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Thursday, December 11, 2008

1993 December 18 - Oakland, CA

Grateful Dead 1993 Oakland

Saturday, December 18, 1993
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – Oakland, CA
Audience Recording

Expectations simply had to change as the years progressed.

There is no denying that fans of the Grateful Dead grew to nearly unthinkable proportions over the course of the band’s final ten years. And as things progressed into the 90’s, the Dead were privileged to have nothing short of a rabid fan base that would have found something to cheer about even if Garcia could manage nothing more than to plug in his guitar once in a while. But, deep down, it seems unlikely that anyone would inflict such self-blindness such to say that the last years were filled with stellar musical adventures, one after the other, run, after run, after run. Expectations simply changed, and that’s okay. And whether the band’s late-stage output fully supports the “It Was All Downhill After 1966” opinions of some is beside the point. At the time, with realistic expectations, we were able to stay engaged enough knowing that occasionally we would land squarely back in the heart of the muse which drove the Dead for 30 years. And getting there, infrequently or not, was always worth it.

I find that there is a special pleasure to be found in these later year shows when one can combine these muse-heart rides with absolutely stellar audience recordings. It happened enough, such that I can confidently share some shows from the last years which prove satisfying at the deepest level – perhaps after just a bit of expectation resetting on the listener’s part.

One of these shows comes from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 18th, 1993 (side note: one of the infrequent times the band played on my birthday). Circumstances aligned with just the right synchronicities on this day to produce a wonderful show, a wonderful recording, and the technology which would bring that recording, 15 years later, to our ears so easily.

Jerry Garcia 1993This recording is dynamite, and it displays what should be considered something of a high watermark for Garcia and the sound of his guitar rig. Here, his sound has matured to the point of emulating a pure acoustic guitar on nearly all the tunes. So bright, so clean, so glass-like clear. It’s not the sound we associate to all the years past, but it can certainly be heard as the natural evolution of his personal “ear-vision” coming into true sonic form.

The show is strong, opening up with a Jack Straw that clearly demonstrates that Jerry has “shown up” this evening. Now, I’m not going to kid anybody - for me, the first set song list is pretty much a couple of nice bookends (Jack Straw and Deal) framing a set of tunes whose performance I could take or leave. But we aren’t really here for the first set. After the set two opening Way To Go Home, which really isn’t all that unpleasant, we reach the portion of the show that shines. It’s also worth pointing out that the “crowd” track at the start of set two contains some wonderful taper talk – always a treat.

On China Cat Sunflower the energy is bubbling and infectious. Jerry’s acoustic sound is piercing and sharp, and more importantly, he is focused and purposeful. Really, it was the presence of these attributes which would stand out as common indicators of the potential for an engaging listening experience in the later years. Garcia’s solos through China Cat, and on through I Know You Rider, are very nicely done - intricate lines trumpeting out in multiple directions. The entire band really does come off as a “calliope of sound.”

Playin’ In The Band follows, and as the jam unfolds, Jerry soon sets aside his acoustic clarity for a more spongy electric wha-infused tone. From here the music taps into quintessential Dead imagery for me, drawing forth familiar interlocking and pinwheeling galaxies of light and color -hundreds of wheels with crisscrossing orbits in infinite dimensions. There is a lurking dissonance to the jam, mostly at the hand of Vince on keyboards, and just as it seems to be infusing the entire pallet of color, Jerry returns to his acoustic tone and a veil of beauty and grace settles over everything. From here there is then a wonderful ebb and flow between this graceful state and the more chaos-born energy as the music finds itself firmly hinting its way into Uncle John’s Band. In quite fine fashion, the song appears.

Jerry Garcia They roll through the song nicely, and Jerry’s solo through the 7/8 time signature section finds his tone building in distortion and energy. His picking speed continually picks up and the dissonant chaos from Playin’ slowly infuses this music as well. Out of a swirling turmoil of color the Uncle John’s pattern returns, is dismantled, and returns again. Finally the last verse is delivered, and the song passes into a long jam that winds its way on into Drums beautifully.

There is a lot going on in this jam, which quickly becomes more of a Space Jam with the drummers playing much more freely, and Garcia sampling through his midi box of tricks, lending colors and textures, flavors and emotions, all flooding our vision like a dream cast over an epic landscape. A lot of the jam finds the Dead tapping into what sounds like the early electronica musical flavors we might have heard from a David Sylvian or Robert Fripp at this point in the 90’s. The tapestries and patterns continue to slither and implode until the edges of music and Drums proper are hopelessly blurred. Even Drums itself is flooded with musical overtone, becoming Space all the while. The AUD source featured here rightly doesn’t even make the attempt to place a track ID between Drums and Space. It’s all one long involved ride.

We come out of Space into I Need A Miracle, which you might find something of a take or leave performance. But the Stella Blue after it, once you get past the nearly completely cashed singing voice of 1993 Jerry Garcia, leads us to an exit solo section that makes getting to the end of the show thoroughly worthwhile. The music trickles over you like a waterfall flowing with the consistency of honey, its great droplets formed of diamonds which catch the light in a dance of prism refractions. Light pours out in softly fading feathers, like a thousand spinning mirrored balls passing before you. These were the moments from shows in the last years that you just wanted to bottle up and save forever.

We’re treated to a Box Of Rain encore, which is always welcome. Then, Phil bids the crowd “Goodnight, and God bless you all.” I can’t recall the Dead ever referencing spirituality or divinity in concert except for one show – 08/27/72 Veneta (perhaps a review for another day to come), where there are multiple references of this sort. So, this caught me completely off guard. Then there’s a final track of six plus minutes of crowd and taper talk that is a wonderful listen.

All-in-all, this show from 1993 glows more than one might expect, especially when you go into the year with some realistically set expectation.

12/18/93 AUD etree source info
12/18/93 AUD Download


  1. The only religious reference I have ever heard was Easter 85 (4/7) where Bobby says "Good night and thank you Jesus"

  2. I had pretty much given up by this point, but I'm looking forward to listening to a late-period high point. As always, thanks!

  3. Your last couple of posts are touching on years that are practically empty in my collection and yet on listening to these concerts I realise that i have been missing out. there is obviously a whole new world for me to explore here. Indeed it makes me wonder how much more I have missed away from my core years. Indebted to you again Noah.

  4. I just finished Garcia: An American Life and Blair Jackson, obviously a biased observer, nevertheless tells the very depressing story of Jerry's drug dependency and physical decline. Of course I was aware of the general outline of the story, but to read the details was awful. The book read like a tragedy.

  5. Noah,

    thank you for this. AS for the love ones, Dead Heads should be Dead Heads in good and bad times. Thank you for filtering us the gems.

    The Italian Head

  6. I find plenty to like from all eras of the Grateful Dead.

    It's good to see reviews from later period shows, especially shows that I haven't heard before, like this one.

  7. Some interesting bits that didn't make into the Blair Jackson book here:
    I have just finished 'Captain Trips' by Sandy Troy and is nothing much. certainly a whitewash vis-a-vis "drugs"!
    It finishes that Garcia is totally clean and the band are of course better than ever and...

  8. This was a very special night; I still remember the shimmering soloing that leads into UJB. Thanks for the review.

  9. Noah,

    it came to my notice that in 1993 the Dead invited several jazz musicians to their shows, including Ornette Coleman, David Murray, Bradford Marsalis and possibly others.

    What is your appreciation of those concerts?

    THank you for all you do,
    The Italian Head

  10. Mauro,

    I cannot say that I have fully digested the Dead and the special guests over the later years, so I can't really offer an opinion. Beyond Branford, who always seemed to do well, I haven't heard much else.

    However, one thing that I always enjoy when Jerry has someone join the music, is his impeccable rhythm guitar playing and ability to step back.

  11. I have posted the portions of David Murray and Ornette Coleman gigs (twice) with the Grateful Dead at my blog and they have proven to be far and away my most popular downloads!!! They are all very good but I can'thelp but wish that these collaborations had happened in different years when I feel that the results could have been more outstanding (1973/4 perhaps?)

  12. Mona,

    my thanks go to you as you exposed me to these collaborations thru your blog. The Murray collaboration appears the most succesful to my ears.

    Thank to you and to Noah, once again.


  13. a long-time taper, having seen shows since 1982, i can't compute the comment "nearly completely cashed singing voice of Jerry Garcia in 1993." sorry, bro, i know that you have to nod toward the nay-sayers, but jerry's voice was sweet in 1993. try out 1984-1986. eek! a friend once commented that she was amazed we continued going to shows through the "helium" era. of course, the jamming those years was on fire (unlike 93), but it's painful at times to listen to a phat 85 show like hershey and just hear jerry straining to sing. check out 9-29-93 for what i consider to be one of the most beautifully sung terrapins around. no, it ain't some soulful felt forum 71, but his 93 voice is crisp, clear and soulful all at once.

  14. december 93 has a bunch of really good shows

  15. For you to say,that one to admit to great performances in the`90s,is admiting to self-blindness of the music is absurd!..Its people who can`t get past the realization,that Jerry,not only with tremendous burdens and addiction,made thousands of us come to LOVE what he was able to do w/a guitar and lyrics that defined our lives.And to say that his voice in`93 was shot!...That really is the most ridiculous thing I`ve ever heard!!!..The raspy voice made songs like,"SMR" and"SOTM,"feel like He was singing the words to his own life struggles...Jerry is just.....Jerry and nothing we did or anyone else did,would have changed that..But love everything he did,because he showed us real love!


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