"Stephen prosper in his time."
"St. Stephen" was debuted in June of 1968 and was a part of the Grateful Dead's third full length album "Aoxomoxoa." Like most of the songs from this album, besides "China Cat Sunflower," the song struggled to find a consistant spot in the Grateful Dead's song rotation. Yet when they started playing the song it was a hit with the band and the audience alike. The band paired the song with two songs that completely juxasposed the rigorous song structure of "St. Stephen." The "Dark Star" and "The Eleven" sandwich of "St. Stephen" was the core of their follow up album to "Aoxomoxoa," which was "Live Dead." The song flourished in the bands rotation through '69, '70, and into 1971 when it fell out of rotation. Some of the best versions come during this period with one really big exception, Woodstock 8/16/69. The band opened up the show with the song and mistakenly sang the third verse during the second verse break, making the whole song fall apart.
"Where ever he goes the people all complain."
At the Grateful Dead's Halloween show in 1971, which was officially released as "Dick's Picks Volume 2," "St. Stephen" was played for what seemed to be the last time. The band avoided the song. At one show in Utica, NY on 3/21/73, Phil confronts some fans that are demanding the song. After the band finishes "Row Jimmy," Phil says, "For all you St. Stephen fans, we don't do that song anymore! The bitter truth." Then Bobby adds, "We had to quit doing it because you liked it too much."
"One man gathers what another man spills"
After the Grateful Dead hiatus of 1975, the band rekindled their love with certain songs and the two biggies were from "Aoxomoxoa," "Cosmic Charlie" and "St. Stephen." This re-introduction of "St. Stephen" from 6/9/76, is commemorated on the official release "Road Trips Volume 4 Number 5." The song was part of the regular rotation throughout the late seventies. It is a focal point of one of the most famous Dead shows ever, Cornell '77. One of my favorite versions comes from this era, 12/30/77, which is used as a filler on "Dick's Picks 10." My other favorite is from 3/21/70 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY.
"Saint Stephen will remain all he's lost he shall regain"
"St. Stephen" was played three times in the fall of '83 and today is the 30th anniversary of the band playing the song for the first time since 1/10/79. They re-debuted the song at this concert, the first night of a two night run at MSG, and this was the first time that Brent Myland played the song live on stage. Download the soundboard of the show HERE and HERE. The song comes out of "Space" much like it used to come out of the spacey "Dark Star." It is my opinion that that is why the song didn't work for them. It would have been much better if they used it to get into "Drums/Space" like "Terrapin." They could have harnessed the energy of an "Estimated" or "Woman" to power through the song before jamming into "Drums."
"Stephen would answer if he only knew how"
On Halloween (again) in 1983, "St Stephen" was played for the final time on stage by the Grateful Dead. Throughout the 90's the band used the song as a soundcheck song to torture the Deadhead fan base. The rumors in the 90's, were that they would play it again when they did their first run at the new Boston Garden, which was set to open in 1996, but that of course never happened. There is "This May Be The Last Time" from the LA Sports Arena on 12/08/93, out of "Space," Bobby starts the chord progression, which is exactly the same as "St. Stephen." Jerry and Vince tease "St. Stephen" throughout the intro jam of "Last Time." This jam gives fans a taste of what "St. Stephen" would have sounded like with the Midi but the fans were still left asking "What will be the answer to the answer man?"