So here we are at the penultimate stop on the Grateful Dead’s final tour, and, as was the case at many points along the way in the summer of 1995, these two nights in Missouri were marked by tragedy. After last night’s show at the Riverport Amphitheater, a pavilion at a campsite filled with Deadheads collapsed, injuring more than 100 people. This was the last in a string of terrible incidents that took place during this tour, including fans being hit by lightning, a gate crashing riot and death threats against Jerry (of all people). Add into this Jerry’s collapsing health and the overall crummy state of the band’s music and you’re due for some issues during this second show at Riverport.
The lyrical problems begin almost immediately during Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and continue throughout the show. Since this is 1995, it’s no surprise, and you get used to the missing verses and blown couplets pretty quickly. The “highlight” of the first set is the bust-out of Big Boss Man, which hadn’t been played in five years (and would never be played again, like a lot of songs tonight). The Dead do a fine job musically with the tune, but the lyrics are sloppy. There’s nothing else positive to note in the first set. On the negative side, check out the end of Me and My Uncle, a song the Dead had played 619 times before tonight, and ponder how they could possibly screw it up this badly. Or just skip it.
The second set opens with a 19 minute version of Eyes of the World that really just amounts to a lot of slipshod noodling and empty space. At points, you think they’re just going to stop playing completely, but on we go. The less said about Unbroken Chain and Samba in the Rain, the better. Check that – the first half of Unbroken Chain is all right. Then . . . yeesh.
Tonight was the last time that the Dead would play Stella Blue, and I was hoping for a sentimental goodbye. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one. Jerry sings his heart out, but the playing is not great, and the ending solo is overrun with missed notes and random Midi squawks. It’s a sad but fitting end to a touching song before we hear an extended version of Around and Around that is really about four minutes of Vince playing sparse runs and Bob Weir squealing softly. The Liberty encore is probably one of the best parts of the night.
Over the last few years I’ve tried to refrain from being hopelessly negative about the Dead’s mid-90’s output. One of the pleasures of this site has been discovering that there was a lot of good music still being made and a lot of positive vibes still spilling out in ’94 and ’95. But tonight just feels like the band is beat up and ready to call it quits. Which they will do in a few days when it all comes to an end a Soldiers Field in Chicago.
But for now, listen to the audience recording of tonight’s show here: https://archive.org/details/gd1995-07-06.AKG451.Darby.119430.Flac1644