The ’83 Hartford Civic Center shows were preceded by the legendary Madison Square Garden shows featuring the St. Stephen breakout on October 11, and the outrageous Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower the following night. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the momentum would continue to roll in Hartford, but after a bland opening set, it was hard to imagine that the Dead would play something so extraordinary that Dick Latvala would immortalize it as the sixth volume of the Dick’s Picks series.
The distinctive masterpiece of this evening begins with the “Scarlet Begonias” intro as Brent introduces a xylophone synthesizer lick at exactly the right moment and continues to tap all the right notes before Jerry sings the first verse. It’s the ultimate signature lick, the one that will have any fan of this Scarlet > Fire salivating instantly. It’s a warm performance of “Begonias” with a between-verse jam that’s a slight cut above most of the Scarlet > Fires from this golden era for the combo. There are some excellent percussion exchanges between Billy and Mickey as the post-verses jam takes flight, and Garcia’s blazing leads unfold like strings of pearls, one finer than the last, in a controlled and inspired manner. The music swirls around Jerry as if everything’s predetermined. The leads seem to regenerate as “Scarlet” precisely winds down.
There’s a fractioned second of silence as the band begins to build “Fire” note by note and chord by chord. The regeneration that tapered off “Scarlet” will now be used to stoke the flames of “Fire.” The pulse beats steady and slow and accelerates smoothly. The Hartford Civic Center claps along in a trance as they anticipate the first verse. Jerry’s in no rush as he lets the beat marinate before singing, “Long distance runner what you standing there for.” There’s a yearning kick to Jerry’s voice—he’s poised to take this up a notch.
The first solo of the 10-14-83 “Fire” is a masterpiece on its own. Garcia’s lyrical playing instantly grips the imagination. And with each ensuing round, the velocity and sonic pressure rise incrementally. As Garcia deftly accentuates different parts of these passages, he gives off the illusion that he’s going all out and holding back at the same time. The solo has legs as it impossibly keeps getting hotter and more compelling. The crescendo goes where no “Fire” goes, yet it’s not as startling as the finale of the next solo. It’s one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever heard, and it still leaves room for the ensuing jams—pure genius.
Solo two takes off with a rapturous glow, like its predecessor. Garcia scales the mountain quicker, and it seems like the band’s ready to land for the third verse, but Jerry’s just playing possum as he rapidly changes the trajectory of the jam and a mighty climax ensues. No jam in this epic Scarlet > Fire is left uncooked. The Hartford “Fire” is topped off with the best outro solo since 5-8-77 Cornell. As the band returns to the “Scarlet” coda, Brent checks in with more xylophone punctuations to balance and crown the masterpiece. Other momentous Scarlet > Fires that I’d rank in my top ten include 5-17-77 Tuscaloosa, 2-5-78 Cedar Falls, 9-2-78 Giants Stadium, 9-1-79 Rochester, 11-1-79 Nassau Coliseum, and 4-23-83 New Haven. However, only Cornell and Hartford are perfect in every way.
The other distinguishing factor of this show is that it’s easily the best pairing of Scarlet > Fire followed by Estimated > Eyes, original Dead combos born live in ’77. This Hartford Estimated > Eyes is way above average, and the “Eyes of the World” is one the best of the ’80s. The tempo is upbeat but not too fast, and Garcia goes off on a long second solo that finishes with a wild flurry. This pre-Drums segment is imbued with extra effort and consistently crisp jamming. The other side of Drums begins with a “Spanish” jam that segues into a standard The Other One > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia ending. Jerry sings “Stella Blue” spiritually and tacks on an ample outro.
The lead guitarist of Phish, Trey Anastasio, saw his first Grateful Dead concert in the Hartford Civic Center on 10-14-83. In a televised interview decades later, Trey had this to say about his first show: “It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat…It was the first time I’d seen in a rock and roll setting, music as a community builder where the band members were all listening to each other and improvising. The audience was an active participant in the musical event.” That interview took place several years before Trey was chosen as the lead guitarist for the Fare Thee Well concerts, celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary.
My getting hit in the head with a baseball bat moment was hearing the tapes of 9-3-77 Englishtown and 5-8-77 Cornell for the first time. The Hartford Scarlet > Fire is the treasured soundtrack that I broke out to celebrate two epic sporting events. After the New York Giants won the AFC Championship game in 1986 to advance to their first Super Bowl appearance, I slipped my friend a tape of the second set of 10-14-83. At least half of our group watching the game had been at that show. We triumphantly danced, sang, and played air guitar, and perhaps enjoyed it more than we had in Hartford. Dicks Pick’s Vol. 6 was released a few months before the New York Yankees won the 1996 World Series, their first in twenty years. After Charlie Hayes squeezed the last out, the Yankees had a champagne-soaked celebration in their locker room. In my apartment in New Paltz, New York, I busted out a bottle of Dom Perignon and blasted the Hartford Scarlet > Fire for my ecstatic guests.