Today in Grateful Dead History: March 1, 1987 – Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA

terrapinThe first few months of 1987 were an interesting jumble of shows for the Grateful Dead – three shows at the San Francisco Civic Center in January and then three shows at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland at the beginning of March (this is the first of those shows), followed by three weeks off and then the start of the spring tour.  Those January shows were not very good, but the time off clearly helped the Dead, because tonight’s performance is a fairly good 1987 show captured on an excellent audience recording.

The first set just kind of motors along, but the band is playing the tunes well, notwithstanding the typical lyrical issues.  There’s not much to comment on until the end of the set, an inspired Let It Grow out of a pretty standard Row Jimmy.  I didn’t think the boys were really going to do anything with this song, but about halfway through, Jerry flips a switch and we’re off to the races . . . right into intermission.  Talk about a potential momentum killer.

Fortunately for us, the energy doesn’t flag as the band comes out for the second set with Hell in a Bucket and then Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  Jerry really turns up the heat during Scarlet Begonias and the climax of Fire on the Mountain is pretty massive, all things considered.  Not to be outdone, Bob Weir gives Sampson and Delilah everything he’s got, and you can hear the band contemplating more fireworks when Jerry throws a bucket of cold water on things by launching into Black Muddy River.  Now don’t get me wrong – I love this song, I just don’t like it as the fourth song in a very up-tempo second set.  So everything grinds to a halt and it doesn’t pick up during the slow burn of He’s Gone, which hints at Truckin’ or The Other One but heads into Drums instead.

The post-Drums sequence is labeled as Jam on this recording, and that’s appropriate because whatever this is, it isn’t Space – there’s way too much of a form to it, and by about halfway through you can sense The Other One taking shape.  This version is a runaway train flying down the track, much in the vein of the start of the set.  So just when you’re getting ready to jump out of your seat, Jerry once again diverts the band into Black Peter.  SCREEEEEECH.  Thankfully, we get some redemption at the end, with a very long blues solo that picks up steam as it goes.  This is a great late 80’s Black Peter, after all.  Having gotten this out of their system, the boys are finally ready to let the party start, which they do with Around and Around>Good Lovin’ and then a Don’t Ease Me In encore, what looks like the last time this song would ever be played in that slot.

The second set is the meat here – start there and get the first set potatoes if you have the time or inclination.

Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 16, 1987 – Town Park, Telluride, CO

terrapinYou don’t pick a 1987 show expecting to hear thirty-minute, gooey jamming from the Grateful Dead.  This first post-coma year was spent gelling as a band after almost losing Jerry Garcia, and the effort shows, with typically clear, solid playing from the entire band, but not a lot of risk taking.  Today’s show, like the previous show here in Telluride, is one of those 1987 performances that brightens a gloomy day but doesn’t really go anywhere particularly special.

The entire first set, other than the opening Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo (and the following Little Red Rooster, which, at nine minutes in length, is five minutes too long), is made up of short, sweet numbers like Iko Iko, West L.A. Fadeaway and Big Railroad Blues.  No harm, no foul.

The second set begins with When Push Comes to Shove, a very unusual opener that only happened on two other occasions.  I like this song, but neither the fans nor the band seemed to agree with me, as it dropped out of the rotation by the end of the decade.  Samson and Delilah is a basic version, but I would like you to take  a minute to listen to the He’s Gone that comes after it.  Notice, if you will, how solid Brent is on this song, really providing all of the color and interesting fills throughout the performance, not to mention singing soulfully on the harmonies.  The late 80’s really saw Brent bring things to a different level, and this song really shows off his contributions to the band.

I don’t normally recommend Drums to anyone other than the hard core fans, but this one is a spirited performance, especially the climax, with Mickey railing on the percussion.  The rest of the show stays true to form – well played, nothing really interesting going on.  There is a two song Jerry encore of Touch of Grey followed by Brokedown Palace, which provided something for Touchheads and old-timers alike.

The soundboard isn’t tracked correctly, but it sounds nice: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 30, 1987 – Kingswood Music Theater, Maple, ON

terrapinThe Grateful Dead swung north for this one-off Canadian show in the middle of their 1987 summer tour, and like many shows during this summer, it’s a fun, lightly jammed, upbeat affair.

The boys played a lot of songs during this show, and most versions are the typical “good but not great” 1987 productions that we expect.  There are a few first set highlights – Mama Tried>Big River is sweet summer soloing and When I Paint My Masterpiece is a great sing along tune.  But nothing in the first set is going to blow the doors off.

I picked this show for its second set, which is quite something on paper, with two classic combos and an epic jammer:  Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain, Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>Drums>Space> The Other One>China Doll>Dear Mr. Fantasy>Around And Around>Good Lovin’.  Scarlet Begonias is just ok, but once the band warms up, Fire on the Mountain booms.  Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World flows well, especially Estimated, as Bob Weir does his best Bob Weir impression.  As Eyes of the World begins to move towards Drums, a short, different jam – basically a Brent solo – develops.  It’s rather jazzy, in the best possible way, and leads us into an extended, free wheeling Drums/Space.  When The Other One appears it’s time for a smooth liftoff, with Bob’s effects-laden vocals leading into the rousing chorus (screamed happily by the crowd on this Matrix) and tumbling into another cool, short jam prior to China Doll.  Phil, as he should be, is noticeable in the mix here and he’s all over the place, playing nearly as fast as Jerry as Bob crashes out chords around them and the drummers tumble out a swirl of sound-effects boosted noise.

Keep in mind that 1987 is not 1974 (or even 1978), so these “jams” are concise.  But there are a lot of cool ideas in the air, and you can hear the foundation being laid for the more monstrous and adventurous noise that the band would spit forth in 1989 and 1990.  After this portion of the show, it’s rock n’ roll time, with Brent’s performance on Dear Mr. Fantasy beating out Bob’s on Around and Around>Good Lovin’ for the best rockstar vocal of the night.  (It’s a close call).  The only Box of Rain encore of 1987 sends the Toronto fans (and, from the comments, a ton of Americans too) home satisfied.

Check out this Canadian adventure here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 15, 1987 – Town Park, Telluride, CO

terrapinA new post!

I began earnestly listening to the Grateful Dead during the two years that I spent living in Vail, Colorado, and my brother lived in Telluride for a season, so this show (and tomorrow’s show) holds a warm place in my heart.

Given the altitude adjustment, it’s a little surprising that this is such a high energy performance, but the Dead manage to really dig into things, especially during Deal and Morning Dew.  But the energy isn’t the only notable thing about this show.  Some of the calmer numbers, like Looks Like Rain and Desolation Row, have quiet passages of true beauty.  Jerry’s work on Looks Like Rain is probably the best example of this delicate touch, and his guitar work echos some of the silky passages that he used to play during this song in the early seventies.

Lastly, we have Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, which opens up the second set.  If you only listen to the first couple of minutes of Scarlet Begonias, you’ll probably be worried that this is going to go off the rails, but the boys rally and pull off a seamless transition and some great work together.  This is a top of the line 1987 version of these songs.

Bottom line – this is a fun, spirited 1987 show with a few real highlights and very few lows.  Enjoy the rocky mountain high.

There are several versions of this show on the Archive.  I think that this one sounds the best, but the tracking is messed up, so beware:

Today In Grateful Dead History: April 4, 1987 – The Centrum, Worcester, MA

terrapinThe second set of tonight’s show from the Worcester Centrum is laid out in a really strange way, with an opening sequence of Iko Iko followed by Playin’ in the Band>Comes a Time>Willie and the Hand Jive, all pre-Drums, and then a post Drums sequence of Truckin>Playin’ in the Band>Morning Dew.  This is all good stuff, almost stunningly so for 1987.  The Comes a Time, in particular, was played a bit in 85 and 86, but only surfaced twice in 87, and this was the last appearance of Willie and the Hand Jive, ever, so they are moments to savor.  The Truckin through Morning Dew sequence is awesome, with Phil bombs all over the place and some heightened solos from Jerry near the end.   So, as you can see, the second set is worth the price of admission.

The first set is a lot sloppier and doesn’t really go anywhere.  There are some good songs being played, they just aren’t being played well.  Example: Box of Rain.  Second Example: Cassidy.  But if we have to sit through this warm up act in order to get to the main course, so be it.

Listen to the very nice audience recording here: