Now it’s a fact that Dead fans don’t like the group, they worship them. Similarly they don’t count their Dead albums, they weigh them. Even so, this latest release is a monumental slab of work from Messrs Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and company. The final part in the mission to release everything recorded on the band’s 1990 spring tour takes in eight complete shows on 23 discs, from Capital Centre, Maryland to the Omni, Atlanta. There’s an awful lot of it.
If you feel inclined to part with a mere £200 (it’s a tad cheaper on download) you’ll be pleased to find a paperback book in the box, as well as replica tickets and backstage passes. This is Dead-spotting taken to the nth degree.
Luckily the old fellas were in prime form during this period. Garcia was off the pink Persian (though not for long) and Lesh’s invitation to the jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis to sit in when they hit the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY was inspired since the Louisiana horn man had no trouble swinging in behind the 7⁄4 beat of Estimated Prophet or hitting the spaces offered to him during Dark Star. Those who baulk at the sheer heft and price can purchase the Coliseum concert as a trifling triple CD called Wake Up To Find Out.
It’s generally accepted by the Grateful ones that this period marks the band’s last hurrah before Jerry’s drug habit rendered him incoherent. The highlights are many, ranging from stalwarts like Bertha, Jack Straw and Ramble On Rose to lesser-performed items such as Loose Lucy, and some intriguing covers. Hearing the rhythm section gong mental during Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy is a reminder that the then incumbent keyboards player Brent Mydland was no slouch. There’s a visit to The Beatles’ Revolution, sundry Dylan variations, When I Paint My Masterpiece being the superior choice, a cracking Man Smart (Woman Smarter), a creaky attempt at Spoonful and the obligatory blood rush of Not Fade Away.
Sifting the rest you’ll find tracks from their then recent Built To Last, their final studio album, and the lovely if reticent Touch Of Grey, where Garcia turns a mirror on himself and his audience, though not the legions of younger Dead Heads who flocked to these shows prompting Captain Trips to wonder ‘where the fuck do they all come from?’
Pristine as the whole thing is, there is a sense that it’s all a bit too much. Like the guys on the message boards say, you may need a second job and plenty free time to ride this train. Plus, it’s a limited edition. Those hippies aren’t as daft as they look.