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Wednesday, November 23

Don't Wanna Be Treated This a-Way: 30 Shows in 30 Days from Grateful Music Brings You 3-24-93 UNC, Chapel Hill,NC SBD and VID

Like I've mentioned in previous articles, the later years makes the dusky gems of great shows easier and easier to pull out of the archive. This show is one of the un-arguable best shows of 1993. The band came ready to play with a wonderfully strange set list and top notch playing.
This show, early in 93', sadly was one of the best of the year. There are a couple others in contention, Autzen in Eugene and MSG with David Murray spring to mind but this show is a true 93' gem. Jerry was on point and the playing was solid and using a new guitar that had an effect that made it sound like an acoustic guitar was starting to get some playing time. I might be in the minority because while 72-74 has my heart the 90's have my soul because that's when I was finally able to see the band I had been listening to like a monk in cloisters for years. I was finally getting old enough, in 92' I got my driver's license, and by the time 93' rolled around I was getting ready to go join the carnival. The Grateful Dead were on their last legs but I was just getting mine and it was a wonderful time for me. So, I may be as jaded as they come with Phish but 90's Dead, I still love and will cut them slack for days, even though I know they weren't the same band that played until 7am anymore and it was hard to get tickets and gate-crashing became a thing to do. These were my years and no one can take that away from me. I know what i heard changed my life, so I can only imagine what those who saw the Pigpen or Keith and Brent era's thought. I know it's not good. However, this show has a wonderfully quirky setlist and they come roaring out of the gate.
The opening "Jack Straw" was one of those openers that rang everybody's bell and all the people just getting to their seats and getting settled in might have missed the fact that this version, even though it took a minute, the first verse to be precise before the song exploded in a way that only the Grateful Dead can make a song do when they are ready to play. "Might as well be me" and the band achieved liftoff. The "Stagger Lee" is possibly one of my favorite versions, including the ones that go all the way back to Keith. Just another "Wang Dang Doodle", not a favorite but sounded okay since they didn't drown it in MIDI but next up was one of my favorite first set songs from the Nineties, "It Must Have been the Roses". Even if Jerry murders it, I'll always love this song, luckily tonight, being the first time they played it in 93', it wasn't just the doses. Jerry and Co. were on point and delivered a first class rendition, without a lot of Healy weirdness or the strangely cold effects that could mar a perfectly good song and  that was a nice surprise and just got everyone more excited for what the rest of the show would bring. Up next, the most underrated Dylan song, in my opinion, "Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", and yes that is an incredibly long title, but this song really delivers with Jerry all over it. Vince is also making his presence felt, although coincidentally, Weir's guitar is really buried in the mix. It lends credence to the stories of Healy trying to purposely mess with Bobby, for reasons that have been speculated upon that I don't have to go into here.
Up next came the bouncy and well-played "TN Jed", which quite a few,myself included, called Tennessee Dread because by that time it was a rote rendition that frankly bored me. The next call though, "Let It Grow", was a beautiful version of the end of the suite. Vince laid down some nice fills, even though Bobby's guitar was conspicuously absent, Jerry achieved liftoff several times during this version, even choosing to play the horn with MIDI, which I don't prefer but in this case it works. The eleven-minute version started smoking as Bob's guitar started coming up in the mix. The band had started using in-ear monitors to get their sound right but I feel this took away from them listening to each other and even though they stopped stepping on each others' toes, the band dynamic suffered, in my opinion. That didn't stop this song though and it was a great way to end the first set.
  The second set started with the most egregious reworkings of a Dead song I've ever heard. I absolutely hated the way the band re-did the opening of "Here Comes Sunshine" to the "vocal harmonizing" opening. I understand they wanted to keep it fresh but this song already had a great opening theme and their voices were just too ragged to make this right. Maybe it would've worked in the Seventies but by this era, it only worked a handful of times and was mainly pretty hard on the ears. This is one of the few times that Jerry's voice was on and they all joined in and even Phil and Vince sounded good. With Vince going off during his fills, the song still managed to sound pretty good with some help from the sound crew and the band delivered it confidently. The boys then swung into a six-minute "Playin' in the Band" which I call a "Playin'"tease. And you cannot leave out the "Crazy Fingers" tease at the end, even though Phil said no and they swung into a sweet surprise. What came next was mind-boggling as Phil dropped a "Box of Rain" in our laps. I've never heard this played as the third song in the second set and the interesting placement made it pretty special and I think Phil delivered it wonderfully. The music had never stopped since the opening of the set and next was one of my personal highlights and one of my favorite songs, "Crazy Fingers". Someone else wrote that the line "peals of fragile thunder keeping time" was a perfect description of Phil's playing and I wouldn't disagree. I wouldn't call it "the best version", I've heard people claim that it was the best or the best of 93' and I don't know if it was either but it was definitely a high point in the show. And I love the way they reprised the extremely short Playin' at the end of the song, which techincially makes the first part a true Playin' but I think we all know a six-minute Playin' isn't really a full attempt.
I want to take a second to talk about the "Drums>Space" segment of the shows in the Nineties. They started off in the Sixties and Seventies as a quick drum solo and grew into a beast that gave the stringed instrument players a break and then after drums the drummers got a nice little break after raining fresh hell down on the crowd's mind. This portion of the show had swelled in size from a little break to almost thirty minutes a night of complete improvisation. This cut the song list, of already truncated shows, considering the band's past history, down considerably and sometimes there were only two or three songs after the whole segment and I feel that was excessive but the truth is these portions of the show were truly the only points in the later years that real pure improvisation was happening in any real way on stage. They jammed songs out and took them to great places, don't get me wrong but after ten to fifteen minutes of drums and then another chunk of noodling or spacy effects helped to give the Grateful Dead the reputation as mindless noodling, which they had been battling for years. On the other hand, Bob Bralove, with his panning effects and all of Mickey's sample, it became some of the only new music created at every show. Even though it took up a huge chunk of time that I feel could've been spent hearing beautifully arranged songs, it seemed like this was part of the show that the band enjoyed the most. Phil claimed they would gather during drums and try to come up with a "theme" such as "third encounters" or "underwater exploration" I don't know if that always was the case. However, in Billy's book he said that Garcia's playing during Space was some of his most honest playing and he could coax his physical and spiritual demons out of his guitar and MIDI rack. However, you feel about it, waste of time and perfect for a bathroom break or groundbreaking musique' concrete the band spent an inordinate amount of time in this segment of the show in the Nineties. If you are ever interested and want to hear Bob Bralove's work, who actually got some producer credits on Built to Last, try to find a copy of Infrared Roses,  a best-of compilation of "Drums>Space" that came out in the mid-90s and form your own opinion. "My job is to shed light, not to master"
After space came the mind-blowing part of this show. It had been a well-played, energetic show that was already a highlight as far as 93' goes, then after "Space" the band kicked it up to eleven with a beautiful "Spanish Jam" and then a fiery "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad" that showed the whole band firing on all cylinders with the sound dialed in perfectly and great contributions from the drummers and Vince. I think they knew they were having an "on" night and the rare Spanish Jam>GDTRFB was an extension of this excitement. It was definitely no slouch, that's for sure. After this hot little folk tune that the boys had transmogrified into the epic jam we know it as, Bobby makes the call for "Throwing Stones" and after the nice noodly jam of the song before had been passed around, Bobby came out like a clean-up hitter and delivered his song about politics and climate like a religious sermon. His guitar growled and raged and the drummers were throwing down the beats and Jerry stepped up to the plate and was present and accounted for during the whole song. Bobby even added the "rape the earth today" line which he sometimes delivered and other times not. Simply a fantastic rendition of the song and a great way to head into the home stretch for a closing "Not Fade Away" that took all that crowd energy and threw it back at them in a huge fireball. All the singers were belting it out and the drummers left no skin untouched. They were all over the famous "Hey Bo Diddley" beat that Buddy Holly recorded but the Grateful Dead put up against the wall with a knife to it's throat. Jerry is all over the solos and even though they played this song hundreds of times, re-listening to this version makes me realize how much energy Jerry could still put out. It was a fitting end to a shining show in the otherwise dim year of 1993. Not that it was all bad but most people have called it the beginning of the end but you couldn't tell it at this show. 
After Bob told us how it was gonna be, the band came back on for the encore of yet another Beatles' tune. This was probably the best version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" that the band ever turned out with Vince leading on a harpsichord sound and Jerry nails all the vocals for perhaps the only time they ever played it again. I loved those Beatles' covers but sometimes they just couldn't survive the vocal flubs but this time they nailed it. It almost sounded like they had rehearsed it! It was a triumphant way to end a show that unfortunately stands out way too far for all the shows they played in 93'. This was a fun show and is still a good listen and a great entry point for 90s-flavored Dead if you haven't listened or dismissed it all as unlistenable. Every once in awhile you get shown the light, or words to that effect, right?

Greg Heffelfinger
3/24/93 at Chapel Hill, NC
Grateful Dead
Chapel Hill, NC

Set One:
Jack Straw
Stagger Lee
Wang Dang Doodle
It Must Have Been The Roses
Memphis Blues
Tennessee Jed
Let It Grow

Set 2

Here Comes Sunshine
Playin' In The Band>
Box Of Rain>
Crazy Fingers>
Spanish Jam>
Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad>
Throwing Stones>
Not Fade Away>

E: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

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