Today in Grateful Dead History: April 4, 1988 – Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT

terrapinI was more than a little worried when all of the comments for this show talked about how Jerry’s voice was shot – this is 1988, after all, and the Dead aren’t really playing in peak form to begin with.  But, like many shows where Jerry loses his voice (and yes, there are quite a few of these), he makes up for it with some really good playing, and the rest of the band seems to pick up the slack, energy-wise, at least until the final quarter.  The result is a pretty good 1988 Grateful Dead show in the midlands of Connecticut.

The night starts out with a typical version of Alabama Getaway, but then we’re surprised with a second place Johnny B. Goode.  This is the first time that the Dead played this song during a first set since 1976.  Out of the 19 times Johnny B. Goode was ever played in the first set, the Dead played it as a set closer 13 times, so this is truly a bizarre tune at this juncture of a show.  But the crowd seems to love it and Bob Weir is actively engaged on the vocals.  Brent follows this with a smokin’ hot version of Never Trust a Woman, so by the time we get back to Jerry, singing a slightly diminished They Love Each Other, the building is rocking.  The rest of the first set keeps up the pace, with a fast and furious Cassidy coming right before the closing Don’t Ease Me In.

The boys look to keep the pace up, opening the second set with a sloppy Touch of Grey into a good Looks Like Rain, complete with thunderous sound effects that I can’t place with the drummers or the sound board.  Either way, it’s an interesting noise.  A short Truckin’ evolves into a lengthy, casual He’s Gone before Drums and Space.  You’d think that at 13 minutes long, something would happen during He’s Gone, but somehow, we get to the end without any major memorable moments.  The band really throws a lot into The Other One after Space, but after that the energy seems to ebb, even if Brent is trying hard (like always) on Dear Mr. Fantasy>Hey Jude.  Jerry’s voice goes out completely on the U.S. Blues encore.

Despite my documented dislike of 1988, I’m going to rate this show as a 7 for 1988, despite the lack of jamming.  The first set is fun and the second, while risk free, is still a good one to listen to.  I think this show gets at least one extra point for the quality of the audience recording, which is so good, I thought it was a soundboard at points.

Check it out here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: December 11, 1988 – Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA

terrapinWhen looking at a Grateful Dead setlist, there are certain clues that indicate you’re probably going to get a clunker of a show.  For instance, a six song first set that opens with Iko Iko. Or when the show features the Women Are Smarter in addition to Iko Iko.  Or when most of the comments encourage you to skip it.  Of course, I ignored all of this because I hadn’t tried a 1988 show in a while, and I was rewarded with . . . not a damn thing.

Like most shows from 1988, this one isn’t garbage, it’s just completely bland and uninspired.  None of the playing tanks – it just doesn’t really go anywhere.  There are a couple of Brent-related exceptions.  After a few minutes of mindless work on Foolish Heart, Jerry decides to let Brent have a go at it, and he rips into a long solo that lifts the stage about three feet off the ground.  Unfortunately, this lasts for all of two minutes.  Later, Brent really seems to try to make Dear Mr. Fantasy>Hey Jude work – if you just listen to him and ignore the lifeless playing around him, you’ll enjoy these tunes.

Beyond Brent, the band gives Bird Song a last semester senior year college try.  That’s about that.

If you really have your heart set on some 1988 Grateful Dead, this one isn’t going to hurt.  But in all other cases, there’s not a lot here.  Listen if you’d like:

Today in Grateful Dead History: October 18, 1988 – Kiefer Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA

terrapinPrepare yourselves, fellow travelers.  On my seventh try, I finally found a show from 1988 that I would listen to a second time.  (Small sample size, I know . . .)

The Dead only played nine shows in Louisiana, and tonight would be the last one, in a ten thousand seat basketball arena on the campus of the University of New Orleans.  This show has quite the Louisiana feel to it, with members of the Neville Brothers joining in during Drums and for the Iko Iko encore.  There are also a slate of rockin’ tunes to close out the show, including a Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away that almost comes off the rails but hangs in there.

But that’s not why we care, loyal readers.  Tonight’s show is a keeper because the Bangles join the boys for the second encore – a very strangely played (the key and tempo just aren’t quite right) Knockin’ on Heavens Door.  Words can’t begin to describe . . .

Nah, let me try to describe. . .

On second thought . . .

Just try to picture the backstage scene. . .

Moving on . . .

There is some serious juice during the rest of this show, especially in the second set opening Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain and the Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World that follows.  Neither of these pairings is going to take you to places you haven’t been before . . . Wait a minute, let me rephrase that.  There is one portion at the end of Scarlet Begonias that sounds a whole lot like a typical Bird Song outro jam, so that’s unusual, but besides that, these are just fun, good late 80’s versions of four great songs.  And given that it’s 1988, this makes things even a little more special.

Speaking of Bird Song, it’s the first set closer and the first set highlight.  The boys get pretty well out there in the middle of this song, barely anchored by Brent, who is definitely the unsung hero of the night.  His playing fills all sorts of holes all over the place, for example during Little Red Rooster and When I Paint My Masterpiece, another highlight.  And since we’re near the bayou, we might as well get a pretty cool Peggy-O too.

There’s a lot more to this show than just these tunes.  You’re going to want to hear the whole thing and develop your own opinion, but to-date, this is my best of 1988.

Here’s the only version with the encore – it’s a pretty good but not great Matrix:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 19, 1988 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

terrapinOh 1988, you never disappoint me.  You always show up neatly dressed, ready for work, put in your eight hours and don’t mess anything up too badly.  Thanks for coming.

Today’s show is more of the same from the band on this particular run – nothing exciting, nothing in particular to describe in detail, several ridiculous breakdowns in the newer songs (like the very beginning of Foolish Heart).

As I’ve said before about some of these late-80’s shows, if you weren’t a real fan of the Dead and you came to this show, you probably drank a bunch of beers, hit a few nitrous balloons, wandered around the Garden and had a good time.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But compared to where the Dead were even one year later in 1989, these fall ’88 shows are pretty lackluster.

Do I have to pick a highlight?  OK, let’s take Quinn the Eskimo as the encore and leave it at that.  I guess Drums is pretty hyped up tonight, although nothing interesting really happens during the song.  Touch of Grey opener?  First China Doll of 1988?  Anybody?

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 3, 1988 – Capital Center, Andover, MD

terrapinIt’s a special Saturday edition of the Daily Dose of the Dead!

The Grateful Dead only played Ripple, one of their most beloved songs, 41 times live; 11 times in 1970-71, 25 times during the acoustic / electric shows in 1980 and at five other shows during the 80’s.  Tonight’s performance of this tune, as the 2nd encore (apparently as a Make a Wish request for a sick fan, although this hasn’t been verified), would be its last.  So even though Ripple is a rarely played tune, its retirement tonight makes this show special.  You should listen to Ripple.

You don’t, however, need to listen to the rest of this show unless you enjoy 1988, because this is a pretty blase night with few highs or lows.  There are several items of note.  First, Jerry has the giggles throughout this show – they’re there from the start and he’s still laughing during the second-set-ending Morning Dew, one of the only really good songs of the night, and in no way a funny tune.  Second, vocal effects are applied in strange places throughout the show and this is one of the only times I can remember hearing them applied to Jerry’s vocals – they seem to always be added to Bob.  Maybe I haven’t listened to enough 1988 shows?  Third, don’t let the terrible Let the Good Times Roll that starts this show fool you – things aren’t as bad as the opening number suggests.

In short, come for the Ripple, stay for the party if you want, but you’re not going to miss much if you jet out early.

Listen to the adequate soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 1, 1988 – Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

terrapinIt’s career .250 hitter 1988 up to bat.  Again.  And he grounds to the shortstop.  He bobbles the ball.  And 1988 reaches on an error after hustling down the line.  That’s this show.

All the first set songs are fine here (Sugaree is actually pretty good) but everything just flies along without incident.  In the second set, Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain is decent and Jerry and Brent seem to enjoy playing back and forth, but we never get to that special place in the jam.  Space manages to do something here as it transports us to The Other One, but nothing major happens once we get there.  Morning Dew, like everything else here, is ok but pedestrian.

And that’s today’s show, ladies and gentlemen.  Hey, it’s 1988, that’s just how it goes three-quarters of the time.  Check it out here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 14, 1988 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

terrapinThis show, at a venue known for great performances, is a mess from start to finish.  The boys aren’t into it tonight and they all sound as if they are in a rush to get the hell out of the building.  How can I tell?  Drums / Space totals 8 minutes, and the last minute is really the start of I Need a Miracle.  Enough said.

Highlights?  Let’s call them not-lowlights instead.  In the first set, these boil down to an actually good Queen Jane Approximately and an uninspired Let It Grow that meanders around for a while without doing anything.  Looks Like Rain sits at the top of the second half dung pile, giving you a clue as to what kind of night this is.  Even the Black Muddy River encore, which typically provides at least a little sentiment to end things, is marred by Bob Weir’s completely out of tune guitar.  It sounds like he might have smashed the tuning pegs on an amp on his way back to the stage. . .  I can’t even compliment Morning Dew.  UPDATE: Having listened to the show on headphones, I can now compliment Morning Dew.  It’s actually pretty cool.

There are plenty of shows like this out there.  The big question is, do I go back to MSG ’88 tomorrow to see if the boys redeem themselves, or do I look for greener pastures elsewhere?  Stay tuned.

In case you want to hear it, you can listen to the soundboard here: