The “Shakedown Street” from Merriweather Post Pavilion on 6-30-85 completely overshadowed the rest of the show. On the same date the year before in Indianapolis, the Dead performed an epic “Shakedown” that was mortar and brick in the construction of a killer show. June 30 offers us an eclectic mix of Dead shows from different eras, as well as a legendary Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders show.
Situated in Columbia, Maryland, the Merriweather Post Pavilion became Saratoga Springs South for Deadheads as the band played Merriweather six times from ’83-85. The continuity of traveling from Saratoga Springs to Columbia, or vice-a-versa, is an indelible communal flashback for East Coast Heads of that generation. Except for the Derek and the Dominos cover, “Keep on Growing,” and a lively “Big Railroad Blues,” there was no reason to get excited about the opening set of 6-30-85.
Immortal performances sometimes take flight in the tuning. When the band hits the stage for set two, you can hear nonsensical words and sounds from the band as they’re tuning up. Garcia’s hypnotic tuning is intoxicating ear candy—a countdown to ecstasy. The band slams the opening chord as one. Thunderous reverberations shoot through the audience until the musicians pound the next jarring chord. In baseball, when a great hitter swings at a pitch and connects squarely sending the ball into orbit, every fan (rooting for that team) in the stadium rises in admiration knowing the ball is bound for homerun heaven before it gets there. After two thunder chords, everyone in Merriweather was in motion, and experienced Dead connoisseurs could instantly sense that this “Shakedown” was bound for glory.
The tempo is perfect, and the funky groove is absolute. Garcia flubs a word or two, but euphoria flows from his eager voice. Bobby and Brent’s backing vocals rise to the occasion as the music fuses. Garcia breaks into a between verse solo that burns and yearns against a grinding groove—wonderful spacing, texture, and poignancy. The singing of the third verse is improbably more compelling than the first two. As the “Nothing shaking on Shakedown Street” chorus rolls o
As the big jam evolves, the pavilion and surrounding fields are crammed with shuffling feet, flailing arms, and pounding hearts. This goes on for several minutes, and it’s wonderful for the part of the brain that controls bodily movement, but it’s not all that mentally stimulating. That will change, because Garcia’s playing possum—a few notes here and there turn into a decent run. The vacuum of funky restraint opens the gates for a thrilling finale. Riding the band’s wave, Jerry’s blistering runs unfold hotter and faster, and come together logically—an advanced mathematical equation. Even the final chorus and instrumental walk off is special. This may not be the hottest “Shakedown” ever, but it’s up there, an indelible memory for those on hand. And it's probably the most popular “Shakedown” of all-time.
“Shakedown” charges into a solid “Samson.” And despite another “Cryptical Envelopments,” and a pretty “Stella Blue,” 6-30-85 never regains its footing after the brilliant opener. On 6-30-84, the Dead played a standout “Shakedown” in the Sports and Music Center in Indianapolis, a killer show start to finish
“Jack Straw” from Indianapolis starts the impressive opening set. A lineup from Old Weird America follows: “Dire Wolf,” “New Minglewood Blues,” and “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.” Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down… Don't murder me, I beg of you, don't murder me. Please, don't murder me… Well I'm a wanted man in Texas, busted jail and I'm gone for good… Well you know son you just can't figure. First thing you know you're gonna pull that trigger…A touch of sloppiness was overcome by extra effort as Garcia shredded extended solos in “Straw” and Minglewood.”
Brent, Bobby, and Jerry follow with “Far from Me,” “Brother Esau,” and “Ramble on Rose.” And then it’s was time for Weir’s hypnotic masterpiece, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance. The band’s giving it their all. Phil pounds away as Jerry’s incursion leaves burn marks on the way to the “Sure don’t what I’m going for” refrain. After one round Mr. Weir hollers, “Just what the fuck you gonna do?” The momentum of the set could lead to only one satisfying conclusion from Jerry, and that automatically ruled out “Don’t Ease Me In” and “Might as Well.”
Since “Deal” was played as the first set closer often, Jerry sometimes went through the words as if they were an afterthought prior to the showcase jam. In Indy, Jerry sings as if he’s rediscovering the joys of gambling and risk-taking. The jam flies high—a massive collage of pulsating sound—relentless in its desire to please the most discriminating Deadheads. There are many jammed-out versions from this era, and the 6-30-84 “Deal” hangs in with the best
The Indianapolis “Shakedown” isn’t as dramatic or as masterfully crafted as the one from Merriweather. It has an aggressive pace that never backs off. Garcia pokes around on top of the steady groove. There’s no trickery or intricate scheme—Jerry and the Boys are turned-up full blast. After a substantial run, the band’s lost and can no longer return for the “Just got a poke around” finale. Jerry suggests “Playin’.” As the band collects themselves Weir sings, “Some folks trust to reason, others trust to might. I don't trust to nothing. but I know it come out right.”
Off they go, bended strings unwind a cosmic melody. There’s a foggy vibe as Jerry noodles around latching on to ideas and letting them go. Around the eleven-minute mark the jam intensifies and has a “Let it Grow” like feel. Eventually the band weaves into the familiar terrain of “Terrapin Station.” The crowd’s ecstatic when Jerry’s weary voice croaks, “Let my inspiration flow.” The epic anthem shines instrumentally as Jerry croons as best as he can. This three-song pre-Drums segment is a snapshot of the slightly sloppy yet attractive style of the Dead on a good night in ‘84.
Garcia’s en fuego for the Space > Playin’ reprise. Surprisingly, the band follows with a Weir combo, Truckin’ > Spoonful, and Garcia answers with Stella Blue > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad. The playing over the last stretch of the show is average, but overall, the creative song selection, and improvisational surplus of this performance makes 6-30-84 one of the top-shelf shows of the year.
June 30 also features the Dead playing on consecutive years in their prime. Their 6-30-74 Springfield Civic Center performance commences with an unusual one-two punch, “Don’t Ease Me In” and “Black Throated Wind.” It’s a fetching collection of tunes as they take a summer stroll through Old Weird America; “Peggy O,” “Jack Straw,” “Loser,” and then they dazzle the faithful with rock/folk/fusion: "Greatest Story Ever Told,” and “Cumberland Blues.” The final segment of the set is a distinctive improvisational combo that defies standard categorization and can only be labeled as Grateful Dead music.
A colorful jam emerges out of “Playin’ in the Band.” Unlike the psychedelic attack mode of versions from ’72 and ’73 (which I love), the jam on 6-30-74 is an aural painting, a mellow mind-bender. They stretch it out for fifteen minutes, and before redundancy creeps in, the band boldly strides into “Uncle John’s Band.” “Playin’” is the ideal musical exercise for igniting a hot “UJB.” The noodling of “Playin” seems to echo and influence the solos in “UJB.” The crisp “UJB” instrumentals roam free. After a wonderfully harmonized “Uncle John’s,” the band steams back to “Playin’” for a booming reprise.
The second set of 6-30-74 is not as overwhelming as other shows from June ’74. The band could have been a little tired, or maybe it was just artistic preference. A steady rolling “China Cat” opens set two. It’s a pleasurable listen, yet it doesn’t have the intensity factor of the fabulous “Cats” from 6-16-74 Des Moines and 6-26-74 Providence. The big jam of the set was Truckin’ > Eyes of the World. The “Truckin’” jam looks for an outlet and flirts with “Nobody’s Fault,” and hesitantly sputters into “Eyes.” I’ve seen this version listed at twenty-four minute, but it’s actually sixteen minutes of “Eyes;” the rest is unrelated space. There’s an interesting segue in the set ending Not Fade Away > GDTRFB.
A year earlier, the Dead played the Universal Ampitheatre, Los Angeles on 6-30-73. The opening set’s stocked with excellent Jerry performances of “They Love Each Other,” “Birdsong,” and “Row Jimmy.” A captivating “Black Peter” makes a surprise appearance before “Playin’ in the Band” stretches the collective mind of the audience before break.
Set two is short, but the band delivers as Keith twinkles electric piano during Dark Star > Eyes. Uncharacteristically, “Eyes” is longer than “Dark Star” by three minutes. I’m fond of the soft-shoe progression into “Eyes.” A typically hot ’73 rendition unravels, and around the elven minute mark, the structure of the song loosens, and Keith chops away between Jerry and Phil as Billy keeps the groove steady. It sounds like they may veer from “Eyes,” but Phil emphatically reinstates the outro theme. This has a rockabilly/jazz feel, and the length and loose jamming make the 6-30-73 “Eyes” must listen material. Sweet “Stella Blue” is followed by a twangy romp through “Sugar Magnolia.”
In a somber mood, the Dead rolled into Portland International Speedway on 6-30-79. The day before, Little Feat’s Lowell George died of a heart attack from an accidental cocaine overdose. George was producer for the Dead’s most recent record, Shakedown Street. After a short, well-played opening set, the Dead launched set two with a I Need a Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’ combo. The first and last songs formed a Shakedown Street sandwich. Garcia’s solo out of “Miracle” was substantial. Jerry seemed to lose interest in extending the “Miracle” solo down the line. The other notable segment from this show was Estimated > He’s Gone. It was a cathartic performance with the passing of Lowell.
The Dead played on June 30 every year from 1984-1988. I’ve already discussed the first two years, and there’s not that much meat from the other shows. It’s worth noting two performances from Silver Stadium, Rochester on 6-30-88. Before busting into China Cat > Rider, the Dead riff on their only version of the iconic instrumental “Green Onions,” for a few minutes. After Cat > Rider, Rochester catches the second performance of the new Garcia/ Hunter tune, “Believe It or Not.” Jerry delivers a fine vocal of this tune which was only played seven times and not included on Built to Last.
There wasn’t much joy on the Dead’s last tour as an assortment of hassles and tragedies seemed to unfold nightly. Their show in Pittsburg’s Three Rivers Stadium on 6-30-95 was an exception. The band and their devotees enjoyed a magical second set. As the band harmonized the opening of the Beatles “Rain,” a steady downpour soaked the delighted audience. I love the Dead arrangement and it’s evident that Jerry’s digging it. “Rain” is one of their premier later-day covers.
“Rain” is followed by “Box of Rain,” “Samba (in the rain),” and “Looks Like Rain.” The first two songs are the best of this soggy segment. The ensuring “Terrapin Station” is a little sluggish, and after Drums Jerry delivers a poignant “Standing on the Moon.” To certify the show as memorable, there’s a rare “Gloria” encore. Many observers could sense the end was near for Garcia, but on 6-30-95 there was still joy in Deadville.
There was boundless optimism in the air on June 30, 1972 when Jerry Garcia took the stage in the Keystone Korner with Merl Saunders, John Kahn, Bill Vitt, and Tom Fogerty. The Dead had recently returned from their legendary tour of Europe. Before resuming touring with the Dead in July, Jerry was playing intimate venues on the West Coast with this group. Earlier in the year, Garcia played a date with Saunders, Kahn, and Kreutzmann at Pacific High Studio on 2-6-72, that I rank as the greatest Jerry Garcia show. In relative anonymity, Garcia was creating some of his finest music, and having a ton of fun in the process.
Garcia and mates kick off 6-30-72 with the blues infused rush of “It’s No Use,” and follow with the R&B hit “Expressway to Your Heart,” which was written by the prolific songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. “Expressway” was released on Merl Saunders’ album Fire Up. The infectious groove of the instrumental captures the essence of the early Garcia/ Saunders sound. The Keystone Korner jam starts off tight and then dissolves and reorganizes again as Garcia unleashes a tornado of sound. This is a compelling soulsville exploration, probably the second best “Expressway.” Check out the 2-6-72 “Expressway” to hear one of the extraordinary instrumentals of Jerry’s career.
The Grateful Dead covered “One Kind Favor” in their early days, and Garcia mastered it on the third number of 6-30-72. As “One Kind Favor” takes shape, Garcia, Saunders, Kahn, Fogerty, and Vitt (sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?) slither into a Southern/ Garcia groove— “House of the Rising Sun” meets “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” on the California coast. Jerry’s pipes unleash shrill howls that beg, plead, and scream for salvation. Prior to the chorus, Kahn thumps his bass like he’s nailing a coffin shut with a power drill. The music’s haunted with goblins, ghosts, and graves. Garcia’s guitar’s a-stinging—Cajun voodoo blues fortified by the demons that Saunders drains from his Hammond organ.
Garcia continues to cultivate a Southern ambiance with an atmospheric performance of Jesse Winchester’s “Biloxi.” Next is a torrid “That’s All Right Mama,” and that’s followed by another song that would go on to become a Garcia Band staple, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” This is paced somewhere in between The Band’s brisk version, and the dawdling JGB versions to come. Garcia and Saunders in a short period of time had put together a diverse collage of American music performed with passion and soul.
Over the years, Garcia would explore Bob Dylan’s oeuvre, and expand upon his songs with more enthusiasm than any other renowned artist. With all the new compositions and musical groundbreaking that the Dead were involved in at the time, Garcia still had an insatiable appetite for more. In Keystone Korner, Garcia performs a definitive “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” Jerry’s euphoric vocal phrasing is filled with visceral outbursts and flourishes. The band locks into a deliberate groove like on the Highway 61 Revisited track. Garcia dives into three yearning blues solos, each one’s more intense and committed than the one that preceded it. Jerry masters all aspects of Dylan’s creation: the ambiance, rhythm, and spacing of the song. Jerry’s searing blues solos channel the spirit of Michael Bloomfield’s contributions on various outtakes from the Highway 61 Revisited sessions.
Garcia and friends are attentive and patient as they jam ample versions of “After Midnight” and “Money Honey.” The musicians wind-down this memorable evening and add to this glorious collection of songs with a marathon run through “Are You Lonely for Me” a number one R&B hit for Freddie Scott. The first instrumental sets the tone—a lost and lonely journey that will resolve itself on Jerry’s timetable. At the end of the second and final verse, Garcia howls, “I’m lonely baby, lonely and blue. I’m lonely baby, I’m a-lonely for you. Ah girl…Yes I am!”
The heavens have opened. Here come the blues, pouring down like hail. Garcia’s men are coming through in waves, communicating in a unified, hypnotic trance. Garcia’s improvising on a mound of sound, a skier riding the course, fantastically in and out of control. At times it’s an amazing spectacle; there should be 100,000 people swaying and waving banners as they watch a closed-circuit broadcast of this in a soccer stadium. At times it’s long-winded, but Garcia forges ahead. Take what you need and leave the rest. One wave of blues follows a funky groove, and then another wave of blues washes over that. Garcia breaks it down over and over again until “Are You Lonely for Me” crackles into freeform improvisation, Ornette Coleman territory. The improv seems like it’s running out of steam as the tape ends, but unsubstantiated reports claim that Garcia jammed for another hour and brought a guest guitarist on stage. It’s certainly plausible. Anything and everything was possible for Jerry in 1972.