In the “essay” I wrote in the “About” section of this site, I said:
[W]hat I’m generally aiming for here, is an actual discussion of the music, as recorded. This means that sometimes I do have to comment on recording quality, like when important parts of songs are missing or where the only available recording stinks. I’ll also touch on the band’s history, or the circumstances surrounding the show, when necessary to explain why things sound like they do.
I’m going to violate that rule at the end of this review, so if you don’t want to read the rant, please skip the part after the link to the show. But before we get to the ranting, I’d like to say that although this show is almost universally loathed, the playing is not nearly as bad as it would become over the next month. Things start sloppy with Touch of Grey and don’t improve much until Ramble on Rose, which is not bad. Black Throated Wind and Loose Lucy at least have some energy, as does the set-ending Promised Land.
The second set starts with the ironic Here Comes Sunshine (an upbeat song at a mess of a show). Later on, we get a new song – the debut of Rollin’ and Tumblin’. This is a very old blues tune that traces its roots to the late 1920’s, more than 20 years before Muddy Waters recorded what is probably the most well-known version in 1950. You’ll notice immediately that the Dead have been playing this tune since the 60’s – they just changed the words and called it Minglewood. Here, they have a go at the original, but Jerry is singing lead and he can’t remember any of the lyrics, which makes things go downhill quickly. The rest of the night, other than a pretty version of He’s Gone right before Drums and a sentimental Standing on the Moon, is no better, however the Liberty encore is pretty cool. But, to reiterate, if you just read the reviews, you’d think that, musically, this was the worst Dead show ever, and it’s not even close. That doesn’t mean that you have to sit through the whole thing.
The audience tape from this show is well recorded – at points, you forget that it’s an AUD. (Say what you want about 1995, but the quality of the audience tapes is really, really good in general). Listen here: https://archive.org/details/gd95-06-15.schoeps.7745.sbeok.shnf
So, having talked about the music, now we have to talk about the scene, because this show is always cited as the beginning of the tour of doom that included lightning strikes in Washington, death threats against Jerry at Deer Creek and ended with Jerry dying shortly thereafter. If you read the comments on the Archive, you’re going to learn, in painful detail, exactly what was wrong at these shows – people who didn’t care about the music showing up just to cause trouble, gate crashing, folks arriving en mass with no tickets and no plans, ridiculous quantities of drugs and alcohol being ingested by people who couldn’t handle them. It’s all right there in the comments section, written by people who sound like they still don’t care about what they did.
As I’ve said here before, I’m too young to have seen the Dead live in their heyday – my only in-person show was a few days after this one, at Giants Stadium. I wasn’t that interested in the music when I attended that concert – I went, as a music fan first and foremost, to hear the Dead but also to check out the “scene”. It was depressing. As an outsider, I had developed a picture of a Dead show as a kind of hippie nirvana, a shining holdout from the glorious 60’s. Instead, the vibe was nasty and clearly out of control. This Highgate show was just the most obvious example of the problem. And the worst part about all of these shenanigans is that Jerry was literally killing himself to keep the Grateful Dead on the road, not only to feed the massive army of Dead employees that needed the band for support, but because a ton of the people who showed up at these shows actually really loved the music and wanted to hear the band and he didn’t want to disappoint them.
Anyway, that’s all history now, and if you listen to this show without knowing the background, you would wonder what all of the negativity surrounding Highgate is all about. But once you know, you won’t hear the music the same way again.