Dick's Picks 9
Madison Square Garden - New York City
September 16, 1990
First Appeared in The Music Box April 1998, Volume 5, #4
Written by John Metzger
After the untimely death of keyboardist Brent Mydland on July 26, 1990, the Grateful Dead kept right on moving. Vince Welnick quickly was named as Mydland's replacement, and the band's fall tour of the U.S. began promptly in early September and continued with a three-week tour of Europe in October. Seven shows into the U.S. leg, Bruce Hornsby joined the band for what became a fairly steady musical relationship until 1992. The ninth installment of the on-going Dick's Picks series was culled from this period and includes the entire performance from September 16, 1990 — Hornsby's second "full-time" gig with the band.
The show features a solid first set, which settles in towards the end of Hell in a Bucket, as Bob Weir repeatedly screams "at least I'm enjoyin' the ride" over the sharp, slicing guitar leads from Jerry Garcia. Welnick provides a Pigpen-like organ background that envelops Cold Rain and Snow.
Each song in the set seems to pick up the momentum a little bit more than the last. Little Red Rooster is a total blues meltdown with a jazzy flair thanks to Hornsby. On Bob Dylan's Queen Jane Approximately, the Grateful Dead begins to cut loose. Garcia and Hornsby start to play off each other's leads, Welnick provides a dreamy choir of angels, and bassist Phil Lesh jumps into the fray with a running bass line. Welnick's backing vocals on Cassidy sound remarkably close to those Mydland had provided for years, and the second soul-searching, musically explosive instrumental break covers a lot of musical ground in a jam that lasts just over two minutes. It travels so far in such a short time-frame that when it concludes, it feels like a dream.
But it's the second set that really stands out. It's a turbulent, emotional ride that withstands the test of time, marking it as the best 90 minutes of music the Grateful Dead performed on that tour. The band opened the set with a rousing pairing of Samson and Delilah and Iko Iko, but then shifted gears into a mellow groove that lasted for nearly the remainder of the show.
It's a little eerie how serene the concert becomes, but it's the calm that draws you into the eye of the musical maelstrom. Looks Like Rain floats in on Weir's gentle vocals and slowly builds in intensity before crashing like a giant wave. Effortlessly, the Grateful Dead builds the song again, as Garcia's guitar rains an aqueous melody. Again, the song pulls back, only to surge forward with a stronger gust — a torrential outpouring of emotion — as Weir's vocals become a painful scream over Garcia's acutely powerful musical stream.
After a brief pause, He's Gone begins, and you can feel the intense sadness inherent in this version. Welnick adds a nice touch throughout this song and its ending jam by evoking a fiddle-like sound from his synthesizer, but it's the collaborative vocals that really bring home the message.
Garcia poignantly cries "nothin' left to do but smile, smile, smile," and the band continues chanting, "gone, gone, and nothin's gonna bring him back." It's a beautiful ending for the song, as Weir and Garcia intertwine their vocal chants in a mesmerizing mantra as the band keeps grooving in the background. As the vocals trail off, a blues-based jam ensues and keeps the song going for several more minutes. Gradually, the jam disintegrates, leaving Welnick, Hornsby, and Lesh to duel through several different themes that, at times, flirt with The Other One. Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart's drum duet is a fairly mellow outing that quickly melts into a series of eerie sound effects.
Space begins with a few quivering notes from Garcia before delving into chaos. A giant, distorted church bell rings loudly as if to call together the masses, and more chaos ensues before a sweet Standing on the Moon creeps forth, continuing the mellow pace of the show. As Garcia's solo concludes, the song fades back into the chaos, aptly titled Lunatic Preserve, becoming more of a dream than reality. Welnick's keyboard playing on this space jam clearly hints at all of the Beatles' songs to come in later shows. It borrows from some of the weird effects in the group's Revolution 9 collage.
I Need a Miracle allows the Grateful Dead to refocus before a mammoth Morning Dew caps off the set. It's a post-apocalypse song of hope, and after all the chaotic meltdowns and tearful goodbyes that seemed to fill Madison Square Garden throughout the evening, it's a fitting conclusion to a touching, emotional set. For the encore, the band performed its second Dylan-penned song of the night, a perfect It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Hornsby's keyboards add a country-like feel to the song, and Garcia lends a final emotional vocal rendering to the evening.
In person, it felt like this show drew heavily from Brent's death and was a mourning of sorts for both the band and the audience. This mood clearly shines through the ninth edition of the Dick's Picks series. The power of the music and the selection of songs, whether intentional or coincidental, provide a fitting musical funeral service for and tribute to departed keyboardist Brent Mydland.
Of Further Interest...
Dick's Picks, Volume 9 is available from iTunes.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box