View From The Vault II – The Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4080
What separates the Grateful Dead from all other jambands is that they
had four distinct separate peaks – 1968-1970, 1972-1974, 1977-79, and
1989-1991 (and one can make a case for 1983-1985) – all with different
styles of playing. The
first one was the joy of discovery, making a new style of playing up.
The second peak was the jazz years. The late 1970s were the energy
years: this is the closest the Dead came to straight up rock and roll.
Finally, there are the emotional years. In the 1990s, Jerry Garcia had the
ability to move one at will. What makes "View From The Vault II" so
special is that it features all four of these styles on one release.
"View From The Vault II" was recorded on June 14, 1991. Despite its size,
Stadium has hosted quite a few historical moments: June 10, 1973 with the
Allmans, the Casey Jones revival in 1992, the infamous rainstorm show
of 1990. This night was to be no exception.
The first CD of this set is the worst of the three. The show took
some time to warm up. Cold Rain and Snow is a solid version – Jerry
of his screaming here, "I'm going where those chilly winds DON'T
BLOOOOW" – but nothing spectacular. Jack-A-Roe collapses at
the end as Garcia wants to sing "Oh why not you and me" one time more
than the rest of the band. Things start to pick up a bit with the
cowboy medley of Big River > Maggie’s Farm but still there's no
expectation that there is anything above 1991 summer
standards going on. Row Jimmy changes everything.
One quirk of seeing the Dead live is that, occasionally, it would take
some time to get the sound dialed in. The mix would be perfected
during the first few songs and only then would the volume be
increased. On this night, the volume was finally cranked up right
before Row Jimmy. Perhaps that's what inspired such an incredible
version. If one ever wants perfect summer day music, put in this
version. Lazy but never boring, Jerry plays solos of incredible
beauty. The second break is just spectacular. Garcia gets a
flute-like tone from his MIDI and the effect is just heartbreaking.
He might have even stunned himself a bit; he forgot the "Rock your
baby too and fro" line coming out of that break. That flaw is the
only thing preventing this from being perhaps the best version of the
song ever played. It doesn't prevent it from making the set being
worth the $20 right there, though. It just gets better from here on in
though. Sensing a theme, Bobby follows with Black Throated
Wind. This one-two punch is the highlight of the first CD. Garcia
inspired Weir to great heights here. He screams his little heart
out, getting people in the front row quite wet, no doubt. 1974 meet
1991. 1991 meet 1974.
There were many mysteries in the Grateful Dead world. How did the
dictionary open to "The Grateful Dead" when they were looking for a
new name? Why did the keyboardists keep dying? What exactly is in
those veggie stir frys? One of the big ones though is why exactly
the Dead played Tennessee Jed every single time they played RFK.
Last time I looked, Washington is nowhere near Tennessee. For whatever
reason they played it, this version is a classic example of Jerry's
power. He takes a song as silly as Tennessee Jed and makes it sound
like the most important thing ever.
Yes, the first CD of this package is a good one. It, however, is also
the worst of the three. Disc II starts out with Help on the Way, and
it doesn't stop from there. The energy in the Slipknot! is amazing.
Unlike most of the post-Hampton versions, this one crackles. This
version has more in common with the 1977 versions of the song than its
1990s counterparts. Franklin’s Tower keeps it going. Sure
Jerry repeats the "If you get confused, listen to the music play"
line but hey, if one is going to repeat a line, why not repeat one
with that advice? The energy might not quite be up there with the
early versions, but it's close, and Garcia's playing just flows. 1991
meet 1977. 1977 meet 1991.
Once again Garcia inspired Weir. The Estimated Prophet that follows
is a wonderful version. Bobby sings the words for all he is worth.
His screams at the end don't go completely overboard as they sometimes do.
It's just a punctuation of the song as Vince, of all
people, takes over the jam. Using his sax patch, he reminds the crowd
that Branford Marsalis played on this song a year earlier. Just like that
time, the jam leads to its obvious conclusion: Dark Star.
This Dark Star is important for historical purposes. Since only the
first verse was sung, the unfinished Dark Star led to the show of
1000 Dark Star teases that would be played three days later at the
Meadowlands. It's more than just a footnote though. This punctuates
an already spectacular show. At the six minute point in the song, the
tempo suddenly picks up. Ever wonder what a 1977 version of Dark
Star might sound like? This version gives a clue. 1977 and 1991 you
remember each other right? I'd like you to meet 1968.
How good is this segment of playing? This combination of songs, Help On
The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, Estimated Prophet > Dark Star was
twice in the band's career. The second time was three months later at
Madison Square Garden with Marsalis. This version clearly blows the
other one away without the benefit of a guest. This show gets
overlooked for some reason, but it shouldn't The pre-drums of this
show should be talked about when people talk about 10/9/89 or 3/29/90
or 6/17/91. This was one of the best post-coma shows the Dead played
and deserves to be called that.
Due to the Metro schedule, the Dead had a strict curfew this night.
After Space they only had time for two songs. Stella Blue was
sweet, as was any version with Bruce on. Lovelight though showed
exactly how much the band themselves thought of the set. The song
comes to its usual ending and then Bobby decides that he's not ready
for it to be over. "Shine on me," he sings and brings it to a peak
one more time.
While everyone was expecting a US Blues encore for a show in DC on
Flag Day, the Dead had one last curve ball in them. Returning to 1991
for good, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, sends the audience home
14, 1991 might be over, but the CD isn't. There is room for
filler. What could be more appropriate than the pre-drums from a year
earlier. Sadly missing the Take a Step Back > Box of Rain that
started it, we do get a nice slice of playing in the rain. The
highlight, of course, is the Dark Star. This is the only
post-Hampton version that has both verses sung together. Clocking in
at 25 minutes, it has a scary spacey segment in the middle that goes
way out there. Sure there are two Dark Stars in this set, but they
could hardly be more different. Both are an essential part of any
Deadhead's collection. Fortunately they can now be owned on both CD
The Dead's picks for post-1979 shows to release has always been
questioned. This time, though, no one will have the slightest problem.
"View From The Vault II" is the best 1990s release the Dead have