Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog - Best Dead Tours?

By Blair Jackson

Finding a consensus on almost anything in the Grateful Dead world is a daunting proposition. There are as many opinions about the “best” shows or tours as there are Dead Heads. Each of us has his or her own prejudices about songs, tours and eras based on a million different factors, from personal experiences at shows to associations we have with specific songs and myriad other circumstances that affect what we like and dislike.

What got me thinking about this was writing essays over the past year about a couple of tours that nearly everyone seems to hold in high regard: Europe ’72 and the spring ’77 East, Midwest and South jaunt. The June ’74 Wall of Sound tour has many true believers, as does the short Midwest tour in February ’73. (I’m with ya on both!) Once you get beyond the ’70s, however, there are a certain number of Heads who will automatically tune out any discussion of best tours—they believe that nothing post-Keith and Donna was up to the level of what came before. And jeez, better not even bring up the post-Brent era!

Personally, I loved every band lineup on some level, and I can find shows and tours I like in every year. OK, it gets a little tougher by ’93, and in ’94 and ’95 we’re talking about the best of a not-that-great lot. By that I mean, I can say that I believe the fall ’94 East Coast tour was the best of the year, but mostly in comparison to the wretchedness of so many shows earlier in the year. (In ’94 I turned down an offer to write a book called 30 Years Dead because I was so depressed after seeing two Madison Square Garden shows on that tour I was just lauding!) But I was never one of those guys worrying that the “Scarlet-Fire” I was seeing in 1991 wasn’t as good as ones I had on tape from ’77. Or the ’92 version of “Here Comes Sunshine” was inherently lame because it wasn’t jammed out the way it had been in ’73. I rarely met a “Scarlet-Fire” that didn’t thrill me to the core, and as for “Here Comes Sunshine”—I was happy any time I could hear that, in any form. (I can say the same thing about both in this post-Dead era.) During my time putting out The Golden Road magazine (1984-1993), I was attacked by some for liking too much and by others for occasionally being too critical. What can I say? I loved this band every step of my own journey with them (’69-’95) and, experientially speaking, never particularly favored one era over another.

So, getting back to the alleged subject at hand—best Dead tours—I will happily rattle off a few of my favorites from different eras. I will start in 1971, when Dead tours really start looking like organized excursions of a region more than they had previously, and we also have a solid body of tape evidence to evaluate.

Though my first serious burst of going to clusters of shows was in the winter-spring of ’71 — two Capitol Theatre (Port Chester), two Fillmore East, two Manhattan Center — it’s the fall ’71 tour — Keith’s first outing—that makes this list. (I saw the two Chicago shows.) You can truly hear the excitement and enthusiasm as the group absorbs this new instrumental voice, and the many songs that were introduced earlier in the year (and on the fall tour itself) begin to take on an unexpected richness that will become even more obvious on the Europe ’72 tour.

I’ll skip over ’73-’77 (pick a tour, almost any tour, and it’s got something to recommend it—yes, even ’76, which some Heads just don’t like), and mention the April ’78 tour of the South and Midwest. The playing is a little more ragged than the best of ’77, and you can feel Keith starting to drift away at times, but there are still many high points in most shows.

Stanley Mouse created
this poster for the
underrated Europe 1981
tour.

In 1980, all the attention goes to the three-set September-October shows at the Warfield in San Francisco, Saenger Performing Arts Center in New Orleans and Radio City in New York, but for my money some of the best shows of that year are the August-early September ’80 Midwest and East Coast shows. The Uptown (Chicago) run is my favorite and the Lewiston, Maine, concert is chock full o’ good stuff. A lot of the Warfield/Radio City material sounds pretty tame and tentative by comparison.

The September-October ’81 Europe tour doesn’t get the props it should in part because the tapes aren’t that great—the Rainbow (London) series sounds dry and oddly balanced and Bob’s guitar barely registers on many of the other shows (c’mon, Healy!). But the playing is frequently quite electrifying, and of course there are the three Melk Weg oddities from Amsterdam in the middle.

Maybe because I traveled to the late August, early September ’83 shows in Eugene, Boise and Santa Fe, I’ve always been partial to that Western tour, Portland through Manor Downs (Austin).

The Summer ’83 Western tour was a hot one.

Summer ’85, beginning with the Berkeley Greek 20th anniversary concerts in mid-June through Pittsburgh in early July, boasts several outstanding shows, as does the late August to mid-September tour that hit Red Rocks, Kaiser in Oakland and Chula Vista. All in all, ’85 is one of my favorite years.

So is 1988, and there I have to go with the mid-June to early July shows, incorporating fine outings at Alpine Valley, Saratoga and ending at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine. (Surely 7/2 is release-worthy, no?)

Moving up a couple of years, the March/early April 1990 tour—particularly the stretch including Copps Coliseum in Ontario, Knickerbocker Arena in Albany (some of which became Dozin’ at the Knick) and Nassau Coliseum (Branford!)—is mostly killer (and was all multitracked. I’d buy a Nassau box!). And though the Europe ’90 tour was not universally great, there’s lots of good stuff in there.

I could see a box set featuring the best of the September 1991 Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden shows (that’s right, a compilation!), but the real gold in ’91 — with the Bruce Hornsby-Jerry dynamic in full bloom—is the June ’91 tour, which includes several favorites, including both Deer Creek concerts, the two Giants Stadium shows, Soldier Field (tops on my list) and Sandstone in Kansas. I luv me my ’91 Dead!

So, those are a few of my choices. What tours do you want to turn us onto?

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Fall 1989

With the combination of "new" tunes, SOTM and Take You Home, Etc. New songs and old favorites make for a great recipe. The return of Dark Star, Death Don't and Attics.
I also think; Jerry and Bob, had really started to get a handle on the MIDI system. So the communication between band members seemed really fresh with the chance to engage each other with new toys.

The shows from Shoreline through Oakland's New Years should not to be overlooked.

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mrs hippy

i know we're talking about tours but my fave stand-alone, one-off show still has to be englishtown, nj 9/3/77!!!!!

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Missing.......

Dear Blair,

Your blog post is making me miss the Road Trips series. Highlights from each of the tours you mentioned would make splendid releases. And to silence the 'knuckleheads', Rhino could get the Band to recant the policy of taking shows of archive.org when one song from the show is released commercially. Just sayin'.

That being said, the next full tour box should be Fall '73. Otherwise, let's get to work on the 'Grateful Dead Movie Super Deluxe Edition' and release the full run from Oct '74 in Blu-Ray/5.1 with all the video.

D

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Europe 90 and Spring 91

Maybe it was because I was on these tours, but I thought there were many fine moments - Berlin, Paris, Halloween London then onto Cap Center, Greensboro (longest Eyes ever!), and Orlando. Even the 90 New Years run in between seemed pretty sweet at the time. I guess that's the thing - it was all pretty awesome while it was happening. And even though you knew it might not compare to what had been played in the 60's or 70's, hearing it again now, it actually WAS pretty hot!!!

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Speakin of '85

the November Kaiser run was outstanding.
11/20
Jack Straw
Peggy-O
C.C. Rider
Stagger Lee
My Brother Esau
High Time
Beat it on Down the Line
Promised Land
Don't Ease Me In

Iko Iko
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Terrapin Station
Don't Need Love
drums
Stella Blue
Sugar Magnolia

U.S. Blues

11/21
Big Boy Pete
Dire Wolf
Little Red Rooster
Brown Eyed Women
Me and My Uncle
Mexicali Blues
Ramble on Rose
Looks Like Rain
Might As Well

Shakedown Street
Crazy Fingers
Playin' in the Band
She Belongs to Me
drums
The Other One
Wharf Rat
Playin' in the Band
Gimme Some Lovin'
Midnight Hour

Walkin' the Dog

11/22
Hell in a Bucket
Sugaree
New Minglewood Blues
Althea
Cassidy
Dupree's Diamond Blues
Let it Grow

Touch of Grey
Estimated Prophet
Eyes of the World
drums
Morning Dew
Throwin' Stones
Turn on Your Love Light

Brokedown Palace

the September were not to shabby either

9/10
Jack Straw
Peggy-O
Little Red Rooster
Stagger Lee
Me and My Uncle
Mexicali Blues
Ramble on Rose
Cassidy
Don't Ease Me In

China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Estimated Prophet
Eyes of the World
Good Time Blues
drums
China Doll
Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad
Around and Around
Sugar Magnolia

Day Job

9/11
Mississippi Half-Step
New Minglewood Blues
Friend of the Devil
Beat it on Down the Line
Promised Land
Tennessee Jed
Let it Grow
Deal

Touch of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
Terrapin Station
Man Smart/Woman Smarter
drums
Gimme Some Lovin'
Stella Blue
Good Lovin'

U.S. Blues

9/12
Greatest Story Ever Told
Bertha
It's All Over Now
Row Jimmy
My Brother Esau
Big Railroad Blues
Looks Like Rain
Might As Well

Help on the Way
Slipknot!
Franklin's Tower
Playin' in the Band
drums
The Other One
Black Peter
Throwin' Stones
Not Fade Away

drums
Not Fade Away
Brokedown Palace

then there was also Feb
2/18
Iko Iko
C.C. Rider
Dire Wolf
Cassidy
Ramble on Rose
Me and My Uncle
Mexicali Blues
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider

Samson and Delilah
He's Gone
Spoonful
Eyes of the World
Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad
drums
China Doll
Baby What You Want Me to Do
Sugar Magnolia

Day Job

2/19
Jack Straw
Dupree's Diamond Blues
New Minglewood Blues
Brown Eyed Women
My Brother Esau
Bird Song
Hell in a Bucket
Might As Well

Truckin'
Terrapin Station
Man Smart/Woman Smarter
drums
Throwin' Stones
Touch of Grey

Johnny B. Goode

2/20
Cold Rain and Snow
Day Tripper
West L.A. Fadeaway
Mama Tried
Big River
Tennessee Jed
Looks Like Rain
Don't Ease Me In

Scarlet Begonias
Fire on the Mountain
Playin' in the Band
drums
The Wheel
Black Peter
Turn on Your Love Light

U.S. Blues

Now that's a box

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I agree, Hal...

...about the "Cryptical"/"That's It for the Other One"s in '85, but it was still a thrill to hear and a couple of the later partial versions were pretty cool. I wasn't surprised when Jerry stopped doing it, though--he never seemed that comfortable with it...

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Tours

As one of those folks you talk about who thought they lost a lot when Keith and Donna made tracks, I still saw the bulk of my shows in the early 80's. I have to say the Fall '83 tour was pretty spectacular. With the breakout of St. Stephen and wonderful shows like Lake Placid and Hartford and Worcester... It was a pretty exciting tour. And summer '84 with the breakout of Lovelight (sandwiched between Not Fade), Casey Jones, Dancin' in the Streets and finally the Greek Dark Star encore. And then those great Ventura shows... Oddly enough, I'm not the biggest fan of '85. Despite some great set lists (the Greek 20th anniversary shows), I found the quality of playing very sketchy. That's It For The Other One is one of my all-time faves, but I never thought they played it well when they finally broke it out in '85. I guess that was the year I really started to notice just how much they were slipping. Funny how two people can have such completely different experiences of shows/tours/years. And I was also at those '88 Oxford Plains shows and, while I had a blast and loved the set lists (particularly 7/2), I thought the playing was sloppy, though certainly energetic. But even listening to that show now, the boys are just all over the place. It's kind of a mess to my ears. But alas, this is exactly what you're talking about. We all have our personal favorites and least favorites. And the lenses through which we view/experience the music. But when all is said and done, I've still never loved a band like the Dead. Warts and all.

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