Dylan and the Dead (1986)

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Bob Dylan’s relationship with The Grateful Dead has been a long, involved and convoluted one. The earliest intersection that I’ve come across this year was the 1969 Dylan interview by Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone where Dylan does little more than acknowledge that he’s aware of the San Francisco bands of the period, including the Dead. Of course, Jerry Garcia released an album of Dylan covers in 2005 with performances culled from as far back as 1973. And Garcia joined Dylan on stage in San Francisco in November 1980.

In the summer of 1986 Dylan and The Grateful Dead performed four shows together, with Dylan headlining three and the Dead headlining one. Those shows were in Akron, Oh (July 2), Buffalo, NY (July 4) and Washington, DC (July 6 & 7). The Buffalo show was the first Dylan concert that I ever bought a ticket to. More on that tomorrow.

Dylan and The Dead played six songs together according to Bjorner – three in Akron and three at the second show at RFK Stadium in Washington. Because Grateful Dead bootlegs are so incredibly available, I direct you here: ListenToTheDead.com

Click on the year, the show, and then the song to hear it. This archive, by the way, is just the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It makes me want to be a Grateful Dead fan.

Oh, yes, I’m not a Grateful Dead fan. At all. I mean, I could name maybe three of their songs. Just could never get into them at all. Have had many Dead fans try to convert me. It has never worked, not even a little bit. I think I even went to a Dead show at Canada’s Wonderland (with someone else paying for my ticket) and I left to ride the roller coasters. I just do not care about them.

So, I sat down to listen to these appearances. Both of them occur during the Dead sets, with Dylan joining them. Bjorner indicates that it was during the encores, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least as the concerts are presented on ListenToTheDead.

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Let’s start with Akron. Dylan opened this show, so the Dead were playing after him. Bjorner has him playing guitar on “Little Red Rooster”. You can definitely hear a lot of cheering from the crowd about one minute in, and it seems unrelated to what the band is playing, so I assume that is when Dylan strode on. You’d have to be a much better blogger than I am to note the extent of his contribution, which seems to be guitar. This is followed by two Dylan songs. The first, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is, I think, the best collaboration that will take place. I genuinely like this – Dylan belts out his lyrics and the Dead add a lot to the song musically. This is a really strong performance of a very good song. The duet that follows, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, is not nearly as good. Dueting with Dylan is a fool’s errand, as Joan Baez can probably tell you, and this just doesn’t work at all. The Dead have their way of working and Dylan has his, and they seem to clash here.

Five days later, in Washington, they try it again. This version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is much worse. Dylan seems to join midway through, and you first hear him sing at about the 4:00 minute mark. This is full of clanging guitars and sounds sort of out of tune. This is exactly what I don’t like about the Dead in a nutshell. “Desolation Row” isn’t that much better. They’re not in sync with the lyrics, they’re sort of randomly rotating parts, and it is just an unholy mess. Bjorner indicates that Dylan also played on the version of “Satisfaction” that ended the show, but you can’t make him out. He certainly could be there.

That’s it. To my ear, one good song out of six. Everything else sounds like people stepping on each other’s toes.

Dylan will tour with The Dead again in 1987, and that will result in a live album widely regarded to be both the worst Dylan album and the worst Dead album – quite the accomplishment. Not something to look forward after this little taste.

Here’s that version of “Satisfaction” from RFK Stadium, which is the only one of the songs that I can find on YouTube:

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