Today in Grateful Dead History: August 8, 1982 – Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, WI

dancing-bearToday’s Grateful Dead show from Alpine Valley in 1982 is not nearly as jammed out as yesterday’s affair at this same venue, but it’s still a very alive performance, enhanced by several all-star guests.

The band is certainly “on” in the first set, but the song selection, by 1982 standards, is pretty blase.  Here it is: Alabama Getaway>Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried>Mexicali Blues, Loser>Little Red Rooster, Brown Eyed Women, Looks Like Rain, Peggy-O, Samson & Delilah.  Now, just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with these songs, and some of them are tunes I actively seek out, like Loser and Peggy-O.  But I’m not going to wait to go to the bathroom because the band is playing any of these.

Fortunately, the band is playing these songs really well.  Jerry’s guitar work on They Love Each Other, in particular, merits special attention, and after the Mama Tried>Mexicali Blues twofer, he’s right back at it, ripping it up on Loser.  Looks Like Rain is a pretty good version, too.  And, finally, check out the setlist placement of Samson and Delilah in the closing slot, something that only happened two other times out of 364 total performances of the song.

Speaking of setlist shenanigans, the band comes back from the break and launches into . . . Far From Me!  Now, Far From Me was not played nearly as often as Samson and Delilah, but out of 74 performances, the Dead only opened a set with it one other time – next month on 9/24/82 in Syracuse.  So this is a rare event.  I won’t say it’s enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd, but so be it.  Rock on, Brent.

With that classic opener out of the way, the band gets down to business in the second set with a 24 minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain that rages for a good long while.  In fact, just when you think they’re done, the boys run back into Fire on the Mountain for one last, two minute blast of guitar heroics.  This blends right into Estimated Prophet, which, like a lot of versions of this song in 1982, is used as a vehicle for the deep space jamming of the night.  As Estimated Prophet winds down, the Dead are joined on stage by Indian drummer extraordinaire Zakir Hussain, who plays with the band for the rest of the night.  As Space eventually fades, frequent Dead guest John Cippolina emerges to play guitar until the bitter end.  What comes next is a lot of heavy guitar action, especially during The Other One>Not Fade Away, as one would expect.   When we get to the encore, the band busts out Satisfaction, which is not normally one of my favorite Dead covers.  But tonight, it’s worth hearing, as Cippolina, Garcia and Weir all weave together into a very interesting montage.  Since everyone’s in a good mood, we’re treated to a second, calmer, Brokedown Palace encore to end the evening.

This past week + of 1982 music is a really sweet run for the Grateful Dead, with top-flight shows in Austin, Kansas City and these two Alpine Valley performances.  (They also played three other shows during this time which aren’t the best you’ll ever hear but they aren’t complete clunkers either).  If you want some serious ’82 Dead, you’ve come to the right week.

Unfortunately, none of the recordings for this night is wondrous.  But as AUDs go, this is pretty good, so I used it:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 7th – No New Shows!

The Grateful Dead only played one show on August 7th.  Thankfully, it’s an early 80’s masterpiece – 8/7/1982 from Alpine Valley.  Opening with The Music Never Stopped>Sugaree>The Music Never Stopped and proceeding to rock an intense Let It Grow, one of the best China>Riders of the 80’s and a huge Playin’ sandwich with a Morning Dew desert, this show, released as Dick’s Pick’s 32, is worth every second of your time and then some.  (I wrote my previous review in a barbershop on my phone, so it’s not much better than this).  See you tomorrow.

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 4, 1979 – Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA

Dancing Skeletons

Today was a historic day for the Grateful Dead.  Not only did the band premiere two songs – Althea and Lost Sailor – but this was also the debut of Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar, the instrument he would exclusively play for the next eleven years.

Since I (shockingly) haven’t done this before, I’m going to spend the next little while talking about Jerry’s guitars.  If you don’t care about guitars, you’re going to want to skip the next three paragraphs.

Jerry Garcia was “particular” when it came to guitars.  Unlike a lot of major rock performers, Jerry only played one instrument during the course of an entire show (except for the acoustic portions of the 1970 and 1980 tours, which required a second guitar, and a brief time in the late 80’s when he used a second guitar to play Midi components during Space).  In addition, once the early 70’s rolled around, Jerry would choose one specific guitar and stick with it for years.  So if you saw the Dead play at any point between this date in 1979 and New Years Eve, 1989/90, you almost certainly saw Jerry play the guitar he debuted tonight.  (There are some exceptions).

Tiger was custom-built for Jerry by Doug Irwin, who also built Wolf, one of the two guitars Jerry played between 1973 and 1979.  (The other was a Travis Beam aluminum guitar that Jerry used during 1976 and 1977).  Tiger is no joke – it weighs 13 1/2 pounds (for reference, an average Fender Telecaster is around 8 pounds) and has two humbucker pickups and a single pickup at the neck.  The tiger inlay actually protected a battery pack used to power a preamp that was built into the guitar, allowing Jerry to maintain a consistent signal to and from his effect pedals – on a normal guitar, if things aren’t dialed in perfectly, you are going to get a change in power whenever you step on a pedal.  Not with Tiger.

Of course, since we’re talking about Jerry Garcia, the full story behind this and all of his other guitars is a lot more complicated.  In a nutshell, Jerry specified in his will that Doug Irwin would get all of his guitars.  But after Jerry died, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead alleged that the guitars never belonged to Jerry, since they were purchased with Grateful Dead money.  (This episode makes my skin crawl).  Irwin, destitute and living with his mother, had to actually sue the Dead to get his guitars back, as Jerry intended.  You can read all about it in this fantastic story in the San Francisco Gate.  And for more on Tiger and Jerry’s other guitars, you can travel to Jerry’s official website, or you can get all of the tech specs here.

OK, enough guitar talk (for now).  What about the music?  As mentioned earlier, tonight was the live debut of Althea and Lost Sailor (without Saint of Circumstance – one of only five performances of Lost Sailor that don’t immediately transition into Saint).  Both of these songs sound like the Dead have been playing them for years.  While Jerry doesn’t let the line very far out on Althea, he certainly enjoys soloing all over Lost Sailor, which sounds amazing given that it’s a first attempt.   The rest of the first set is peppy but nothing strenuous – a pretty typical Bay Area warmup.

The boys ramp it up in the second set, starting with Passenger and flying from there.  Playin’ in the Band is the highlight tonight – it’s a twenty minute blast of psychedelic fury, waaaay further out there than one would expect in 1979, and it crashes into an amazing Drums.  Stella Blue is powerful too.  So, all in all, a great second set on a historic night.

My one complaint is that the recordings aren’t very good.  Both soundboards are missing the Jack Straw opener, and the volume varies greatly from song to song, as does the volume of the individual instruments.  Unfortunately, the audience recording is muddy and sounds like noise reduction was applied.  So here’s the soundboard: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 3, 1982 – Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO

dancing-bearThis is a show that falls somewhere short of legendary but well ahead of a “typical” 1982 performance, but the first half, in particular, is great listening on a sunny summer day.

I kind of fell into a half trance following the mammoth Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeelo>Franklin’s Tower opener, but had one of those eye-opening moments four songs later during Cumberland Blues – “Jeez, they’re really feeling it tonight”.  (After this happened, I went back and re-listened to Peggy-O, which fell in the middle of my stupor – it’s really good too).  Jerry, as usual, is the reason everything seems so bright tonight – his slightly unhinged guitar wailing on Franklin’s finds a little more focus on Cumberland, and he just plays continuous runs throughout the entire 6 minute song.  The same thing happens a few songs later on Big Railroad Blues.  And, as usual, when Jerry is feeling it, everyone else seems to up their game too, especially Bob, who is engaged and ripping during Cassidy and Man Smart (Women Smarter).

The second set maintains the up-tempo feel of the first with an interesting Shakedown Street>Samson & Delilah opener.  This is 22 minutes of spit-fire playing from all involved, even if we never really get any truly “out there” moments.  The crowd falls under a spell as the band slows down for a gorgeous To Lay Me Down (the last of three played in 1982), but they are quickly revived for a furious, and slightly sloppy, Let It Grow.  Bob must have been enjoying himself at this point, because he stays out with the drummers for the first few minutes of Drums, noodling chords and contributing where he can.  Things stay pretty calm post-Space as the band gently plays through He’s Gone which transitions into a bumping The Other One.  Like Let It Grow, this one doesn’t go out far, but there is a ton of energy swirling in the air and the band is riding it.  Continuing the back and forth momentum, Jerry pulls out Stella Blue (a second ballad in the second set) and sticks the ending, a gorgeous four minute ride that I thought was going to end halfway through, as the band drops down to almost complete silence (you can hear a pin drop on this Matrix recording) before rising up again into a second, thrilling run.  After Sugar Magnolia closes things out, we get a special treat – a Casey Jones encore!  This is only the second performance of this song this year, and it would be the last performance for almost two years.  It’s a just reward at the end of a pretty sweet night.

Don’t come here expecting deep, dark jams.  But if you want up-tempo, stretched out versions of some classic Dead tunes played by a band that is cranking in top form, you’ve come to the right place.  None of the recordings is great, but this Matrix will do the trick:

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 2, 1976 – Colt Park, Hartford, CT

stealieI apologize for the puny length of this post – time marched on quickly today.

But honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about this show other than to praise the first-set-ending Lazy Lightning>Supplication, which is great, and to talk briefly about the sweet Playin’ In The Band>Wharf Rat>Jam>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> Playin’ In The Band that represents the heart of the second set.

Like many 1976 shows, this sequence ties together a bunch of unrelated songs with some incredible, thematic jamming running through the entire piece.  For me, the best parts are the transition into Wharf Rat and the movement from there into Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, but the whole thing is a good listen.  If you’re in a rush, just do this part and skip the rest, which is good but nothing to write home about.

Listen to the AUD here (the encores are missing, but do you really need another U.S. Blues or Sugar Magnolia?):

Today in Grateful Dead History: August 1, 1973 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

stealieHappy 75th birthday Jerry Garcia!

If Jerry has taught me anything, it’s that we should embrace all of life’s strange little imperfections.  So, in his honor, I will freely admit one of mine – when I don’t know a lot about a certain subject, I tend to spew gibberish to make up for my lack of knowledge.  (Thank God I didn’t start writing this thing ten years ago)!

There have been many moments over the course of my experience with this band where I said uninformed, dumb things about their music, due, in a large part, to ignorance.  None was more absurd than when I said to a group of seasoned Dead fans, that Space was more interesting, musically, than Dark Star.  (Caveat – I was a true newbie when I uttered these unfortunate words).  After my friends stopped laughing, they put on Live Dead and remedied that little bit of stupidity.  I never bad-mouthed Dark Star again.  But it was this show from Roosevelt Stadium in 1973, which I only heard a couple of years after I made that ridiculous statement, that truly showed me what Dark Star could achieve.

Keep in mind that by the time we get to Dark Star in this show, the band has already played for an hour and a half (and this is after The Band opened the show), so the audience is a little wound up.  Up until this point, the Dead have been firing on all cylinders – the first set features a monumental Bird Song, a lacerating Sugaree and probably my all-time favorite version of They Love Each Other.  (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the pre-hiatus, fast-paced version of this song, stop right now and go hear it immediately).  The beginning of the second set is also sweet, with a great Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and a subtle Row Jimmy.  But then the magic begins: Dark Star>El Paso>Eyes of the World>Morning Dew.  Hold on tight!

It takes almost 14 minutes to arrive at the first verse of Dark Star because, after playing the opening theme, the Dead make a sharp exit into an amazing, exploratory jam that seems to take off from nowhere and ascend to higher and higher peaks for close to ten minutes before gliding back down to the theme and, eventually, the first verse.  And once Jerry is done singing, we still have another ten minutes of mind-bending, freer music to go (at points, it sounds very much like the music from Apocalypse Now – which Mickey Hart, who isn’t present here, had a little something to do with) before saddling up for El Paso, one of those strange Dark Star segues that seem to happen a lot in 73 and 74.  But El Paso is just a little palette cleanser before the 21 minute monster that is Eyes of the World.  Like many longer versions of this song, things get a little repetitive over the course of the tune, but by the end the band locks into things and they stick the traditional, synchronized ending before Morning Dew emerges from the fusion wreckage.  And what a Dew this one is.  There is nothing subtle about this performance – it’s loud and proud, sounding like it belongs in this very stadium during last year’s thunderous show.  Oh boy, does Jerry wail on his birthday here, shattering the audience with blistering leads as everything else crashes and wails around him, concluding one of my favorite hours of Grateful Dead music.

If you are looking for a stellar 1973 show in a summer that is filled with them, and if you’re wondering what all of that Dark Star fuss is about, look no further than this show.  I promise that it will expand your perception of what this band was capable of.

Unfortunately, none of the recordings of this night are pristine.  This Matrix sounds fuller than the soundboard I’ve owned forever: