Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fifteen Most Thrilling Grateful Dead Moments

In honor of Jerry Week, I compiled my fifteen most thrilling moments during my days as a Deadhead which began in Madison Square Garden on 3-9-81. I'm not ranking the best performances I've seen, just the most exciting ones in the moment. Dylan and the Dead at Giants Stadium on 7-12-87 was the most thrilling show I've seen but this list is exclusively Grateful Dead.

15. 8-7-82 Alpine Valley: Music Never Stopped > Sugaree > Music Never Stopped…I was greeted with this one-time-only combo on my first road trip from New York to the Midwest.  These were two of my favorite tunes, and I was stunned to hear Music as the opener. The execution of this opener wasn’t on par with the inventiveness, but it ignited one of the best shows of the year.

14. 11-10-85 Brendan Byrne Arena: Feel Like a Stranger…I missed the first three songs due to a chaotic scene trying to get in. The energy inside boiled during Cassidy. Feel Like a Stranger, a hit or miss number, closed the set, and on this evening, it was a jam beyond perfection.

13. 3-26-88: Hampton Coliseum: All Along the Watchtower…Garcia en fuego on solos two and three. If you can pardon Weir’s falsetto screams, this is savage and primal Jerry. I was bouncing off  the coliseum floor like a jackhammer.

12. 4-20-83 Providence Civic Center: Eyes of the World…I think I set a post ’73 Deadhead record by having to attend 22 shows before seeing my first Eyes of the World. At my first show I saw Estimated > Uncle John’s. I saw Estimated > Fill in the blank, but Eyes alluded me until this night in Providence. When they broke into Eyes I was the most thrilled person in Providence, and is if Jerry knew the significance of the occasion, he proceeded to whittle away at the extended jams, making it one of the best Eyes of the decade.

11. 9-15-82 Cap Centre Landover: Playin’ in the Band > Crazy Fingers > Dupree’s Diamond Blues…Playin’ shocked in the opening slot, and when they segued into Crazy Fingers, I thought the band may have altered their traditional format for this show. The first East Coast Dupree’s in the third hole added to the arcane excitement.

10. 7-4-86 Rich Stadium, Buffalo: Cold Rain & Snow > Fire on the Mountain > Sampson and Deliliah…It was a rough first set, and Garcia was ailing from dehydration and an abscessed tooth. Ominous clouds, thick raindrops, and howling winds accompanied the opener. Garcia’s guitar work on Fire is outrageous. The band also rocked on a three-song segment simulcast for Farm Aid. Garcia’s performance was heroic.

9. 9-23-87 Philadelphia Spectrum: The Music Never Stopped…Optimistic times for Dead Nation. Touch of Grey was a hit song, and Garcia seemed to be fully recovered from his near fatal coma. This blistering first set featured a brilliant Desolation Row, and culminated with this rambunctious Music Never Stopped, the best I ever witnessed. Garcia was back, and for a brief time, I believed that he might be better than ever before.  

8. 4-4-85 Providence Civic Center: Alabama Getaway > Jack Straw…First Alabama Getaway in more than a year, and this smoking version barrels into an edgy Jack Straw, setting the stage for a killer first set that concludes with Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance > Deal. There’s a brisk debut version of Dylan’s She Belongs to Me tucked in the middle.

7. 10-12-84 Augusta Civic Center, Maine: Playin’ in the Band > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew…The loop began with UJB > Don’t Need Love > Drums > Space before the band transitioned into a Playin’ reprise, although the song had never been started. The singing and jamming is mellifluous as the band rolls back into Uncle John’s, and concludes with the Holy Grail, a thunderous Morning Dew.

6. 10-11-83 Madison Square Garden: St. Stephen...Pandemonium! There were St. Stephen rumors, but it was still a shock to see The Boys break this out for the first time in four years. The palpable excitement almost made this performance tough to process. There were two more Stephens in October before the song was laid to rest.

5. 3-25-85 Springfield Coliseum: Jack Straw > Sugaree...Jerry's appearance was awful towards the end of 1984, but his guitar playing was still better than anyone on the planet. After a pair of subpar shows in Hampton to start the Spring 85 tour, I wondered why I was following the band. On this night in Springfield, Garcia and the band steamrolled through Jack Straw and Sugaree. Garcia attacked the jams like a Clydesdale on Bennies—scintillating guitar work that ensured that I’d be following GD for the forseeable future.

4. 10-12-83 Madison Square Garden: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower…For the start of set two, I was behind the band looking out at Madison Square Garden. I always stood on the opposite side of Jerry, but on this night I looked out at the crowd as if I was in the band, and was blown away by the best version of this definitive Blues for Allah classic. Between the last verse of Help and the opening verse of Franklin’s, is the greatest ten-minute instrumental I’ve ever seen. Every twist and turn of this half-hour masterpiece is glorified.

3. 10-9-84 The Centrum, Worcester: Jack Straw, He’s Gone > Smokestack Lightning…I was front row face to face with Jerry. After Help > Slip > Frank’s, they played Jack Straw! Fourth song of set two! Unheard of. Garcia and Weir sang the wildest Nothing gone bring him back chant at the end of He’s Gone, and then Weir stepped to the mic and sang the first Smokestack Lightning since Pigpen. The mojo rolled all night lomg in Worcester.

2. 4-6-82 Philadelphia Spectrum: Morning Dew: This was my first road trip to see the Dead after an April blizzard blanketed my town, and much of New York State with a couple of feet of snow. My four favorite Dead tunes at the time were Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station, Morning Dew, and Sugar Magnolia. They played all four on this night, and it was the only time in the band’s history those four songs were played in the same show. When Garcia struck the magical Dew chord, I found my calling.

1. 9-18-87 Madison Square Garden: All Along the Watchtower >  Morning Dew...Miraculous. All of the positive emotion of Garcia’s triumphant comeback exploded on this Friday night in the Garden. This was the first time I heard the Dead play Watchtower without Dylan, and it was an explosive tribute to Dylan and Hendrix. I sensed Morning Dew around the corner, and knew this would be the first time these songs would be linked. The roar greeting Morning Dew was ridiculous, and it was five times louder when Jerry crooned “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” before the concluding jam. It was like an earthquake in The Garden, louder than when the Knicks won the championship. Garcia calmly channeled the atomic energy into his guitar solo. At one point, he waived his guitar picking hand as if he was waving a wand before driving home the impossible climatic conclusion. He was only human, but Garcia possessed powers that defied reason—the ability to sense what was needed to seize the moment, and take it a step beyond our wildest imaginations. Happy 75th Jerry!

Check out my new book:  Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate on Amazon  
Other books by Howard F, Weiner


Unknown said...

IWT @ 1,6,9,13,14,and 15

Catfish said...

Thanks for your amazing video work!

JRS said...

I was at many of these and concur. 7 was probably my #1.


  In honor of the anniversary of Music Mountain, here’s chapter two from my latest work, The Grateful Pilgrimage: Time Travel with the Dea...