The Dead’s Biggest New Year’s Eve Highlights

by Peter Wendel
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TheDeadNYESanFran84

The balloon drop – NYE 1984 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium

There’s nothing like a Dead show to ring in the new year. So as we move forward into 2016, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest New Year’s Eve highlights (and there are many) from the world’s greatest jam band.

Talk about a mind-melting spectacle. From Bill Graham sailing above the crowd on a lightning bolt or riding a 12-foot joint, there was rarely a dull moment when you spent New Year’s Eve with The Grateful Dead. The trip could be heavy to say the least. And then there was the music…

Highlighted songs are in alphabetical order.

BERTHA
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
Super-tight all-round effort to kickoff the show! The band came to play, and Jerry is lovin’ every minute. Huge x-factor. Throw me in the JAIL HOUSE…

BIG BOY PETE
December 31, 1969 – Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA
Pigpen rocks the house! Badass version of a song the band should have played more often. Listen here (archived track 23).

BIRD SONG
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
This is the kind of stuff that can change your life. Jerry’s vocals are extra special. Brent digs it (41:25). Listen here (archived track 8).

CUMBERLAND BLUES
December 31, 1982 – Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA
Jerry’s picking is fast and furious. Spectacular team effort on this one. Listen here (archived track 3).

DARK STAR
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
A brilliantly clean and compressed version – Dark Star> The Other One> Dark Star. While extended performances of this improv powerhouse could drift on for 30 minutes, this version clocks in at half that time. The band cuts the feedback portion of the song, and gets down in a deep jammy groove. The entry into “The Other One” is stellar. Listen here (archived track 19).

FRIEND OF THE DEVIL
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Simply beautiful. One of the very best from the golden years. The tone of Jerry’s guitar is just exactly perfect. Didn’t get to sleep that night…

GOOD LOVIN’
December 31, 1976 – Cow Palace, Daly City, CA
One of the most unique versions the band ever played. It’s the second of only two performances of the song from ’76. Listen here (archived track 12).

HELL IN A BUCKET
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
A ripper to ring in the New Year! This one opens the 2nd set with big energy – and balloons to boot. Listen here (archived track 11).

I NEED A MIRACLE
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Here comes the HEAT! This one thunders out of the gate like a mad bull and never looks back. Bobby nails the vocals, and Garcia stings his guitar. It gets my vote for best version of all time – a raunchy, raw blues take on this Barlow-Weir tune. It’s an epic 11-minute rendition featuring maestro Matt Kelly (Kingfish, RatDog) sitting in on harmonica. This monster version includes a HUGE jam with all pistons firing. Remember: Most versions of “Miracle” don’t run even 5 minutes let alone 11. This is industrial strength Dead. Hold on tight!

IKO IKO
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
Great groove with the Neville Brothers. This one will definitely set your flag on fire! Listen here (archived track 21).

MORNING DEW
December 31, 1981 – Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA
Pure bliss! Well-paced and simmering with power. One of most inspired versions of “Dew” you will ever come across from the early-’80s. The perfect close to the 2nd set. Listen here (archived track 22).

PLAYING IN THE BAND
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Extended play! This one runs more than 13 minutes – twisting out into deep space.

RAMBLE ON ROSE
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Glorious through and through with a nice easy pace. Jerry’s vocals are clear and bright, climbing to a fierce crescendo. He lays down a tender solo that sails out over the crowd, and Phil bombs away.

SAMSON AND DELILAH
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Blistering-hot version to open the 2nd set. Bobby crushes the vocals, and Mickey and Billy pummel the drums to perfection. Jerry’s crazy fingers burn up his fretboard. Hold on to yer hat, folks!

STAGGER LEE
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Not to be missed. This is an epic early version – definitely in the top-5 performances of all time. Whatever you do, don’t miss Bobby’s jaw-dropping slide solo at the close. Absolutely stunning.

SUGAR MAGNOLIA
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Can you say BURNER?!! I haven’t heard a better version from ’78. The band lets the genie out of the bottle on this sizzling show opener. The reprise comes at the close of the set. Listen here (archived track 2).

SUGAREE
December 31, 1985 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
Shake it up now!! Listen here (archived track 11).

TERRAPIN STATION
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
Jerry digs deep on this one. Gives me chills. Listen here (archived track 13).

THROWING STONES
December 31, 1987 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA
BOOOOOM! Picture a bright blue ball… Listen here (archived track 18).

WHARF RAT
December 31, 1978 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Crazy good and seriously underrated. Jerry’s vocals are haunting and hugely powerful.

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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