Monday, April 6, 2020

Deadology: April 6

            It didn’t feel like spring when I awoke on the morning of April 6, 1982. I’d planned on making my first road trip to see the Grateful Dead in the Philadelphia Spectrum, but a freak blizzard blanketed my hometown of Nanuet, New York, with a foot and a half of snow. After learning that the show wasn’t cancelled, my friends and I drove through treacherous conditions until we reached the New Jersey Turnpike. The heavy snowfall had just missed this part of the Northeast, and the drive to Philadelphia was smooth, although it was breezy and chilly in the Philly parking lot as we fine-tuned our heads before the show.
            The opening moment called for “Cold Rain & Snow” and the Dead obliged, rewarding those who’d traveled through inclement weather. Garcia and the band were cooking as they finished off the second tune, “Promised Land,” with an above-average jam. The twelve-song opening set also featured tight versions of “Candyman,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” “Big Railroad Blues,” and “Might as Well,” from the Garcia/Hunter Americana playbook. They also played Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues and “Jack-A-Roe,” giving the set a distinctive Old Weird America vibe. Greil Marcus used the phrase Old Weird America as the title of his book describing the arcane music made by Bob Dylan and The Band in the basement of a pink house in West Saugerties, New York. On this night in Philly, and many others after the release of American Beauty, the Dead rolled out their version of Old Weird America during their opening sets with tunes that told the tales of gamblers, bootleggers, vagabonds,and pranksters pursuing their destiny across the American Continen

            A resounding bass bomb ignites “Shakedown Street” and the second set of 4-6-82. A funky whirl through the verses of “Shakedown” morphs into a call-and-response exchange between Jerry and Brent, which swirls into a layered Grateful Dead explosion—rendered with the right balance of emotion and energy, and precise execution. It’s unusual that a “Shakedown” jam moves with this much focus and concludes with such authority. This isn’t Old Weird America or Haight Ashbury revisited. The Philadelphia Spectrum transcends into a cornfield in Iowa, and a performance of dreams beckons.
            Out of the thunder of “Shakedown,” the serene haze of “Lost Sailor” soothes the Spectrum. On its own, “Lost Sailor” is a nice Weir/Barlow number. Coming after “Shakedown,” or Scarlet > Fire, “Sailor” is sensuous. The easy sway of the song hits you like a pull off a hash pipe, giving the listener a chance to revel in what happened, and what’s to come. Simply played on the radio, the song won’t have the same effect. Like many Dead originals created for Wake of the Flood through Go to Heaven, “Lost Sailor” is part of definitive Grateful Dead concert experience. The 4-6-82 “Saint of Circumstance” has a blitzkrieg of a jam, and it gives the 10-19-81 Barcelona rendition a run for “Saint” supreme.
            This was my third Dead show, and I knew that this was the spot where I might hear one of the songs I desired, and sure enough, Garcia strummed the mesmerizing chord progression of “Terrapin Station.” And as the inspiration flowed, a feeling of enlightenment filled the Spectrum. A joyous ceremony was underway. The crowd sang, and viscerally felt every word with Jerry: “Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense of colour hold away despair… Counting stars by candlelight. Some are dim but one is bright. The spiral light on Venus rising first and shining best. Oh, from the northwest corner. Of a brand new crescent moon…” And when the band crashed down on the royal refrain of “Terrapin,” 15,000 Deadheads swayed in unison to their National Anthem.
            On the backside of Drums > Space, Weir, the circus ringmaster, blows his whistle and the band is motoring with “Truckin’.” The concise post-“Truckin’” jam spills into “The Other One.” Lesh bombs drop like exclamation points and Garcia’s solo touches down like a tornado. Weir skips to the second verse because the band’s on a mission, and I dared to dream that it’s “Morning Dew,” a rarity at the time. “The Dew” was played once in both ’78 and ’79, four times in ’80, seven times in ’81, and through the first ten shows of ’82 it had yet to make an appearance. Yet it seemed inevitable, as if I had the power to will it into existence.

            A fractioned second of silence separated “Coming, coming around,” and the striking of the magical “Dew” chord that unleashed pandemonium in Philadelphia. Deadheads were hugging, crying, screaming, and yodeling. My first “Dew” was a sacred moment, a prayer answered. Garcia sang with perfectly pitched poignancy. The arrangement unfolded precisely, and the band performed it with the reverence it deserved. The 4-6-82 “Dew” is a sparkling performance but, taking my emotions from that evening out of the equation, this just misses being a Hall of Fame “Dew.” The ending jam comes up a little short.
            If I could have handed the band a wish list of songs before the show, it would have read: “Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station, Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia.” Sure enough, upon the dramatic conclusion of “Morning Dew,” the band bounced into “Sugar Magnolia.” It’s a superb version. Garcia shreds it to pieces. At the time, I couldn’t put this evening into perspective, but it changed my life. I hit the road and caught as many Dead shows as possible for the next six years. The historical significance of this show was that it was the only time “Shakedown,” “Terrapin,” “Dew,” and “Sugar Mag” were played in the same show. That’s just once in 2,318 concerts. And somehow, I felt my presence in the fifteenth row of The Spectrum influenced the outcome. The Grateful Dead experience became impossibly attractive. It had the suspense of an intense sporting event that was part of a seemingly never-ending real-life soap opera. Even the date, 4-6-82, seemed to have numerological significance. Besides working as a balanced equation of even numbers, the four individual numbers that make up this date represent all the single digit even numbers: 2,4, 6, 8.
            “It’s All Ove Now, Baby Blue” was the final reward for those in the Philadelphia Spectrum on 4-6-82. Thirteen years earlier, on April 6, 1969, the Grateful Dead played their first version of “Baby Blue” in the Avalon Ballroom. As the Warlocks, they played “Baby Blue” on a few occasions. When Jerry saw Dylan play “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” on The Les Crane Show on February 7, 1965, he was thrilled with the performance, and equally amazed by Dylan’s mad rap during the interview. That’s the day Jerry’s passion for Dylan’s music took off.
            In the Philly Spectrum on 4-6-82, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” fulfills its role as the ideal encore—Strike another match go start anew / It’s all over now baby blue. Jerry bids farewell to his friends in Philly after a triumphant night as he prepares to start anew two nights later in Syracuse. It’s a poignant and professional performance. In the Avalon Ballroom on 4-6-69, as the third song of the set one, “Baby Blue” comes off as a slow psychedelic waltz that’s sung with both tenderness and sudden urgency. Garcia seems more wrapped up in the beauty of the individual lines than the overall potential of the lyrics. Out of the swirling organ sound, Phil and Jerry pounce on a brief and fetching instrumental—The carpet too is moving under you. There’s an acid trip vibe to the Avalon Performance, and the musical landscape reminds me of the excellent cover of “Baby Blue” by Van Morrison and Them (1966).
            The Dead played two short sets on 4-6-69 with a sprawling encore. The Other One > Cryptical Envelopments brings glory to set two, especially the combustible madness of “Cryptical.” The bus to never-ever land dissolves into the voodoo blues of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Another macho romp through “Turn Your Lovelight” concludes an overwhelming, yet concise set.
            The Grateful Dead were in no hurry to split the Avalon Ballroom as they launched a “Viola Lee Blues” encore. There are longer versions, but the jam ramps up briskly, and the intensity is off the charts. As the Dead sing the final verse, the amps and microphones are shut down as the boys follow through and finish singing the encore minus amplification.

            A few weeks before their final stand at the Fillmore East, the Grateful Dead invaded New York City for a three-night rendezvous in the Manhattan Center. This second show on 4-5-71 gives us the famous Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad that appears on Skulls and Roses. The “Not Fade Away” reprise didn’t land on the album, but the exotic combo enticed new fans to the universe of Grateful Dead appreciation. The segue between songs has converted many rock fans into Deadheads. It’s easier and more logical for a novice to grasp than the Dark Star > St. Stephen > Eleven from Live Dead.
            On 4-6-71, the band’s final night in the Manhattan Center, they seemed more focused on nurturing new material than on cutting loose as they searched for the right grove in “Bertha,” “Playin’ in the Band,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and “Loser,” songs that were debuted in Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre in February. This pithy “Playin’ in the Band” from 4-6-71 is the track included on Skulls and Roses. Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy” was debuted in the middle of the set. Buddy influenced the next generation of legendary musical talent, including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead. The Dead would play four more acoustic versions of “Oh Boy.” I like the 4-6-71 rendition, but “Oh Boy” is a tough song to expand upon. Holly’s version says it all.
            The better of the back-to-back surprise numbers from the opening set is “I’m a Hog for You Baby,” a Coasters cover that the Dead had performed three times in ’66. In the Manhattan Center, Jerry and Pigpen delight the faithful by crooning lead vocals together. In addition to all the original material crammed into their live repertoire, they were reacquainting themselves with the golden days of rock and roll, and the great tunes that they listened to during their teenage years. There’s a fun vibe to this light-hearted blues shuffle featuring a punchy solo from Garcia. It’s a shame that this is the last “Hog” the band ever played.
            The Grateful Dead performed nine times on April 6. In addition to the three shows already discussed, they played that date in ’78, ’84, ’85, ’87, and ’94. I was in the Philly Spectrum for 4-6-85 and expected a magical evening, being that it was the third anniversary of the revered snowstorm show. There was no lingering mojo from 4-6-82 three years later, which was disappointing because they played a great show in Providence on 4-4-85. That’s the way the Dead rolled in 1985. One night they came off as superheroes, the next night you were questioning why you were following them around.

            On 4-6-84, Deadheads roamed The Strip and then frolicked into the Aladdin Theatre for a roll of the dice with their favorite group. On paper it looks like a solid show, and I’m sure those on hand had a blast, but there’s not much to rave about here. It always delightful to see “Music Never Stopped” followed by “Might as Well” to end the set, but the “Music” solo is flat. Hearing “Eyes of the World” materialize out of Drums > space must have thrilled the crowd, but it was a feeble offering that disappeared like a puff of wind.
            Of the remaining shows from this date, 4-6-87 Brendan Byrne Arena is the most compelling. This was the Grateful Dead’s first stop near New York City since Garcia’s coma the summer before, and emotions boiled all night long. After his brush with death, Garcia’s recovery and the return of his guitar virtuosity were remarkable. This show mixed sensational moments with adequate performances, which was typical of the entire year. All things considered, it was inspiring to see Jerry playing at this level again.
            A fragile Dancin’ in the Street > Franklin’s Tower launches the festivities. I’ll grade it an A for effort and C- for execution. This doesn’t hold a candle to the fabulous Dancin’ > Franklin’s combos of 1979. The botched 4-6-87 “Dancin’” is the Dead’s final performance of this beloved Motown classic. The one-two punch of Feel Like a Stranger > Cumberland Blues that kicks off set two is much better—Garcia’s guitar work is fluid and vibrant throughout. A fine “900,000 Tons of Steel,” Brent’s new tune that would appear on In the Dark, follows, although it’s that rare Dead tune that sounded better in the studio than it did live. Unfortunately, a standalone “Saint of Circumstance” is next. I always felt like I was getting cheated when “Saint” was played without “Lost Sailor,” which was performed for the last time on 3-24-86. “Terrapin Station” out of space is the highlight on the other side of Drums.
            I saved the transcendent performance of 4-6-87 for last. It happens in the first set between “When Push Comes to Shove” and the set-ending “Deal.” During the 80s, if “Jack Straw” were not the opener, the window was pretty much shut on “Straw” that night. When Garcia noodled the opening licks of “Jack Straw” in the eighth spot of the set, an enthusiastic cheer rocked the Brendan Byrne Arena. As much as we loved seeing “Jack Straw” as an opener, the jam is at its best when it’s played towards the end of the set. I was on hand for this show, and unfortunately, when the band busted into “Straw,” I was attending to my girlfriend, who was ill from drinking beer on an empty stomach. I missed the moment, but I’ve relived the genius of this “Straw” on tape several thousand times.
            Weir sets the aggressive jam in motion by howling, “You keep us on the run, run-uh-un!” With collective aggression, the band slams down a thunderous chord that rattles the walls and halls. A volatile outburst from Garcia is matched by tenacious input from Brent and the drummers. The sonic flow is intense as the jam climaxes early. The over-ambitious crowd roars, and then Garcia makes a huge statement with a blistering run, unlike anything heard before in “Jack Straw.” All Garcia lovers howl in approval. Ironically, this twenty-second segment starts at the 4:06 mark of “Jack Straw.” The rest of the band is stoked by the outburst, a guitar run that could have only been produced under these conditions at this moment in history.
             Bobby, Phil, and Brent take turns mimicking Jerry’s tangent as best they can. Garcia finishes the jam off with a chord-fanning crescendo. We can share the women we can share the wine! And thanks to the tapes, we can share the spontaneous brilliance of the Dead, Garcia, and the faithful. 


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