Grateful Dead – 3/30/90 Uniondale, NY (Spring 1990 box #5)

grateful dead 3/3/90 uniondale spring 1990 box

The middle night at Nassau wasn’t kidding around.

Fantastic first-set setlist, followed by “Eyes > Estimated > Dark Star” pre-drums. Branford Marsalis sitting in for “Bird Song” and then all of the second set. Good enough that “Eyes Of The World” would be the 3/30/90 contribution to Without A Net. Some fans may have been wondering how the Dead would follow that up as they walked into the coliseum for one more Friday night.

How long is the list of openers that tended to be good omens for the rest of the show? Probably not that long, but I’d say it definitely includes “Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower”. And this is a strong one — improved by Weir’s gnarled tone that sounds at times like something half-underwater and pissed off.

Even with vocals a little low in the mix (a common occurrence early in these recordings, which tells me these really are Cutler’s on-the-fly mixes), the “Help > Slip!” is an excellent ten minutes of this collection. “Franklin’s Tower” is exactly the loosening of that “Slipknot!” tension that it’s supposed to be, too, and I’m pretty sure that by the end of the suite, people weren’t talking about Branford anymore.

The boring “Little Red Rooster” does leave me with one question: Brent just made up his own verses, right?

The boring “Little Red Rooster” does leave me with one question: Brent just made up his own verses, right?

“Dire Wolf”, “It’s All Over Now”, and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” all have some spark in them mid-set, leading to yet another “Picasso Moon”, which enjoys a better mix  (see: guitar solo) than earlier recordings. The first hour wraps up with some nice rhythm work from Bob in a typically brief and fun “Don’t Ease Me In”.

Wait For The Blurp

That good feeling carries right through intermission and into a leadoff “Iko Iko”, featuring exceptional organ from Brent and a promising blend of mix and performance. With everybody warmed up, the guys launch into what I’d call one of the better pre-drums sequences you’d see on paper: “Playing In The Band > China Doll > Uncle John’s Band > Terrapin Station”. But we’ve all seen great sequences that have a dud (or two) in there somewhere, so how’s this one stand up to its Platonic ideal?

Really well, actually. Everyone’s firing on all cylinders as the “Playing” gets underway, and they enjoy several minutes in that great space the song shoots for until it’s time to ease into an unusually placed “China Doll”. Jerry’s in pretty good voice. Reminiscent of Landover’s first set, the ballad benefits from having enough pace on it, ticking along but leaving plenty of room for pretty, like a music box. Using what I’d call a gentle touch with a slightly rude tone, Garcia delivers a confident solo to suit this performance.

After a surprisingly smooth pivot, “Uncle John’s Band” raises the room’s spirits with an exceptionally good three-voice blend through a lot of it. Side note: I love that little guitar blurp that Garcia plays after the last “by the riverside …” Weir picks his spot well in setting up the theme and pointing the band into “Terrapin Station”, the last panel in this rare Jerry triptych.

Beyond a couple of mumbled or half-lost lyrics, it’s another worthy performance — highlighted by a lush “Lady With A Fan” section and an outro hitting that unique mix of regal procession and semi-ethereal repetition.

Mmm, Sandwich

“Drums” and a nearly 12-minute “Space” give way to a bracing “I Need A Miracle” that seems cut itself short to get to “Gimme Some Lovin'”. Some dual vocals help Brent out and strengthen the performance, which unlike some other attempts is more or less the right tempo.

The show finishes up with a “Not Fade Away” sandwich. It’s prefaced with a treat: the first “Standing On The Moon” of the box stands up to the standard of the rest of the show. Garcia gets on a roll, repeating a guitar figure like you rarely hear him, and Weir is working a sort-of-horns midi patch of his own (in a good way).

To cap off an often sweet and/or happy evening, the band opts for sentimental: a gentle “Attics Of My Life” before everyone leaves the venue for their planes, trains, and automobiles.

Not much need to recap, is there? An exceedingly consistent show and in terms of whole-show goodness, and I’d put 3/30/90 second out of the five so far. Might be first, if you like Weir’s first-set choices more than I do.

Grateful Dead
3/30/90 @ Nassau Coliseum
Uniondale, NY

Set 1 – help on the way > slipknot! > franklin’s tower / little red rooster / dire wolf / it’s all over now / just like tom thumb’s blues / picasso moon / don’t ease me in
Set 2 – iko iko / playing in the band > china doll > uncle john’s band > terrapin station > drums > space > i need a miracle > gimme some lovin’ > standing on the moon > not fade away // attics of my life

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