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 would take early 80 releases, as i agree with your sentiment blair that the era is underrated. At least that's the vibe i always got when reading reviews while downloading shows and reading books about the band - it's an era that always seems to get glossed over, and little love. it always confounded me a bit, because i love the music from these years. i always hear that the boys (especially jerry it seems to my ears) were invigorated by the addition of that "new guy" mydland. i have often on this blog expressed my love for both the fall of '79 and the spring of '81, and would recommend shows from those tours to anyone.
as far as a ten show run goes, well, how about a thirteen show run? from 2/26-2/28/81 at chicago's uptown theatre, to 3/2-3/3 at cleveland, to 3/5-3/6 at pittsburgh, 3/7 in maryland (MONSTER Bird Song), 3/9-3/10 at msg, 3/12 at boston, 3/13 in utica, and wrapping up with 3/14 in hartford. of these shows i'd say i know half of them pretty well, but i'm now feeling up to the challenge of getting to know the rest of them better to get the feel for the whole run.
good idea blair. thanks again to my fellow bloggers for the suggestions...happy listening folks
Excellent call on that. I have been listening to 12/10/71...sehr gut (auf Deutsch, bitte.)
12/5 DARK STAR
12/14 (I wish I had a way to demonstrate an experience I had with that...flying into Chicago ( I think) late in the afternoon, listening to a tape on a walkman while 'smile smile smiling', seeing the sun reflect in a glorious shade of orange and other colors off of several buildings)
12/15 DARK STAR
Was just listening to 7-4-81, great show, can't believe there has only been one official release from 1981. (5-6-81 DP13)
Hell yeah we would buy any official release from the 80's, kinda bummed that the last three Dave's Picks have been all from the 70's, hopefully the next will be a huge upgraded show from 1981-85.
Currently have 4-27-85 on deck, nice first set.....
It's a bummer that supposedly so many tapes
from these shows were barteded away or poorly
made to begin with. I always looked over at Healy,
Howard and Don and assumed the recording was
under control. If only someone had let us know it
going to be an issue we would have taken up a
I was never very well connected, but people I
knew routinely got low gen boards fairly quickly and
they sounded great at the time.
08/03/82 and the Frost shows are favorites from '82
for me. The Starlight won the smile meter factor -
never seen so many people so happy! For those
who claim not to get this year, Jerry was still of strong
voice thru out the year, something that would soon
be all over the radar.
All three Greek shows from July of 1984 are worthy
of being released as well.
I agree with ya, Blair, early 80s has a lot to offer. Fall '83 Mountain/Western States tour (Boise, those Santa Fe shows, WOW!) and then East Coast Fall '83, Greek '84 Fall East Coast '84. I don't think the best of those years has been released officially yet.
Its hard to pinpoint what it is about those years that feels so good to me when I listen. Objectively there are many reasons NOT to like those years, but somethin' was going on that made many special nights that ya gotta be turned on to or search for if you weren't there in those years, like me. Finding the hidden gems in the early 80s is really rewarding, maybe because of the challenge of the search?
I say release more 80s Dead!
...the tape quality can be dodgy. This was the cassette era for masters and they definitely did not capture Phil as well as reels did, and, as you say, the overall dynamics are lacking. But most '82 sounds better recording-wise than '81 to me. So many shows in '81 are really lacking in Bob.
Ugh. I really think the majority of people who are into 82 shows are the ones who were on the road then and associate that period with all sorts of happy memories. And why not? That is a huge part of the deal.
For me, sitting here in 2012 listening to the band in 1982 ...just does absolutely nothing for me. I was 11,12 years old. Wasn't there. So what I hear is all I have. I dont care for the overall sound of the band, especially Phil. Was he even playing half the time? Part of it is the sound of the board tapes from that period...it just sounds flat and not much in the way of dynamics. The early versions of the new tunes aren't compelling. I just don't get it.
One thing I relate to... I almost ALWAYS listen by tour. It's so cool. I will have a few tours going at any one time in iTunes. And to go a step further into freakville I will often go as far as listening to shows corresponding to the current month. So...this is Summer tour time in my headphones usually...when fall comes I get out the fall 90 and fall 73!
I will give some 82 another try. Thanks for this post...interesting as always.
Been a long time since I've revisited Cape Cod and Philly. I dug that period of Brent's playing, too. I was sorry he sort abandoned synth sounds so early in his time with the Dead. Maybe the others in the band didn't dig them...
I've really been enjoying a bunch of shows from Fall of '79.
How about starting with 10/25/79 New Haven (KILLER Shakedown Passenger set II opener!) and then going through to Cape Cod, Nassau, Providence, Philly.
How about the very weird Scarlet Begonias jam on 11/1/79? The Dancin'>Franklin's from Cape Cod ? The Eyes>Estimated>Franklin's from Philly? L
There are some seriously awesome funk jams in there when Brent was really starting to gel and was using all those crazy-good late 70s electronic keyboard sounds. I love that shit!
Munching ten-strips as a summer diet. Me likey! Howzabout October 80 in two sessions, The West and then The East. I think there's 10 a side there, if memory serves. Too bad somebody let Betty have a bulk eraser handy...