Although no two Grateful Dead shows are exactly alike, each era in Dead history featured a fairly consistent repertoire of songs. For instance, the late 60’s was the time of Turn on Your Lovelight, Dark Star and St. Stephen>The Eleven, while Althea and Lost Sailor>Saint of Circumstance dominated the early 80’s. In the 60’s and 70’s, there were not nearly as many surprises in the setlists as there were during the 80’s and 90’s (the band hadn’t released as many albums). Sometimes the Dead would play a song to death (for example, 79 Playin’ in the Bands out of 86 shows in 1972 and 51 Estimated Prophets out of 60 shows in 1977), only to dramatically scale back or completely retire the same song in subsequent years. But on a whole, the core songs (like The Other One and Playin’) remained the core songs, with additions and subtractions here and there, throughout the Dead’s career.
Because so many shows from a given era have similar songs (albeit with vastly different arrangements and in infinite combinations), many dedicated Grateful Dead listeners crave the unique live moments where new songs emerge or where old songs reappear after long absences. And one of those legendary bust-outs occurred at tonight’s show, when Box of Rain, a beloved song from the early 70’s, reappeared for the first time since July, 1973, a gap of 777 shows.
Box of Rain is one of my favorite Grateful Dead album tracks. Live, it’s a wonderful moment, but there is almost no room for jamming – one live Box of Rain typically sounds like the rest. This is perfectly fine – another one of my other favorite Dead songs, Brokedown Palace, is the same way. But because the lyrics to Box of Rain are so meaningful, and because the music can truly transport you, I’m always hoping that the Dead don’t blow it when they play it.
So it’s a little worrisome when the Dead break this one out tonight. After all, this is 1986. And the Althea which immediately precedes it is an atrocious train-wreck. And they haven’t played it live in almost 13 years. But, all that being said, this is a pretty good version of Box of Rain. Yeah, Phil gets a little tripped up at the beginning, but the song is about his dad dying, so he’s more than forgiven. And once the Dead get rolling, the song just takes over and the music plays the band. The boys must have been happy with how it went, because Box of Rain would never drop out of the regular rotation again. In fact, it would be the very last song that the real Grateful Dead would ever play together on stage.
As for the rest of the show, it follows a similar pattern to last night’s performance in Hampton. The first set kinda rolls along, with good tunes played without serious issues (other than Althea, which is truly a mess). The second set is pretty weak, although Bob’s hysterical, soundboard assisted yelps at the end of Estimated Prophet do get pretty far out there. The second set highlight, for me, is the four-plus minutes that Brent spends on stage with the drummers jamming out before Drums. The three of them produce some excellent noises together. But a post-Space, 1986 Wharf Rat>Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away? Nah. The boys were probably looking forward to the backstage buffet, and it shows.
Come for the Box of Rain. Stay for the rest here: https://archive.org/details/gd86-03-20.sony.lai.3906.sbeok.shnf/gd86-03-20d1t108.shn