Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grateful Dead Concert Recording Review from Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA 12-30-1990

This is a great show and one that represents the Dead in their finest hour (in my opinion). The playing is tight and the crowd is into the show. Jerry is really “on” for the most part. This tape had some crazy sound going on (see Memphis Blues and Looks Like Rain below).

Bertha starts off the show, I’ve stated other places in my blog that I feel that Bertha is a great song… while you’re at a concert but seems to drag on a bit when I hear it on tapes. This version is excellent with spirited piano from Hornsby in addition to Vince’s keys.

Jerry plays Bertha perfectly, has a great solo, and even sings some lines very emphatically (like “Throw me in the JAILHOUSE” ) and the crowd just eats it up.

Anytime there is an opener before Feel Like a Stranger I always think to myself that it is like getting two openers for the price of one! Feel Like a Stranger is one of my favorite openers, although granted it lost a little bit of its swagger after Brent died. This version is great and the first odd sounds in the mix are apparent at about the 14:00 minute mark (of the entire show). Bobby’s guitar (he’s playing great) really comes out in front of everything to the point where it sounds like overdubs. A bit of magic in the recording (or maybe in the air that night).

Candyman is just a great old fashioned Grateful Dead tune and fits perfectly after those two high powered openers. This version is great with Jerry emphasizing all the “crowd favorite lines” (If I had a shotgun I’d blow you straaaaight to heeellll) and the crowd response is audible on the tape at these moments. Jerry goes into the solo with the usual effect on his guitar (kind of like a chorus/tremolo) and the band starts to really push him and he starts playing a really fast solo which is an awesome harbinger of things to come.

Me and My Uncle is a routine song that is mercifully short but this one is well played and goes seamlessly into Maggie’s Farm which is really cool because Vince sings a lead (as well as Hornsby). Vince sings “… I don’t know the words…” when he is caught unprepared which for some reason kind of bothers me because it makes light of the Dead concert which is a pretty awesome affair that a lot of work goes into creating and involves some of the world’s best (or most interesting) musicians. Then again it is just a lighthearted thing to sing and it definitely gets a good crowd response. I am a huge fan of Vince which you will find out if you read much of my blog.

The first bona fide “chills up your spine” moment of the show comes after Maggie’s Farm when Jerry starts playing the intro to High Time and you can feel the excitement of the crowd as they quickly realize it (I actually thought it was To Lay Me Down for a few bars). The crowd response to Jerry’s first line, “You told me good bye…” is great.

Next is Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again which is a rare gem and one of the (not so many) Bobby songs that I really like. During this song the drums completely cut out of the recording a couple of times. It is so abrupt (and cuts in and out right at the beginning of a measures) that I at first thought it was intentional, but it am pretty sure it was a microphone/recording error. I’ve never heard anything like this in any other Grateful Dead recording.

Tennessee Jed follows and this is a song that I loved to hear live but not a personal favorite to listen to on tapes. I did notice that this version is a really rocking rendition and Jerry is at the top of his game.

Valley Road closes the 1st set and this is not one of the Hornsby songs I like (Stander on the Mountain is the only one I can think of at this time that I have an affinity for). I would’ve been really disappointed to be at this gig and have this close out the first set.

Set II

One reason I really like this show is that it has an interesting setlist. The 1990s are my favorite era for the Dead even more than the 1980s. I have discussed elsewhere on my blog how I think that the 1980s are more consistently rocking, but the 1990s are more interesting. Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo is case in point because I always associate this song with opening the first set.

I like the entire Mississipi Half Step song but of course the part that really pulls at my heart strings is the beautiful ending progression where Jerry sings “Acroooooss the Rio Graaande-ooo.” He delivers in fine form on this version.

Looks like Rain is next and is a somewhat surprising down-tempo change to the set. Still, it is a great song and a great version. One part that I’ve always really liked about this song is Jerry’s delicate lyrical “bird like” (as in the animal not the Jazz musician) trills at the end when Bobby is saying “Turning grey and it looks like rain.” The unique sonic quality of this show is on display again at around the 5:00 mark of the song when Bobby’s guitar comes forward in the mix so much (and he’s playing great while singing) that it honestly sounds like it is overdubbed. Then there is some thunder sound effects and it creates a great feeling for this excellent version of Looks Like Rain.

Crazy Fingers begins shortly after Looks Like Rain.

You will learn from my song reviews that Crazy Fingers is my favorite Dead song (if I had to choose – which is so difficult to do). As soon as you can hear the opening notes where Jerry outlines the G and C chord in 6/8 time it sends chills up my spine EVERY TIME. This is a great 90’s version and while I listen to this I am thoroughly convinced that this is going to be a Dead concert for the ages… until…

Jerry murders the final verse. The final verse of Crazy Fingers is my favorite verse of any Dead song and Jerry sings the wrong verse. Now, I am a huge Jerry fanatic and I think he can do no wrong for the most part. In fact I used to love it when he flubbed the lyrics when I was at the concert and sometimes it would earn the biggest audience cheer of the whole night- as if to show how much unconditional love and support there was in the room. However, in this case, I have to say that it is such an extreme and egregious mistake that it kind of casts a shadow over the rest of the concert and robs the show of a lot of momentum and it seems Jerry loses a little bit of the energy that he never really regains in the show. I could be imagining this because he pulls out an excellent solo on the outro of Crazy Fingers, but I still think it was the moment in which this show turned from one that was going to be “for the ages” to being “a great Dead show.” Still, here’s few things better in life than listening to “a great Dead show…”

Our buddy the professor at KOPN does an admirable job in delivering the Dead hour but in this case the show goes from Crazy Fingers -> Me and My Uncle ->Drumz…. so there must’ve been some technical difficulties, but oh well, I am sure the Playin’ was great and I’m sure I’ll get to hear it someday.

Drums begins with the standard drums solo as usual and then sound effects begin - good and scary- whipping around and panning left and right .

You can hear the crowd roar as some band members (presumably Jerry) step out on stage and the Space begins. There are a lot of interesting sound effects including a marimba in a disjointed atonal theme.

Jerry busts out flute sound effects and then the trumpet sound which he uses to play an eerie theme that reminds me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Terrapin begins without much fanfare, but continuing on my thread of Jerry losing a step after Crazy Fingers, he sounds a little hoarse and unenthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong I love Terrapin every time I hear it. The band behind him sounds great and Jerry plays a great solo in the middle of the “Lady with a Fan” verses, and there is also a great group improvisation section leading into the “since the end is never told” transition into Terrapin Station.

The buildup at the end of Terrapin Station is well executed, but I think it could’ve used a little more juice in the drums (I always like it when Terrapin precedes Drums – that last section usually explodes with Mickey and Billy starting to “take off.”)

Phil starts a interesting 1-5 pedal tone during the end of Terrapin Station and forces the jam awkwardly into Sugar Magnolia. Of course there is a great crowd reaction to this and that is a beautiful thing to hear. Sugar Magnolia seems the quintessential NYE song, I know Bill Graham loved it. I definitely got a chill listening to the end of this Sunshine Daydream although I could’ve sworn Morning Dew was coming next for some reason.

US. Blues encore– this one always makes me feel like I’m in a time warp, and I always picture the cartoon at the beginning of the Grateful Dead Movie. Although I was born in 1975 I still have a little memory of the spirit of the 70's and this song is a great rock song from this era. The lyrics are lighthearted and it is a great encore - to the best of my knowledge it seemed to end shows that were excellent. A great ending to a great show.

I could only imagine how great it would have been to have been there and seen this great concert and yet known that New Years Eve was still to come...


BobCole52 said...

I've been trying to remember the GD recording that starts with a hard cut to a roaring crowd - not a fade in. It's a very cool sound, which the mixer/producer obviously recognized as a piece of music itself. But which album and song is it?

GDmike said...

I always get chills when I hear the crowd get suddenly very loud in soundboard recordings. I think when it jumps up drastically in volume and quickly it is because the roar of the audience is so loud it actually triggers the "noise gate" on the microphones (which is set to keep them from transmitting the sound they are picking up until it is loud enough to be someone singing into the microphone). In effect, the audience is so loud the vocal mics think that someone is standing with their mouth right on top of the mic singing into it... that's how you know things are getting hot!!

Jamie Breslow said...

Good show, and one of my favorite Strangers. Jerry was hoarse, and unfortunately stayed hoarse...or maybe I should say fortunately, because everytime that I saw him witf an iffy voice he seemed to make up for it in his solos and overall play, and this was no exception. The New Years show is easily one of the top-5 shows I saw them play and J. couldn't sing for shit, and yet...he was amazing that night. Of Course.