I wrote this little essay for another web-based project and figured I'd share it here....
Greek Theatre, Berkeley CA (7/15/88)
Set 1: Shakedown Street->Walkin' Blues; Friend of the Devil; Queen Jane Approximately; Dire Wolf; Good Time Blues; Cassidy->Bertha
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias->Fire on the Mountain; Women Are Smarter; Ship of Fools; Estimated Prophet->Rhythm Devils-> Space->I Need a Miracle->The Wheel->Gimme Some Lovin'->Morning Dew (Encore:) Turn on Your Love Light
Here we have the first night, and I would argue the best night, of the penultimate Greek Theatre run. I have some personal history with this run: I missed it. I was in the process of relocating from Upstate New York to the Bay Area, and the plan was to do so right after the East Coast summer tour such that I could get out west in time for the Greeks. That plan hit a painful bump in the road about three weeks earlier in Pittsburgh with the onset of a horrible toothache. After soldiering through the Saratoga and Rochester shows, I learned that I needed my wisdom teeth out ASAP. The upper ones were impacted, coming out mercilessly in little bits and pieces, and I was on the couch for days. No way the Greeks were going to happen.
My story has a happy ending as I made it to Northern California, where I’ve lived ever since, for the Laguna Seca shows. And these three Greeks also had a happy ending for those fortunate enough to attend.
But I digress - back to 7/15. I think I’d be able to get behind virtually any show with first and second set bookends of Shakedown, Bertha, Scarlet>Fire, and Morning Dew. That’s just plainly a collection of some of my all time favorites. And none of these selections disappoint.
As can happen to open up a run, the show gets off to a somewhat rocky start for the first couple verses of Shakedown, but it settles into a nice funky groove. From there The Boys play a tight first set. Good Time Blues, and you don’t hear folks calling that one out specifically all too often, might be the perfect latter era rendition (I do adore the second set versions in ’81). Jerry has some subtle yet animated finger work, and Brent plays it just close enough to the vest. There’s no gratuitous profanity in this reading. I relish encountering Bertha in a non-opener slot, and this one is nice and energetic. Although I always wince when Garcia misses “ran into a rainstorm” as he picks up the third verse, which he sadly does here, otherwise it’s pure power. Beyond the beginning of Shakedown, those may be the only dropped lyrics.
Worth specific discussion are Garcia’s vocals, which may have been at their absolute peak in the summer of ’88 and are impressively strong throughout this night. He was still in a place of healthful living coming off his diabetic coma two years earlier, and he had enough tours under his belt that he’d shaken off any lingering rust.
Set 2 opens with a slightly uneven Scarlet>Fire. Scarlet is a bit truncated, and Jerry does a little mumbling in a couple of the verses during Fire. Nonetheless, Fire features some very fine and singular grooves. I’m invariably excited about Ship of Fools when Jerry is singing at the top of his game, and this one doesn’t dissatisfy. From here, Weir gets some good licks in with Estimated and Need A Miracle, which is followed, I believe for the first time, by The Wheel. Great as The Wheel was easing its way out of space, I like being surprised by it in a non-standard slot. But the real mind blower is Morning Dew. July of 1988 was a watershed month for The Dew. There are no less than 4 outstanding versions; Alpine Valley (late June actually), Oxford Speedway, The Greek, and Laguna Seca. This night is the best of them all. Garcia sings it with about as much emotion as he can muster, rivaling what he achieved in Oxford, Phil’s loads are enormous yet controlled, and the final jam goes at it just a bit harder than a late 80s rendition has any right to. Utterly thrilling stuff! They end the night with an atypical encore of Lovelight, one of only a handful of times it appeared in that slot.
As for what source one should go to, I just took my first spin with the newly released Ultra Matrix and, as most Ultra Matrixes are, it’s a fine listen. For those without a system that throws a big spacious soundstage and can handle the most tortuous Phil loads, this may indeed be the way to go. However, my preference is Sean Weber’s spaced Schoeps omnis, using his Apogee modified Sony PCM F1, just behind Healy in the taper’s section. In fact, I’d go so far as to nominate this recording as a candidate for the greatest OTS pull ever. Strong words, I know, but the taper’s section at The Greek was in an optimal spot, especially for spaced omnis. Bass control FOB was sometimes hit or miss, as the lows often seemed to overload in that Greek bowl for whatever reason. Sean’s recording is wonderfully open, the low end of Phil’s bass is about as satisfying as it comes, and Jerry’s vocals are strikingly present. This is what it sounded like being at the Greek Theatre. Play it loud, as they like to say in these parts, but if you choose the Weber then do so at your own risk, especially during Morning Dew!