However, one time-period that often gets overlooked in these discussions is the early-to-mid 1980’s…I’m talking ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84 and ’85 era Dead. Similar to a vintage Cabernet Franc that tastes like perfection to some and like a filthy old boot to others, these are my go to years when I want to listen to some good ol’ Grateful Dead. There’s a crazy vibe to these early-to-mid 80’s shows that is reminiscent of a locomotive on the verge of careening out of control but is somehow still able to stay on track and make its stops. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get and that’s part of the fun. Even the supposed stinker shows from these years have ironic appeal, in a Japanese wabi-sabi sort of way.
|Grateful Dead - May 1982, Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA by Joel Eisenberg|
It was the 1980’s after all…the Dead were already written off as dinosaurs by the world at large, seemingly lacking any relevance to the pop culture of the time and still a couple years away from their eventual commercial success and then ultimate demise. But to the Dead and its fanbase most of the surrounding trends and “just say no” consumerism of the decade were just white noise. Being a band that existed in the now, the Grateful Dead were just as much an 80’s band as they were a 70’s band or a 60’s band.
By the early eighties Brent had gained his sea legs and his intensity was revitalizing the group, Bobby was on some weird, hyper trip, Jerry (on the verge of some severe drug-related physical calamaties) cuts through in a far grittier, grungier, more urgent fashion than normal, Phil has some of his most stand-out and memorable performances (“the Raven”, “more nitrous”, “earthquake space”) and a new fire was lit under drummers Mickey and Billy as they grew accustomed to letting loose and going hog-wild during their drumz portion of the 2nd set. In other words, the band meant bizness!
For even the most Deadicated fan, the 80’s aren’t the first place you look for gems, but they are well worth checking out. In my opinion you really can’t go wrong with any show from this span. Have fun panning for gold!