While the other five shows were the last nights in their respective cities, the middle night at the Omni took the honors to end the Spring 1990 box. So it’s hard not to look at the next night and notice the “Estimated > Scarlet > Crazy Fingers > Playing In The Band” sequence. Guess they’re saving that for Spring 1990, Vol. 2 (ed. note: yes, yes they were). In the meantime, we have 4/2/90, the swan song of this six-show set …
Phil and Brent get “Feel Like A Stranger” percolating from the start. Bob muffs a couple of lyrics, and Jerry doesn’t seem truly dialed in until the last 90 seconds or so, but they do stick the landing after that serpentine approach, and we’re off.
Fancy Half-Step Footwork
Rust removed, the Dead recognize they’re in SEC country and serve up the only “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo” of the box, and it’s a spirited one. Garcia’s pivot to “The Weight’ is so sneaky that you can hear Bob thinking it’s just a little more “Half-Step” coda, and then you can hear the crowd’s recognition and approval.
The Grateful Dead, the most peculiarly American band, covering a song written by a Canadian for a band that created its own brand of Americana two decades earlier — and topped off by each man remembering their own verse. You get the sense that multiple waves of nostalgia were floating around the room, layered like the staggered singalong chorus.
No landmark solos in the “Queen Jane Approximately” that came next, but it’s a reminder how well suited Weir’s vocal style is to these wordy Dylan narratives. The (dare I say) lite-jazzy turnaround is the part I actually like in “Easy To Love You”, hampered otherwise by that clunky, chunky digital piano voice.
What would’ve been a fine “Brown-Eyed Girl” is marred for me by yet another case of Garcia’s vocals being too far back in the mix. This was not an uncommon occurrence in the box’ first sets, and it gets harder to ignore after a while. At least it ends well with a nice ritard and backup harmonies.
“Let It Grow” closes the set but finds Weir spacing the lyric again, and it loses some steam coming around the last turn. On the good side, Weir also shapes some beefy, typically interesting chords under Jerry’s solo, and Phil ends the set with a quite cavernous note of his own.
Swan Song For Death Don’t
The guys ease into a good “Foolish Heart” to start set two, with Phil bobbing and weaving throughout the arrangement. Bob continues with more concise, very effective work that is more fill than conventional rhythm part; the guitarists basically play simultaneous solos for the first eight bars before Jerry takes the wheel.
Garcia handles a more theatrical set piece in “Looks Like Rain”, but coincidentally it’s the drama Weir injects toward the end that keeps me from warming up to this one. Things pick up, though, as Jerry has his act together for “He’s Gone”. And like “Uncle John’s Band” from Uniondale, we get a nice three-voice blend on the bridge.
While my ears always want to hear that cascading riff from the end of the ’72 versions, there’s still nothing like the sway of this outro, and the vocalists deserve credit for sounding good while singing one, two, or three at a time in different spots.
I suppose “The Last Time” was good, if you like over-long and over-repetitive. After the interlude, a brief and late-blooming “Other One” sets up the Dead’s last-ever performance of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. It benefits from yet more textures out of Weir, although its real driver (coincidentally and sadly) is Brent, with both his vocal verse and fiery solo.
While my ears always want to hear that cascading riff from the end of the ’72 versions of “He’s Gone”, there’s still nothing like the sway of this outro.
You have to pause and feel for Brent, facing various struggles even as he was lucky enough to sing harmony with Jerry Garcia on songs like this.
“Around And Around” isn’t a favorite to begin with, and Brent’s plinky solo doesn’t help. It hands over quickly enough to a “Good Lovin'” that makes me like it more than I wanted. Surprisingly tight throughout, it inspires Mydland to lift a line from “Hey, Baby!”, a one-hit wonder that took Bruce Channel to the top of the charts for three weeks in 1962.
(Maybe you know “Hey, Baby!” from Ringo’s cover, or from some beach music band many years ago. p.s. That’s Delbert McClinton on harmonica.)
You’re A Big Ballad Now
Last and arguably best, “Black Muddy River” gets the call to conclude both 4/2/90 and these 18 discs. That three-voice blend sounds a little more ragged (except for the last chorus, which they nail). Everyone plays well, and Garcia sings with conviction. This performance convinced me that the song can hold its own with the more senior big boys in the canon of Garcia ballads.
It’s easy to envision those 17,000 friends and fellow travelers, sweaty and soaking in a collective melancholy, while Garcia breathes life into Robert Hunter’s reflection on the creeping shadows of our days. Of course, it’s not exactly the typical end of a rock concert, is it? Lucky them.
4/2/90 @ The Omni
Set 1 – feel like a stranger / mississippi half-step uptown toodleoo > the weight / queen jane approximately / easy to love you / brown-eyed women / let it grow
Set 2 – foolish heart > looks like rain > he’s gone > the last time > drums > space > the other one > death don’t have no mercy > around and around > good lovin’ // black muddy river