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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 26, 1988 – Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Dancing Skeletons

Did you know that there’s a Grateful Dead song called Gentlemen Start Your Engines?  It’s on So Many Roads, but I honestly don’t remember it.  This little historical nugget, which debuted today, is why we’re doing two 1988 shows in a row.

I guess now is as good a time as any to address a topic of seemingly endless disagreement within the Dead community (then again, what isn’t) – Brent songs.  I’m not going to get into the debate about Brent’s voice or keyboard playing although I will say for the record that I’ve always loved his voice and I think that he was the best keyboard player other than Bruce Hornsby that the band ever had.  His keyboard tone is another matter entirely.  This is about his actual songs.

I remember watching a Brent-era show on DVD with a couple of friends who were the main catalyst for my really getting into the Dead .  I don’t recall what song it was – maybe I Will Take You Home – but I do remember calling it cheesy.  This prompted a very long argument.  At the time I didn’t have a clue about what I was talking about when it came to the Dead, and the people who I was arguing with already had a long relationship with the band.  They insisted (and forgive me if my description of this conversation is not as nuanced as their argument was) that Brent’s songs were passionate and forceful and pretty great.  Responding more as a music fan in general and not as an experienced Dead fan, I stuck to my guns and said that no objective listener would think that Bent’s songs were good in the way that a non-Deadhead would respond to something like Uncle John’s Band.  We never agreed.

Fast forward thirteen years (dear lord).  Suffice to say, I’ve heard a lot more Grateful Dead music since that conversation.  I’m no longer able to approach the band’s music as an objective listener, because they are a much more important part of my world.

Now I like the Brent songs, for much of the same reason that my friends did back when we first had that argument.  There is a feeling behind these songs, a deep heartbreak and anger, that comes out every single time Brent sings them.  This passion is something that’s typically missing from other Dead songs, despite the incredibly high quality of the music and lyrics.  It’s hard to get legitimately worked up about streetcats making love (although Bob Weir gives it his all), but when Brent sings “Soon as I finish tearin’ myself apart / Like the Devil’s Mustangs / I’ve been ridden hell for leather / Put away wet and angry in the dark” like he does in Gentlemen Start Your Engines, you believe that he really feels this way.  NOTE – John Barlow wrote the lyrics to both Looks Like Rain and Gentlemen Start Your Engines, which proves that he was definitely writing with the singer in mind.  In an era when the band was slowly coming apart only to come back together again, Brent and his songs provided a much needed burst of pure rage and feeling that you don’t hear anywhere else in the band’s repertoire, ever, but especially not in the 80’s.

All of this doesn’t mean that Gentlemen Start Your Engines is a great song, but it’s actually pretty groovy, in a swampy, late in the evening kind of way.  I enjoyed hearing it here.

The rest of the show is pretty good, too, and certainly better than the previous day’s performance.   Mississippi Half-Step opens the show and sets the mood as the band goes on a joyous, up-tempo romp through the first set, culminating in a pretty quick but nevertheless well-done Music Never Stopped.  The pace doesn’t slacken in the second set, what with a set-opening Touch of Grey leading into Playin’ In The Band>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ In The Band.  Even the Drums/Space is dynamic.  The show closes with a pretty fired up version of Turn on Your Lovelight before Jerry brings us all home with Black Muddy River.

This recording is labeled as a Matrix, and it sounds like it could be, but if it is, the volume on the audience side is really low: