Today in Grateful Dead History: November 22, 1985 – Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA

dancing-bearI had to leave the office early today, so if I was going to review a show, I needed I short one.  Thanks for being there, 1985!

As I’ve said basically every time I review a show from 1985, even though the Dead don’t play a long show, it doesn’t mean they play poorly.  Most of the tunes today are well-played – you just shouldn’t expect a ton of jamming.

The first set opens with a raved-up Hell in a Bucket.  I don’t know what got into the band before this show, but they come out raring to go.  Sugaree slows things down a bit, but Jerry is still on point and slinging darts.  Cassidy surprises – it sounds like it’s going to tank, but somehow the band pulls through it and delivers a nice ending sequence.  Ditto Let It Grow to end the first set – here, things really do go off the rails for a while, but when the boys recover, all is forgiven.  It’s a fun version of a fan favorite.

I can’t say for sure what went on at intermission, but if I were going to bet, I’d say that the Dead may have bathed in cocaine backstage, because when they launch into Touch of Grey to start the second set, the tempo is, shall we say, elevated.  Of course, there are lyrical flubs galore here, but the playing itself is nice.  Then we’re on to Estimated Prophet.  This is a really nice version, quite spacey considering how fast everyone is playing.  Bob Weir doesn’t even go too far out with the vocal gymnastics at the end.  It’s probably the highlight of the show, for me.  Estimated drives 100 mph straight into Eyes of the World.  It’s shocking that everyone is able to keep up with the drummers here, but the Dead deliver what can charitably be called a spirited version of the tune before running off stage for Drums / Space.

From here, you’d assume it would be your basic rock out Dead show, but coming out of Space the boys manage to put together an unexpected and thrilling Morning Dew. From there, it’s your basic rock out Dead show.

Listen to a pretty ok Matrix here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: November 16, 1985 – Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA

dancing-bearLike today’s show at the Long Beach Arena, my review is going to be short.

In the first set, the Dead play an advanced 1985 version of Sugaree and at least make an effort at Let It Grow.  That’s about it.

The second set opens with the very rare combination of Tennessee Jed followed by Cumberland Blues.  Both are pretty good versions.  After that, the boys are mailing it in.  They sound like they are going to call it a night after Gimme Some Lovin’, but Jerry decides to throw the crowd a bone and fires off a Truckin’ that is barely longer than the album version (Bob of course screws up the vocals) before an anesthetized Black Peter and a corny Good Lovin’ close out the show.

The encore is Day Job – the boys put more into it than the entire post-Drums segment.  Says a lot about this show, right?

All that being said, if you need a really short dose of 1985, there aren’t any complete clunkers here either.  Just not a lot of passion.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 31, 1985 – Manor Downs, Austin, TX

dancing-bear After dragging a slowly decomposing Jerry Garcia up a 7,000 foot ski mountain last week, the Dead thought it would be a good idea to come back down to sea level and spend a few days in Texas, where the 100 degree heat in Austin probably did wonders for Jerry’s condition.  (I’m sure that I’m ripping this joke off from Thoughts on the Dead, or his comment section, but, for the life of me, I can’t find the specific post to link to, so I’m going to credit him anyway).  In any event, the boys don’t play poorly today, they just don’t play for very long, making this a below average show from 1985.

The first set passes without much to discuss.  The commentators on the Archive think that the set-closing Let It Grow is good, but it’s pretty ho-hum to me.  Jack-A-Roe does make a very unusual appearance here, one of only two performances during the year and the last until December, 1988.  But there’s not a ton going on during that song on the best of days, and this is not the best of days.

The second set opens with my favorite kind of Terrapin Station, a relatively short one.  From there, we get a standard Estimated Prophet, but right when you think that the Dead might be picking up steam, with a strange ending that doesn’t really belong to any particular song whatsoever, we bump into Drums.  After two songs.  So you just know that the boys didn’t want to be anywhere near that stage, which is confirmed when Space ends and we get Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad by way of explanation.  Like Estimated Prophet, Stella Blue sounds like it might grant us one of those miracle summer night closing solos of bliss, but Bob hijacks things and steers the band into Throwing Stones.  No one on stage seems to mind and they tip it over to Not Fade Away and that’s that.  The She Belongs To Me encore, a rare Dylan song that only got played in 1985, is gorgeous, so we’ve got that going for us.  In fact, I’m calling it the highlight of the night, and when the encore is the highlight, you know you can probably skip this show.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 24, 1985 – Boreal Ridge Ski Resort, Donner’s Summit, CA

dancing-bear Sorry for missing the last few days – hectic work schedules sometimes intrude on this fantasy world.  Keep your day jooooob!

Today’s show is a legendary boondoggle that always pops up on the “worst of” lists of Grateful Dead shows.  So I’ll dispense with the history lesson and get this out of the way right now  – this recording is not nearly as bad as its reputation.  I think that many of the problems associated with this show had to do with the experience at the performance itself – the heat, the horrible stage setup, the crappy sound, the lackluster performance, etc.  But on tape, things are much easier to deal with.

This doesn’t mean that this is a four star performance by the Grateful Dead.  The drums are out of sync for much of the show (even if Mickey and Billy are banging the hell out of them), Jerry’s voice is terrible, and Bob’s guitar is busted up.  Still, songs that garner a lot of negative attention on the Archive’s comment section, like Friend of the Devil, actually sound quite fine (until the trainwreck of an ending).  The same can’t be said for Hell in a Bucket, which is legitimately terrible today.  But China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is pretty decent and so is the very fast Truckin’.  The encore is the Dead’s final performance of Day Tripper (presumably selected because the whole show was played during the day), and when you hear it, you’ll know why it was retired.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: October 25, 1985 – Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL

dancing-bear The Sportatorium sounds like the name of a team handball arena in Bulgaria, but it happens to have been located in South Florida, which is pretty close.  (If you’re looking for a good read, check out the venue’s Wikipedia page.  In case you’re too lazy to do this, I’ll give you the highlights: a Robert Plant concert was rained out at this indoor venue, Roger Waters called the acoustics a “real compromise” and there was a massive riot at a Rush concert.  Seriously – Rush.)  Despite the arena’s shortcomings, the Grateful Dead typically played well here, and tonight’s show is no exception.

I have to warn you that the pace of tonight’s show is somewhat rushed, as in crackhead on a mission rushed.  The first set opens with Deal (unusual, but not the most unusual thing about this show) and the band maintains that energy throughout.  It’s All Over Now, tucked in with a bunch of other good songs, may be the first set highlight since the song fits the band’s energy to a T.  Even Loser can’t be slowed.

The second set opens with Morning Dew (see, I told you there would be stranger things than Deal).  You’re not going to believe this, but the band rushes into it and it takes a few seconds to mesh, but then we’ve got a pretty good version.  Even better is the Estimated Prophet that follows – a real killer performance that segues into a completely out of control Eyes of the World.  I always like to wait for the moment when these mid-80’s cocaine versions of Eyes get completely ridiculous.  Tonight’s version stays coherent for about 10 seconds, which makes it a middle of the road attempt.  Drums / Space are their typical good 1985 selves, and the rest is a little mushy.  But the fact that things stayed relatively unhinged for 2/3 of the show makes it a damn good listen.

As this project marches one, one of my main takeaways to-date is how much I’ve enjoyed the shows from 1985.  They’re not typically intricate and they’re certainly fast, but in certain scenarios, that’s just fine.  I grooved throughout this entire show, and I think that you will too.  The soundboard is augmented with the audience recording in some places, and be forewarned that the pitches on the two recordings don’t match up.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 2, 1985 – Zoo Amphitheater, Oklahoma City, OK

dancing-bear The Zoo Amphitheater is one of those venues, like Pirate’s World (3/24/70), that brings to mind legions of clapped out Deadheads terrifying people in a normally benign public place like a zoo or an amusement park.  A little research reveals that the Zoo Amphitheater is actually located next to, but not in, the Oklahoma City Zoo, thus separating the animals and children from the Heads, which is probably for the best.

Today’s show is frustrating because it is so damn good, but the band’s playing is, I don’t want to say wasted but I’m going to say wasted, on a C+ setlist.  Everybody is completed tuned-in throughout the entire performance, which is often not the case in 1985, and the interplay between the boys is tremendous.  I noticed this within the very first notes of Bertha and it only gets better from there.  The synergy between Phil, Jerry, Brent and Bob is most apparent on West L.A. Fadeaway, but that is by no means the only place – Ramble on Rose is filled with subtle wizardry and even Minglewood stretches the bounds of dynamism.   There are some bass problems throughout the first set, the most obvious coming during Me and My Uncle, with Phil dropping a series of bombs in an apparent attempt to isolate the offending amplifier and creating awesome sonic results.

Normally when the Dead fire off an excellent first set in 1985 (which they frequently do), they lose energy in the homestretch, but today they’ve still got the goods after intermission.  China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is awesome and the transition is altered just enough to call it unusual.  Once again, the Jerry/Brent/Phil/Bob connection is strong throughout this sequence.  Playin’ in the Band is the other second half highlight (although everything the Dead play tonight is good).  Playin’ stretches out a bit longer than you might expect and the move into Drums is subtle and fun.

So what’s the problem?  The Dead play both Iko Iko and The Women Are Smarter in the same show, which is like playing the same song twice.  (The worst thing about The Women Are Smarter in this context is that Jerry and the drummers are clearly trying to take the band into The Other One out of Drums, which would have been awesome, but Bob overwhelms and overrules them).  We also get Around and Around, I Need a Miracle, Good Lovin’ and a Day Job encore.  And while I loved the performance in the first set, it’s not exactly filled with the best songs on the roster.

A while ago, a commentator on this site named lgreen666 noted that ” things markedly improved in 85 compared with 82 to 84… heard as matrix recordings I think summer and autumn is possibly as good as summer and autumn 89!”  I didn’t remember this comment until I found myself with a huge grin on my face throughout this show.  The Dead were killing it on this night in OKC – I just wish they played the songs to match the effort.

Check out the pretty darn nice audience recording here: