Playing Madison Square Garden can be a daunting task for any musician, but it can also bring out the best in them and elevate the performance. On this date, 37 years ago, the Grateful Dead played their first of a pair of nights at the Mecca, rising to the occasion to deliver an all-time memorable NYC performance.
Setting the tone right away with “Feel Like A Stranger” and a glowing transition from “Althea” into the blues themes of “C.C. Rider,” the Dead were locked in early, opening up the flood gates for sweet jam concoctions all night. A funky “Deep Elem Blues” mid-set would not be outdone by a jazzy “Bird Song” and “New Minglewood Blues” set closer.
Coming out with a classic “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” combo to open the second set, it was all smooth sailing into swirling, sonic bliss from there. The centerpiece of the set arrived with a monster sequence of “Estimated Prophet”> “Uncle John’s Band” > “Drums” > “The Other One” > “Stella Blue” > “Good Lovin,'” with the band finally closing with “U.S. Blues.”
Listen to the Grateful Dead’s entire March 9, 1981 performance from MSG below:
Setlist: Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – 3/9/81:
Set I: Feel Like A Stranger, Althea > CC Rider, Ramble On Rose > El Paso, Deep Elem Blues, Beat It On Down The Line, Bird Song, Minglewood Blues
Set II: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Samson & Delilah, Ship of Fools, Estimated Prophet > Uncle John’s Band > Drums > The Other One > Stella Blue > Good Lovin’
Encore: U.S. Blues