|jam and Budweiser? eww.|
Time for a little anniversary shoutout to a favorite under-the-radar show: 8/21/80 at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago. The acoustic-electric Warfield/Radio City runs define 1980 for many, but, for my money, the band’s best playing of the year happened on the August-September tour. There are a lot of great shows from that stretch, and I wouldn’t claim that this one is the best, but it has a distinct flavor and a unique vibe that never fails to please me, particular in the dog days of August.
Take your pick between a nice sbd and an excellent aud. I think the aud is the better bet:
The first set is nothing to write home about: it has a fine setlist and nothing is really lacking, but there’s also nothing that ever much jumps out at me, beyond a nice Peggy-O and a rare late-set Shakedown. But the second set is one of those magical performances where individual songs are all pieces of a very complete whole, emerging and sinking back into a tapestry that feels as unified as any symphony. Shades of 7/17/76 perhaps? I don’t want to get your hopes up, but this takes me to a similar headspace as that classic [disclaimer: 7/17/76 is a much better show]. Mickey and Billy take the stage to start things off unusually with a quiet duet on tar and talking drum for a few minutes before the rest of the band enters softly to join in for a prelude to a long and stunning Uncle John’s Band. Not your usual opener, and not your usual Uncle John's either, as it jams its way into something that resembles more of a Playin’ jam. It’s some of my favorite music from that year, and it’s all right there in the first 20 minutes of the set!
I don’t know if the rest of the set necessarily holds up to a blow-by-blow style of review. There are no ups and downs: the enchantment has been cast masterfully, and the spell isn’t broken until the very end. They come back to earth for Truckin’, dive back in the pool for the Other One, then the drummers take another turn, and the boys forego any spacey exploration and ease right into the Wheel, jam it back into the end of Uncle John’s in a most satisfyingly symmetrical close to a wonderful 45 minutes of uninterrupted music. A mere 45 minutes? Yeah, well, quality over quantity I say, and I’m happy to sacrifice the more standard combinations and set-closing standards for a jam as unique as this.
The whole Uptown run is worth a listen: 8/19 is more well known and probably the “best show” of the run from top to bottom: there's a dynamite Half Step > Franklin’s > Minglewood and a fine Stranger that bookend the first, and the second is a top-to-bottom heavyweight muscle set. 8/20 is rightfully lesser known, but anyone under the spell of the other two shows will appreciate the heavy Space > NFA > Dew at the end.