There is a hollowness to this 1994 evening in Phoenix, sonically and otherwise. The Grateful Dead aren’t engaged at all, and the sound they are making, ostensibly together, is thin. The instruments don’t gel together. Yes, you can hear everyone, but the tone is off; Jerry’s guitar, in particular, contrasts horribly with Bob’s sound and Phil is doing his own thing on his own time but even more so. The drumming, even during Drums, is perfunctory. This is the Grateful Dead in 1994. A shell.
You’ll feel it right away if you know what to look for. While Feel Like a Stranger is ten minutes long, you don’t feel like you’ve arrived anywhere at the end. Loose Lucy, which used to be a joyous, irrelevant romp, is now just irrelevant, the “thank you for a real good time” insincere. Eternity is awful, because it’s Eternity. The first-set-ending Bertha is rushed and completely out of place.
The closest we’re going to get to joy tonight is China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, but the band is just going through the motions. Any momentum that these song generate immediately dissipates when the Dead follow with Way to Go Home. Drums/Space, which is often a highlight during the final years, has no energy at all, Stella Blue has, technically speaking, a crescendo but the emotional arc of that song is missing. One More Saturday Night, as a title, is prophetic. That is all this show is for this band at this particular time. I won’t even name the encore.
If you come away from this just assuming that I can’t listen to shows from 1993-1995, I’d ask you to read a few of the reviews from that era. There are plenty of good moments in these years to appreciate. And to be completely fair, tonight’s show is not musically horrific. Notes aren’t missed like they often are. The lyrics are mostly correct. But you can feel the band losing its battle with itself. The slow drip of energy is starting to take its toll. And we’re left with a group of players, searching for a spark.
If you’d like to understand what I’m talking about, give this one a gander here: https://archive.org/details/gd1994-03-05.AKG451.Darby.119533.Flac1644