Today in Grateful Dead History: April 3, 1990 – The Omni, Atlanta, GA

dancing-bearMost 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.

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Today in Grateful Dead History: April 2, 1993 – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York

dancing-bearI missed last week and will surely miss more – sorry about that.

We’re back today with a show from 1993, a year that I don’t seem to find myself thinking about very often – it’s kind of the black hole of the 90s where things aren’t usually that great but they also aren’t remarkably bad.

Today’s show is a classic of the genre – it starts with a pretty fair version of Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower and the second set is highlighted by an entertaining Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  But before and after those pairings, you’ve got a lot of pedestrian stuff like a half-hearted Corrina (which can be a good song under the right conditions) and a shambling Picasso Moon that ends the first set.  Using this song as a set closer seemed pretty strange to me, and I thought that it could be a fairly unusual setlist position, but a glance through DeadBase only confirms what most of you daily readers already know – I often don’t have a clue.  It seems that the Dead frequently closed the first set with this song.  I still think it’s a crummy choice.

I’ve spoken about the mid-90’s drudgery before, so I’ll repeat myself quickly here.  Until the very end in 1995, when Jerry was almost completely gone, most of the problems with these shows weren’t related to the band’s execution of the songs, per se.  It’s more a lack of enthusiasm and ideas.  Take a listen to The Last Time from today’s show and you’ll understand.  You’ve got Bob Weir howling away while the rest of the band sits back like a casino band rehearsing for that night’s lounge show, plodding along. Ditto the Wharf Rat that follows.  Most of the show is like this.

So you’ve got nothing too shabby here, and a couple of worthwhile songs.  The rest is take it or leave it.


Today in Grateful Dead History: March 22, 1995 – Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC

dancing-bearI’ve got five minutes to post this, so I’m going to work fast.

This is a pretty good 1995 Grateful Dead show.

Lazy River Road allows us to hear Vince playing nicely and Jerry singing soulfully.

When I Paint My Masterpiece is one of those late-era Dead Dylan covers that almost always works well.  Credit to Bob Weir on this version.

The Music Never Stopped doesn’t hit all the notes but the feeling is there and the band’s heart is in it.

The lead in to Victim or the Crime, which opens the second half, is unusual – the song doesn’t start for at least a minute, with some weird drumming patterns and noodling first.

Foolish Heart>Saint Of Circumstance>He’s Gone looks strange on paper but it works here.  This is the best part of the show.

The rest is very short.  Like this review.

If you want something ok from 1995, this will certainly meet your needs.  And the audience recording is pretty nice, too.

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Today in Grateful Dead History: March 8, 1992 – Capital Center, Landover, MD

stealieAfter playing a couple of shows in Hampton, Virginia, the Grateful Dead packed up their 1992 tour and moved north to the D.C. area for two shows at the Capital Center.  Tonight’s performance continues the trend from Hampton – a lot of keyboards, some good but not great playing and almost no serious jamming to speak of.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing the second set of this show, because these are the songs that the Grateful Dead played during that set:  Samson & Delilah, Way To Go Home, Foolish Heart>Looks Like Rain, Wave To The Wind>Drums>Space>All Along The Watchtower, So Many Roads, Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away.  So, about this.  In the best of times, this wouldn’t be a very good list of songs, and this is not the best of times (although it’s pretty good for the post-Brent years).  So Many Roads hits all of the appropriate Jerry ballad notes, so it’s a fine listen, but everything else is simply pedestrian – not bad at all, but not dynamic in the least.

At least the first set has some good songs: Touch of GreyBlack Throated WindLoose Lucy and Big Railroad Blues are all ok tonight.  The other first set tunes are alright as well.  I wanted a lot more from the set-closing The Music Never Stopped, but Jerry can’t decide if he wants to play a guitar that sounds like a guitar or a guitar that sounds like a horn, and that makes everything pretty sloppy.  Oh well.

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Today in Grateful Dead History: March 6, 1992 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

stealieAfter three years off, the Grateful Dead returned to the Hampton Coliseum for two shows on March 5th and 6th that would serve as the band’s curtain call at this fan favorite arena.

At lot had changed since the Dead played two well-received, under the radar shows as “Formerly The Warlocks” in the fall of 1989.  (You can read about them here and here).   Brent Mydland died in 1990 and Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick shared keyboard duties ever since.  That was about to change, as Bruce left the Grateful Dead at the end of this month, leaving Vince alone behind the keys until the bitter end.

The two-keyboard version of the Grateful Dead opened up a lot of wonderful musical options for the group, but it also tended to bog down the playing in layers and layers of sound, which is certainly the case here in Hampton.  Most of the overplaying tonight can be traced to Vince, who is turned up in the mix, but when Hornsby joins in, things get really muddy on stage. (If you want a good example of this problem, please advance all the way to the show-closing Sugar Magnolia.  Truckin’, which has the perfect spirit, is also larded with keys).  The Dead’s sound isn’t helped by the on again, off again mixing of Bob Weir, an almost non-existent Phil Lesh and serious over saturation on the vocals.  When Jerry is engaged, he sounds fine.

The start of the second set is a nice sequence of songs that the Dead play well tonight: New Speedway Boogie>Truckin’>Crazy Fingers>Corinna.  The fans seems really excited to hear New Speedway Boogie and the boys don’t disappoint, with Jerry’s laid-back delivery fitting right in with the leisurely pace of the tune.  Truckin’, despite the piano issues, is more fast-paced, and is one of the only places where you can hear Phil play – in this case, he engages in a game of cat and mouse with Jerry until Crazy Fingers begins.  This is a minimalist version, and the outro solo isn’t overwhelming, but it’s still a fine version.  Corinna is in its infancy here, having debuted on February 23rd, and it shows – the band is a little hesitant, especially during the instrumental parts.  But you can sense where the Dead are going to take it in the coming months.

The first set is a typical, short, 1992 Grateful Dead first set with few surprises and not a lot of mistakes, either.  If you’re looking for the highlights, I would take Maggie’s Farm and Bird Song, but the latter really doesn’t fly as high as some other versions from this era.  If you’re looking to skip tunes, there is no reason to listen from Drums through the end of the show – the band loses momentum quickly tonight and they play out the clock during the final quarter.

This is a fairly representative 1992 show – it’s listenable and somewhat engaging, but it’s not going anywhere you haven’t been before.

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Today in Grateful Dead History: March 2, 1992 – The Omni, Atlanta, GA

stealieIf I have a few extra minutes in my day I like to browse my reviews of the other shows that fall close to the concert that I’m listening to.  I do this because I’m a narcissist and because it typically gives pretty good clues about the band’s general dynamics at that particular time.

The themes that keep popping up in the 1992 reviews are “short” and “not too sloppy”.  Tonight’s show falls right in line with the others – a very quick first set followed by an average second set.  If I had attended this show, I would have been perfectly content, which, at the end of the Hornsby era, is probably a pretty good place to be.

I’ve got to say that the most sonically interesting part of the entire evening comes during Drums.  I don’t know what the hell Mickey and Billy dragged out on stage with them (the notes to the show say that Billy played the “jackhammer” – I can’t say if he actually played a piece of construction equipment but it sure sounds like it at points), but midway through the song the drummers produce some of the loudest single drum beats I’ve ever heard.  If you were in the audience that night and weren’t prepared for the onslaught, I could see where this would have been a really tough psychic moment to deal with, especially given some of the space that the boys leave around those big blasts.  So – don’t skip Drums.

The rest of the show is standard – China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider if perfectly fine and I liked Stella Blue, even if it was a little choppy.  But otherwise, this is just a pleasure cruise for everyone.

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