Boston '91
Home ] Primal GD... ] Godchaux Era ] Post Godchaux ] G. Dead show reviews ] Imaginary Studio Releases ] JGB June 16 - 18, '82 ]

F. West ' 69
6/5-8, 1969
MSG '90
Boston '91

Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 5/21/92


Dick's Picks Volume 9 reviewView From The Vaul II review

Sept. '91

Dick's Picks 17 reviewDick's Picks 27 review

Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 5/21/92

The Grateful Dead
1991 Boston Garden: A Week In Review
Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Every once in a while, I return to 1991's run at Boston -- six nights of summer tour finale. Viewed from the distance of time, this run readily appears to be three trilogies, bristling with Dylan tunes, Bruce's piano, and two performances each of "Dark Star", "The Other One", "Eyes", "Help on the Way" and "Saint of Circumstance" (surprisingly, mostly Jerry repeats). No guest appearances (unless you count Bruce), one surprise debut ("That
Would Be Something"), one unique transition (the opening night's "Help" -> "Slipknot" -> "Fire"), three of Jerry's less-common 1970 tunes ("Attics", "High Time" and "Speedway") and two Phil performances ("Tom Thumb" and "Box of Rain"). Essentially, what we have here is the last solidly good week of Dead performances; the only thing more we could really expect would be a "Scarlet -> Fire", but who could really complain when there are two "Dark Stars" instead? :-)

Some favor one night or another from this run, but they just seem like one week-long concert to me. Are there better shows elsewhere? Sure, even in the same year. But this was their last stand before Bill Graham's unfortunate death -- a fact which changed the way they felt about their relationship to the world at large. There would still be peaks after September 1991 -- some undeniably greater than any of these shows -- but they would be the exceptions and not the rule. These, on the other hand, are just the last six shows of a fine tour in a fine year. Like September
itself, it was arguably the last part of the sunny season of their career.

9-20: out the starting gate with a bang. Set one is fairly solid, with a nice organ solo in "Rooster" & decent "Bird Song" to finish. But set two provides the marvels: the only "Help -> Slip - > Fire" [marred by an amp problem, but worth hearing nonetheless], a dynamite "Dew" finish, and a strong set throughout.

9-21: solid if unremarkable first set, strong "Eyes" and following jam; worthwhile sequence from Space to the end.

9-22: Very strong first set, alternating good performances with exceptional ones. Set two continues the musical high, with strong openers, marvelous "space", and culminating in an all-time "Sugar Magnolia".

9-23: hey, everyone's got to take a break sometime :-)

9-24: Long, bluesy first set of eleven songs; set two starts strong, then Jerry takes off to parts unknown -- including "Dark Star". Mostly strong performances.

9-25: first set strong at start & finish; second set is an absorbing psychodrama of impossibly smooth transitions until Jerry wears out [during "China Doll"].

9-26: Set one seems to go from a promise to a phone-in, but set two recaps & deepens the whole run. A very remarkable set, and a perfect encore.


IMHO, the place to start may well be 9-26, then work your way through the rest chronologically; in this case, it helps to know the ending in advance. After all, you can have more patience for the lesser moments, knowing that a first-class performance comes at the end.

A final note: I think the choice of 9-25 for DICKS PICK #17 may have been made on the assumption that their target audience already had 9-26, and it does in fact make a fine accompaniment.

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden
- 9/20/91

Set 1: Touch of Grey, Little Red Rooster, Jack A Roe, Black Throated Wind, Stagger Lee, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bird Song

Set 2: Help On The Way > Slipknot > Fire On The Mountain, Estimated Prophet > Truckin' > Jam > Drums > Jam > All Along The Watchtower > Morning Dew

E: Lovelight

The pleasures of 9-20-91 begin immediately, with a spirited "Touch of Grey". If Jerry's guitar seems like it could be mixed louder, we can't fault him from these soundboard recordings; he may well have been plenty loud on stage. What counts most, of course, is the band energy as a whole, and they're plainly in good spirits and ready to play. The mix favors the bass drum & keyboards, but Phil is plainly heard, though Bobby is hard to hear (as usual). "Rooster" coasts on the heels of "Touch" (also as usual), and if we don't notice any remarkable moments through the next few numbers, we can't say it's dull: energy remains good, thanks especially to the enthusiasm of the drummers & keyboardists. I listened to this set with an ear for the ennui Blair Jackson reports in his Garcia biography, but I don't hear it; Jerry sounds engaged, Bruce provides nice interaction, and Phil pulls things along. "Bird Song" jams out nicely, providing a peak to close out the set.

"Help On the Way" comes as a dramatic change, rather languidly introduced by Bruce's instrumental ruminations (a typical feature of 1991). "Slipknot" delves deeply into the group subconscious -- completely entrancing the listener, so that we might completely forget that "Fire" will follow it. This unique transition (never attempted before or again) works just as well as the usual "Franklin" follower, so it's a shame they didn't try it again -- all the more so since Jerry's amp blows during the final, climactic solo -- depriving us of his critical playing at would should have been the peak of the song, and turning this moment into an interesting might-have-been.

As inauspicious a start to set two as this might be, they shrug it off and soldier on with "Estimated Prophet". This proves to be a fine new start, and there are no more stops until the set is over. The "Estimated" endjam leisurely winds around itself like a serpent on a caduceus, gradually tightening into a "Truckin'" eruption. "Truckin'" builds up like a set-closer, giving birth to a decent endjam that builds up to a drum explosion -- very organic, not hurried at all, and (for once) not leaving us with any sense of being short-changed. This proves to be one of those rare drum breaks that doesn't falter, nor go on too long; it consists of really only one movement, similar to Butch Trucks & Jaimoe Johnson in style -- energetic & interactive. The other musicians soon take over with explorations into the deep digital realm of MIDI, quickly returning to the emotional murkiness that characterized "Slipknot"; this night seems to glide over unseen depths which occasionally surface & submerge, finally taking a coherent form in "All Along the Watchtower". All told, less than 20 minutes separates the post-"Truckin'" jam from the introduction of "Watchtower", but it feels like we've traveled half a galaxy & back again. But "Watchtower" shifts us back into gear, providing Jerry with an imperative to play as fast & loud as possible, which he obeys with great zeal. This would be fine in itself, but Jerry finds it isn't enough; as the song winds down, he leads us where this evening's performance really needs to go, with three notes that can only mean one song: "Morning Dew".

There are lots of ways to end a set: a celebratory send-up, a quiet reminder, a final declamation. Of songs used to end Dead shows, "Dew" has the complete capacity to bring us from a whisper to a cry, with the greatest sense of finality. This version comes across strong from the first verse: Jerry is sure of himself & the band, sure of the rightness of the song for the moment, sure of the audience to appreciate it. It's not a situation that can be simply created, only arrived at -- and then it's not always possible to know when it's arrived, or how to get there if it hasn't. There are consequently lots of late-era "Dew" performances which are simply adequate performances of a good song, but this isn't one of them; on this night, time stood still. I expect babies stopped crying, armies put down their guns, and despoiled creeks ran clear, if only for a few minutes. After strong readings of the verses & some fine soloing, the band as a whole came down quiet as a pin, gently rolling on with a message as old as the desert and fresh as a cool breeze, a moment lasting forever in the forebrain of the eternal mind. Without effort, without care, without even direction, the band played on -- with all the deeds of history done, and all future possibilities before them. Jerry finally sings the closing line, but this performance never really ended; it goes on even now, in the hearts of all those who hear.

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden - 9/21/91

Set 1: Hell In A Bucket, They Love Each Other, Minglewood Blues, Peggy-O, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, Cassidy, Deal

Set 2: Uncle John's Band > Saint Of Circumstance > Eyes Of The World > Jam* > Drums > Jam > The Other One > Wharf Rat > One More Saturday Night

E: It's All Over Now Baby Blue

The second night of Boston's 1991 run has been characterized as the weak night of the run, and there seems to be some support here for Jerry's occasionally flagging enthusiasm: Bruce sometimes steps in where Jerry used to, and Jerry seems content to let Bruce do so. But it would be unfair to judge the whole band by one person: all the remainder of the band make strong showings, and Jerry himself comes on strong once engaged.

And so we find that 9-21-91 has several good things to offer: "Eyes of the World" is not only interesting, but capped by an energetic Bruce-led jam for a total of 14 minutes of prime late-era jamming. Later, the "Space -> Other -> Wharf" sequence is notably fine. As a whole, the second set is a successfully continuous series of segues; each performance builds on the one preceding it, making a nicely organic sequence with several fine peaks.

Not that there's nothing to hear in the first set; most of the performances there are good readings. But there are no real standouts, and a couple performances come across as merely competent.

After the "Drums" section comes a fine series of "Space" explorations, including Jerry's insertion of a Bach piece ["Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"], which slowly slides into a burning "Other One". This in turn gives way to a fine "Wharf Rat". Unlike many later-era shows, these are smoothly done; the individual performances are each very well done, and they function as pieces of a satisfying whole. This seems to be typical of 1991 shows in general, but doesn't detract from this show's generally accomplished second set: like a good speech, we leave with a sense of completion. Only the "Drums" portion seems expendable.

So why would you bother to download it? In one word: continuity. Like any great series, the experience of the whole run is greater than just listening to the parts, and the lesser parts serve to contrast the greater. In 9-21 we hear that thoughtful energy which emerges more forcefully on the final night; there's a connecting thread through the whole run. In any case, it makes great gardening music ;-)

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden - 9/22/91 

Set 1: Shakedown Street, CC Rider > It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry, Me & My Uncle > Maggie's Farm, Brown Eyed Women, Let It Grow

Set 2: Samson & Delilah > Iko Iko > Looks Like Rain > He's Gone > Nobody's Fault But Mine > Spoonful > Drums > Jam > The Last Time > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia

E: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

A funny thing happened to my brain as I retraveled these 1991 Boston shows -- not that my brain isn't normally experiencing strange things while listening to the Grateful Dead, mind you. But things just aren't what I remembered. Or rather, they WERE, but not the way I remembered them. Is that confusing? Well, it was to me too so I took out the ol' bell, book and candle & summoned up the spirit of an ancient Eskimo angakok to help explain it to me.

"Silly modern American," he chuckled to himself. "Your problem is this: you look for rational, and therefore intellectual, explanations for what are best expressed in emotional terms. You need to listen with your belly instead of your brain." And of course he was right -- the essential difference between earlier, so-called "primal" Dead is the greater emphasis on simple emotional catharsis, propelled by the band's own youthful drive. Later Dead is characterized by the lesser intensity that comes with greater age; each word, thought and sound imbued with more subtle shades of meaning, invoking a longer lifetime of experience and reflection. How much greater that would be for ancient spirits I cannot say, but I imagine entire chapters -- if not novels -- are implied in every word or gesture -- even the complete lack of. And so I shut off my brain for this one; let the belly do the talking.

And appropriately so, for 9-22-91 is the belly of this Boston run -- not so heady as the conclusion, not so peripatetic as the night before, certainly not so youthfully ambitious as the opening night. But that's only to say what it is not, so let us dispense with the negative definitions -- what it IS, is this: wave upon succeeding wave of emotion, splashing in succeeding courses on our auditory beachfront. So open up your beach umbrella, slather on the sunscreen, and stretch out a spell for a long thoughtless experience -- no brain required. Your mind needs a vacation, and the forecast is perfect. I might as well tell you now that it will all be worthwhile :-)

Set one sets the tone, as "Shakedown" provides its own impetus, surge & recovery. You may have read that this "Shake" suffers two unavoidable edits, as the master has some blank spots; careful attention proves this true, but the essential spirit is not lost, and the performance would be a shame to miss. This is thanks especially to Bruce. Being the opening tune, the band is not entirely in sync -- you'll hear Phil essay an idea or two that aren't really followed by the rest of the band -- but we're already clearly on track for one of those nights where nothing can really go wrong. The remainder of the set is easily described as alternating waves: a decent performance here giving impetus to an emotional build there, then fall back & repeat. It may sound simple, but there's no denying the visceral effectiveness: "C.C. Rider" is already highlighted by Bruce's piano solo, but launches us without hesitation into a mighty performance of Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" that grabs the listener's attention and won't let go. Likewise, a perfunctory "Me and My Uncle" clicks directly into another Dylan tune, "Maggie's Farm", with each singing band member taking a verse to electrifying result. Without waiting to find out if the spirit is going to wear off, they jump into a fiery "Let it Grow" that leaves no doubt as to whether the switch is in the "ON" position. Boston, you have been put on notice!

"Samson and Delilah" is one of those many Bobby songs we've heard a tad too many times, but the band leaps into this one with such gusto you'd think it was fairly new. Likewise, "Iko-Iko" shows the band being just plain fun. I know this isn't what most old-guard fans are looking for, but why wouldn't you want to hear it? :-) It's fresh, it's hot, and it's perfect to chase off those late-September-about -to-be-October blues. And we know what that's all about: the beginning of the rain. And a solidly emotional "Looks Like Rain" follows, making the core "up" (for "Samson"), "up again" (for "Iko), and "Down but cathartic" for "L.L. Rain". By now it's time for a Jerry ballad, and he obliges with a sweet "He's Gone". While jam-lovers may grumble over the ensuing segues, it must be said that they ring true as organic follow-ups, building up from the bluesy premise that Jerry lays down in "He's Gone" and taking it up to the next level. The promise of the first set is still borne out here.

"Drums" reminds us we're in The Format -- not so much a transition as just the next thing on the menu. "Space" is intense & mysterious as usual, but seems out of place after the clearer (and largely more positive) emotions expressed in the rest of the show; the belly welcomes the return to this evening's true spirit when they launch into "The Last Time" -- not a momentous performance, but definitely feeling like the right step. Jerry puts in "Stella Blue" to follow, and runs us through softer emotions with the proper delicacy. I find the measure of "Stella" in the "pin-drop" moment (which works here) and how absorbing the outro is (moderately good; I give it a B). Sweetness is the key mood here, so it's not the most wrenching "Stella" -- but then, that would not have fit the mood of this show. Instead, they save the heart-stopper for last.

It's completely predictable to have a "Sugar Magnolia" closer, but don't let that fool you -- any more than the predictable joy of watching an ocean sunset on a Western beach, or the predictably victorious moment at the end of your favorite action movie. If you'll excuse 1991's more keyboard-heavy sound, I'll put this up among the best Sugar Mag closers to reach these ears (and belly): Phil thundering out bombs, Mickey & Billy pounding the life out of their drums, Bobby reaching for the sky with the last of his vocal cords. No energy left for anything else, they leave a completely happy crowd, returning only for a quiet "Heaven's Door" encore [that's right, three Dylan songs on the same night!].

Did you get healed? You certainly could have been, if you'd been in Boston that night. As things stand, this fine SBD is the next best thing. Joe sez ya just might like it :-)

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden - 9/24/91

Set 1: Let The Good Times Roll, Feel Like A Stranger, Althea, It's All Over Now, High Time, Beat It On Down The Line, Big Railroad Blues, Desolation Row, New Speedway Boogie

Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Women Are Smarter, Ship of Fools, Dark Star > Drums > Jam > Foolish Heart > I Need A Miracle > Standing On the Moon > Around and Around

E: The Weight

Rough and ragged at the start, the band quickly settles into a set long groove. It's not so much that particular songs stand out; they just seem to tap into some cosmic, ongoing rhythm already in progress, like tuning in to a movie partway through, resulting in a set that is not so much composed of songs as just variations on the same song. Oh sure, there are highlights (Bruce's solo in "It's All Over Now" comes to mind, and the overall band energy on "Beat it on Down the Line"); more to the point, though, is that they don't stand out too strongly, and there are no lowlights -- the whole set arcs along nicely without much variation in tempo or theme. This bodes well for the Group Mind potential on this evening; each song feels nicely placed, well-played, easily chosen -- perhaps too easily; a non-fan might well hear in this a static band with little range. To be fair, this is true enough in this set (although I suspect these same people would say that "all blues bands sound the same"), but the fact is that the band seems deliberately to be revisiting their own past -- specifically, late 1970 to early 1971. This evidently serves them well, as the set rolls past the typical seven-song set for two more numbers (possibly because Bobby neglected to choose a Dylan song earlier?), ending on an uncharacteristically quiet note in "New Speedway Boogie". One suspects they only stopped here because their energy began to flag [a 70-minute set!], but it made for an interesting variation, and served as portent of things to come.

Set two begins with a band in a fine "China -> Rider", with a nice middle jam; Bobby continues the party energy with "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" for the next nine minutes. The drummers were obviously quite up to this -- they continue the beat even after the rest of the band stops -- but Jerry's just not interested. Rather awkwardly, the drums peter out, unsupported by any other band members, and Jerry's starting up "Ship of Fools" is more a lurch than a change of pace.

What was that all about, Jer? Perhaps for lyrical reasons more than musical -- his song choices this evening tend to themes of admonishment, and "Ship" is certainly one of those. At any rate, as strange a choice as this seems at the time, the band gets behind it, and a strong performance ensues -- had we tuned in here, we'd find nothing to fault. Especially because it doesn't so much end as trickle out, resulting a segue to .... well, it's "Dark Star", as anyone with a DEADBASE would know. It's not long, it's not momentous -- really, just a transition into a mood -- but isn't that what "Dark Star" always was, in the perception of the band?

15 minutes of gentle "Dark Star" bliss gives way to a short drum jam, and a short but profound "Space"; like "Dark Star", they seem to be intending more than actually occurs. Jerry takes us back to the admonitory mode with "Foolish Heart", and this works out better. Bobby successfully piggybacks it with a convincing "I Need A Miracle", which Jerry counters with his usual ballad move. This time, it's "Standing On the Moon", and the evening's theme seems complete: after beginning the show with a promise to "Let the Good Times Roll", Jerry has offered sage lyrics of advice, warning, complaint, and mysticism; finally, he offers the view from a distance -- acceptance, resignation, and possibly love. Perhaps he had the younger fans in mind? Jerry may not have felt comfortable with the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood, but he certainly found a way to construct Hunter's lyrics in a way that captures the essence of those duties.

Bobby closes the set with "Around", but the set is clearly over, and it's a perfunctory performance despite whatever lung power Bobby puts into it. More interesting is the encore of "The Weight", as it continues Jerry's mood of wry resignation. This would have been a good song to leave on, had we all been in attendance -- it has just that perfect mood of the song that never ends, so hearing it end is almost counterproductive. Those who did stay got to hear a cataclysmic ending suitable of such a finale; the second half of the 1991 Boston run was well under way :-)

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden - 9/25/91

Set 1: Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin's Tower, Walkin' Blues, It Must Have Been The Roses > Dire Wolf, Queen Jane Approximately, Tennessee Jed, Music Never Stopped

Set 2: Victim Or The Crime > Crazy Fingers > Playing In The Band > Terrapin Station > Jam* > Drums > Jam > That Would Be Something > Playing In The Band (reprise) > China Doll > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away

E: Mighty Quinn

It has never been fashionable to like 9-25-91 -- not, I suspect, due to anything inherent in the show itself, but more because it was released as Dicks Pick #17 -- right between a dynamite compilation from early 1978 and an immensely satisfying show from late 1973. Taken on its own merits, we find some of what our prejudices would have told us: Jerry's voice tends to be ragged, Vince chooses some rather unconvincing synth sounds, and the band's sound tends to be a little dense.

Of course, that's just how 1991 shows go; 1991 was a rather noncreative year. No original songs were introduced (except the short-lived "Reuben and Cherise", which was already 13 years old), and very few cover tunes were added. Of songs that had been dropped from the repertoire, only a half-dozen or so were revived. On the other hand, Bruce's intelligent, talented playing invoked more than a little of the Keith Godchaux spirit, and his fan's-eye enthusiasm injected some much-needed excitement -- and frequently induced better performances out of a certain guitarist.

So we find 9-25-91 to be a show with bright sound, thoughtful jams, and a set list full of promise. Right off, Bruce's piano suggests the necessary mystery & anticipation; it's no surprise when "Help on the Way" begins. Despite Jerry's hoarseness, the energy is good & the band is strong. "Slipknot" proves to be immediately dark & complicated; the band is already in groove & online. No warm-up needed tonight! Bruce's piano prompts Jerry's guitar, and Vince fills out the jams with ethereal sounds. Not to downplay the rest of the band, but they're not in any need to prove themselves ;-)

"Help -> Slip -> Franklin" is so strong, the rest of the set comes off a little anticlimactic -- you could be excused for skipping on to the second set. But Bruce does contribute some lively piano to Jerry's other songs in the first set, and both "Queen Jane" and "Walkin' Blues" benefit from his presence [unless you object to his choice of accordion for his "Queen Jane" solo]. Jerry's solo in "Queen Jane" is sweetened with some delay -- a nice touch -- and Vince enlivens "Tennessee Jed" with some faux fiddle. They wrap it up with "Music Never Stopped", a song which has probably never had a dull performance, and is here quite suitably jammed out. Dance on, children!

In sum, a set whose interesting parts are very much at the beginning and the end, with other songs competently played but only of moderate interest (e.g., just to hear how they sound with two keyboardists, or to hear two non-jammed Jerry songs segued together).

At this point, we might well wonder why this show was chosen for DP status; was it just a combined offering to those who crave Complete Shows and those who clamored for Later Era Releases? Maybe-- the later-era DPs have been tentative and few; there are only one each from 1990, 1991, and 1992 -- each from late in its respective year. No doubt this is partially due to the concurrent View series, whose sources are necessarily later-era releases. No statement has been issued regarding DP selection from the later eras; we can only assume the criteria are the same as for any other era: performances worthy of repeat listening. With this in mind, we move on to the second set.

We fade in to find Jerry, Bruce & one of the drummers (Bill?) already in moody exploration. Everyone else falls in, and off we go with "Victim or the Crime", which benefits from Vince's 80s-synth sounds. I think the best part of this songs comes at the end, when the band trusts to its intuitive nature, and lets the structure fall apart into a dense cloud of timelessness. It's not a good feeling, but it is a true one, and in keeping with the lyric; our good-time band doesn't shy away from the less-pleasant moods. But enough is soon enough, and we're happy to have Jerry steer us into the light & sunny climes of "Crazy Fingers"; for so many cooks, they leave plenty of space here, and it's a happy field of play for our favorite band -- no missteps, nice energy, lots of interplay. Phil is quite propulsive on the outro, spearheading a tapestry of percussive ideas, smoothed by Vince's background tones. Jerry feints in & out of Bruce's piano notes, and I have no idea what Bobby finds to do in all this but it must be working! Very nice indeed.

Oh, there he is -- Bobby's calling up "Playing in the Band", and the band responds with gusto -- another smooth transition, with no false notes or weak moments. Of course, no such perfection can be tolerated for long -- having seamlessly transitioned three very dissimilar songs, they then completely blow the relatively simple return riff to PITB's third verse. Ah well; it wouldn't be the Dead if that didn't happen. Thus do they launch into the usual ten minutes of PITB jamming, exploring more deeply the moodiness that concluded "Victim". Here again do we find both keyboardists acquitting themselves -- weaving in and out of the familiar tapestry of percussion, guitars, and inquiry. This, of course, is the part you just can't fake; like swimming, you either can or can't. In this case, everyone does, and it sounds like it could go on forever. Then, too soon for some, Jerry interposes the "Terrapin" intro riff, and the band delicately begins turning that way.

This seems like a good place to mention The Format, and structure in general. Now, there is no song in the band's repertory so structured as "Terrapin", and for good reason: its power rests largely on the building up of sonic energy that its structure creates. All the same, the band manages to find ways to stretch & change it, to put in variable moments in the known shape. This does mean that the overall intent is predetermined, and the "experience" of the song can only vary by so much. On the other hand, it works well, and manages a certain achievement every time it's played.

The same is true of the second-set structure the band devised by Spring 1978 -- one reason they kept to it was that it worked so well. All of their music has some structure to it -- some more obviously than others, some not so obvious at all; "Terrapin" is one of the more obvious examples. Similarly, the second set worked best when it had a certain structure to it -- predetermined or not. Sure, a certain anarchy is lost, but I think the band members found that, listening back to tapes, they liked it better when they heard some sense of a 'set' taking place, rather than just any series of songs.

This is such a set, so it's quite appropriate to have "Terrapin" in the center of it: each section grows out of what came before, each section builds into a different territory, each section gives life to the one that follows. "Terrapin" here is three such sections, but no more or less organically connected than the separate compositions that preceded it. The post-jam that follows (titled "Boston Clam Jam" on its DICKS PICK #17 release) is just one further step, if less predictable in content, and it too bows out to a jam between Bruce and the drummers, before he too leaves the stage to the traps & skins.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the usual format is that the drummers are sometimes left with nothing to latch onto; they're simply abandoned by the rest of the band. Bruce's sendoff gave them not only impetus but also direction, and what follows functions perfectly as being the next step in this set-long presentation; from the big boom of "Terrapin" to the big bangs of the drums. Without loss of momentum, we move through different rhythms without haste or worry, debouching into equally primordial if less rhythmic sounds. And we find we've made a transition across yet another boundary, into the subconscious subliminally of "Space": echoes of the mothership, deep as oceans, cold without chilling but warm without heat.

We don't necessarily have to like it -- and some don't, preferring their explorations to have some sense of rhythm -- but from moments like these are so many more things possible. In this case, the magical happens: Jerry steers the band into an old Paul McCartney tune ("That Would Be Something"), never before played by them, and it sounds just as natural & rehearsed as if they played it every night. It's just a hint -- it only lasts a minute or two -- but it highlights what this set is all about: using the structure of the set to do the unexpected, and to sound completely natural doing it.

From McCartney's little tune they tumble easily into the "Playing" reprise, going from lighthearted to mellow joy. Vince's synth stands out a little too heavy, but it's clear he intends to sound like a horn section -- a novel idea -- and it does neatly tie up the completely absorbing hour or so of music we've heard so far.

Of course, this is where Jerry likes to have a ballad, and we can't say he hasn't earned it; "China Doll" brings us to more somber ground. Here, Jerry's gruff vocals serve to underscore the pathos of the lyric, and his guitar sings sweetly. But we aren't as entranced as we were; it's a nice performance without really commanding our attention. Part of this may be due to Jerry's voice having begun the move to his hoarse phase; possibly this is an example of The Format backfiring -- just because it often works to have a Jerry ballad in the penultimate slot doesn't make it a guaranteed winner every time. While it must be said that we the loyal audience are a bit spoiled by exposure to so many great performances, it must also be said that we continue to be wowed by more. In this case, though, we seem to have passed the peak of the set.

As if sensing this, Bobby starts up his all-too-common ending medley of "Throwing Stones" and "Not Fade Away". The band plays it well enough (especially on the NFA closer), but we have indeed already seen all the best parts of this show. For the big finale, we'll skip the "Mighty Quinn" encore and move on to the following evening -- which will prove entirely worth the wait. :-)

[footnote: DICKS PICK #17 does not stop there, of course; the thoughtful folks at GDM appended a fine combo of "Samson & Delilah" into "Eyes of the World" from 3-31-91, and these are well worth hearing -- especially since "Eyes" stretches for a good 23 minutes. But these are not part of the Boston run]

Reviews - 9/20 | 9/21 | 9/22 | 9/24 | 9/25 | 9/26 |Top

Grateful Dead
Boston Garden - 9/26/91

Set 1: Jack Straw, Cold Rain & Snow, Wang Dang Doodle, Candyman, Mexicali Blues > Cumberland Blues, Picasso Moon, Box Of Rain

Set 2: Dark Star > Saint Of Circumstance > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Jam > The Other One > Dark Star > Attics Of My Life > Good Lovin', 

E: Brokedown Palace, E: We Bid You Goodnight

And, finally, hear we are: the last night of the double trio that the Dead played in Boston Garden -- the final night of the Summer 1991 tour. For all they'd played the previous five nights, there were still songs left over for the finale -- Why, they still had enough typical show starters that they play two of 'em: "Jack Straw" right into "Cold Rain & Snow". Why the hell not -- whose gonna stop them? ;-) After all, by this point, they've either accomplished something or they haven't; they are what they are, and the final night can't change that. So there's the keynote of this show: nothing left to prove or lose, and plenty left to choose from.

Typical for this run, "Jack Straw" benefits from Bruce's input -- notice especially the descending run he drops in just before the last verse. "Cold Rain" is respectable, but a little more spirit is found in the bluesy "Wang Dang Doodle" -- both sung & played with a bit of fire. Things seem to be going pretty well already, so Jerry essays "Candyman", with pleasantly strong results: Vince's synth sounds are every bit as effective as Bruce's piano, and the band shows good coordination -- no false steps to break the spell. Very nice.

Bob hasn't put on his cowboy hat, so it's "Mexicali" next. With little for the main band members to do, it's Bruce & Vince again who provide the highlights: nice barroom piano from Bruce, and the occasional faux violin from Vince. Vince also provides a faux accordion sound for the choruses, for better or worse. There's a stretched-out solo section, mainly for Bruce's benefit, but also a chance for Jerry to try out some MIDI trumpet. They take several choruses each (and Vince takes one faux violin chorus, just for grins I guess) , so those who headed to the bathrooms at the opening notes stood a pretty good chance of not missing anything.

Well, actually they could have probably sneaked back stage, chatted with Garcia's latest wife, snarfed a few Heinekens & possibly bogued a toke or two; the general arc of this set is downward. Not to fault any of it -- some good performances remain, and some are among the general favorites. But this is not a set that ends with a bang. "Cumberland" is nicely explored, but the energy is largely just agreeable; nobody breaks a sweat, although nobody breaks a string either. Probably the closest thing to a highlight occurs during Bruce's piano solo and may simply be due to playing more loudly at that point. They end it without seeming to have lost or gained anything, and Jerry suggests a cold-start "Picasso Moon" -- a strange suggestion for a set that is close to losing momentum; another respectable performance follows.

Meanwhile, all those who sneaked backstage just ran into a very angry Steve Parrish & got the boot; clutching their half-empty Heinekens, they sit in a row across the back of Boston Garden & clink to their daring accomplishment. What the hell -- they'd already heard "Dark Star" and "High Time" on Tuesday; "Eyes" and "The Other One" on Saturday, and "Help on the Way -> Slipknot" both on Friday & the night before. What with 9-20's "Morning Dew" finish, the Boston run probably looked like the New York run that preceded it, which showed its best outing on the initial night. Now it was 9-26, a Thursday: the run was over, the set clearly wasn't one for the ages; might as well just sit outside the Garden & finish their beers. After all, you could still hear the band -- hey, check it out: Phil's singing "Box of Rain"! Cool -- Cheers! (clink)

"Box" proves more than respectable, so they end the set and let the roadies play the second set ;-) Ha! If it had only gone like that. Instead, our imaginary buddies on the outside are about to regret their backstage adventure.

Things start out simply & familiarly enough; Bruce, Vince & Jerry exchange some random phrases [the Audience recording shows that it's Jerry who starts it, but the Soundboard recording fades in with all three already interacting], and the drummers tap a bit here & there in sympathy. Nice stuff, suitable for getting in the mood to play. But the energy doesn't really pick up so much as deepen; Phil offers some support, without anything really congealing -- they circle around, but not like soldiers marching in. No, this is more like Heads entering a concert hall -- randomly, at different speeds, through different doors -- even for different reasons. Some cymbal splashes add dramatic color; direction starts to take place. They have all arrived. And finally, we hear those familiar notes every Deadhead longs to hear, as "Dark Star" begins the second set.

The audience reaction is surprisingly mild, though certainly appreciative; we can forgive them, for 9-24's Star had been more of a suggestion than an exploration. But tonight is different -- as different from 9-24 as it is from the first set. The lackluster performances found there can now be forgotten; the hit-and-miss shows from New York can now be forgotten. In fact, it is best that you forget everything, because tonight the Grateful Dead seem determined to reinvent the whole week. Snatches of previous evenings will be re-examined -- the endjam from "Crazy Fingers" seems to surface at one point -- and possibly their career. Things get That Deep. Of course, you'll have to overlook Jerry's froggy singing -- all that abuse was hell on the vocal cords -- but this song has never been about that anyway (if "song" is the word I want). This particular "Dark Star" looks no different from the one that occurred two nights before, but there is no real resemblance in performance; 9-24's was the all-too-typical Star-in-name-only of the 90s, but this Star hasn't forgotten its regenesis at Hampton Coliseum on 10-9-89. If our outdoor pals hadn't split at halftime, by now they were aching to get back in. This was the kind of show people still talk about long after the fact; *this* was The Grateful Dead.

Reality shudders & takes some serious hits before the band takes a sudden turn to "Saint of Circumstance", which Jerry seems a little unprepared for despite the fact that he starts it. The performance is good, possibly great; under the circumstances, it's hard to really say ;-) Not too much can follow "Dark Star" and get a fair shake!

Which is just as well: "Saint" no sooner ends than Jerry starts up "Eyes", and we're back on the bus. Jams are fluent & leisurely; those who despaired of the fast-paced "Eyes" of the late 70s can relax here, and enjoy the ride. The fadeaway to "Drums" works as an organic transition, and the percussive stints are interesting, even primeval. The psycho-descent into "Space" seems not only logical, but invokes a return to the spirit on which we left "Dark Star" some thirty minutes before. Wow, this is really good stuff! Not only does it live & breathe of its own accord, but it also gives birth: crawling, then throbbing, then dancing its way into "The Other One", which finds Jerry & Bruce completely willing to ride whatever wave of energy Phil & the drummers throw their way. Crashing to an end after the second chorus, the band promptly returns to the "Dark Star" theme, and Jerry singing the second verse. Vince convincingly emulates the organ riff T.C. used to play -- a nice historical reminder.

DEADBASE fails to mention it, but this is the first time since 1-20-79 that "Dark Star" and "The Other One" are connected, and the *only* time that "The Other One" appears BETWEEN the two "Dark Star" verses (at least, in the same show!).

The "Dark Star" jam that follows is pleasant & gentle -- invoking the classic Fillmore run that gave us LIVE DEAD, though much shorter. Finally, the band just lets it run out, to appreciative applause from the audience; in essence, we've had a seventy-minute late-era "Dark Star" with TOO sandwiched inside. Well worth the hearing! The outdoor wretches are reduced to sobbing into each other's laps; nobody would ever care about the fact that they met Jerry's wife.

As if feeling there wasn't enough nod to 10-9-89, Jerry then starts up "Attics of My Life", which had been broken out earlier that same month in New York -- making this only the third "Attics" of 1991 (for that matter, only the seventh since 1972). It's typically sweet, getting the usual audience pop for the 'wings to fly' line, and giving way to "Good Lovin'" to close the show (as they had also done ten days earlier in New York). Bobby sounds much more confident than usual of the band behind him -- almost offhand at times in his vocal delivery. Again: "What the hell -- why not"; it's the end of the show, end of the run, end of the tour. There was nothing left to prove; it had either all been done, or it would never be done at all.

And -- though the Dead couldn't know it -- the end of yet another connection to their own past, as Bill Graham would die in a helicopter crash only a month later, severing one more tie to their long strange trip toward being the biggest touring act of the 80s and 90s. though not a member of the band, Graham had been a part of so much of their careers; in some ways -- just as after Pigpen's death in 1973 -- the band would not be the same afterward. So dance, little children, dance; whirl away the night for the last time, as if it might never end. Eventually it does end, of course, though the band is soon called back for a sweet and oh-so-appropriate "Brokedown Palace", to ecstatic applause and heartfelt sing along. And then -- well, "what the hell" some more! Jerry immediately starts singing "We Bid You Goodnight", and the boys chime in to full support. You and I may not have been there, my friend, but don't let that stop you: go ahead & sing along anyway; it was the last time they would ever perform it.
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performances at the Boston Garden ~ Boston, MA in September 1991. 

Grateful Dead bootleg reviews of 5/21/92