Listening to everything, so you don't have to

All the new stuff will be here: RatDog, Furthur, Phil & Friends... I listen to the rehearsal tapes that surface on etree, I watch the videos from Dime and Trader's Den. I also occasionally post little research projects on various periods and people that were pivotal in the life of the Grateful Dead.
Everything you never got around to checking out, I did.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

GD: Berkeley, June 14, 15, 16, 1985

Berkeley was one of those venues close to home that the band would hit a few times a year in between tours, like Oakland, Winterland, Shoreline etc. In mid-June '85, they did a three-night run there before heading off to the midwest. The run was billed at the band's 20th anniversary, calculated as the date when Phil replaced Dana Morgan Jr. as the Warlocks' bass player. Son of the owner of the music store where Kreutzmann and Garcia gave lessons, Morgan had been drafted to go to Vietnam and had returned with substance abuse issues. After a Warlocks show, over grass and cheap wine, Jerry had famously informed Phil that he wanted him to play bass in the band. He showed Phil a few basic things about tuning and fingering, and Phil played his first gig a few weeks later on June 18th.

As usual, the "anniversary" billing was not the band's idea. Somebody kinda mentioned it in a meeting but nobody got excited; the marketing people, such as they were, put together some posters and a press conference. The conference opened with the usual banter: "Does someone have a question? Is anyone running this thing?" The first interviewer noted that at the 15th anniversary, there hadn't been much excitement, that there was a feeling that the whole thing had been foisted upon the band, and he asked if the same was maybe true here. Weir quipped: "That's incredibly perceptive! [laughter]... It's no big deal to us. We're not sure that this is the date anyway..." Garcia added: "It's a matter of, ah, indifference." Someone else brough up the fans, and asked if the band wished that the audience weren't so blindly devoted. They generally avoided the question at first. Mickey: "They know what they want. We couldn't make them come." Weir: "Nobody's driving them in here with whips." But the questioner insisted, asking whether they didn't wish the audience were more critical and Weir conceded that it wasn't as challenging as it might be. (If you can do no wrong, why try? A few years back I read an interview in which I believe Gans said he felt like he could pinpoint the moment when Garcia had stopped caring: during Deal sometime in '82 (I don't remember the date), Garcia had stumbled his way through a very mediocre solo, and the crowd had gone nuts: sometimes it barely mattered what he played).
Finally a reporter asked what the band had learned in the last 20 years... True to form, Garcia replied: "Keep your ammunition dry" and Bill countered: "Don't swim with piranhas."

On Night 1, we got the first Keep on Growing, right after the PA malfunction. Night two had a double encore which opened with She Belongs to Me, a very nice version. They had brought that one back in April after 19 years, it would get nine outings in '85. The biggest surprise was on night 3: the return of Cryptical Envelopment. They performed the first complete That's It For The Other One since September 1972. This particular Cryptical was pretty ragged, but the song made four more appearances before being definitively retired on 09.03.85.

The overall energy of the run was high. Tempos were pretty fast, as usual for '85, more "rock and roll" speed. I always feel that those quicker tempos don't leave much room for thoughtful improvisation. The jam in Let It Grow, for instance, got some real shredding from Garcia, but it was more stacked atop the rest rather than constructively integrated with the other instruments. It reminded me a little of Trey, who can occasionally wail away at blinding speed without actually doing anything. The shortened tunes were most noticeable post-drums, when they squeezed in two quick songs before the ballad slot (Truckin'>Smokestack, Wheel>Gimme Some Lovin' and GDTRFB>Miracle respectively). While there were some dynamite solos peppered throughout the run, there were also some pretty sloppy moments. Keep on Growin' comes to mind (though it was the first performance), NFA, Midnight Hour. Jerry was inconsistent. He definitely sounded better than at some other times (maybe the late-'84 intervention and early-'85 bust snapped him back to order), and most of the time he was just as sharp as ever, but he just farted his way through a couple of intros and outros. The shows were fast, peppy, tight and yet flubby at the same time.

Brent really stood out, even though he always tended to keep out of the spotlight, and despite not getting a tune all weekend. He played some killer solos in CC Rider (14th), Big River (15th) and Samson (16th). His fills in Throwin' Stones were spot on and he added a terrific atmospheric vibe to the Lost Sailor jam. He stayed out for part of Drums on the first two nights, and played around with his MIDI effects.

I noticed a few new Weir lines, most notably in Lost Sailor; during the pre-transition vamp when he usually goes on about "Drifting and dreaming", there was a whole new set of raps: "Sails are down and your anchor's aweigh" "Round and round the compass spins" "The sun goes down and the fog rides in.../ guess that's a kind of freedom" "Don't much know and I don't much care/ why you wanna go, why you're goin' there." I've never heard those words before, and yet they didn't sound ad-libbed.

On another note, Dan Healy wouldn't shut up. The mid-80s are full of those soundbyte montages he would throw in before sets, and he loved that whispered-"Bobby"/smooch combination (there were a few of those at Berkeley). He often added the "Ha-ha-ha" soundbyte to the beginning of West LA Fadeaway, and occasionally there were some between-song contributions. This run saw a Healy Jam before set 2 on the 14th, a passage during Space on the 16th (Bobby/smooch, a belch...), but also some stuff in the middle of songs: first during Playin' on night 1, then twice in a row on the 16th, most obnoxiously right in the middle of Wharf Rat! As the band came to a very soft passage, a loud "can't hear you" came over the PA.

Basically, the run was pretty standard. Some highlights, some lowlights. Its merit, if any, is more in the erstwhile historical significance and the new/bustout tunes than in any objective qualitative attributes. They're not bad shows. They're regular shows.

Next up: Furthur NYE, followed by Brent's album. Then May '92 (Shoreline and Vegas runs). Then, who knows. It's a mystery.


  1. Dear Benito, love what your doing here.

    Few notes: Gans more accurately was saying the whole band wasn't listening to one another anymore & that the CROWD could no longer discern good GD from bad GD.

    He sited "Loser" from 7-18-1982 as Jerry hitting all sorts of bum notes I think he said "one big error" & the crowd roared in approval.

    However, he might have that date & song wrong because that particular solo isn't as bad as he suggested.

    But to pinpoint the moment in a little absurd because it was an accumulation of years prior starting with Jerry's use of H.

    In terms of his performance. You can hear his playing become noticeably & frequently weaker with the GD around mid 1978.

    The crowd changes around 1980. 1980 is the first year you can hear the crowd singing along with the songs. That's when the GD becomes the spectacle event to party at.

    as far as 85. The Cryptical wasn't much of a real surprise. Those rumors were rampant on the spring tour that year.

    That 'rock and roll' speed is the effects of cocaine.

  2. I happen to love the "Peggy-O" from this run.

  3. The Wheel->Gimme Some Lovin' transition was nice...