Greek Theatre, U.C. Berkeley - 5-14-83
Set 1: Feel Like A Stranger, Friend Of The Devil, Me & My Uncle > Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, My Brother Esau > Bertha
Set 2: Shakedown Street, Playing In The Band > China Doll > Drums > The Wheel > Playing In The Band > Morning Dew > Sugar Magnolia, E: One More Saturday Night
5-14-83 Greek Theatre, U.C. Berkeley
You can't blame me too much if listening to this show is a bit of nostalgia -- the 1983 Greek run is the only three-day run where I made all three days. The band accordingly turned out what some regard as the leastest of the Greek runs, but a good time was had by those in attendance all the same. Listening to this recording, I am reminded why.
The opening "Stranger" is neither terribly promising nor disappointing; Jerry is a bit wobbly, but the band sounds charged for more. Jerry responds with the usual slowdown in "Friend of the Devil", where the magic immediately becomes evident between all players. If Jerry was wrestling a personal demon during his solo, he was winning for most of it; the judges would have to award him the point. After Bobby's obligatory polka set, the audience is invited to sing "Happy Birthday" to Bill, which Jerry slides out of straight into a perfect sunny-day "Tennessee Jed." As Phil joyously explores the off-beats, Jerry soars again, this time thoroughly vanquishing time and space with five accomplices. It may sound strange to recommend a version of this song, but it's hard not to be impressed by good vocals & interplay, a powerful solo, and a solid finish. Why, they sound so professional!
"Esau" by comparison is merely solid (though the ending still needs work), and Jerry takes us out of a short set with a spirited "Bertha" - only a slight touch of unpredictability, but enough to feel fresh.
I should note that this soundboard clearly has nearby audience between songs, so a more accurate description seems to be "audience recording from the soundboard, with soundboard matrixed in" -- probably just how things sounded at the soundboard. A bit tunnelly, which seems to be the strange fate of audience recordings at the Greek.
To start the second set, Jerry answers Bobby's moody first-set opener with "Shakedown Street." Not too fast, and the vocal interplay before the jam is genuinely exciting in a soul-shouting way -- what "rock & roll" was originally all about. The jam is also a real funk-style jam, with all participants contributing equally; Bobby uses an envelope generator to put the "unk" in the funk, sounding like a synth, and you can tune in to Brent or Mickey and find just as much to hear as you could in Jerry's vamping. The only complaint is the usual -- it could have been longer -- but why worry? There's still a whole set ahead of us :)
A stumble in the tape indicates a tape-preserving pause, so we trip right into the "Playing in the Band" intro. From here on out, it's going to be an early 70s show, as far as song choice goes. The jam launches with confidence, with Brent favoring subtle use of the Hammond organ (he's mostly mixed rather low anyway). There are a few surprises in this jam -- not just an agreeable10-minute ramble, as some PITBs can be. Quite possibly the band had set up the song sequence in advance, for we get some hints mid-jam as to where things are going. Or perhaps they just catch on to each other quickly? As Jerry said in a mid-80 interview, the band had become more efficient at what they did. at any rate, the hint was flown, understood, then dropped for later inspection -- Jerry's moves to an early segue are delightfully ignored, and delicate webs of intrigue and introspection fraught with uncertainty are the payout. The band is certainly dynamic: sometimes the music seems to pour forth as if threatening its boundaries, then it retreats to search for another corner. Group mind, indeed.
Like most PITB jams of the 80s & 90s, it all happens in about ten minutes, but this one covered a lot of ground on the way to the next song, which is "China Doll." As "China Doll" goes, this is one seems rather uptempo, accentuated by Billy's effort to drag the tempo a bit (which succeeds by the coda). The transition out of "China Doll" into another PITB jam is a thing of beauty, and suggests this was really what the band wanted to be doing; they leap into it like a wildebeest let out of the cage of a structured song. This being the early 80s, Jerry & Phil soon leave the stage to Bobby and the drummers; Bob seems to think maybe he can lure them back if he vamps hard enough. He's certainly got some intriguing ideas, and the drummers are right with him.
Drums & Space are usually pretty good at the Greek, and this one's right in the zone. Someone joins the drums less than six minutes later [Bob again?], soon cut by a tape flip. On the fade-in, the mood hasn't changed but the drummers are gone, so it seems Drums turned to Space fairly quickly. The mood is meditative, contemplative ... pre-Wheel-type mood -- which is indeed the case, but this doesn't keep them from exploring some other corners along the way -- even a bit of freaky tension. But "The Wheel" benefits from following that sort of thing, so once again we seem to have a bit of forecasting, agreement/plan, diversion, then fruition. Nice structuring, nice performance; very organic, followed by another flawlessly smooth transition into (yet another!) PITB jam; seems they just couldn't get away from it in this set. This time, though, they finally find their way to the wrap-up -- though not without investigating another corner or two. Bobby in particular seems to find new ways of playing PITB's many-played riff, and Phil answers back in suit. PITB>jam>China>PITB jam>drums/space>Wheel>PITB? Yeah, that was a set :)
But no, they're not done: with three little notes, Jerry rings in the "Dew", and his singing suggests he was pretty pleased with the set so far. Brent uses the Hammond again to accent the vocal, and Bobby is full of suggestions as well; this is more of a roaring performance than a pin-dropper. Not that Jerry doesn't try, but the band seems too amped up to get down to that level of silence. No problem; Jerry switches to overdrive and bites the apple that's on offer. Mountains tumble, atoms split, and the universe smiles -- your typical OMIGOD Dew ending -- and then we're almost immediately dropped into the "Sugar Magnolia" backbeat. Hey, we didn't all show up just for the thoughtful-jams-and-apocalypse; some of us came to dance!
It seems pointless to say anything more than "So ends this short-but-not-unworthy show" -- a Sugar Mags ending seems just the right period to end the sentence of a fine second set, and the "Saturday Night" encore is really just a way of saying "Yes, it's really over". If this was like most Greek shows, most of us assembled at some random nearby stranger's house for post-concert partying, hot-tubbing, eating, socializing, whatever. After all, there would always be another show (in this case, the next day), and we'd all be there in body or spirit, doing it all over again. In some eternal cosmic sense, there always will be, and we will indeed all be there. You'll be there too, so I'll see you then. Meanwhile, take care, OK?
by Ramble on Joe
the Grateful Dead's concert
performance on 5/14/83 at the Greek
Theater, Berkeley, CA.