Tuesday, October 11, 1983
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
After the song’s first return on 06/09/76, it remained in the rotation throughout 1977, then showed up bookending 1978 (twice in January and twice at the end of December), and once in early January 1979. Gone for over four years thereafter, its second return on 10/11/83 was something of a shot heard ‘round the world. After a 352 show drought, cries for Saint Stephen from the audience had become something of a badge worn by Deadheads. By this point, it was just something that people screamed for, not necessarily believing the tune stood any chance of being played. In fact, you can hear a good handful of these requests coming from the crowd on the evening of its return on October 11th, 1983 too. There’s little doubt that the requesters were any less surprised than the rest of the crowd when it showed up out of Space in the second set.
The song’s return was a huge event. And in my trading circle years ago, what had to be heard from this show was the explosion of recognition and joy on the part of the crowd as the song’s familiar opening lines ring out. Madison Square Garden was electrified, to say the least. This tape got shared a lot because everyone wanted to get a little taste of that moment, and it comes through very nicely indeed. Whether the evening’s rendition of the song managed to even marginally live up to the event of its return is debatable. Regardless, there’s even more happening on this night which is unique, and well worth exploring.
The entire show is blessed by having been preserved a few times over by stellar audience recordings. It’s a fun exercise to taste test each of the recordings yourself to see which pleases your ear more. I’m partial to Steve Silberman’s tape – the one that was in circulation when I got my cassettes, and one of the earliest to get transferred into digital circulation. It feels to me that it possesses the most clarity of vocals and musical balance of all masters, and while others might display a bit more low end, I’ve picked Silberman’s as the one to feature here.
Wang Dang Doodle opens. It is about as loose and twisted as any version I’ve heard. Garcia’s backing vocals are extremely wacky, as if he’s hit the stage a few hours into a really good party. His voice loops and swoons around, adding a thoroughly inebriated energy to the song. It’s a spaced out cobra snake dance of sultry, off kilter weirdness, like trying to do some sort of seductive dance while navigating through the shifting elements of a funhouse. This, I mean in an entirely good way. Somehow, it provides a wonderful intro to the night’s music, trailing off into Jack Straw which steps up and delivers something of a more standard early 80’s show opener. The band pulls everything together and hammers out the goods.
The set continues along with fine music eventually reaching Bird Song. This isn’t the titanic version we’d hear six days later, but it is no less enjoyable. Painted with huge, broad stroke swells in energy, the songs is a wonderful ride. It provides a lovely infusion of psychedelic energy into the first set, gently reaching toward the gold ring deep inside.
The set ends with a Hell In A Bucket > Day Job. The Bucket is tight and energetic, brimming with that certain something that was growing to drive this band into the massive popularity to come over the next many years. Day Job is Day Job. What can you say? From here we head into the second set where most of the action is anyway.
China Cat pours out in that carnival kaleidoscope of sound that we’ve heard before on 05/13/83. Interestingly it isn’t a quality that pervades every China>Rider from 1983, but does seem to appear here and there. I can’t put my finger on just why one version seems to express this, while another just four or five days in either direction doesn’t, but the 10/11 version has it. With a dance of cartoonish colors splattering into each other as the landscape can’t help but dance to the music, Garcia’s solos coil and spin like a laughing serpent in the sun, climbing like hungry ivy over tree trunks. The music is bound like a puzzle of interlocking gears, each rippling waves of heat from their core out into the meshing teeth of each neighbor.
After this wonderful China>Rider, the band must pause due to a blown speaker in Jerry’s rig. And it is highly possible that it is this unexpected pause in the flow of set two which sets the stage for the unique musical path that follows. Over the minute or two where Garcia’s speaker is replaced, Bobby settles directly into playing I Need A Miracle, a tune that otherwise would not necessarily logically show up after a second set opening China>Rider. What follows proves one of the laws related to the Grateful Dead:
Thou shall not judge a set by its set list.
I can promise you that on my journey into the 80’s I naturally shied away from this set list in particular. In fact, looking at it, I can recall the mere appearance on paper seemed to support my then desperately wrong assumptions about the 80’s. It looked like a total snoozer. A Miracle>Bertha>China Doll before Drums? Are you kidding me? Yeah.. you weren’t kidding me.
Not being a big Miracle fan myself, I must admit that this version is infectious. Perhaps it’s the entire combination of the recording quality, odd set placement, and the energy from the crowd that no doubt casts an intoxicating vapor over the band , but this tune is a pleasure to behold. As it eases out, we hear the glimmers of a really nice jam appearing – something like the way unique improv could always follow on the heels of He’s Gone. As this interesting space is beginning to open up, Jerry decides to fly into Bertha (whoa!), and we turn somersaulting into a lightning hot version of the tune, completely out of its element in the second set. Those friends out West won’t believe it when they hear about this second set after the show. What a hysterical understatement that makes at this point in the set.
And now we get that jam. Descending upon us like a slow rolling blanket of Northern Lights, a gorgeous improv ensues. I remember clear as day the first time I listened to this tape. I was sitting in my backyard, late at night under a star filled sky. It was early on in my journey toward appreciating the 80’s, and I was already fairly impressed with how much I had enjoyed the second set up to this moment. As this jam played out, I began to lose myself into the grass below me. I can close my eyes and return to that night – see my garage across the lawn, feel the slightly cool night air around me, even recall that soft giggle as I delighted in stumbling across this transcendent magical moment lurking in 1983. This might have been one of the first times I stood completely dumbfounded by Dead music not made before 1980. As the music expanded, sounding something similar to a liquid Playin’ In The Band jam made even more hypnotic in the way it appeared out of absolutely nowhere, the only thing that ground me back to this universe was the burning desire in my heart to start collecting more and more and more of this stuff. For me, the 80’s would be an acquired taste, like anchovies. From this moment on, I would happily consider adding anchovies to every pizza I ordered. My brain now had a fully formed lobe set aside for music from the early 80’s. And of course, I still hadn’t heard the part of the show that drew me to getting it in trade – that drew just about anyone to want to get this show in trade.
The jam settles into an undisturbed lake at sunset, and China Doll shimmers into view like the first stars waking in the early night’s sky. This draws the entire crowd deep into the Grateful Dead’s most comforting embrace. The feeling of sitting cozily around the embers of a campfire with Jerry spinning a ghost story is pervasive. This is another of those wonderfully intimate moments with the Grateful Dead, probably lost on a person who hasn’t “gotten it” as we like to say. Perhaps it is thereby made more soulfully resonate for those of us who consider ourselves more in tune to the frequency. Perhaps, since none of its energy is spent on ears not listening for it, ours are treated to an even larger dose. Deliciously, the song plays out at the end for a long while, gently rocking to and fro, nestled beneath a canopy of blurring starlight, settling us gently at the feet of Drums and Space.
Space doesn’t take too many chances. But it’s building up to something rather grand, so I won’t knock it. As the band rings out Saint Stephen’s opening notes, you can hear a slow swell of shocked cheers from the crowd. They mount like a tidal wave which crashes as the entire band hit’s the song’s head and the singing begins. You can’t miss the charge of energy which ignites the entire affair. The song does not go off without its share of slight glitches, and even a near train wreck toward the end where everything very nearly pitches right off the deck. They save things, but it’s not perfect. This is something of a microcosm of everything Grateful Dead. Historically famous for their inability to rise to big occasions, they prove that they are a band with that most precious ability to mine the golden magic of musical inspiration, and demonstrate that it is something nearly impossible to summon up on demand. Their stumbling through this great Saint Stephen return just confirms that these guys are who they are. Personally, I’m happy to have them as is, willing to forgive them most everything.
Again, there are a lot of different recording options for this date. I’ll point you to the Silberman master below, but encourage you to do some exploring on your own just for fun. This show was persevered by a couple other famous Dead tapers, Jim Wise and Rob Eaton. So, there’s a good deal of good tapes to enjoy from this date.
10/11/83 AUD etree source info
10/11/83 AUD Download