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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Listening Trail - 1980's Grateful Dead

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

Any fan who begins travelling down the road of Grateful Dead concert tapes will often find the 60’s and 70’s to be the most open entry points. It makes sense since this band was famous for being a pioneer of the “psychedelic 60’s sound,” and then a stadium-rock titan that played 3 plus hour shows of cosmic exploration in the 70’s. For those folks exposed only to this elevator pitch story of the band’s history, the 80’s mark some sort of black hole from which nothing emerged until Touch Of Grey got into Billboard’s top ten in 1987, and of course the 90’s were a time when everyone and their brother were into the Dead (and we all attended the “last show” in Chicago – at least that’s what everyone around Chicago retells when discussing where they were that day).

Eventually, any tape collector will notice the 80’s out of the corner of his/her eye, and ponder traversing this most nearly blind alley of the band’s concert history. Sure, there are many of us who first started seeing the Dead in the 80’s, and we feel a special fondness for those personal times. But considering the band’s output and historical significance in the 60’s and 70’s , the early 80’s just don’t stand out. It is important to note that this mass assumption is entirely misguided.

Even at this point, arriving at the Grateful Dead Listening Guide and trying to “figure out” the 80’s can be a cauldron of confusion. There are already enough shows from this period on the site to easily consume the better part of a month trying to digest them all, and more keep coming all the time. Where on earth should one start? I feel a listening trail devoted to jumping into the first half of this decade is well worth it, as the highpoints from this era are not to be missed.

Here are some no brainers as far as I am concerned. Start anywhere and take them one step at a time. There’s plenty to soak in at each stop along the way. After this, you should take comfort in the fact that nothing shows up on the Listening Guide by chance, and every show you stumble across (80’s included) is well worth your ears time. Just gotta poke around…

Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.

09/17/82 – With strong highlights throughout the show, and a second set that begs repeated listening, this is oddly one of those tapes you might not otherwise stumble across until you had gone a good number of years into the world of tape trading. A stellar introduction into why the early 80’s are so worth checking out.

06/21/80 – 1980 is a year so often missed when considering this decade, let alone the Dead in general. Proving that the evolving musical style of the band was firing on all cylinders, even in a truly transitional year, this show from Alaska rivals most any comers.

06/30/84 – Lauded as containing some of the best music from all of 1984, this show will serve very well to demonstrate how explorative the band was during this somehow forgotten era. Generally, we think of Garcia spiraling down a slope of drugs and physical decline in ‘84. That makes the magic pouring out of this show’s highlights even more special to behold.

02/26/81 – It may as well be plastered on bumper stickers – “There was never a bad Uptown show.” Things are so good on this night, it renders that phrase a nearly catastrophic understatement. This is the 80’s cranked to eleven.

06/30/85 – We can’t talk about the 80’s without paying at least some attention to a year many people feel was the peak of the entire decade. This show finds the band reaching some skyrocketing highlights in an already pretty elevated year. Don’t miss it.


  1. Dera Noah,
    proposal: why not transalting your preciuos listening trails into your regular podcasts? Some how you did it already on the unsung heroes category.

    Accesing your site always put a smile on my face. Best,

    The Italian Head

  2. Mauro, you are a mind reader. Yes, that thought has already crossed my mind, as the subjects of the trails fit nicely into the podcast themes I plan to explore.

  3. Thanks man...I'm slowly losing my fear of anything after 79.
    Irrational I know....

  4. Iain, Been there myself. Very glad the site is helping.

  5. Hi, I just discovered your amazing blog, and wanted to tell you that I really enjoy reading it!

    I've got a blog of my own, focusing on music reviews and thoughts about music. I haven't written there for a while though, but you've inspired me to start writing there again :)

    Here's a post I wrote about 80s Dead, especially mid-80s:

    1. Hi, Just read your blog regarding 11-2-85. Very sorry to hear about your friend. I started seeing the GD in 1983, while in college. I attended 82 concerts between 1983 and 1995. I was at both of these Richmond, VA concerts and at both Rochester, NY concerts on this tour. The Summer of 1985 is when I really started getting into the GD more deeply. During the Conservative 80s, as you already know, Classic Rock popularity was at it's nadir, including the GD with New Wave/Alternative and Pop on MTV. I could count the DeadHeads on my campus on two hands. It seemed to be our secret at the time, but we were definitely freaks. Anyway, IMHO, the versions of the songs that were performed during the 2nd Set of 11-2-85 were the best versions of each and every song performed during my tenure as a Deadhead. You just had to be there! Just listen to the clapping during 'Morning Dew'.

  6. Just discovered this blog. Glad to see it is being used to educate so many folks! Thanks.

    As a collector of shows since 1981, and being a big fan of Brent, I'm quite fond of the 80s years. Brent't presence revitalized the Dead. Keith was a great keyboardist, but he limited himself to piano, and by 1977, had gotten on Garcias' nerves by merely repeating a lot of Garcia's licks during a show, rather than coming up with his own lines.

    Early Brent is an era with LOTS of goodness to be found. These are some of my favorite shows from the 1980's:

    11/29/80 Gainesville, FL: Smoking show from start to finish, with a killer Jim Wise audience recording available at The 4 shows they played in November 1980 are all exceptional, but Gainesville is the standout of a great mini-tour.

    12/13/80 Long Beach, CA: Another fine show, with a crisp Feel Like a Stranger to open and a nice Playin' In The Band. Airto and Flora Purim show up for Drums. Fun fun fun.

    Spring tour 1981: It's all yummy. Standouts: 5/1, 5/13, 5/15, 5/16

    London 10/4/81: Arguably the best show during the 1981 European tour. Bob is chatty..."whats the difference between a frog?" Soundboards have Brent high in the mix, which is great, as he played the Hammond B3 almost all night. Kiler Brent licks abound, with a juicy Scarlet > Fire.

    Oakland, CA 12/27/81: Nothing outrageous, just a very well-played show from start to finish. Jerry's Jingle Bells tease is very sweet.

    Hartford, CT 4/18/82. Phil's Earthquake Space rocks the Hartford Civic Center on the 75th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Legendary.

    Baltimore 4/19/82: When in the town of Edgar Allen Poe, Phil has to quote The Raven. Also notable during Space is the drummer's visit to the dentist. "MORE NITROUS!"

    Greek Theater, Berkeley: 5/21-23/1982.Get all of them...set I of 5/22/82 is excellent. I've never heard Cumberland played so fast.

    Iowa City, IA 8/10/82: The final show of the magical summer tour, Brent's piano is outrageous throughout the evening. Phil thanks the crowd for the engery during this summer tour..."You made it happen."

    Landover, MD 9/15/82: This is the "Playin' In The Band" show. They open set I with it and go in and out of it all night long. I agree with our host: shows that start off with Playin' are ALWAYS special.

    New Haven, CT 4/22/83: My first tape. Relaxed vibe for an east coast show. Feel Like A Stranger > Bird Song to open. A very nice Brotehr Esau with Mickey on marimba is also noteworthy.

    Boise, ID 9/6/83: Phil announces the takeover of the town by deadheads. "Attention, Citizens Of Boise!" Wang Dang Doodle to open. Yeah, this is fun.

    San Rafael, CA 10/31/83: The hometown show on Halloween. Drums > Space has Airto and Flora Purim going crazy, and Jerry just will NOT stop noodling during Space. This also has the last-ever St. Stephen, and a Revolution encore. Very sweet, even in Bob is clearly high as a kite with his "shoo-be-do" background vocals.

    These shows are all worthy of any collection, and should serve as a good intro to the 1980s.

    -Sean Kutzko

  7. I can't thank you enough for what you are doing, especially the podcast. Thanks for encouraging people to take the time to appreciate this wonderful music.

  8. Sean,
    Soo glad you included that Boise show! One of my absolute favs. Apparently, Phil was dressed as "Marvin the Martin" from Buggs Bunny fame. "Citizens of Boise .. submit or perish for you are a conquered people" >> Wang Dang Doodle. Damn fine way to start a show!!!

  9. No love here for anything past 1985? Hm... Just because the band became "popular" (on the pop charts, that is) in 1987 doesn't mean there isn't great stuff to be heard. I love the years of 1987-89.

    All the Alpine shows were excellent... I know, I was there for all of them. Various shows at MSG, the famed "Warlocks" shows, and plenty more... I will concede that setlists started getting more predictable in those years, but there's still plenty of gems to be discovered.

  10. everybody seems to miss 1984-04-01...Marin county memorial aud.....

  11. The Boise show that Sean Kutzko above mentioned actually takes place on 9-2-83. It is a wonderful show, smokes from start to finish. The first set is wonderful, the whole thing is filled with topnotch versions of every song played, some of the best of 1983 according to many.

    The Help>Slip>Frank opening second set is wonderful, tight and full of energy. I highly recommend this show. The AUD that I have has a lot of bass in it which is very nice especially for an AUD. It nice hearing Phil so clearly and Brent just rips nicely all night.

    Get this show if you like early 80's dead. So many people say 1983 was an off year but I recommend 6-20, 10-11, 10-12, 10-14, 10-15, 10-17, 10-18, 10-30, 10-31, 5-13, 5-14, 5-15, 6-18, 8-20, 8-21, 9-6, 9-7, 9-8, 9-10, 9-11, 9-13, 9-18, 12-27, 12-28, 12-30, 12-31. Out of all the new years shows I like 12-28 the best, Brent is on fire during that show.

  12. I think it is pure snobbery to run down the 80's shows like some people do. Isn't it ridiculous to expect a band to perform at its peak level forever? The 70's were the bands peak, undoubtedly, does that mean the 80's shows (and even a couple of, ugh, 90's shows) were not enjoyable? Since my dead days went from '84 - '92, I enjoy some of the songs from that era. You also have to look at the touring acts from that time before you judge the playing. Sure, they were not as tight as the 70's, but they blew away most of the big acts out there at the time (I saw the stones, the who, springsteen, etc, the Dead was better in the mid to late 80's than any of them).

  13. In response to Anonymous posting on March 17, 2011 7:59am.

    It's admirable to stand up for the Dead during this period like you do, but I don't think anyone is disputing their potency vs. the alternative musics out there. Much has been said of 80's Dead being substandard, though it's the decade I got on the bus, so you won't hear me complaining. BUT, I think the goal of this site is to provide a meaningful critique of Dead music (since there is simply SO MUCH of it), allowing collectors an aid to prioritize what shows are worth downloading first so they won't waste their time on some of the weaker shows.

  14. First of all, thanks for a great blog. Reading this reminds me of the many long discussions I've had during gave close, extended listens to the collected horde of tapes our friends were generous enough to share.

    Like many, I got on the bus in the mid-80s, and I agree that there is great, transcendent playing to be found in that much-maligned decade, although finding it can seem like panning for gold. Let me offer April 1st, 1988 as an example of solid show with some really stellar playing by Garcia (check out Half Step and Deal in the 1st set). It still stands up all these years later when I listen to it.



  15. Hi Folks-

    Sean Kutzko again. Shaun asked why there's no love for anything past 1985. There's plenty of love to be found post-1985. Some of my faves from the mid-1980's on ,while Brent was still alive:

    12/15/86 Oakland, CA: Jerry's triumphant return to the Grateful Dead stage after his diabetic coma. They open with Touch Of Grey. Listen to the audience recording of this when they first sing "I will survive." The Black Peter from this night will make you cry. (Also get Jerry's first post-coma show, Jerry Garcia Band 10/4/86).

    4/10/87 Chicago, IL: Shakedown to open, one of the best Little Red Roosters ever, and the most earnest Looks Like Rain Bobby ever sang. Space features pterodactyls and wild bandersnanches. Top-shelf show from star to finish. Get the audience, the soundboard mix is awful.

    4/15/88 Rosemont, IL: Scarlet - Fire to open the FIRST set. Wow. Just get it.

    6/23/88 East Troy, WI: The last of a 4-night run at Alpine Valley. This one has a rare "Believe It Or Not."

    12/28/88 Oakland, CA: Another Brent scorcher. His playing is inspired all night long. Check out his B3 solo during "It's All Over Now." Yowza.

    2/10/89 Inglewood, CA: Best first set of the late 1980's hands down. Soundboards aplenty with lots of chorus effects and a superb setlist. A great mix allows you to feel the Phil Bombs in Feel Like A Stranger and Let It Grow.

    7/15/89 Deer Creek, IN + 7/17, 18 & 19/89 Alpine Valley, WI: I honestly can't think of a bad show during the summer 1989 tour, but everything came to a wonderful climax for four days in the Midwest. With the exception of a botched third verse on 7/15 during Crazy Fingers, these four shows are the zenith of the Dead's late 80's/early 90's renaissance...and yes, I feel that way even with the Warlocks shows in October 1989. The Queen Jane from 7/15 is just fucking unbelievable, and every note of the three Alpine shows belongs in even the most casual Deadhead's collection. These are simply not to be missed.

    Hope this helps some light to the late 1980's.

    Sean Kutzko


  16. I cannot understand Deadheads who don't dig the 80s, what a golden era it is. And you're right, 1980 is stupendous. A lot of people seem to prefer 1981, but 80 is at least as good, maybe better, in general. I guess the reason a lot of people are down on the 80s is there started to be more keyboards in the mix? Still, Jerry's best, most nuanced AND most aggressive (although not necessarily always most exploratory) guitar playing is from the 80s, and for me the old, creaky post-85 voice is the best Jerry voice. And I say all this as someone who LOVES 70s Dead as well (and LIKES 60s Dead, although as innovative, energetic and exploratory as they were then, they weren't great musicians yet, so in comparison to the next two decades I wouldn't say I LOVE 60s Dead).


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