Saturday, October 12, 2019

Deadology: October 12

This date in Dead history gives us quality shows from 1968 and 1977, but as on October 9, shows from the early ’80s dominate the action. After concluding a memorable night in Worcester on 10-9-84, the band’s next destination was Maine for a pair of shows in the Augusta Civic Center. I was on hand for both gigs. On 10-12-84, the second set ended with a powerhouse combination: Playin’ in the Band > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew. The momentous sweep of that finale made an indelible impression on my mind and overshadowed the rest of the show. When I listened to the soundboard recording for this endeavor, the remainder of the show was a pleasant surprise, and better than I remember.
You know it’s gonna get stranger so let’s get on with show. The “Feel like a Stranger” opener has a lengthy jam as Garcia’s guitar licks fly and multiply. The adventure continues with a moving performance of “It Must Have Been the Roses” in the second spot, and the first “On the Road Again” in two years. It’s a performance that once again indicates the band’s feeling creative, and it’s also the last time the Dead played “On the Road Again. While they’re at it, they decide to play their first “Jack-A-Roe” in more than two years. Garcia digs in for two perky yet concise solos. Solid presentations of “It’s All Over Now” and the always desirable “Cumberland Blues” set the stage for a “Music Never Stopped” closer.
            I was a little ill on the night of 10-12-84, and I don’t recall “The Music Never Stopped” being all that hot. I was wrong. Garcia digs in and puts a consistent charge into the building jam and the finale. When the band seems like they’re about to wind things down, Garcia vetoes the premature ending and gives the jam a satisfactory send-off. This is one of the best “Musics” between the years ’83 and ’86. If I were to compile a list of the ten greatest versions, two would come from 1987, and the rest between the years ’77 and ’82. I was pleasantly surprised by Jerry’s wizardry during the Augusta “Music.”
            “Cold Rain and Snow” and Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance provide an enticing start to set two. The next revelation of listening to this show was Brent’s performance of “Don’t Need Love” in the fourth spot. It’s an original written by Brent that was played a handful of times between ’84 and ’86. I was disappointed by this selection in the moment. After revisiting the tapes, I couldn’t get “Don’t Need Love” out of my mind. The tune has a haunting, hypnotic groove, and it features some heartfelt, bluesy singing by Brent. It’s a nice mood piece that could have become a substantial song if some lyrics were added or if the band took time to work on it. Following Brent’s blues, it sounds like “Playin’” is next, but Jerry squashes that notion with the opening riff of “Uncle John’s Band,” and this is where the fun begins.

            There’s a grainy video of this show available on YouTube. The bootlegger is filming from an elevated position on the opposite side of Jerry. It’s similar to the view I had that night from where I was standing. I enjoy the authentic feel of bootleg videos like this. Jerry’s dressed in black t-shirt and jeans, and his long, frizzy, gray mane makes him look like a grizzly guitar god as he stands like a mountain and wails away. He may have been in abysmal health and stoned on Persian, but the virtuosity of his playing is breathtaking. He’s not smiling or gesturing as he applies all his focus and energy in these two “UJB” solos. It’s an incredible onslaught of lead guitar that heads into another substantial jam before Drums.
            Coming out of Space, the noodling sounds like a return to “Playin’ in the Band,” even though the song hadn’t been started. The theme swirls around in preparation for the blastoff into what will be the first standalone “Playin’” reprise. The band pounds an authoritative charge to the final chorus . . . or the opening verse, on this occasion. Jerry and Bobby tee off as “Playin’” rampages to its next destination, an “Uncle John’s” reprise. Temperatures rise in the Augusta Civic Center as the music surges to the great sing-and-clap-along: “Whoa oh what I want to know oh oh, is how does the song go?” The place is electrified, and as everybody’s singing “Come hear Uncle John’s Band” I’m thinking, Here comes “The Dew!”

“Morning Dew” was inevitable and unprecedented in this sequencing. Uncle John’s > Dew had happened before in ’73 and ’74 in the center of a few “Playin’” loops. Those were crafted masterpieces. Augusta was the ultimate in on-the-fly improvisational execution. The rush of the Playin’ > Uncle John’s reprises dramatically frames the moment. This would be the only “Dew” of the tour, and Garcia sang it powerfully and with deep emotion, overcoming any vocal limitations brought on by decades of smoking. Phil rattles the Augusta Civic Center repeatedly, opening up the pathway for a rousing between-verse instrumental.
The final journey commences with sweet and sour Jerry—thick, juicy notes. The band has control of the tempo as Jerry shifts the creative flow. As the jam accelerates, there’s a series of high-frequency guitar leads that are searing and soothing at the same time. The crowd’s roaring in steady waves, and Phil’s bombs set the pace like a timekeeper ringing a bell. Garcia’s playing has legs as the band rises through the crescendo. Garcia sighs, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” and as they did in Cornell on 5-8-77, they lay their instruments down. “The Dew” said it all.
The only thing missing from the Augusta “Dew” was a final chord-fanning blitzkrieg, but this was the best one in a year that featured several prodigious versions. All three “Dews” from the spring tour were monsters: 4-14-84 Hampton, 4-20-84 Philadelphia, and 4-26-84 Providence. The Providence “Dew” has one of the greatest jams you’ll ever hear, but Garcia’s voice struggles all the way to that point. As people discuss Dead shows, there’s a tendency for some to diss early ’80s shows because of Jerry’s Persian addiction. There was a downward turn in the Dead’s consistency during these years, but when they were on, like they were in Augusta, they could ascend to lofty heights. 

A year earlier, the Dead thrilled their rabid New York City fanbase with a breakout performance of “St. Stephen” on 10-11-83, the first time they played it in four years. How could they possibly match the excitement they created the night before when the bright lights of Madison Square Garden shined upon them on October 12? The Boys had a brilliant scheme for their second and final MSG appearance of the fall tour. Before examining the show, here’s my between-show tale.
The excitement of the “St. Stephen” breakout was shocking, and painful. At the time it didn’t seem like an extraordinary show, but when “St. Stephen” appeared out of Space, me and my friend Perry, who was the lead guitarist in a Dead band called the Lost Boys, battered each other with slaps and high fives. The pandemonium of the moment was surreal, and the whole show from 10-11-83 is better than I realized that night. As Perry was driving us home on the Palisades Parkway in his gray Delta 88, we noticed smoke coming from the engine. When he pulled over, a small fire was burning beneath the hood. Fire engines arrived and his car was pronounced dead on the scene—a sacrifice to the Grateful Gods.
The following day, my Dead mentor and budding taper, Doug, had a front-row ticket for the show. My ticket was near the rafters. We got off to a late start and there was plenty of traffic on the Palisades Parkway. Driving his mom’s yellow Cadillac Coup De Ville, Doug steered that beast lane to lane at excessive speeds. We were making great time smoking down the road until we hit George Washington Bridge gridlock. I swear this kid never hit the breaks, even as he paid the toll. On the bridge, Doug was a mad genius, creating pathways where none existed. His antics on this night would have made Neal Cassidy blush. We were in the Garden when our heroes opened with “Cold Rain and Snow.” It’s a distinct version with shuffling chord progressions. Jerry played it pretty for New York City.

A mule-kicking “New Minglewood Blues” occupies the second spot. The band is in their freewheeling, sloppy-hot ’83 mode. Revelry fills the Garden in the aftermath of the “St. Stephen” breakout, and the music bustles with Penn Station intensity. The Roses (Ramble and It Must Have Been), are sung soulfully by Jerry. During back-to-back performances of “Cassidy” and “Cumberland Blues,” the Dead turn Madison Square Garden into a furnace. Phil’s bass leads run wild as Jerry attacks each solo with reckless abandon, leaving no licks behind. “Cumberland” is aggressive bordering on belligerent. This must be the longest rendition. “Looks Like Rain” and “Might as Well” end the set anti-climactically.
My preferred viewing spot for a show was about ten rows up on the opposite side of Jerry, but when set two started on 10-12-83, I was watching from behind the stage. I was awed by the sight of the crowd as “Help on the Way” kicked off the set. Wide smiles spread across the faces of 20,000 Deadheads as they bounced to the beat and merrily focused on the musicians. The building was bouncing. To see the joy of the crowd from the band’s perspective was awesome. If I wasn’t obsessed with watching Jerry’s fret board fingering, I would have caught a few more shows from the backstage perspective.

This became a time-out-of-mind experience as the band segued into “Slipknot!” It was hard to comprehend how a band could create such intimate and sophisticated music at a rock concert while captivating and mesmerizing a hedonistic New York mob. Garcia’s playing has a dark and stormy aura. Virtuosity rages as group synergy blazes. “Slipknot!” seemed to steadily improve with each outing since it was returned to the lineup on 3-25-83, and this is the culmination of those efforts. Jerry explores and extends all possibilities in the arrangement as his guitar buzzes like swarming bees. The signature line leading to the bridge delivers maximum suspense. As Garcia leads the ascension, Phil’s blasts rattle building and bones and Weir smashes down on the whammy bar, forming a stunning collage of sound. In the slight pause before the bridge, Brent teases the melody to come. The bridge between Slipknot! > Franklin’s is performed without the slightest stumble, and the Garden blasts into “Franklin’s Tower” with the Dead.
Before the first verse, Garcia lays down a beautiful solo and reestablishes the “Franklin’s” beat and wallows in it. A deafening roar fills the Garden, and Garcia concedes that it’s time to sing, “In another time’s forgotten space.” Between the last-sung line of “Help” and the opening line of “Franklin’s,” ten minutes have elapsed. Those ten minutes comprise the best instrumental jam I ever witnessed from the Grateful Dead. And there’s more good news because this is one of the hottest “Franklin’s Towers” ever played.” There are six solos from Garcia, and each one is gripping. Even on inspired versions of “Franklin’s” you won’t hear anything like this. Garcia was master of his domain, on top of the guitar world on this tour. And this was a wise and passionate NYC audience. Listen to them react after the “Listen to the music play” solo and after Garcia’s final foray. New York and the Dead were perfect together, especially in 1983.
A start like this usually assures a thrilling continuation of the set. The remaining set Women Are Smarter > He’s Gone > Drums > Space > Truckin’ > Black Peter > Not Fade Away was performed adequately. The insipid selections can probably be explained away by the Dead’s live song rotation. When the Boys embarked on an eleven-show tour like this one, you could reasonably expect anywhere from two or three versions of the following during that run: “Shakedown Street,” Scarlet > Fire, Estimated > Eyes, “Jack Straw,” “Terrapin Station,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Let it Grow,” China Cat >Rider, and if you were lucky, one or two “Morning Dews.” Although there were no “Dews” during the fall tour of ’83. Anyway, you get the idea; song selection was science on the fly. After their Blues for Allah masterpiece, the band probably decided to save some material for upcoming shows, since it was early in the tour. But they had one more surprise for MSG on 10-12-83 when they broke out their first “Revolution” in the encore slot. The spirit of John Lennon soared over the island where he was gunned down less than three years earlier.
For more on the awesome 10-12-81 Munich show with the longest GDTRFB ever, and other shows from this date, check out Deadology: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History

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