20 Years Later: The Ten Best Grateful Dead Shows of 1990

Cary Krosinsky on September 20, 2010

Twenty Years ago, the Dead could be found closing out a six-night-run at Madison Square Garden that included some of the top performances of the year. Following a creative resurgence that began in ’89, the Dead played through 1990 with a rediscovered sense of inspiration that frequently allowed their music to reach higher levels. After a series of outstanding fall performances up the East Coast, the Dead returned to Europe for a very successful run of shows that allowed many fans the chance to witness the band in small halls for the first time in years. Tragedy would strike the band, yet again, following the death of Brent Mydland in July of 1990 forcing the band to embark down a new musical path aided by the help of Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby.

This article comes from the February 1991 issue of Relix (Vol. 18 No. 1) and highlights the top ten Grateful Dead shows from 1990.
This list presents, in chronological order, the most memorable Grateful Dead performances from last year.

1) Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, March 16
Featuring the long-overdue return of “Black Throated Wind,” the first set also closed powerfully with “Bird Song” followed by “Blow Away.” Now how about bringing back “Here Comes Sunshine” ?

2) Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York, March 28
This interesting show featured the premiere of the Dead’s rendition of the Band song “The Weight.” This song was on many people’s list of cover tunes they would like to see the Dead play, and they were not disappointed. Note especially Phil’s turn to sing lead. Great stuff.

3) Nassau Coliseum, March 29
The much heralded guest appearance of jazz great Branford Marsalis on saxophone truly energized the band. The “Eyes of the World” made it to the live album Without a Net (as did other songs from this three-show run in Nassau), but it is in the versions of “Bird Song” and “Dark Star” that the improvisations really shine.

4) RFK Stadium, Washington, DC, July 12
A spacey “Dark Star” in the rain highlights this excellent show, which featured strong play from start to end.
5) World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, Illinois July 23
Brent’s last show. Still singing and playing well until the end, Brent performed “Never Trust A Woman” on this night, and one song during each of the other two shows of this run. There was no sign of the tragedy that was to come. An era came to a close to soon. Brent, we miss you.

6) Madison Square Garden, New York City, September 19
With Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby recently joining the Dead (ingenious attempt to beat the keyboardist jinx by having two at once), the Dead’s sound is, as it had to be, drastically different. Attempting to replace what had become an important part of the Dead’s sound (both Brent’s sung harmonies and his keyboard leads and fills) has taken the band in a whole new direction, as was necessary. This show is an example of the incredible progress that this new configuration has made in a very short time. Note especially the jams during “Slipknot” and “Franklins Tower” (especially Hornsby’s fine jazzy piano rolls). Given time, this version of the Dead will certainly reach new heights of excellence.

7) Madison Square Garden, September 20
“Dark Star,” its two verses buttressed around an oddly placed “Playing In The Band” reprise, shows the new Dead playing well and taking chances. The quality of the play here shows why they were able to break out this segue with confidence.

8) I C C, Berlin, Germany, October 20
If the Berlin Wall had not come down already, this show may have done the trick, featuring more top-rate piano play from Bruce Hornsby (note the solo leading from “Let It Grow” ).

9) Wembley Arena, London, England, October 31
A solid show, noteworthy for a strong first set and a playful, now standard for Halloween, “Werewolves Of London.”

10) Wembley Arena, November 1
The “Playing In The Band” /" Dark Star" sandwich (first verses before drums, second ones after space) threatens to become a segue of choice, and is continuing evidence of the progress of the latest orientation of the Dead.