CD378 - 3CD
Grateful Dead Productions,
Trips Vol. 3 No. 4
In May of 1980, the Grateful Dead were on a roll. Brent Mydland had been in the band for a solid year by that point and was showing more grit and confidence with each tour. Whether wailing on the B-3, plinking away at the electric piano or bending notes (and minds) with his arsenal of warm and wonderful analog synths, Brent was helping the Dead turn a new musical corner. And those harmonies—when had the Dead ever sounded so good?
Apart from their usual touring regimen, the Dead also kept their chops up during the fall and winter of ’79-’80 by hammering out a new album,Go to Heaven, which came out at the end of April 1980. It contained a number of excellent new songs which the band perfected night after night onstage across America— “Alabama Getaway,” “Feel Like A Stranger,” “Althea,” “Lost Sailor” and its conjoined mate “Saint of Circumstance,” and Brent’s two contributions, “Easy to Love You” and “Far from Me”; all of them quite different than any other tunes in the Dead’s by then massive repertoire. OK, the white suits the band wore on the cover were a little scary — Were those disco suits? Did Jerry really blow-dry his hair? (No and Yes.) It was a concept, people! The point is, the band was feelin’ jazzed and a lot of the shows the group played that year reflected their enthusiasm.
Like the two that make up the latest edition of Road Trips (that’s Vol. 3, No. 4, for those scoring at home), from Recreation Hall at Penn State on 5/6/80 and Barton Hall at Cornell in upstate New York the following night, 5/7/80. The Dead had played Penn State the previous year and dug the place (and played well), and you may recall a little shindig they threw at Barton Hall almost exactly three years earlier… 5/8/77 ring a bell with anyone? Decent show, I guess. Anyway, the band’s Spring ’80 tour had started a week earlier down in Alabama, and been rolling northward, with stops in Atlanta, Greensboro, Hampton (Va.) and Baltimore before this detour to a couple of institutions devoted to, ahem, higher learning.
The two shows included on this three-disc set, provide a great snapshot of what was exciting Heads coast-to-coast during this 15th anniversary year of the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead. Our original intention was to present the complete Penn State show—which has never circulated as a soundboard recording—on the first two discs of this set, but we were dismayed to find that there were technical difficulties with the first couple of songs. So we decided to make Disc One a compilation of the best of the Penn State and Cornell first sets (leaning more on the Penn State show), and it’s good stuff from top to bottom: it contains inspired versions of both “Lazy Lightning > Supplication” and “Lost Sailor > Saint,” dynamic takes on “Althea” and “Cassidy,” and a lovely rendition of “Peggy-0,” among other treats.
Disc Two offers up the entire second set from Penn State (save for the encore, which was incomplete on the master tape) and it’s filled with exciting versions of a number of favorites, beginning with a rip-roarin’ “China Cat > Rider,” a spacey and unusual “Stranger,” which rolls into “He’s Gone.” The version of that last tune ends with a beautiful, lilting jam before heading off to the more dangerous terrain of “The Other One” and what a ride that is—fasten your seat belts, ’cause it’s an adventure, even after the final verse; certainly it’s among the best from this period. After the intriguing explorations of “drums” (which, like so many shows from this era, features a nice workout on the tar) and “space,” the jam heads into a stirring “Wharf Rat,” which then melds organically into a double-Chuck Berry close that no doubt left the Penn State crowd completely devastated, with some no doubt wondering how the hell they were ever going to manage that organic chemistry final the next morning. (Voice of Devil over shoulder: “Aw, just blow off your test, man! Hop in the van and come to Cornell for the next show!”)
That actually might have happened to a few folks, and the ones who did make it to Cornell (OK, it was mostly students from that university, not Penn State renegades), got another great show, the entire second set of which—save for a few minutes of “drums and space,” and the encore—makes up Disc Three of this Road Trips release. While this one has been in SBD circulation for a while, you’ve never heard it sound so clean, crisp and powerful. You’re definitely going to be knocked out by the mix on both of these shows—every instrument has its place in the wide stereo spread and you can really vibe out on the interaction between Jerry and Bob in particular.
If the Penn State show is characterized by a certain ragged but always spirited intensity, Cornell is one of those smooth, nearly seamless shows where everything flows easily and just feels right, while still taking plenty of risks along the way. The rare double-Garcia opener of a very funky “Shakedown Street” into “Bertha” gets things off to a lively start. Then it’s on to “Playing in the Band” and a near-perfect “Terrapin.” The “space” jam builds inevitably into a charging “Saint of Circumstance” (separated for the first time from “Lost Sailor”!), followed by a moving “Black Peter” and a raucous “Good Lovin’” capper. (“Hmm. How far is it to Glen Falls and tomorrow night’s show?”)
all, two sparkling and underrated shows that will surely earn new respect
for the sizzling spring of ’80 tour. As always, the music has been mastered
to the HDCD spec and the discs are accompanied by a booklet with cool
pix and plenty of info about the era.
1: Penn State (5/6/80) and Cornell (5/7/80)
2: Penn State 5/6/80
3: Cornell 5/7/80