well.

Some of the commentators on the Archive have said that Jerry was not in good shape tonight.  I don’t know if that is really the problem here, but, for whatever reason, this is a very inconsistent show.  However, there are a couple of interesting segments that are definitely worth your time.

The first one, to my ears, is the slowed down version of Candyman in the first set.  Aren’t all versions of Candyman pretty slow?  Yeah, they are, but this is a real downer, especially for the 80’s.  By downer, I don’t mean bad, by the way – just super low key.  You’ll see.

At least a couple of people have remarked that this is the longest Bird Song the band ever played.  I’m not sure if that’s the case, but it does go on for a very long, spacey time.  This is not a harmonic jam like you would hear from a 1972 or 1973 Birdsong – at some points it’s almost atonal, but it is a very unique sounding piece that presages where the band would go with the song in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

The second set really never takes off, but there is another worthwhile variation of that same kind of spaced out, sparse jam following St. of Circumstance.  This blends into Drums and eventually into Truckin’, but by then it seems as if the energy has left the building.  You’ll notice that the second set is almost entirely made up of Bob Weir tunes, so something probably was wrong with Jerry after all.  In any case, Birdsong is interesting, so there’s that.

None of these recordings is going to win any awards, but this sounds ok to me: