The Grateful Dead in Las Vegas. Sounds like a punchline, right?
Here’s a couple of interesting tidbits about the Dead in Sin City.
Their first show, way back in 1969, was at the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace. In Vegas. In 1969.
The band didn’t play Vegas again until 1981.
Upon their return, the Dead played the Aladdin Theater in 81, 83 and 84. This was a theater in a casino. In Vegas. In the 80’s.
The Dead didn’t play Vegas again until 1991.
When the Dead came back to the desert, they and their fans were safely contained at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl. They played multiple-show runs there until the very end.
Why is this history important? Well, first, the thought of the Dead and their traveling circus being allowed anywhere near a casino is just an incredible image. But, hey, things were different back then. (The 1969 Ice Palace show takes this to a whole other level). Second, at tonight’s show in particular, it seems as if the band may have fully embraced the Las Vegas experience, as the playing, especially in the second set, has a slightly “frenetic” quality to it.
I’m sure that it was just the natural excitement from being in Vegas (and not any of the various substances so capably documented by the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in his ode to this city) that caused the Dead to fire through one of the fastest, sloppiest versions of Eyes of The World that you’ll ever hear. And it must have been the tinkling of all those slot machines and not chemically-induced onstage madness that made Jerry and Bobby argue, via their competing guitar riffs, between at least three songs at the end of Eyes of the World before settling, barely, on Truckin’, which also spins out at a pace so fast that Bob can’t even get the words out, let alone utter them in the correct order. Ditto The Music Never Stopped, which was clearly supposed to end the first set, but was so botched, lyrically, that Jerry took the reigns and forced everyone into a version of Might as Well that no one other than him seemed excited to play. Yeah, none of this had anything to do with stimulants, no sir.
This is not a criticism. Tonight’s show is fun, and it’s captured on an ideal audience recording that is much better than the soundboard. There are some genuine great moments here, like the (very fast paced) China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider. The jamming after the similarly loaded Saint of Circumstance is the best of the night, even though it’s balancing on the razor’s edge of sloppy. But that’s the Grateful Dead in 1984. During 1984, they could typically make this kind of act work. By 1985, that became much more difficult. So rejoice in the quality of this recording and in the free spirited yet not terrible playing you’re hearing, captured live in the middle of the beating heart of one of the most decadent and depraved places in America at the height of the Reagan Era in the year George Orwell made infamous. Buy the ticket and take the ride.