Recently, I’ve been on a kick of listening to big chunks of certain Grateful Dead tours in chronological order. It started after I lauded the summer 1991 tour in this space a few weeks ago. I decided to check out the last 10 shows of that jaunt—from Charlotte through Sandstone (Kansas), to see if they were as good as I remembered. I realized I hadn’t actually heard half of them since I listened to them for my 1991 year-in-review article in Issue 26 of The Golden Road 20 years ago, and none of the others in the last several years. The ones I remembered best and most fondly—RFK 6/14, Giants Stadium 6/16-17, Soldier Field 6/22 and Sandstone 6/25—all held up amazingly well. The 6/25 show, which I’d remembered mostly just for the “Scarlet” > “Fire,” really knocked my socks off from beginning to end. Well, almost to the end. After a near-perfect show, Jerry forgets to sing the critical last verse of the “Baby Blue” encore! Aaaugh!
The previous night’s concert at Sandstone (6/24) was probably the greatest revelation, with its explosive “Help-Slip-Frank,” China-Rider,” “Supplication” jam and “Other One” > “Morning Dew.” Definitely the Bruce era at its best! But all the shows had bountiful exploratory passages and much adventurous playing.
OK, that was some great late-era GD. But what really got me jazzed recently was my 10-show plunge into the summer of 1982, from Ventura (7/17-18) through the Starlight in Kansas City (8/4). Wow! I’d forgotten how consistently fantastic the band sounded that year, and a number of the shows in this batch were ones I don’t recall ever hearing before, so I was like a kid on Christmas opening presents.
I’ll always have a sentimental attachment to the Ventura shows. It was Regan’s and my first Grateful Dead road trip (about a year into our marriage) and we had more fun than I believed was humanly possible—outstanding shows, nice room at the Holiday Inn on the beach, partying with friends into the wee hours. I thought: “We should do this whenever we can.” And we did! (I later used descriptions of these Ventura shows as the opening of my first book about the Dead, The Music Never Stopped, which came out in 1983.)
Day Two is known primarily for being the show at which “Crazy Fingers” was played for the first time in six years (and it’s a killer version), but there’s lots to love in both shows, including the only “Samson” > “Franklin’s” combo the band ever played (to open the second set of 7/18), a surprise “Truckin’” to end the first set of 7/17, and plenty more. If you don’t know these shows, check ’em out on Archive.org.
After Ventura, some of our friends went on to Red Rocks (skipping Compton Terrace in Tempe—by far the weakest of the 10 in my view; Jerry has serious lyric amnesia), and then hitting Texas and Oklahoma. But the Ventura shows were our last until the band’s maiden voyage at Frost Amphitheatre on the Stanford campus in October ’82 (more on that in a few months).
All three ’82 Red Rocks shows are solid, with many high points. The first night (7/27) features a superb “Sugaree,” “China Cat-Rider” (always special in Colorado) and an expansive second set that opens and closes with “Playing in the Band” and stuffs a whole bunch of tasty treats in between: “Terrapin,” a second “Playing” jam, “The Other One” and a “Stella Blue” that is a thing of pure beauty. Bob unleashes some unique vocal adlibs before the first “Playing” jam, repeating the word “Playing” over and over, sometimes in falsetto, and inspiring Brent to join in at one point; pretty cool. This is my kind of show.
Night Two gets off to a roaring start with “Shakedown,” followed by the extremely rare Weir duo of “Beat It On Down the Line” > “Greatest Story Ever Told” (played together just once previously), and has a powerful mid-second-set sequence with “Let It Grow” > “He’s Gone” (lovely post-song jam!) > “Truckin’.” The final night at the Rocks, in a driving rain, the band acknowledges the inclement weather with “Looks Like Rain” in the first set and “Cold Rain” to open the second. “Crazy Fingers” isn’t quite up to the standard established in Ventura, but the backside of the second set is fantastic, with a propulsive “Other One” followed by “Goin’ Down the Road,” “Wharf Rat” and “Around and Around” > “Good Lovin’” to close.
But two of the strongest shows of the tour are still to come. The 7/31 concert at Manor Down in Austin is one of those beginning-to-end romps where the band can seemingly do no wrong. There’s nothing at all unusual about the set list, but everything is so alive and well-played, from first-set choices such as “Candyman,” “Bird Song,” “All Over Now” and “The Music Never Stopped” to the second-set “Scarlet-Fire” and “Estimated-Eyes” pre-“drums,” and the four that come out of “space”: “Uncle John’s” > “Truckin’” > “Morning Dew” > “Saturday Night.” And although “Don’t Ease Me In” was a too-common encore in this era, it was never more geographically appropriate—it’s a Texas blues from the ’20s.
The other show that blew me away was 8/3 Starlight Amphitheatre (Kansas City), which I would deem release-worthy (if solid masters exist). The 11-song first set is positively smokin’—it includes “Half-Step” > “Franklin’s” as the opening pair, a lilting “Peggy-O,” “Cumberland,” “Cassidy,” “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” and “Might As Well.” The awesome second set has a couple of wrinkles, including “To Lay Me Down” > “Let It Grow,” “He’s Gone” out of “space” (very unusual placement) and one of just two versions of “Casey Jones” in ’82 (and the last until ’84). Another rippin’ “Other One” leads into one of the best-sung versions of “Stella Blue” you’ll ever hear, and I must note the two jams on each side of “drums” and “space.” The first is a jazzy foray by Bob and Brent; the second is an inventive, one-of-a-kind, full-band excursion that goes in many directions before arriving at “He’s Gone.”
Part of the fun of the 10-shows-in-order immersion is you really get a feel for what the tour was like—you experience it as it unfolds show to show and savor the nuances that make each one special (or not). You also get to experience the Tour Rat’s occasional frustration—yes, there really were four versions of “Black Peter” in 10 shows (at least they were all really good!). Why did Weir cut off that jam at its peak? No, Jerry, that’s the second verse, not the first. The picky Dead Head’s lament.
But overall, it’s an impressive run of shows, and there were another four I didn’t get to—in St. Paul, Alpine Valley (two) and the University of Iowa. As I like to say: so many shows, so little time. And listening to these 10 reinforced my long-held opinion that the early ’80s are grossly underrated by many Dead Heads. I’m not trying to compare them in any way to the best of the late ’60s or the ’70s; merely suggesting it’s another strong era with its own personality and many exciting peaks.
Let’s hear what you have to say about the early ’80s. Should there be more official releases from that period? Any suggestions for my next 10-show plunge (from any year, except ’77, which I already know is epic start to finish)?