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

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