Metrodome memories: Dylan and the Dead discover there's no music in that air


"Metrodome Memories" is a regular BringMeTheNews feature that will recount the good, bad and ugly until the Dome sweet Dome is dismantled forever.

June 26, 1986 wasn't ever really supposed to be a sunshine daydream at the Metrodome – you know, with that roof and all – but it was to be an auspicious occasion: The first major concert ever at the multi-purpose venue. So, it didn't matter if a hard rain was gonna fall.

And what a bill! The Grateful Dead and native son Bob Dylan, backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

In fact, both Dylan and Petty have spoken repeatedly about how their pairing helped kick start new phases for each of their careers, and the Dead were at a peak on their never-ending tour.

Trouble was, it was, like, a bummer, man, as The Dude might say.

For those of us who were there one thing was clear from the start, and it wasn't the sound. In fact, the Dead's sound system – usually the envy of many in the rock and roll biz – was ill-equipped for a 60,000-seat covered stadium. There was nothing to hear, except for some mushy, rumbling, screeching stuff bouncing around the walls and Teflon of the place.

(You can buy that ticket stub on eBay. Twenty bucks, and it's all yours.)

How bad was it? So bad that people complained – even wrote letters – to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the operator of the venue, as this story from MinnPost from a couple years back details.

Gotta love those DeadHeads, though, as they chronicle and bootleg every dang show by the band, and you can listen to the band's set and read reviews of it here.

And the Deadicated still rant about that show, like this post from February of this year:

"Problem, aside from it being in the Metrodome in the first place, was that the sound towers in the middle of the arena were facing the stage, and there was this wash effect to the sound." 

And some fans even wrote to the Dead's sound director, wanting refunds. He responded to one with a rather heady missive of his own:

"The Minneapolis Metrodome is a large facility with a pneumatically suspended roof ...

"The pneumatic suspension causes an interior air density of more than one and one-half atmospheres, which impedes the travel of sound through the room. This can largely be overcome by the use of sound reinforcement towers, which were placed 240 feet in front of the stage. Since the sound from the stage amplifiers travels at the speed of sound, and the electrical impulses to the sound reinforcement towers travels at the speed of light, the towers are timed to the millisecond by sophisticated measuring equipment, so that the sound from the stage amplifiers and from the sound reinforcement towers reaches the remote audience at exactly the same time, giving a larger, clearer sound, which appears to emanate from the stage.

"The sound engineers obtained architectural drawings of the Metrodome from the Metrodome staff, and the placement of all speakers was determined from the equipment manufacturers' specifications, which experience has proved accurate."

Whoa. Which is a long, strange, trippy way of saying the sound was terrible.

Dylan and the Heartbreakers, for their part, came up with an inspired set list, which is about all it was since nobody could hear what was going on.

There is, fortunately, no audio evidence of the Dylan/Petty set, but the band – playing second in the headlining spot – played on while many fans simply walked out.

Bill Lester, head of the facilities commission, thought he and the Dome were doomed.

"Oh God, after the complaints about the acoustics, we didn't think we would ever have a show here again," Lester recalled to City Pages in 2007.

But bands did start to figure out the, er, unique quality of the venue, and the Dome went on to host several shows by major acts, as this Metrodome history page points out:

More than half a million people have come to the Metrodome to see concerts by major performers such as Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and The Grateful Dead.

They may have seen 'em, but they didn't always hear 'em.

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