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

Shortlist: September 21, 1993 – Madison Square Garden, NYC

Cover by Saul Steinberg.

A lot of The Grateful Dead mixes that get posted here start with some specific curiosity: shows with horn players, the final “Dark Stars,” Keith “Shakedowns,” “Sevens, Main Tens, and Elevens,” a month someone said was hot, etc. 

I’ve been poking around the Welnick years lately, and this mix came out of my interest in the sequence of “Here Comes Sunshine” followed by “Way to Go Home.” I really like “Way to Go Home,” and there’s a natural affinity between the two, given the way The Dead played “Sunshine” in this period. They played the pairing four times (’92, ’93, 2x’95). They never jammed a connection, but the 1992 one has a nice little hinge, and this one has an instrumental noodle in between that serves as both a coda to “Sunshine” and a walk-up to “Long Way.” This is a very good "Long Way," though the mix blunts it somewhat.

Beyond that material, it was the jamming and not the songs/singing that cooked that night. “Terrapin” reverted almost immediately back to a “Playin’” jam after the final vocal section, so this seemed like a good time to try an instrumental “Terrapin.” It’s a tough edit to get from the instrumental break to the final jam, but what the hell. The jamming on both sides of "Terrapin" is superb.

Anyhow, here’s another check-in with 1993 Dead that reassures you that more listening will be rewarded. 

42-minute mp3 mix here

  • Small Improvisation (1:44)
  • Here Comes Sunshine (mostly inst. edit) (4:09)
  • Way to Go Home (6:44)
  • Playin’ > Terrapin > Playin’ (inst. edit) (14:38)
  • The Same Thing (7:17)
  • Drum Space Improvisation (7:47)

Shortlist: September 22, 24, and 26, 1991 - Boston, MA

Cover: Treated scan of thrift store photo

My sudden fascination with the post-Mydland years continues with a mix pulled from the period when Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick both played keyboards for The Grateful Dead. That period lasted a relatively long time, from September 1990 to March 1992, making it as distinctive an episode in band membership/chemistry as any other. 

I’ve combined pieces of three unreleased shows from a six-show September run in Boston, MA, one year into the two-keyboard lineup. I used matching matrix recordings as my sources (audience/soundboard hybrids), which offer a fat, immersive live experience. I haven’t made any internal edits in the material presented here, but I created cross-fades to make it sound approximately like two continuous sets. 

The mix of compositions that ended up on top, when I put pressure on these shows, has a definite personality – mostly Garcia-sung blues-boogies and sepia-toned character dramas. The "Workingman's Dead"/"American Beauty" Revisited vibe of this music is unintentional, but refreshing – a reminder that there were always several Grateful Deads lurking in the hodgepodge of material they played on any given night. When you isolate one of them, you experience a show, a year, and/or a lineup differently than when you listen to whole shows. 

The two keyboardists lend texture, color, and exciting rushes to these old songs, and "Stella Blue" seems particularly excellent to me. I think that both those keyboardists were paying attention to the lyrics, and playing accordingly, and since Garcia is singing well (except for "New Speedway"), many of these performances really sell the songs. 

By accident, there are some statistically significant performances in this mix:

  • They hadn’t played “We Bid You Goodnight” in 107 shows, and this turned out to be the last one they ever played.
  • This is the first “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” in 450 shows (9/3/85), and they only played it two more times before the end of the band. 
  • Aside from an isolated performance on 6/10/73, The Dead played “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” only six times, all during the Hornsby period. This is the next-to-last one. (The song was a staple of solo Garcia shows from '72-'86 in acoustic & electric sets, though it disappeared after his coma and only popped back up in solo sets in '95.)
  • This is a fairly rare instance of The Dead playing full-blown “Dark Stars” twice in three consecutive shows, in the 1990s period, let alone at the same venue in three days. I haven't deleted anything from these two "Dark Stars," so, in an era when there was often a first-verse-only "Dark Star," this mix offers a palindrome: first verse > second verse> first verse.
  • Though not covered in this mix, the 9/20/91 show of this Boston run includes the only time after 1976 that they played something other than “Franklin’s Tower” after “Slipknot” – playing “Fire on the Mountain” instead.

2h21m mp3 mix of September 22, 24, and 26, 1991 here (song title tags include performance dates)

Set 1:

  • Cold Rain and Snow
  • Let the Good Times Roll
  • Feel Like a Stranger
  • Althea
  • It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
  • New Speedway Boogie
  • He’s Gone (final section) >
  • Nobody’s Fault but Mine >
  • Spoonful
  • High Time
  • Candyman
  • Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
  • The Weight

Set 2:

  • Dark Star
  • Stella Blue
  • Dark Star
  • Ship of Fools >
  • Dark Star
  • Standing on the Moon
  • And We Bid You Goodnight

Dark Star Flashes: March 1994

Cover: “Full Stop,” John Latham, 1961

The last two “Dark Stars” The Grateful Dead played occurred within two weeks of each other, six months after the previous performance, and 1.3 years before the end of the band. On the calendar of career “Dark Stars," they draw attention to themselves. 

I honestly had no idea how great The Dead could be in this period, when the spirit of jammy exploration moved them. I like how laid back they are in these performances, which are simultaneously drifting and full of momentum. Thumbs up to this Grateful Dead. 

52-minute mp3 mix here, which flows approximately like a continuous set.

  • Dark Star (3/16/94, verse removed)
  • Victim or the Crime Jam (3/21/94)
  • The Other One (3/18/94)
  • Playin’ Jam > (3/30/94)
  • Dark Star (3/30/94)
  • Jamming Down the Road (3/21/94)

I’ve posted another 1993-1994 mix, which includes the “Dark Star” before these two, with David Murray on sax. 

Dead is Jazz: Live 1993-1994

Cover: Detail from “Dream No. 2” (1989) – Candy Jernigan

This mix combines pieces of unreleased 1993-1994 Grateful Dead concerts that featured saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Branford Marsalis, and David Murray, plus all appearances by word jazz great Ken Nordine. I've created connections where they were missing to simulate a continuous set.

If it weren’t for the obligations entailed by the concept of the “30 Trips Around the Sun” boxed set, The Dead’s final four calendar years of playing live (1992-1995) would hardly exist in the official release catalog. 

This is a disservice to the music and to the band’s fans - and seemingly the result of The Dead’s commitment to whole-show releases and disinclination to chop shit up and compile great live albums out of their favorite bits. 

I don’t know if what I’ve made here constitutes a great live album, but it is certainly a far out live album with a lot of greatness in it. Since nothing else is competing for the spot, you might even consider this mix as a provisional career bookend to “Live Dead,” 1969’s official live document of the first year of truly far out Dead. Here they are, freaking out with jazz musicians a quarter of a century later. There were only two more "Dark Stars" after this one.

I'd dedicate this mix to my dad, who immersed me in jazz and Ken Nordine from birth, but this would all probably be too post-bop/fusion/crazy for him. So, I'll dedicate it instead to 1967-1969 Frank Zappa (composer/editor) and Ian Underwood (Zappa's always game reed man in the early days). They might decry the lack of discipline, but I think that they would appreciate the overall effect. Murray's playing has some very Underwood-ish moments. It should be noted that Vince Welnick acquits himself beautifully all over the place.

93-minute mp3 mix here (all guests and source dates included in song title tags)

LP1:

  • Flibberty Jib (Nordine)
  • Drums (Murray)
  • Space > (Coleman)
  • The Other One > (Coleman)
  • Stella Blue (Coleman)
  • Unknown (Nordine)
  • Space (Coleman)

LP2:

  • Eternity (instr. edit – Marsalis)
  • Samba in the Rain (instr. edit – Marsalis)
  • Space (Marsalis)
  • Estimated Prophet > (instr. edit - Murray)
  • Space > (Murray)
  • Dark Star (instr. edit - Murray)
  • Space (Murray)
  • The Island (Nordine)
I've got a mix of The Dead's 1973 live horn section episode here.

Shortlist: December 28, 30, and 31, 1989 – Oakland, CA

The Grateful Dead played four New Year’s week shows at the Oakland Coliseum in 1989. These shows followed a two-week break and preceded a two-month break. The only material that’s been released from the four shows is a “Space” segment from the 28th, on “Infrared Roses,” a very worthy album.

I previously posted an hour-long mix from the first night of the run with a lot of songs edited into instrumental versions to create an unusual jam sandwich of mostly-Garcia themes. 

This complementary post turns material from the next three nights into a single, jam-song sequence of mostly Weir material, mostly as complete songs. I’ve created segues between all the pieces to provide continuities comparable to when “>” in the set list simply means that there was no delay between one piece and another, just a quick transition or a pregnant pause. 

80-minute mp3 mix here

(I've re-zipped and re-uploaded this file, because someone reported unzipping trouble. I think I just put some forbidden characters in the file name.)

  • Feel Like a Stranger (12/28)
  • The Music Never Stopped Jam (12/30)
  • Estimated Prophet (12/30)
  • Victim or the Crime Jam > (12/31)
  • Dark Star > (12/31)
  • Space (12/31)
  • Drums (12/31)
  • The Other One (12/30)
  • The Other One Space Jam (12/30)
  • Let It Grow (12/28)

“>” indicates unaltered Dead transition

I have a hard time faulting this moment in live Dead history. If you don't listen to it much, I think you should change that. In retrospect, a lot of the music they played during the final Brent Mydland year was better experienced live than on tape, even though the tapes are typically immaculate. By that time, many songs had become crowd-pleasing rave-ups and sing-alongs, rather than musical adventures. There was a jaunty mood nearly everywhere, which was both effective overall and something of a flattener of differences among songs. Fun if you were there – tight, infectiously danceable – but not necessarily an important thing to listen to in 2018. 

However, I’d agree with many others that you have to go back to 1970-something to find as consistently good a jam band as the 1989-1990 unit. These 1989 New Year’s shows might not be worthy of release in full, but you can certainly make a fake album from them that slays. 

When I was going to shows in this period, the anxiety was always about how much of the deep stuff you were going to get – which songs, and how many of them, would fill the slots where the real adventures typically happened. Every show you could manage to get to was so freighted with hope, especially if “they were due for” a big song you’d never seen, or never seen done really well. It’s nice to be far away from those years, able to simply dig through the shows - all now aurally attendable - and enjoy what they played, without the personal drama of shows, if you were a music-centric Head. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 30 years. At the time, it seemed like the future of The Dead was wide open again - a band that was again as fascinating live as they were on old tapes - and I remember how completely devastating it was to learn that Mydland had died, knowing that the wave had probably crashed, again. 

Shortlist: December 27, 1989 - Oakland, CA

Cover art by Neon Park: Detail of "Green Goddess," 1984

I’ll always be grateful that my initial obsession with The Dead happened just as the band’s mid-to-late 1980s nadir gave way to a final, fantastic period of live playing. It makes perfect sense that The Dead have released a slew of shows from Spring 1989 through Spring 1990 – a career sweet spot between the end of the rebuilding period after Garcia’s coma and the death of Brent Mydland. 

I decided to try my Frankenstein editing approach on an unreleased show from this period – taking The Dead’s improvisational temperature by removing a lot of vocals to turn songs into jams and easing transitions that The Dead hadn't already provided. I chose this show at random.

62-minute mp3 mix here

  • Bird Song 
  • Playin’ Jam >
  • Crazy Fingers Jam > 
  • Uncle John’s Jam (>) 
  • Drums (>) 
  • Space > 
  • The Wheel Jam (>) 
  • Morning Dew

Real Dead segue: >

Edited transition: (>)