Sunday, August 12, 1987
Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO
The "In The Dark" album was released just the month before this show, and "Touch Of Grey" was lighting a fuse on what would be an explosion of Grateful Dead popularity to eclipse the prior twenty years. Meanwhile the 1987 Dead were operating in their "business as usual" mode, on tour across the country.
There's no denying my personal preference to the Dead's music which came prior to this point in their career. The somewhat pre-1985 lopsidedness to the shows reviewed here on the Guide make that rather clear. But that doesn't mean there oughtn't be some respect paid to often infamously regarded pockets of the Grateful Dead's legacy. For me, the best way to honor and experience these moments comes from stellar audience recordings (by the late 80's many recordings were literally exceeding all expectations of quality). And here we come to the outdoor Red Rocks venue in Morrison, Colorado, providing an ideal setting for some fantastic sounding music.
In 1987 it can be difficult to take the obvious vocal strain that health and drug issues had exacted on Garcia, and to me the band more often than not sounds like a caricature of itself. They sound a bit like a band pretending to be the Grateful Dead—mimicking what one would expect to hear more than simply creating music together. A bit harsh perhaps, but hard to deny. Yet through it all, the Dead were always able to pierce the membrane separating that for which we would forever forgive them, and that for which we would always turn out to share with them. They still had "it" just under the surface, and though it came into full view less and less often, it was never completely absent.
So here we land in the absolute sweet spot at a gorgeous venue. This recording sounds good enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. If you're going to traverse 1987, it may as well be a summertime outdoor show that sounds this good.
Set 1: Hell In A Bucket > Sugaree, Never Trust A Woman, Cumberland Blues > Mexicali Blues, Friend Of The Devil, My Brother Esau, Bird Song > The Music Never Stopped
Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Man Smart (Woman Smarter) > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > The Other One > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Wharf Rat > Turn On Your Lovelight, E: The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)
The first set is tastefully delivered, and while occasionally veering into that "Dead being their own cover band" feeling, this is no doubt a good time had by all. Bird Song is very satisfying as the structured musical experience peels away revealing a more fractaled landscape. Worth noting is the level at which the band is paying attention to each other. As Jerry hits a sour note and does an admirable job of saving himself, the other band members pick this up and highlight the off-played minor note until it becomes part of the musical tapestry. This seems to fuse the band mates and the music starts to soar, catching energy and spiraling aloft. The jam doesn't last long (a 1987 characteristic), but it's thoroughly authentic Grateful Dead. They drop directly into a nice Music Never Stopped which fires on all cylinders to wrap up the set. The end jamming will put a smile on your face for sure.
China>Rider opens the second set with the band in its comfort zone. It's hard to find fault here, and very easy to just let yourself go. When Jerry absolutely roars out his "northbound train" lyrics, its one of those "wow, Jerry's really into it" moments that are always precious to bump into in these latter years.
Terrapin Station has a nice extended final section where the song's theme repeats and coils into itself again and again. It goes on long enough to become somewhat hypnotic, somehow synching your brainwaves into a passage where time is hard to pin down. This is the effect one typically looks for in the end refrains of Terrapin, yet does not often find.
Drumz is very nice. Overlaid with musical tones and orchestrated thunder, the show goes deeply into Space, holding nothing back as the vortex of psychedelia dissolves the mountain landscape of the venue into liquid winds of light and crystal rivers.
Other One whispers its way into view, and Healy has Bobby's voice tweaked, taking an unfair advantage of the lysergic energy floating all around. While it's hard not to wish Other One was played out a good deal longer, the show is certainly delivering the goods as the band rolls nicely into Dear Mr. Fantasy and then Wharf Rat.
The set ends with Lovelight, and no matter how much I try to let these Bobby versions stir up the embers of Pigpen Lovelights gone by, it ain't happening. This one smacks of the Dead dusting off a version of themselves much better left to the history books. If I'm jaded, so be it. Quinn The Eskimo redeems things in the encore spot, clearly capping the evening off with a joyful energy.
A very satisfying audience recording capturing the band in good form standing on the verge of titanic popularity and a truly inspirational creative comeback in the years to come (1989-90), this show provides a nice window into what 1987 was all about.
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