FOOTAGE: The Dead’s Best “Dew” of the ’80s – And Other Gems

by Peter Wendel
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TDead80she raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden got treated to a monster show on September 18, 1987. It is widely hailed as one of The Grateful Dead’s hottest, highest-energy performances of the late-’80s (quite possibly of the entire decade). The band’s execution is clean and crisp. The vocals – both lead and backup – are strong, and for the most part, clear of any major muffs or miscues.

As was frequently the case, New York City brought out the best in the band – particularly Jerry – producing inspired, hall-of-fame performances of many of our favorite tunes from The Dead’s expansive live repertoire, like “Morning Dew,” “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” “Shakedown Street,” “Sugaree,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Good Lovin” and “La Bamba,” which the band played just four times ever.

MSGGratefulDeadBy all accounts, it was a very special night at MSG with white-hot X-factor up to the rafters. The only complaint you might have is the show was too short; the 1st set contains only six songs.

SET I: Hell in a Bucket> Sugaree, Walkin’ Blues, Candyman, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bird Song
SET 2: Shakedown Street> Man Smart Woman Smarter>Terrapin Station> Drums> Space> Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> All Along the Watchtower> Morning Dew> Good Lovin’> La Bamba> Good Lovin’ E: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Here are the highlights – from biggest to littlest (but let’s be honest, they were all pretty damn big).

A very special thanks to YouTube posters, LoloYodel and Voodoonola. We are grateful.

MORNING DEW
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Widely recognized as the best “Dew” of the 1980s. Some even believe it’s the best of all time – myself excluded – but it definitely floats up near the top. Jammed with X-factor, featuring soaring solos from Jerry and a spine-tingling vocal performance. His weathered, soulful vocals are just about perfect for this apocalyptic song about the aftermath of nuclear war. I can’t walk you out in the morning dew today because there’s radiation all over the place. “Morning Dew” is one of those special songs from the band’s live songbook that may have gotten better as Jerry’s voice became more worn and sweetly strained. Check out the Big Man’s vocal crescendo at 4:35. Enough said?

MAN SMART, WOMAN SMARTER
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Perfectly played with a best-ever vocal reprise to boot (5:27). Jerry is fully engaged and Brent shines on the keys. Bobby nails the vocals all the way through. This one rests firmly in the top-5 of all time.

KNOCKIN’ ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Nothing short of a religious experience. One of the band’s best-ever performances of this haunting Dylan song. Gorgeous guitar work from Garcia and Brent works his magic. Superb all-around effort. The Dead debuted the song with Dylan himself just two months earlier on July 4th in Foxboro, MA.

GOOD LOVIN’ > LA BAMBA > GOOD LOVIN’
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Helluva sandwich! One of just four times The Dead covered “La Bamba,” the song made famous by Richie Valens in 1959. This is the best of the four renditions (IMO) with Jerry nailing the vocals (in Spanish) and the band playing tight around him. As for “Good Lovin,” Bobby crushes it – earning top-10 status of all time. And that’s saying something since the band performed it more than 400 times.

SHAKEDOWN STREET
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

This is a top-10 performance from the 1980s (top-20 of all time). Extraordinary interplay between Jerry and Brent (6:53). Maybe you had too much too fast.

ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Even Hendrix would’ve approved. This is a red-hot, top-5 version featuring a killer vocal performance from Weir and off-the-chain guitar wizardry from Garcia. Magical mayhem in the Big Apple. Sets the stage for one of the best-ever performances of “Morning Dew.” Space> Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> All Along the Watchtower> Morning Dew… The band debuted the Dylan cover just three months earlier at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA. Other rippers (also from New York) came later, like July 4, 1989, at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, and March 24, 1990, at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY.

SUGAREE
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

One of the very best performances of “Sugaree” from the ’80s – and one of the most grossly underrated. Nearly flawless execution. The band is tight and crisp, and Jerry’s vocals are clean and deeply soulful. The only other late-’80s version that rivals this one is the burner from Alpine Valley on July 19, 1989. Compare for yourself.

GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Although many of the very best versions of GDTRFB come from the early-’70s, here’s one that stands tall from the late-’80s. It came surging out of “Space.”

CANDYMAN
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Jerry kills it oh so sweetly.

HELL IN A BUCKET
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Top-10 material all the way. Never mind that I stumble and fall.

Here’s the full show. It’s most definitely worth a listen, or two.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach Mountain Jam, The All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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