The Spectrum - Philadelphia, PA
Set 1: Midnight Hour > Walkin' The Dog > Big Boss Man, Me
& My Uncle > Cumberland Blues, Down In The Bottom > I
Ain't Superstitous, Althea, Tons Of Steel > Supplication >
Might As Well
Set 2: Revolution, Hell In A Bucket > Touch of Grey, Estimated
Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Goin' Down the Road
Feeling Bad > Stella Blue > Around and Around > Lovelight,
E: Brokedown Palace
First up is a set-opening
'Midnight Hour', and it is sweetly played & sung. We all know
just about how Jerry was doing at this time, health-wise, and --
frankly -- I don't hear it. A minute or two into the song, and it is
not only apparent that Jerry came to play but that he is fully
capable of doing so. He sounds great! It's nice to hear a band hit
the stage with some fire, and they do so here. But there's more: a
riff, a tempo, and we're launched into 'Walkin' the Dog'. Jerry
seems the main singer on this one, and it doesn't seem to sit with
him so well; perhaps this is why Bobby seems to be the lead singer
in November. In any case, it doesn't hurt his guitar-playing, and
his leads dance & swoop with joy. It's a tough choice between
this one and 11-11-85's 'Dog' opener; 11-11 has the stronger vocals,
but this has the stronger solo.
No time for languishing;
they've got a set to play, and by golly they're playing it. 'Big
Boss Man' comes next, to the audible approval of the audience.
Again, Jerry is the lead vocalist, and again he doesn't seem too
comfortable with it. While this doesn't hinder his fingers, it also
doesn't replace any 1971 performance; I have the feeling Jerry
couldn't 'live' the lyrics (for example, he forgets the second
verse). This has no apparent effect on the rest of the band, who
still sound hot to play. Phil in particular ...
For some reason, after 'Boss Man', I find myself expecting 'Althea',
but of course that wouldn't be right: it's Bob's turn, and there's
really no doubt what he'll call up (hint: the single most-played
song in their career). But what should it be paired with? On this
SBD, we hear a bit of band chatter, and someone insists on
'Cumberland'. And sure enough, we pass through an almost obligatory
'Me & My Uncle' into nothing but. There are great Cumberlands
(4-08-72, used on EUROPE 72); there are so-so Cumberlands (7-15-84
comes to mind), and then there are almost-great Cumberlands, of
which this would be one. While MAMU has nothing else to recommend it
in itself, it does provide a lauch for 'Cumberland', and for this we
may be thankful: instead of building up steam between verses,
they're playing this full-tilt from the first note. It sounds almost
like Jerry will never stop -- it's practically a surprise when
another verse starts up. I may be wrong; perhaps this *is* in fact
one of the great Cumberlands ;-) There's just something so perfect
about 4-08-72's version, I may find it hard to accept an equal!
Well, we've made it thus
far into a strong and interesting set with only ONE original tune. -
but where's Bobby's blues song? Ah, it's next -- but it's a much
faster blues-slide riff than we're used to hearing, because it is
the all-too-short-lived 'Down in the Bottom'. What a shame we didn't
get to be more familiar with it before it was dropped from rotation,
because it was a great blues stomper while it lasted. Is a Dead show
supposed to be this much fun?!
'Althea' is next. [Hey, thanks for the validation!] While some feel
this song peaked early, this version is nice, and Jerry's solos
stretch on most satisfactorily. Not an earth-shaker, but a good
performance. Then things get a bit strange: Brent breaks out 'Tons
of Steel', which goes reasonably well although somebody seems to
have missed the memo on the solo break arrangement. I guess that's
why the end sorta falls apart, and compensation appears in the form
of a 'Supplication' jam. Um, did that make sense? It makes about as
much sense on tape as it does on paper, but I'm not complaining; the
band gets up some decent heat before Jerry takes the opt-out, rather
abruptly thrusting 'Might As Well' onto the rest of the band. You
wouldn't know it was a surprise by the way they take it up -- the
band that can turn on a dime. Blistering solos and full-octane
vocals are what this song calls for, and it gets them. Ten 'might as
well, might as well' choruses end the set, and we've heard promise
of a good second set to come :-).
Second set: what shall it
be? Guitars are tuned; sounds adjusted. Hmmm, seems to be a bit of
distortion guitar going on here. Hmmm, TWO distortion guitars. Hmmm.
A riff. Nope, change the tempo a bit. Tweak it a bit more. Jerry,
what are you doing? Now he's got it: a loping bluesy vamp, sounding
for all the world like a return to the early 70s version of 'Deal'.
Well, that would be an interesting return, and in an unusual place.
But it's not 'Deal'. It's not typical set-opener or closer. In fact,
it's not even one of their own songs. You and I cannot really
experience what it was like in the Philly Spectrum that night, to be
standing in front of the Grateful Dead and hearing the
recently-busted Jerry Garcia sing John Lennon's 'Revolution':
"You know it's gonna be .... ALL RIGHT!" I bet they went
bonkers. How is it on tape? All right :-) But I wish I'd been there.
The 80s often found them
relocating first-set songs into the early second set with
electrifying results, and here's a hot example in 'Hell in a
Bucket'. Not to be upstaged, Jerry responds with an equally hot
'Touch of Grey'. Fine stuff, but, ah, it IS the second set, y' know,
eh? Right: 'Estimated' is next, and it is very nice, if typically
so. The transition into 'Eyes' is very gradual: you hear it coming,
but it's never quite arrived .... floating & circling for
several minutes. Just beautiful.
Typical also of this time,
Jerry wastes no time getting to the 'Eyes' lyrics, which *is* a
shame; as if to compensate, he then tries to play like a speed-demon
during his solos. This almost works, and at a low volume we might
not notice that his fingers are moving so fast that he's actually
missing some of the notes. I'm not sure if this is something to
admire or lament ;-) But he keeps it up right into the drums ....
actually the drums seem awfully fired up, and show no sign of
stopping. Mickey gets immediately onto the marimbas, and I realize
it must be all Bill on the hyper drums I'm hearing. Really? yup.
This proves to one of the better Drums, and I don't feel any urge to
skip it: energetic, interesting, and (above all?) short! They then
switch over to Space, and it too proves worthy of our attention,
lauching immediately into waves of soothing sound. But not too much
-- before you can say 'Windham Hill', some subversive notes sneak
in, and we find ourselves in more uncertain territory.
In fact, it changes,
subtly; there are really several space solos here perpetrated by the
Great Barcia: he's fully in charge, and the rest of the band wisely
follows his lead. So it's rather surprising when that leads into --
really? -- yes: 'Going down the Road'. A VERY smooth transition --
very organic -- the kind of transition we always know they can do
but don't seem to hear as much as we'd like. There are probably
hotter versions, but this one is fully fueled -- they're behind it
100%. Brent shines on the B-3, and Jerry seems quite determined not
to let any energy get left untapped, almost muscling his way through
the song with great handfuls of notes. Which only makes it that much
more surprising when he steers the band from the volcano of GDTRFB
into 'Stella Blue', another fine transition. Here we also see the
value of Phil being fully on board -- no suggestion is too weird for
Phil to follow (if not suggest!). Full-on rocker to ballad? Sure;
let's go. This doesn't set the stage for an all-time performance --
the band is still too amped from 'Going' to really slow down to
'Stella' pace -- but it still convinces.
When Jerry switches to the
opening riff for 'Around & Around', you know we're heading to
the gate. 'Around' is spirited if perfunctory, shortened to medley
length -- basically just long enough to get through the lyrics --
and they ramp up to 'Lovelight' without hesitation.
Now, most of us have heard
enough set-closing Bobby-led 'Lovelights' that the prospect doesn't
elicit the kind of excitement we have for a Pig-led 'Lovelight'. But
in 1985 this was still fresh -- not just novelty, but genuinely
exciting. The energy is up where Jerry had it during GDTRFB, and
everyone is fully engaged. Mickey spices up a drum fill, Jerry's
fingers fly with an ease they rarely had post-coma, Bobby bring the
band down like a pro in satisfactory fashion (although, admittedly,
he does not create any dating arrangements in the audience, let
alone tell any STO-ries), then brings them right back up again. Is
this THE Bobby 'Lovelight' performance? I haven't heard enough to
say, and you may not be taken by his falsetto singing at the end.
But for my money it works pretty well, and much better than usual.
Turn on your 'Lovelight' indeed!
After that, really, only
'Brokedown' could do. Yes, Jerry's voice is a bit weak, but it
doesn't really seem to hamper him here. Brent warbles in with the
organ, harmonies are tolerably together, Jerry adds effortless
guitar flourishes. A slightly awkward drum emphasis at one point
mars what is otherwise a very sensitive percussion backing (I think
Bill & Mickey both went for the same accent, resulting in a flam
where only a beat was needed). A sensitive solo from Jerry(typical,
but oh-so-appropriate), and we're done -- And well done it is. 1985
was starting out in fine form.
this version (on cassette!)
had a very high ringing sound towards the end of the set -- I
noticed it on 'Brokedown', and can't be certain how long it might
have been there, drowned out by the volume of the earlier
performances. Some hiss prevailed, but not more than we'd expect
from a few generations. Good EQ.
Mix notes: pretty good
overall. Clear bass if not heavy, typical of this time. Separation
seems nicely balanced. Bobby's guitar a little low (again, typical)
and Jerry's not. Last word: reminds me just how it sounded in person
during early 80s shows :-)
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 4/8/85, at the Spectrum
in Philadelphia, PA.