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Friday, November 28, 2008

1990 September 19 - Madison Square Garden

Jerry Garcia July 4, 1990
Wednesday, September 19, 1990
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
Audience Recording

Epic runs can be found in most every era of the Grateful Dead’s recording history, even as the years wore on toward the end. One latter day run that will forever live in the history books came in September 1990 at Madison Square Garden. If you find yourself to be one of those folks for whom late era Grateful Dead holds little to no interest (whether that be shows post 1985, post 1977, or maybe you just don’t touch the 90’s at all), this run will surprise you. It’s not that you should be listening to the entire catalog of music from years you typically don’t reach for, but rather, that there is occasional magic happening in these later shows that your early years loving ears would love to hear – music that will satisfy your soul in precisely the same way you have come to enjoy whatever your favorite year is all along.

With whatever credentials you might attribute to the volume of writing contained in these pages, I humbly offer to you my recommendation of 09/19/90. If you trust the Listening Guide when I feature a show from 1970, and immediately reach for the mouse to download something musically spectacular, I can honestly tell you this show from 1990 is equally deserving of your attention. Don’t pass it up on preconceived notions. You will not regret this. Please, enjoy with me...

Brent Mydland died on July 26, 1990, just five days after I had seen him play with the Dead at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park, IL . I was dumbstruck. We all were. The Dead were on such a high. The music was so good. It had been getting so much better over the last two years. We were basking in the beauty of our band almost assuredly delivering the goods any night we saw them (something that couldn’t be said of the handful of years prior to 1989). And then this.

Vince WelnickIn retrospect, the fact that the band was able to continue this surge of creativity and growth so soon after Brent’s passing is a lovely testament to his memory. After replacing Brent with Vince Welnick, the Dead got right back on tour, and headed east. In New York, they were joined by Bruce Hornsby on piano, and a new line up of the band was born. Drawing energy from a number of inspirational points, the MSG run in 1990 was like a phoenix rising out of ashes. For me, the September 19th show is a glowing example of the tremendous power and energy that infused this stretch of shows.

This show also provides us the opportunity to listen to an audience recording of the absolute highest order imaginable. Tom Darian managed to capture the entire run from right around the 15th to 20th row center every night. The 19th, recorded from row 18, might be the crowning jewel of this MSG recording collection. The quality of the recording matches the music, and that is an incredible statement to be made, as the musical performance scores an 11 on a 0-10 scale.

Preferentially speaking, the set list on 09/19 is a clear winner in my book. Tending, as I do, to gravitate toward earlier year performances, 09/19 is an awesome snapshot of a set list that could almost be something pulled out of the intricately weaving sets of late 1976. For me, the stars align with this date – set list, show quality, sound quality; all in perfect form.

With so much to comment on, I will attempt to focus on some highlights. Right out of the gate we get a blazing Jack Straw. Jerry just tears it up. His solo ignites the entire house, and it is clear that we are in for something special. The rest of the set is strong, solid first set material – Bertha, Big River, and It Must Have Been The Roses all delivering the goods. And then we reach the closer, Help>Slip>Frank. This version could have been grafted out of 1977 and inserted here thirteen years later. It just has that picture perfect feel to it. The Slipknot highlights Garcia working phenomenal magic with his leads as the song begins to expand out and awaken the phosphorescent hues of candy colors lying in wait in the expectant crowd. He swirls in snaking lines all around the music, riding his slightly buzzed guitar tone deliciously through the rhythms. He then gives way and Hornsby takes a piano solo. He’s been with the band for only a matter of days, but he instinctually knows exactly how to work things. He pushes the music into luscious field of dissonance and tension, which Jerry immediately latches onto, and rides into the air. The music pushes out of bounds beautifully here, with worming knots of energy sliding everywhere. And then comes Franklin’s Tower.

Really, if you didn’t know any better, you could think this performance was happening in 1976 or 77. They nail the energy and tempo of this song so perfectly, that I can’t call to mind many a Franklin from back in its heyday (1976-79) which exemplify the song’s own ideal any better. And, my God, Garcia’s leads throughout are so jubilant. The entire band is riding a joyous wave, and the crowd is right there with them. This Frankin’s Tower is an endorphin rush end to end. We couldn’t be in any more perfect a spot to wrap up a Grateful Dead first set. Matching Jerry toe to toe, Hornsby again lifts the entire proceedings with an outpouring of perfectly suited energy. This is just plain wonderful music all the way through. As the lead sections return to verse, you can’t help but find extreme joy in that you are nestled in the middle of a wondrous ride – deep within, and nowhere near the end. When the set does end, it’s all smiles.

Set two wastes no time opening with Playin’ In The Band. The jam blossoms with Phil hopping and bopping, and Vince swirling wet B3 organ chords. It’s a smooth ride as the music billows out in long extended waves, cresting and falling in slow random intervals. The band is fused together, and you can hear it in the way phrases dance from instrument to instrument. Everything follows long rolling tunnels and turns, and you can easily lose the definition between yourself and the music as it casts a deeply hypnotic spell. Edges start to fray beautifully, bringing us to a wonderful open and quiet vista where Ship Of Fools emerges, manifested directly out of the slow turning colors in our eyes.

Jerry Garcia 1990It’s a wonderful version, full of gospel undertones. And on its final notes the band effortlessly slips back onto the vista out of which Ship Of Fools emerged, and the Playin’ jam is back filling our vision with the slow turn of multi-hued sunsets. Here we are treated to a wonderful segue jam on the way to Uncle John’s Band. It appears, and the crowd welcomes it with open arms. The entire Garden sings along with the band, and it’s another of those most precious intimate moments between band and fans, unmistakably vibrating off of the tape. Before the final a capella section, Phil drops a huge low note that comes though nicely on this perfectly recorded tape. In the exit jam, Jerry transitions into his synth sound which adds great effect, not overstated in any way. And this rolls effortlessly into Let It Grow (making its first set two appearance since 1986!). The transition is wonderful. The entire song sparkles.

Let It Grow dissolves like a tree losing its leaves, and then its branches, in sunlit breezes. A gentle world of interplay featuring Jerry, Bobby, Vince, and Bruce takes place, all tinged with the memory of Let It Grow themes. Eventually Jerry ushers in a more intense jam wherein he can even be heard to toss in a few riffs from Loose Lucy. It’s a free cascading jam that plays itself out nicely, eventually finding the drummers returning as all musical form drops away, and Space infuses everything. A seriously mind twisting passage leads the way into Drums proper.

Space gives way to Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad which lifts the house to its feet. By no means a throw away version, everyone is doling out and feeding off of energy at every turn. And then there’s the majestic Stella Blue. This song had the ability to reach all the way down to the center of your heart, and with Jerry’s singing and solo on this one, you just couldn’t ask for anything more. Perched as we are on the shoulders of the taper sitting in the perfect spot, it’s one of those “Jerry was playing right to me” moments. As the song plays out to its end, the pure bliss factor of the Dead rolls out over you.

This recording is just plain wonderful. Enjoy!

09/19/90 AUD etree source info


  1. Oh I must agree! The 89-early 91 period saw the Dead back in full form and this show (along with the next night) are two of the brightest stars from this wonderful period. Still, they really had the tiger by the tail during this run. This show and recording are so over the top perfect, I cannot help but smile. Played at full volume, I dare you not to completely go insane with joy overflowing as Let It Grow bubbles up out of nowhere.

    A wonderful selection! Hearing the audience respond to every rush and push.... god..... i wish we could all go back.

  2. Amen! Whenever people ask me for later-period shows, I point them to this run, especially 9/19 and 9/20.

    And agreed, the AUD recordings sound wonderful.

  3. May thanks for these late shows. Any recommedations for a run/show in the last year, 1995?
    Peace from the Italian Head

  4. while I personally think that Jerry/Bruce jam from 9/18 is one of the most beautiful things this band ever created (any era), there's no arguing that this one is The Show. Darian's recordings are fantastic!

    as a side note, if there's anyone who continues to dump on Vince's contributions to the band (not saying I'm not a little guilty myself at times) and needs a little more convincing, also check out 9/8/90, before Hornsby joined up. I've always been impressed at how much he adds to these versions of Eyes and Terrapin and really sets a new tone for a new band.

    excellent writeup as usual, noah!

  5. You guys are right; great show.

  6. absolutely!! I couldn't wait to get through the whole article before commenting here, because the premise is spot on! Those msg shows were magical, each night with a different trio (or so) jamming on stage before drums, and the incredibly touching He's Gone (first since Brent's death) - still gives me shivers to recall that jam. It felt like the Dead were really introspective then, searching for their new collective soul without Brent.
    I would also suggest summer '92 as a bit of a peak - every night of the second half of tour had a significant kick down (Midnight hour, satisfaction, SCHOOLGIRL, CASEY JONES, etc.), plus an interesting tour-long Dark Star that spanned 3 shows (Richfield, Charlotte and Deer Creek - I believe), and finally the gem of a venue (that was wasted on gatecrashing) that was Starlake Ampitheatre. What a summer that was!

  7. Sven,

    now that you open it, I cannot refrain to express my lack of understanding on the rationale behind these official releases. They are not complete shows (what deadheads want), but this is not the point. In the same disk they create a 'frankestain' by inserting one song from a previous night, instead of keeping the original flow.

    Can anybody see the logic of this? My only guess is that their vaults are not so complete...

    Italian Head

  8. Though I do tend to feel that overall the Dead never fully recovered from losing Brent (they sure as hell never really spooked me again at a show after that) I agree that this MSG run is chock full of Those Moments that keep us coming back and back and back well over a decade after Jerry passed away.

    I have to say, this AUD recording knocks the circulating SBD off its horse, over a cliff, and into a vast cactus patch. On the SBD of this show, the first set always sounded a little loose and sloppy to me... the AUD mix fills so many gaps and is just so punchy and crackling that the sloppy bits tend to fade into the background. I'm rediscovering this show song by song right now as I type this.

    (I also dig the little bitch-fest between the tapers and one of their neighbors before Help On The Way. God love the FOB tapers for getting recordings like this, but they could be a real bite in the ass to get stuck next to at a show. LOL!)

    I didn't realize until I saw the previous posts that RT 2.1 was out and that it's from this run of shows. Certainly a worthy run, and if there are people out there who haven't heard these yet then they're gonna be in for a real treat.

    BUT... I seriously doubt they'll sound as good as this recording does!

  9. Patrick, you hit the nail right on the head -- I also feel that on a lot of 90's sbds, the band sounds pretty loose and disconnected from each other. But these auds really do fill in the gaps! Shows like this really have become a completely new listening experiences for me, and I'm able to let myself go and enjoy like I would anything from the 70's. Well put, sir!

  10. amazing first set

  11. nice review. the only thing it's missing is a review of 9-20-90. to my ears, 9-20 was like 3rd and 4th sets of the same 9-19 show, just the edgier side. after having seen 5 nights of brilliant music, i was exhausted by 9-20. however, that first set had me boogeying like no other that run for some reason. the u.s. blues closer seemed like a nod to the eventual europe departure.

    the second set opener truckin->china->rider is of the highest order. it is reminiscent of an earlier era in that one wouldn't predict the song pairings or such a smooth segue. while the women are smarter is not like my favored early 80s versions, this one is still punchy and full of finger-snap.

    the energetic drumz leads to a dark space, very cryptic. early on, one can hear hints of dark star, and what a dark star it was! emerging from space, this dark star has a fully realized intro jam before devolving into deep space again (not unlike the space dip after standing on the previous sunday). the playin' reprise seals the continuation of wednesday's two part yet incomplete playin'. clearly, all were enjoying the festivities on stage.

    after the playin' reprise, jerry, bob and phil embark on one of the scarier spaces of the modern era. without direct reference, it harkens back to the 74 teradactyl melt-down era, something rarely experienced post-74. they go for it, here, scaring the daylights out of the daytrippers almost unparalleled in the latter era, saving for the warlocks or miami '89.

    the closing is energetic as well, throwing stones->touch of grey, and a lovelight encore that says, "we really don't want to quit." in my mind, the 9-19 isn't complete without the 9-20. there are plenty of nice recordings available as well, fob, matrix, miller sbd, etc.

    funny thing, too, was that i was fully cognizant of this being the 20th anniversary of two of my most favorite new york shows ever: 9-19 and 9-20-70! tasty all around.

  12. Great to see this one discussed. I attended this show and it is one of the few I have not forgotten. What a night. I remember walking out thinking about the second set let it grow, and how sublime it was.

  13. Not that these tapes needed any help, but there was an usher there that Tom was feeding cassettes of the previous night at each show. In return, not only did Tom get cart blanche as far as flying his mics (dead center was an aisle), but the usher (Barry) actually shut up an unruly fan during the Let It Grow. Told the guy he'd kick him out if he didn't be quiet! Amazing taping story...

  14. The Scarlett > Fire from the next night is Explosive!

  15. All Dead shows are good 1st show 1968 last show w / Garcia early 90s further 2011 saw lots of shows 70 s which im partial too.i would have liked to have seen the band in ny some of the tapes are incrediable.but never got to.Hunter College "rings a bell "

  16. I have to say, I love this show for the setlist, the singing and the playing, but I saw my last show about four years before this. If this recording represents a realistic representation of how the band sounded by 1990, I think it's pretty appalling. The sound is horribly bright, and Phil is really recessed. I'm listening through a couple of different headphone setups, one of which I consider to be very correct tonally, and a speaker setup that's near perfect. There are other shows I've listed to and downloaded, including several that I attended, that sound quite like I remember them sounding live, and while that might not be a perfect memory, I think it's probably pretty good. I'd be curious to know what people who attended this show think of the recording.


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