I normally don’t post alot of content that would lead one to believe I am “hippie,” as my handle suggests. With that said, I stumbled across this post on FuckYesGratefulDead, highlighting Glide Magazine’s recent blurb on 4/19/84 at the Philadelphia Civic Center, not too long ago. I finally took the time to listen today and this show re-ignited my love for early to mid-eighties Dead.
The mid-eighties is often over looked by most fans. With the organ-swelled, free-form insanity of the late sixties and early seventies, the Mu-Tron infused, reverb drenched recordings of the late seventies, and the big sound and even bigger nostalgia of the late-eighties and early ninties, one would be hard pressed to find a Head exclaiming “Man, I could go for a solid 1984 arena show.” It’s not that there is anything wrong with the mid-eighties but, with all of the options, all of the historic shows, the era often gets set aside.
Even the Dead, themselves, didn’t do much to add to the appeal. There is a seven year gap between Go to Heaven and their follow-up In the Dark. In 1979 they replaced keyboardist Keith Godchaux with Brent Mydland who, despite having the longest tenure of any Dead keyboardist (and is, arguably, the best keyboardist they ever had), would still be casually referred to as “the new guy” for most of his career. From the outsider’s perspective, the Dead had ceased to be a band and started to be a nostalgia act for those who wanted to relive their salad days. Despite all this, the band still saw a steady increase in popularity as it transitioned into the stadium era of the late eighties.
As a result, one gets to listen to what the Dead were playing when the world wasn’t paying attention. April 19th, 1984 is a solid example of some of the fine work the band put out. The writer’s Glide used the term “patient,” which is normally used by Phisheads to refer to a jam where the band took time to develop on it’s own, to describe this show. I couldn’t agree more. Songs that I had heard played virtually the same way hundreds of times, like “The Music Never Stopped,” took twists and turns in unique directions. Instead of the free-formed chaos that most “Bird Song” improvisations fall into before they are brought to their peak, Jerry starts repeating phrases on his guitar, allowing for the rest of the band to create a theme around it. ”Terrapin Station” ends in a flawless passage into the drums segment that is worth more than a few listens. All played with the crackling energy that one would expect from a much earlier show.
All of this came out of a band that, for the first time in nineteen years, had no expectations set for them. All to often, fans of jambands get stuck on terms like “standard” to describe shows and songs. It’s as if to say that the band has set the bar so high, that they will never reach that peak again. Here I submit to all of the jaded tour rats, the Grateful Dead in 1984. There is no thirty-four minute “Dark Star” in this show. Nor are there any stadium filling bass notes dropping right before “The Other One.” There are just six guys who allowed their music to consume them for one night in April.