We have learned something today, Enthusiasts, or perhaps we have remembered something, a broken-off kernel of the primal knowledge we all share, the collective knowing, an ur-memory.
The fact that the Violent Femmes opened for the Dead is not part of whatever the fuck the ur-memory is. It is the definition of the word trivia.
No, it’s more important than that. Quadrivia, at least.
I disagree. Furthermore, I retract my previous statement classifying this fact as trivia. It is less than trivia. Trivia might help you on Jeopardy, whereas “Grateful Dead Opening Acts” is never going to be a category.
Let’s just say we learned.
Did we? Is the mere ingestation of a random piece of effluva “learning?”
Why are you being so difficult?
Because you were one sentence away from comparing your discovery of this small fact to Proust’s madeleine.
In my defense–
There’s no defense for that.
Getting back to the Dead: there is no master list of opening acts. As with so much else in the Dead’s universe of oddities, one-offs, and obscurantics, the indispensable Hooterollin’ (kid sister site to the similarly indispensable pistol-packin’ mama of Grateful Dead sites Lost Live Dead) has the best organized collection of whatever information is out there; it is not, as I said, a master list.
Mostly, the Dead didn’t have opening acts unless they did, which was sometimes. You would show up and there might be a band onstage that was not the Grateful Dead; the Dead did not advertise their openers, you inferred them. A good rule of thumb: if the band played outside, there was an opener, if they played inside, not. (Except on New Year’s Eve, and also other nights just because.)
The Opening Act is a worn and battered trope from the Rock Star mythos; every band but the Dead brought another band (or two) with them as support. There are Sherlock Holmes stories that have not been retold as many times as these tales: Van Halen blowing Black Sabbath off stage, and Aerosmith throwing Guns ‘n Roses off a tour for the crime of behaving in exactly the way they always behaved. Some bands fought with the support act, and others befriended them and engaged in semi-consensual sex acts with them.
Occasionally, the headlining band would actively sabotage their own opening act by reducing the amount of power, or not letting them use the lights, or do a soundcheck. Mötley Crüe once poisoned Warrant’s bass player with polonium. When he was an opening act, Peter Frampton was sold into sexual slavery by three separate groups. (ELP, UFO, and INXS.)
The Dead had some rather tasteful and appropriate acts warm up the crowd later in their run, Sting and Little Feat and the Nevilles. They even brought Warren Zevon back in 1980 after he drunkenly taunted the crowd when he opened for the Dead in ’78. He played at two shows in Boulder, and some of his set got taped. Go listen.
Warren looked like this:
Like I said, Warren played both shows; on the second night, he used all the same patter and told the same jokes and the Deadheads started yelling the punchlines out with him. In Warren’s defense: in normal show biz, you can tell the same jokes two nights in a row because it’s a different crowd. Someone should have warned him.
“Little something you might not have realized: same audience as yesterday.”
“Sure, course. It’s a demographic thing.”
“No. Not generally the same type of folks. The exact same human beings.”
“All of ’em?”
“You know any jokes?”
And so on.
The Grateful Dead also had many opening acts that have receded into the smoke of time, and memory, and doobie but for the hard work of archivists, historians, and–most of all–me. Many people have called me a hero for talking about the Dead’s opening acts; they are correct. You’re welcome.
TotD now presents Grateful Dead Opening Acts You May Not Recall:
2 Live Crew – 10/14/88, Miami The promoter, trying to add some local South Florida flavor, booked the controversial rap band. The audience was deeply offended; not by the lyrics, but by how pitifully the 2 Live Crew rapped. Billy loved them.
Alice Cooper – 5/12/77, Chicago You shouldn’t be chopping off heads in front of an arena full of people on acid. Let’s just leave it at that.
Bolshoi Ballet – 6/28/85, Hershey Park What was intended as a cross-cultural exchange turned into an international incident when the Dead dosed the company and they all defected immediately. Bobby dated the prima ballerina for a few months; the rest of the band banged the chorus during set break.
Terrified buffalo – 9/16/87, MSG Not a band: an actual panicked bison, pushed out onto stage.
The Groovy Ghoulies – 10/27/73, Indianapolis Halfway through the Ghoulies’ set, everyone in the audience simultaneously realized the band was fictional; localized reality decohered for several hours.