Friday, August 28, 1981
Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA
I had been trading for a long while before I was really able to appreciate stuff from the 80’s. There’s no doubt that my musical muse is kindled most by what the Dead was doing in 1973 and 1974. Early on I just wasn't clicking with the Dead that I heard from past the 1978 mark, and to a degree I had to force shows from the 80’s on myself knowing that I needed a well rounded list for trading. Generally I leaned on the friends I had made in trading to help point me to the gems that were lurking in the often hard to navigate world of 80’s Dead. The fact is, there are a lot of shows in the 80’s, most of them are around on tape, and, many of them sound darn good. This was even the case before the golden age of downloadable Dead shows was upon us. Coupled with the fact that the 80’s feature a number of less than glorious performances, it made (and makes) it rather difficult to know which way to turn.
One of the shows I first came in contact with after deciding that there must be something special that I just had not heard yet, came to me from a long time trading partner, Paul Landgraf. We would do large tape and/or CD trades, and we had gotten so comfortable with each other’s tastes that easily half of each trade would be free form – we would just tell the other to fill out the trade with stuff we thought the other would enjoy. For a time, I asked Paul to help me gain an appreciation for the early 80’s. He did a very good job of it. One of the shows in the first batch he sent me was Long Beach, 08/28/81. It was a door (ear) opening experience for me. I couldn’t believe that so much pleasure could be lurking in a date I’d never even heard of, from a year that I thought paled to everything in the mid 70’s. How foolish I was…
When I started this blog in February, the audience recording of this show was not circulating digitally at all. Paul had sent me a CD copy of his cassettes (1st or 2nd gen as I recall) some 7 or 8 years ago. Given my desire to hook readers up with the ability to hear (if not also download) the shows I recommend, this posed quite a problem, and I resigned myself to not being able to review the show on these pages. Recently, the efforts of the Mouth Of The Beast team released this master tape in all its glory, and thus I have been blessed with the ability to write about and share the wonderful recording.
The first set feels somewhat standard as it gets its legs. The band starts gelling more in the Me & My Uncle>Big River, and Jerry's leads begin to sparkle. The set one closing Let It Grow>China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is a classic 1981 showcase of the band’s tightly wound, intricate, blistering, swirling, imploding exploding juicy jamming. You’ll get a workout trying to keep up with things here. The China>Rider sizzles. Jerry’s solos bubble in a frenzied cauldron of roiling boiling pinwheels. While he is obviously taking solos, the band reaches a terrific sense of communal playing, more often appearing as a complete mosaic of music rather than a backing band behind Garcia. It is this musical cohesion that often typifies what was great about the early 80's shows.
Set two follows and delivers one glorious pleasure after another. The opening Shakedown Street has a fabulous jam that finds its way into a pocket of repeating phrases that set the band down a side path for a brief period. It’s just enough to allow them to go far enough astray from the standard Shakedown theme that you can’t help but relish how outside of the box they have gotten. Jerry begins firing triplets out into the air like a magician working his wand over a delighted audience of onlookers. The crowd loves it. You can feel the smiles in the crowd and on the stage.
The Lost Sailor>Saint Of Circumstance appears like an eagle descending into the arena. There is a certain rapt attention that comes over the proceedings as the band works their power deeper into the crowd, as if everyone is forced to breath just a bit more deeply. This Bobby song duo had its heyday in the early 80’s, and there’s really little else like it. Its tight arrangements left small openings for any real exploratory jamming. However, the small pockets it did allow are sensationally delivered on this night. You can feel the energy ratchet up in the Lost Sailor as Jerry and the band go through what qualifies as the solo section getting louder and more intense all the while. The Saint Of Circumstance is clean and full of fire as well.
From here the band goes into a pre-drums Wheel which is the focal point of the set. Soundman Dan Healy makes the already psychedelic tune even more so by applying all sorts of delayed echo effects to the opening section. This is not by any means distracting. In fact, it shows him to be a perfectly balanced finger on the hand that is the entire band. The jam out of the song blossoms into a quick paced romp featuring more of the tightly wound, multi-instrument interplay that has already graced the show. This jam evades labeling very nicely. It really encapsulates the voice of the band from 1981 - the band is playing in their current "pocket." It’s a long jam, and satisfies on all levels. From it, the band debuts Brent’s Never Trust A Women, which then melts back into a second jam. This one is more a Jerry solo over drums followed by a Brent solo over drums.
Out of a mildly intense Space that hints a few times at returning to The Wheel, the band finds itself in a Spanish Jam which is always a neat treat, as it didn’t come around all that often. Truckin’ is next. It’s nicely done, with Bobby flubbed lyrics and all (Give him a break. He’d only had a few hundred times to practice the song before this night). The playing out of Truckin’ relaxes into a sweetly slippery jam that darts around like a kite on the wind before settling into Wharf Rat, and the show rounds out with a standard Sugar Magnolia followed by US Blues which had become a fixture in the encore slot.
This tape is a great slice of 1981, delivering on many levels, worthy of a listen. Highly under circulating, it’s one of those needles you almost didn’t know was in the haystack at all.