Of Course There’s A Tape Of The Shortest Grateful Dead ‘Concert’
Leave it to Deadheads to have a recording of the night the band did not play any music.
Known for their exploratory and expansive jams, the Grateful Dead became synonymous with long songs played within even longer concerts. While some consider a three-hour concert to be a marathon, for much of the Dead’s 30-year career that length of a show would have been more like a 10K race for the group that honed its chops playing all night at Acid Tests in the mid-1960s.
When the band became regulars at Bill Graham’s Fillmore venues in San Francisco and New York in the late-1960s and early-1970s, they established their “two sets and encore” concert format now emulated by many others. At times during that era, the Dead would play early and late shows, add acoustic third sets, and drive home their commitment to improvisation with several songs serving as almost nightly jam vehicles.
Take the Grateful Dead’s landmark Europe ‘72 Tour that took place 50 years ago this year: according to the timings from the Europe ‘72: The Complete Recordings box set, the longest performance on the 22-date tour was a nearly four-hour (not including set break) festival appearance at the Bickershaw Festival in Wigan, England. A few days later, on May 11, 1972, the Dead delivered among the longest versions of frequent improvisation gateway “Dark Star,” clocking 48 minutes from start to finish (with a solo drums segment).
Dark Star – May 11, 1972
Drums – May 11, 1972
Dark Star – Cont. – May 11, 1972
Thanks to some internet sleuths, among the longest shows by running time available via the invaluable Live Music Archive is the Grateful Dead’s June 10, 1973 concert at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. The three-set performance, which featured members of The Allman Brothers Band and Merl Saunders sitting in during the third set, lasted four hours and 41 minutes (again, not including set breaks).
Less than a year later, the Dead performed another of what’s believed to be among the longest continuous renditions of a song, serving up a 46-minute “Playing In The Band” at the HEC Edmundson Pavilion, University of Washington, Seattle on May 21, 1974. Released officially in 2018 as part of the Pacific Northwest ’73–’74 live album, the standalone 12-inch vinyl single prepared for Record Store Day billed the “Playing” as the “Dead’s legendary and longest, uninterrupted song ever recorded.”
Playing In The Band – May 21, 1974
In 1978, the second set of Grateful Dead shows began to feature drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart for a nightly rhythmic excursion labeled “Drums,” followed by guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and keyboardist Keith Godchaux delving into free-form improvisation known as “Space.” The band continued to inject second sets with “Drums”/”Space” through 1995 and Kreutmann, Hart and Weir have kept it alive with Dead & Company.
The band experienced several other significant events in 1978 as the Dead made their first trips to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, playing two-night stands at the mountainous outdoor venue near Denver in July and August. In September 1978, the Grateful Dead held their historic concerts in the shadow of The Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. In November 1978, the Grateful Dead made their first of two appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Also in 1978, the Dead played a show on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 23) at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. The band followed the holiday gig with a concert on Friday, November 24 at The Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. During the second set of that show, which featured Egyptian musician Hamza el-Din sitting in, Garcia began to experience issues with his voice.
By the time the band played “Fire On The Mountain” deep in the second set, there was little of Garcia’s voice left to sing:
Though the Grateful Dead did not officially implement a dedicated section for tapers until 1984, by 1978 the practice of fans bringing recording equipment to capture shows had become an integral part of the Deadhead community that formed around the band. Such was the case on November 25, 1978, when the band was scheduled to perform at New Haven Coliseum Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, Connecticut.
Perhaps fodder for a set break debate as to whether a concert with no songs is technically a “concert” or not – in making that determination, does the existence of a tape factor into the equation?
An arena full of Deadheads was left to explore New Haven for something else to do that Saturday night in ‘78. Garcia’s vocal problems the night before materialized into full-blown pneumonia that according to Weir forced the guitarist to seek medical care and be placed on a respirator. As noted recently by the @31daysofdead Instagram account, Weir was given the task of telling the awaiting audience that the night was ending extremely early.
Acclaimed concert promotor Jim Koplick can be heard on the tape assuring audiences that the concert would be rescheduled (it eventually happened in January 1979) and that parking would not be charged that evening.
Listen to the tape of Bobby’s brief statement about Garcia and the promoter’s follow-up announcement below:
November 25, 1978 Recording Taped by Jim Anderson
Garcia’s illness forced the cancelation of several additional concerts that were also made up in January 1979. Garcia and the Grateful Dead’s next public appearance was a show held on December 12, 1978, in Miami.