Many a band had played the industrial town of Newcastle, England before the Dead. In fact, Eric Burdon and The Animals derived from Newcastle so the locals already had their own rock and roll celebrities. But the City Hall had never been a favorite place on any band’s list of venues to play. It was not the warmest of settings, with a tiny stage and concrete pillars spaced evenly throughout, blocking sight lines and making the acoustics a bit wonky. Even the crowd seemed a tad suspect as the gig began, but soon enough, the Dead had proven their worth and those cold concrete pillars and walls started reflecting the heat that was coming off the stage.
The first set was a whopping 18-song affair. Not as tight or energetic as the 2 previous Wembley shows, but no slouch either. The Newcastle crowd was privileged to get one of the tour’s three Jerry-on-pedal-steel LOOKS LIKE RAINs as well as a scorching BIG RAILROAD BLUES. The BEAT IT ON DOWN THE LINE offered the first false-start of the tour, but once the song got up and running (how many beats was that again?) all was as it should be in Grateful Dead land.
Pig led off the second set with another GOOD LOVIN’. It’s great to hear Pig belting out each and every song with so much energy and emotion as this would turn out to be, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his last tour. Pigpen was already sick by this stage and looking mighty frail, but you’d never know it by the recording.
The highlight of the second set is the epic 20-minute TRUCKIN’ that devolves into some deep psychedelic spaces before spinning its way into DRUMS and then into a 25-minute OTHER ONE that leaves one breathless as it winds down into the first of the tour’s four renditions of Garcia’s beauteous COMES A TIME. The set closes out with one of only two versions of BROKEDOWN PALACE offered on the tour. It is as stirring an interpretation as I’ve ever heard.
Even Eric Burdon’s Mum was overheard to declare about the Grateful Dead (somewhere during the show’s over 4-hour running time), “They’re very good, you know.”
High praise, indeed.
A few days off to re-energize and the band will soon be taking the stage at the famous Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall. A far cry from the grey of Newcastle and the band’s first show in front of a foreign-speaking audience (though one could argue that Newcastle’s northern dialect might seem rather foreign to some). But music is, after all, a universal language. And so it would be in the land of the Danes. And beyond…