For a number of years I've been keeping a Grateful Dead notebook. Eventually, I began writing impressions and capsule reviews of shows I have in my collection. I've adopted the style Dead archivist Dick Latvala used for the sake of organization, but also as a small tribute to the man. This blog will be an online version of that notebook. Feel free to leave comments or to email me. I want this space to be an open forum for all Deadheads.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

1991-04-01 - Greensboro Coliseum

Venue: Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC
Tape History: SBD (AUD by John Bleich, download here)
Release History: None

Set 1
*Jack Straw
, *Peggy-O, It's All Over Now, *Candyman, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, Picasso Moon, *Bird Song

Set 2
*China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, Looks Like Rain, *Dark Star -> *Drums -> *Space -> *Dark Star -> *Playin' In The Band -> *Black Peter -> Lovelight, E: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Here we are with night two of this memorable spring '91 run. We begin with a truly great "Jack Straw." Jerry is nowhere to be found due to technical issues, so Bruce takes the first solo section. The issues continues as we hear the band supporting whom we think is Jerry, but no Jerry! Eventually, we hear him but turned way low in the mix. It's too bad these tech problems came up, because when they are finally resolved (4.24 mark), Jerry is absolutely tearing things up. If we could have heard what he was playing before! Alas. A sweet, gently "Peggy-O" follows, before the flow is thrown off by "It's All Over Now." It's a questionable choice for that particular spot. It feels like a capitulation sort of tune, something to close a set or be paired with a strong rocker ("Bertha," perhaps) in a rocker-oriented set. Hey, these kinds of things happen.

Jerry pulls out the second "Candyman" of '91 to put proceedings back in order. He delivers with an exquisite solo, as the band responds to the shifting moods he conjures from his guitar. For those who want to hear Phil sing, here's one for you: Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." It stands alongside its first set tune-oriented peers. (All except the closing "Bird Song" [16 minutes] are fewer than eight minutes long.) I feel Jerry had a better handle on the overall atmosphere of the show thus far. Other than "Jack Straw," his choices of "Peggy-O," "Candyman," and especially "Bird Song" contained the most inspired playing of the set. Listen to Phil and Jerry in the middle solo section. They often begin and end each other's lines, simultaneously guiding the band in any direction they want to go. This is the miracle of the Dead, instead of the song falling apart, it soars. An absolute highlight of the tour and year. Possibly the best post-Bren "Bird Song."

The best way to begin a second set is with a bang. "China" -> "Rider" definitely qualifies as a band in my book. The Rhythm Devils's momentum picks up as they near "Rider," with Vince taking a secondary lead behind the Jerry/Phil/Bruce behemoth. (Vince here inexplicably switches to the "choir" synth pad on his keyboard. It is an intolerable sound. I'm happy he ditches it after a few minutes.) We get a nice "headlight" verse from Jerry and company and off they go into another great jam. Bruce is given space to lead the band. He's such a sensitive player, a great listener with stupendous feel for what is happening within the music. He also brought out the very best in Jerry while he was in the band (Sept. '90 - March '92.) (I think he would have been the best available permanent replacement for Brent, but he chose not to commit due to his other projects.) "Looks Like Rain" is a very odd choice here in the second set, especially after "China" -> "Rider." (Can we just point out that the questionable song choices are Bobby songs?) It halts the momentum the set was building and its status as a compact song befits it more to the first set. The echo effect on Bobby's voice is disorienting too. (Healy's decision?)

Finally, all the teases and hints form the night before are now a reality. The first "Dark Star" of the year is a shimmering beauty, full of the melancholy brightness Jerry has been summoning this run. This style holds up until about the midway point; thereafter, midi pads and synths take over. Very '90s. Bruce's chording around the 5.00 mark is pure jazz. The leading melodic notes are correct, but the surrounding notes have a different voice and color and make the chord unusual and also recognizable. Eventually - after "Drums," "Space," "and a "Dark Star" reprise - we end up at "Playin'," which concludes the previous night's unfinished excursion. Where the previous show ended unevenly with two Chuck Berry tunes followed by an excellent encore of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," here we come out of the central sequence of the set to a luminous "Black Peter," a send-them-home-rocking "Lovelight," followed by a beautiful and subdued "Baby Blue" as encore. A much tighter and forceful way to end a show. These shows aren't close to being my favorite from 1991. They have two Dylan covers in the first set and encores; two very big jams in each second set; and some of the best of '91 candidates ("Eyes," "Bird Song".) There are exhilarating highlights in each show and are a great place to dive into this uneven but at points excellent year.

Bird Song

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

1991-03-31 - Greensboro Coliseum

Venue: Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC
Tape History: SBD (Unknown AUD, download here)
Release History: None ("Samson & Delilah" and "Eyes Of The World" were included as filler on Dick's Picks 17)

Set 1
Half-Step, Wang Dang Doodle, Friend Of The Devil, Queen Jane Approximately, West L.A. Fadeaway, Cassidy, Might As Well

Set 2

Samson & Delilah, Eyes Of The World -> Playin' In The Band -> Drums -> Space -> The Wheel, Around & Around -> Johnny B. Goode, E: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

07-26-2011: For the longest time I was a pre-07-23-1990 snob. To Deadheads, the meaning is pretty clear: Anything after Brent died I wouldn't even bother with. It took some time and a lot of listening to move away from my prejudice and give it an honest shot. This first show in an exciting two-day run in Greensboro was my first exposure to post-Brent Dead. It took a while to warm up to the different sound and band dynamics, but there is a lot of good, and sometimes great, to be found here, especially the interactions between Bruce Hornsby on grand piano and Jerry.

There are a few vocal flubs by Jerry throughout the show, the first of which is in "Half-Step." Since nobody goes to a Grateful Dead show to hear vocals, it helps that the solo sections are good and so marks a solid way to begin the set. Grand piano has a different sound that seems to bring out energy and creativity from Jerry. For me, the best '90s recordings and shows are with Hornsby. The post-coda section has Vince Welnick on keys piling a thick synth to the band's sound. I don't think it fits very well. I am not a Welnick fan, but I am also not a hater. I think it best to approach his playing as occurring "outside" the rest of the group's; not exactly interacting with or borne of the rest of the band's dynamic. (I.e., the synth trombone in "Wang Dang Doodle," although it replicates the guitars' melodic line, simply does not fit. See also: synth organ solo in "FOTD.") Excluding the wicked groove in "Fadeaway" and a spirited "Cassidy," the rest of the first set doesn't have many great moments. It is about as average a first set you could find. "Might As Well" ends the set with strong energy and a playful vibe, giving us hope that the second frame would pick up and take flight.

Seeing that this was Easter Sunday, their opening with "Samson" is a excellent choice. Luckily, it seems like the audio levels have changed at this point in the show. Vince is less audible and Bob is turned a little down, while Jerry is turned up. You can hear the difference in "Samson," Jerry, full of joy and movement, takes turns through the verses without having to do aural battle with other instruments for space. It appears to have made an impact on Jerry since the next tune he chose was "Eyes," and what a beautiful one it is. The opening jam lasts for several minutes with Jerry going through the changes, as Bob comps on the right side, cleverly hinting at the chords and phrases. (Phil is brilliant in this tune and throughout the second set.) This is almost 23 minutes of heavenly playing by everybody in the band, a sure highlight of latter-day Dead, and in the argument for best post-Brent "Eyes" (06-17, to open the show, is wonderful too.) Listen to how Jerry and Bruce play off each other's ideas, crafting multiple lines in and out of their improvisations, never quite leaving the classic "Eyes" melody behind, but creating variations on melodic and harmonic elements. And this is all before Bruce or Vince even take a turn. You know Jerry's feeling it when he takes another turn himself instead of going into the next verse.

You can also tell when the whole band is feeling it when they move from a 23-minute "Eyes" to spiraling, yet unfinished 15-minute "Playin'." The "Dark Star" teases after the long main jam in "Playin'" must have had Deadheads freaking out. All a tease though, for no dark star would crash that night. They'd have to wait all of one day, for a lovely version the following night, April Fool's Day. They'd also have to wait until the next show for this "Playin'" to conclude.

Ending the set with two Chuck Berry rockers back-to-back is unexpected, especially given the way the previous song flowed and the natural shape the set was taking. I would have liked perhaps a "Wharf Rat" after "The Wheel" and then "Johnny B. Goode," for example. Fittingly, they chose to encore on Easter Sunday with "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," a shimmering take on the melancholy Bob Dylan tune. Overall, a good show, though not great. The first set is merely average and the great high points to begin the second set are met with questionable choices afterward. Still, a worthy component to your Dead collection, and as good a place as any to start with post-Brent shows.

Playin' In The Band