What’s Next? Rare Songs The Dead Played Out of “Space”

by Steve Spohn
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GratefulDead1980ishThe songs The Grateful Dead played out of “Space” were fairly predictable over the years. If you bet on the Big Three – “I Need A Miracle,” “The Other One” or “The Wheel” – you made good money.

There were other songs – like “Truckin,” “Gimme Some Lovin,” “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” “All Along The Watchtower” and less frequently played songs like “I Will Take You Home” – that were also regularly in the mix at times during the band’s 30-year run. But the pool of regularly played tunes out of “Space” was small, particularly when you look at the enormity of the band’s live catalog.

OuterSpaceAlthough you were rarely shocked by the song choice out of “Space,” it was fun to guess which tease contained the one telltale note or chord that gave away the next song. Sometimes the tease would sound like “The Other One” only to have Jerry slide into “The Wheel.” So even within the traditional song pool that flowed from “Space,” the band would use a little slight of hand to keep us on our toes.

But as you know, The Dead loved to break with tradition, so every once in a while something completely out of the ordinary would happen – a shocker that took pretty much everybody in the audience by surprise. A band member might have had an idea for a song; or maybe lack of time left in the show altered the traditional format; or possibly a special guest was sitting in with the band. Whatever the cause, it often led to something great and memorable – or maybe not so great, but big fun nonetheless.

Here are some of the top rare songs out of “Space” in chronological order:

August 30, 1978
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO

It could be Jerry’s most vastly underrated ballad. It could have been one of his best, but he just never played it – a real crime. A mournful love song that hit the right note at Red Rocks in its debut, which came out of “Space,” in the summer of ’78. Listen here (archived tracks 9 & 10).

October 21, 1978
Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

Completely out of left field. This blues classic made popular by Muddy Waters came out of “Space” with Hamza El Din on percussion and Lee Oskar (of War) on harp. Here it’s played for just the second time ever. Jerry is well engaged and Weir sings the blues as well as he ever has – then the band explodes into “The Other One.” Listen here (archived tracks 17 & 18).

October 31, 1980
Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY

By no stretch is this the best “Fire On The Mountain,” but it was extremely rare to hear it come out of “Space,” and not paired with “Scarlet Begonias.” The performance features a buzzing mosquito or fly sound at the start. Listen here (archived tracks 24 & 25).

October 11, 1983
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

After shelving it for five years, the band busted out a shocking “St. Stephen” that had the crowd gasping and hollering in jubilation. (You were completely blown away unless, that is, you were in Greensboro two nights earlier when the band sound checked “Stephen” or you read about it in Dupree’s Diamond News.) The MSG breakout was the shot heard ’round The Dead’s world, setting off endless speculation as to when “St. Stephen” would return. But alas, the band would play it just two more times during the next few weeks – and then it was gone for good. Listen here (archived tracks 16 & 17).

June 24, 1985
River Bend Music Center, Cincinnati, OH

A MELTER from a great show. They played “Comes A Time” out of “Space” sandwiched inside a complete “Cryptical Envelopment-The Other One.” Jerry’s piercing guitar and vocal delivery will send chills up and down your spine. A good look at the Master at work. Listen here (archived tracks 15 & 16).

September 15, 1985
Devore Field, Chula Vista, CA

“Holy shit, we almost forgot to do ‘Drums’ and ‘Space.’ ” Weir is still doing all kinds of strange effects as Jerry starts playing the “U.S. Blues” riff. The drums kick in, and it’s a party that closes the second set – just one song after “Space.” You might as well go ahead and listen to the ripping “Satisfaction” encore while you’re there. Listen here (archived tracks 18 & 19).

November 1, 1985
Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA

Here we have “Drums” and “Space” sandwiched between “Lost Sailor” and “Saint Of Circumstance” during one of the best shows of 1985. This is as good as “Saint” gets – definitely one of the highlights of this spectacular show from the Old Dominion. Listen here (archived tracks 17 & 18).

June 20, 1992
RFK Stadium, Washington, DC

The reemergence of “Casey Jones” was a BARNBURNER, complete with a train-horn opening from Billy, and Bruce Hornsby on accordion. The RFK crowd went completely berserk. The GA floor was a sea of people jumping up and down at this huge bust out – dancing as hard and with as much abandon as possible. Or at least I was, I don’t really know what everyone else was doing. Listen here (archived tracks 14 & 15).

March 30, 1986
Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI

Phil had taken over the vocals after Jerry and Bob debuted this Bealtes’ cover in the summer of ’84. This is an interesting performance as the band starts into “Gimme Some Lovin” only to have Phil suddenly change it up. Listen here (archived tracks 17, 18 & 19).

July 6, 1987
Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Just the second time the band ever covered Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (they played it with Dylan himself two days earlier). Some of the Neville Brothers sit in on this performance. Gorgeous vocals by Jerry and the band. It would become of staple for the rest of The Dead’s career. This was the only time they played “Knockin” out of “Space” – before it settled comfortably into its encore slot. Listen here (archived tracks 19 & 20).

October 9, 1989
Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

This was only the second time the band played “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” in more than 19 years (since the spring of ’70). The first was performed 10 days earlier. With so many great breakouts at these Warlocks shows, it’s easy to overlook this scorching version of this classic from Reverend Gary Davis. A stunner to come out of “Space” with each vocalist taking a verse and then finishing together. Listen here (archived tracks 14 & 15). Check pro-shot video here (“Death Don’t Have No Mercy” starts at 1:01:25). The look on Jerry’s face (1:07:22) after Brent rips up the Hammond, sums it all up.

September 25, 1991
Boston Garden, Boston, MA

Here’s the band’s debut of this obscure Paul McCartney tune. Jerry tries it on for size, and he and Hornsby trade some sweet licks. The band played it just 10 times ever, and this is the only time they did it out of “Space.” Although it’s not an earth-tilting performance – with the drummers playing a little more forcefully than perhaps they should have and Jerry singing just a portion of the lyrics – it’s a rarity worth listening to, especially one written by McCartney. Listen here (archived tracks 15 & 16).

March 22, 1995
Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC

One of the last great songs the band performed out of “Space” before Jerry died. Garcia’s vocals are soulful and plaintive just as George Harrison intended. Jerry plays a nice fade-out solo to end it. The band played it only seven times ever, and it comes as a big surprise out of “Space.” Unfortunately, oddly, there’s only a decent audience recording of it. Listen here (archived tracks 14 & 15).

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.