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: December 5, 1992 – Compton Terrace Amphitheater, Tempe, AZ

stealieThe Grateful Dead ended up canceling their entire 1992 fall tour in order to once again nurse Jerry Garcia back to health and they didn’t get back on the road until December 2nd, so the band is well rested and Jerry is in good health tonight in Tempe.  It shows during this relatively conservative, minimal-mistake show.

Outside of the usual Drums / Space (which seem to only get better as the Dead get worse), the band plays things close to the vest tonight, but that’s ok.  We’re treated to solid, first-set versions of Hell in a Bucket (lyrics are a bit of a problem here) and Sugaree, Minglewood is a scorcher and Candyman is fun too.  Don’t expect much from the set-ending Music Never Stopped and you won’t be disappointed.

The second set opens with Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  You can hear what the boys are trying to do here, it just seems like they’re reaching for something out of range.  The songs don’t fall to pieces, and the transition between them is enjoyable, but transcendence is in short supply.  They fare a little better during Estimated Prophet which, being a tried and true Bob Weir driven song, always seems like a solid tune during the 90’s.  At this point, we get spacey with an almost half hour Drums / Space.  The piece itself is fine, but it definitely destroys the band’s momentum, and when The Wheel arrives, there is no more oomph there.  Ditto the perfunctory All Along The Watchtower and Black Peter that precede One More Saturday Night.  There is a little redemption with The Weight as an encore, but overall the second set is a bit of a letdown after the promising beginning.

Fans of the band had something to be grateful for during this tour – a healthy Jerry Garcia and a relatively engaged band giving it their all on most nights.  It just seems as if the Dead couldn’t really find their true footing here tonight.

The audience recording of this show needs a little work on the high end of the EQ, but once you find the sweet spot, you’ll enjoy it:

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: May 31, 1992 – Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, Las Vegas, NV

stealieI’ll be honest with you, faithful readers.  I was intrigued by today’s setlist, which features Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower, Bird SongScarlet Begonias>Fire On The MountainAttics Of My Life>Spoonful>The Other One>Morning Dew (with Spoonful through Dew featuring Steve Miller, to boot) and a Baba O’Riley>Tomorrow Never Knows encore.  But I was concerned about that ’92 hanging around.  No need to worry – this show delivered the goods.

The post-Drums segment of this show, which is often the dumping ground for a Jerry ballad and some Bob Weir rockin’, is an incredible performance, starting with a lyrically and harmonically adept Attics of My Life (one of only three played in 1992).  Steve Miller then appears on the scene as the band rips into Spoonful, which sets the table for a fascinating, pulsing The Other One and a magnificent Morning Dew.  Although Miller’s contributions here (like many other guitar playing guests during these years) are hard to hear in the mix at times, he definitely charges the band, forcing Jerry to up his game tremendously, especially on Morning Dew.  The Miller-less encores, which, if you know this band’s history with Beatles and Who covers doesn’t bode well, are actually really good – the Dead’s spin on Baba O’Riley in particular is worth hearing.

It’s funny that, given the heat (Vegas at the end of May – seriously?), the boys get better as the show goes on, but that’s definitely the case today.  The beginning of the night is okay, but Jerry is having equipment issues that seriously detract from Help>Slip>Franklin’s.  The quieter trio of It Must Have Been the Roses, Queen Jane Approximately and Bird Song are the best parts of the first set, as if the band is testing the heat and not trying to exert itself too much.  The Bird Song is appropriately exploratory but nothing special.

This leads us to the start of set two (this was a long show), with Scarlet>Fire among other songs, some good, some not so much.  So Many Roads into Saint of Circumstance seems like an odd choice, but Bob makes the most of it and this is the point where you can feel the energy start to shift, leading into a delicate He’s Gone and then Drums/Space.  If you don’t have a lot of time to listen today, start with Saint and go from there to the end and you’ll have a nice 80 – 90 minutes from a pretty darn good 1992 desert show.

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 21, 1992 – Cal Expo Amphitheater, Sacramento, CA

stealieNOTE:  This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site.  It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in September, 2016.

I try to pick shows from the 90’s based on their setlists and this show, from the Cal Expo Amphitheater in 1992, doesn’t have any songs that I dislike. (The same can’t be said for today’s 1993 show from Shoreline featuring Eternity, Liberty AND Way To Go Home. Yikes.)

So, about this show . . . The first set is fine, but nothing to write about. The second set actually has a neat Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Estimated Prophet>He’s Gone with a cool transition between Scarlet & Fire and a tinkly little jam into He’s Gone (the actual moment of transition, however, is quite abrupt). Standing on the Moon is one of my favorite Jerry ballads from this era, but he forgets the lyrics of the first verse and never really recovers. The show ends with Lovelight and a Gloria encore to get your feet tapping.

I think that when it comes to the later shows, we’re clearly spoiled by the quality of what came before. If I handed this show to an open minded person who knew nothing of the Dead, I think that they would enjoy it without trying to compare it to the shows from this day in ’74 or ’77 or even ’82 that they were missing. I certainly didn’t want to shut it off.

Here’s the Charlie Miller soundboard transfer: