Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog — The 10-Show Plunge

By Blair Jackson

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.

Ventura ’82: Palm trees, the beach and hot, hot music. Photo: Bob Carey

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)?

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Joined: Aug 3 2009
lets do an early 80s box set

The sportitorium pembroke pines late november 1980 great show first satisfaction next night in lakeland pretty good too but the next night in gainsville has got to be heard by all one of the all time greats shakedown franklins only time played this way and the franklins so sharp i think these shows were better than all of warfield and radio city combined oh and dont forget atlanta right after gainsville.No i mean it go back and hear that truckin drums space the other one stella from gainesville and you tell me what ya all think.Also late summer 83 at the hult center all three nights so nice and boise idaho only dead show in idaho and a hot show at that.Park west utah ok but red rocks all three nights late summer 83 and new mexico.Or the whole spring tour from 85 or the whole summer tour 85 the shakedown at merriweather has got to come out on cd also all the saratoga shows 83 84 85 88.

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Joined: Sep 11 2007
79-83

The band burned hot and got me going plenty in those years, so much fun to chase and connect with friends. I liked the adventure of trying for and getting into theater shows (8 total from Dec-79 to Mar-81), and college campus shows were usually extra fun and mellow. After '83, I needed a little extra incentive, thus outdoor shed shows and traveling longer distances for a few shows in one spot became somewhat normal mode. I'd like to see a definitive compilation of white-hot, below-radar '80 and '81, I know it would kill.

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Joined: Jun 4 2007
Spring 90

Man, if you put that out as a box ....you've gone about as far as you can go with the best of the best (Winterland 73, Europe 72, 69 Fillmore East).

I can't imagine it happening for awhile. I need time to get my finances in order and the kids taken care of so I can buy some of the Europe 72 still! Slow down! :)

Spring 90 is the greatest late period Dead hands down (for me)...if you put June in there too it's unbeatable.

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Joined: Jul 17 2007
RE. Spring '90 Box Set

Fair enough Blair, talking about something that may or may not happen in the future is probably not wise, especially when it comes to GD music.....

Thanks for the response, though :)

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Joined: Mar 18 2010
A perfect 10

How about April of 71- some mighty fine playing during this stretch. September-October and November of 72: How the 10 show plunge turns into a 3 month deep sea dive.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
(cricket noises)

Not gonna go there, Mike. Wouldn't be prudent.

BTW, wanted second the suggestion a while back of Warfield 2/17/82, the aud. version of which was a favorite of mine back in the day. (Been years since I've heard it; thanks for the reminder!) We had front row loge seats and desperately wanted to trade them at the break for good ones on the floor--which was not nearly as sedate--but couldn't find anyone to trade with! We survived. Great second set!

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Joined: Jul 17 2007
Spring '90 Box Set

I thought that there were some pretty good rumors that this might happen this year....

Any hints Blair???

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Joined: Jun 12 2011
mid-summer of 1976?

I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say about late June and early July of 1976.

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Joined: Nov 8 2007
5-11-81

May 11, 1981 -- my first show -- bought a ticket at the booth at 6 pm that night for somethin like $12 bucks! See link to archives below:

http://archive.org/details/gd1981-05-11.nak300.friend.andrewf.102085.flac24

Also, a little off topic, but in late spring/early summer of 1982 there was a Bobby & The Midnites (eek!) & JGB tour (w/ Billy Kreutzmann drumming for Jerry). Saw this show in New Haven (Bobby's band wigged me out); Jerry Band came on and everything settled in just right. (It also happened to my first forray into "innerspace" if ya catch my drift at the trender age of 15 -- never looked back -- knew from the get-go that I was cut out for this stuff! ). I was so "green" I never heard the tune "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- didn't know it was Dylan, didn't know clapton (and just about everyone else) covered it -- knew nothing of the tune whatsoever . . . until Jerry played & sung it LIVE about 30 feet from me (I had a great seat on the floor). BLEW ME AWAY like ya read about -- I mean the authentic stuff -- the REAL DEAL!

Then as a 2 tune encore Bobby came out w/ the JGB and did Women are Smarter>Deal. It was really cool, Jerry, Bobby and Billy w/ Melvin & Co.

Would really like to see some JGB releases or Legion of Mary stuff w/ the horns (especially Jerry coveing "Tough Mama" -- what a great tune w/ absolutely kooky lyrics that somehow work twistedly fantastic -- only Dylan . . . well, Hunter too can do that!)

Gracias, Garcia & Co.!

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Joined: Jun 5 2007
I 2nd that Emotion

I agree with AlexJ... #17... that end of Winter/ beginning of Spring run in 1981 was filled with stellar jamming... IMHO they really were hitting their stride best with Brent.
My personal fav of course was the 3/10/81 show from MSG... My frst, shared with two older brothers and our younger sister (8th grader)...

I've had the tapes of that show since two days after and worn it out ! The Garden was truly ROCKIN' that night...

From the tapes I've heard, the Chicago run and Pitt were blistering as well...

I'd love to hear pristine copies of those shows...

Great topic Blair! Thanks...

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