Today in Grateful Dead History: September 16, 1990 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

dancing-bearTonight’s show is the third night of a six show run at Madison Square Garden that includes some of my favorite shows of the 1990’s.  Everyone is fired up, the playing is magnificent by the standards of any era, and, to top things off, we get to listen to a perfect audience recording that, in my mind, sounds better than Dick’s Pick’s Vol. 9, which features this show in its entirety.

I forgot to mention that this is also Bruce Hornsby’s second show as a member of the Grateful Dead and he already sounds like he’s been there forever.  (Bruce’s first show, 9/15/1990, was also quite good, but I think tonight has it beat).  Others have mentioned, and I agree, that the addition of Bruce, at least initially, really pushed Jerry to another level.  The results are evident all over this recording, with the two of them trading licks and playing off of each other like the pros that they are.  This interplay only gets better as the MSG run continues.

Now if you look at the setlist tonight, I’m sure that you’re going to scratch your head and wonder why this night was picked for an official release when the song selection at most of the other Garden shows is so much better.  (There aren’t a lot of repeats across the six nights).  Many of the Archive commentators have the same question.  The answer is to ignore the setlist – the Dead rock the Garden from start to finish, with definitive 1990’s versions of a bunch of songs.

Take Cold Rain and Snow, for example.  Bruce’s piano perks up this song and the band follows right behind him.  Little Red Rooster has an extra bluesy feel tonight, and although you definitely miss Brent’s vocals, Bob carries the tune on his own quite well.   Queen Jane Approximately is tender and nuanced and sucks you into every perfect word.  Tennessee Jed goes on for what seems like forever and Cassidy is firery fun.  The set-ending Deal rocks the house, with Bruce and Jerry again doing the heavy lifting.

The second set gets all of the love from the fans, and for good reason.  It’s not often that you’re going to hear me cheer a starting trifecta of Samson & Delilah, Iko Iko and Looks Like Rain, but trust me, they are all great, especially Iko Iko.  (If you don’t like Bob’s hysterics on Looks Like Rain, then skip this one).  The first really special part of the second set is He’s Gone, which shows off not only Bruce’s playing but Bob’s rhythm work and the drummers.  The vocal call-out is haunting, with Jerry literally wailing away and the voices echoing all over the Garden in an elegy for Brent.  Eventually we end up with just Phil, Bruce, Vince and the drummers on stage, and what takes place over the next few minutes is pretty amazing.  It’s hard to describe what exactly is going on here (not surprising when you’ve got two guys on stage who have a combined experience of 10 full Grateful Dead shows between them, counting tonight), but it’s special, especially Phil’s contributions, which are loud and completely dialed in with Bruce.  (Reminder – this was Hornsby’s second show).  Mickey and Billy must be inspired, because Drums / Space takes off to another planet tonight.

Space leads into a beautiful Standing on the Moon.  I know that a lot of people have mixed feelings about this song, complaining that it was actually designed to be a little too sentimental, but I’ve always loved it, and it’s great to hear Jerry, still in good voice, singing and playing his heart out instead of croaking through missing lyrics like he did in 94 and 95.  I’ll admit that the I Need a Miracle that follows is unnecessary and mars what could have been a great run-up into Morning Dew, but let’s just accept it as part of the overall charm of this show and move on into the aforementioned Dew, which brings down the house.  Just close your eyes and set the controls on this one – it’s massive and overwhelming, especially if you didn’t lose all of Standing on the Moon’s emotion during I Need a Miracle.  How do you come down from this Morning Dew?  With a sublime It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue encore.  This one doesn’t always work, but tonight, it’s magical.

Normally when a show is featured as a Dick’s Pick, I recommend buying said product, but for this show (and all of the nights of this run), I heartily recommend checking out Tom Darian’s mighty audience recording instead.  There is so much more to this recording than the sterile soundboard – you’ve got to compare both to see what I mean, but I trust that you’ll agree that this recording rocks, audience noise and all.  Listen here:


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