Crimson, White, & Indigo: Philadelphia
[July 7, 1989]
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2010, Volume 17, #9
Written by John Metzger
Wed September 22, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
On July 7, 1989, beneath the blazing heat of the summer sun, the Grateful Dead and its colorful band of gypsies descended upon the southern fringes of Philadelphia. Coming in droves, they filled the expansive parking lots surrounding the sports complex that once housed J.F.K. Stadium. The concert was the final event to be held at the venue, which was slated for demolition in order to make room for bigger and better arenas. Given that J.F.K. Stadium was capable of holding more than 90,000 people, the scene very easily could have spiraled out of control, devolving into the sort of chaos that had plagued many of the Grateful Deadís latter-day appearances. At the very least, given the size of the crowd, the show could have felt remarkably impersonal.
Nevertheless, something special happened that day. Instead of feeling like a humongous mass of unrelated spectators, the entourage that gathered prior to the concert exhibited the sorts of characteristics commonly seen at family reunions. Like a large-scale version of the scene in San Franciscoís Golden Gate Park from which the Grateful Dead had emerged, the atmosphere that developed at J.F.K. Stadium in July 1989 was one that embraced the ideals of peace and love, a joyous concoction brewed from an afternoon enveloped in acid, incense, and balloons. Even inside the venue itself, security was virtually nonexistent, which allowed the concert to assume the beautifully mellow aura of one the bandís West Coast engagements.
The show began on a footing that was rather rocky. The sound inside J.F.K. Stadium was much too low, making it nearly impossible to discern the first two songs that the Grateful Dead delivered: Hell in a Bucket and Iko Iko. This problem doesnít plague the newly issued collection Crimson, White, & Indigo, which presents the entirety of the bandís performance on CD and DVD. In retrospect, though, not much was missed. Both tunes were tackled admirably by the Grateful Dead. Nevertheless, it also is immediately apparent that the musicians were searching for solid ground. Fortunately, it didnít take them long to find it.
As the sound inside J.F.K. Stadium was restored, the Grateful Dead tore into a fiery rendition of Little Red Rooster, during which everything snapped into place. Guitarist Jerry Garcia answered Bob Weirís energetic performance with a searing slide guitar solo, and keyboard player Brent Mydland pushed the tune down some seriously dark passageways via his feverishly angry vocals and whirling organ accompaniment. Each of the songs that the Grateful Dead subsequently delivered ó from the playfully spry Ramble on Rose and the rolling, psychedelic mayhem of Bob Dylanís Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again to the urgency of Loser and the whirling epic Let It Grow ó further elevated the intensity of the show.
After Ramble on Rose, Mydland had tried to interject a musical statement of his own, but his message was brushed aside by Weir, who plunged into Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. As Crimson, White, & Indigo reveals, Mydland wasnít happy with what had transpired, and to restore order, Garcia smiled and said a few words privately to him. As Let It Grow concluded, Garcia seemingly fulfilled his promise to Mydland, refusing to allow the Grateful Dead to leave the stage until Blow Away had been performed to his satisfaction. Launching into a Pigpen-style rant, Mydland admonished the fans and friends who had broken his heart, before he reeled everyone back with a sermon about the power of love.
By the time that the Grateful Dead returned to the stage for the second half of its show, any misunderstandings that had existed among its members were resolved. With nothing left to inhibit the attention of the musicians, the group built a monumental set around a classic suite of songs. The band rolled them out, one by one: the healing salve of Phil Leshís Box of Rain; the bubbly exuberance of Scarlet Begonias; the unhurried, hypnotic pulse of Fire on the Mountain, and the spiritual searching of Estimated Prophet. Just like the days of old, Garcia and Lesh poked and prodded at the tunes, probing their melodies, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes in tandem.
Two of the concertís most eloquent moments, however, stood in sharp contrast to the complex musical terrain through which the Grateful Dead had traveled. The gentle purity of Standing on the Moon distilled the problems of the world into a simple song of love, while the salvation-seeking protagonist of Wharf Rat found enlightenment within the compassion of the crowd, which bathed him in the warm glow that emanated from its chorus of voices. Echoing the sentiments expressed by Mydland earlier in the show, Weir put an emphatic stamp on the evening with a rousing rendition of Turn on Your Lovelight, to which Garcia appended a haunting cover of Dylanís Knockiní on Heavenís Door. Overall, it is difficult to imagine a more fitting performance in the City of Brotherly Love. Thankfully, Crimson, White, & Indigo documents it for posterity. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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