Selected User Comments From the Lowest-Rated “Take a Step Back/Tuning” on the Grateful Dead’s Message Board

Concert microphone
Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

luvEchuther: A humble request to alleviate overcrowding at the front of the stage descends into dark cosmic chaos. VERY out there. Explores some really gnarly psychic territory. You don’t start listening to this banter—you enter and leave it.

beggin_please: TIME TO PLAY AMERICA’S FAVORITE FUN GAME

NorwegianWoodle: Probably the only moment in recorded history where a performer’s address to the crowd has sounded like it’s ripping a hole in the space-time continuum.

N00B00GIE: Nothing was good enough for Bobby that night, short of the audience leaving the venue altogether. Or returning to the womb.

HellzAngle90: This was my first show. Started tripping off a bad batch I’d bought beforehand right as Bobby began talking to us spectators. He told us we needed to move back because the people up front were looking two-dimensional. For most of my life, I thought he meant that they were getting squished. But maybe he meant something else, like they weren’t looking real anymore?

UnsolicitedDicksPicks: I had a bootleg of this train wreck on cassette. At some points it sounds like Bobby’s voice is looped, just minute after minute of endless monotone instructions to keep walking backwards, while the band plays the Looney Tunes theme behind him.

stepbackbot: Take a step back! Now take ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTHER step back! AND ANOTH

CALAMIDI: I’m gonna give Bob the benefit of the doubt here. I’ve been in some crush-type situations at other Dead shows. At Englishtown I was lifted off my feet for a good twenty minutes. All you can do when that type of thing happens is close your eyes and consult the spirits. I guess it worked because when the crowd finally set me down I was so far away that I was practically in a different township. This one wasn’t that crowded, just uncomfortable. The promoters had sold too many tickets and decided at the last minute to move the show to the big stadium on campus. Our football team had just installed this gawdawful OmniTurf that trapped all the heat. If anything, Bobby probably just wanted those sweaty, unwashed bodies away from him. He’d smelled all the French perfume he cared to smell by that point in the evening.

PegPin: In the background you can hear Garcia bubbling all over the place, trying to tease Eyes, then El Paso, then Brown-Eyed Women. But Bob keeps monologuing and Jerry finally gives up, lights a cigarette, and sets his chin on the microphone. This was right about the time that girl jumped onstage and asked Jerry for a banjo lesson. How she got a banjo past security I guess we’ll never know.

coboboho: You’ve got Jerry on one side of the stage playing music teacher, and Bobby on the other making people take so many steps back they’re practically stampeding in reverse. Then Phil starts in with this lengthy joke about two starving nomads walking through the desert. The nomads come across this dead camel. The first nomad starts to eat the camel, but the second man says he’ll wait. After the first nomad eats his fill the two of them start walking again. Eventually the first nomad gets sick from the camel meat and throws up. The second nomad pulls out a napkin and starts to eat the first nomad’s vomit. “I knew if I waited long enough,” the second one says, “I was gonna have myself a hot meal!” Many excruciating seconds of dead air follow. Then someone yells out—it comes through pretty clear on the audience tape—“if they’re walking through the desert, wouldn’t it already be a hot meal?” That’s when Phil left the stage in tears.

SpaceVsDrums: Around about the 16-minute mark Bob enters an alternate universe where everything is twisted and wrong. His instructions start to take on an eerie specificity: “Now walk back to your Volvo station wagon, which is parked in Lot D, space 24. Return to your home at 5409 Chapel Hill Drive. Take the side streets, because Mennonite Parkway’s gonna be jammed for miles. Fix yourself a meatloaf and mayonnaise sandwich and go down to the basement. Watch Chiller Theater on channel 36 till you fall asleep.” And on and on and on. It was as if Bob Weir was speaking to me, and only me. Except he wasn’t—I’ve talked to other people who were there that night, and we all received different messages. Bob instructed my best friend to drive to St. Louis to reconcile with his estranged father, and he told one of the girls we were with to head straight to the Taco Bell on Jacomo Boulevard and order a half-dozen Doritos Locos tacos, even though that particular item wouldn’t be added to the menu for nearly a quarter century. And the commandments haven’t stopped. Ever since that night, Bob’s laconic, disembodied voice has been lodged in our brains, narrating our entire lives, and sometimes dictating our every move. He has directed us to eat salty food, to skip workouts, and to hit our snooze buttons. He has steered us into traffic accidents, extramarital affairs, and financial ruin. If I didn’t know any better, there are times when I’m about ninety-nine percent sure that Bob is actively trying to kill us. But when somebody asks me, “Do you regret being there that night?” My answer is always the same: hell no. The way I see it, everybody’s got a little voice inside their heads. But it doesn’t have to be the lead vocal, you know what I’m saying?

AKeller59: I’ll never forget this show. Earlier in the day I had eaten an Italian sub that’d been sitting out in the sun too long and I was paying for it in the men’s restroom just off section 213 when Bobby went into his trance. Eventually Satan stopped playing slap-bass on my intestines and I came out of the stall, my legs weak and rubbery from being seated so long. That’s when I noticed how eerily quiet it was. As I made my way through the empty concourse, the only sounds echoing off the gray concrete were my Tevas slapping against the dirty ground and the distant plinking of what sounded like a banjo. I followed the second noise up a set of steps and gazed down onto the field. There was a girl on the stage, all by herself, playing the opening lick to China Cat Sunflower over and over again. She had long brown hair flowing past her waist, and she was wearing a pair of blue overalls with nothing else underneath. She must have felt me staring at her, because all of a sudden she stopped playing and looked straight at me. “This is all a psy-op,” she announced, each word reverberating throughout the deserted coliseum. “This never happened. Ever heard of MK Ultra?” I can’t remember if I nodded or not, but whatever I did caused her to break into a wide grin. Then she reached up, as if to tune her banjo, only she twisted the knob so hard the string broke. Sproing. She went on down the line, popping every single string. Sproing. Sproing. Sproing. The smile never left her face, and her eyes never left mine. I stood there, frozen in rapture. It was as if every light in that stadium had fixed itself on her, not merely illuminating but beholding, the way that God must glow down on His truest believer. After the last string snapped free, she set her busted banjo on the stage and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Jerry GarC.I.A.,” she yelled up to me. “Think about it, man.” We celebrate our 45th anniversary this December.

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