The Final Face (1989/1991)

Update: This post was/is of a Frankenstein show I constructed out of the best unreleased material I saw live and that I have in good recordings. It's from Ann Arbor, April '89, with "Dark Star" from Greensboro, April '91 added in. Since posting it, I regretted the inclusion of a lame "Wharf Rat" and the louder, duller sound of the Greensboro recordings. So, I EQ-ed the "Dark Star" to sound more like the Ann Arbor material – and that sonic matching, plus the deletion of "Wharf Rat," led to a more exciting running order for the second half.

So, edition #2 is a better experience than my original post - and it's as close as I can come to pretending that I saw a 1974 second set. 

mp3 download here

Part 1:

  • Feel Like a Stranger  8:15
  • Brown Eyed Women  4:55
  • Bird Song  13:14
  • Let It Grow 11:41
  • China Doll  6:50
  • Scarlet Begonias >  9:31
  • Fire on the Mountain  12:08

Part 2:

  • Dark Star  12:34
  • The Other One  7:47
  • Playin’ in the Band  12:45
  • Dark Star > Playin’ Jam  7:25
  • Playin’ in the Band Reprise  3:53
  • Not Fade Away  11:25

Original Post: 

Lest anyone assume that this blog implies that I only appreciate a few years of the Dead’s history, here’s an outlier post. I saw live Dead from 1988 to 1993. In there was the final renaissance, from 1989 through Brent Mydland’s death in 1990, with some post-Brent afterglow, before Bruce Hornsby dropped off. 

Of the unreleased shows I saw in that period, Ann Arbor April 1989 seems to be the best - two shows that between them hit a lot of the songs you particularly want to hear, with excellent, extended jamming. These shows were my first exposure to genuinely great in-person Dead music, my previous shows having been creaky-to-okay post-coma affairs. 

The last great live Dead performance I saw was at the other end of their final peak: "Dark Star" on April Fool’s Day in 1991, in Greensboro, NC. The rest of that show was nothing special, but the only "Dark Star" I saw turned out to be one worth pulling aside. Brent's gone, and there wasn't any full recovery from that, but perhaps because "Dark Star" is "Dark Star," and the band was game, and they hadn't played it in 15 shows, this one hits some very fine places, and the slow build to the reprise is quite delightful. More than 15 minutes, all told.

Here I’ve joined together all that material in a pseudo-album format. (Dates/cities included in tags for all song titles.) If these late years are unknown to you, this is a fine introduction to a period that in my mind is not impossibly distant from '77. Once again, we have a tight, enthusiastic, funky, reliable band that likes to lock into a bouncy place and hang out there for a while. If the '89-'91 bounce works for you, you're going to be happy straight through Stranger, Birdsong, Let It Grow, Scarlet-Fire, Dark Star, Playin', and Not Fade Away. 

I'm also of the opinion that Weir's guitar playing - always the decisive spice in the GD mix for me - got increasingly interesting after the '70s, so one benefit of the Dead's final flowering is a band that was as into it as Weir. The SBD mix for most of the Ann Arbor material is excellent, and Weir's playing really shines.

5 responses
Many thanks, John.
Great post. I was an 85-95 traveler, although I really didn't see much after 93; it was too hit or miss (and the misses were tragic), for a guy trying to keep his day job. I agree 100% that when I go back and listen to the early 90s shows it is Bobby who really stands out. As Garcia was drifting down Weir was cranking out some of the best playing of his career. Whether he was turned up in the mix to cover for 'ole Jer, or just feeling his oats, there are a few shows in that period where his playing is just astonishing. I'll come back with an archive link if I can remember a good one. Thanks again.
Mark, thanks for your comment. Always great to find another Weir-guitar-head. I think that Garcia was playing great in this period - assumed it was his resurgence that pulled the band together again. In that respect, this Ann Arbor mix can be faulted for Garcia's guitar being too quiet in many places. But I like that the drummers are low as well, so that the rhythmic lock-up you really experience is not two thundering drummers but the four guys up front, with Bobby and Phil leading the mix. (This is actually how I remember the show sounding from the middle of the seventh row, Weir shooting his lightning bolts right into my face.) Is it fair to say that Phil is the one who makes this period sound distinctive? He's playing so many notes most of the time, bouncing along jauntily.
I'd just like to chime in here and, as a big early-70s Weir-head, say that, as a huge late-80s Phil-head, Phil was the most distinctive player in this period, absolutely. ...I'm so happy I found this blog. It's almost too much and I have to slow down.
Alec, thanks for this comment.