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:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 31, 1981 – Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA

dancing-bear The Grateful Dead played a Bay Area New Year’s Eve show every year from 1976 through 1991 (and several more in the early 70’s), so picking one is a difficult task.  Therefore, I’m just going to go with my favorite of the ones I’ve already heard, this monster from 1981.

Joan Baez opens this show with the Grateful Dead as her backing band.  If you like Joan Baez, you’ll dig this performance.  If you don’t like Joan Baez, this show isn’t going to convert you.

The Dead’s first set starts with an incendiary Shakedown Street that gives you a pretty good indication of where this evening is headed.  Even the short songs are booming tonight, Cold Rain and Snow and Beat It On Down the Line being good but not exhaustive examples from the first set.

There’s a break at the end of the first set prior to the New Year’s Countdown.  At this point, Ken Kesey, one of the Dead’s first champions, gets on stage and just goes hog wild, blowing on his harmonica and ranting for five or six minutes, injecting a very heavy dose of 1966 into the heart of the Reagan era.  When the clock strikes midnight (actually a couple of seconds before), the band launches into a furious Iko Iko to ring in the New Year.

What follows is a pretty epic 70+ minutes of music, some of the best the Dead played in the early 80’s.  Check this out: Playing In The Band>Terrapin Station>Playing In The Band>Drums>Space>The Other One>Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Morning Dew.  John Cippolina from Quicksilver Messenger Services sits in for The Other One, Not Fade Away and Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, adding even more fireworks to this conflagration.  I don’t have to say anything else about this passage (which is something I almost never do) – just listen to it and you’ll understand.

Although the exact timing of things is a little unclear, it appears that after the Dead’s second set, Jerry Garcia married his long-time consort, Mountain Girl, backstage.  This must have been inspiring, because the band comes back onstage and busts out the first Dark Star of the 80’s and only the 4th performance of the song since the 1974 hiatus.  It’s not the best version from these wilderness years, but who the hell cares?  It’s Dark Star.  On New Year’s Eve.  After a two year absence.  We’ll take it.

Post-Dark Star the band ramps things up with high energy versions of Bertha and Good Lovin’ before an encore of It’s All Over Now Baby Blue with Joan Baez singing along.

This is prime stuff, through and through.  Plug this in tonight and ring in the New Year with style.  Here you go:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 3, 1981 – Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

dancing-bear This is going to be a quick one tonight.  Today’s show from Madison, Wisconsin is a nice tight 1981 performance, with a great electric Deep Elem Blues as the first set highlight.

The second set is a wild one.  Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain gets things pumping, but the really cool sequence comes next, with Estimated Prophet>He’s Gone> Drums>Space>Truckin’He’s Gone is a monster and the jam out of Space is a fantastic four minute Spanish Jam that accelerates into a whistle shrieking intro to Truckin’, which is great.   The encore, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, is sublime.

This is a good one despite the short review.  Check out the soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 16, 1981 – Club Melk Weg, Amsterdam, Netherlands

stealie Played on borrowed instruments in a hash bar in Amsterdam on Bob Weir’s birthday, with an opening acoustic set and an electric second set featuring several rarities and the return of a beloved classic, this is one of the most exciting and free wheelin’ Dead shows in the cannon.

How did the Grateful Dead end up playing two nights (October 15th being the other one) in a club with a capacity of approximately 500 people when they were selling out much larger venues all across western Europe on this fall tour?  Apparently it came down to the weather.  The Dead were supposed to have played two shows in the south of France after their October 13th concert in West Germany, but those gigs were cancelled due to inclement weather.  Instead of sitting around for four days until their next scheduled show in Paris on the 17th, the band decided to go to Amsterdam and play there.  But the road crew refused to haul the band’s equipment to the Netherlands, so the Dead had to use what they found at the club while the roadies went ahead and set up the show in Paris.  The show on the 15th was pretty cool, but it was just a warm up act for this one.

The first set is all acoustic and is filled with the same songs that the band had played last year during the acoustic / electric shows in San Francisco, New Orleans and New York.  The difference between those shows, which were being recorded for what turned out to be two live albums, and these performances is in the looseness of the execution here.  In Amsterdam, the band is completely relaxed (surprise surprise), laughing through some sound issues in On the Road Again and playfully passing licks back and forth throughout the set.  There’s nothing really surprising going on musically (other than the acoustic format, which is obviously very surprising in and of itself), but that’s not the point.  This is just music that makes you feel good, played by people who are clearly enjoying themselves, especially when it comes to the set ending Ripple.  Speaking of Ripple, this is the second to last time the Dead would ever play it, but you’ll have to wait seven years before you get to that final performance at the Capital Center in 1988.

The second set is where things really get cooking, both historically and from a performance standpoint.  We start with a pretty fair Playin’ in the Band that morphs into a first and only performance of The Olympics’ Hully GullyHully Gully segues into fast paced versions of The Wheel and Samson & Delilah before the Dead light off a first ever performance of Them’s Gloria, which the band proceeds to rock the hell out of.  As Gloria slows down, we start to hear a familiar base line . . . and are treated to the first post-Pigpen version of Turn on Your Lovelight, which had laid dormant since the 1972 European tour.  Bob Weir gives the vocals his all in what was probably an emotional return to the classic showstopper.  From there the band rips off an almost out of hand Going Down the Road Feeling Bad before returning to Playin’ in the Band once more.  But we’re not done yet – after Playin’ collapses, the Dead slow things down with Black Peter before blowing the lid off the joint with the show closing Sugar Magnolia.

There’s almost nothing jammy about this show at all, which is somewhat surprising given the setting.  Even Playin’ in the Band doesn’t really venture far into the cosmos.  But that doesn’t matter at all, because on this night the Dead gave us a tender acoustic display followed by a forceful rock n’ roll show that ventured as close to the band’s roots as they would ever get during the 80’s and 90’s.  This is must have stuff, folks.

All of the recordings of this show are messy, so here’s the Charlie Miller transfer, which sits atop the pack: