The Grateful Dead was at their absolute "post-coma" peak from the summer of 1989 through the summer of 1990. They had never been more popular, playing at consistently sold out venues and even selling out some huge arenas. Jerry Garcia was by all reports clean and sober, and his playing and singing hadn't been as good since the late 70's. The whole band, as always, fed off Garcia's newfound energy and their playing reached levels not seen for over a decade. It's no accident that this era of the Grateful Dead's playing has been heavily mined by Grateful Dead Productions for official releases. These include:
Truckin' Up To Buffalo (Rich Stadium, 7/4/89)
Downhill from Here (Alpine Valley Music Center, 7/17 & 7/19/1989)
Nightfall of Diamonds (Meadowlands Arena, 10/16/1989)
Grateful Dead – Terrapin Limited (Landover Capital Center, 3/15/1990)
Dozin' At the Knick (Knickerbocker Arena, 3/24, 3/25, & 3/26/1990)
View from the Vault III (Shoreline Amphitheater, 6/16/1990)
View from the Vault I (Cardinal Stadium, 7/6/1990 & Three Rivers Stadium 7/8/1990)
Without A Net (tracks culled from the Fall 1989 and Spring 1990 tours)
In addition to these wonderful releases, this era of the Grateful Dead's touring contains some of the most popular live recordings in circulation among traders, including the brilliant Warlocks shows from 10/8 & 10/9/1989, Ontario Canada 3/22/1990, and the rightfully famous 3/29/1990, which featured the band's first meeting with jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
During this incredibly prolific year, the Dead revived or introduced a number of new songs, such as We Bid You Goodnight, Death Don't Have No Mercy, Help On the Way-> Slipknot, Dark Star, Attics Of My Life, Loose Lucy, Black Throated Wind, Easy To Love You, Revolution, The Last Time, and Hey Jude.
For all these reasons, many Deadheads are distracted by the glitter and glamour of the recordings listed above, and the 3/28/1990 show at Nassau Coliseum is unfairly overlooked and unknown. This is a real shame, because those that give this show a good listen will find that it stands up next to any single one of the shows or recordings listed above. On to the review...
3/28/90 features one of the best first sets of the year. The first set of this show is all about Jerry. His song selection is what makes the set so unique and different. The set opens with a smoking Cold Rain and Snow, which always seems to portend a special night ahead. The jams are crisp and concise, with none of the fumbling or lost feeling that you sometimes hear when Jerry noodles around a tight arrangement like this. There's nothing tentative about the harmony singing here, with Brent and Bob pitch perfect. Brent does a little noodling around the melody with his organ near the end of the song, adding a nice touch.
Next Bob sings New Minglewood Blues, highlighted by Jerry's creative, fiery guitar soloing apparent from the very first break. Bob sings about "Island fillies looking good" and "tea right here in Long Island" to get the hometown crowd nice and fired up. The second break features a couple of measures of some smoking organ solos by Brent, but unfortunately before he gets really cooking he's prematurely cut off by Bob's attempts at some slide guitar soloing. On my recording his guitar is way down in the mix, barely audible over Jerry's rhythm and the drums. Jerry takes over with some more lead and saves the jam from petering out.
Brent takes over singing lead with a pretty Easy To Love You. This was the third performance of this tune since it was revived two weeks earlier in Landover, MD. The arrangement is tight and Jerry plays some really nice licks behind Brent's singing. This is pretty low on my list of favorite Brent tunes, but this is a nice version. A sweet tinkling piano solo, a tight guitar solo, and nice backup singing by Jerry are the highlights here.
Jerry takes back control of the set, and continues the eclectic song selection of this set with the first High Time in over a year. A perfect time to break it out…his voice had never been stronger, and this version hit every note perfectly. The bridge is sung as beautifully as I've ever heard it, and all through the song the plaintive and wavering quality in Jerry's singing makes this version stand out as a highlight of the set. No lead break here and no need for one, really. It's all about Jerry's masterful control of the lyrics.
Bobby sings Dylan's Queen Jane Approximately next, which I was always so glad to hear ever since they started playing this after their tour with Bob Dylan in 1987. I found this tune a lot more satisfying in this position than some of Weir's other choices. There are more opportunities here for some creative Jerry noodling behind Bob's singing, and he takes full advantage. I love his harmony singing in this song as well, he sounds perfect in the high harmony here. The first instrumental break is a moving jam by Garcia with some really unique interplay with Brent's piano for a few measures.
To the delight of everyone involved, Jerry keeps things moving full force by pulling Loose Lucy out of his bag of tricks. This is the third time they played this great song since its revival in Landover MD on 3/14/90, and this version is sweet. The singing is really strong. Jerry really belts this out, and his jamming is raunchy and wonderful. Brent's fills are perfect, not distracting in any way but add just the right amount to the mix. Jerry forgets to sing the "Bebop Baby" verse, but the jam in place of it is so fiery and smoking that it's barely missed. This is one of my favorite first set tunes in the Dead's repertoire.
Bob Weir's Cassidy is next, with Brent harmonizing really nicely through the first two verses and bridge. The jam that follows "faring thee well now" never reaches the peak of weirdness that you'll sometimes find in this song, but the result is a tight spacey jam that completely satisfies. Here's a really interesting link I found featuring John Barlow writing about his experiences with Neal Cassady, and the origins of the lyrics of this song. Definitely check it out if you haven't seen this.
This set closes with a really above average Deal. Jerry's leads are superb, and Brent plays his organ like his ass is on fire. It sounds like the drummers get really excited during the last jam in this song…someone is slamming really hard on their kit. At the end of the tune, after a fiery jam, everything gets quiet as Jerry nearly whispers the repeated lyrics over and over until exploding into the finale and ending the set.
Jerry opens the second set with Foolish Heart, a song I love wherever it appears in a set. The soundboard I have cuts a couple seconds off the beginning of the tune, and I haven't seen any versions without this cut. This song explodes out of the bridge into a beautiful jam that never loses its cohesiveness, feels forced or floundering. It's a perfect example of what I love about this show. As you'll see from the song selection that follows, the best word you could use to describe this show is "deliberate." There are no wasted notes here. Every jam is tight, and the loose, spacey feel that is so much a part of the Grateful Dead is little evidenced tonight. It makes for a unique experience, and really shows off the sheer musicianship and talents of every player in this band.
Bob's next song is Looks Like Rain, one of my favorites of his. Any song that affords Jerry the opportunity to noodle away behind Bobby's singing is ok in my book (see El Paso for another good example of this) and there's plenty of it here. There are some cool thunder effects provided by the drummers near the end of the song. This version of Looks Like Rain was taken and recorded for the tour compilation released by the Dead, Without a Net.
Jerry keeps everyone on their toes with the second of only three Cumberland Blues' in 1990. Bobby comes in early for the first verse and gets a laugh from the crowd. It doesn't faze anyone though, because this song just smokes right along. Listen for some really imaginative soloing around 4:45 into the tune.
Next is the cool breakout of this show…the first appearance of The Weight. It rarely sounded this good, the harmonizing sweet and vocals in general very good. Even on my soundboard version of this show, you can hear the audience explode when they figure out what song the Dead are playing. They burst out even louder with pleasure when Phil takes his verse. There's a little bit of confusion following the instrumental jam after Bobby's verse. It seems like they didn't have the arrangement perfectly down yet, and the jam is aborted. The song ends with a sweetly harmonized last verse. This song would generally be played as an encore in later shows, and seems a bit out of place here in the set, but from the perspective of a breakout it is really well done.
Brent gets to lead us into the drum solo by belting out a raging Hey Pocky Way. His organ solo really soars and you can tell he was ready to explode by the time he got set loose on this song. Jerry's solo smokes as well. This is one of the best Brent tunes, full of energy and opportunity.
Drums is about ten minutes, not much to say about it. It doesn't really take off like some of the drum breaks around this time period. About seven minutes after the band comes back on stage space morphs into what soon becomes a clear jam into The Other One. It's a really smooth, funky transition, and a nice change from the explosive openings we usually hear for this song. There's neat echo on Bob's vocals adding a nice touch. Once Bob starts the vocals the song only has about another three minutes left in it, but they are a wild three minutes.
Other One segues sweetly and perfectly into the always moving Wharf Rat. Jerry's vocals continue to highlight and be perfectly on the mark in this powerful rendition of this song.
Bobby closes the set with an upbeat Good Lovin'. Check out near the end of the first verse for two of the girliest squeals you have ever heard emanate from Bob Weir's vocal chords. Verse two is handled robustly by Brent. Jerry's first jam reminded me of the cool Good Lovin-> La Bamba-> Good Lovin' sandwiches we heard a few times in 1987. The verse after the jam features some really cool interplay between Bob singing lead and Jerry joining Brent with the "ooh baby baby" response and then moving to the "got to have loving" line. Very nice.
The encore features the band's final performance of the Beatles' Revolution. I guess Jerry finally gave up on getting the words right; I don't think there is a single version of this song done by the Dead that has correct lyrics. It's a shame they didn't bring this back once the band added teleprompters to the stage, because this song was a huge crowd pleaser. Once again, even on the soundboard, you can hear the crowd explode in joy at the first few notes of this tune. A great closer, muddled lyrics and all.
So that's it…this is a great show and definitely a worthy addition to any Deadhead's collection. Like I mentioned above, it is certainly unique with the absence of some truly psychedelic jamming. This show reminds me of the best of the shows we heard the Dead play in 1971, when the songs were frequently short and the playing extremely tight.