I just finished listening, again, to one of my favorite Grateful Dead shows from the many I attended. Saratoga Performing Arts Center, June 18, 1983. I’m going through the vast 30 Trips Around The Sun box set which showcases a single concert from each year of Grateful Dead (30). I’ve been adding shows to each year as I move through chronologically, The Dead at SPAC is not in the box set and there are no soundboard recordings in existence that I know of (if there is, point me to it!). But there are some quality audience recordings.
This was a show that had everything for me. I was with dear, dear friends, the entire scene was so celebratory, magical, perfect. We spent the entire day, the entire night, and a chunk of the next morning (as you will see in the photos below) immersed in Grateful Dead heaven.
One of the things that made the Grateful Dead so unique was how different one show could be from the next. Not just the setlist, but the energy, the approach. Some nights were tight, elegant, with nary an off note. Just exquisite playing. Other nights, like this one, would be filled with mistakes and struggles, but tap into an uncontrollable storm of savage beauty that the band rode like a tidal wave.
The music this night was raw. The band and audience were super energized and the weather was both beautiful and fierce and worked as an integral part of both the music and energy. Rain, lightening, the works. Everyone in the band was on fire. Not tight, but explosively galvanized. There were some serious musical stumbles (particularly in the first set – both JACK STRAW and HELL IN A BUCKET have moments of complete disintegration), but it barely mattered as the boys were pushing boundaries. It’s a prime example of the Dead in this era. It lacks the musical cohesion of earlier years, but it displays the intensity with which the Grateful Dead would use the music to express what they were feeling in the moment and also mirror the crowd’s energy right back at them. It was the perfect fusion of a truly collaborative group experience that defined the best Grateful Dead concerts. The show does suffer from some of the problems that would continue to plague the Grateful Dead throughout this era, Garcia’s ongoing health demise being one of them. It effected the music and the band in various ways, some exhibited here from forgotten lyrics to hoarse vocals.
Nonetheless, it’s a fierce show and one both audience and the band didn’t want to end. And boy did they keep it going! This was one of those great shows that went late into the night leaving everyone exhilarated and exhausted. And oh so joyous and thankful to have been a part of it. It felt like history.
Here’s the recording from that night that I most prefer. Some recordings (like the Charlie Miller one) has Garcia’s guitar barely audible in the mix (and Brent’s keys far too dominant). Particularly in the second half of the first set. This recording captures the best mix I’ve heard from that night. It was recorded right behind the soundboard by Joe Morrone. The second set is when things REALLY kick into high gear.
Here are some photos of me and my dear friends, the parking lot scene, the following morning, and the local paper’s review of the show and scene: