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Truckin’ Up to Buffalo – Grateful Dead

Rhino Records 73139

All I keep thinking as I'm listening to Truckin’ Up To Buffalo is, ‘What was my reason for not going to this show?

It's July 4, 1989 and the Grateful Dead is set to celebrate Independence Day with 50,000 or so 'heads at Buffalo's Rich Stadium. Listening to the 21 tracks that make up this two-disc, it sounds as if everyone had themselves a real good time. It's the second date of Summer Tour and the band sounds fresh, energetic and pounces on the grooves and the melody lines that make that night's setlist.

Granted, the Truckin’ show is not filled with some mind-expanding lysergic moment or "Mind Left Body" jam. The tunes display a more straightforward approach for the musicians, which includes economic, rather than overly expansive, playing. Oh, there are hot solos ("Deal," "Walkin’ Blues") and goods to get you moving off your seat even if you’re listening to this at work ("Man Smart, Woman Smarter") plus tunes that just can’t help but put a smile on your face and reconnect you to sunshine, heat and hanging out in parking lots across America before a show ("Bertha," "U.S. Blues" and what’s arguably one of the best live "Touch Of Grey" I’ve heard). Listen closely and you can hear and "see" the interaction between band members, in particular the give and take between Jerry Garcia and Brent Mydland ("Not Fade Away").

The vocals take a cue from the musicianship with clarity and succinctness used in favor of the lyrics unraveling with an extra layer of emotional punch. "Morning Dew" hits you because it's "Morning Dew," because there have been others that just make your soul cry. That doesn't mean that this version is trash, just different.

Still, there's something primitive and almost na about this approach. It harkens back to a couple decades earlier when the group was viewed as a psychedelic dance band. And in that context, this show becomes one of those life-affirming, upbeat, dance-friendly excursions that also occurred at the rest of the Dead shows played in Buffalo (The voices in my head told me to go in '90, '92 and '93 and I listened!)

The only rough spot can be found during a brief early segment of "Looks Like Rain." Unlike the locked-in groupthink happening on the rest of the two sets, it sounds as if the members aren't all on the same page. Maybe the downpour occurring at that time, which is chronicled in the liner notes by Blair Jackson, threw 'em off. I don't know, but it doesn't take very long for them to arrive on the same page again. But, it's a small moment in more two-and-a-half hours worth of uplifting music, and a reminder of what always made the Grateful Dead so special — the band's willingness to acknowledge its imperfections is what made you take that roller coaster ride from song to song and show to show in the first place.

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