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 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: October 21, 1983 – The Centrum, Worcester, MA

Dancing Skeletons

We started the week with a great 1983 show from Lake Placid, so let’s end it with an even better 1983 show from Worcester, Mass.  In fact, this show is so good that it is included in 30 Trips Around The Sun as the representative show of the year.

The pinnacle of this evening is the exceptional Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain that leads off the second set.  This is one of the greatest Scarlet>Fires there is, with a ridiculously good transition between the two songs and many magical moments in both.  I played this sequence three times today and it got better and better with every listen.  Please indulge!

But that’s not all.  The night begins with a great The Music Never Stopped that keeps rolling and rolling, long past when you think it’s going to end.  Cassidy wails.  Big Railroad Blues rocks.  Even The Promised Land is great tonight.

Back in the second set, once we’re done with Scarlet>Fire, the band kills it with:  Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ In The Band>Drums>Space>Truckin’>Wharf Rat.  Try that setlist on for size.  The playing throughout this part of the show is all exceptional, and Space gets into some very far out stuff before slowly rolling into Truckin’.  Wharf Rat unleashes all of the pent up emotion at the end, and then the band is off to the races with the rockers to close out the night.

It’s been a good week of shows, and this is an A+ effort to close things out.  If you want to add it to your collection, the audience recording is very high quality.  Since it’s 1983, I did the Matrix route and enjoyed it tremendously.  Listen to it here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 17, 1983 – Olympic Arena, Lake Placid, NY

Dancing Skeletons

This show starts off with a sixteen minute bang of a Sugaree that sets the tone for the rest of the first set, which is uniformly excellent.  Think about settling in for the beginning of a long night with the Grateful Dead and getting sucker punched by this monster at the very start. This is just minute upon minute of Jerry Garcia spitting fire and the rest of the band swirling behind him.  On this Matrix recording, you’re also treated to Bob Weir, high in the mix on the left, leading Jerry on.  There are probably better Sugarees, but for sustained excellence over a very long duration, this one may take the cake.

The rest of the first set is all killer, no filler.  Little Red Rooster, which would normally be the weak link in the setlist, is hot, as if Bob heard what Jerry had to offer and set out to match his intensity.  Friend of the Devil and My Brother Esau both have that certain groove that 1983 shows can fall into – white boy funkiness, so far as it goes.  But then we get a lovely, dynamic Bird Song that thrills from start to finish.  Hell in a Bucket transitions into one fired-up version of Deal.  This is primal Deal action, here, people.  And then we come up for air.

The knock on this show is that the second set can’t keep up with the first, but does it really have to?  Nope.  At least on a setlist level, a second set that starts with Touch of Grey into Samson and Delilah isn’t doing anything slow, and tonight is no different.  The boys do bring things down a notch with the only To Lay Me Down of 1983 and the last performance of this tune until 1988, so we’ve got a little history going on as well, and a nice version of the song to boot.  The middle portion of the second set is nothing special, but we still get to hear Terrapin Station, and the post-Drums/Space rocking section really lives up to its reputation with I Need A Miracle>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Good Lovin’ .  I’m not going to say that any of these tunes is high on my list of must-hears, but taken together, you can hear the power the Dead were pushing out on this night in the heart of the Adirondacks.

This Matrix is pretty sweet:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 6, 1983 – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

Dancing Skeletons

After three shows in a row from 1983 last week, I found myself back for this beauty from Red Rocks that is markedly better than the previous week’s shows in Eugene.

For one thing, the playing is much tighter tonight, with all of the band members dialed in from the beginning.  Jerry Garcia, in particular, is having a good night.  It’s definitely one of Jerry’s “fast” nights, with lightening runs scattered all over the place.  You really start to notice Jerry’s playing during Dupree’s Diamond Blues and then New Minglewood Blues, with a really fun solo section that seems to go on forever.

The band hits a collaborative zenith during Bird Song, as it often did in the 80’s.  This is not a delicate version of the tune – everything is a little fired-up – but all of the boys are listening to one another and the song takes flight accordingly.  My favorite part of the first set comes next, during Supplication (Lazy Lightning precedes it, as it almost always does, and is just ok).  This is an amazingly aggressive version of Supplication that seems as if it will never end.  Jerry rips off run after run, Bob sings his heart out and Brent toils away at the keys for what seems like forever.  (It’s an almost nine minute version of the song, which is almost forever in Supplication terms).  Instead of ending the set there, the Dead unleash a careening, cacophonous version of Might as Well that almost sees all four wheels come off.  I needed a breather after that ending.

Good thing we took a break, because the Dead come right back out with a furious version of Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower.  The first two songs are all right, but you can tell they saved up for Franklin’s, which they unload with reckless abandon.  This is not a gentle moment, but rather a full-steam express-train version of Franklin’s Tower that will peel your eyes back as it roars past.  It stands up there with some of the better 80’s Franklin’s.

From there, we get a much more nuanced Playin’ in the Band than you’d expect given how energetic everything has been so far.  This Playin’ shows off the band’s subtlty and range, with Phil leading the charge throughout.  After a relatively low key Drums, we have an interesting Space that teases Uncle John’s Band off and on for the better part of ten minutes before the band moves into that song proper.  And what a version this is, another expressway version with solo after solo in the repetitive ending.  Eventually we come back around to Playin’ in the Band, which is nicely reprised to bring everyone full circle.

At this point, the band is gassed and they finish with sloppy but passionate versions of Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away with a Brokedown Palace encore.  After a night like this, I expected something more upbeat to end things, but Brokedown lets us down easy, which was probably necessary after this tour de force.

This show isn’t a subtle performance by any means, and there are certainly discordant sections here and there.  But for a band that is often accused of mailing it in throughout 1983 and 1984, this show stands out as a ripping, passionate affair that rises to the top of the shows from 1983 that I’ve listened to so far.

It’s 1983, so I always try to find the Matrix version:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 31, 1983 – Silva Hall, Eugene, OR

Dancing Skeletons

We’re still in 1983 and it’s the final night of the Grateful Dead’s three night stand in Eugene.  The first two nights lacked the compelling “wow” moments that make some Dead shows remarkable, but they were both fun, listenable experiences.  Unlike those shows, tonight’s performance does have one unique moment in the second set that caused me to sit up and take notice.

Since recording quality was a problem for the first two nights of this run, I spent a little more time than usual trying to find the best version of tonight’s show.  This particular recording has a little more low end than the others and the pitch seems to be more natural than the alternate versions, which sound a tad high.  That being said, the drums aren’t great and Bob Weir’s guitar is buried for songs at a time.  This show is plenty listenable, but it’s not an A+ example of an audience recording.

The first set has got a few of those early 80’s funky (funky for the Grateful Dead, not funky like P-Funk funky) tunes working their mojo, specifically Dupree’s Diamond Blues and West L.A. Fade Away.  Jerry’s voice is not in great shape tonight and there are some vocal flubs, but the ragged tone adds a welcome layer of grunge to the proceedings.    Cassidy, which is sometimes a fluid beast of a song, just meanders tonight, but the Dead close out the set with a fired up Don’t Ease Me In.

The second set begins with a rare Cold Rain and Snow opener.  Although the band used this song a few times as the second set opener, mostly in the earlier 80’s, they typically played it somewhere in the first set.  In fact, this is the only time they played Cold Rain and Snow in the second set in 1983.

The heart of this show lies with Playin’ in the Band>China Doll>Playin’ in the Band>Drums>Space>Truckin’>Stella Blue.  Yeah, there are two Jerry ballads in that sequence, and they are both cool, with beautiful segues into and out of China Doll and a gorgeous, peaceful (despite the fuzz) middle solo from Jerry.  The return to Playin’ is a surprise as well.  My favorite part comes during Space, when the boys launch into a very sparse, rhythmic jam that sounds a lot like the Allman Brothers’ version of You Don’t Love Me, deconstructed.  This transitions into Truckin’, which packs a wallop until the up-tempo Stella Blue.  UPDATE – On second listen, this Stella Blue is really, really good – the ending solo just soars.  This whole sequence was the magic moment of this entire three-night stand in Eugene.  From there, it’s the usual rockin’ shenanigans.

Well, we’ve gone from two 1983 shows on this site to five, so I think my work here is done.  Tomorrow will be another year.

Listen to the audience recording of this interesting show here: