Today’s show is an interesting little performance at the Fabulous Forum in 1989 – a strange setlist dictated, in all likelihood, by the band’s two special guests, Spencer Davis and Bob Dylan.
Now before you get your wig in a twist, I need to warn you that neither of these guests really contributes very much here – Spencer Davis is a much better addition than Dylan, but his guitar is not very prevalent (the vocals are good). Dylan is Dylan in 1989 – he’s apparently on guitar through most of the second set, but you can’t hear it, and he only contributes vocals on part of Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and on the encore Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. That’s it. So while this looks good on paper, the reality is not so hot.
Because of the guest stars, we have setlist rarities to discuss. Tonight is the first performance of How Long Blues since 1970 and it will be the last time the Dead play it. Spencer Davis kills the vocals and the guitar work you can make out is good. This is followed by a very good Gimme Some Lovin’ which sounds much more exciting with Davis involved than when the Dead give it the typical lackadaisical treatment. The rest of the first set is a slightly off-beat 1989 first set.
Dylan emerges during Iko Iko to start the second set and apparently plays guitar, but I can’t pick it up without headphones on. This is followed by Monkey and the Engineer, which the band hasn’t played since 1981 and would never play again. It is also, as far as I can tell, the Dead’s only electric performance of this song. It’s fun, but the vocals are slightly mixed up.
The second set proceeds with this very strange lists of songs (remember, this is the second set): Alabama Getaway, Dire Wolf, Cassidy, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again and then into Drums. Not a lot of jamming here, friends, and the playing in uneventful and, in some places, pretty sloppy. It’s starting to sound a lot like 1988 tonight, especially during Cassidy, which can achieve spectacular heights during this era but tonight just plods along towards nowhere. There is a nod towards the psychedelic during The Other One out of Space, but it’s just a nod, and then we get a laid-back Stella Blue into a set-closing and pretty awful Foolish Heart. The Not Fade Away encore is supplemented by the Dylan-led Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, but it doesn’t redeem the second set. Still, the audience seems pleased as punch.
I wanted to like this show – really, I did. But, honestly, like most of Dylan’s work with the Dead, it looks better than it sounds. Spencer Davis worked well – if you’re cherry picking, take those couple of songs and skip the rest.
Listen to the audience recording (a pretty good one) here: https://archive.org/details/gd1989-02-12.fob.french.31265.sbeok.flac24