With two tours of duty at MSG already in the books for The Grateful Dead, today marks the anniversary of the completion of their third one. It’s a quick two-night stint at The World’s Most Famous Arena after their first two previous runs here in 1979. Fueled by an electric first show from the night before, the Dead follow this up with a show chock full of classic original song pairings and a newly unleashed cover selection that serves as a memorable encore.
The Dead come out of the chutes red hot on this second night at MSG. So much so that a speaker absolutely blows up shortly after the beginning of the “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo” that starts the show. Despite sending shockwaves through an already raucous crowd, it doesn’t seem to faze the band much and they go on to deliver a splendid take on this familiar opener that stretches out nicely thanks to some vintage Garcia guitar play before rounding back into form.
Once finished, Garcia wastes no time at all in leading the charge into “Franklin’s Tower” which features more early improvisation and another notable jam, this one decidedly more funkified, that completes an impressive show-opening pairing. This is succeeded by a rapid run through of “Me And My Uncle” with Bob Weir merely trying to keep up on vocals before another first set and rather floral Grateful Dead classic slows things back down to a crawl, “It Must Have Been The Roses.” Some additional audio issues mar the early parts of the “Little Red Rooster” that comes next, but that doesn’t stop the band from laying down a short pair of blues-infused jams that sees keyboardist Brent Mydland now turned up a little higher in the mix.
He continues to shine on a flawless take of “Don’t Ease Me In” before the Dead unleash another formidable 1-2 punch at MSG. The first part consists of a rapid fire version of “Lazy Lightning” that yields a frenetic exploratory jam that continues to probe and accelerate until, in near effortless fashion, it passes the baton to its traditional running mate, a euphoric “Supplication” that crosses the finish line triumphantly. A late first set “Brown-Eyed Women” is a treat, one that’s notably aided by another few mesmerizing runs from Garcia up and down the fret board. Weir then takes the helm once more for the ever-poignant “Looks Like Rain” that the Garden crowd helps urge along before “Deal” puts the finishing touches on a strong opening set of music.
The Dead show no signs of letting up as the second set begins with another potent combination from their live show catalog. It starts off with an ebullient “Scarlet Begonias” that quickly sheds its skin and develops a deep, exploratory groove that doesn’t fully emerge until Phil Lesh rings out the iconic opening bass line to “Fire On The Mountain.” It’s another masterclass of collective patience as the band takes their time between each verse, stretching the “Fire” out to maximum capacity which culminates in a flurry of notes from Garcia. Things finally slow down a tad with the “Lost Sailor” that follows only to be revved back up again by the customary “Saint Of Circumstance” that’s attached to the back end in another vintage coupling of Dead classics. This caps off a mesmerizing 40-plus minutes of music to begin set two.
The jam at the tail end of “Saint” gets decidedly percussive as it dwindles down, setting the stage for Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart for the traditional “Drums” sequence that gets a nice round of applause from the Garden crowd once completed. The “Space” portion of the evening is taken care of by a near-ambient and blissed out mini-jam with heavy noodling from Garcia that paves the way for “The Wheel” that follows. Aside from the intro, it’s a pretty nondescript “Wheel.” Instead of exploring further, the Dead shift gears once more and drop into the ever-harrowing “China Doll” instead.
To liven things back up one last time, the Dead utilize a late show “Truckin'” that MSG eagerly laps up, with a clearly audible response to the “New York’s got the ways and means” lyric. It begets a short, bluesy jam that resembles the play from “Rooster” at one point but, ultimately, doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead, “Sugar Magnolia” pops up to close out the set in a much more fitting manner, replete with its “Sunshine Daydream” ending sequence that elicits yet another roar of approval from the Garden crowd.
For a show that’s primarily made up of Grateful Dead original tunes and traditional pairings, the band finally delves into their bag of covers for the encore. This time, it’s a newer addition to the flock in The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, a cover song the band first debuted late last year, with Bob Weir playing the role of Mick Jagger this evening.
Not content to end here, the Dead then enter into “Brokedown Palace” to end the show, giving Garcia one last platform to unleash a spellbinding guitar solo and the band a final chance to harmonize. They would then ship up to the Boston Garden, continuing their early spring tour, before a return trip to New York and Utica’s Memorial Coliseum just days later.
The entire show is available on Live Music Archive as well as on YouTube below.
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Grateful Dead Madison Square Garden – New York, NY 3/10/81
Set 1: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo > Franklin’s Tower > Me And My Uncle, It Must Have Been The Roses > Little Red Rooster, Don’t Ease Me In, Lazy Lightnin’ > Supplication, Brown Eyed Women > Looks Like Rain > Deal
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance > Drums > The Wheel > China Doll > Truckin’ > Sugar Magnolia
E: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction > Brokedown Palace