Grateful Dead – 3/22/90 Hamilton, ON (Spring 1990 box #3)

grateful dead 3/22/90 hamilton ontario spring 1990 box

The Dead played roughly 2,300 shows from the time they started  down that golden road to unlimited devotion through 1995, and devotees recorded all but maybe a couple hundred in one form or another. So it’s unlikely — highly unlikely — that any given show would contain anything worthy of a song’s “greatest performances ever” conversation.

And yet, if you gathered collectors together for a round of Deadhead word association and just said “Copps,” I guarantee they would say … well, you probably know. Or if you don’t, I’m getting ahead of myself …

No Hint Of What’s To Come

On the latter night in this brief two-night Canadian stay, it’s Bob’s turn and he opts for a silky, silky opening. “Feel Like A Stranger” is in the pocket, the best opener yet in this box, in terms of both mix and music. Phil’s tone sounds fatter than the first two shows, too, always a welcome development.

Jerry’s vocal comes across a little low for “West L.A. Fadeaway”, but that’s  not new in the world of Dead recordings. I was hoping for a little more fireworks in this, the song’s only appearance in Spring 1990, but it is merely fine.

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with the next trio (“Easy To Love You”, “Beat It On Down The Line”, “It Must Have Been The Roses”), either, but only “BIODTL” has enough juice to raise it slightly above general acceptability. I started to even miss that much, though, once we hit the mind-numbing riff and beat of the collection’s second “The Last Time”.

The second “Picasso Moon”wasn’t quite up to its predecessor, either, in part because Garcia’s solo was too far back in the mix. “Don’t Ease Me In” closes the set with both a decent performance and a rectified mix. And on that note, a professional but generally forgettable first set concludes, the lights come up, and the guys retire to their quarters.

From Zero To X Factor

I don’t know exactly what they did back there, but I know a lot of fans who wish the band could’ve bottled it. Back on stage, “Scarlet Begonias” is the vehicle of choice, and once the gentlemen start their engines, the sextet goes from 0 to approaching X Factor in no time flat. Mydland’s classic organ cruises and occasionally darts around the right channel, and the drummers conjure multiple layers of sound and rhythm.

Once the second set kicked in, the flame from the stage definitely spread to the floor.

As for Garcia, all the lyrics are there on the tip of his tongue, and the first solo is on time and well defined — never mind the notes, even the choice of which notes to accent is precise (and precisely executed) as the solo unfurls. The rolling boil gets a little hotter in the second solo when Garcia switches into midi mode, allowing Bob, Phil, and Brent to step up a little further and absorb some of that musical space.

So many “Scarlet > Fire’s” linger in that intermediate jam and would sometimes misplace their momentum in the process. But this night’s “Scarlet” — which had earned carte blanche (carte rouge?) to stick around as long as it wanted — knew to leave ’em wanting more. It yields to an equally confident transition before too long at all.

When the “Fire On The Mountain” intro hits the three-minute mark, something in the sound opens up, for lack of a better term. Everything and everyone onstage sounds thoroughly consumed in the now. It is an exceptional version on the heels of an exceptional “Scarlet”, making it the next-to-last entry in the discussion of all-time great “Scarlet > Fire” combos.

Wake Of The Fire

You might expect the “Samson & Delilah” that followed to bask in a little of the diamond dust swirling in the wake of what just happened, and you’d be right. It’s a strong version, followed by the last ever of only a handful of airings for “Believe It Or Not”.

The song sounds more like something from the JGB canon to me, an older feel in its chord changes and turnaround. Pleasant if perhaps a little out of place in the ’90s environment, it joins the 16-year breakout of “Black-Throated Wind” from Landover as historical rarities officially preserved in Spring 1990, two songs coexisting in the repertoire for exactly seven days.

“Truckin'” features a collective lyric mixup and a few minutes of good playing before the drums take over. “Sugar Magnolia” closes the set. In between those two, a decent if fairly concise “Other One” leads to a trainwreck of “Hey Jude”, with Brent muffing multiple lyrics. Plodding and painful.

“Dear Mr. Fantasy” is better by default — it’s got a decent solo and everyone at least sounds interested in playing the song. Plus, by 1990 there’s some resonance in the band and crowd sharing a line like, “Please don’t be sad / If it was a straight life we had, we wouldn’t’ve known you all these years.” But overall, not a good 13 minutes.

The Nature Of The Beast

The “Baby Blue” encore also sports some especially fit lyrics for Garcia to deliver at the end of a Dead show. Sure, it may have lost some steam and nearly derailed altogether for a couple of minutes, but 3/22/90 could’ve gone even more pear-shaped than it did after “Drums>Space” and still kept its place in the historical conversation, thanks to the “Scarlet > Fire”.

The rest of the show prevents 3/22/90 from entering similar great-show discussions, but that just illustrates a peculiar upside to the Dead’s live existence. Several merely competent renderings could come on one side, with a butchered Beatles cover on the other, and yet musical bliss could flower up through the crack in that sidewalk for twenty exquisite minutes, thousands of individual and shared facets of that unifying bliss scattered around the room. Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand. The rest of the show? Who cares?

Grateful Dead
3/22/90 @ Copps Coliseum
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Set 1 – feel like a stranger / west L.A. fadeaway / easy to love you / beat it on down the line / it must have been the roses / the last time / picasso moon / don’t ease me in
Set 2 –
scarlet begonias > fire on the mountain / samson and delilah / believe it or not / truckin’ > drums > space > the other one > hey jude > dear mr. fantasy > hey jude > sugar magnolia // it’s all over now, baby blue

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