View from the Vault II
R.F.K. Stadium - Washington, D.C.
[June 14, 1991]
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2001, Volume 8, #10
Written by John Metzger
For decades, the 1969 album Live Dead was the seminal concert recording from the Grateful Dead. Today, the disc still holds its own, though the band has added to its line-up of live recordings with a formidable stream of releases via both the Dick's Picks and multi-track vault series. The group's latest endeavor involves the annual release of one of its concerts on video, and while the selection of suitable material contained in the Grateful Dead's vast vault might be a bit limited, these collections have successfully captured the band in all its glory.
The aptly titled View from the Vault II — although this is actually the Grateful Dead's fourth full-length concert video — contains the group's entire June 14, 1991 performance from Washington, D.C.'s R.F.K. Stadium. Once again, the DVD version is highly recommended not only due to its crystal clear imagery and stellar sound, but also because of the extensive bonus footage — which this time includes a large portion of the second set from the band's July 12, 1990 concert at the same venue as well as the Liberty video. As such, this release marks another in a long line of welcome additions to any Deadhead's collection, while also offering further proof that the latter day naysayers were so far off the mark that they often overlooked some rather brilliant moments (with a large chunk of June 14, 1991 being one of them).
As with the Grateful Dead's prior video releases, the quality of View from the Vault II is nothing short of superb. Taken straight from the live video feed that aired during the concert, the program offers an intimate look at the on-stage interaction among band members — catching every gesture, whether overt or subtle, as well as the pleasure that each musician brings to his companions. In particular, the trio of Jerry Garcia, Bruce Hornsby, and Vince Welnick is a joy to witness (as is the interplay between Garcia and keyboardist Brent Mydland in the bonus footage). The three musicians repeatedly pass a lead or phrase from one to another in a friendly, round-robin competition, and when one of them finds a particularly creative niche, the others light up with sheer delight. Just watch as Welnick lays down a series of fiddle accompaniments (performed on synthesizer) during Tennessee Jed, Big River, and Maggie's Farm as well as on one of the most gloriously uplifting versions of Jack-A-Roe the band had ever performed.
Yes, this was one of those concerts that was solid from start to finish, one of those moments when it all came together in one giant emotional, life-affirming heap. Granted, there were a few stray notes here and there as well as few blown lyrics, but it's actually quite amusing to watch the musicians react to these errors throughout the up-close and personal video. (Bob Weir got a particularly amusing look of surprise on his face during one off-key encounter). Make no mistake, however, these miscues in no way detracted from the overall performance, and let's face it, there are bound to be some imperfections during any three-hour improvised concert. The Grateful Dead machine was certainly in fine form for this event, and the musicians — including a blue t-shirt-clad Garcia, which became the norm rather than the exception for this tour — were clearly enjoying themselves immensely. Hornsby blurred the lines between blues and jazz to fuel an inspired Wang Dang Doodle; Weir rendered the too-infrequently-performed Black-Throated Wind with stirring passion; and The Music Never Stopped was not only appropriate (for a variety of reasons, including the line "Say it might have been a fiddle/Or it could have been the wind"), but it also served as the perfect set-closer, capturing the exuberant, celebratory ambience that hung in the air.
The second set was an equally effective affair, containing a song sequence that fit the bill of a "dream set" for many. The trilogy of Help on the Way, Slipknot!, and Franklin's Tower spiraled outward, never quite leaving the boundaries of space and time behind, but hinting at what was yet to come. Garcia's viscous guitar led the way and was punctuated by discordant tones from Weir and Welnick before the melody recongealed around the jubilant strains of Franklin's Tower. Here, Hornsby carried the song to a frolicking reverie on the back of his spidery piano fills and majestic chord progressions. Likewise, the reggae-tinged Estimated Prophet was full of fire as Weir growled and howled the song's lyrics, and Welnick let loose a down and dirty saxophone accompaniment (again via synthesizer). Gradually, the melody disintegrated until the familiar strains of Dark Star began to emerge. This was actually the beginning of a summer-long version of the Dead's trademark song, one which continued with jams in New Jersey and Chicago as well as a tease in Denver, before fully reemerging in its entirely in the Bay Area two months later.
To draw the evening to a close, the band delivered a touching rendition of It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. It's funny how Dylan songs always seemed to suit the Grateful Dead so well, and this was no exception. In covering this well-known tune, the group managed to give the song new meaning, one which became all the more poignant in light of Garcia's passing. How many times have you heard the opening lyric — "You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last/Whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast" — and found it to be a fitting encore? View from the Vault II takes this to a whole other level, mutating the tune into a haunting memory that lingers long after the final notes are played.
Thus is the beauty of View from the Vault II, a truly breathtaking sliver of Grateful Dead history. As with the previous release, one comes away from the program with the same sense of relaxation and enjoyment that often followed attending one of the band's concerts. This is arguably the best release that the group has put out from its latter day incarnation, and that it appears on video as well as audio — the soundtrack is available separately — makes for an added bonus.
Of Further Interest...
View from the Vault II is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
View from the Vault is part of the View from the Vault boxed
set, which is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box