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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 4/16/84


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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 4/16/84

The Grateful Dead
Community War Memorial Auditorium - Rochester, NY

Set 1: Shakedown Street, Little Red Rooster, Peggy-O, Me & My Uncle > Mexicali Blues, Dupree's Diamond Blues, Cassidy, West L.A. Fadeaway > Might As Well

Set 2: Hell In A Bucket, Ship of Fools, Far From Me > He's Gone > Drums > The Other One > Stella Blue > Around and Around > Johnny B. Goode, E: Day Job

"Oh, 1984." -- you'll want to say. "I know what to expect from that: Jerry deep in a blurry addiction; Brent & Bobby annoying us with useless tunes." True, true. "And everyone knows thefew good shows were in the Fall." No denying that 10/12 and 11/02 are amazing. "Otherwise, maybe a couple of the Greeks and I'm done." Well, there is some sense behind that attitude; after all, they didn't even play the Frost that year. And while one might wish to point out that 12/31/84 was a fine show, most of it technically occurred in the earliest hours of 1985.

So, we assume, we can dismiss this show from April 1984 as uninspired and uninteresting. And that would be our first error; it's not. "Well then," we might counter, "It must just seem that way because it's the one not-so-bad show of the season." Wrong again; April had a slew of shows like this. "So what ." -- we quickly change tactics -- " 1984 is an era of few Soundboards, it's just a murky Aud." And we strike out, because this is an Audience recording of warm quality, reproducing more exactly how the show really sounded than any SBD would.

Let's see what it's got:

Immediately, we fade in to find Jerry clearly stating the sound & riff of "Shakedown Street"; this won't be the long-tease-&-final-delivery that characterizes several other fine performances. He pauses long enough to be sure everyone's clued, and off they go. This still bodes well, as "Shakedown" tends to be one of their stronger show-openers. By the middle of the first solo, I'm convinced -- mostly by Brent's careful phrasing in between Jerry's lead lines (both vocal & instrumental). Some people don't care for the vocal trade-offs that precede the main jam, but the people of Rochester definitely approved -- responding with a roar for one of Jerry's growls.

And then the band flew off in search of the elusive Muse, for several funky-fresh minutes. Why wouldn't anyone like this? -- especially when it's still the salad course! Healy puts some delay on the vocal reprise, and they close out solid. A decent start, promising more.

"Rooster" proves the value of audience quotient in our listening experience -- they howl in the appropriate spots -- but there's not much more. "Peggy-o" is rather faster than Jerry's preferred tempo; again it's Brent dancing around Jerry's lines that rewards the ear. "Me and My Uncle" gets a cheer [?], and Brent gives it a bit of Billy Preston funk. Mickey senses this, and amps up the solo with some high-hat sizzle (prompting Phil's support). It must be moments like these which have Bobby wondering "What the heck is going on in this band?" Jerry, of course, just plays like a fencer warming up for the State finals: jabs, feints, parries, then go for the heart. In contrast, "Mexicali Blues" finds everyone riding out the happy polka rhythm like a glee band at the Grand National. "Will you be having cole slaw or black-eyed peas with your brisket today?" "Whichever one fills up my cowboy hat higher!"

A cut in the audience noise, and we come back in time for "Dupree", which profits from its semi-regular appearance (about every tenth show) over the previous year. Jerry's voice runs rough, but his phrasing is spot on and the playing is sharp and assertive. Brent brings back the calliope sound of the early years to pleasing effect. A very good performance, and a clear highlight.

"Cassidy" moves well, and the jam shows some real simmer before decanting back to the final chorus. Jerry evidently decides to ride this energy into one of his mid-tempo blues [ "West LA" ]; a bit risky, since this kind of downshift doesn't work unless it simmers well. Payoff: this time, it does -- thanks mainly to Phil & Bill, and Bobby does some nice effects throughout.

There seems to be a hint from the drum throne to pick things up, and Bobby loses a turn as Jerry fires up "Might as Well", seemingly blowing a lung in the process. There was a point in Steely Dan's career when their manager made Donald Fagen sign a statement that he would write no more songs that he was unable to sing, but Jerry didn't have that kind of manager. No wonder this one was occasionally back-burnered. On the other hand, it sounds just right closing this set, like it or not. It sounds like everyone is kicking in some vocal noise by the end.

Set two begins with a fine, all-cylinders-firing "Hell in a Bucket", which runs so hot Jerry makes a fast segue to "Ship of Fools" just to cool off a while. Heard on its own, not much seems to be happening (especially when an attentive ear reveals Jerry muffing both a chord change & a lyric in the second verse), but it appears a wise move after that scorching "Bucket".

Brent fills in with "Far From Me" which, while it does benefit from second-set placement, just seems to prove why so many of his songs were dropped: though a fine song in itself, it wasn't aging well in the band. It hadn't improved since it appeared on their 1980 album, and even seemed best performed in the studio. The band plays it competently here, but we're expecting something more than that by this part of the show. In short, they're coasting.

Bobby seems to have forfeited his turn again, because Jerry starts up "He's Gone".

A bold move: "He's Gone" shows confidence. On a bad night, it slides into Drums like a beaten dog, and we shrug & contemplate whether we shouldn't oughta beat the rush to the parking lot. On a good night ... well, for this performance, I'll just say the phrase "nothing left to do but smile smile smile" is absolutely thrilling, and Rochester knows it. Oh yeah: it's "on" now, whatever that might objectively mean to newbies who might have been dragged or forced at gunpoint to attend. I guess someone could have been there and not "gotten it" by then; to reference Jerry's apt comparison, some people just don't like licorice, and never will. "Steal your face, right off ..." Yeah, well, I think you've got the point already :-)

Funny thing is, I listened to it earlier today and didn't get quite the same intensity out of it. It isn't just that they're playing to hard-core fans -- but the fact is that hard-core fans were mainly the only attendees at Dead shows in 1984. It wasn't trendy to see the Dead -- in fact, it was baldly ridiculed. And yet we went. And here's what we were getting:

After "He's Gone", they don't really capitalize on that song; a few false stabs ensue, but we find them getting farther and farther from the generous post-Gone mood, and moving into something else entirely. Well, of course: it's 1984, and Jerry has left the stage to the remainder of the band. Not surprisingly, what we hear sounds a lot like post-Jerry Dead, and it does indeed possess a life of its own. Had Jerry been there, it might have been even more, but it's plenty interesting in itself.

Drums goes through the usual cycle: traps, big drums (with Mickey urging the audience to egg him on, and they do), and finally the marimba-though-delay deal, all in about ten minutes. Jerry rejoins, and we still haven't left the trance we entered during "He's Gone"; thus smoothly sliding into a long spacey interlude. I'm not sure what might have been 'understood' by the band members in terms of the evening's theme, but it seems they are pursuing some Celtic-style melody while Mickey continues banging away. Whatever it is, it sure is cacophanous; when they finally quiet down, "Other" things start to emerge. I think you know what I mean :-)

Latter-day "Other One" performances are often distressingly short. In an interview about this time, Jerry expressed the view that they reached musical places more efficiently than they used to. This isn't really one of those times. While not as long a jam as we could expect in their pre-retirement years, they do plenty of exploring in the 14 minutes that precedes the lyric. Most importantly, we find all participants fully engaged. A long chase seems to be in progress, running down all avenues that come their way; then Phil blows down the door, and we're in the castle. And it is DERANGED inside; demented and torturous intensity propels the song between the verses. "Escaping through the lily fields" indeed -- there's a real sense of danger afoot here, and we're lucky to get out.

That's the best part; we wind down to a proper "Stella Blue" -- a little on the fast side, but serviceable. Jerry doesn't quite get his pin-drop moment, but it's close [well, maybe he does -- in the first verse rather than the last]. Bobby signals the finale with "Around", which cuts after two verses into "Johnny B Goode", revved high & most notable for a scat-singing Brent solo. Pretty hot, actually.

There is a "Day Job" encore, but I'd rather not talk about that ;-)

So we find that 1984 is well worth exploring. This show's highlights include a fine "Shakedown" opener, a strong "Dupree", and a first-class jam session from "He's Gone" through "The Other One". Definitely recommended; Joe sez Don't run away if someone offers to play it for you.
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 4/16/84, in Rochester, NY.
Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 4/16/84


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