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.

Listen here:


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.

Listen here:

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.

Listen here:

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.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: February 27, 1994 – Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA

terrapinThe most interesting thing about this show from the Oakland Arena in 1994 is that Jerry Garcia, and to some extent other members of the band, teased the audience with about 30 seconds of Cosmic Charlie before playing Wharf Rat instead.  Since Cosmic Charlie hadn’t been played since 1976, this created quite the commotion in the audience, as you’ll hear on this Matrix recording.  But, alas, Cosmic Charlie was not to be, and the band kept playing on as if nothing had ever been hinted in the first place.  The Dead would never play the song in full.

Other than this, the second set pairing of Uncle John’s Band>Corrina, which is lyrically mangled, is musically well-done.  Uncle John’s Band is a wide-open arrangement and there are hints of tons of songs, including bits of Supplication, throughout. Corrina is a good version, too.  This is one of those songs that could really click when the band was into it, and here, they clearly are.  After a very long Drums/Space that features the recorded sound of dogs howling, we also get a pretty good The Other One that leads into the aforementioned Wharf Rat, which is as intense as this song will get in 1994.  So, if you’re keeping score at home, you’ve got about an hour and twenty minutes of very listenable, mid-90’s Grateful Dead music on your hands here.

The rest, including all of the first set, is sub-par.  The Rain encore almost makes it, musically, but the vocals are terrifying.  The Dead should never have attempted to play it.  Multi-part harmonies when Jerry can barely remember his own tunes?  Not the best of ideas.  Oh well.  Enjoy the rest.

This Matrix is just fine:

Today in Grateful Dead History: February 21, 1995 – Delta Center, Salt Lake City, UT

dancing-bearAfter some really interesting listening over the past few weeks, we’ve arrived at the opening run of the Grateful Dead’s 1995 spring tour, which began with three shows in Salt Lake City.  Tonight’s show is also 1995’s contribution to 30 Trips Around the Sun, and it seems to have always been held in fairly high regard as far as 1995 shows go.  Like I said in my review of opening night, the playing here is not bad, although it tends to avoid risks.  I’m guessing here, but I think that part of the interest in this show stems from the rarities in the set list, because a bunch of the “normal” songs aren’t really anything special.

Rarities, you say?  Such as?

Well, for starters, the Dead’s first and only performance of Salt Lake City.  This song, off of Bob Weir’s solo effort Heaven Help the Fool, was played by other Bob Weir bands over the years, but only this once by the Grateful Dead.  It’s not a spectacular performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an “only time played” so it’s worth hearing.  And Jerry, as if to cash in on the venue specific references, follows it with Friend of the Devil, so he can sing about Utah too.

The rest of the first set moves along just fine (Broken Arrow, despite Phil’s vocals, sounds great instrumentally) until a really high quality version of Black Throated Wind ups the stakes.  Jerry follows with a lyrically problematic So Many Roads that hits the right musical marks.  See a trend?  The set closes with a very good 1995 Music Never Stopped.

The second set opens with a fantastic version of Foolish Heart.  I’ve listened to it twice and enjoyed it both times through.  There is some really nuanced jamming towards the end and the vocals aren’t bad either.  It’s a good start to the second set that even Samba in the Rain can’t completely ruin.  Truckin’ is still Truckin’ and it slides right into our second unusual song of the night, the first I Just Want To Make Love To You since 1984.  This is the fourth and last time that the Dead would play this song, and Jerry takes it deep into the blues swamp.  There’s something about Jerry’s voice and these blues songs that clicks here at the end of the line.  Life experience, I suppose.  This transitions into That Would Be Something, given a very open, sparse reading here, before Drums and Space.

When Space winds down we’re treated to the third and final rarity of the evening, the first Visions of Johanna since 1986.  Although the Dead would play this Bob Dylan masterpiece a few more times in 1995, tonight’s version is held out by commentators as the best one.  Now, I’ll say this about this song – it’s one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs of all time, and while, in general, I think the Dead play Bob Dylan covers better than almost any other band, I’m not going to give this one the automatic thumbs up.  It’s fine.  I’m sure Jerry screwed up a bunch of the words (who wouldn’t), but the song is so long, I didn’t have time to check.  It doesn’t matter, in the end.  The feeling is there, and that’s what counts.  But don’t expect a classic, that’s all I’m saying.

The night winds down with a Sugar Magnolia marred by sound problems and then a very spirited version of Liberty that I’m still humming an hour later.  I know that song gets maligned, but Jerry seemed to like it, and I do too.

Well, there you have it – a pretty good show in 1995.  The best?  I don’t know.  But you’re probably not going to get a better Foolish Heart during this year, and the surprise songs make for an interesting listen.  Which you can do, here: