View from the Vault III
Shoreline - Mountain View, CA
[June 16, 1990]
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2003, Volume 10, #1
Written by John Metzger
As 1989 gave way to 1990, the Grateful Dead was on another upswing. Fueled by the adoption of MIDI-based technology, the band was able to simulate an array of sounds and instruments, further opening up the music while reawakening the groupís creative tendencies. As a result, the first half of 1990 contained the most consistent string of Grateful Dead concerts in nearly a decade and some of the finest performances of the bandís final fifteen years. Fortunately, this period of the groupís history was documented not only aurally, but also visually, as its growing popularity and attention to its audience made video screens a necessity at its concerts.
The first selection in the Grateful Deadís View from the Vault collection was recorded in July 1990, just weeks before the untimely passing of keyboardist Brent Mydland. The recently released third volume in this series (and fifth full-length concert video overall, not counting the piecemeal Grateful Dead Movie) checks in with the band just a few weeks earlier than this and features the groupís entire June 16 performance at Mountain View, Californiaís Shoreline Amphitheater, its home venue. By this point in the Grateful Deadís career, it had long settled into a two-set routine, each with its own selection of likely songs and a very structured format. Whatís notable about this particular performance is that the band offered some variation to its pre-scripted formula, and in the process, it became a looser, more playful, and yes, even unpredictable ensemble.
During the first set, the Grateful Dead offered nine songs, and although they were mostly short ones, the band more than made up for this with some surprising twists and turns. Let the Good Times Roll hinted at the fun to come, bursting full-force into the astonishing choice of Truckiní before closing down the trip-shot introduction with a solid Touch of Grey. The set concluded in equally startling fashion with the seldom-played Big Boss Man leading into the rousing first set rarity One More Saturday Night. In between lay a beautiful Friend of the Devil, a soaring Cassidy, and a particularly jovial pairing of Mama Tried and Big River. Sometimes after sets like this, the Grateful Dead would return to the stage and fall flat on its face, going through the motions for the remainder of the show. Not so at this concert: the band was merely revving up its engines in preparation for the second act.
Charging out of the gate with a jaunty China Cat Sunflower, the Grateful Dead settled in for some serious improvisational mayhem. The guitar stylings of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir danced in tandem to the rollicking rhythm of Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, while keyboardist Brent Mydland painted each instrumental passage with a delicate array of color and texture. Garcia channeled guitar, saxophone, and flute before the band dove head-first into the initial verse of I Know You Rider. Without missing a beat, the band continued the groove, comfortably delivering Mydlandís socio-political commentary We Can Run, and despite its humorously botched lyrics, it remains as powerful a statement today as it was when it was first composed ó even if it does carry a melody thatís just a little too cute.
This too flowed, with only the briefest of pauses, into one of the most inspired segments of any latter day Grateful Dead concert, which of course, marks the highlight of View from the Vault III. Starting with Estimated Prophet, the members of the Grateful Dead locked onto one another in a shining display of collective virtuosity. Each musician fed off of the others, building a tuneful wall of liquid sound that built to climax after climax as melodies melted together, shifting from Estimated Prophetís reggae rhythm to Terrapin Stationís epic folk-rock beauty. And then things turned truly strange. Instead of the usual installment of Drums, the band members remained on stage in various configurations, continuing to experiment with their equipment, while exploring musical themes and ideas in ways that were reminiscent of the groupís early í70s heyday. Terrapin Station mutated and evolved into something new, different, and exciting. As melodies surfaced, the group ran with them before the music devolved into free-form space. Eventually, a drum solo did emerge, but rather than a percussive duel, Hart called the congregation to order by banging around on the "Beam." A gorgeous rendition of China Doll quickly ensued, and this, in turn, yielded to a jubilant Sugar Magnolia that brought the crowd back to reality. Of course, there would be no better way to cap off the evening than with Bob Dylanís Itís All Over Now, Baby Blue, and thatís exactly what the band delivered in touching tribute to one of its biggest inspirations.
As with the previous releases in the View from the Vault series, the video material is absolutely priceless. Itís a joy to watch the band interact, behaving like the musical brothers that they were. The smiles of approval after an inspired solo, the chiding glance after a mistake, the shared laughter and unified joy ó itís all captured on this intimately revealing document that offers the world a backstage pass to the greatest concert act in rock history.
As an added bonus, material recorded in 1987 at the same venue is tacked onto the end of both the DVD and CD versions of View from the Vault III. Not surprisingly, all six of the selections ó Hey Pocky Way, New Minglewood Blues, Candyman, (When I Paint My) Masterpiece, West L.A. Fadeaway, and My Brother Esau ó are terrific performances that masterfully augment the primary focus of this exquisite collection, offering just a little bit more to those who always dreamed that concerts would continue well past their encores.
Of Further Interest...
View from the Vault III (DVD) 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 © 2003 The Music Box