Road Trips, Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo '93
[May 26-27, 1993]
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2010, Volume 17, #2
Written by John Metzger
Fri February 26, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
Throughout his lengthy tenure with the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland was woefully underappreciated. Nevertheless, his successor Vince Welnick was the member of the band who truly got the short end of the stick. For the first 18 months after he joined the outfit, Welnick was given considerable support by fellow keyboard player Bruce Hornsby. The downside, of course, is that Welnick often was overshadowed by his compatriot. Unfortunately, shortly after his training wheels were removed, the Grateful Dead began its long, slow decline as Jerry Garciaís focus began to wax and wane, sometimes mid-performance. Welnick did his best to fit into the musical framework, joining Bob Weir and Phil Lesh in their bids to enliven the proceedings and maintain Garciaís interest. For a little while, their strategy seemed to work.
The final sequence of concerts in the Grateful Deadís distinguished history that featured any semblance of consistency from one night to the next occurred in 1993. Not every show that the band delivered that year was picture-perfect, and undeniably, the quality of its performances typically lagged behind those of its banner moments in the 1970s. Nevertheless, flush with new material, the Grateful Dead hit the road with renewed vigor. Although its shows were laced with an air of professionalism, they also contained plenty of indications that the groupís adventurous spirit was still intact.
The final chapter in the second volume of the Grateful Deadís Road Trips series focuses upon the bandís three-night run at Cal Expo in late May 1993. Specifically, the entirety of the groupís performance from May 26 has been paired with a sizeable portion of its show from the subsequent evening. The collection ably demonstrates that this was a better-than-average string of appearances by the Grateful Dead. While the outfit may have been running out of time, it clearly wasnít going to go down without a fight.
Even so, each of the three discs that compose Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo í93 begins slowly, with the members of the Grateful Dead seeming to exhibit an outlook that was scattered and disconnected. Samson & Delilah is relatively subdued and feels like a placeholder because the group never rumbles to life. Despite its Beatle-esque flavor, Here Comes Sunshine is equally uneventful. Elsewhere, the musicians appeared to be distracted and out-of-synch on Corrina, and although Picasso Moon was laced with an inspired guitar accompaniment from Garcia, thereís still no way of denying the fact that it is one of the lesser tunes in the collectiveís repertoire.
There certainly were times during the Grateful Deadís final years when these sorts of deficiencies would have signaled the onset of an underwhelming performance. At Cal Expo, however, they proved to be minor obstacles, over which the band hurdled at lightning speed. The bulk of Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo í93 boasts some rather terrific late-era music from the band, and if there are any remaining doubts about the outfitís agenda, fans merely need to look at the set lists for the shows to find reassurance.
By this point in its career, the Grateful Dead had locked into a fairly standard routine for its concerts. Although it didnít exactly break the mold at Cal Expo, the ensemble did toss a handful of surprising twists and turns into its formula. Perhaps the most gratifying example was the second set appearance of Cassidy. The rendition on Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo í93 is darker than most, but there is a method to the madness. The Grateful Dead ever so carefully allowed the song to drift apart and plunge into the baptismal waters of Uncle Johnís Band. By the time that Cassidy re-emerges, it is the epitome of a reincarnation. In fact, this sequence works so delightfully well that one has to wonder why this feat didnít become a mainstay throughout the bandís final years.
There are other treasures buried within Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo í93, too: Taken at a brisk pace, Deal is wonderfully intense, and as the notes from Garciaís guitar dance merrily along, the rampaging rhythm supplied by the group assumes the aura of flames lapping at his heels, threatening to engulf him as he tempts fate. Crazy Fingers is a portrait of tranquility. There is something mournful in Garciaís vocals, so much so that he seems to be singing it from a place of yearning. Yet, as the tune enters its final passage, a sense of warmth and healing climbs through the music and envelops his sorrow. China Doll follows a similar path, its fragility embraced by the loving tones of his guitar.
Playing in the Band may have been predictable, but it split open to reveal its jazzy center. Divided into factions, the members of the Grateful Dead tossed ideas back and forth across the crevasse. Coaxing flute-like sounds from his guitar, Garcia assumed the role of a pied piper who led the group through the mayhem, straight into a funky, horn-dotted dance. When the tune reconvenes ó on the other side of a heavily edited drums-and-space segment ó it erupts with such power and force that it feels like 1974, a time when Donna Godchaux had led the charge with her ferocious roar.
These sorts of moments became increasingly rare during the Grateful Deadís final years, making it difficult for newcomers to discern the things that made the Grateful Dead so special. At the same time, shows like those featured on Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo í93 kept the groupís most devoted followers from losing faith in the band. The magic might have been fading, but it hadnít yet been extinguished. Given the careful curatorship that has watched over the Grateful Deadís vast archives, this flickering flame may stay lit forever.
Of Further Interest...
Road Trips, Vol. 2, No. 4: Cal Expo '93 is NOT available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, please visit the Grateful Dead Site!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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