Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Deadology outtake: April 29


After thirty-eight spirited performances in Bill Graham’s Filmore East on Manhattan’s lower east side, the Grateful Dead and their zealous fans bid farewell to this hallowed venue in April 1971. The Dead were a Bay Area phenomenon, and before they become a beloved American band with the releases of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in 1970, they developed an East Coast fanbase hungry for Haight Ashbury hippie culture. As the war in Vietnam continued to tear the nation apart, the Grateful Dead experience provided a distinct hedonistic escape, especially for peaceful souls in liberal strongholds like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. There was a swirling liveliness in the band’s music that struck a nerve with East Coat fans. And the band tapped into the combustible energy and enthusiasm of their Eastern devotees to elevate their music to higher ground. The Fillmore East was an essential breeding ground for the Dead’s massive popularity. The last concert in the Fillmore East was on June 27, but the Dead’s last stand in Uncle Bill’s Church was a five-night run that ended on 4-29-71.

            In stark contrast to the band that played mind-melting jams and primal blues during their six-song Fillmore East debut in June of 1968, the Dead played thirty-one songs on 4-29-71. The opening set features a pair of stellar Pigpen performances, “It Hurts Me Too” and “Hard to Handle.” April ’71 was a sensational month for the Dead’s version of Otis Redding’s tune. It went from being an enjoyable cover that didn’t distinguish itself from the other Pigpen songs, to emerging as a showstopper—the most explosive rock jam on many nights, as it was on 4-21-71 in the Providence Civic Center. The “Handle” solos became longer and more intense as they band constructed a groove with movements where Garcia could build a dramatic crescendo. This “Handle” from the last night at the Fillmore flows with consistent energy. It was one of the hottest solos of the night, but it didn’t explode like the one from Providence.
            In the opening set of Fillmore farewell, the band rolled out some of their finest new compositions, “Truckin’,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Casey Jones,” and “Ripple.” It was the last time “Ripple” was played until the Dead opened their acoustic/ electric run of the Warfield Theatre in 1980. This eclectic evening of song also featured the final performances of “Alligator” and “Second That Emotion.” Jerry Garcia Band would later revive Smokey Robinson’s “Second That Emotion,” and perform a more soulful and substantial version than the Grateful Dead.
            Set two commences with a crisp “Morning Dew” and is followed by the last performance of “New Minglewood Blues” until 1976. “Minglewood” became a regular in the rotation again, but it never regained the reckless nature of the song’s early days—Weir’s fiery vocals, and the urgent rush of the music. This 4-29-71 “Minglewood” is a firecracker that reminds me how exciting this song could be.

            Out of Alligator > Drums the jam teases “The Other One,” “Not Fade Away,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” and “St. Stephen,” before splicing into a GDTRFB > Cold Rain & Snow combo. The evocative mix of songs continues with Cat > Rider and Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B. Goode. The triple encore of “Uncle John’s Band,” “Midnight Hour,” and “We Bid You Goodnight,” finished the Dead’s final Fillmore East jamboree and signified the end of a musical era for the band. With the impending addition of Keith Godchaux, the sonic terrain of a Grateful Dead concert was completely overhauled and raised to another level by the time they played the Musikhalle in Hamburg, West Germany, a year later on this date.

            The first set of 4-29-72 Hamburg is typical for Europe ’72. On this tour, typical equals excellent. Tight versions of “Mr. Charlie,” “Big Railroad Blues,” China Cat > Rider, and a Pigpen powered “Good Lovin’” set the stage for “Cassy Jones” to end the set. The following set is light on tunes but there’s an abundance of high-octane improvisation. In ’71 “Greatest Story Ever Told” was a nice addition to the lineup, but the revamped version that launches set two of 4-29-72 is outrageous. Phil’s jackhammer bass lines combined with the screeching genius of Garcia’s solo turn “Greatest Story” into a rock and roll dream. The fourth live rendition of “He’s Gone” follows and clocks in at a quick seven-and-a-half minutes. It’s a refreshing change of pace to hear these snappy versions.
            “Dark Star,” Musikhalle’s masterpiece, exquisitely lifts off to explore the cosmos, and eventually eases into an early “Feelin’ Groovy” jam, a rarity prior to the opening verse. Time is suspended as the band melodically noodles its way back through the cosmos until Jerry sings. It seems masterfully orchestrated as if the band’s playing from sheet music. This sophistically executed improv was indigenous to the Grateful Dead. They didn’t adhere to musical rules as much as they were obeying the natural laws of physics in the universe.
            A frisky tone arises as the Dead soar into the next segment of “Dark Star.” The mood’s heavy as Jerry, Phil, and Bill play with intense patience on the same frequency. Kreutzmann’s stunning drumming at the same time supports the band and leads the voyage in new directions. This dark jam carries on until it unexpectedly leaps into “Sugar Magnolia” at the twenty-nine-minute mark. The segue into “Sugar Magnolia” isn’t as lengthy or euphoric as the one they played in London three weeks earlier. The Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution trifecta was played in that order three times on the Europe ’72 tour, and the tour also features two other combinations that include those songs in slightly altered variations. Pigpen, who was ailing throughout this tour, sings boldly on the 4-29-72 “Caution (Do Not Stop On the Tracks),” and as always, the jamming on this number is incendiary. This cocktail of connected Dead is as sublime as anything the Grateful Dead created. The premier Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution is 4-8-72 London, which will be dissected in the chapter on that date. 
            Jumping from Europe ’72 to the most revered East Coast tour of them all, the Grateful Dead began their five-night residency at The Palladium in New York City on 4-29-77. The show opens with their latest triple shot pride and joy, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower.” It’s a strong rendition with a gripping transition into Franklin’s Tower that enthralls the New York City faithful. And here lies the problem of truly enjoying this show. The best existing recording of 4-29-77 is a noisy audience tape, making this an ugly duckling amongst the beautiful Betty Boards of ’77. Betty Cantor’s splendid soundboard recordings from this year set the standard for dynamic sound and listening pleasure. The rough sound of 4-29-77 will keep this performance from receiving its fair share of praise, but that doesn’t diminish what they did. The opening set ends with a resounding version of “The Music Never Stopped.”


            There’s good news from set two of 4-29-77 because soundboard recordings of three tunes were released on Volume 10 of the Download Series which features the entire concert from the following night at The Palladium. One of the salvaged songs of 4-29-77 is a stunning version of “Sugaree,” during which, each succeeding solo eclipses the previous one in length and intensity. It’s one the best “Sugarees” in a year when that tune blossomed into a masterpiece. The other soundboard treat is a rare Scarlet Begonias > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad. It’s an interesting choice because the band had just discovered the joys of Scarlet > Fire.  However, there’s a rebelliousness to the Begonias jam that steered it away from a segue into “Fire.”
            On 4-29-80 the band executed a professional show in Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Everything about this show ranges from mediocre to good.  The playing’s crisp and there are few vocal flubs, yet there’s no reason to get excited about the performances. This makes for a compelling contrast for the next April 29 show.

             On the thirteenth anniversary of their farewell to the Fillmore East, the Dead were back in the New York area playing at a much larger venue, the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. 4-29-84 Nassau was the next to last show of their East Coast spring tour, a tour I witnessed in its entirety. Garcia’s physical appearance was troublesome. His ashen skin, rotund stomach, swollen legs, and unkempt frizzy beard and mane should have been extremely alarming, but by 1984, Deadheads were used to seeing Garcia put on ten pounds and age three years each tour. His guitar virtuosity contradicted his appearance, making him seem like the grandfatherly Buddha of rock and roll.
            There’s impressive soloing from Garcia on the first two numbers, “Feel Like a Stranger” and “Friend of the Devil.” Jerry’s voice was diminished all tour, and this night his singing is stronger than it had been at the previous shows in Providence. “Birdsong” makes a surprise appearance in the fourth spot, and Garcia’s guitar work is mechanically prodigious. It’s undeniable that Jerry’s appetite for smoking Persian was poisonous to his wellbeing, and consequently, his woes trickled down to the health of the band, but on occasions like this “Birdsong,” Garcia would meander endlessly and create unbelievable music. And then a song or two later he might just plod ahead in a robotic stupor. After a lackadaisical middle segment, the opening set concludes with a hot but disorganized “Let it Grow.” The second set was a nice workout for the band and audience as the Dead served typical second set treats, although they didn’t build or sustain much momentum along the way.
            There are several shows from the fall tour that are better than 4-29-84 Nassau, yet there are worthy jams sprinkled about. Communication and comradery between band mates may have been at an all-time low, but their collective virtuosity was intact, and unmatched in the world of music. At its best, the jamming from Nassau is more advanced than the last night at the Fillmore East, but you can’t compare the overall quality of the performances. The Dead were masters bogged down in a muddy quagmire in 1984. On their final night in the Fillmore East, the Grateful Dead kissed goodbye to a shrine that was an essential part of their rise to fame. Groundbreaking innovation beckoned. 


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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Deadology April 22


           

Brent Mydland’s tenure as Grateful Dead keyboardist began in Spartan Stadium, San Jose on April 22, 1979. Brent was in Weir’s solo band, and he had two weeks of studio practice with the Dead before his San Jose debut. Some Deadheads have identified 1977 as the year where the group began to pursue a more conventional arena rock sound, although stamping these sonic crusaders with a label as banal as arena rockers is absurd. But the music was transforming with the times and a more structured motif of Grateful Dead weirdness emerged.
            Mydland’s Hammond B-3 organ and superb backing vocals energized the band. During his era, there were minimal creative innovations for the Dead, and there was a limited amount of new original songs compared to the abundance of new compositions from the Keith era.  Although, this had nothing to do with the change at keyboards. With the help of John Perry Barlow, Mydland contributed seven new tunes to the Dead’s last three studio efforts. However, Brent is best remembered for his live contributions during his eleven-year run which ended with a fatal drug overdose on July 26, 1990.
            The Spartan Stadium show on 4-22-79 is a solid performance and extended workout as the band introduced Brent to standard material. They played twenty-four songs, four more than the average for the year. The biggest surprise of the night was the double encore of “U.S. Blues” followed by a crisp performance of “Shakedown Street.” The overall sound was more synthesized, but the rest of the band seemed unaffected by the change, carrying on as if it were just another show. Brent’s vocals and Hammond B-3 blended in effortlessly, although it took some Keith fans years to get used to Brent, and some were never fond of his sound at all.
            After an I Need a Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’ set two opening, Scarlet > Fire is the hottest performance from Brent’s debut. The “Scarlet” outro fizzled prematurely into “Fire,” and it was here that Brent and Jerry bonded as the intro jam materialized. Garcia boiled, bobbed and weaved on the swishing cushioned mounds of Brent’s organ sound. The mingling of the Mu-Tron III filter and the Hammond B-3 added an extra dimension to one of the band’s great rhythmic numbers. Two years earlier on this same day, the Dead performed their first spectacular version of “Fire.”
            “Fire on the Mountain” was born on the wings of a “Scarlet” transition in the Winterland Arena on 3-18-77.  It was next played at the first show of the legendary East Coast spring tour in the Philadelphia Spectrum on 4-22-77. This second “Fire” is superior to the rag-tag Winterland debut. There’s an irresistible magic in the rhythm of “Fire” which was adapted from Mickey Hart’s “Happiness Is Drumming.” It’s as if the Dead discovered the heartbeat of the universe, and they are the only ones who could tap into it.
            The band’s sucked into a vortex of sonic rapture as they surge into the 4-22-77 “Fire.” Jerry’s in Mu-Tron heaven as Phil and the drummers have the pumping/pulsing beat on lockdown.  Keith didn’t play much synthesizer, but he’s playing one in Philly, and the sound creates a surreal vibe. It takes five minutes for Garcia to get to the first verse, yet the instrumental is so exciting and raw that it could have gone on for an hour without getting redundant. Jerry flubs the lyrics during the second verse, but this is a splendid “Fire,” one of the best of ’77, although nothing compares to the Cornell “Fire” two weeks later.

            Set two of 4-22-77 forges ahead with a gritty “Samson and Delilah.” for Philly. A dreamy “It Must Have Been the Roses” eases the tension prior to the rocking soulful funk of “Dancin’ in the Street.” Garcia noodles and doodles over a relentless rhythm that’s has all the tenacious qualities of a southpaw Philadelphia boxer. In the middle of this instrumental workout, there’s a subtle shift in the chord sequence and Weir sings a few verses of “Got My Mojo Working,” the first of three Dead versions of “Howlin’ Wolf’s classic. The set concludes with a sensational one time pairing of originals: The Wheel > Terrapin Station. The majestic “Terrapin Refrain” makes for an unforgettable conclusion to any evening of music. Maybe that’s why there’s no encore on 4-22-77.
            One of the most underrated shows from this venerated year, 4-22-77 has a sprawling and glorious “Mississippi Half Step” in the second hole of the first set. Despite an early vocal flub, a seductive ragtime feel emerges, and then the band slams down the hammer prior to the “Rio Grande” verse. “Half Step” would continue to blossom making it one of the definitive masterpieces of ’77. “Estimated Prophet” shines mid-set, and a heavy and dark “Playin’ in the Band” closes the set. This another exceptional chapter in the legacy of Grateful Dead magic in the Philadelphia Spectrum.   
            Big arena East Coast shows brought the beast out of the Dead. Another hotbed for Garcia and mates was the New Haven Coliseum, where they played on 4-22-83. “Feel Like a Stranger” launches the show, and Weir annunciates an animated rap in perfect cadence and rhyme: “I don’t know about you, maybe you feel like a stranger too…(Feel like a stranger) Some nights everything just gets stranger and stranger…(Feel like a Stranger) Like a stranger. Sometimes maybe there’s just a little element of danger.” Everything Jerry, Brent, and Bob threw at the round robin singalong sounded sweet—improvisational vocal magic. And the funky, layered jam resolved itself with a smooth landing.
            I was at the show on 4-22-83 and it was exhilarating to catch “Birdsong” in the second spot. An unexpected highlight was Garcia’s Clapton-like solo in “C.C. Rider.” This smoldering jam arises without warning. This is the only “C.C. Rider” that knocked my socks off in the moment.
            Phil’s bass rumbles the coliseum during a late set “Cold Rain and Snow.” “My Brother Esau,” a Weir tune that was debuted a month earlier, is maturing, although it will always remain one of the weirdest songs the band has ever played. “Esau” didn’t make it on to In the Dark, but an outtake of the song was added to cassette tape releases of the album. Garcia molests the fretboard during a typically strong 1983 “Deal” to close the opening set in New Haven.
            Help on the Way > Slipknot! Franklin’s, which was played on the East Coast for the first time in six years at the start of this tour, opens set two. It’s a crisp and energetic presentation. The band has ironed out most of the creases, and they would tee off on future versions over the next two years. “Franklin’s” surges into “Samson and Delilah.” After Drums, “Truckin’” segues into the first appearance of “Spoonful” since 10-15-81 Amsterdam. I hadn’t listened to 4-22-83 in decades because it was just an average show from that tour. This performance in New Haven delivers more than looking at the setlist would lead you to believe. 
For more on April 22 including the 1969 show in The Ark, check out Deadology 


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Deadology April 21


            Before dissecting the hottest “Hard to Handle” known to man, let’s rejoice in more Europe ’72. After playing Tivoli on 4-17, the band’s next scheduled gig was 4-24 in Dusseldorf, West Germany. During their brief break, the band filmed a performance at a studio in Bremen, West Germany, for the Beat Club TV show. Following a soundcheck, during which they performed “Loser” and “Black Throated Wind,” the band was introduced, and they proceeded to play for eighty-three minutes. Out of this dynamic set of music, only “One More Saturday Night” was aired on the Beat Club. Five decades later, the entire Beat Club video was shown in select theatres nationwide at the 4th annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies in 2013. The video of this show was never officially released as a DVD, but the show can be viewed on YouTube (as of publication of this book).

            Jerry appears like a loveable bear in a black leather jacket as the band starts their set with “Bertha.” Garcia’s bushy black beard is neatly groomed, and his demeaner is stoic. A slow-moving tie-dye/psychedelic backdrop glides across the screen as the band jams. The closeups of the Dead are superb. As “Playin’ in the Band,” begins, Donna joins the festivities. One of the highlights of this video is watching Jerry unload early in “Playin’” as Donna softly sways. Donna looks amazed by the guitar virtuosity of The Bearded One. Pigpen’s vocals are powerful during an excellent presentation of “Mr. Charlie.”
The Grateful Dead had difficulty capturing the X factor in recording studios throughout the years. On this occasion in Bremen, they were essentially performing a concert without a live audience, and the results were fabulous. Fifteen years later, the Dead successfully used this format of setting up as if they were performing live when they recorded In the Dark.
            A lively “One More Saturday Night” is followed by a second serving of “Playin’ in the Band.” Redundancy is not an issue here as the band doles out another wild and wicked round of improvisation. The performance ends with Truckin’ > Drums > Other One. Phil’s blasts ignite a brilliant twenty-three-minute “Other One.” Garcia’s shrieking leads blaze a trail through a path of pounding bass detonations. The jam dissolves, reorganizes, and strengthens before Weir sings, “Spanish lady comes to me she lays on me this rose.” Between verses there’s an aural inferno before the jam dissolves into a dreamlike state, drifting in and out of consciousness—time out of mind terrain. With a subtle shifting of tempo, the jamming becomes more furious than before—Garcia’s searing leads spiral round and round in a tight blizzard of sound. “Escaping through the lily fields I came across an empty space,” howls Weir. On this day, Apollo 16 landed on the lunar highlands of the moon. All this cosmic improv captures the flavor of the day.
Back in Bremen, the Grateful Dead’s allotted studio time is almost done. Instead of an abrupt ending, the band noodles on as they resist the temptation of breaking into a new tune before improvising a climactic instrumental fanfare.
            April 21, 1971, was the first of twenty Grateful Dead shows in Providence, and the only one in the Rhode Island Auditorium. The other nineteen shows were in the Providence Civic Center, opened in ’72. Just like New York City and Philadelphia, the smaller Northeastern municipality of Providence brought the beast out of the Dead. A simple introduction, “Here’s the Grateful Dead,” is followed by an exhilarating dash through “Casey Jones.” If you ever need to remind yourself of why this is a cherished anthem, listen to this version. The pacing is perfect, and the band savors every nuance of the composition. Romping down the homestretch, Garcia sounds like wrestler Ric Flair: “Driving that train high on cocaine. Whoo! Casey Jones you better watch your speed.”

            In the middle of the set a Truckin’ > Drums > Other One > Wharf Rat combo sets the stage for improbable theatre. “Hard to Handle” was dropped into the right spot. The Dead are sufficiently warmed up, and they are feeding off the vibe of playing in this hockey rink. Pig delivers a potent vocal with a rap that doesn’t drag on too long. Lesh lays down a beat, and at the same time plays lead bass. Weir and Garcia strike up a soulful groove as Jerry latches onto a few riffs that he likes and will utilize later.
The jam becomes urgent around the 6:10 mark as the ascension to greatness commences. Garcia and Lesh are on the same frequency and they’re finishing each other’s ideas. Garcia’s en fuego, yet he’s holding back, building towards a sensational finale, and the rest of the band senses it. Bobby, Billy, and Phil break down the jam so Garcia could scale Mt. Everest. Jerry charges past the mountaintop and shoots towards the stars. The jam is as hot as can be, and then Garcia invents licks on a frequency that never existed before. It’s that ability to open doors where they logically don’t exist that separates Garcia from other guitar legends.
             There would only be fourteen more “Handles” with Pigpen, and from that batch, I’d rate 7-2-71 (Filmore West) and 8-6-71 (Hollywood Palladium) as the top challengers to the undisputed champ, Providence. Phil’s bass rattles the 4-21-71 “Handle” to its conclusion, and a few seconds later, he leads his mates into an infectious romp through “Cumberland Blues.” This tape is a must listen for Phil fanatics. “Birdsong” and a moving “Me and Bobby McGee” conclude this fulfilling set.
            The second set is charming, brief, and a preview of the band’s new direction. Hippie sweat dripped as Providence bounced to “Bertha” and “Sugar Magnolia.” NFA > GDTRFB > NFA ended a rocking set. It was the best performance of that combo to date, but it pales in comparison to the versions later in the year when Keith joined the Dead. The double encore of Uncle John’s Band > Johnny B. Goode was especially pleasing for those named John.
            During their first show in the Ark in Boston on 4-21-69, we can hear the roots of the segue connecting “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” and the “Not Fade Away” reprise emerging from the jam in “Alligator.” The band toys with this riff for several minutes as they connect “Alligator” to the last song of the opening set, “Doin’ That Rag.” The first set of 4-21-69 looks attractive, but the band’s performance wasn’t up to par with the high standard they set in April ’69. Set two was better, but this show is not as hot as the previously discussed second night in The Ark.

            A three-minute “Foxy Lady” jam kicks off the 4-21-69 second set. It’s an interesting, one-time-only instrumental, and a prelude to another gleaming presentation of Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > Lovelight. Perhaps the finest performance of the night was the “Viola Lee Blues” encore. There’s a jovial tone to the big jam early on, and after substantial virtuosity from all, Phil leads the band into a cascading avalanche of sound—a fantastic conclusion for pioneers revolutionizing the concept of live music.
            This day in Deadology also gives us the Dead’s second performance of Warren Zevon’s
“Werewolves of London.” On 4-21-78, a day before “Werewolves” entered the American top 40 charts, the Dead encored with “Werewolves” in the Rupp Center in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a blast for the musicians to perform and the audience to hear, but the band never found a way to explore “Werewolves” and make it a worthwhile keeper in the rotation. Playing in the legendary basketball arena for the Kentucky Wildcats, Garcia and mates unleashed an intricate, funky, and superb jam in “Music Never Stopped” to end the opening set. However, it was another ’78 show where the band performed well yet seemed disinterested in set creativity or playing long.
            One of the pitfalls of having fans record every note of your music isn’t the off nights—those are to be expected—but the dreaded embarrassing moments, which were few and far between for the Grateful Dead, which is remarkable considering they performed consistently for the better part of thirty years. On April 21, 1986, in the Berkeley Community Theatre, Brent Mydland had an unfortunate meltdown in the second set.
            A brisk dash through “Mississippi Half-Step” opens 4-21-86. It seemed like the driving force behind this performance was finishing it in under seven minutes. Remarkably, this “Half-Step” clocks in at 6:56. Still a pleasurable tune to hear, “Half-Step” was a shell of the masterpiece it was in the ’70s. Although, “Half-Step” had a nice resurgence in 1988, thanks to some impressive outro solos courtesy of SeƱor Garcia. On paper, the opening set looks good, with selections like “Cumberland Blues,” “Desolation Row,” and “Ramble on Rose.” However, the playing is sloppy, and the main culprit is Brent. His keyboards are too loud in the mix, and his playing clashes with Jerry. The set-ending “Let it Grow” becomes a Brent showcase for the first time. His licks are pretty good, but he steps all over Jerry, and consequently, the performance suffers.
            An uneventful “Eyes of the World” is the third song of set two. Jerry, Phil, and Bobby leave the stage for the Drums > Space segment, but like a drunk who won’t leave the bar, inebriated Brent keeps twinkling the keys. He stepped over most of Jerry’s solos, so it makes sense that he would blow up the drummer’s showcase.
             Brent introduced his new composition, “Maybe You Know,” in Burlington, Vermont, on 4-13-83. It was a bluesy tune with impassioned singing that was played five times on that tour. And like most Brent tunes from that era, it was promptly dismissed from the rotation. On 4-21-86 in the Berkeley Theatre, it sounds like Brent’s loosely approaching that song. Several minutes of fiddling around prevented the drummers from taking off on their destination, so Brent starts playing and singing “Maybe You Know” without the rest of the band on the stage. His voice is filled with despair and rage, and the drummers aren’t sure how to accompany this booze-induced emotional breakdown. The music comes to an odd pause. The crowd is too stunned to encourage Brent. Out of the lull Brent vents again, his tormented soul screams, “Maybe you know how I’M FUCKING FEELING! But maybe to you it don’t seem so real!” The song continues to drone on, yet there’s no way to get this back on track. Jerry, Bobby, and Phil return and immediately launch into “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.”
            Trying to salvage the show, the band segues into “Morning Dew.” Jerry sings with deep feeling, and the final solo is good, but Brent pounds his B3 with too much force during the climactic finish. “Around and Around” is followed by a surprise “Not Fade Away.” It was a nice rally by the band, but the Brent breakdown overshadowed any musical developments.
            Between basketball and hockey, the Philadelphia Spectrum was booked solid in April of ’84, so the Grateful Dead played three shows in the Philadelphia Civic Center. I attended all three shows and was in the second row, right in front of Jerry on the second night, 4-20-84. Garcia appeared unhealthy and immobile, but this was the show of the tour. The song selections and performances were outstanding, despite Garcia’s ailing voice. The Scarlet > Fire is brilliant as Jerry methodically and creatively jams in every solo and segue. And a hot “Morning Dew” was played towards the end of the set. The last night in Philly was bound to be a little bit of a letdown for fanatics like myself who rightfully take this stuff seriously.
            I wasn’t thrilled with 4-21-84 as it was happening, and probably never listened to the tape more than once. On rediscovery, I enjoyed potent versions of the first three tunes: Alabama Getaway > Promised Land and “Friend of the Devil.” The middle part of the set was bogged down in mediocrity until the final jam of the set in “Deal.” Garcia poked and pecked this way and that way, velocity streamed side by side with creativity as he dealt a winning hand with the nonchalant accuracy of a Vegas blackjack dealer.

            Philadelphia received all the desired, big-time, second set combo openers. On 4-19, China Cat > I Know You Rider started the journey; on 4-20, it was Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, and 4-21 featured Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower. Garcia and mates tap into the uplifting spirit of Hunter’s lyrics and roll the good times into a relentless “Slipknot!” Unlike the dark “Slipknot!” ambush on 4-17-84 in Niagara Falls Convention Center, this Garcia foray boils smoothly. I suggest checking out the extremely powerful Niagara Falls “Slipknot!”
The congruency continues in Philly with an attentive “Franklin’ s Tower.” After returning this beloved Blues for Allah trifecta to the rotation in ’83, just about every version in ’84 is desirable.
            Set two carried on with Playin’ > China Doll. Jerry’s achy voice butchered this version, robbing the poignant lullaby of its potency. After Drums > Space, the Dead beat a hasty and lazy retreat with Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away. “Throwing Stones” was a new Weir tune that hit a nerve, captured a real political fear in the air, and it was morphing into a better song tour by tour. “Not Fade Away” was a complete commercial copout. Garcia’s jams didn’t offer much, and the whole exercise seemed simply designed to lead the crowd into a “Not Fade Away” chant. As much as the band was encouraging crowd anticipation, they were taking the road of least resistance. “Not Fade Away” was once a tremendous jam anthem. Now it was nothing more than a dog and pony show. The year 1984 had its share of frustrations, as well as exclamation points. It’s all part of the improbable and mythological history of the Grateful Dead. 

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8-7-82 LET IT GROW

  Thirty-eight years ago today, I witnessed a remarkable show in Alpine Valley. This was my first major road trip to see the Dead (eightee...