In September and October 1980, the Grateful Dead did a brief concert tour of shows with three sets each, one acoustic set followed by two electric sets. The acoustic sets were the first ones the band had performed since the early ’70s aside from a few rare one-offs. The final shows of this legendary Dead tour, which yielded both an audio and video release, took place at New York City’s Radio Music Hall with the last one taking place on none other than Halloween. NYS Music, along with a strong lending hand from YouTube, now presents a look back at this holiday gig at one of America’s premier musical venues.
Bob Weir greets a raucous Radio City Music Hall to start things off and also says hello to all the “folks who are filtering in to the various theaters around the country.” This show was both simulcasted across the country, apparently, and released to the public the following year on video as Dead Ahead. Things get off to a rocky start with Phil Lesh’s amp producing some decidedly spooky feedback. So he is whisked away and the rest of the band opens with a bass-less instrumental in “Heaven Help The Fool.”
With Phil and his bass still on the sidelines, Jerry Garcia leads the ensemble through another rare instrumental. This time it’s “Sage and Spirit,” a song that appears on 1975’s Blues For Allah and was only ever played live twice, with this being the last one.
The Dead keep the rare acoustic hits coming at Radio City with the cover of “Little Sadie” that appears next, with Jerry Garcia on lead vocals. It’s a song that hadn’t appeared live since a show at San Francisco’s Family Dog in 1970 – a dark tale of murder befit for a Halloween show.
Weir then shifts the theme from “tragedy” to “tragedy narrowly averted” with “Monkey and the Engineer,” which finally sees Phil Lesh and his bass return to the fold.
“Boy we’re really having fun now,” notes Weir afterwards. Up next, the Dead grace Radio City with “It Must Have Been The Roses.” A staple of Jerry Garcia solo shows in the ’70s, it would go on to be played for the rest of the Dead’s touring career. Garcia seems to visibly enjoy this one coming to life in the Dead setting.
Up next are two Grateful Dead live staples, starting with a percussion-heavy and crisp “Cassidy.” WIth one small drum kit, Mickey Hart moves over to the congas, after previously utilizing the maracas on “Roses.” This “Cassidy,” which even elicits a bit of a jam, serves as an MTV’s Unplugged-type version of a Dead classic well before the program ever existed.
This is followed up by “Bird Song,” by far the longest and most experimental of all the first set songs. Garcia leads the way once more with a blistering guitar run and the rest of the band now firing on all cylinders.
A very enjoyable opening acoustic set of Grateful Dead music then comes to a close with “Ripple,” much to the delight of the Radio City crowd, with special attention paid to the “let there be songs to fill the air” lyric.
With the acoustic setup gone and the traditional dual drum kits returned, the Dead then go on to play another two sets of electric music at Radio City Music Hall in their typical concert format. The second begins with a vibrant “Jack Straw” that sees Bob Weir bouncing up and down in earnest at one point.
This is followed by a fairly standard run through of “Cold Rain and Snow” that gets a very warm reception from the New York city crowd at first.
Bob Weir then takes lead once more and navigates the band through “Me And My Uncle.” With the drum beat never fully stopping, the Dead then slide seamlessly right into “Mexicali Blues,” completing a popular pairing of songs.
The “first set” vibe of this second set carries right along with “Ramble On Rose.” As expected, Radio City greets the “Just like New York City” line with a massive roar of approval. Garcia graces this version with a pedal steel-esque guitar solo that’s rife with emotion.
As is their custom, Bob Weir on slide guitar then tags in for lead on the next song, a cover of the blues song “Little Red Rooster.” Garcia is playing slide as well and drops another notable solo and Brent Mydland even gets into the action a little as well with some standout organ play.
Afterwards, the Dead rip through a pristine take of “Brown Eyed Women,” with Garcia back on lead vocals and Weir and Mydland ably tending to the harmonies.
From “Women” the music then shifts almost immediately into the ever poignant “Looks Like Rain.”
The Dead then close out the second set of Halloween at Radio City with a rousing “Deal” that’s carried by the strength of two more powerful Garcia guitar solos.
To start the third and final set at Radio City, the Dead kick things off with a short but sweet “Don’t Ease Me In.”
Next, it’s time for another signature pairing of songs, with the Bob Weir-helmed “Lost Sailor” that flows seamlessly right into “Saint Of Circumstance.”
With the third set energy peaking, Garcia initiates the familiar opening chords of “Franklin’s Tower” and the band is off and running once more. Playing his legendary “Tiger” guitar, Garcia obliterates another run up and down its fret board, spearheading a brief jam that reaches a quick peak before mellowing out and devolving into the “Drums” only portion of the evening.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be video of the “Drums” > “Space” sequence for this evening, but emerging from the psychedelic mist are the opening notes to “Fire On The Mountain.” While not necessarily jammed out, it’s a clean and pure take of a Dead classic, with Phil Lesh coming in loud and clear now, his bass issues a thing of the past.
The band takes a nice, relaxed approach to the introduction of the “Not Fade Away” that follows. The Grateful Dead deliver their own bluesy take of this Buddy Holly cover, with Radio City singing along in earnest.
Instead of keeping up the pace and stretching it out, however, the tempo slows to a crawl. This sets the stage for Garcia to take lead once more for “Stella Blue” and to unleash one last gorgeous guitar solo.
As the last notes of “Stella” drop, the Dead immediately steer back into the show’s closing sequence with a blistering cover of “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.”
Instead of ending the set right then and there, the Dead throw in one last cover for the Radio City faithful. This time it’s The Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” sung by a spirited Bob Weir in the only way he knows how. He even throws in some Pigpen-esque vocal riffing at the end for good measure as the crowd eats every bit of it up.
Weir then wishes both the audience at Radio City and everyone else around the country “good night” and the Grateful Dead encore with “Uncle John’s Band,” closing out quite a memorable three-set show in the heart of the city.
View this and more Grateful Dead shows from across the years in New York State with our interactive map below
Grateful Dead – Radio City Music Hall – New York, NY 10/31/80
Set 1: Heaven Help The Fool, Sage And Spirit, Little Sadie, Monkey And The Engineer, It Must Have Been The Roses, Cassidy, Bird Song > Ripple
Set 2: Jack Straw , Cold Rain And Snow, Me And My Uncle > Mexicali Blues, Ramble On Rose > Little Red Rooster, Brown Eyed Women > Looks Like Rain > Deal
Set 3: Don’t Ease Me In > Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance > Franklin’s Tower > Drums > Space > Fire On The Mountain > Not Fade Away > Stella Blue > Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad > Good Lovin’
E: Uncle John’s Band