Most bashers of the 1990s version of the Grateful Dead will probably concede that their complaints don’t apply to the first half of 1990, when Brent Mydland was still alive and Jerry hadn’t fallen off the wagon. These spring shows, in particular, are almost uniformly strong and you could sense that the band was striving to create something dynamic again and mostly achieving it.
Tonight’s show at the Omni in Atlanta, which is the last of the spring tour, is nicely done, and even if there aren’t tons of spaced-out jams, what the band is attempting here is quite solid and often interesting. There are also a couple of surprises. For instance, after opening the second set with Estimated Prophet, the band switches to Scarlet Begonias (Estimated Prophet frequently moved into Eyes of the World). Fine, that’s not too weird. But to follow Scarlet Begonias with Crazy Fingers instead of Fire on the Mountain is downright unusual, and to have Crazy Fingers transition very nicely into a sparkling Playin’ in the Band is just icing on the cake. And all of this is strong, musically. Estimated has a lot of cool runs hidden within a fairly mellow rendition and Scarlet Begonias rips. As I said before, the switch from Crazy Fingers to Playin’ in the Band is awesome, and the band doesn’t slack during Playin’, either. Most of the jamming is driven by Brent, who really takes ownership of things during the second half of the song.
The rest of the show isn’t as strange, but there are lots of good moments. The first-set opening run of Shakedown Street>Hell in a Bucket>Sugaree is great (especially the Sugaree). Likewise, the post-Space Going Down the Road Feeling Bad is up-beat and enjoyable and the encore And We Bid You Goodnight is a mellow, gorgeous tour-ender.
Don’t sleep on spring 1990 shows – they’ll surprise you, time and again.