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.
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)?
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...
Great comments and great shows mentioned. I had to chime-in about 80-82, which was solid! As official releases, I would drop the cash for the mid-April '82 Baltimore (The Raven) and the Hartford (Phil's Earthquake Space) shows. In addition, the Warfield from that year (February 16 and 17) would be awesome! The best Women Are Smarter ever!
Also, any New Years footage from '79 into '80; '80-81; and '81 into '82 would be great to see.
Lastly, years ago I heard for the first time the Essen, W. Germany show and thought that was a strong show. Of course, it is subjective hearing, but I was happy to hear the energy.
My favorite periods remain 'late '68-early '78; however, as the band played into the '80s and the roller coaster of high and low times accelerated, back then, we were dancing at the shows-- good and not as good ones. I miss seeing the good ol' Grateful Dead all together-- right there (and with Jer and Billy as the only gray-haired ones). There was tremendous excitement as a song, which started-out rocky, finished up magical. We were right there to catch them too when the near flawless tune came unhinged.
What gets me to part with cash these days for Dead music is the interesting scenarios under which the show fell, or the out of the ordinary (for the time) songs.
One of the gems from the DP series was the Bo Diddley set from '72.
"I just want to be more than a little star. All you've got to do now; is hang up there and shine." from Bob Star/Little Star.
9/6/91 is a show that deserves attention.
Everything they played at this show was as good, and dare I say, even better than almost everything they played throughout their entire 30 year career.
Use Birdsong as the starting point and you'll hear what I mean. Not a single missed lyric, Jerry was in fine voice and actually leading the band around every corner with the utmost confidence, the Bruce/Vince combo outdoing themselves. It truly is a Grateful Dead "wall of sound".
If they were to release this, I'd recomend everything from Birdsong on from this night, and as filler, the first set and the Scarlet>Fire from the first night 9/4.
The Dark Star Jam out of Space from 9/6 is unique in the way it geniusly rolls into Watchtower.
The first half of the second set is the same setlist as Dick's Picks 17 from 9/25/91, but the playing from 9/6 by far outshines Boston Garden.
9/6/91 is the way the Dead should have played every night throughout their entire career! I don't often boast about Vince/Bruce era stuff, but what they performed on this particular night should be regarded by all Deadheads as a "this may be the finest show they ever played, bar none" moment. Even the Victim is possibly the best version ever performed, and people who generally hate that song won't be able to deny that Garcia shreds the crap out of this one. Jerry was a man possessed that night.
I posit a 16 show run for the perusal of all: 3/14/90 through 4/3/90 which comprises the 1990 East Coast Spring Tour. The range of this run is from above average to sublime. My personal favorites are 3/19 Hartford and 4/2 Atlanta. The Branford show at Nassau, while great, is just a tad overrated IMO.
I was talking to a friend recently about the relative merits of 1982 GD. I've always pretty much skipped over 1982-84. For the most part, I am simply underwhelmed by that period of GD music. Not that there isn't some great stuff there, just that there are far better periods IMO.
Summer 82 I saw 2 shows. Drove all the way from Worcester to Alpine Valley. Spent several days at the Lake Geneva Resort before the show enjoying the Wisconsin summer. The first show was monumental with the Music-Sugaree-Music start and the Dew! I still remember the second night because the weather was amazing(it rained the night before). Special guests John Cippolina and Zakir Hussain made the concert unforgettable. I became a "dead head" at that point and It's been a long strange trip ever since.
August 3, 1982 sure was a good show. I'm listening to the matrix recording from LMA, compliments of Paul Hogan and Chris Chappell. I'd just been laid off from my job, and KC was experiencing another 100 degree cooker, but by nightfall it was enjoyable. Jerry's 40th birthday show was 2 days prior at the Zoo in Oklahoma City, which I understand was even hotter. I'll listen to that show after I finish the Starlight 1st set. Althea is absolutely terriffic: " I was born to be a bachelor" !! Cassidy really rocked. Friends Gary and Debbie have a beautiful daughter named after this song.....
Time warp ahead 9 years, and yes, Ted's in Bonner Springs with a warm keg of Boulevard Wheat beer and bags of ice that were melting as fast as the glacier in Montana. Bruce Hornsby certainly put a positive jolt into the performance. Both shows were excellent. The China > Rider, from 6/24, and the 6/25 Scarlet > Fire with the Baby Blue encore are outstanding.
Thanks Blair for the KC mentions!
Thanks Blair. I have decided to do a major listening project. I'm going to start with the Cal Expo run and go all the way the Europe 1990. Here I will hear the end of the Brent era and the beginning of the Vince and then Bruce era. That is a total of 42 shows. Wow!! I better get my dancing shoes on
I'm a big fan of 1985 (if you can still consider that early 80s) so its not hard to find a bunch of ideas for good runs of 10 shows that year.
6-15-85 to 6-30-85 gives you all three Greeks, the excellent SPAC & Hershey Park shows and the very good Shakedown on the first night of Merriweather. Drums with the Beam was so spooky good this year and I don't usually get too excited for drums/space.
East Coast Spring '85 is also good. 3-27-85 to 4-8-85 gives you the Nassau and Philly runs. I love the first set of 3-28-85 with the Truckin'>Smokestack opener and the very hot China>Rider to end the set. The stuff in the middle is fantastic, as well. I also dig the first sets in Philly, short but very good . Tons of Steel>supplication>Might As Well and Bird Song, Dancin', Deal, nice!
There's nobody still around who saw Mozart live either... And it's not like he left behind a Vault or a plethora of performances preserved on Archive. In fact, every time you hear his music, it's because of ... wait for it ... a cover band!
in my view, if you say you're on the bus that is fairly determinative...
Realistically, we are not that far, in the evolution of all this, when there will be far more Dead Heads who never saw the band than Heads who did. I don't think it's for the temporally fortunate to dis those who came along later.