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 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: May 26, 1995 – Memorial Stadium, Seattle, WA

dancing-bear Two posts from 1995 in one week.  How lucky are we?

Well, with this show, pretty lucky.  It far surpasses the May 24th Memorial Stadium show and ranks pretty high up there for 1995 shows in general.  Part of this is the setlist.  While there are definitely clunkers in there (I’m looking at you, Eternity and Easy Answers), the majority of this performance is full of epic Dead songs.  And the good news is that they aren’t train wrecks, even though there are many, many lyrical issues, as there always are with 1995 Jerry.

The show busts out of the gate with Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower.  While the Slipknot! passages in particular are sloppy, the Franklin’s Tower is sweet spring time music.  Skipping ahead a little, Loose Lucy (lyrics!) is fun and Don’t Ease Me In rocks as hard as 1995 Dead are going to rock.  I know this isn’t a complicated song, but it was really nice to hear the boys turn it loose and seemingly enjoy themselves, and Jerry’s guitar playing was on point and uplifting.

So, speaking of setlists, the second set opens with Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Playin’ in the Band>Uncle John’s Band.  I hate always having to write this when it comes to this year, but, for 1995, this is great stuff.  The jam on Playin’ in the Band is interesting, the vocals on Uncle John’s Band are not bad, and the Scarlet>Fire is fired up, although it’s nowhere near as good as some of the commentators on the Archive seem to think it is.  Still, if you are looking for a good 45 minute slice of 1995 music, you would be hard pressed to find anything better than this.

A special note about Space here (Drums appears truncated).  This is a really delicate Space and worth listening to with your eyes closed.  Don’t let the fact that it pours into Easy Answers dissuade you – give it a quiet listen and enjoy where it takes you.  Other than this, the post-Drums highlight is definitely Stella Blue, which is its usual 90’s self – long chorus (is the phrase “Stella Blue” sung over and over again a chorus?  does this song have a chorus at all?  discuss) and a pretty guitar solo, which is the best you can ask for with this classic song.

I think that we’re going to have a hard time topping this for 1995 shows, but let’s stay on the journey and see what happens.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 24, 1995 – Memorial Stadium, Seattle, WA

dancing-bear A commentator discussing my old review of the 5/29/95 Portland Meadows show called this 1995 run of Pacific Northwest performances “GOOD Dead” and I’m inclined to defer to him despite my limited sample size.  While this show is short (a 49 minute first set and an hour-ten on the back side if you take out Drums/Space), there are several interesting explorations mixed in with the usual 1995 chaos.

You would be forgiven if you shut this show off based on the perfunctory Touch of Grey opener (Jerry lyrical flubs abound) that is followed by a decent Minglewood and another lyrically messy Lazy River Road.  But stick with this show through that and you’ll be rewarded with perfectly fine versions of Me and My Uncle>Big River and a set-ending Bird Song that deviates into the far reaches of space, breaking down almost completely before somehow coming back home at the end.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your entire first set.

The first half of the second set is the main course here, even if it might not look like much:  Iko Iko, Saint Of Circumstance, Way To Go Home, I Want To Tell You>Estimated Prophet.  1995 Jerry seemed to like the vibe of Iko Iko and his playing here is excited and engaged.  Saint of Circumstance, which always sounds weird as a stand-alone song, even through the Dead played it that way all the time after the last Lost Sailor in 1986, rips once the band gets up to speed.  From reading the comments, you’d think I Want To Tell You is a complete mess (see how I skipped Way to Go Home there?), but it’s actually all right and the crowd seems to enjoy it.

This brings us to Estimated Prophet, which is the clear show highlight and one of the better mid-90’s versions that I’ve heard.  Everything works here, from Bob’s vocals to the pretty significant mid-song shredding from Jerry and Phil.  If you listen to nothing else from this show, listen to this.

After this, things seem to go a little bit south, although Bob’s energy through I Need a Miracle is good and the boys make a valiant attempt at stretching out on Wharf Rat, which is sloppy but still pretty emotional as only that song can be.

In summation, this is not a bad 1995 night and it offers a couple of definite listens that should assuage the mid-90’s skeptics.   Have a gander at that Estimated Prophet (and maybe some of the other breadcrumbs) here – it’s a serviceable but not great AUD:

Today In Grateful Dead History: February 19, 1995 – Delta Center, Salt Lake City, UT

dancing-bear It strikes me as somewhat funny that the Grateful Dead began their final year of touring by playing not one, not two, but three shows in Salt Lake City, Utah, one of the most conservative big cities in the country (although not even close to the most conservative place in Utah).  Tonight’s show was the band’s first of 1995, and it seems like the Dead are playing it safe, with a setlist of tried and true songs that doesn’t push the boundaries but isn’t going to be too much of a disaster either.

Before we go any further, just insert all of the usual 1995 Jerry Garcia caveats here.  They apply, as always, to this show, but it’s not too bad tonight.

The first set of this performance never really gets going until we arrive at Walkin’ Blues three songs in.  This is a really basic tune that, due to Bob Weir’s exuberant vocals and the strange rhythms, actually gets your foot tapping.  I don’t know why I’m partial to this song in the 90’s, but I am, and it’s one of the better early efforts tonight.  The set closing Don’t Ease Me In is also good, with a couple of competent solos from Jerry to end things.

The second set opens with China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, the clear show stopper tonight, mainly for the I Know You Rider portion.  Jerry really rips into this one and it sounds like the band is going to push this show into another gear.  Samson and Delilah follows and is, at the very least, up tempo.  (Not mid-80’s uptempo, but still…)  However, things slow down for Phil Lesh’s If the Shoe Fits and the band really never picks up the pieces again.  Near the end, Attics of My Life is nicely rendered, and the It’s All Over Now Baby Blue encore is always a sentimental choice.

So there it is – the start of the Dead’s final year and a not too shabby performance in a strange place to get things going.  One could argue that it’s all downhill from here.

Check out the audience recording here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 19, 1995 – Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

giantsstealie This is the only Grateful Dead show that I attended in person and while I’m glad to be able to say that I saw them live, the show itself was actually a turn off that took years to overcome.

I’ll quickly set the stage.  A friend of mine (who has since achieved a lot of deserved success as a musician) and I tagged along to this show in the back of my parents’ station wagon while my father hauled my 14 year-old brother and a few of his friends to see the Dead.  I wasn’t even 17 and my brother was definitely the bigger fan of the band, but we knew a lot of their music.  I think we figured, why not go and see them so that we can say that we did?  So we showed up and bought upper deck tickets at the gate, way way out there, while my father and the younger kids got to sit on the floor with their pre-purchased tickets.

Giants stadium is not an optimal place to see any concert – I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen play there from almost the exact same seat location and even he had trouble filling the vast concrete space.  So you can imagine what things were like for the 1995 Grateful Dead with a 1995, pre-Time Out of Mind Bob Dylan opening for them.

The stadium wasn’t even one-quarter full when Dylan took the stage in full sunlight.  I couldn’t tell you anything about his set other than it was impossible to hear (I’m not talking about his voice, I’m talking about the sound itself, which bounced off of every empty seat and turned into a cacophony of god-only-know what).  It was like listening to very loud, jangly ambient noise.  Then there was a long break before the Dead came on, during which time the place started to fill up.  While we were waiting, the powers that be were constantly playing public service videos from the band telling everyone not to jump over the wall separating the seats from the floor.  Someone, probably Bob Weir, had the catchphrase “You can’t dance with a broken leg”.  We must have heard those warnings a hundred times before the band came on.

I’m not going to pile on Jerry at this point, but it was clear to everyone in that building, no matter their psychic state, that he was a hot mess.  He looked like he would keel over at any time.

That being said, listening to this show for the upteenth time on a recording, I can honestly say that it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time, owing almost entirely to the ridiculously bad sound in the stadium.  This audience recording was taped on a hand-held mike on the floor and sounds pretty good, for 1995.  It’s objectively better than the show from the previous night.

The first set is actually fine, with an adequate Ramble on Rose and a bouncy Lazy River Road (they don’t make up for the mess of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl or It’s All Over Now, but let’s take them as they come).  The biggest problem here is the first part of the second set.  The band came back from what seemed at the time to be an endless break to play the following:  Iko Iko, Unbroken Chain, Samba In The Rain, Corinna > Mathilda > Drums > Space.  This set of songs took over an hour.  Any energy that was present in the building departed on the June winds long before we got to Drums.  The place was just dead (no pun intended).

The band almost redeemed itself after Space with The Other One > Stella Blue, Throwin’ Stones > Turn On Your Love Light.  The Other One is OK, although by this point Jerry had completely turned off his guitar (maybe that’s why).  Stella is sentimental but sloppy, especially looking back on it, and Throwing Stones and Lovelight are what they are, no matter the era.  (I take that back – Lovelight in the Pigpen era was awesome).

Then, at the very end, as if not to leave 50,000 people with a bad taste in their mouths, the band came out and played an almost perfect version of Brokedown Palace for the encore.  Musically, it’s the only part of that show other than Iko Iko (which is easy to remember just because) that I remembered for years afterwards.  Otherwise, I was just incredibly turned off by the scene, the lack of energy and the terrible sound.  So much so that I really didn’t listen to a lot of Dead for a while, until I got back into them after college.

So, almost 800 words later, what can I take away from my only live experience with the Grateful Dead?  1st, and most importantly (this being Father’s Day weekend and all), I am very thankful for my Dad who, to this day, still takes us to see shows he knows he’s not going to like.  2nd, 1995 Dead shows aren’t as bad as you think they are, especially when you hear them on crisp audience recordings and not from the last row of a football stadium.  3rd, even though it wasn’t a great experience at the time, now I’m very grateful that I had it.  That Brokedown Palace will stay with me forever.

Here’s the audience recording:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 2, 1995 – Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA

dancing-bear This is the third post in a row from the 90’s and the second from 1995, but since this is the only show from this day in history, here we are at the Shoreline Amphitheatre for a show that isn’t nearly as good as the Portland Meadows show on May 29th.  Why?  Well, for starters, check out this second set:  New Speedway Boogie, That Would Be Something, Way To Go Home, Saint Of Circumstance, He’s Gone>Drums>Chanting by Gyoto Monks>Space>Easy Answers, Standing On the Moon, Around & Around E: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

The playing on some of the songs actually isn’t that bad.  Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Ramble on Rose in the first set are fine, but Bird Song is a mess.  In the aforementioned second set, the transition from New Speedway Boogie to That Would Be Something is well done and the band seems to have gotten a second wind, but all the good feelings are destroyed by Way to Go Home.  The rest of the show is predictable and sloppy, but, again, not awful.

Here you go if you want it: