Compared to the stuff from before about 1981, I have spent almost no time with anything after. When I have, it’s almost always because Ed texted me some link to some show from a year I’ve totally written off and said “…yeah but check this out.” He knows this era in a way that I wish I knew any era. And this is another show that I’d never heard before Ed emailed me this Google Doc. This, folks, is the whole reason we’re doing this. — Kevin Lipe
August 7, 1982: Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI
The 1980s were a very weird time for the world and the Dead. It was still about 5 years from the ultimate 1980s Dead weirdness — the inexplicable success of “Touch of Grey” — and it was a little more than two years after Brent joined the band. He was truly beginning to put his fingerprints on it. I’m a big Keith and Donna fan, but when I first found the Dead on my own — aside from parent’s fandom of American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead — it was mostly through traded tapes during the Brent era.
This show was a popular one among the dorks I traded live show tapes with in the early 1990’s. Aside from availability, I think it was mostly due to the Music Never Stopped > Sugaree > Music opener–it is a nice one. The mix is off, but you can hear the promise of what the blend of Bobby and Brent’s vocals could do. The band kicks off a solid show with a nice gallop.
Me and My Uncle comes and goes unremarkably, leading into Big River, a song I have much affection for. There is a fantastic jam in here, as Jerry noodles like crazy. It’s worth a listen for sure.
Next up is “CC Rider” or “See See Rider,” depending on who you ask and when. The first time the band played “CC Rider” was December of 1979 and they continued sporadically until 1992. Though Bobby sings it, I always felt like it was a Brent song. Indeed, the band only played about half a dozen times after his death in 1990.
FYI, I think Brent might have been the best actual singer the band ever had.
When trading tapes in the 1990’s, setlists were regularly written “China Cat > Rider” as an abbreviation or sometimes even “C.C. > Rider. So the first time I heard “CC Rider,” I was surprised by what song came out of my 1985 Volkswagen Golf’s speakers. I even laughed aloud.
I thought at the time that the Dead almost certainly began playing “CC Rider” as a gag to tapers and collectors. I have no idea if that was the intent at all — the band members often seem to be befuddled by the subculture they inadvertently created — but I have to believe someone else out there has been thinking of this for years too.
The copy I had as a teen had both:
“CC Rider” in Set one
“C.C. > Rider” in Set two.
A fairly boring Ramble on Rose meanders into a very good Jerry solo. He’s 40 in 1982 — two years younger at this point than I am now. Jerry is in bad shape in 1982, but it doesn’t show in his playing. He’s a true wizard in full control of his spell book here. He’s just at the point where his body can’t keep up with his life.
Beat on Down the Line blooms and Brent’s background vocal is striking. I’ve heard so many versions of this tune and it often sounds exactly the same regardless of era. Except Brent. There he is. I think I can hear his beard. Another good solo from Jerry here.
The momentum continues through On The Road Again, a song I love immensely. It’s a solid version and Brent’s trademark electro-natural piano plinks along nicely. I tapped my toes multiple times.
Althea comes on like a leaky boat, teetering every which way. The hook in that guitar line is so satisfying, though, I still like it.
Let it Grow, I do not like, but Jerry is fucking pumped to play it and his ninja lightning runs are a clear reminder of his sorcerer’s abilities. Plus, Brent can keep up, which Keith sadly could not during his last few years. It’s a good first set and it points to the weirdness that the band was both leaving behind and facing with their new-ish keyboard player.
It’s worth noting that there aren’t any mega-jams here. Let it Grow, at a little more than 10 minutes, is the only truly drawn out tune.
The second set kicks off with a bouncy energetic China Cat > Rider, a start that promises a lot. It’s a solid version, one of the best of the era in my opinion, and the transition between the long-joined tunes is one of my favorites. Jerry is having actual fun on this one. Again, Brent actually being able to sing is a bit remarkable here.
Here comes some vintage 80’s business with Man Smart, Woman Smarter, a song that I have found remarkably divisive with other Deadheads. Screw it. I love it. This is one of my favorite versions of the song. Check out RFK 1989 or 12/30/86 (when the motherfucking Neville Brothers played it with them) for the best versions.
The crew slows down here to bring us “Ship of Fools” — and it is a slow one. I like this tune as it's got a nice blend of sorrowful and silly and Jerry does a serviceable job singing it over the finish line and into Playing in the Band, which is one of the better jams here. It goes on a big tangled run before disintegrating into Drums > Space.
A friend I used to get Dead tapes from would label this section of tapes Piss > Beer, which told you pretty much what he thought of them. Either way, reviewing these is semi-pointless, as Kevin says, “I figure you kinda had to be there.”
It is worth noting that this is the beginning of a new kind of Space.
Eventually, the band returns and starts back with the gentleness of The Wheel. It takes a long while to get rolling (sorry) but thanks to Brent and Bobby, it does. It eventually becomes Morning Dew, a strong but unremarkable version overall, but Phil does drop a few bombs in here worth exploring, and Jerry is again wildly commanding the four elements–especially if you’re wearing headphones.
There’s a great old school tape glitch at the beginning of One More Saturday Night, which rocks pretty damn hard. The glitch made me nostalgic, which is a good reason to listen to this on the archive rather than Dick’s Picks No. 32.
Bobby is giving it up here, pushing both his odd rhythm guitar style and vocal with as much energy as he’s got left.
This is also a good version if for no other reason than Bobby improving the line:
“Then God way up in heaven, for whatever it was worth,
thought He'd have a big old party, thought He'd call it planet Earth”
“Then God way up in heaven, for whatever it was worth,
thought He'd have a big old PLANET, thought He'd call it planet Earth”
Which is somehow better.
Finally, we get what one dude says is a “technically perfect” U.S. Blues. I’m not certain that is accurate, but I do think it’s the most technically clean and connected tune in the whole show. And it's the one that I would put on a mixtape to showcase the early 1980’s Dead. And Again, there is Brent, working the organ with so much soul and backing up Jerry perfectly.
I ache to hear this song outside in a sweaty concrete arena with a few thousand other people in the summertime. I fear it will be a long time before that happens.
The last thing you hear on this recording is Brent saying, “thank y’all.” He would have turned 68 this year.
The Other One
My most hipster/contrarian take: the Danny Kirwan era of Fleetwood Mac is some of their most beautiful music. You can’t really compare the Peter Green stuff to the Kirwan/Bob Welch stuff to the Stevie/Lindsey stuff; they’re just flat-out different bands with the same rhythm section. There’s a dark gentleness in this stuff, and Lindsey Buckingham has never played a wrong note in his life but Kirwan plays with so much more soul.
Anyway, this song is short and beautiful and nobody knows about it even though everybody knows about Fleetwood Mac. And this is a live version from a time when you could do dumb stuff like this with TV visuals.