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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

1978 May 16 & 17 - Uptown Theater - Chicago, IL

Uptown Theater Floor Seats 1978 is often a year of complete mystery to newbies. Everyone says 1977 is THE YEAR (I won't weigh in on that now), and many disregard '78 as a declining year for Jerry Garcia. While it is true that drugs were taking a toll in 1978, and the band was not knocking it out of the park every night, there is plenty to love here.


Uptown Theater ca. 1980Near and dear to this Chicago born deadhead who grew up only blocks from the Uptown Theater, Dead shows from this venue provide a special connection.

It is an agreed upon truth that, "There was never a bad show played at the Uptown." The band always went over the top. And they played here over and over and over again in 78 and 79.

Perhaps because of the Midwest location, tapes from these shows had always been really hard to find. Chicago wasn't exactly one of the Dead taper Meccas easily found on the coasts. As my tape collection grew, setting my sights on the likes of May 17th, 1978 was nothing short of seeking a holy grail like Watkins Glen (more on that later). First I stumbled upon unknown gen cassettes where things were C+ quality along with having tape speed problems. Still, things were good enough to sit awe struck at the amazing Half Step>Franklin's Tower (first Half Step>Frank ever played), the Dancin', and the unbelievable Space out of Drums that floats into Terrapin (maybe the best space of the year, in my mind).

Uptown Theater view from balconyA few years later, famed taper Bob Wagner provided me with his 7" reels of both the 16th and 17th (though the taper is unknown) and I immediately set about the digitization of these phenomenal recordings, patching where I could certain cuts and flips. By 1978 it was more and more common for extremely good quality recordings to be coming out of the audience. These two are no exceptions. Nearly perfect recordings in every way, you need look no further to get that feeling of having scored perfect seats for two perfect shows. The scheduled show on the 18th was cancelled, on account of Billy coming down with the mumps.

We will come back to 1978 again, because there are lots of amazing highs over the year (want more now? seek February and all of May). But, these two nights provide a very critical addition to anyone's collection. You need to know about the Uptown Theater. After listening to these, you will not soon forget, either.

I get chills thinking about Jerry's tone and solos in Franklin's Tower on 5/17, along with his vocal delivery. It will instantly produce a smile on your face. He's got your right where you want to be.


4 comments:

  1. "Mumps" wasn't the ostensible reason for the cancellation of the show on the 18th, but measles. About four thousand deadheads were calmly in line at showtime, and Steve Parrish emerged from the front doors of the Uptown and announced that the show was cancelled "because a band member has the measles." I asked him, "which band member?" and he replied "the drummer." I said "Kreutzmann?" and he nodded yes. In recent years, it has come to light that Billy was just exhausted from the road and partying (no measles, no mumps). On the tape of the 5/17 show, you can hear him tiring during the second set.

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  2. Hey, Stillman. It was you yourself who told me this story. Measles, mumps, mumps measles, let's call the whole thing a story told a decade or so back during a listening party long confused by time and age. For my part in the confusion, I'm not surprised.

    Good to see you.

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  3. I'm just glad that no shows were cancelled because Jerry had the mumbles. Good work, Noah.

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  4. My Dad took me to see one of these shows (I don't remember which night I was there) for my 8th birthday. It was his gift to me. We sat in the balcony where I'm sure I got a contact high. He bought me a black concert t-shirt complete with skull and rose, and I wore it to school the entire week after the show. Not many kids in second grade wore concert t's. And a Deadhead was born...

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