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: November 30, 1994 – McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

terrapinYou can usually tell when the Grateful Dead are playing well in 1994 based almost entirely on Jerry’s level of enthusiasm and the volume of his guitar.  Today Jerry is in good spirits and you can hear him, so we’re off to a good start.

I think most of the first set highlights today fall during songs that most people don’t care a lot about – West LA Fadeaway is pretty funky and the band’s work behind Bob Weir on Queen Jane Approximately  is really quite pretty.  The audience goes nuts at the end of Big River – I thought it was fine – and Cassidy to close out the set was a jammyish good time.

The second set opens with Victim or the Crime and Samba in the Rain.  While I’ve warmed just a little bit to Victim, Samba in the Rain has got to be one of my least favorite Dead songs of all time, and it’s not well done here.  But the boys make up for it with a very nice (for 1994) performance of Crazy Fingers and a good Estimated Prophet.  This transitions into Terrapin Station, which is seriously marred by Jerry’s lyrical flubs at all of the wrong, emotional, sing-along moments of the tune.  There’s not much going on during or after Drums and Space and the show just peters out into a fine Liberty encore.

Despite my luke-warm review, I think that this show and the next night (also in Denver) are pretty illustrative of good nights in 1994.  The band is not going to come even close to perfection, but there is still a lot to be grateful for here.

This audience recording requires some work with the EQ to get it dialed in, but once you do, it’s fine:

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: December 18, 1994 – Los Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA

terrapinHanging out in the 1990’s again . . . Once you get settled into these shows, you realize that, in general, the Grateful Dead weren’t sucking as bad as you thought they did in 93, 94 and 95.  There just aren’t as many highlights as in other years.

This show from the L.A. Sports Arena proves the point.  There aren’t a lot of major musical errors and the band sounds engaged.  But nothing really achieves warp speed.  I’m listening to Crazy Fingers for the third time today, and I’m enjoying it, so I probably shouldn’t complain, since, going into this, I would have been shocked to hear them even get through that song in 1994 without problems.  UPDATE: The Playin’ in the Band is surprisingly jazzy and deep for a short version of the song.  Similarly, Let It Grow at the end of the first set is good, but nothing amazing.  It follows on the heels of a very loose Loose Lucy that really gets to the heart of the song.  And if you were in the audience, I bet that you were cheering hard every time you got to “thank you for a real good time”, because you were having one.

The audience recording of this show resides here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: December 1, 1994 – McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

terrapinThis 1994 show from Denver surprised me with a couple of very good tunes.  My favorite song of the night was Bird Song.  When the song begins, the first thing you notice is Phil’s bass lines, which are actually tucked into the groove.  This changes as the band digs into the song, but it is an unusual and fun way to begin.  As things progress, the song gets stranger and stranger (in a good way), eventually disappearing into a very heavy dose of drums and piano that would not have sounded out of place in a 1960’s jazz club.  This is some serious playing with more sinister tones that you might expect on this tune.  I’ve played it several times today and have been impressed more with each listen.

On the opposite side of the heaviness spectrum is the lighthearted Eyes of the World in the second set, with Jerry running away with things and Vince contributing some very nice keys.  The Hell in a Bucket opener and a frolicking Sugaree are other good songs on this upbeat night.

Finally, there’s a lighthearted moment in the encore when the band launches into Brokedown Palace and Jerry pooches the very first line of the song and laughs.  The band doesn’t miss a beat and they eventually start over with better results, but it’s good to hear everyone having fun.  It must have been that Rocky Mountain air.

There is only one recording of this show on the Archive and it is an adequate audience tape – I’m glad it’s there:

Today In Grateful Dead History: October 13, 1994 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

dancing-bear I picked today’s 1994 show from Madison Square Garden based entirely on the inoffensive setlist and was rewarded with a ho-hum performance that didn’t bother me but really didn’t give me much to write about, either.

Fortunately, there is one historical note to pass along.  Today’s show was the first Dupree’s Diamond Blues since 1990 and it would be the last full band performance of the tune.  Given the rust, it’s understandable that Jerry botches the lyrics a bit, but it’s otherwise not a notable run through this fun but typically straightforward song.  Not a lot of jamming on Dupree’s, even in the best case scenario.

A few of the commentators on the Archive noted that Vince was in top form for this show and I’ve got to agree.  For Vince, this is pretty good playing.  Check out the orchestra sounds on When I Paint My Masterpiece for a rare Vince highlight.

Beyond that, the best part of the show, in my opinion, is the jam between Uncle John’s Band and DrumsSpace is pretty interesting too.  Otherwise, you’ve got a not-too-bad 1994 show with a good setlist, which is more than you’ll get on a lot of nights.

Here you go: