I went to see Dark Star Orchestra over the weekend, and Sam Cutler, the Grateful Dead’s former road manager, introduced the band. As part of his talk, he said that he thought that the Dead were really a Dixieland band, with multiple soloists all improvising at the same time over the melody. Nick Paumgarten makes the same point in his wonderful 2012 article about the band in the New Yorker. Today’s show, the third and final night of the band’s 1991 summer run at the Shoreline Amphitheater, really hews to this Dixieland formula, especially when it comes to Bruce Hornsby, who is all over this recording.
As I said last year in my review of the August 17th Shoreline concert, the Dead’s two pianist iteration had a tendency to get in its own way, but at today’s show, Vince is turned way down and Bruce is even more up front, which is a positive development as far as the music is concerned. One of the best moments of the first set is Bruce’s piano work on It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, a pretty boring song that is brightened considerably by the keyboards. This is followed immediately by a total breakdown at the beginning of Beat it on Down the Line, but Bob Weir picks up the pieces and the band keeps playin’ on. Continuing on with the Dylan theme, When I Paint My Masterpiece is a well done addition to the first set and Stagger Lee is a good time too. Then the Dead end the set with Johnny B. Goode, one of only 19 first-set performances of a song that they played 285 times.
We start the second set with Deal, always a rocker, which segues into a fantastic Samson and Delilah that rips from start to finish with Bruce (once again) leading the charge. The other second half highlight comes at the end of China Doll, when Jerry takes a majestic solo that transports us all away to a late summer night in California. Unfortunately, the rest of the show is Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away. Thankfully, the band closes its run with a Brokedown Palace encore to send everyone home happy.
This show fixes some of the Bruce/Vince issues from the 17th, but it substitutes a bunch of filler songs for yesterday’s much better setlist. Pick your poison.
Here’s the matrix: https://archive.org/details/gd1991-08-18.mtx.hansokolow.107883.flac16