Day 29: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, 11/30/80

Grateful Dead Dave's Picks 8 album cover artwork

The Dave’s Picks series started in 2012 and the first seven releases all were 70s shows (well vol. 6 had some from ’69 AND ’70, but I digress). The vocal contingent of 80s Dead supporters over at dead.net were chomping at the bit for a release from their preferred decade. They finally got their wish with Dave’s Picks, Vol. 8. Recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, this show was actually featured in a great story on the Dead by Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker. David Lemieux must have bought Mr. Paumgarten’s argument about the virtues of 11/30/80, going so far as to commission Nick to write the liner notes. A lot of people were surprised, I think, with the pick because one of the features of the previous volume in the series was a monster Scarlet/Fire. Surely back-to-back shows wouldn’t have the same highlight sequence?! After giving this Scar/Fire a whirl any doubt seems to have been cast aside.

The band kicks off the second set and takes their time getting into Scarlet Begonias. You can hear the crowd’s appreciation throughout these tracks, as the folks at dead.net blended the soundboard with an audience recording in what is commonly referred to as a “matrix” mix. There is a lot of energy in throughout Scarlet and Jerry sounds very good vocally. Brent works his magic on the B3 and it’s wonderful. Jerry’s first solo is pretty laid back, but it’s clear he knows where he wants to go. No notes are wasted. As they work through the song’s form Jerry starts to pick up steam and by the time they jump in for the next verse he’s moving at a brisker pace. The outro riff to Scarlet Begonias is one of my favorite in the entire Dead catalog. They jump into it around 6 minute mark, signaling the end of Scarlet and the beginning of the segue into Fire. There’s just something very catchy and appealing about the riff. I don’t think I can hear it too much. Brent keeps that melody riff going and Jerry starts to weave his web like the crafty spider he was, connecting intricate strings of notes across the fretboard. Brent moves on from the melody and the whole band just starts to jam. There is nothing but pleasantness here. The drummers start to assert themselves toward the end of the track and the dynamics pick up steam. You can start to hear a rhythmic shift in Phil’s playing; Fire On The Mountain is not far away.

Finally they launch full force into Fire. The rhythm section just pulsates. Jerry switches on his envelope filter (at least I think that’s the pedal he’s using) gets that trademark sound of his. Bobby throws in a few rhythmic curve balls of his own and Jerry goes on an exploration during his first solo, calm, collected, and confident. Again, there are no wasted notes here. Phil continues to exert himself, helping to steer the ship. Fire On The Mountain is a song that can get a bit repetitive, in my opinion, and simply drone between two chords. That does not happen in this version. The second verse goes off without a hitch and paves the way for another Garcia solo. He switches up the effects here for a new tone palette to work with and instantly goes to work. This new tone has much more bite to it compared to the warmth of the envelope filter and offers a unique contrast. After that tone experiment Brent asserts himself for a few measures before everyone agrees that it’s time to go back for another verse. Bobby and Brent blend well on backing vocals in chorus throughout this one. Everyone seems to be on their A game. Jerry takes another spin around solo town, starting with that biting tone but he seems to add something else to it to smooth out the sound a bit. As they near the end Jerry unleashes one last salvo of notes before settling back down and hitting up the Scarlet Begonias coda. Ahh… the riff of which I never tire. I can’t think of a better ending and the crowd agrees as they voice their approval.

Complete Setlist 11/30/80

Also in rotation: The John Butler Trio. This is a band I’ve heard of before but never listened to until my cousin showed me this video of the song Ocean. I checked out their Live At Red Rocks album and was duly impressed.
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been linking to David Dodd’s annotated Grateful Dead lyrics site when possible. I also highly recommend the book he published based on this project. I keep a copy in my nightstand and it’s truly a valuable companion for Deadheads of any stripe.
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3 Comments
  1. Hey Lunchbox,
    Nice post. Don’t own this one but have listened to it a couple of times and it’s a good one. Still partial to Barton Hall’s version that has the best transition I have yet to hear. That version is always the one I compare other versions to and it rhas yet to be surpassed. Barton gets knocked down as over-rated by some, but it’s a truly magic night and one that the band had energy, creativity and the download on nugs is almost DP quality.
    Great to hear you discovered John Butler, bought the Red Rocks set before I saw him at Gathering of the Vibes in 2011 and his show blew me away. Luckily he came back this past summer to the same festival and he again brought smiles to my face. His vibe and spirit is totally lined up with the Dead, one of the best out there right now.

    • A show can be overrated and still be incredible. I’m assuming you’re referring to the ’77 show. It’s terrific, obviously, but some call it overrated as compared to the fantastic shows from ’72-’74. Tape availability was part of the glory of 5-8-77. Still, it really is spectacular.

  2. The second set begins in just the right place with this perennial crowd pleaser. People always try to turn you on to the “best” one-two combo of this song and its mate. I think I have finally found mine here, thanks to Nick Paumgarten. Brent adds his nice accents to the ends of the verse lines and sings angelically during the choruses. Surprisingly, Jerry plays the solo very cool at the top of it. He reaches a bit more the second time around and then adds much more juice as it goes. No disappointment here. The wind in the willows verse is sung and the sky and sun trade colors. A cowbell announces the outro coda and it is tough instead of too calypso as in later versions. Jer gets right on the jam with a plain tone and plays flurries around the groove. The next four minutes are where nirvana is touched. At first, we just tweedle along. Fine. More of this feeds the monster who is lurking. The drummers decide to construct a stall that Brent jumps on, then Phil, then we bounce back to the groove but by now Jerry has gone off the hook and although he cools for a few moments, he rallies nearing the end of the track and the whole band hears it and responds. It is Phil who sneaks the changes in and causes everyone to admit that their next destination is…

    Fire on the Mountain. I think the attraction here is Garcia wailing his final throes on top of the Lesh-driven transition to this song. This in turn lights a fire (yes) under it and the stars align for a huge version. The preliminaries are perfect. Verses and choruses rock like heck. The envelope follower is employed and driven to heaven. A huge solo is where you want to be. After it, the next verse is found effortlessly and the chorus is nailed too. Then distortion is added to the stew and Jerry goes crazy. If you ever think this song has too few chords, listen to this one. Maybe it has too many. The ever-mutating textures are a marvel. Again Garcia sings like he knows exactly what he wants to say. It sounds to me like maybe the matrix has shifted now and some comb filtering is at play. But don’t ask me, I only have ears. I just hear some smear. Luckily, the outro figures are piercing anyway and don’t need a lot of bottom. Oh, I spoke too soon, Jerry is not done by a long stretch. He hits the Octavier and amazes yet again. The jump back to the “Scarlet” theme comes right on cue and a perfect ending is found. Rejoice!

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