Unbroken Dead

Grateful Dead

Coliseum - Charlotte, NC

March 22-23, 1995

First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1995, Volume 2, #4

Written by Mike Indgin


What a week it was! The weather was beyond perfect all three days: cool temps, blue skies with occasional tie dye clouds to groove on as Tim and I made our way up to Charlotte from his house in Atlanta.

The only harshness we encountered the whole trip was the drug check (ambush) on the 85 freeway about 45 miles south of Charlotte. The unfortunate souls who pulled off the freeway after seeing the flashing yellow "drug check ahead" signs had their constitutional rights violated by carloads of cops and drug-sniffing dogs. It pains me to see innocent, harmless brothers and sisters hassled like this. Wish they would leave us along to find our own way home.

We cruised through incognito and got checked in at the Holiday Inn and arrived at the venue with no problem.

The scene was as kind as a scene can be with no vending allowed. We cruised in early and settled down easy in the giant space egg that is the 23,000 seat Coliseum. First night found us on Phil Lesh's side, beside the stage, with the big stack of hanging side speakers in our faces. The energy was high as the boys hit the stage and blasted into the potent one-two punch of Jack Straw and Bertha. Both Jerry Garcia's and Bob Weir's voices sounded strong and Tim nearly pulled my arm out of my socket as we flailed around while these two favorites were played with much intensity and jamming. Things settled down a bit with a nicely played Same Thing and a cozy stroll down Lazy River Road. I dig Lazy River Road, but just wish Garcia would replace it once in awhile with its sister song, Peggy-O. Weir then took us on an acoustic European tour with Masterpiece which was perfect and spine-tingling. Garcia whipped out Tennessee Jed, which had the southern crowd in full voice. Garcia forgot to wake up a-feelin' mean and botched that whole verse, causing Weir and Lesh to continue the verse melody while Garcia played a confused jam until he found his way back to the chorus. This overall hot sounding set was book-ended by the always welcome Music Never Stopped. This was flawless, with heavy crowd participation and a long spacey jam that segued into a straightforward rock jam that blazed on and on, building to a frenzied peak of perfection. As the lights went up, there was much rejoicing and back-slapping for one more gone and another to go.

Set two opened with a drums jam that left me wondering if a belated Mardi Gras parade was going to materialize. What appeared instead was Victim or the Crime, which the crowd seemed to appreciate more than I did. Then came the longest, sweetest Foolish Heart I've ever heard. A highlight in L.A. in December, this song has bloomed into a tour de force for the silver-haired one. He really took his time. The intro seemed to last at least five minutes. He nailed the words, thanks to the helping, friendly Teleprompter. Garcia belted them out with gusto as the song climaxed fifteen minutes later, taking another five minutes to cool down. Wow! Saint of Circumstance and He's Gone are a blur to me, but both were hot with He's Gone going into a nice a cappella jam into a blues jam and then into Drums. Drums were fun. From our angle we could see Mickey Hart smiling and following Billy Kreutzmann's lead. At one point, Hart was playing a xylophone jam on a midi drum pad while Kreutzmann played a horns jam on a midi xylophone...ah, the wonders of modern technology. Space was annoying: high-pitched, dissonant and loud. (How come Cutler doesn't turn up the volume on the rest of the show like he does in Space?) This cruised mercifully into my first I Want to Tell You which led into my second Attics in my last three shows (lucky me!). It was as beautiful as always and rolled into a Lovelight that lacked punch because somehow Garcia's guitar disappeared from the mix! They regrouped nicely and gave us a fun Mighty Quinn to close out a show that had just enough magic moments to make it special.

From the moment we entered the venue on Thursday and found our seats straight back on the lower level risers, we knew something exciting was afoot. Sure enough on stage was a sight for Dead eyes: a baby grand piano! We couldn't believe it! All day long we had been talking about how much we missed Bruce Hornsby, and suddenly, there he was, taking a bow as 23,000 insane, soon-to-be-hoarse voices shouted "BRUUUCE, BRUUUCE". Electricity filled the air as Garcia led us on a lofty journey across the Rio Grandio. Half Step was powerful, yet light and lyrical, as were all the tunes on this night. The jam at the end was extended and gorgeous with Hornsby's subtle piano filling in with shades of light green and blue. Wang Dang was smokin' with extra jams, leading to a surprise Cold Rain that was tight and wailing. Weir pulled out the acoustic for a rollicking El Paso which Garcia answered with a heartfelt long and crankin' Loser. This set was so hot that Weir's choice of Easy Answers didn't slow us down. In fact, it took us higher with its long Music-like jam. We didn't even mind them closing out the set with a sweet So Many Roads. We needed a break to catch our breath.

Nothing in this first set could prepare us for what was to come. After a seemingly endless break, the boys came back and broke into...something. The crowd was so loud I couldn't tell it was Unbroken Chain until about a minute into it. In my 46 shows, I've never heard that kind of crowd reaction. It could not have been louder in there...the egg would have cracked! Luckily, the crowd settled down to listen as Lesh bounced around and led the band through a stirring version of this rarity among rarities. Tim and I felt so fortunate to be witnessing this moment, with Hornsby no less! Words can't describe it, you'll have to get the tape. So what do you do after the second Unbroken Chain ever played live? Just the most epic Scarlet/Fire I've ever heard. I'll have to wait until I get the tape to be sure, but I think this version may have topped Cornell 77 and Winterland 78. Long, strong, and on fire, Garcia pulled out all the stops on this one, dueling with the crazy fingers of Hornsby, leaving us to pick our jaws off the floor as Weir went into Corina about 30 minutes after Scarlet began. This went into a jam that went into a Not Fade Away jam into Mathilda into another jam into a Hornsby piano jam with the drummers. Whew! Hornsby was jammin' so hard, he was barely able to stay on his piano stool! Drums led into Space which led to one more jam before Days Between and a rockin' Good Lovin' to close out the best played second set I've ever witnessed (with the possible exception of Branford Marsalis' appearance on 12/16/94). The Weight encore was great, with Hornsby getting a chance to show off his vocal prowess. I looked at my friend after the lights went on and said, "Tim, I feel like the richest guy on the planet." I know a certain piano player who must have been feeling just as high.

So Many Roads is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 1995 The Music Box