Anyone who attended the Dead’s 1993 Chinese New Year run started the year lucky.
As is often the case after time off, the band was rusty on some details, but they had a great time playing in the band again. Carlos Santana contributed some wonderful stuff on the third night.
This mixtape provides a lot of wide-open playing and groovy jamming that admirably represent the post-Hornsby band. The struggles of 1992 are behind them, everyone is game and spry, and the great aspects of 1993-1994 are already apparent.
Trust me on the opening sequence, and enjoy the ride thereafter. If you want more commentary on how this mix was conceived, you'll find it under the track list.
2.5-hour, mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and Santana involvement noted in song tags)
Set One (76 minutes):
- Black Peter
- Around & Around Blues (edit)
- Shakedown Street (edit)
- Estimated Prophet Jam >
- Terrapin Station >
- Jam After Terrapin >
- Playin’ Jam >
- Crazy Fingers (instr. edit)
- The Music Never Stopped Jam
Set Two (72 minutes):
- Improv: Gorgeous Jam >
- Improv: Tropical Jam >
- The Other One >
- Stella Blue
- Playin’ in the Band >
- Uncle John’s Band
- Bird Song
- All Along the Watchtower
Cover art from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”
- The overall arc here has “Gloria” serving both as an incendiary show-opener and as a way to fast-forward you to a place somewhere like the final third of a second set - ready for a chill Jerry number, after an over-the-top Bobby rocker. But instead of dwindling to a standard second set ending, the polarity is reversed, and “Black Peter” leads to two hours of second set dilations and thrills.
- The first stop on that imaginary journey is a particularly long and excellent version of the wonderful, low-key, blues-jazz jam that the band pursued in the later years of playing “Around and Around.” Sequentially, it picks up on the blues elements of “Black Peter.” The later-years “Around and Around” jam was a unique zone in the Dead’s history, and worth considering alongside the also-divergent jam they developed for “Eternity” at this time. The jazzy character of the second half of “Estimated Prophet” jams and the "Bird Song" jam/breakdown – including the ones included here – are also cousins within the distinctive character (and delights) of the final band.
- A very sleek and mighty “Shakedown” follows, a song that has a blues seed in it, with its repeated complaint lines, two-line verses, and call-and-response takes on this town. But I’m not making a big argument about this thought; it’s simply time for the energy to get big again, at this point in the mix, riding the wave that ends the “Around and Around" jam. The verses weren’t consistently great on this version, so I reduced it to an instrumental edit that retains the two important chorus sections.
- Beyond “Shakedown,” the sequence more or less established itself, based on continuous chunks of playing and me wanting to end up with two sequences, each of which was shorter than a CD.
- The “Stella Blue” is wonderful one, even allowing for the fact that it was rarely less than excellent in this era.
- I think of the latter-day “Jam After Terrapin” reaching its full, muscular form in 1994, and this gentle version seems like an early step on the way to that.
- As with nearly any era and lineup of the Dead, the final formation had its core personality of collective improvisation. I think this mix highlights that, insofar as you can move among the open spaces of all of these songs without feeling like you’re changing channels. You can go from a “Playin’ jam” to a “Terrapin jam” to a “Music Never Stopped jam,” and it feels approximately like a coherent 1970 passage that wove together “Dark Star,” “Feelin’ Groovy jam,” “Tighten Up jam,” etc. It’s one jam, with a lot of themes. Different band, 25 years later, but also the same band, 25 years later.
- The 1990s performances also included many spectacular, unique passages. I’d say these two Santana-enhanced Space jams are among those.
- Some performances from this run didn't make it onto this curation because their soundboard mixes had some failure, including Garcia being way too quiet. One place where I thought that defect was effective was on this "Watchtower." It emerges from Space with Weir and Welnick being dominant, and Garcia being very quiet. The result is very cool for as long as it lasts, and there's no lack of Garcia as things proceed.
- Tired take: 1/26 was the best show of the run and 1/24 the least of the run. Wired take: The 1/24 "Bird Song" was the "Dark Star" of the run, as it often was in this era.