This essential date in Grateful Dead history blesses with four Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin's and two Dark Stars. Here are some excerpts from Deadology. In the book there's more in depth commentary on these shows, and other not mentioned here.
The 6-24-83 “Shakedown Street” from Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, is not the all-time greatest, but it has the distinction of being one of the best to open a show. The body of the song is performed flawlessly, and Jerry’s slashing and dealing from the get-go in the big jam. There’s no cute interplay or groove establishment—Garcia’s ripping as the audience roars its approval. After a lengthy and impressive surge, the band settles into a relaxed groove and plays fiddle-faddle for a while before landing back in the final chorus. The best “Shakedown” show opener is from the ’81 New Year’s Eve show in Oakland. Here are some of the elite second set “Shakedowns”: 9-16-78 Egypt, 1-15-79 Springfield, 2-17-79 Oakland, 4-6-82 Philadelphia, 6-30-85 Merriweather.
Back to this wonderful show in Dane County on 6-24-83. Jerry uncorks the hottest “Little Red Rooster” solo of the year in the fourth spot. A striking “Brown-Eyed Women” follows, and then the set becomes standard fair until “Deal” closes it. The band’s approach to the final jam is unique. The tempo’s upbeat all the way through as Jerry cuts loose on contained passages and then lets Brent build a bridge to the next plateau before the sequence is repeated. The sound of Brent’s organ playing has a lot of viscosity on this night. Later in the second set, Brent and Jerry use this motif again in a spectacular “Morning Dew.”
Weir asks the crowd to: “Take a step back,” before the band fires into “Help on the Way.” “Slipknot!” roars optimistically—a bright aura consumes Jerry’s playing as the band navigates through jazzy terrain. The segue is a balanced performance as Jerry alternates between leading and listening through the chord changes. Brent sizzles. Garcia’s quick to sing the first verse of “Franklin’s Tower.” There’s lots of between-verse jamming, and whenever it threatens to become a touch monotonous, Garcia finds zest in the tune’s redundancy. On the heels of the Garcia triple shot, Weir offers one of his beloved combos, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance. Phil and Jerry fire away in tandem during an ample “Saint” jam.
On the other side of Drums, Madison has another combo to relish. The “Truckin’” jam peaks and casually unwinds into “Morning Dew.” Everything is as it should be. Madison’s going nuts, Phil’s blasts rock the Dane County Coliseum, and the first solo sets the table for a dramatic final jam that’s as unique as it is long.
The expedition starts deliberately. Tension builds as Phil’s bass shakes the foundation underneath Brent’s swirling chords. Usually Jerry goes for the emotional jugular at this point, but as the cyclone spins, he pauses to let Brent lead him to another plateau, as he did earlier in “Deal.” The band is all ears as Jerry lets Brent set him up for guitar strikes that are fiercer with each round. Garcia masterfully extends the funnel cloud portion of the jam as he juggles intensity and creativity. It’s the “Dew” of the year and it’s an exhaustive performance. The tank’s running on empty as 6-24-83 closes with Around and Around > Johnny B. Goode and a “Don’t Ease Me In” encore.
6-24-84 Saratoga Performing Arts Center: Jerry’s scratchy voice belts out “China Doll” in heartbreaking fashion. This lament on suicide struck a nerve in Jerry’s performance, as if he had an epiphany about his own fragile existence. Severely overweight and addicted to Persian, Garcia was in the thick of a slow suicide march. Brent’s clever keyboard contributions added depth to the melancholy mood. The last verse of the Saratoga “Doll” is a transcendent moment that I’ve replayed at least 1,000 times. Jerry’s vocal phrasing is poignant, powerful, and stunning. “I will not condemn you. Nor yet would I deny. I would ask the same of you. But failing, will not die.”
Unbearable suspense resolves itself as Jerry digs deep and unloads his soul into the chorus, “Take up your China Doll. It’s only fractured, and just a little nervous from the fall.” A roar fills SPAC as Jerry gives it his all. There’s unfathomable power in that voice that failed him often in ’84 and ’85. With the heavy lifting down, Jerry’s voice regresses as he barks out the final melody line, “La la la la la la.” Jerry always sang songs like “China Doll,” “Stella Blue,” and “Black Peter” with emotion, but the ballads suited him better at this stage of his life, and therefore, the performances are more chilling and cathartic.
Pretty picking out of the “Doll” leads into what sounds like Drums, but the band remains on stage and slams into “Samson and Delilah.” It’s a fiery biblical serving—extra effort for those enduring the hard rain. The battle cry was “Bonus songs for Saratoga.” The year before, on 6-18-83, they played five songs after Drums and a double encore. On 6-24-84 in the driving rain, the Dead played a double encore of “Satisfaction” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” after the set-ending “Sugar Magnolia.” Extra tunes for a soggy audience always builds loyalty.
6-24-85 Cincinnati, River Bend: The scenery inspired everyone as set two commenced with “Iko Iko.” Behind the stage, a steamboat slowly sailed up the Ohio River. Look out, mama, there’s a white boat coming up the river. The enormous Grateful Dead twentieth celebration banner dropped down behind the band as they slammed into “Samson and Delilah.” River Bend buzzed below the setting sun. “He’s Gone” sailed into “Smokestack Lightning.” The pairing of those tunes conjured up the spirit of Pigpen. The anniversary celebration was on as Deadheads were thrilled with “Cryptical Envelopments,” the first one since the breakout version on 6-16-85. This time they headed straight into Drums and followed with an impressive lineup: Space > Comes a Time > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopments > Wharf Rat > Around and Around > Good Lovin’. The jamming was a bit lackluster during this segment, but overall, it was a fabulous celebration.
6-24-70 Capitol Theatre, Port Chester: Set two starts with a savage standalone “Not Fade Away.” The crowd is hyped on this very listenable audience recording. Possessed energy roars within Pigpen’s “Easy Wind.” Following a twangy romp through “Me and My Uncle,” the Grateful Dead played one of those transcendent segments worthy of Hall of Fame status.
Cosmic energy fills the Capitol Theatre as “Dark Star” ascends. The mojo’s been rolling all set, and for the next half-hour it peaks consistently. There’s a euphoric vibe as the jam explodes into the “Transitive nightfall of diamonds” verse, and then swings into a gorgeous introduction for “Attics of My Life.” Nobody will confuse the Dead for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but their harmonizing of this tune that had yet to be released captivates the audience. It’s a dreamlike sequence, and within this performance, I hear traces of the birth of “Stella Blue.”
The band busts out of ballad mode and storms back into “Dark Star.” After aggressively working over the melody line, they transition into a “Feelin’ Groovy” jam. Minute for minute, this is one of the most gripping “Dark Stars.” The jam sounds like it’s headed into “I Know You Rider,” but it pivots into a new song, the second performance of “Sugar Magnolia.” It’s obvious that this is still a work in progress, as the band only plays a fragmented version. Regardless, it’s still delightful as the glow of the jam fuels the embryonic tune, and then there’s a powerful segue back to “Dark Star.” The band seemingly rolls in and out of different states of consciousness as if they’re sharing a collective dream with their fans.
Just when the enlightened audience thinks they’ve heard and seen it all, the Dead make their familiar connection: Dark Star > St. Stephen. The crowd goes nuts—oh yeah, that’s what these guys do. It’s a lean, powerful version that brings the crowd to ecstasy during the last jam. And then there’s the surprise Aoxomoxoa handoff: St. Stephen > China Cat > Rider. What a thrilling combination! “Uncle John’s Band” and a “Cold Jordan” encore complete the mind-bending show.