We’re over the hump in the six-show Spring 1990 box as the caravan survives customs and rolls into New York’s capital. After the collection’s second “Hell In A Bucket” opener (better than the first), 3/26/90 proceeds to a gangly but fun “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”. “Just A Little Light” is (no pun intended) lighter on its feet than most Brent tunes, and the band is sounding good.
What’s that? … oh, it’s a “We want Phil!” chant. The Dead deny the mass request and move on with another “Black-Throated Wind”. The crowd deems it an acceptable substitute; unhurried, it sounds better than the breakout from Landover.
A couple of shows ago, I suggested some older songs don’t age gracefully into this “modern” sound, but “Big Railroad Blues” does not suffer that problem. In fact, with Brent on board, it’s my favorite era for this song, and Garcia only strengthens the case here.
Later in the set, “Row Jimmy” also fares well. I like how the late reggae-ish verse is more pronounced in the later years, and the melancholy in Hunter’s “That’s the way it’s been in town / Ever since they tore the jukebox down …” never fades.
After an audible plea from an unidentified band member (“Not too fast! Take it easy …“), the set turns to yet another “Picasso Moon”. Gotta admit, this song does get more listenable after a few spins — it stops sounding like it’s all jagged angles. Garcia’s solo is still too far back in the mix, imo. Despite its frequency, “Blow Away” is a weird set closer in my opinion — a big but slow finale.
Leave It To Steve
Speaking of odd placement, “Built To Last” doesn’t exactly scream “classic 2nd-set opener,” either, but it’s sweet, and Lesh sounds especially nice. I have no reason to think “Victim Or The Crime” wasn’t played well; I just don’t like it much. But I’ll admit that its music and lyric have more cohesion than its cousin “Picasso Moon”, even if it becomes a lonnnnnnnng ten minutes.
Garcia passes on the first vocal entrance to “China > Rider”, but he’s in good form and the creativity is flowing. His solo travels on its own path only to swiftly drop right into place for the transition’s signature riff. It’s an energetic version all the way around.
Weir smartly keeps the vibe going, taking just a couple of breaths and moving right into “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”. His guitar is also most prominent in the mix of a performance that is fine but not as inspired as Landover.
After a decent “I Need A Miracle” and a better segue, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” redeems itself after the Hartford Nightmare. The Winwood twofer shifts to “Gimme Some Lovin'”, and I maintain that it’s probably better left to Steve. It’s just not engaging in their hands, and especially in prime second-set territory, I find myself wondering what else could’ve gotten played instead.
… But A Strong Finish
The set closes with a strong “Morning Dew”. The vocal get progressively more passionate, ratcheting up along with Brent’s organ. It’s worth stopping to notice how Garcia counters himself in the solo — solo phrase / tossed-off triplets / repeat. Quite a bit of mental organization involved.
Anyway, Phil and Bob both have quality mini-moments on either side of the end of the first solo, while Brent again provides contrast/color to push Jerry through to an ensemble-powered final crescendo.
The crowd cools off to a fine late-era “Brokedown Palace” (another tune that by far works the best for me in Brent’s era), and that’s a wrap from Albany. Middle-of-the-pack show for the box so far, due more to personal taste and song selection than any subpar execution.
Bonus Tracks! 3/24/90 Albany
I’ll skip the blow-by-blow, but this is a worthwhile chunk of bonus footage from earlier in the Albany stand. A second “Help>Slip!>Franklin’s” was a key selling point with this box for me, and it is tight and involved for the most part — only a couple of stumbles in the intricate dance back down to “Franklin’s Tower”.
Good to get a “Tennessee Jed” in this set, and then there’s the “Loser”, which is rightly in thick of — or on top of — any discussion of the great versions of that song. One of the best performances overall in a good year.
Spring 1990 / Show #4
3/26/90 @ Knickerbocker Arena
Set 1 – hell in a bucket / dupree’s diamond blues / just a little light / black-throated wind / big railroad blues / picasso moon / row jimmy / blow away
Set 2 – built to last / victim or the crime > china cat sunflower > i know you rider / man smart, woman smarter > drums > space > i need a miracle > dear mr. fantasy > gimme some lovin’ > morning dew // brokedown palace
BONUS 3/24 – let the good times roll / help on the way > slipknot! > franklin’s tower / loser / tennessee jed