Go to Nassau
Nassau Coliseum - Uniondale, NY
[May 15-16, 1980]
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2002, Volume 9, #12
Written by John Metzger
By 1979, the winds of change were stirring once again in Grateful Dead-land, and this, of course, manifested itself most noticeably with the departure of Keith and Donna Godchaux and the addition of keyboardist Brent Mydland. The impact of this reformation was felt almost immediately as the bandís energy level, attention to detail, and interest in sonic exploration returned to levels not felt so consistently in some time. The group rapidly regained its momentum, and the following year, it released a new album (Go to Heaven) and celebrated its 15th anniversary. As a result, the period from late 1979 through the end of 1980 was one of rebirth and rejuvenation for the band, and as it plowed forward full-throttle, it turned in some rather stunning, but often overlooked performances.
Such is the subject of the Grateful Deadís latest multi-track release Go to Nassau, which compiles highlights from two consecutive concerts (May 15-16) held in Spring 1980 at Uniondale, New Yorkís Nassau Coliseum. Not surprisingly, the bandís then-recent album was well-represented at these shows, hence the title of this double-disc collection. Indeed, the first half of Go to Nassauís reformulated second set, which nearly mirrors that of the bandís May 16 concert, features five tracks straight from the studio recording, albeit in dramatically different fashion. The group blasted its way through Feel Like a Strangerís funky rhythms as guitars danced and keyboards swirled with electrifying force, and Althea shimmered resplendently, its beauty revealed within each note that shot from Jerry Garciaís fingertips. Bob Weir countered with the one-two punch of Lost Sailor and Saint of Circumstance. The former was sung with utter passion as Garcia responded in kind with a gorgeous accompaniment; the latter spiraled outward, pushing the songís inherent tension towards its breaking point before climaxing in its jubilant refrain. And on a rapid-fire rendition of Alabama Getaway, the band played up the tuneís Chuck Berry-inspired groove with sheer ferocity. A sixth song from Go to Heaven ó Brent Mydlandís Far from Me ó turns up in this collectionís "first set," demonstrating the bandís newfound commercial side.
As for the rest of Go to Nassau, it features a superb selection of older material, revamped for the Brent Mydland-edition of the Grateful Dead. The opening Jack Straw was nothing short of magical ó as a majority of them tended to be ó and the subsequent Franklinís Tower was exultantly boundless, while including teases of both Goiní Down the Road Feeliní Bad and China Cat Sunflower before coming to its proper conclusion. High Time, Looks Like Rain, and Peggy-O were all transcendently sweet; the pairing of China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider smoked with inspiration; and although the oft-played mini-suite of Playing in the Band and Uncle Johnís Band was a little tighter than usual, it still managed to showcase some of the bandís jazz-fusion tendencies.
Indeed, the metamorphosis that the Grateful Dead was experiencing at the time of Go to Nassauís recording was certainly not the groupís first or last. But once the novelty of this particular transformation wore off, the Grateful Dead entered a rather lengthy period of decline that contained fewer and fewer sparks of brilliance. Yet, there were always moments within its concerts ó no matter what period of its existence one happens to examine ó that alluded to both the bandís past as well as to its future. As such, the group invited comparisons between its shows and its eras, and this very fact makes it, at first glance, easy to say that a collection like Steppiní Out with the Grateful Dead is better than, say for example, a compilation like Go to Nassau. To do so, however, would be to sell the band short ó for the Grateful Dead and its music was a living, breathing entity that mutated from year to year, tour to tour, and even night-to-night. Consequently, the only way to have a full and complete understanding of the band in all its glory is to absorb the finer moments of all its incarnations. To that end, Go to Nassau offers a sublime example of the bandís early í80s period.
Go to Nassau is available from iTunes.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box