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Friday, November 18

In Grateful Music's 30 Dead Shows in 30 Days We Have Yet to Tackle the 90's. 9-20-90 MSG NY,NY

By far the most divisive, yet agreed upon, topic in GD history is the quality of the shows in the 90's. Well, let's start out with one of the first that featured Bruce and Vince and some consider it one of the band's swan song. Let's take a listen to 9-20-90, the last of a six-night stand at MSG before their final trip across the pond.
The 90's were a complicated era for the Dead, to say the least. Still reeling from the coma years and the mass influx of fans with the massive success of "Touch of Grey", the band lost their longest-sitting keys player and his amazing vocal skills and growing songwriting talents. The boys responded to this in typical fashion, instead of taking time off and regrouping, the bus kept on rolling. Some say to the detriment and others say to the inevitable end of the Grateful Dead.
This show is the end of a six-night run at MSG before the boys went to Europe for what was to be the final time. Vince had been broken in, with miniscule preparation, for the huge weight he had taken on. Some say he didn't have the talent to start with but was "good enough" and could handle the high harmonies. Others say with a little more practice before getting thrown in the fire, he would've come out of the other side looking better. Regardless, not to speak ill of the dead, Brent's shoes were huge and Vince did the best he could to fill them with little notice and even less practice. So this run featured Bruce Hornsby, whose grand piano filled out the sound but you can tell at this early date, even he wasn't completely road-ready. Even with chaos on the keys, this show is a gem. And both keys and piano throw down some heavy shit at this show. Listen for Vince during the tremendous "China>Rider" and he's not afraid to jump in, he's going for it. It's just sometimes he couldn't get there. Bruce, who has long been seen as a saving hero, was still getting his feet wet too. He throws down some tremendous solos and his fills were timely and original but you can tell some of the songs he wasn't exactly dead set on. The Grateful Dead may be the most empathic set of players to ever play together and that is why so many guest artists played with them successfully. This is where the jazz comparison comes in because they let everyone solo. Listen for this during "Althea" when Bobby's guitar is growling like a wild cat and during "It's All Over Now" when the whole band round robin's solos and everyone gets a shot and it plays admirably. This is one of those sets that looks bland on paper but the playing is top-notch all through the first set. There were some vocal, ahem, "issues" but hey, everyone can be forgetful. But onto the heat, the second set.
After a fun first set, the band comes charging out of the gate for the last set of the six nights before they left for Europe and the lucky ones who were there won't ever forget it. They kick off the set with a "Truckin'" that has Vince's calliope organ playing a great little spray of notes that give the whole song a little carnival party time feel to the song. It turns it from a road-weary diary back to the anthemic," let's keep this bus rolling" sing-a-long that we all know it can be sometimes. It goes into probably one of the hottest "China>Rider"'s of the nineties and up there in any real discussion of the pairing. After the three song run of virtuosity, Bobby calls "Man Smart, Women Smarter" and while this was never my favorite song, it's a good pre-drums song because it's basically a tight little groove with some words on top that makes it fun. Not a lot of fire is expected and that's why this band is great. It takes this little Harry Bellafonte ditty and puts some grit on it and serves it up to the drummers. 

After the "Drums>Space", the fireworks start for real. The opening of the set was no fluke, the band came out of Space with that theme that makes the crowd explode to this day. This is one of the top nineties' "Dark Star"s that the band played and the second half of this set never slowed down. They went back and reprised the "Playin' in the Band" from the night before and then went back to finish the almost eighteen minute silky smooth "Dark Star". The first half clocks in around twelve minutes, then the reprise, then another fifteen minutes of a dark, angular, silky journey that Phil was wrapping his tentacles all over as he and Jerry chased each other through the stratosphere. The keys, collectively, all shone during this version, adding a nice cushion and a leading spacey vibe that makes the best versions so hot. At a time when the band almost drifted back into space as Jerry and Vince played off each other, it sounds like a "Stella Blue" might be in the cards but Bobby deals from the bottom and pulls out an ace. "Throwing Stones" comes roaring out of the ethos and this version slays like only the best versions do. After a ten minute rendition, Jerry calls for a "Touch of Grey" that lasts about eleven minutes. The boys came to play that night. All through the second set, tunes were expanded and explored and everyone was given room to play. After a rare-ish closing "Touch of Grey" the boys come back for a "Lovelight" encore.  This show is one of the best of the bands catalog, not just the nineties. It shows that when they were listening and gave themselves up to the groove they could throw down at any old time. Hearing Bruce's leading tone during "Throwing Stones" would've been a reason to feel nothing but joy that night after a tremendously successful run that set that them up for a successful tour of Europe and this show is a must for any real collection.

Greg Heffelfinger

*This show was released as Road Trips 2 Vol.1

Grateful Dead

First Set:
1.  Feel Like a Stranger
2.  Althea
3.  It's All Over,Now
4.  Ramble on Rose
5.  El Paso
6.  Brown-Eyed Women
7.  Greatest Story Ever Told
8.  U.S. Blues

Set Two:
1.  Truckin'>
2.  China Cat Sunflower>
3.  I Know You Rider>
4.  Man Smart, Women Smarter>
5.  Drums>
6.  Space>
7.  Dark Star>
8.  Playin' Reprise>
9.  Dark Star>
10.Throwing Stones>
 11.Touch of Grey

12. Turn on Your Lovelight

© 2016 Grateful Music LLC