Monday, August 23, 2010

Grateful Dead in Saratoga Part IV: 6-28-1988

So it is upon us, Travers Week.  This is easily the best week of the year to be up in Saratoga as there are a host of activities going down; something of interest for all ages everyday.  There is great dining to be had, drinking for charity and there is a lot to do before the big race on Saturday.
This is the 141st installment of The Mid Summer Derby.  There is an epic history of champions when it comes to this race.  I will be headed up there this weekend marking the 7th 8th year in a row my friends and I wake up early to find a prime spot on the grounds to watch the day flow by.  Much loves goes out to Jeremy Paul for joining me every year at the ass crack o'dawn and the host of other people in my life who make this weekend one of the best of the year.
I am not going to pretend to be a handicapper on the races, but I will give a bit of preview and say I have always been pretty lucky when it comes to the main race (just don't ask about the races before it).  We did win a nice sum of cheddar on Summer Bird last year in the slop:

(Thank You Kent Desormeaux!)  

Unfortunately I don't have much to preview as the horses haven't been announced completely this year yet, and honestly this has been a down year for marquee names to run in Saratoga's biggest race.  There are reportedly 14 horses under consideration so we are going to have to wait and see who gets in and who is locked out. It looks like Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm will be there as will Super Saver who won the Kentucky Derby (in one of the least memorable Derby's I can recall).  The owners and trainers of Trappe Shot hasn't decided yet to run him in the Big Boys Race or the King's Bishop Sprint which will be run before the Travers.  With no commitment, post-positions, the Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky bailing and a forecast that can change ten times before Saturday it would be silly to say you like anyone more then anyone else right now, in fact with a week to go I would say this is the most wide open this race has been in sometime, which makes for exciting betting.
I will wait to see how the track plays, but why not be silly here for a minute.  I do have a tendency to go with horses that have done well at the distance and specifically this track, so at this moment if I was forced to bet I would go with A Little Warm, but we are still a long time away...I will let you know next Monday how I did, now lets go to something I know a bit more about...The Grateful Dead:
"Good Evening! Please Welcome BACK to Saratoga...THE GRATEFUL DEAD!"
Today's show is from June 26th, 1988:

This was the fourth trip from the fellas to the upstate oasis and the first since they set the record for the largest crowd ever at the venue...and in the proceedings got banned for 3 years.  The recording is perfect.  A Soundboard affair that Charlie Conner supped up a bit and sounds clear as day.

1988 was a weird year for the band, lots of shows while the euphoria of having Jerry back and healthy was wearing off a bit, and we now know that Brent was only a few years away from leaving us.  '88 gets lost in the shuffle or downplayed by most fans, and I think Bobby was one of the more consistent members of the band during this time and that could turn people off, but on this night everyone seems to be pretty much on the same wavelength.  The fans were on a completely different one, over running the fence swelling the crowd to epic proportions, and ultimately causing the band to be barred for good from S.P.A.C. post show.  Scaling the fence still goes on to this day, but security has made it a lot harder then back in the late 80's early 90's.
The first set is all over the place with some classics, new tunes and ballads performed in a slapdash fashion.  "Hell In A Bucket" plays the role of opener instead of a bust-out cover classic that the fellas had chosen to open with in SPAC shows past (The First of 2 broken traditions).  "Hell" does it's job getting the bugs out of the sound, letting Bobby sing with echo and Jerry warm up his fret board with some high powered runs. "Bertha" has the band clicking with a breeziness that they made seem so easy at points in their career.  The "Walkin' Blues" and "Candyman" don't do much here, as they are slow paced and not that memorable, but an excellent midset Dylan/Band cover spices things up.  "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is such a fun song and the Dead do it justice rolling around in the background while Weir strolls through the lyrics. Here is a version of the boys playing it in Berlin in '90: 

The set then has a couple of my favorite tunes from the fellas but they are all over the style map.  "Row Jimmy" is a heartfelt weeper that got better as the band aged and is excellent tonight, "Victim or The Crime" is one of the rare dark tunes that the band plays and since it is so unlike most of what they did I always have dug it.  "Foolish Heart" ends the set and Jerry just butchers the lyrics and while you could skip it, you would miss Brent who is on fire for this one, playing anything he wants above the band and sounding like his quintessential 80's self.
After a break the band came out focused and with a ton of energy to dive into what is the highlight section of the show: "Scarlett Begonias>Fire On The Mountain".  This version (like their 1983 SPAC combo) is one that can be talked about in the best ever discussions had around this band.  Where in 1983 the rhythm section took the lead and pushed the song forward, here it is Jerry and Brent shining brightest with inventive lines that follow and challenge each other.  The warbling of Jerry's guitar signals a transition into "Fire On The Mountain" and the band struts proudly into their reggae flavored classic as the crowd explodes.  This is one of the cleaner late 80's versions to be found on the archive and it is hard not to smile while listening to it's soaring guitar parts and hip shaking groove.          
Continuing in highlight mode finds the best Weir tune in the bands catalog "Estimated Prophet" get a hymn like airing with Bobby wailing out the lyrics "Filling the sky with flame" and his "Nah-nahnah-No's" exciting the crowd while Garcia's wah-wah works overtime.  Then the band keeps the greatness going dipping with ease into the starry "Crazy Fingers" which has it's vocal issues, but airy playing.  These opening 4 songs find the group peaking, it is too bad the "Drums>Space" shows up when it does as some of the momentum peters out, yet there is Brent with his melodious voice to get the show going again via his sweetest entry into the Dead's catalog, "I Will Take You Home".  Tonight's version is the second ever live airing of the tune that saw it's debut 6 nights earlier in Wisconsin.

God what a beautiful song. 

The band ramps things back up for a old-timey "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" and brief foray into new school blues rock of  "I Need A Miracle" before dipping back into the beautiful with "Stella Blue".  This tune really gained in gravitas with later day Dead and this is a perfect example why.  Jerry's aged voice makes it mean so much more, and the band is sparse behind him, letting Garcia control tempo and lead with his 6 strings.  The crescendo starting around the 7:40 mark is majestic, and must have flown  high above the pine trees in the state park this night. 
The San Fran Band then plays the fan favorite cover of "Not Fade Away" to end the set before breaking their double encore SPAC tradition with only one tune; the heartfelt rendition of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (complete with WPYX106 shout out post song).  Who knows, maybe the Dead realized they were not to play this wonderful venue again and figured they would end it in the heavens.  Or more likely they were just done-zo for the night; while the pacing and song placements were questionable this evening the playing certainly wasn't.  Solid throughout (minus some vocal forgetfulness on Jerry's part) make this a rewarding listen and among the best of the bands '88 output as well as the final piece in the groups Saratoga Puzzle.   

Enjoy the Show, and good luck with the ponies!


  1. I didn't know that 1988 was such an eventful year for the band. The Grateful Dead are certainly known worldwide and it's good to learn more about them. Thanks for sharing the history with us. I will look out for the other Saratoga events as well, if I am ever in the area.

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