Strip away time. Erase the day of the week, the month, the year. Tumble into a kaleidoscope of color. Pass through the membrane. Be the membrane. There never was a membrane. You're back at a Grateful Dead show.
When they did it well, it was all about the evaporation of everything that grounded you to the here and now, yet allowed you to slip all the way into the here and now just the same. The Dead's musical muse simply was. It didn't evolve so much as slowly turn, ever-present in the light. A telltale sign that the band was coaxing the muse out came with the strong impression that you were no longer hearing music being played right now. More often, the muse simply sounded like the Grateful Dead, echoing backward and forward, un-tethered to "today."
Here's a show with the opportunity to echo as far forward as it could backward. Played in 1980, it stands at the center of the Dead's 30 year career. This is too coincidental a reason, I know, but the show is indeed packed with muse-infused moments. On 9/6/80 the music played the band.
Set One: Alabama Getaway > Greatest Story Ever Told, Sugaree, Me & My Uncle > Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Stranger, Fried of the Devil, Far From Me > Little Red Rooster, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Promised Land
Set Two: Shakedown Street > Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance, Althea, Playin' in the Band > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Not Fade Away > The Wheel > Uncle John's Band > Playin' in the Band > Sugar Magnolia E: One More Saturday Night> Brokedown Palace
Sugaree plays on and on, Garcia speeding and swirling effortlessly. The band is locked in with him, everyone adding fuel to the fire. It's a healthy, long version, typical of the time period. Feel Like A Stranger is sublime. The jam is tossed into a heavy syncopation after Bobby missteps a "silky silky silky crazy night" line. It's impossible to tell who in the band slips with him, and who stays in the prescribed beat count of the song. But the result is an extremely extended jam that fires flares off in roller coaster streaming arcs for what feels like an eternity. The phrasing is filled with the standard Stranger themes, but it is peppered with so much more. When they somehow manage to pull together for the final refrain, it's like be shaken from an epic dream.
China>Rider had a wonderful tendency to catch fire in the early 80's. After just sort of reappearing in rotation at the start of 1979 (after a 4 year hiatus), the song duo had taken on a more upbeat tempo, and by 1980 it was a pure carnival of light and sound. The China>Rider here on 9/6/80 is flat out perfection. A wonderfully glowing solo section cascades into an I Know You Rider which finds Jerry's tone crisp and clean. He rounds corners and rolls over hills, spraying notes to the horizon. The last solo catches the light of the sun and soars like a bird. We slam into a Promised Land that punctuates the end of the first set with the same elevated energy that has permeated the entire show so far. It will blow your hair back and leave you breathless. And set two is still to come…
Leading off with a rousing Shakedown>Saint of Circumstance>Lost Sailor, the second set gets off to a fine start. But it's the huge meat of the show where the Grateful Dead's muse fills every pore. In case you overlooked it above, this is a very long ride: Playin'>Uncle John's>Drums>Space>Not Fade Away>Wheel>Uncle John's>Playin'>Sugar Magnolia. Within this roughly 60 minutes stretch of music, we find the Dead dipping deeply into the well of creative juices they've been tapping throughout this entire early September run.
Space is brief, yet bottomless. Phil hurls massive planets, churning with purple lava, over and into the body of the crowd. They take away the space to breathe, as the air is filled with magma over and over again. Suffocating, taffy-like moans expand to fill the fairgrounds.
Not Fade Away appears and ignites the crowd's energy. And while it arrives off of a Garcia hip check into the boards, The Wheel which follows swoons with that unmistakable Grateful Dead vibe. A timelessness is returning, and when they deftly transition back into Uncle John's Band, the segue jamming is sensational. The ever-present underpinning of joy and welcoming arms envelope the audience and it becomes easy to lose oneself in the long spiraling cycles of the music's structure. Another nice transition unfolds back into Playin' to bring things home. The music swirls between the 7/8 and 10/4 time signatures. Themes merge and the Dead's music elevates the senses. The song ends with a few extra refrains during which Jerry delivers some unexpected soloing sparkle just when you'd otherwise expect the song to be over.
Sugar Magnolia closes the set, and things end with a Brokedown Palace encore that further solidifies this show's ability to strike the chord of the timeless Grateful Dead muse. Jerry's short solo floats like starlight through a softly swaying summer breeze. It is enough. We are bathed in the band's pure lore of folk-psychedelic Americana music. It is everything Grateful Dead. Fare thee well.
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