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: October 6, 1984 – Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA

terrapinThis is a spectacular show from an uneven year and features a top-of-the-80’s version of Playin in the Band that deserves to be listened to again and again.

The first set might not look like much, but every song is very well played.  Phil Lesh is the star tonight, dropping bombs all over the place, but especially in Minglewood Blues and Tennessee Jed (in the first set – we’ll get to the second set in a minute).  Looks Like Rain is great in its sappy way and the Hell in a Bucket opener smokes.

This is all just the warmup for the second set, which is on fire from start to finish.  Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain leads things off and the playing all around is stellar.  The boys really nail the transition here, especially the first few minutes of Fire on the Mountain, with more and more Phil, who basically takes over the show from here on out.    When Fire on the Mountain ends, we move right into Playin’ in the Band.  This is just a prime version of this tune.  About three minutes in, Jerry, Phil and Brent lock into an amazing, fluid groove that leaves plenty of space while maintaining the heart of the song.  Bob Weir begins to add texture a couple of minutes later and then we’re off, crashing into an incredibly spacey but never abstract ten minutes of music before China Doll emerges.  The jam out of China Doll eventually rolls into Drums, which is cut on this recording, and the Space that emerges is really more of a Playin’ in the Band reprise, as hints of the song appear and disappear throughout the next ten minutes.  At the conclusion of this beautiful piece of music, the Dead fire up the rockers, with Throwing Stones>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>One More Saturday Night.  You can tell that everyone is really on it tonight, with Jerry growling out the lyrics to Going Down the Road Feeling Bad with heartfelt energy, something that was often missing in 1984.  Even the Day Job encore is cool.

I don’t think that I’ve done a great job describing the Playin’ in the Band>China Doll>Space sequence that anchors this show – just trust me when I tell you that it’s great and go dig in here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 3, 1984 – Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA

terrapin We’re back at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1984 for the last night of the Grateful Dead’s six night run.  Today’s show features the same lyrical adventures as yesterday’s romp, but the music is a little tighter.  This is probably due to tonight’s song selection, which favors the rockers over the jammier songs.  As such, this setlist plays to the band’s 1984 strengths and we’re rewarded with a fun, upbeat show that doesn’t take a lot of risks.

The first set is chock full of well played songs, along with the world premiere of Down in the Bottom, a Willie Dixon tune that sounds almost exactly like New Minglewood Blues.  The first set is also home to tonight’s runaway winner for best sequence, the set-closing The Music Never Stopped>Deal.  The Dead are on fire here, with Phil bombing away at an increasingly frenetic pace and Jerry Garcia absolutely wailing, especially on Deal.  Put these two songs on your 1984 highlight real, because it doesn’t get much better than this.

As I said, the second set is light on the jams and chock full of rockin’ tunes like Gloria (this is only the second time that it’s been played, after 10/16/81 in Amsterdam) and Throwing Stones.  The band really smokes Cumberland Blues coming out of Feel Like a Stranger, and Turn on Your Lovelight is a great set closer, despite Bob Weir’s comical attempt at replicating Pigpen’s audience participation schtick .  Unfortunately, we also have to deal with Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, a tune that I don’t think the band ever took seriously.

Turn this one up loud and let it fly – it’s a fun one:

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 2, 1984 – Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bear Let’s get some history out of the way first.  Today is the first time that the Grateful Dead played Gimme Some Lovin’.  Unfortunately, it would not be the last time that the Grateful Dead played Gimme Some Lovin’.  But it’s a milestone none the less.  Tonight’s show also marks the last Casey Jones for almost eight years (it was only played four more times after this), so get it before it’s gone.

There is some interesting music here, but you have to wade through a lot of lyrical flubs in order to get to it.  It doesn’t seem like Jerry can get through a song without forgetting something, but for some reason, it doesn’t appear to detract too much from the atmosphere.  My favorite part of the first set is Bob Weir ripping out Smokestack Lightening and Spoonful back to back.  His voice is ragged, he’s feeling the tunes, and it sounds as close to Pigpen singing the blues as Bob Weir could ever get.

The second set opens with Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower, and while each song is well played on it’s own, the transitions between them are all pretty rough.  After a few more songs, one of those interesting Grateful Dead moments takes place.  The band comes out of Space into the reprise of Playin’ in the Band.  Of course, the band hadn’t played the first part of Playin’ in the Band earlier in the night.  It turns out, the Dead had started Playin’ in the Band five nights earlier at the October 28th show and never finished it, making this one of the longer Playin’ in the Band sandwiches you’ll ever hear.  God only knows if they actually knew this at the time, but it made for an interesting research project.  This is followed by a rare post-Drums performance of Bertha (which smokes) before a set-ending Good Lovin’ and the aforementioned Casey Jones encore.

This show isn’t great, but it’s not a train wreck either.  The shows at this venue always tend to have a little extra oomph, for better or for worse.  Here you go:

Today In Grateful Dead History: July 21, 1984 – Ventura County Fairgrounds, Ventura, CA

dancing-bear Some 1984 shows have that X factor that we’re all looking for, but in my opinion you have to dig pretty deep to find truly transcendent material in this year.  This is what makes exploring these shows so interesting – you never know what you’ll find.

Unfortunately, this performance from the Ventura County Fairgrounds doesn’t have much going for it.  I wanted to have positive things to say so we don’t have two negative days in a row, but that wasn’t in the cards.  I guess if you want to look on the bright side, it’s much better to have Brent around than Vince, which makes today an improvement over yesterday.  (Sorry Vince).

China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is definitely the highlight of the first set, but there really isn’t much to talk about there.  The 2nd set Truckin’ is a lyrical and rhythmic mess and Eyes of the World doesn’t improve things.  After hearing this, I found myself seriously looking forward to Drums.  Post-Space we get a whole lot of not much, with Jerry eventually sliding woozily into a poor rendition of Stella Blue that sees him blow the opening lines of the first two verses and slurring most of the rest.  The guitar solo is the instrumental version of his lyrical performance.  Yikes.

Here you go if you want it:

Today In Grateful Dead History: July 13, 1984 – Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

dancing-bear I’ve got to rush this post but I didn’t want to skip this date because it’s a famous show – one of the only post-74, pre-89 Dark Stars and it’s played as an encore to boot.  Now this particular version is not going to hold a candle to anything pre-74, but it’s energetic and comes as a complete surprise, so it’s cool to hear.

Beyond that, the rest of the show is a pretty standard 1984 performance with Scarlet Begonias>Touch of Grey>Fire on the Mountain as another unusual part of the experience.

Here’s the matrix (it’s 1984, so the soundboards typically suck):