Dead shows on the calendar dates between August 30 and September 3 have provided us with some of the finest performances in the band’s history. This hot pocket of jams is responsible for fifteen of the masterpieces selected for Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 GratefulDead Jam Anthems.
8-30-80: The Spectrum, Philadelphia
Feel Like a Stranger
A hot “Stranger” opener would often set the tone for the rest of the show, as it did during this brilliant first set that contained ten individual songs without any combinations. This is the first time the Dead opened with “Stranger,” and it’s an exceptional version. Some venues have magical settings that inspire the band. Deadheads in Madison Square Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum were the seventh man in the band, inspiring their heroes to new heights.
There’s a beautiful, clean sound to the 8-30-80 “Stranger.” Brent fills the Spectrum with mounds of cushioned organ. The jam has two sublime surges from Jerry. It sounds like the band’s going to drift towards the ending after the first surge, but Jerry redirects and establishes a pair of blistering runs. Jerry clearly states it’s one of those nights. The band delivers exceptionalism during all ten songs of the opening set.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 134). Kindle Edition.
Here’s another Straw that closes an opening set, and it comes on the heels of Garcia’s hottest guitar solo ever in an “Althea.” The opening set was possessed from start to finish. Every aspect of the band’s performance was extra-crisp, so the dazzling “Straw” was logical. Other standout performances include the “Feel Like a Stranger,” “Peggy O” opening, and the mid-set “Cold Rain and Snow.”
“Jack Straw” was the ideal choice to benefit from the heat of a smoking “Althea.” There’s a smooth pressure cooker flow to the music as the band struts through “Straw” with an eye on the big jam. Searing intensity bubbles throughout as Garcia wheels from segment to segment with brazen attitude and conviction. Just when it sounds like the band’s ready to step into chord-fanning overdrive, Garcia stuns everybody in the Spectrum with an improbable piercing tirade. Extra effort dances with perfection as the band sticks a thunderous finale. Was it performance-enhancing powder, or the rowdy Philly diehards pushing the band beyond the brink? This jam’s worthy of instant replay on each listen.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 18). Kindle Edition.`
8-31-80 Capital Centre, Landover
Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance
The Dead celebrate the anniversary of the first Sailor > Saint with a gripping and flawless performance in Landover. This time, Weir’s duo is sandwiched by other combos. Here’s the alluring pre-Drums lineup to start set two: Greatest Story Ever Told > Uncle John’s Band > Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance > Comes a Time > Truckin’. One of the most underrated Dead tours is this late-summer 1980 East Coast rendezvous. “Sailor” is delivered with a drifting/dreaming feel. Garcia’s guitar licks ascend to a fiery peak as “Sailor” closes in on “Saint.” The band channels their rock and roll desires into a perfectly constructed “Saint” jam. The Dead push the boundaries of Sailor > Saint, yet the performance is delightfully smooth—album-worthy. The mojo generated here spills over into an elite pairing of Comes a Time > Truckin’.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 199). Kindle Edition.
Comes a Time (8-31-80)
Literally and figuratively, this is as close as musicians can come to stopping time in its tracks. The night before, in Philadelphia, the band rocked elite versions of “Althea” and “Jack Straw,” and the show after Landover featured a masterpiece presentation of Iko Iko > Morning Dew > Sugar Magnolia. The Landover “Comes a Time” lifts off with its signature dreamlike, floating intro. The lone voice is gorgeous yet heartbreaking; Jerry’s mastered the art of bittersweet. As he finishes singing, “Can’t see much difference between dark and light,” there’s a yearning gurgle in the last word—little nuances mean everything. The tone of the Tiger is exactly perfect as Garcia bends emotive licks and plays them off the silence. Deep human emotion drips from his guitar, and the listener can feel the meaning of the song viscerally. The sad, perfect landing of the solo gives way to that vulnerable voice that tugs at our hearts.
A well-played “Comes a Time” exhibits seemingly effortless perfection easier than any other song I can think of. Garcia shreds a substantial outro solo that is meaty all the way through. He kind of pounces on these solos in the ’80s as opposed to slowly building them as in ’76 and ’77. The band feeds off the 8-31-80 “Comes a Time,” segueing into a “Truckin’” that becomes extra rowdy.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 169). Kindle Edition.
Following a flawless Sailor > Saint, Comes a Time > Truckin’ precedes Drums. The brilliance of “Comes a Time” and the unusual placement for “Truckin’” helps fuel this performance. The night before in Philly (8-30-80), and the next show in Rochester (9-2-80), feature several miraculous performances. Maybe the band received a special shipment of performance-enhancing goodies while on the East Coast. Anyway, this tour is underrated, and it should be properly celebrated and praised.
Phil’s thundering bass fortifies the spiraling instrumental climax after the last verse. The power of the music is stunning. Jerry carries on with some nice leads as if he’s taking the dog out for a simple stroll. Suddenly, he bends some devastating notes. The Dead funnel the jam into the microwave and the whole thing explodes into another jaw-dropping crescendo. The band romps as Garcia hits searing leads that melt the mind. There are hints of “The Other One” in this stampede. This instrumental may be the best one ever played in “Truckin’.” The length is ample. There’s no need to noodle on. Phil bombs the Cap Center one more time. A booming roar of approval fills the arena. And then Billy and Mickey take over.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 107). Kindle Edition.
9-1-79 Hollerder Stadium, Rochester
Fifteen Dead shows in Rochester yielded two “Half-Steps.” You’re familiar with the other one from ’77. A fluid “Half-Step” opens this evening. Through the “Rio Grande” bridge this is a slightly above-average rendition. And then the ghost of Rochester ’77 kicks in. Garcia peels away from the last “across the lazy river” chant with a searing guitar surge. The band is amped up as they join Jerry in a hasty and impressive fanning crescendo. This wouldn’t be a noteworthy version if the story ended here. Garcia pulls a kangaroo out of his hat, redirecting this jam with a manic run, one of those moments that’s so stunning, it’s impossible to miss even if you weren’t focused on the music. It’s Evil Knievel in flight—but sticking the landing might cost him a few fractured ribs. This is one of those moments when you know that the only guitarist on the planet who could have created these licks was Jerome John Garcia. These amazing outbursts had us flocking back for more and makes listening to this stuff eternally compelling.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 48-49). Kindle Edition.
Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain (9-1-79)
NY: Before kicking off the second set with Scarlet > Fire, Weir announces, “This next set is respectfully dedicated to all the little mice and rats who are trapped in laboratories all over the world.” This is a lovely performance of “Scarlet” with sublime singing and a robust groove, but surprisingly, the intro and between-verse instrumentals are both brief. The “Begonias” slowly boils for a while, and about ten minutes into “Scarlet,” the band pivots towards “Fire.” Garcia boldly rejects that advance with a noodling “Begonias” reprise that goes on for several minutes—flashbacks to Cornell and “Begonias Mountain.” There must be something in the upstate New York air.
The even flow of this performance continues until Garcia steps into the solo after the second verse of “Fire.” Along the way, Garcia digs into a guitar line that he likes, and he repeats it three times with slightly more passion on each round—trouble ahead. Jerry and friends accelerate into a crescendo that burns like the one from Cornell. Instead of heading back to the final verse, Jerry plays a lead that Brent receives as an invitation to solo. Jerry returns with some bubbling licks to bring this monster jam to the last verse. An exhilarating outro tumbles into Drums without the signature “Begonias” ending lick.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 67). Kindle Edition.
September 2 and 3 are two of the 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History!
9-2-78 Giants Stadium
Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain
A rambunctious Scarlet > Fire initiates set two. Garcia and Lesh attack the between-verse “Begonias” solo and there’s more brute force on the road to “Fire.” Garcia peels off squawking/squeaking runs that are backed with surging sonic intensity from Phil and the drummers. Time disappears as the band mesmerizes itself with this motif until Jerry’s licks set off the smoke alarms and the beat glides into “Fire on the Mountain.”
The 9-2-78 “Fire” debuts the “Almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat” verse. After a sensational run of “Fires” in May ’77, the jamming became mundane on certain versions. The extra verse gives us a double dose of Jerry’s “Fire” creativity, since the outro solo is structured and ends with a predetermined “Begonias” riff. The extra solo also gave Jerry the option of building on what he did in the first solo or taking the second solo in another direction. An abundance of jamming fills the 9-2-78 “Fire.” A touch of hubris is evident in the Dead’s performance as the best band in the land jams the night away during their Giants Stadium debut.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 69). Kindle Edition.
Estimated Prophet (9-2-78)
Donna and the Boys were reeling and rocking in the industrial/swamp wastelands of New Jersey. After a bountiful Scarlet > Fire, the jam abundance flows with Estimated > Eyes. With a touch of hubris, the Dead hammer “Estimated.” They played in front of 150,000 folks in Englishtown a year before. Entertaining 80,000 in Giants Stadium is a piece of cake. Two months after Red Rocks, the Dead ravage a between-verse solo that’s the longest to date. The fierce playing throws Bob off as he jumps in with “My time coming” too soon. After a quick override from his mates, Bobby’s steps back to the mic. Jerry puts his head down and just blisters round after round of “Estimated” runs. After fifteen minutes, this mega version segues into “Eyes” and earns its place in jam anthem history.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 186-187). Kindle Edition.
9-2-80 War Memorial, Rochester
Bedlam erupts in the War Memorial as a rare “Iko Iko” segues into “Morning Dew.” This is one period in Dead history when the “Dew” was truly a scarce commodity. The entire show was building to this moment, although nothing was predetermined. Garcia sang each line as if it were Holy Scripture, and his voice could heal and comfort the survivors of apocalyptical tragedies. Bobby’s striking rhythm, Phil’s bass bridges, and Brent’s solemn organ-grinding all fall into place. Jerry only belts out: “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” twice. The last one is as heartfelt as any he has ever sung.
The emotional control, temperature, and texture of this performance makes this one of the most gripping “Dews” to listen to. All ears are on Jerry as he pinches his guitar strings to produce the sound of a lonely robin singing, and Weir strikes a chord that finishes one of Jerry’s thoughts—the group mind flourishes. The band knows where Jerry’s going and exactly what needs to be done, even though this is a unique improvisation. Garcia’s runs are delivered with maximum feeling as they maintain a mathematical quality. The escalating tension is almost unbearable as the band rises to the crescendo. Garcia unleashes a wild torrent of speed licks as the band rolls into chord-fanning mode and then Jerry joins the thundering madness, which ends with a mighty bass blast and a final “Guess it doesn’t matter anyway” blessing from Reverend Garcia.
There’s something about this “Dew.” Every note, lick, and vocal embellishment is perfectly pitched with precise emotion—silence and thunder balanced. This scores a perfect ten on the “Dew” scale. Other “Dews” might be hotter in spots, but the totality of the Rochester “Dew” makes it supreme.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 79-80). Kindle Edition.
9-2-83 Boise Pavillion, Idaho
Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower
“Citizens of Boise, SUBMIT, for you are a conquered people!” growled Phil Lesh when the Dead took the stage for their one and only appearance in Idaho. After getting comfortable with the nuances of Help > Slipknot! > Franklin’s over the spring and summer tours, Garcia and company are prepared to take this trio to higher ground. This is the first of three outstanding versions on this tour; the others are from Red Rocks 9-6-83 and Santa Fe 9-11-83. All the Help on the way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Towers from ’83–85 opened the second set. At times, “Slipknot!” would get a little sloppy or disorganized, and in most cases that was a good thing. The Boise “Slipknot!” is a glorious, eight-minute adventure, fully explored and focused. Brent and Jerry are finishing each other’s thoughts. Brent leads the way during the Slip > Frank transition. Garcia and Weir accentuate the joy of the segue bridge with clever chords and licks. “Franklin’s Tower” is an even-keeled monster. Each instrumental is a patiently crafted musical paragraph—sizzling Blues for Allah for Boise.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 36). Kindle Edition.
9-3-67 Rio Nido
Viola Lee Blues
“Viola Lee Blues” was played twenty-two times in 1967, and Rio Nido was treated to the best version ever on this Labor Day weekend. This show commences with the legendary thirty-one-minute “Midnight Hour” that was released on Fallout from the Phil Zone. “Viola Lee” is the sixth tune of this eight-song affair, and the first minute or two of “Viola” is missing from the soundboard recording. The good news is that the following 22:50 is rip-roaring Primal Dead, the kind of stuff that will make your head spin. The band’s in fearless mode as the jam wobbles and swirls in a jet stream. Phil’s deep bass forays are tapping into unknown musical realms. Garcia gets tangled up in some jarring repetition and Billy accelerates to higher ground. Garcia’s reeling and raging as Pig’s striking organ riffs illuminate the sonic deluge. Garcia goes wild around the nine-minute mark. The music dissolves to a split second of a stop. Pigpen’s controlling the flow. When the jamming picks up again, Garcia dashes into a ballsy “When the Saints Come Marching In” jam.
We can really appreciate Pigpen’s musicianship as his swooshing organ spurs Jerry on. Just when it seems like the band has left “Viola” terrain, they sprint through a side door and into a whirling crescendo. It sounds like a high-stakes game of musical chairs when the peak is reached. On the other side of the crescendo, the Boys rage on—a “China Cat”-like jam fills the Dance Hall. It would be a few months before the Dead debuted “Cat,” but this is the precursor. Rio Nido is in Aoxomoxoa heaven two years before the album becomes reality. Eventually, the band nimbly transitions back to “Viola Lee Blues.” The Summer of Love, Drugs, and Improvisation never sounded so psychedelic/sweet.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 209-210). Kindle Edition.
9-3-72 Folsom Field, Boulder
Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad > Not Fade Away
CO: Preceded by a riveting version of “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” this Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad > Not Fade Away is a symmetrically balanced treat. Each segment is slightly over seven minutes in length. The intro is charming as the band toys with the intensity and volume before slamming into, “I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be.” I love the way Jerry’s vocally engaged in this “NFA” and others from this era. The Boogie Woogie Flu pulses through the band’s blood as they lay down an unusually funky “NFA,” shades of the Skull and Roses rendition, but much longer.
This fuse is lit, and this “GDTRFB” explodes. As usual, the second solo thrills. Garcia’s running stop signs and burning rubber. Rolling through the Rockies, the band plays on for four minutes before the vocal fadeaway of the reprise begins. This is a delectable balance of styles laid out in a clean stream—seemingly easy mastery of the complex performance at hand.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (p. 113). Kindle Edition.
Weir urges the surging crowd to take a step back as the musicians play a light-hearted shuffle. This is a game-changer. As we already know, the “Take a step back” plea is often a prelude to a transcendent masterpiece, as it is here during the fourth song of the opening set in Englishtown. The Dead confidently advance into one of their signature gems of ’77. Jerry’s trembling voice merrily sings the verses, and his solos ignite a mass dancing frenzy on a track built for drag racing and funny cars. Jerry belts out the chorus one more time, “Half-step Mississippi uptown toodleloo. Hello, baby, I’m gone goodbye. Have a cup of rock and rye. Farewell to you, old Southern skies, I’m on my way, on my way, on my way-ay-eee!” Immortality beckons.
This instrumental revs into high gear as if it’s feeding off the acceleration and burnt rubber expended on this gnarly turf. Harnessing the abundance of energy at their command, the band slams into a quick climax, and then Keith and Jerry take a sharp left turn and charge the mountaintop again, doubling the exhilaration. Phil’s bass bubbles brilliantly between the aggressive drumming. Already, this is one of the finest pre- “Rio Grande” jams. Elated by the rapture of the music, the crowd hoots and hollers as one. The musicians take a moment to soak in the love of their smitten fans as they ease their way towards the bridge.
Inspiration strikes the gifted hands of Mr. Keith Godchaux. He begins to twinkle a lovely melody. Garcia’s listening, and he’s pleased with what he hears. He bends his strings to mimic and play off of Keith’s notion. A sonic rainbow is forming—the aesthetic is gorgeous—cooling waterfalls—grasshoppers and butterflies in a dewy meadow. Phil’s bass rumbles like a yawning lion. Billy, Mickey, and Bob assimilate to the sublime sound and guide the jam until it hits the sweet spot. Group wisdom vetoes another rousing crescendo; it would have cheapened the allure of this masterful creation, which is unlike anything they had conjured up during any previous “Half-Step.” A monstrous audience roar fills the humid skies over Englishtown as the instrumental simmers. The “Rio Grande” bridge is harmonized to perfection and followed by a dazzling outro. There was a myth floating about that the Grateful Dead failed to rise to the occasion when the bright lights were shined upon them on the biggest of stages. It may have been true, but that myth was officially debunked on September 3, 1977. The Englishtown “Mississippi Half-Step” is that great.
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 45-46). Kindle Edition.
Out comes the whistle, and Weir gives it a blow to signify the first “Truckin’” in three years. For some of us tour veterans who saw “Truckin’” once every three gigs for ten years straight, it’s hard to imagine the exhilaration of the “Truckin’” breakout, the first once since 9-28-75. Old-school Deadheads fondly embraced “Truckin’” as a gateway song to long, mind-bending jams, and the new wave of fans embraced this as the quintessential song from Skeletons in the Closet. And for historical purposes, the return of “Truckin’” was another notch of distinction for a show that was an instant classic. Weir’s in all his glory as he sings the chorus in a falsetto voice, much to the delight of the roaring faithful. The instrumental fanfare is spine-tingling, and after a bellowing hiccup from Phil’s bass, it seems like there may be another song. But the return of “Truckin’” in front of 150,000 fans is a smashing success. The Dead improvise a brief, bone-crunching landing before leaving the stage. The fans hoot and holler for an encore and the band obliges with “Terrapin Station.”
Weiner, Howard. Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems (pp. 105-106). Kindle Edition.