11-05-85: The Centrum, Worcester, MA
Set 1: Hell in a Bucket, They Love Each Other, Kansas City, Tennessee Jed,
It’s All Over Now, Bird Song, Looks Like Rain> Don’t Ease Me In
Set 2: Happy Birthday to Bill Walton, Shakedown Street, Women Are Smarter, Ship of
Fools> Supplication Jam> Playin’ Reprise> Don’t Need Love> Drums> Space>
Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues> Going Down the Road Feeling Bad> Black Peter>
Around & Around> Good Lovin
E: Brokedown Palace
“Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart”
From the time I left the Boreal Ridge show in late August, the Dead have stayed busy with 20th Anniversary stops in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Northern California, Southern California, Florida and Georgia. Rickie, Artie, Kevin Cunningham and his girlfriend Katie made the 700-mile trek down to their next stop in Columbia, South Carolina for the Halloween show, where they were treated to an outrageous “Werewolves of London” opener. I’m not so sure why I didn’t go, I mean after all it would have been on my 20th birthday and seeing “Werewolves” would have made it worth the long drive. I guess I could blame it on my new job responsibilities as local car wash attendant or all that school work, but to be honest, I think I may have burned myself out a little after that sick east coast summer tour and subsequent leap of faith out to California to try to find myself a new direction in life that turned into nothing more than a quick vacation and glimpse. A mere flash of what could be if I get my shit together and go for my dream of making it out west as a student at UCLA, studying Theatre, Film and Television.
Well here we are on my birthday at the big Halloween parade in Greenwich Village and boy is it colorful out here, with a lot of dudes looking like ladies. I’m chilling with Tommy Keefe, Kevin Beamen, Greg Torre, Jim Morris and Terence. We have no real costumes to speak of, just flannel, tie-dye, white sneakers and jeans. We’re just here to check it out and get baked. After the parade rolls through, Beamen, Greg and Terence say good-bye and leave to drive the seven hours to Richmond for shows there on Friday and Saturday, November 1st & 2nd. As they’re walking away, I get this sinking feeling… “Maybe I should have went to Richmond 85’?” Yup! Big mistake… I will never hear the end of it. Especially from Greg who ribs me often for missing out. Apparently, these were the ones to go to. The exuberance upon their return rivals the original tales from the “Six Tripping Kids” adventure. Leaving me left to only imagine how fun it was. Ron’s master cassettes ultimately prove their take wasn’t formed merely by a devil-driven good time.
My Fall 85’ tour will start in Massachusetts. Matty Keefe, Tommy’s younger brother by two years, mail ordered for tickets to the Tuesday night show in Worcester on November 5th. Matty reminds me a lot of a young Jon Voight with his straight yellow hair and laid-back, sometimes intense personality. He’s loved the Dead since seeing them last year at SPAC, just like me. To us, the band is what’s hot now and growing in popularity and we’re like spokesmen, always trying to bring new fans on board. A weird thing to say about a group that’s been around for 20 years, I know, but we think it’s true. The sound and infectious energy they’re putting out now rocks and makes watching MTV seem like kids play. We’re not caught up in the whole coke thing either like many others our age… No, we’re acid rockers and proud of it. Even if in the back of my mind I may be realizing this could be nothing more than a college fad that may have already peaked.
Matt in his late 70’s model, sky blue Chevy Nova, along with Tom, pick me up at my place in Northvale, New Jersey at around 1:30PM for the three plus hour ride up to New England. All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray as we make our way up the highway and into town. Getting there at dusk. What can I say about Worcester? It’s an old town with a lot of brown brick buildings and a little downtown area that needless to say, pales in comparison to Manhattan. Worcester’s claim to fame is the Valentine’s Day card, which they popularized over 100 years ago. Yeah, this town has heart alright… You can see them all over the place on their street signs.
In fallen darkness, Matty rolls the Nova into a deadhead-filled decked parking garage near the arena and parks on the first level. We jump out to stretch, then start our usual hang by the bumper routine. It’s good to be back, but it’s cold out. A far stretch from sunny Boreal Ridge with all those naked girls on hand. After literally a few minutes we notice several uniform cops shaking down fans about twenty feet away. We instinctively start walking towards the nearest exit. That’s when another officer swoops in and grabs the bottle of Heineken out of Matt’s hand and cuffs him. Tom and I are luckily beer-less at that second and cleanly walk away, then circle back and trail Matty to a nearby police station.
Tom goes inside while I wait by the back of the brown brick building where I can listen in by an open window. Every fifteen minutes or so I’ll hear the fuzz make a joke about busting somebody for mushrooms or LSD for the first time in their career. Most of them aren’t even sure if the shrooms are illegal. It’s a big joke to them, but it’s turning my stomach knowing how repercussions from tonight could change their lives forever.
We’re finally able to spring Matty for fifty bucks hours later, on a drinking in public wrap. From there we sprint to the Centrum. The concert has started and the doors are all locked when we show up. People are milling around looking to rush or break the glass doors down like they did in Richmond. We pull out our tickets and press them up against the glass yelling, “Let us in!” “Let us in!” After thirty seconds of us going completely bonkers, they open one door a crack and let us squeeze in. We run to our lower level Phil side seats during “It’s All Over Now” and regain our composure. The section is good, right next to the stage, and the sound is crisp. Matt who is desperate for an attitude adjustment quickly locates some blotter from a cat sitting behind us and we go for it. The rest of the set flies by with “Bird Song”, “Looks Like Rain” and “Don’t Ease Me In”. Nothing unusual, but well played. We get up for a few expensive arena beers during the break, then relax back at the seats where we find out that we’d missed “Kansas City”. Oh well, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore, so we don’t really care.
We’re all revved up by the time the house lights go down for the second set. Much to everyone’s surprise they began with “Happy Birthday”. Nobody seems sure to whom, but I think I heard “to Bill” in there, so maybe it’s Bill Kreutzmann’s birthday today? Forgive me if I’m wrong… This is only like my 15th show and I don’t know all the band members birthdays yet. Nevertheless, the “Happy Birthday” 2nd set opener creates a stir. Everyone’s on their feet and loud as the band quiets once again. The place feels like it’s about ready to boil. Jerry in red, starts in with his shakedown wah-wah tease, erupting everyone into a timed clap right on the beat. We carry it for a longtime until the rafters are knocking in time as well. Then the usually emotionless Garcia, at the most opportune and intense moment raises his right arm up, as if to signify the start of a Grand Prix. It’s suspended there for a magical moment, until brought down like a hammer from the Gods to begin our monster “Shakedown Street”. This one’s fast and popping. The best one I’ve seen so far, by far. I can’t stop grooving. This Shakedown is turbo-charged and hitting all the marks. What a rush!
“Women are Smarter” is next and seems standard until a cute girl (with cloths on) jumps up on stage from the audience and hugs Jerry. It throws things off a bit, but who cares. Jerry’s the stud muffin tonight. After “Women” Jerry takes his turn with a rich, clean “Ship of Fools”. The sound is amazing compared to the outdoor venues I was getting used to. They then move into a Supplication jam> Playing in the Band reprise before Brent gives us his “Don’t Need Love” saga. Afterwards, we melt into our seats for Drums>Space and get high. It’s a rare “Tom Thumbs Blues” out of “Space” and Phil is in good form, even jovial as he introduces “Garcia” for his lead on the song. Great energy for a Tuesday! A superfast “GDTRFB” follows, right into a super sad “Black Peter”. The “Around & Around> Good Lovin” combo will end the set with every one up on their feet cheering for more, more, more! After a quick on and off the stage, Jerry ends Tuesday with a wonderful “Brokedown Palace”. The best part coming when another girl jumps up on stage and puts a long white scarf around his neck and kisses him on the cheek. The crowd goes wild. Garcia plays right through it, accepting the scarf and kiss with a wide smile. He continues on with it draped over his shoulders and guitar until the end. Then everyone grabs for their coats and scarves and heads for the doors.
On the way out of the red-hot Centrum, onto the blustery sidewalks of Worcester, Matt reminds Tom and I of our desperate financial situation. “We’re out of money and don’t have enough gas to make it home”, he exclaims. “What are we going to do?” Tom and I are pretty out of it and must have forgotten or didn’t care how bad off we were earlier, so we don’t have much of an answer ready, only to say, “We’ll figure something out”. The after-party Shakedown Street is seemingly non-existent, because of the cold weather I guess, so we just go to the car and blast the heat. We sit there for around five minutes warming up before deciding to leave. On the way out, I pick up on a college-aged looking female who has run up to a GD 18-wheeler equipment truck parked next to the garages of the arena. The young one gazes up to the driver’s side window with her hands in the air pushed together as if praying and asks the male behind the wheel for a ride to the next show in Rochester. The door quickly opens and she jumps on board. That’s Rock & Roll!
And now back to us with zero dollars and less than a quarter tank of gas, as we glide down the interstate. After going a good five miles, we see signs for a rest stop. Matt says we have to stop. He pulls up beside the pumps and comes to a full stop. He then grabs his left hand firmly on shoulder of the passenger side seat and turns around to me in the back, then to Tom in the front and very loudly goes, “Sell something!” In a panic we’re able to scrounge up a couple of hand-woven hippie bracelets from the bottom of the glove compartment. Tom gets five bucks for them fast and we put it in the tank. The tone is much calmer as we merge back on to the highway, although the thought of impending doom remains constant. The math we figure should put us in Stanford, Connecticut on “E”, if we’re lucky.
A little more into the ride, we light up a joint and turn up the tape deck to hear some older Grateful Dead music and mellow out. The combination kicks me back into trip mode. I put my legs up on the empty blue vinyl seat beside me and take a look out the rear window of the car. The wind combined with the leafless treetops turn into live art on acid, which keeps me preoccupied until we near New Haven and things start to get tense once again. Matt’s upset we wasted money on beers and didn’t sell our pot. The brothers argue while I quietly pray for a miracle from behind, as we go down the road feeling bad. Tom eventually grows tired and crashes by the time we’re passing Bridgeport at 2AM. We press on through Norwalk and Stanford, then onto I-287 past White Plains. We’re getting close. Matt finally bails in Tarrytown on empty just before getting to the Tappan Zee Bridge, which spans three miles over the Hudson River. We’re shocked to find an open Exxon station just off the highway. We pull up to the pump. A young-looking attendant comes over. Matt presents his pitch to trade a gallon of gasoline for a Styrofoam cooler with one beer in it. The guy says no, then begins laughing and accepts our offer. The tiny squirt is enough to propel us across the river and safely home, by the waterside where we rest our bones. Souls successfully rocked.
On Wednesday, I place a call to our GD expert Terence Owens who tells me right off the bat that they were singing Happy 33rd Birthday to Bill Walton of the Boston Celtics, who unbeknownst to me is a huge Deadhead. And not just in size. Terence said Bill even went to Egypt with the band back in 78’ and knows the members well. Terence also claims he brought number “33”, Larry Bird with him to the Worcester show last night. That’s what Ron the taper told him anyway, and I believe him. These guys have been at it way longer than me and apparently there’s plenty more for me to learn. Maybe this hobby of mine has more legs to it than I thought after all…