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Grateful Dead Historic MSG Run Sept 1987

Last week marked the 21 year anniversary of The Grateful Dead's now historic 5 night Madison Square Garden run of 1987. Imagine that! Twenty-One years Man! Un-Real! These were magical shows to say the least. I was lucky enough to make it to all of these shows, which would prove to be one of the high points in my Grateful Dead obsession of eight years at that point in time; and the first time I went to that many shows (7) on one tour. I was fresh off two shows at The Providence Civic Center on 09/07/87 and 09/08/87, and then caught these shows on 09/15,16,18,19,20/87 at The Garden. There were lots of high points at these shows and I'll just touch on a few. The whole year of '87 really was a high point in the Grateful Dead's history, musically, and commercially, and these 5 shows were no exception. The Fall tour was very strong coming off a hot summer tour with Bob Dylan to sold out stadiums accross the country. Brent Mydland seemed to really get powerful around this time, becoming a force to reckon with. They just seemed to continue to pick up steam down the track of 1987, riding their Tons Of Steele into Penn Station for this carnival at MSG. You thought Ringling Brother's was a freak show?...Think again. There's nothing like Madison Square Garden filled with Deadheads dancing, twirling, and celebrating with our extended family of freaks and side shows. I remember that guy who used to glow with electric lights of some sort travelling around the arena freely, seen by all that were there. You could spot him from anywhere you were..."If you get confused, just listen to the music play"....and find that guy for a point of reference to reality. Ha, that was my point of reference to reality! Pretty warped! And how about the Sticker Dude? It wouldn't be a New York City show without him sticking you.

The run, like I said, had lots of high points musically. This can be confirmed by listening to the "Tapes". I was lucky enough, also, to have gotten access to these tapes within a few weeks of the Fall Tour ending. These days you can download stuff within a few days of the show. Back then aquiring tapes as soon as I did was pretty good. I mean sometimes you'd have to wait years to find some recordings. Anyway I knew someone, who knew someone who was supposedly a cousin of Bob Weir (who knows?) and he was a taper and gave my friend audience copies that were very good quality. I have since aquired the Soundboards on CD from here and there. Over the years I've listened to these shows quite a bit. They've been some of my "Ol' reliable" tapes for years. I usually try to revisit them around this time of year for a kind of reunion of those shows and they bring back great memories, however hazed by time and other things they may be.

Every night really was special from the opening nights Sept 15th smokin' opener "Hey Pocky Way" all the way through to the closing night double encore "Touch of Gray" into a sweet "Brokedown Palace". When listening to the soundboards of this whole run it's glaringly evident the Boys were really on a roll. Garcia sounds great...hey what's to complain about when Jerry's sounding great? It drives the whole band, and these Grateful Dead shows were evidence of it. Very powerful! As Weir would say "Just like a Swiss Watch". There are too many highlights to cover them all but some of mine (if I leave your favorite out feel free to comment below) are:

Tuesday 9/15/87 2nd set China>Rider,Estimated>Eyes>Drums>Space>Wheel>Gimme Some Lovin'>Black Peter>Sugar Magnolia Encore: Baby Blue. Need I say more. Get this set if you don't have it. Wednesday 9/16/87 opened with a nice surprise. Baba Olatunji and his Drums of Passion opened with a 35 minute incredible set. Introduced by Mickey Hart they came out and really lit the Deadheads at the Garden up. Incredible energy! This left the place buzzing for a short but sweet 1st set featuring "Touch of Gray" into a rare 1st set "Scarlet Begonias". Also rare for those days was a Scarlet without "Fire on the Mountain" following. There are some but they're rare. This whole show was a gem. Great "Let it Grow" towards the end of the 1st set. Second set was great with an oddity the Dead only played a few times; Brent sang a Devil with a Blue Dress>Good Golly Miss Molly>Blue Dress Medley. This was especially hot, followed by the rest of a great 2nd set He's Gone>Drums>Space>Truckin'>Wharf Rat>Throwin' Stones>NFA Encore: NFA>We Bid You Goodnight>Black Muddy River! Great show! Friday 9/18/87 dubbed "Fabulous Friday" by my friend Terry, and Fabulous it was. Bobby declares "watch me levitate Garcia" before the first set. This is a reference to Weir and Jerry's appearance the night before on David Letterman in which Bob attempted to levitate Garcia as a parlor trick. Silly! This whole show is hot stuff. The Boys seem to really rock this whole weekend, picking up steam and never cooling off through the rest of the run. The second set opened with a New York "Shakedown Street", a song that really opitimizes The Dead playing MSG, changing the name on 7th Ave. It makes me think of that giant King Kong in a tye-dye they used to put up in front of the Garden entrance. The rest of the set was strong stuff: Women R Smarter>Terrapin>Drums>Space>Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad>Watchtower>Morning Dew>Good Lovin'>La Bamba!>Good Lovin' Encore: Knockin On Heaven's Door. Really Hot! They only played "La Bamba", with Jerry singing in spanish, three times. This was the second of two of these I got to see live. Every time I listen to this show it really brings a big smile to my face remembering Jerry sing this short but memorable classic inserted into the middle of "Good Lovin'" Truly magical Grateful Dead! Saturday 9/19/87 features a great 1st set (I tend to focus more on the 2nd sets in my writing but don't under estimate any of these 1st sets. They're all great; featuring allot of the In The Dark songs and Dylan songs typical of '87 1st sets. Very tight. Leaving the more Jam filled material for the 2nd sets as usual.) Great "Miss Halfstep" opener "It's All Over Now" "High Time" "Mexicalli B's"> "Big River" "Push Comes To Shove" "Box Of Rain" "Dough Knees". This nice 1st set is followed by another great 2nd set that's one of my favorites. Crazy>Uncle John's>Playin'>Drums>Space>Miracle>Maggies Farm>Black Peter>Round and Round>Lovelight Encore: "Black Muddy River". Boy I miss "Black Muddy River". The "Maggies Farm", a recent addition to the repertoir following the Dylan shows that summer, was broadcast live from MSG to Farm Aid, which was going on at the same time. Hence the odd placement of this song here in the set. At this point Jerry and Bobby switched off on the vocals. In years to come Phil would join in with a verse as well as Vince Welnick and or Bruce Hornsby. Always a fun song to hear the Dead do no matter what the configuration. Once again I'll recommend getting this show if you don't have it already. Closing night Sunday 9/20/87 was another magical night. I was a little sad this was the last night but also Grateful (I was pretty tired and sick with the tour bug at this point, and needed to get back to school and be a good boy(not) and hit the books...crazy man!). This show, especially the 2nd set, had lots of repeat songs from earlier in the run; but what do you expect, it was a five night run and they did want to play the In The Dark material as much as they could each night. We complained about that back then...who knew. In retrospect this stuff stands the test of time; super tight yet great improvisational jams throughout. 1st set: "Jack Straw"> "W.LA Fadeaway" "Brother Esau" (what happened to this song?) "Far From Me" "Must've Been The Roses" (which they should have played more often) "Desolation Row" "Might As Well" "Promised Land". Nice set. Sweet "Roses" which has some really great subtle sound effects in the instrumental break...sounds like chains smashing against each other or something. Cool stuff. "Might As Well" "Promised Land" at the end of the set was high energy, to say the least, leaving us ready for a break before the final set of the run. "Hell In A Bucket"> "Aiko Aiko" "Looks Like Rain" "He's Gone">Drums>Space>Other One>Wharf Rat>Throwin' Stones>NFA Double Encore: "Touch of Gray"> "Brokedown Palace"....tears in our eyes..."Fare you well, Fare you well, I love you more than words can tell, listen to the river sing sweet songs to Rock my Soul!" Hunter/Garcia

These were such amazing shows at a time in the Grateful Dead's history that they were really peaking. If you saw the Dead around this time, or listen to the recordings, you know what I mean. If you want to share any memories about these times (or any other) please comment below. Thanks...and leave it on!


Anonymous said...

This is a great description of that run.

- Ralph

dave@davesjoint said...

Thanks for the comment Ralph. That's what I'm looking for! Please come back soon. I'll be posting about the recent Phil Lesh and Friends Philathon run at the Nokia Theatre in NYC soon. Peace, Dave