Thirty-eight years ago today, I witnessed a remarkable show in Alpine Valley. This was my first major road trip to see the Dead (eighteen-hour drive). My heroes greeted me with an unprecedented opener, Music Never Stopped > Sugaree > Music Never Stopped. Those were two of my three favorite songs. Towards the end of set two I was rewarded with my other favorite, Morning Dew. However, the real stars of this show were the greatest Let it Grow known to man, and meaty versions of Cat > Rider and Playin’. These performances are featured in my new book, DeadologyVolume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems.
LET IT GROW
8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: Alpine Valley sounds like the type of place where the Grateful Dead would rip a memorable “Let it Grow,” and Deadheads reaped a bountiful harvest on 8-7-82. From the opening riffs to the final chord, this is as perfect as live improvisation gets. Weir’s on top of his game singing with conviction and Brent is a major improvement over Donna on background vocals, especially during “Let it Grow.” In 1982 the Dead tended to play cocaine crisp, and this hyped rendition is the best of that milieu. The between-verse solo is streamlined virtuosity that carries on after Weir howls, “Seasons round, creatures great and small, up and down, as we rise and fall.”
The life sustaining joys of planting, plowing, and harvesting surge through glistening sonic streams—photosynthesis at the speed of sound. The scary thing about this alpha jam is the smoothness of the segues. The machine plows effortlessly. Phase two takes flight. Crops take heed! The temperature and intensity of the rhapsody is on the rise.
Moving into phase three is a cross between ecstasy and a nightmare. Bob’s orchestrating, and Brent’s pounding the fertile fields. It’s all silky smooth. Garcia’s guitar overboils, and Brent’s there to pound out the warning on his keys. Alpine Valley, beware! Here comes the Great Garcia with a climactic run, wrapping it up with a bold lightning strike run. The boys stick a perfect landing as they ease back into the melody line. All the crops of Alpine Valley stand proud and tall.
The focus is uncanny as Weir leads his mates through the chorus reprise, and Garcia blazes from the last sung words,” Listen to the thunder shout I am, I am, Iam…I am!” The jam is astounding without overstaying its purpose. There’s not a sour note anywhere in this performance. They duck back into the final melody line as Garcia and Weir’s guitars sigh in unison. Garcia approaches the last chord by striking each string individually, and then he digs in for the mother of all final chords—one gorgeous strike packed with fertile heart and soul. Let it Grow indeed!
CHINA CAT > I KNOW YOU RIDER
8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: On a beautiful summer’s eve in the Midwest, set two opens with the confident “China Cat” strut—Jerry’s thick opening riffs cushioned by organ mounds of Brent sound. Second set “Cats” from this era have a patient vibe, it’s the start of an adventure as opposed to a closing statement when it was played at the end of set one. Jerry’s line of attack is focused. Expressive and focused leads pour from his Tiger into the Alpine Valley night. This version is technically perfect, one of several fine performances from this show which is immortalized on Volume 32 of the Dick’s Picks series. The extra-curricular activity makes this a standout Cat > Rider. The band is slowly heading toward “Rider,” but Jerry is having “Cat” flashbacks. We must be in segue paradise—the Dead are playing both songs at the same time. “Rider” stands tall as the band sizzles two lyrical instrumentals.
PLAYIN’IN THE BAND
8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, Wisconsin: “Playin” is the fifth song of a terrific second set. And as it would happen at many shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jerry led the band into a noodling extravaganza that crashed into Drums. The jamming is above average, but the star here is the reprise. On the other side of Drums, Space spins into “The Wheel.” The Wheel > Playin’ transition is dreamy and mesmerizing. Weir emphatically preaches the virtues of being a rock star as the band rams this home. Jerry’s wailing, Weir’s strumming and the drummers are pounding. This goes past all normal reprise barriers. The only “Playin” reprise I would rate ahead of this one is 10-12-84 Augusta. But on that night, there was just a “Playin’” reprise inside of a “Uncle John’s” loop. The beginning of “Playin’” never took place. Back in Alpine Valley, the fiery reprise leads to the Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.”