Friday, August 14, 1981
Seattle Center Memorial Coliseum – Seattle, WA
Ooo. There's nothing not to like here. We have a lovely enough recording of a show that out shines its relative obscurity by many miles. Even in a year (1981) that is famous for portraying the enormous lift in the band's playing energy which is so well associated with the early 80's, this performance pushes even those boundaries. This show is played hard and fast, often feeling more intense and edgy than others you may hear. But this is not in any way at the cost of including several extremely satisfying explorations into pure luscious and spontaneous creativity.
Set 1: New Minglewood Blues, Sugaree, On The Road Again, Peggy-O > Beat It On Down The Line, Brown Eyed Women > Little Red Rooster, Don't Ease Me In > Looks Like Rain, Bertha > Promised Land
Set 2: Might As Well > Samson And Delilah, Ship Of Fools, Playin' In The Band > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > Playin' In The Band > Wharf Rat > I Need A Miracle > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Johnny B. Goode E: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
The show wastes little time before striking gold. Sugaree is sublime. Jerry's soloing spans the slow and soulful expressions of a melancholy bird's song to the rapid fire staccato whirlpools of exploding firecracker fractals. Beneath him, the band slips the cycle of the downbeat in all directions. Phil sends the music into almost unrecognizable terrain as Billy and Mickey accent Garcia's notes causing our internal beat counter to become blissfully disoriented.
But this is only a prelude to the adventures in the second set. After a rocket fueled opening Might As Well > Samson And Delilah we get a lovely Ship Of Fools followed by the show's main event. The Playin' jam is alive with the extra sharp energy of the entire evening. The swirling circles and endlessly curving and careening waves eventually fracture into shards of crackling light as the music takes on a strobe light flickering, rapidly rushing in and out of our visual field. From here the jam ends far too soon. But it is not without its own rewards. For only the second time in the band's history, they segue from Playin' In The Band into China Cat Sunflower. And this China Cat is played faster than I can easily conceive that I've ever heard it played before or after.
Garcia leads the way in and it seems to be going too fast for Bobby ever to pull off his portion of the song's signature riff. But he does it, and about as perfectly as you could ever ask for it to be done. This entire version of the song exceeds all descriptions I've ever given early 80's China>Riders and their ability to come on like a psychedelic carnival of sound and color. The song moves so fast it spouts diamonds and liquid ribbons into the air only to see them trail deeply into the distance as the wind rushes past like the song is speeding down an open highway. Notes fly off like flickering tongues of flame licking into the air. As the band hits the climax of the jam we're pulled light years ahead of ourselves, trapped in the grip of a manic typhoon of speeding music. I Know You Rider does not let up one bit, but somehow in its traditional underpinnings we find some relief from the rushing insanity. That is, until Garcia starts playing his leads again and the world spirals and bleeds endlessly into itself, launching us into a broad smile-infused dance where we lose all care or concern over our inability to find any footing. This is high Grateful Dead drama and there's no better place to be lost.
From I Know You Rider, they hint momentarily at returning to Playin' In The Band but this ends up speeding into a loosely structures space jam before reaching Drums (special tip of the hat to my friend David Minches who digitized this audience master tape and his well executed splicing of an unavoidable tape flip at the head of this jam). The music charges down broad circular paths before exiting our vision leaving the rush of Drums before us.
There is a long played Space which drips and pools, shimmers and evaporates, smolders and sings its way back toward the Playin' Reprise. As Playin' ends, the band takes another unexpected turn into Wharf Rat (this only the 6th out of 10 times the two have been paired as such, and the first time in over 3 years). It's rare enough to be a complete surprise to anyone listening, newbie or old school trader.
And it doesn't end there. Another transition that was logged only ten times in the band's career is Wharf Rat into I Need A Miracle. Rare enough to look nearly absurd on paper, but matching the theme of the evening where everything seems driven by an overwhelming sense of explosive energy, Wharf Rat finds its tempo unexpectedly quickening and its intensity building as the band pulls off a nearly unthinkable, yet brilliantly played transition into Miracle.
Quintessentially putting the icing on the cake, I Need A Miracle > Goin' Down The Road (these only paired together 8 times ever) caps off the second set, somehow raising the bar even higher with intensity and vigor. The slide into GDTRFB finds the music edging into a collapse of key and tempo, yet without the band missing a step. It's an Americana flag rippling shower of electric folk psychedelia as the band powers along without squandering the chance to extend the solos and elevate the crowd to a frenzy of joy. We are brought back to earth (just barely) with the set closing Johnny B Goode.
And then, as if in fitting style to the band's obvious foray into unexpected terrain all evening, they encore with the first It's All Over Now, Baby Blue played since 1974 (only the 3rd time since 1970), ushering in the return of this song to the line up as something of a staple in the encore spot.
Good grief, do you need any more cajoling? If you haven't started downloading this show yet, there's really nothing left to do.
Smile, smile, smile…
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