09-18-87: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York (FRI)
Set 1: Hell in a Bucket> Sugaree, Walking Blues, Candyman, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bird Song
Set 2: Shakedown Street> Women Are Smarter> Terrapin Station> Drums> Space> Going Down the Road Feeling Bad> All Along the Watchtower> Morning Dew > Good Lovin> La Bamba> Good Lovin
E: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
“When Life Looks Like Easy Street”
We have a day off after Wednesday night’s performance. Giving me an opportunity to recharge and watch some “Late Night” television. Tonight’s guests ladies and gentlemen, platinum selling recording artists Mr. Jerry Garcia and Mr. Bob Weir “APPLAUSE”. The Letterman interview goes well, even if Bob hams it up a little too much with that failed parlor trick. At least he was a lot more with it than when he appeared on the program in nineteen eighty-two. It seems to me, whether the band cares or not, this is a pinnacle moment for the Grateful Dead family.
I wake up early Friday morning in my new bedroom or I should say parents’ basement, look over at the boxes piled up against an unpainted gray cinder block wall. I don’t care. It’s heaven to me because I didn’t have to wake up at 7:00 AM today and go sell plastic at Jump Industries. Wait a minute… This is my last official day off before starting at Acme Plastics on Monday. My internal mono-rant begins. “What the fuck were you thinking George?” “What if you don’t like the people at the new job?” “What’s if they don’t like me?” “It’s twice the base salary, but won’t it be twice as hard?” Thoughts like this persist until I’m caught up in the show later.
Since this is a hometown Friday night concert, many of my friends are interested in going and the show is 100% sold-out. For round three we have a special guest, put your hands together for original “Six Tripping Kids” member Mr. Kevin Beamen. Kevin has been pretty much away from the scene since his bad trip in Philly over a year and a half ago but he’s ready to get back on the bus, with the music at least, “APPLAUSE”. Welcome back Mr. Beamen.
Then we have Jeff Handler, an old friend who’s been to one show thus far. He sat 3rd row center with a friend from school who owns an original Doug Irwin guitar. The pair made it up to one of the Providence shows from nearby Bryant College at the beginning of the tour. Jeff who was never into going with us seems enamored by this dude who has photos of Garcia and him jamming together. But the only song Jeff wants to really hear is “Looks like Rain”, again. I met Jeff at the beginning of my senior year when we were just starting to go out to the clubs in the city. He plays guitar and sings, he’s way into The Producers, REO Speedwagon and has always been more responsible than the rest of us. Yet he digs smoking marijuana, (which he calls “hooch”) more than anything. He stands about 5’ 9” with a stocky built, but he’s no football player, high school soccer all the way. Only in his very early twenty, he’s already sporting a jet-black receding hairline that’s bound to get worse in a jiffy. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m nuts for trying to hold onto my glory days with the Dead, especially without a college degree. I don’t expect Jeff to break from his IBM mentality after tonight. I just want him to see the boys tear the roof off the place.
Jeff, who instinctively wants to be safe going in and out of the city, makes sure we have tickets beforehand and a bus schedule with plans to take the 4:40 to the Port Authority on the west-side of Manhattan. Greg’s been programmed to agree with Jeff ever since I can remember so he’s on board without a fight. Tom’s not so keen about the idea of being cooler-less, but goes along with the idea after Jeff reminds him there’s a pub on every corner near MSG. I hate the bus, but want to be a team player and just arrive on time.
Pulling up to Jeff’s parents’ house in Paramus, New Jersey on this picture perfect day, I see Jeff, Tom and Greg hanging out in the driveway looking sort of down. No Beamen, that’s why. Kevin and Jeff have an Oscar/Felix – Odd Couple kind of relationship where Jeff as Felix is always getting hot under the collar at Kevin (Oscar) over his careless behavior. At 4:30 PM, after not hearing from Kevin, Jeff blows a gasket and tapes his ticket to the front door and starts running towards the bus stop. Greg, Tom and I follow. When the 4:40 comes by the four of us get on. There’s a lot of traffic during the way to New York boy. Its 5:25 when we make it to the helix that brings you down into the Lincoln Tunnel. I take a look out the window at the cars below and make out something familiar. It’s the roof of Kevin’s white 200SX Nissan notchback. I can see his head through the sunroof. I start banging on the window frantically in a desperate attempt to get his attention, but stir nothing but nasty looks from neighboring bus-mates. We surmise he had no time to get to Jeff’s house if he’s driving next to us. When we finally arrive at the Port Authority, we still have a mile to walk and short time to get to the Blarney Stone before Tom explodes from not drinking. We’d better hurry.
Special guest Kevin Beamen shares his account from here:
By the time I neared Jeff’s. I knew the guys were probably already on the bus so I continued down Rt. 17 like a bat out of hell toward the city weaving in and out of traffic. I mistakenly had my beautiful handmade Alvarez guitar in tow, which I normally would not have brought into New York City. I wound up finding the crew in an Irish bar across the street from the Garden. I was so happy to see them and said “Ok…who’s got my ticket?” That’s when Jeff gave me the bad news. Apparently, Jeff had taped my concert ticket to the front door of his house with a note that read, “We left for the city, here’s your ticket”. “WHA, WHA, WHAT” I exclaimed”. My ticket was taped to a door in New Jersey? “What the Fuck!!” I yelled. There was no time to drive to Jeff’s house and back. But I could only be so mad at Jeff for leaving the ticket since I was late. I guess he was right, but I was still mad because he was just such a stickler with rules and punctuality. I asked George to remind me where the seats were on the outside chance that I would see them inside then left to go find another ticket.
The search was on for my miracle. I was in this position before and certainly no stranger to scalping. I figured, “How hard could it be?” Only this was no ordinary night. This was a beautiful Friday night at the Garden in 1987, arguably at the peak of the Dead’s popularity, and absolutely NO miracles were to be had. Everywhere you looked the entire area was overrun with deadheads! I was not a hard-core head either and would receive no sympathy from the insiders. If there were a ticket to be had, and believe me there wasn’t, they would most likely have gone to some broke dedicated hipster who was worthy. On top of that the Garden is also a particularly difficult venue to sneak your way into. “In and out of the Garden he does NOT go!”
After what seemed like hours of begging, as a last resort with sheer determination I desperately try to break into the formidable Madison Square Garden. It’s heavily fortified with ticket punchers and NYPD everywhere. I felt like a cockroach sniffing out the slightest crack in their security. Like a cyborg scanning every opportunity to infiltrate with computer-like speed. With no luck and about to give up and go to Jeff’s front door, I saw out of the corner of my eye this maintenance guy who looked like Scatman Crothers, you know the guy from Chico and The Man, The Shining and Hong Kong Phooey.
I thought, “This may be it!” I follow him as he made his way to a service elevator. As he opened the elevator with his key, I ask, “Dude, can you get me in man? Please, all I got is this 20 bucks” holding up the bill. He looked around cautiously, gives me a smirk and says, “Ok kid, let’s go”. I couldn’t believe it. We rode the elevator to the fourth level. The elevator doors open up and I see that the place is empty. Cool… I was in the theater before most. Well, not only did this guy get me in but he brought me past the ushers and right down to the exact seats my friends and I had tickets for.
After several minutes the place starts filling up then my friends show up. You should have seen the look on their faces when they saw me already sitting in my seat. “Holy Shit Beamen, how the hell did you get in?” They said. I was particularly happy too because I already had this reputation of gaining access to inaccessible shows and this adventure only added to the legend. I told them the story and we all laughed our asses off and went on to enjoy an incredible late 80’s dead show.
Thank you Kevin! Welcome back to the Golden Road. While Beamen was away we grabbed some doses and dropped about twenty minutes before going inside the show. Kevin will try a half of one hit so he doesn’t feel left out. Tom and Greg arrive back with beers in clear plastics with tops on and straws to protect our precious brews. The fifteen minutes or so we have before the lights go down are spent chatting and rolling. It Friday night in Manhattan and this crowd is pumped for a rockin’ show. The murmuring is louder than usual and the yells and clapping are getting the hairs on my arms to stand up straight. We have good seats below about eight rows below the lower rotunda and one section out from the stage on Jerry’s side, far enough so we’re below the dangling speakers and far enough out to see the band’s faces from a profile. It’s gonna be loud. The energy keeps building until the house lights fall. The crowd roars! I turn my head to the sky boxes that are on top in the back and sure enough the lights are going on and off like strobe lights, just like when as a curious fourteen year old fan, saw them doing it during an Eyewitness News report from here when the Dead played in 1979. It looked like so much fun, but MTV more or less sidetracked my curiosity when I was old enough to go to concerts by myself. And now look, the Grateful Dead have a hugely popular video on MTV showing how fun it really is, which I have a feeling is going to make them ever more popular. I mean five nights at the Garden for any band or artist was unheard of prior to this year. What are they going to play nine next year? More the merrier I suppose, but when I started out in 1984, this scenario was unfathomable.
After some noodling, they break into a fast “Hell in a Bucket” and once again, everything is in motion. The great version is followed by Sugaree. Needless to say, everyone is up and dancing. That’s when I see her. It’s the suntanned blonde in the blue dress from Wednesday night that I saw with Terence. We just looked at her pass below us on the rotunda during “Good Golly Miss Molly” with our jaws dropped. A real dream-girl if there ever was one. Once again she’s got a backstage pass on and she’s heading towards the stage, all dressed in black this time. I hope someday to get to at least get to talk to her, but for now I just let her pass by. “Walkin’ Blues” is next, then “Candyman”. Ah yes, the Candyman’s in town tonight alright. The trips kick in and put us all in the zone as we pass a big fat bone around. Masterpiece is next. Tom and Kevin are off for more dancing deadhead proofed beers. Even though I had just seen it on Letterman last night, it’s still worth seeing again with the whole band. A long and trippy “Bird Song” follows and the lights come up. Jeffery turns to me and asks, “Will they play Look like Rain” tonight? I say maybe, it’s been a while since they’ve played it, which seems to put him at ease. Well it’s time for me to visit the narrow hallways of the Garden and get on line for the Men’s room.
We’re all back at our seats for the start of the 2nd set opener “Shakedown Street” and it’s a whopper. They sound great and seem really happy to be playing tonight. Jerry’s in his black tee-shirt. I think he may have tossed his red ones since the bumper sticker that read, “Trouble Ahead Jerry in Red” became popular and his subsequent coma. Bobby’s got his jean shorts on and a black tee-shirt with a white horse on it and Phil is wearing a bright tie-dye. It’s hard to see what the drummers are wearing because of all the cymbals that block their view and Brent’s in a light colored tee. “Women Are Smarter” is next and it cranks into a beautiful “Terrapin Station”. Another bone is lit and passed. I feel great, totally plugged in. I find myself getting lost in the bouncing green and red lights coming from the huge EQ’s on the side of the stage as I dance and air guitar away. When the powerful Terrapin finally ends, Tom taps me on the shoulder to go with him on a beer run and we’re on our way. Tom asks me what I think of the show so far while on line. “Pretty good, it sounds great, but the 1st set was a little short and only three tunes before space”. “Hopefully they have something up their sleeves out of space”, I reply. When we get back to our seats during drums I sit down between Greg and Tom and gaze out on the crowd. It all looks so cool. There ain’t no place I’d rather be. After a nice space jam the boys launch into “Going down the Road” and it’s cranking. Everybody’s up! Then it’s right into “All Along the Watchtower”, which they only started playing during the Summer Tour. Greg and I were lucky enough to see it at Alpine Valley, although Greg had no idea what song it was. He knows what it is now and he’s rocking to it. Then into Greg’s favorite tune of all time, “Morning Dew”. This one is top notch. You can hear a pin drop during the slow parts, and that show stopping ending, wowser! Wait, it’s not over… We’re into a rockin’ Good Lovin’ and the whole place is grooving like mad. Then from out of nowhere they’re into “La Bamba”??? Holy Cow!!! Unprecedented! And back into “Good Lovin’”. The Dead leave the stage to rousing applause. I love east coast shows, pure and crazy energy. They boys appear again and slow it down with a flawlessly played “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. What a show! We peel Greg off the ceiling and we’re off.
On the way out of the Garden people start squeaking their rubber soles on the white floors. It sounds like an NBA game times 100. It gets louder than it has on any of the other nights. Yeah, this was a good one, I can tell for sure now. From underneath King Kong outside MSG, Kevin, Greg and Tom head for Beamen’s car and Jeff and I for the Port Authority since we won’t all fit with Kevin’s guitar inside. We ultimately miss our bus and have to sit around for an extra hour, which blows. Jeff’s forehead begins sweating profusely as more and more dangerous characters hover. This is not good, but at least Jeff got to see them rip the roof off the sucker. We hold our ground until this next bus to Paramus comes by and we get on…
Hey now, wait a minute! It’s Beamen again and I still have a few things to say. When we got back to the car my Alvarez guitar was fucking gone. Oh well, in the long run it doesn’t matter because that night wound up being one of the best me and guys ever had and hats off to George for writing it all down, so we’ll never forget.
Sadly though, we lost our buddy Jeff in 2015 after a long and very brave fight. Jeff had a great career with IBM, two great sons and a very loving wife and even became a musical artist himself and would play out in Raleigh, North Carolina often. He really taught me lot and we’ll all miss him very much.
And one last thing before I go, remember that girl that we saw pass by during “Sugaree”? Well George finally does catch up to her in 1990 at Central Station in Stockholm Sweden, at the start of the Dead’s European tour. Her name is Tori and her first show was on 12-30-1978 at the Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA, the show right before the closing of Winterland. He really meets his match in Tori, but that’s a tale I’m sure he’ll want to tell, so keep reading.