Monday, March 9, 1981
Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
And then I heard 03/09/81.
Before diving into the show, it's also worth noting that this Barry Glassberg audience recording is quite certainly one of the very best audio documents around. Clear from the first notes, this recording oozes with the power to whisk you directly out of your everyday existence, and land you squarely in the sweetest spot imaginable at a 1981 Dead show.
Set 1: Feel Like A Stranger, Althea > C. C. Rider, Ramble On Rose > El Paso, Deep Elem Blues, Beat It On Down The Line, Bird Song, Minglewood Blues
Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider> Samson & Delilah, Ship Of Fools, Estimated Prophet > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Other One > Stella Blue > Good Lovin' E: U. S. Blues
Highlights tumble over each other throughout the show. Almost no song goes untouched by Garcia's clearly overreaching endeavors. Beyond the riveting Stranger to open the first set, Bird Song contains wonders both great and small. There are lines in Jerry's solo that pierce the air; repeating phrases that echo down miles of mental canyons, forcing the song's dynamics to pull in every extreme. Then there are passages spun into endlessly intricate tapestries with threads as thin as hair; gossamer strands of coiling moonlight. This is a version not to be missed.
A fine China>Rider opens the second set, and within the transition is a deliciously long intro jam to I Know You Rider. It finds Jerry repeatedly allowing himself an extra set of measures, unwilling to step off into the song itself. This forces us to become more and more lost in the moment, and the intoxicating nature of the second set is only just starting. The Rider bounding directly into Samson & Delilah is a nice added delight.
Sun flakes settle, and murmurings echo quietly around us. The music is thinking, pondering its next direction. Like a slowly drawn curtain, Uncle John's Band is revealed. Always a perfect choice, we are swept in, spinning on the trails of Jerry's lightly arching melodies. When we sail into the final section of the song, his solo is a mix of staccato swirls and bursting bird calls. Edges sharpen and Garcia's tone fluctuates between ice and honey. The jam takes on the pure Grateful Dead voice, defying song identification. We are resting close to the music's soul here, and invisibly we pass into Drums & Space.