The Centrum - Worcester, MA
Set 1: Alabama Getaway > Promised Land, It Must Have Been The Roses, El Paso, West L.A.
Fadeaway, Minglewood Blues, Big
Railroad Blues, Music Never Stopped > Might As Well
Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Playing In The Band > Terrapin Station > Drums > The Wheel > Truckin' >
Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia, E: U.S. Blues
Having heard that November '85 was a
strong month, I thought I should look into it a little farther.
11-04 was suggested to me by a friend, so why not?
Immediately, we find it to
be an AUD, which will put off many. And the typically low bass of
the era is especially so here. I boosted the lower frequencies as
much as I could without simply muddying the sound; this brought the
bass into a minor but perceptible presence. Then I was ready.
After some tuning &
prep, the band kicks up an "Alabama" ->
"Promised" of strong promise; most notable perhaps is
Brent's use of the Hammond organ for his keyboard solo, which is
wonderful. "Roses" is fine in performance and singing,
although Jerry manages to flub his own riff on the final turn. Hey,
I guess that makes this a Grateful Dead concert ;-)
"El Paso" is
mostly just fast. "West LA" is closer to the 1987
arrangement than how it had been in 1983, although Jerry inserts
some guitar lines that did not survive to later versions. A nice
Bobby takes the blues hint,
and the band really begins to take off with "Minglewood"
-- Jerry's solo especially suggests some two-fisted performing.
Jerry follows with a "Big Railroad Blues" that mostly
seems competent, perhaps due to Bobby's guitar trouble, which Phil
talks about after the song is over.
"Music" goes well
-- doesn't it always? -- and shines with the smooth harmonies that
distinguished the Brent eras. This would only have been a decent set
if Jerry hadn't sensed the need for more; upon the song's
conclusion, he immediately fires out the "Might As Well"
opening riff, and the band roars like that Great Northern trip was
just yesterday. True, Jerry struggles to sing the higher notes
(didn't he always?); one wonders why he didn't simply recast it in a
different key, as he had with "Bird Song" and "Dire
Wolf"? Still, this one rocks.
Set two starts without even
a fade-in, just as the "China Cat Sunflower" riff begins.
I guess someone was conserving tape! The first thing we notice is
that this version is incredibly fast -- almost as if the band were
pushing Garcia to keep up. The fact is, of course, it's Garcia who
set the tempo, and he keeps up just fine, thank you very much. It's
so fast, in fact, I find myself listening closely to see if everyone
is indeed managing -- if, in fact, the sheer speed prevents the kind
of subtle interaction we prize in this band. In short, I'm listening
to see if they've shortchanged us: substituting the excitement of
fast tempo for real interaction, real jamming.
Folks, they ain't
shortchanging nobody. Blasting through the changes like a Texas
tornado, they roll straight on through "I Know You Rider"
without hesitation -- and possibly even faster. Mickey especially
seems responsible for making this all pretty exciting. It isn't
*all* highlights -- Jerry takes an easy pass on the
"headlight" line, possibly because Bobby busts a gut on
his verse right before. No need to compete, now, is there :-)
"Playing in the
Band" continues this fast vein, and one is tempted to bring up
the old trope about how they used to play much longer. Well, it's
true; this PITB breaks no records for length. On the other hand, it
is not just quick, but also incredibly intense -- as if they were
packing in ideas like sardines. It was about this time that Garcia
said in an interview that he felt the band had become more concise,
and we see the evidence here; it's still substantial food for
thought, just not at the same length. For those who equate quality
with quantity, that's not gonna fly, but there's no denying the
intensity and depth of the jamming here.
Turning the sharp corner,
Jerry starts "Terrapin Station" before the last chord of
PITB has even finished. Jeez, Jer, are you sure? Yep, he's sure --
more so than the band, who he tends to lead through this by the
nose. Even the inside jam finds him going so outside harmonically
that the band seems unsure how much to follow; as if with a shrug,
he simply comes back and turns to the next part of the song. On the
"Terrapin" finale, the band pulls and pushes on the last
chord as if it were Judgment Day -- Mickey even puts in some Beam
The drummers take over, and
not for too long; there's Space, and not too much of it. This may be
partly due to a tape flip.
The final segment is all
A-1 performance, structured into the usual perfect suite of peaks
and valleys; "The Wheel" (down) -> "Truckin'
(rave-up) -> "Wharf" (down) -> "Sugar
Magnolia" (rave-out), all flawlessly executed and beautifully
performed. "U.S. Blues" seems just right as the encore,
and doesn't fail to finish the show with a smile.
This doesn't make it the
greatest of shows; it may not even make the top ten for 1985. But it
is awfully fine music for a hot day, as it was here today. A little
thin on sound, but big on fun. You might want to check it out.
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 11/4/85 The Centrum - Worcester, MA