Day 49: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, 10/8/89

Formerly The Warlocks

Hands down one of my favorite sequences of Grateful Dead songs is Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower.

This version was special for a couple of reasons. First, these shows at the Hampton Coliseum were “stealth” shows. Apparently the Dead scene in Hampton had gotten out of hand in the eyes of local officials, and while the band wasn’t barred from playing the arena they did have to employ some guerrilla tactics. These two shows, 10/8-9/89 were announced on short notice and billed not as the Grateful Dead, but as Formerly The Warlocks. Perhaps this mega prank contributed to the energy on display during these shows.

The other significant note about this Help/Slip/Frank is that it was the first one played since 1985. You might think that after a 4 year hiatus a complex tune like Help/Slip might be prime for a few trainwrecks, but I don’t hear any here. Really, this was the first time the Dead played this sequence with that 89/90 sound – you know that really full sound? Personally, I’m a big fan of it, which likely helps explain this selection.

After a bit of dancing around, getting everything just exactly perfect to start the second set the band launches into Help On The Way and the crowd goes nuts. No complaints here either as the sound is very full and well balanced. Jerry’s first solo is basically a re-statement of the main melody. Bobby adds some good rhythm work and Brent some nice keys during this section. Garcia is in good voice. Brent adds some synth sounds as they start the move into Slipknot, but they’re not over obnoxious to my ears.

Later era Slipknot!s did not have the same level of complexity in later years that it had in ’75-76, and that is true here as well. They essentially cut out one of the diminished runs, but the song still rocks. The Slipknot! jam build nicely. Phil is really working hard here. Brent adds in some MIDI horns to give things a bit of a different sound, this is especially noticeable right before the segue into Franklin’s.

Franklin’s bounces right out of the gate. It’s pretty evident that everyone is full of energy and having a good time. Brent is really on fire, running up and down the keys like a mad man. He joins Jerry for the “listen to the music play” line and the crowd roars their approval. Garcia winds his way through his next solo and Brent adds some nice figures throughout. He’s really hitting the note here. They bring it down for the final verse. Phil vamps and once they get to the final chorus things start to build again. Billy and Mickey seem to be attacking their kits, and Jerry unleashes another frenzy of well-placed sound from his fretboard. The cacophony subsides, and Phil noodles around in the forefront until everyone brings the song to its conclusion.

Complete Setlist 10/8/89

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  1. Help on the Way

    Our man-in-the-know, Blair Jackson, gave kudos to this rare (for the time) airing of the suite first heard on Blues for Allah in 1975, during the Dead’s “retirement” from the road. Some clues are heard in the warm-up and some of the crowd seems to catch on. But when those first, big chords are struck, they do go wild. Jerry’s vocals are, sadly, still buried in the mix. They come up a tad in the second verse and we are grooving pretty mightily here. As the first instrumental break hits, the band sounds big and solid. The last bits go perfectly, as does the tricky transition to…

    Slipknot!

    This jam is so tasty you will not want to miss it under any circumstances. The demons of the first set have been cast asunder and the band is finding all kinds of gems right here. This is not your mother’s “Slipknot!” It is one for the Brent era, maybe THE one. In fact, that keyboard guy adds amazing textures to the jam, even if he does slip in a few unwelcome MIDI buzzes. The reading of the passage nearing the end of the tune is slippery and dangerous, but the band rescues it deftly. We glide right into…

    Franklin’s Tower

    This version has plenty of fire under it. It makes me wonder why this version of the “Help>Slip>Frank” suite was not chosen for Without a Net. Sure, it’s raw, but it rocks harder than that one (doesn’t it?) Jerry sounds exuberant and the rest of the guys are buoyed by the feeling. The reins are pulled back hard after 5:30, as Garcia seems to want to make a dramatic show of that “roll you safely home” verse. Good for him. The dynamic shifts back up and although this is kinda messy, it is miles ahead of the safer one heard on the official live album from this vintage. A big breakdown occurs at the end without very much rolling away of the dew. They just decided they were done without overcooking it. Surprising and utterly great.

    • Steve, I may actually be more partial to the 3/30/90 version which made the cut on Without A Net, but that may just be because I’ve listened to that version hundreds of times over the years and I’m so familiar with it. That said, it is clear that there’s a lot of energy behind this version, almost like the band was getting off on dropping this bust out on the audience.

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