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6/5-8, 1969
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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 12/30/85


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Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 12/30/85

The Grateful Dead
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum - Oakland, CA

Set 1: Gimme Some Lovin' > Greatest Story Ever Told, West L.A. Fadeaway, My Brother Esau, Stagger Lee, Little Red Rooster, Tennessee Jed > Looks Like Rain > Don't Ease Me In

Set 2: Mighty Quinn > Samson & Delilah > He's Gone > I Need A Miracle > Crazy Fingers > Jam > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia, E: It's All Over Now Baby Blue

First we find the Soundboard mix to be typical of 1985 -- the audience is almost unhearable, but the band sounds fairly good, if not as bass-heavy as we'd prefer. I remember I would move up front on Phil's side at this time to hear him better -- not to mention it wasn't as hard to get close on Phil's side, since the rabid fans crowded to Jerry's side. It seems right to mention Phil first, as he opens with "Gimme Some Lovin" -- a song they'd played about every fourth show that year. Brent's Hammond organ is shamefully low during the intro, but this gets fixed in time for the song proper, and we're on our way into another concert by the Grateful Dead. If you'd been there, you would very likely have been dancing! Phil bellows out the lyrics with more enthusiasm than finesse, and his bandmates back him up. Definitely a good start.

This, however, proves to be the highlight of the set. Oh, there's more worth hearing -- Jerry's playing is fairly sharp, and the band as a whole is attentive & interested -- but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a set of good - to - merely - competent performances. "Greatest Story" is merely competent, although "West LA" is good the way it should be. "My Brother Esau" is no disappointment, but "Stagger Lee' completely fails to ignite during Jerry's solo; Jerry seems to realize this, cutting short both the solo and their losses. Things go better on "Rooster", as they play it safe -- risking nothing, therefore neither losing nor gaining -- although we must give the nod to Brent for his typically ripping Hammond organ solo. Another one for the Good Performance column (if only for Bobby's steadfast avoidance of the dog frequencies during his slide solo). "Tennessee Jed" is another highlight -- not for power, but for easy-going fun. Hey, I forgot! This is supposed to be fun! And this performance retains that. Jerry blows the riff that's supposed to end the solo, but no more than usual (for any year; listen to DP-11's 9-27-72 for yet another example). "LRain" is competent again, changing the mind of nobody who regards it as an unfavorite: Bobby brings it to a premature end while Jerry is still soaring; Jerry responds with an uninteresting "Don't Ease" to end the set with a whimper.

This isn't entirely the fault of the band at large; one problem that can't be avoided is Jerry's unwillingness (or inability) to really put any lung power behind his singing. Lines that sorely need some DELIVERY are merely sung in rote manner, as if lacking further strength. Since I attended & enjoyed this show, I definitely hoped for some reminder, some moment that would jog the gray cells -- something memorable. Set one just doesn't have it.

Fortunately, there's more to come: set two opens with a respectable debut of "The Mighty Quinn". This gets the audience going, and the band as well -- the song hardly ends, and the drummers are already kicking into a new rhythm. What's that, "Not Fade Away"? No .... maybe a Jerry song? No wait -- it's .... well, it sounds like the right thing to follow "Quinn", and it's "Samson & Delilah". Can that really be something to be excited about? Maybe not; the band seems rather lukewarm about following this percussive prompt; it's a little slow. But things pick up mid-song, and this performance soon convinces. Dare I mention that this may be due to a certain lead guitarist? :-)

Jerry's turn, and he picks a risky one: "He's Gone" has just as often tumbled uninspired into "Drums" as it has gone anywhere, and it seems an early choice. A tame start, but things begin looking up as Jerry opens up and SINGS -- not just during the song, but on the outro as well, in the bluesy style that would distinguish DP-9's "He's Gone" of 9-16-90. This being five years earlier & a continent away, the increased band energy is mutated (by Jerry) into an aggressive pre-Drum "Miracle". But even that isn't enough -- having dialed us up to "Miracle", he ends it by hinting at "The Other One" before quickly downshifting to "Crazy Fingers". All at once, it's clear how this set will go, and we can't help but smile a bit. We just KNOW that "The Other One" will appear later in the set -- that's been all but said. But first we're going to spend some time with "Fingers" -- and a magically fine version it is: not sloppy, not dull, no missed lyrics that I noticed, and Jerry in strong voice. In other words, all the things needed for "Crazy Fingers" to work its gentle, pseudo-reggae spell. For whatever reason, they finally get it right, and make it sound easy in the process. Is this *really* mid-80s Grateful Dead? ;-)

"Drums" finds Mickey going rather quickly to the big boomers, though tape never does carry the weight & depth these sounds had in concert. This is also true of the "Space" that follows, which is excellent -- but moderate volumes will give the listener only a partial sense of their effect. Perhaps there's a cut in the tape, because it seems there is no time wasted getting from one idea to another -- soon enough, Jerry is heard, and we wander off into areas of mystery and loss sorrow. Poignant & effective, this goes on for some five minutes, and might well be the part you'd find yourself revisiting most often.

But Bobby has sneaked back on stage to launch a quiet "Other One" (a similar arrangement is heard on 12/31/87, in the TICKET TO NEW YEARS video). Although eerily low-key compared to the bombers we've heard before & after this era, it retains the intensity developed during the drum/space interlude. Healy tries a few weird effects on the vocals (mostly to good effect), and the whole band finally kicks in after the first verse. Brent is highly interactive, and Jerry sounds like he wouldn't mind if this jam went on all night.

It is the 80s, though, so we turn to the ballad-du-set ("Wharf Rat") sooner rather than later. This proves to be not a bad thing: the band has not lost their grip on the gold ring seized earlier in the set, and "Wharf" rides on the "Other One" turboboost, with fine singing and strong "true to me" jams. If it cuts a little sooner to "Sugar Magnolia" than we might have preferred, well ... that's just how things go in the quick-to-the-point era: .

For the encore, Jerry gave us one of my favorites, "Baby Blue", but this isn't the version you want; what they had to give on 12/30/85, they'd already given.

Summary: set one never rises above a good warm-up, highlighted by a fun TJed, Brent's "Rooster solo, and a good opener in Gimme Some Lovin. Set two, on the other hand, is highlighted by a strong debut, a generally rising energy curve, a beautifully near-perfect "Crazy Fingers", hot Space, and Jerry waking up and really performing. If it were a test, I'd give them a C+ for set one and a B+ for set two: above average in most respects, and downright great in portions.

Meanwhile, I think I'll listen to that "Samson" again. We used to say "When Phil's on, the band's on", and that's certainly true; but it's just as true about Jerry!
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on12/30/85, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum - Oakland, CA
Grateful Dead bootleg reviews 12/30/85


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