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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Published: 2001/07/19
by Dan Alford

Grateful Dead, Early 90’s

Business stuff:
This month was going to be Phish soundboard month, but
I’m really feeling the old GD vibe lately, so we’ll do
Phish next month. In the coming months I’m gonna look
at a little SKB, Scofield and maybe Sector 9. Any
suggestions, comments or contributions are always
appreciated.
Music:
Everyone has been told that the last five years of the
Dead’s reign were weak and offer little in the way of
spectacular music. And, of course, everyone has been
told lies. There are loads of spectacular aural
events waiting for the listening; veritable galaxies
of sound-structures inhabited by both the familiar and
the strange. There were great concerts right through
that fateful summer tour in 1995. Here at Audio Files,
there are multiple recurring themes to be mined,
including GD from ’73-‘74, Phish in ’92-‘93, MMW in
’96 and ’98, and many others. These are zones to be
revisited over and over, where the pickings are so
bountiful and varied as to seem inexhaustible. Adding
another, then, to the lists of ongoing sources of
inspiration, this month focuses on Grateful Dead
performances from the early ’90s. And since the fine
folks at GDM have recently been adding filler to both
Vault and Dick’s Picks releases, (and because I
skipped official releases last month) this month’s
selections are culled exclusively from bonus tracks.
Enjoy!
Grateful Dead, View from the Vault Soundtrack, GDCD
4077
From Louisville, KY 7-6-90: Standing on the Moon >
He’s Gone > Jam
Garcia’s vocals on this SOTM are excellent- clear and
full of intent. Rainstick piano and cosmic washes
perforate the early verses. Phil is plodding slow and
steady and Bobby is playing straight when Jerry gives
an early growl. Garcia’s solo covers a range of
tones, moving with ease from low, anguished notes to
high stardust. Phil becomes bouncy while Weir
accentuates the grinding machinery below. It’s too
early a version to truly explode, but foreshadows
future performances that would shatter arenas.
A splice transition introduces He’s Gone. Again
Jerry’s vocals stand out, as the does the first, short
jam. Mickey, Billy and Phil fuel the engine, with
Weir-horns and bright, solid shots from Garcia. It’s
a little rough for a moment during the last bed of
verses, but the flaw is quickly forgotten as a
delicate "Nothing’s gonna bring him back," opens into
a fantastic improvisation. Brent’s piano works with
Phil to start the groove before the singing ends.
Jerry slips in with a devilish mid-level line that
gels immaculately with Weir. It’s clear that Bobby is
excited as he steps out from some truly excellent
playing while the drums crash a around him. Really
excellent interplay between the guitarists here.
Brent rides in with nimble digits, and pushes the jam
into overdrive. Everyone is swirling around Garcia’s
line, which stays steady. The energy wanes briefly
and the drummers try to take over, but Garcia goes at
them in a brave charge, drawing the rest of the band
with him. The reinforcements fall back, still Garcia
stands, unwilling to abdicate. A very loose Other One
starts to form, but it’s obscured by MIDI-madness and
Phil bombs. Not to be pinned down Jerry goes clean,
choosing a bright road, and Bob works a nice, cohesive
rhythm idea. But Jerry starts his own instead of
following Bob, again drawing in his band mates before
heading off in his own direction. I’m not a
Jerry-phile. I think that the Grateful Dead was a
BAND, not the band that Jerry Garcia played with when
he wasn’t playing with the Jerry Garcia Band. That
being said, however, Jerry is in charge of this one
and it smokes!
Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 17, GDCD 4037
From Greensboro, NC 3-31-91: Samson > Eyes
Phil is thunderous as Samson begins, with Bruce
dancing around. This is one of those Dead moments
where it’s as if no one is actually strictly playing a
song. Rather everyone is contributing and a song
happens. Jerry plays a melted paragraph where the
notes a bumps in a sheet of music. The second jam is
raucous with everyone plowing straightforward. If
it’s not crystal clear, it’s energetic.
Eyes rolls in after a split second pause. Jerry is
sprightly, skipping over the rhythmic revolutions. His
vocals are thoughtful, emphasized by hints from Bobby. Weir plays fine rhythm guitar on this version- not
too aggressive or wild, but always in the mix. He and
Jerry work exceptionally well on the first jam, both
moving in the wake of Phil’s bass line. Bruce’s
spider fingers spin into the mix for a pair of solos
that carry on the ideas introduced by Jerry, even
drawing the guitarist back, this time with flutes.
Weir shines in with horns and the jam is just
gorgeous. Immerse yourself in this one- get lost in
it. It rolls on and on for over twenty minutes, a
wonderful composition just right for a trance dance.

Grateful Dead, View from the Vault II, GDCD 4080
From Washington, D.C. 7-12-90: Victim > Foolish Heart
> Dark Star
Victim begins with all the heavy handed pathos and
galactic debris that one expects. Phil is
particularly strong, moving at a good clip and not
letting up. Jerry slurs and bends his notes, adding
to the angular feeling. Brent is low in the mix,
racing back and forth on the 88 steps. Suddenly, Phil
Bombs! Big Ones! And just a suddenly, back to the
steady gait. Jerry takes a wonderful,
light-in-a-dark-and-rainy-alley solo that slowly
slices through the morass.
And the morass is pretty thick by the time Jerry
starts up Foolish Heart. Phil’s energy becomes
pronounced again, although the intro is light and
meandering. Brent is more fully in the mix, working
rhythm and leads. Jerry and Phil dance each other
during the jam, playfully ducky and swerving all the
while. Bob quietly builds up to the peak, directing
like a breeze. Jerry goes for a rocky dose of rhythm
to start his end solo, but smoothes it out easily.
The solo winds down with pretty piano, but Phil keeps
moving straightforward, into Dark Star. And the
stadium erupts. Brent and Jerry lope down winding
trails, with Weir popping out from behind various and
disparate anomalies. The movement is loose and fluid
and warm. A little less than five minutes in, Jerry
becomes more aggressive, calling out Bobby and
prompting Brent to become sterner in his stance. Nice
drum flourishes decorate the sound before the first
verse. Jerry is hoarse and haggard, the sleepy voice
of an old man. Shall we go you and I while we can?
The jam is already back in the mire, never having
truly left. MIDI sounds come and fade, as does a neat
little jamlet created by Bob. At twelve minutes,
structure collapses, and while a full meltdown doesn’t
occur, a crumbling of walls does. Keyboard mashing
and squirrelly gremlins lurk where there once were
corners; arrhythmic drumming seeps in from all angles. And smooth as could be, Jerry plays the coda and,
beautiful, crystalline, the second verse comes around. On the journey back, Bobby tosses around ideas with
Jerry, and the music stays just a few degrees shy of
harmonious. Phil plays a few bars that don’t exactly
constitute a solo, but do work to spin the band around
for a last look at where they’ve been. This Dark Star
times in a just about 25 minutes. Check it out.

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