Two Improvisations: October 1994

Cover art: Margaret Brundage

These two pure improvisations by the drumless quartet of late 1994 deserve to be highlighted for their beauty. The first one is exquisite, everyone pulling together to craft an extended, gentle melody with dramatic ebbs and flows. The second one is beautiful, too, on a more blustery day. 

One of my favorite drumless insta-songs by the earlier band is this one from October 1972.

In time for Halloween, I’m going to post a two-hour stack of Drums/Space passages from October 1994, a month I previously investigated for performances of pre-1979 songs. These two pieces are highlights from that month's open improvisation. 

9-minute mp3 download here

  • Mona in Her Mask (10/2/94)
  • October (10/9/94)

Shortlist: Frost Amphitheatre, Stanford U. – April 27-28, 1985

My mid-80s Grateful Dead conversion trip has begun. This post presents an LP-length postcard from my early travels.

I’ve been rooting around in this period since “Dave’s Picks #27: 9/2/83” was announced, having hardly listened to these years since I collected cassettes in the late ‘80s. Since my post-Mydland prejudices have already been blown to smithereens this year, I figured I’d be proven stupid on the ‘80s, too. 

The music featured in this post is among the stuff that has effectively shut down all my old, ignorant, blanket assumptions about mid-80s Dead. The sound is big and natural, and both second sets are performed impeccably, with real connections within the unorthodox song sequences. Some songs are more perfunctory than you’d like, but nearly every song is a tight, error-free version that finds a swell groove. To me, it’s a bit like full sets that feel like the “Dead Set” album, with some big jams added in. (Garcia’s voice was weak in this period, but that hardly affects these second sets, and he’s certainly checked-in on all fronts.)

This is the only “Scarlet > Eyes” ever played, and a couple of transitions are also notable: “Crazy Fingers > Playin’” is seamless, without a full-stop, and “China Doll > Playin’” is an extended piece of improvisation that genuinely gets from one song to the other. 

Both first sets were spotty, but the best from them is some of the very exciting material from the shows: I found the exceptional “My Brother Esau” I was looking for - the search that led me to these shows. “Dancin’ in the Street” wasn’t all that common in this period, and this version, which opened the two Frost shows, is wonderful, finding a groove that isn’t that far away from 2/14/70. Garcia is maniacal on "Minglewood."  The only released material from these shows is “She Belongs to Me,” which featured on a Rhino Garcia/Dylan compilation. 

The fact that these two shows were played in the open air at the small and lovely Frost Amphitheatre makes them sound even sweeter.

First Set Highlights (47-minute mp3 mix download here)

  • Dancin’ in the Street
  • Little Red Rooster
  • My Brother Esau
  • Minglewood Blues
  • Tons of Steel
  • Bird Song
  • She Belongs to Me

4/27/85 Second Set (best archive.org stream here)

  • Scarlet Begonias >
  • Eyes of the World >
  • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad >
  • Man Smart, Woman Smarter >
  • Drums >
  • Space >
  • The Wheel >
  • Truckin’ >
  • The Other One >
  • Black Peter >
  • Around & Around >
  • One More Saturday Night

4/28/85 Second Set (best archive.org stream here)

  • Hell in a Bucket >
  • Crazy Fingers >
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • China Doll >
  • Playin’ Jam >
  • Drums >
  • Space >
  • Playin’ jam and reprise >
  • Wharf Rat >
  • Throwing Stones >
  • Not Fade Away


October '94

According to these performances, The Grateful Dead were great at least as late as fall 1994. Try this in place of 1977 or 1989 Dead sometime. You won’t be disappointed. 

October 1st is the only 1994 concert The Dead have officially released. Most of the rest of the month’s shows circulate on beefy soundboards, which I sifted for this mix, while also making a couple of important audience tape pickups. The tour’s shows, which began in September, ended on October 19; the band’s next tour began November 29.

Much of the 1993-1994 material I’ve posted on this blog, so far, has been focused on the extremes of how far out the band could get (“Dark Star,” drums/space MIDI adventures, Ornette Coleman) and how well they could sell their newest/final compositions (“Liberty,” Childhood’s End,” etc.). 

In contrast to those two perspectives, this mix is all about the October 1994 Grateful Dead punching you in the face with terrific performances of 29 of their pre-1979 classics.

This mix is bike-trail-tested. I’ve created four sequences, but start anywhere you like. There’s very, very little slack.

4h40m mp3 mix here (tagged as a single album with four discs)

71 minutes:

  • Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (10/15)
  • Loose Lucy (10/3)
  • Black Throated Wind (10/15)
  • Stagger Lee (10/15)
  • Jack-a-Roe (10/19)
  • Attics of My Life (10/3)
  • Friend of the Devil (10/17)
  • New Minglewood Blues (10/17)
  • New Speedway Boogie (10/15)
  • Truckin’ (10/18)

74 minutes:

  • Help on the Way > Slipknot! > (10/18)
  • Franklin’s Tower (10/18)
  • Playin’ in the Band > (10/13)
  • Uncle John’s Band > (10/13)
  • Playin’ Jam (10/13)
  • Fire on the Mountain (10/14)

58 minutes:

  • Shakedown Street (10/3)
  • Eyes of the World (10/17)
  • The Wheel (10/3)
  • Morning Dew (10/17)

77 minutes:

  • Cassidy (10/3)
  • It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (10/13)
  • Stella Blue > (10/19)
  • Sugar Magnolia (10/19)
  • Bird Song (10/3)
  • Row Jimmy (10/2)
  • Wharf Rat (10/13)
  • Comes a Time (10/9 - final performance)
  • China Doll (10/11 - final performance)
Additional notes:
  • I’m beginning to prefer the sound of mature Welnick Dead to peak Mydland Dead. 1993-1994’s leaner, opener sound is what I wish post 1977-1978 Dead had immediately become next: A tight, wiry unit with a big sound that worked to play and sing the whole catalog well and thoughtfully. 
  • Aside from a couple affectionate tombstone mixes drawn from the band’s very last shows in July 1995, October 1994 is as far as I’ve gotten. Lead vocals lapses are the main flaws you’ll find in some of my selections, but most are fleeting, with only a couple of more extensively blown lyrics. There are plenty of absolutely perfect performances in the mix as well. The jamming, short and long, is all pleasing, with “Fire” and “Eyes” going on for more than 20 minutes each, and “Bird Song” possibly a top 10 for me. The “Attics of My Life” will curl your toes, in a good way.

Goodnight Jerry: The Final Three Shows (July 6-9, 1995)

If I were to tell you that The Grateful Dead played a considerable amount of impressive music during their final three concerts in 1995, you’d probably tell me to prove it. 

2 LP mp3 mix here

  • Liberty (5:37)
  • Cassidy (6:58)
  • Eternity (9:14)
  • When I Paint My Masterpiece (5:00)
  • Visions of Johanna (9:11)
  • Terrapin Breeze (2:30)
  • Eyes of the World (18:36)
  • Stella Blue (7:39)
  • Terrapin Thunder > Jam (7:30)
  • So Many Roads (11:45)
  • Black Muddy River (5:18)

Notes:

  • Source dates included in song title tags.
  • These are the final performances of all these songs, obviously.
  • This is a justifiably famous “Visions of Johanna.”
  • "Black Muddy River" was the encore on the last night. "So Many Roads" was the last Jerry song in the second set that night. 
  • There are no edits in this mix, except for “Terrapin Station.” There are some errors, but aren't there always?
  • All sources are soundboards, although that for the 6th is inferior to the other two. 
  • I’d planned to make it the last four shows, but nothing from 7/5 made the cut.

Imaginary Final Single: If the Shoe Fits/Childhood’s End (October 1994)

“If the Shoe Fits” debuted on 6/9/94 and “Childhood’s End” on 7/20/94 – the last two original Grateful Dead songs to enter the live repertoire, both written and sung by Phil Lesh.

If you want to get to know these songs, and possibly come to love them, these are definitely the droids you’re looking for. 

I think I’ve checked out all circulating soundboards and audience recordings, and these two soundboard performances/recordings were the giant, obvious needles in the archive haystack. (It's conceivable that one or both of these made it into The Dead's periodic free single-song download series, but I have no complete list of those downloads. 10/1/94 is the only complete concert The Dead have released from that year.)

This is part of my ongoing project to find outstanding versions of all The Dead’s final compositions, which started with this March 1994 anthology.

mp3 single here

  • If the Shoe Fits (10/19/94)
  • Childhood’s End (10/3/94)
  • If the Shoe Fits (8/3/94 audience recording, Japanese edition bonus track)

As I understand it, Lesh (and perhaps the others) felt that new songs would help fuel Garcia engagement in a period when Jerry was headed in the same direction as in the mid-1980s, when his drugged-out-bad-health put him in a coma that he narrowly survived – living on to drive the 1989-onward renaissance of the band. In the 1995 remake, Jerry died. The big musical difference between those two episodes is that everyone else in the band had their shit together in 1994, whereas the whole band was a mess in 1986. 

My general take on Welnick Dead, so far, is that they are not to be dismissed – a band that had stopped depending on Garcia’s leadership to determine the musical outcome, but who were always therefore also ready when Garcia was feeling spry. Weir has said something to that effect. And when Garcia was feeling spry, it was just as you would wish it to be.

“Shoe Fits” is a rocker that The Dead wore very comfortably on a number of occasions, Lesh singing an uncharacteristically aggressive lyric effectively. “Childhood’s End” was harder for The Dead to navigate, a twisty second cousin to “Unbroken Chain.” 


Liberty: Final Compositions - Live March 1994 (v3)

Cover: Detail of a Peter Max painting

Note on this version (V3). I adjusted the mix twice in the 24 hours after I first posted it. If you've got a version that doesn't have the performances of "Lazy River Road" and "So Many Roads" noted by date in the song list, below, you've got V1 or V2. V3 also includes some more volume fine-tuning.

This is the third, completely different, fake album I’ve pulled out of the available soundboard recordings of The Grateful Dead’s March 1994 performances. I think this was a good month.

The first mix combined the final two performances of “Dark Star” with some other remarkable jamming. The second one combined pieces of “Drums” and “Space” to create an Eno-esque ambient jam album. 

Going in an another direction entirely, this curation plucks performances of new compositions that never had a chance to make it onto a studio album. They played all their late period songs at least once in March 1994, except for one that had been retired and three that had yet to debut:

  • "Wave to the Wind" (final performance 12/9/93)
  • "Samba in the Rain" (debut 6/8/94)
  • "If the Shoe Fits" (debut 6/9/94)
  • "Childhood's End" (debut 7/20/94)

It’s weird to me that The Dead have never released something that rolls up most or all of the new compositions of the final years. (The closest they've come is putting six of these compositions on the final disc of "So Many Roads.") It would be a really good album, making a trio with “In the Dark” and “Built to Last.” Such a release seems like low-hanging commercial fruit and something that history requires. I’m sure I’m not the first person to present an amateur substitute. The only major flaw here is Garcia's vocal uncertainty on "So Many Roads." Otherwise, these seem like good benchmarks for all the other songs, until even better versions pop up. Thanks again, March 1994!

76-minute mp3 mix here

  • Liberty (3/30/94)
  • Lazy River Road (3/30/94)
  • Eternity (3/5/94)
  • That Would Be Something (McCartney cover 3/28/94)
  • The Days Between (3/28/94)
  • Way to Go Home (3/5/94)
  • Easy Answers (3/27/94)
  • Corrina (3/31/94)
  • Broken Arrow (3/5/94)
  • So Many Roads (3/16/94)
If you're interested in Phil Lesh's final two songs, which debuted in June and July, try this.

Note: This "Liberty" also appears on the career anthology, "So Many Roads." Otherwise, I believe all of these performances are unreleased.

Music for Spaceports: March 1994

This mix curates pieces of “Drums” and “Space” from the same March 1994 shows I surveyed to create this “Dark Star Flashes” mix, which combined the final two performances of “Dark Star” with other jamming from the same month. (Included shows are March 16, 18, 21, 23, 30, 31 - 1994.)

The 13 Drums/Space pieces I liked are presented here as discrete tracks (3 to 6 minutes each), with no editing other than choosing start and fade points and some volume adjustments. I was looking for pieces of music that could stand alone. It’s a snapshot “Infrared Roses” from later in the 1990s, which finds the band tilting toward a chill ambience. 

Once again, I’m very impressed by this 1994 Grateful Dead. There’s a whole lot of getting there in “Drums > Space” segments – but when The Dead do find their way to somewhere, they know it, and these are some of the cool splaces they found in March 1994. I believe we have Bob Bralove to thank for many of the interesting sounds that the musicians are making here (and elsewhere in the '90s). I'm grateful that The Dead were given a sonic platform on which they could be a Brian Eno-esque jam band. You get only the merest hints of such a thing in earlier decades.

55-minute mp3 mix here (titles of files include source dates)

  • Voices
  • Beat
  • On the Surface
  • The Workers Shall Prevail
  • Roller Rink Confidential
  • Hey, Carl Stalling
  • Spaceport
  • Processional
  • Rebeat
  • Hansa by the Wall 1
  • Hansa by the Wall 2
  • Hansa by the Wall 3
  • May You Live in Interesting Times

Advisory: There is some wild left/right channel oscillation on several tracks, which is effective on speakers but unpleasant on head-phones.

The Welnick Years (September 1990 – July 1995)

As The Grateful Dead took only 30 trips around the sun, five years is a pretty long time. After Brent Mydland died, Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick both played keyboards for The Dead for a year and a half, then Hornsby returned to his solo career, and Welnick carried on alone until the end.

This whole period seems to be treated like a step-child in fan and official appreciations of The Dead’s live music. I certainly had that attitude until very recently. I saw both of these keyboard configurations back in the day, but isolated shows only tell you so much, and since popular opinion reinforced my sense of decline, I never bothered to pursue recordings of this period’s shows. Phil Lesh commenting that the band should have quit a few years earlier than death forced a conclusion didn’t help.

Sure, there were various forms of decline, but they didn’t degrade the band’s performances in some kind of day-by-day way. This was still The Grateful Dead, six extremely talented, grown-up musicians, making music within a long, mutating, intuitive collective sensibility, who played together under the pressure of hundreds of lengthy concerts, in front of millions of audience members. 

Welnick Dead could be amazing – executing songs or jamming. It contrasts with Mydland Dead by being less busy and less thunderous. The climactic Mydland years could sound like everyone soloing at once – one big, loud, shiny machine of music. Welnick Dead seems to have more negative space, and to offer more glimpses of the "jazzy combo" Dead of earlier days. Things can bubble slowly. Momentum can be built on delicate rather than forceful terms. There's more room for just the right note or chord to have the desired effect. Both keyboardists seem more drawn to jazz harmonies than Mydland, and neither tries to be as continuous a dominant element in the music as Mydland – but the choices they make are still very much shapers of the songs. And maybe it's just the era's mixes, but on much of the material I've selected for this blog, the drummers seem to be working to be a single, unobtrusive percussionist, rather than the leaders of a herd of elephants. 

I raise my glass to Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby. Thank you for giving us another Grateful Dead that could be as compelling as any of them. Respect.

Evidence:


Shortlist: December 13, 1992 – Oakland, CA

Cover: Kiki Smith, "Bird with Stars," 1954, MoMA collection.

Vince Welnick-era Grateful Dead continues to delight me. I’ve been looking for a definitive “Way to Go Home,” and I think I may have found it in this show – as part of a nearly perfect second set, captured by a superb soundboard mix/recording. 

The set list has no filler, the playing is tight and nuanced, and everyone is singing well. All I have deleted is “Drums > Space” and one verse/chorus of “Here Comes Sunshine” that Garcia thoroughly mangled/mumbled. Otherwise, it’s every minute of the second set, plus encore, in the order played. 

This is the second performance of the resurrected “Here Comes Sunshine,” which had been missing since February 1974, nearly 20 years. The discipline of rehearsals is still in effect, putting the vocals in a satisfactory place, and its whole trajectory is quite structured and exciting.

This was the third show in a five-show run at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, after which they took a break until late January 1993. There are only two official releases of live 1992 Dead, one of which is the entire fourth show and part of the fifth show from this Oakland run. That was “Dick’s Picks” #27, released in 2003. The other release is 3/20/92, included in “30 Trips Around the Sun,” released in 2015.

64-minute mp3 mix here

  • Here Comes Sunshine (minus one verse/chorus) >
  • Way to Go Home
  • Victim or the Crime >
  • Terrapin Station > Jam
  • The Other One >
  • Morning Dew
  • E: The Weight