Now that I’ve covered a few of the most popular Grateful Dead shows, I wanted to drift off a bit into some more obscure territory. One interesting show that I keep coming back to is the one from October 12th, 1984 at Augusta Civic Center, in Augusta, Maine. The pre-coma 80s were a hazy time for the Grateful Dead, as Jerry’s health was deteriorating quickly, thanks to his diet which consisted mainly of heroin, crack, cigarettes, and ice cream. This led to some low moments and clunker performances for sure, but there were some moments of raw clarity that showed that the Dead could still find that beautiful beat and stick with it. And 10/12/84 is one of those diamonds in the rough of 80s Dead.
The show opens with a beastly rendition of “Feel Like A Stranger” that right from the jump has the band enmeshed and on the ball. I say beastly for good reason, too, because the grainy footage that exists from that evening has Jerry looking like a mangy beast hunched over on stage. It doesn’t matter for musical reasons how he looks, really, but of course you can feel a notable concern for his health while you watch him shred. This version also saw official release as part of the 30 Trips Around The Sun compilation.
Jerry doesn’t sing much on “Feel Like A Stranger”, so there’s no telling from the jump if he’s going to hit the vocals that night or not. Jerry’s vocals were one of the biggest concerns when it comes to show quality in the 80s. His voice was shot during these years, and sometimes he was too drugged out to sing or remember lyrics to certain songs. This night, though, he was really feeling it, and he was absolutely in the zone. “It Must Have Been The Roses” proves that, up next.
“It Must Have Been The Roses” is one of my favorite Dead songs, but the quality is entirely dependent on Jerry’s vocal delivery. Here his voice does sound ragged and worn, but he’s got the energy to give it some heart and intensity, so it becomes an epic kind of ragged and worn. Naturally the 10/12/84 version doesn’t match the energy of something like Red Rocks ’78, but the guitar playing on this one draws the emotion right out of you, and coupled with raspy 80s Jerry vocals on a hot night makes it a truly memorable take.
A stack of “On The Road Again”, “Jack-A-Roe” and “It’s All Over Now”, none of which really stand out to me as that great. They aren’t bad, though, and the band maintains the energy throughout and rolls into a strong “Cumberland Blues”. Jerry delivers the down and dirty blues here, complete with vocals that are again fully dialed in, even on a honky-tonk song. You might be surprised to hear that voice coming out of that hunchbacked man on the stage, but it’s true, he’s really doing it.
They close out Set 1 with a beefy “Music Never Stopped”, and right near the end things start to veer off into the ether a bit, which is a preview of what’s to come in Set 2.
Set 2 kicks off with a heater of a “Cold Rain and Snow”, another one of those ballads that sounds great with the strain in Jerry’s voice from that period, at least when he’s nailing it. “Cold Rain and Snow” always works so well as an opener because it’s got some bluesy guts to it and it makes you want to move around. Here it helps the band get warmed up for “Lost Sailor” into “Saint of Circumstance”, which lately has emerged as one of my favorite song segments that the Dead played. This one exemplifies the strength of these two songs, which lies in the darkly emotional Weir vocals of “Lost Sailor” and the jubilant transition into “Saint of Circumstance”. I find roots here of one of my favorite things about Wilco, which are those jubilant transitions from solemn chaos into pure happiness.
A minor slump in Set 2 comes next with the Brent-led “Don’t Need Love”. Brent is great on keys and backup vocals, but the songs where he sings lead are rarely a hit. It’s not a total slump tonight because the Dead are hot, and it brings us to the true meaty part of the evening. Beginning with “Uncle John’s Band”, the universe starts to churn behind your eyes.
After 16 minutes or so, the adventurous ride of “Uncle John’s Band” devolves into “Drums > Space”, which you know is generally skipping time unless you’re enamored by the trippy playing, but hopefully you make it back before they wake up from “Space” into a short, zippy and psychedelic “Playing In The Band”. In true Dead fashion, they return to “Uncle John’s Band” again in triumphant spirits after “Playing”, and then segue into the main reason that this show is special and in the running for the best show of ’84: “Morning Dew”.
The 10/12/84 “Morning Dew” is honestly pretty incredible. From the opening notes that float down in a calming wave out of “Uncle John’s Band” it’s clear that we’re in for something special. Jerry is completely dialed in and brings a cryptic air to the performance with his vocals, which have been on point all night and here are a total home run. He is really getting after it, belting out the lyrics so hard you think the old man’s lungs might explode, but no! Sure enough, he’s still standing! And ripping the roof off the place with his guitar, might I add. “Morning Dew” closes things out and the band returns for a rollicking encore performance of “Good Lovin'” before sending us all on our merry little ways.
This show is killer and from an era that many overlook, and sometimes for good reason. The band members were going through hard times in their respective personal lives but they clearly still had the magic, and the gems in the 80s for the Grateful Dead are so unique and worth finding. They are down and dirty, like 3am unfiltered cigarettes when you’ve got to be up for work at 8am. I’ll give it an 8/10.
Stream the full 10/12/84 Grateful Dead show on Youtube below. I’ve also included a video that has the whole first set and most of the second set, including the “Morning Dew”, but is missing the first three songs of the second set. Enjoy.
Augusta Civic Center – Augusta, ME
Feel Like A Stranger
It Must Have Been The Roses
On The Road Again
It’s All Over Now
The Music Never Stopped
Cold Rain And Snow
Saint Of Circumstance
Don’t Need Love
Uncle John’s Band
Playin’ In The Band
Uncle John’s Band