Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Happy Accident

We almost missed Oops Day, Enthusiasts. (Well, the second of two: the first night was crap.) The 1981 European tour (the proper fall tour, not the mini-tour from March) is overlooked, mostly because it was under-recorded, which this show tries to rectify all by itself: there is a fine and clear SBD available, and there’s also one of the best AUDs ever made, listenable to even the pickiest of ear. Plus the video, which though not pro-shot, is decent enough for an impromptu gig in 1981.

(Remember, Younger Enthusiasts: it used to be stupidly complicated to film stuff. The cameras were enormous; the tapes were enormous; the batteries were enormous; all three things were expensive as shit. Plus you had to know how to use the gear: it wasn’t like today where you press the red button. I mean, the record button was red back then, too, but you understand me. There were f-stops involved, and white balancing to do. Old video cameras needed to be white balanced every ten minutes, and in four years of hanging around my high school’s TV studio, I never did figure out what the hell white balancing was.

And then–then!–if you wanted to edit your raw footage, you couldn’t do it on the computer; computers did not do that in 1981: you needed an entire suite of equipment which, again, you needed hours of training to work. The only way to do it, other than being really rich and buying the stuff yourself, was to sign up for time at the local public access television station. The past was not just terrible, but an awful hassle.)

Anyway, Garcia and Bobby had taken a day off to go to Amsterdam while everyone else putzed around back in West Germany, but you would have gone, too: Jim Carroll, the poet who wrote the song People Who Have Died, was giving a reading and William Burroughs was going to be there, and also it was Amsterdam. The shindig was at the Melk Weg (a locally-famous rock club, not a hash bar, as in some of the more urban legends) and the Amsterdamians had some guitars, and Garcia and Bobby ended up playing a seven-song acoustic set.

They must have had fun, because they talked the rest of the band into returning a few days later and playing two unscheduled shows; no one brought any gear except Phil, who insisted on his own bass; it looks odd, like a tribute band that didn’t do any research:


And even though that is Phil’s bass, he played it for such a short time that it looks weird, too. Can you spot the one familiar touch? Behind Phil: bigger thing stacked atop smaller thing. Precarious Lee made the trip.

(Garcia and Bobby don’t have their guitars because the road crew had to be relieved of any responsibility before they would agree to go to Amsterdam instead of Paris, like had been planned. Literally every single other rock band that ever existed would not have had this problem because the Dead were the only band that allowed the road crew a vote.)

Rock Scully wrote that this was the Dead’s “last great adventure” and he was right: after this, it was football stadiums and Persian; neither of those things lend themselves to spontaneity. There were the Formerly the Warlocks shows, but that was more of an inside joke than a flight of fancy. No more playing in the park; no more chucking the drum kits onto a flatbed truck; no more extension cords lacing from streetlight to streetlight like laundry lines. Places to go, people to be.

The show’s a good one, with the goofy and off-kilter energy you would expect from men playing borrowed instruments; in fact, they play two sets of borrowed instruments, as they open with the last acoustic set that they would play until the next one they did, which was at some point after this one, because that’s the way the words “next” and “last” work.

Just like it is in 2016, October 16th was Bobby’s birthday in 1981, and the crowd sings Happy Birthday to him to open the night; he thanks them by forgetting the words to On The Road Again. The rest of it is the standard Acoustic Dead repertoire: Bird Song, Cassidy, close with Ripple. Garcia is in fine voice throughout: check out his backing harmonies on Race Is On.

AND LOVELIGHT! YAAAAY! After a nine-year shelving, the rocker came back into the rotation. The Dead had stopped playing the tune because the guy who sang it died; this evening began a still-ongoing tradition of Bobby taking over the dead guy’s songs. The crowd (mostly Americans) goes nuts when the hear the familiar riff from Live/Dead, and Bobby gets all excited and starts yelping, and then Garcia starts going DWEEDLEEDWEEDLEEDEE real loud: it’s a good time. And then the Jerry Weeper and Sugar Mags, and good night, Amsterdam, wherever you are.

After that, it was on to Paris, and then Barcelona, and then Pittsburgh. (You know the European tour is over when you play Pittsburgh.) No more kooky road trips or accidents: what happened happened because it had been scheduled to happen. Everything changes; nothing lasts.

But you can watch the show, or listen to it, or listen to it a different way. Or you could have your own Oops concert, take off and be glorious somewhere you weren’t expected. There’s always a party in Amsterdam, wherever that is. Nothing changes; everything lasts.


  1. The transition from GDTRFB –> Playin’? That’s almost 1973-worthy.

  2. If you can only hear one post-retirement show, make it this one. And the Melkweg certainly did contain a bar (and a shop) where you could buy space cakes and other muchies-causing munchies.

  3. Man – I had forgotten what a fun show this is. The only hully gully ever too. Thanks for posting

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