Today in Grateful Dead History: August 25, 1993 – Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

dancing-bearI’m one of those people who actually likes Jerry Garcia’s late-era guitar tone, a haunting, processed, pseudo-acoustic vibration that cuts right to the bone.  (Critics will rightly point to the “pseudo” as their ultimate reason for hating this sound).  But for me, it works.  Unfortunately, the rest of the 1993 Grateful Dead played instruments that didn’t sound anything like this, which makes Jerry sound like the guy playing a very loud classical guitar while Metallica grinds in the background.  And on a night when Jerry isn’t perfectly in-sync with his bandmates (like tonight and many other nights to come), the tonal differences within the band create tension and ultimately make everything sound even sloppier than it probably should.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I didn’t really enjoy this show.  The first set is pretty short (not unusual in 1993 land) and the only tune I found even faintly compelling was So Many Roads, which Jerry truly steps into, like he often did in these later years.  The rest is a jumble.

The second set begins with a 24 minute Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  No one in the band seems to be listening to each other, and while there is plenty of soloing, I think that it falls on the linguine side of the noodling spectrum.  Estimated Prophet is another one of those 90’s cool-jazz versions, again with lots of noodling, mostly from Vince.  Following this, we’ve got an 18 minute Terrapin Station.  If you thought that the first three songs of the set were repetitive, wait until you get to this one . . . 18 minutes of Terrapin . . . In 1993 . . . 18 minutes of Terrapin . . . In 1993 . . . Out of Drums/Space, All Along the Watchtower sounds like it might turn into something good, with a neat little Jerry riff leading into the main body of the song, but when the band comes in, yeesh.

Yup, it’s one of those nights . . . Listen here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: August 14, 1991 – Cal Expo Amphitheater, Sacramento, CA

terrapinToday’s show is one of several California shows from the summer of 1991 that all tend to blend together for me.  I’ve already written about the August 17th and 18th shows at Shoreline, and neither one of those nights was anything special.  The same goes for today – there’s nothing really wrong with this show, but there’s not a lot of liftoff either.

The first set is short – I’m counting maybe 52 minutes of music, which for the Dead isn’t that much.  And nothing goes on of any real import during that first set.

It started to rain during this show, which is unusual in Sacramento in August, so the Dead come out for the second set with a trio of rain songs – Cold Rain and Snow, Box Of Rain and Looks Like Rain.  Of the three, Looks Like Rain is the best, if you like Looks Like Rain.  Following this, you get the jammiest part of the evening – it begins with a fairly standard Crazy Fingers (“Your rain falls like crazy fingers” makes our 4th rain reference in a row) that leads into a pretty jazzy Estimated Prophet.  But it’s more of a noodling piano bar type of jazz instead of the fusion powerhouse that this song could be in better iterations.  A quick jam leads into Uncle John’s Band, which is one of the few Dead songs I prefer to hear on the studio album and tonight is no exception, although they do better with it than they usually do in the 90’s.  Following Drums/Space, The Other One tries but doesn’t really get there and neither does the Wharf Rat that follows.  After another piano bar rendition of Around and Around, we have a sloppy Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door encore that is worth hearing for Bruce’s accordion and not much else – how’s that for an endorsement?

I realize that this comes off as a pretty negative review.  The playing is not terrible here, but as far as Dead shows go – even Dead shows in 1991 – this one is pretty boring.  Jerry is definitely not blasting out solos and the rest of the boys are just grooving behind him limply.  It was probably still fun to be there.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 26, 1994 – Riverport Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MO

terrapinThe fact that I still enjoyed this show despite the presence of Childhood’s End, Easy Answers and Victim Or The Crime>Samba In The Rain means one of two things.  Either I’ve become acclimatized to the Dead’s unfortunate mid-90’s song selections or this was a pretty good show despite those four duds (and an I Fought the Law encore).  I think it’s a little of both.

The most noteworthy song of the night is the 19+ minute Estimated Prophet that anchors the second set.  The Dead were typically playing 11 – 13 minute versions of this song in 1994, with the occasional outlier thrown in, but tonight appears to be the longest version of the year (followed by a 17 minute one on August 1st at the Palace).  This song starts tight and quickly flows out into free jazz territory while never quite tipping into Space – you can always hear Estimated Prophet in there somewhere.  While not all of the musical ideas take full form, this is still an interesting piece of music with only a couple of brief noodling passages to bore you.

Backtracking a bit, the first set is ok.  Jerry doesn’t botch lyrics too badly, and some of his songs, like Lazy River Road and Friend of the Devil, are good, straightforward renderings.  There is some interesting call and response work at the end of Queen Jane Approximately that makes it worth hearing as well, and this Deal is a good 1994 version.

The China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider that opens the second set seems pretty sleepy, and things don’t get any better when we move into the aforementioned Victim or the Crime.  However, coming out of Space, the boys put together a very pretty transition into the Wheel, and Attics of My Life is surprisingly well-sung.  As if to acknowledge that the second set has probably not gotten a lot of butts out of their seats and dancing, the band closes the set with Sugar Magnolia, which probably did the trick.

This is a good AUD – listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 6, 1995 – Riverport Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MO

dancing-bear 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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 29, 1992 – Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN

stealieThis short show recorded on a wonderful sounding audience tape doesn’t have a lot of highlights but it won’t leave you wishing you’d never heard it, either.

I’m not kidding when I say that this is a short one – the first set is only about 50 minutes long and the second set is about an hour and ten minutes including Drums and Space.  This obviously means that there isn’t a lot of jamming today and a quick look at the setlist will show you why – other than Corrina and The Other One, there are really no platforms for extended exploration here.

The first set just kind of rolls on by without any fireworks, although on Desolation Row it’s pleasant to hear Jerry noodling away behind Bob’s impassioned vocals.  However, something kicks in at the very end and everyone boosts it up a notch for the set-ending Deal, which accelerates quickly and doesn’t let up throughout.

The energy dips again at the start of the second set, with a messy Box of Rain opener into Victim or the Crime, which almost never raises the roof and doesn’t here, either, although as far as Victims go, this one isn’t half bad.  You know it’s going to be a quiet night when Ship of Fools follows and then Corrina, which never really takes off.  After Drums/Space, we’re in for The Other One, which is one of those The Other Ones that you can hear coming from the middle of Drums.  Once there, however, the band is pretty sloppy and nothing interesting comes of it.  Then we’re into the second Jerry ballad of the second set, a standard Stella Blue with some slight guitar miscues at the end that mar an otherwise sweet sounding exit solo.  Sugar Magnolia is typical but there’s a nice Brokedown Palace encore to leave everyone satisfied.

The best thing about this show is the recording, even if there are a couple of flips here and there.  This is a very well done taping job, with awesome instrument separation and clear drums and vocals.  It’s worth hearing just to get a sense of what a nice AUD can do.  Check it out here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 15, 1995 – Franklin County Airport, Highgate, VT

dancing-bear In the “essay” I wrote in the “About” section of this site, I said:

[W]hat I’m generally aiming for here, is an actual discussion of the music, as recorded.  This means that sometimes I do have to comment on recording quality, like when important parts of songs are missing or where the only available recording stinks.  I’ll also touch on the band’s history, or the circumstances surrounding the show, when necessary to explain why things sound like they do.

I’m going to violate that rule at the end of this review, so if you don’t want to read the rant, please skip the part after the link to the show.  But before we get to the ranting, I’d like to say that although this show is almost universally loathed, the playing is not nearly as bad as it would become over the next month.  Things start sloppy with Touch of Grey and don’t improve much until Ramble on Rose, which is not bad. Black Throated Wind and Loose Lucy at least have some energy, as does the set-ending Promised Land.

The second set starts with the ironic Here Comes Sunshine (an upbeat song at a mess of a show).  Later on, we get a new song – the debut of Rollin’ and Tumblin’.  This is a very old blues tune that traces its roots to the late 1920’s, more than 20 years before Muddy Waters recorded what is probably the most well-known version in 1950.  You’ll notice immediately that the Dead have been playing this tune since the 60’s – they just changed the words and called it Minglewood.  Here, they have a go at the original, but Jerry is singing lead and he can’t remember any of the lyrics, which makes things go downhill quickly.  The rest of the night, other than a pretty version of He’s Gone right before Drums and a sentimental Standing on the Moon, is no better, however the Liberty encore is pretty cool.  But, to reiterate, if you just read the reviews, you’d think that, musically, this was the worst Dead show ever, and it’s not even close.  That doesn’t mean that you have to sit through the whole thing.

The audience tape from this show is well recorded – at points, you forget that it’s an AUD.  (Say what you want about 1995, but the quality of the audience tapes is really, really good in general).  Listen here:

So, having talked about the music, now we have to talk about the scene, because this show is always cited as the beginning of the tour of doom that included lightning strikes in Washington, death threats against Jerry at Deer Creek and ended with Jerry dying shortly thereafter.  If you read the comments on the Archive, you’re going to learn, in painful detail, exactly what was wrong at these shows – people who didn’t care about the music showing up just to cause trouble, gate crashing, folks arriving en mass with no tickets and no plans, ridiculous quantities of drugs and alcohol being ingested by people who couldn’t handle them.  It’s all right there in the comments section, written by people who sound like they still don’t care about what they did.

As I’ve said here before, I’m too young to have seen the Dead live in their heyday – my only in-person show was a few days after this one, at Giants Stadium.  I wasn’t that interested in the music when I attended that concert – I went, as a music fan first and foremost, to hear the Dead but also to check out the “scene”.  It was depressing.  As an outsider, I had developed a picture of a Dead show as a kind of hippie nirvana, a shining holdout from the glorious 60’s.  Instead, the vibe was nasty and clearly out of control.  This Highgate show was just the most obvious example of the problem.  And the worst part about all of these shenanigans is that Jerry was literally killing himself to keep the Grateful Dead on the road, not only to feed the massive army of Dead employees that needed the band for support, but because a ton of the people who showed up at these shows actually really loved the music and wanted to hear the band and he didn’t want to disappoint them.

Anyway, that’s all history now, and if you listen to this show without knowing the background, you would wonder what all of the negativity surrounding Highgate is all about.  But once you know, you won’t hear the music the same way again.

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 7, 1991 – Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN

terrapinCacophony n. 1. Frequent use of discords of a harshness and relationship difficult to understand  see also 6/7/91

The Grateful Dead circa 1991 were a massive band – two guitarists, two drummers, two piano players and Phil.  They could be slightly discordant at times.  Tonight’s show at Deer Creek was one of those times, as evidenced by the above referenced cacophony that blasts us right out of the gate during Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  There is just too much going on here for anything to work well, but somehow the Dead pull things off without going completely off the rails.

That’s the story for the entire night.  Lots of noise, lots of Bruce Hornsby (who is turned up very high in the mix), lots of conflict.  But sometimes, the conflict breeds interesting results, like during Loser, where Jerry plays off of Bruce, or in the transition between Truckin’ and New Speedway Boogie.  However, even the relatively quiet moments get the Wall of Sound (Phil Spector version) treatment, for instance, Standing on the Moon, which is solid but burdened with a lot of extra background notes.

This isn’t to say that this is a “bad” show.  But the mix of instruments never really works and we’re left with a somewhat muddy evening of good Dead tunes.  Perhaps if Bruce wasn’t so loud, I wouldn’t complain about this so much, but that’s what we’ve got.

Listen here: