I thought 1995 was a really great year for the Dead, at least as far as consistency went, and I had some of my best times in that final year. Sure there weren't as many of those great peaks that some years past seemed to provide, such as 1991, most recently. But although there were bouts of sloppy play and uncreative setlists, I felt overall that the boyz were heading back in the right direction, at least compared to the relatively dismal year of 1994. I also felt fortunate to be asked to write some reviews for Deadbase on some of these shows.
Following are three reviews I wrote for Deadbase X (1997) on the 2/21/95 SALT LAKE CITY show, the 3/29 & 30/95 ATLANTA shows and the 4/7/95 show in TAMPA, FL. The Salt Lake City review was also reprinted in Deadbase XI (2000).
SALT LAKE CITY - 2/21/95 .
For Mormon Town, the lot was remarkably relaxed. I didn’t see anyone getting hassled by event staff or the cops outside. Vending was decent, although not spectacular and I made my money selling some airbrushed shirts my friend Michael kicked down to me. The Delta Center is located right downtown, just a couple of blocks from Temple Square, a Mormon religious epicenter and home of the Tabernacle Choir, which was kinda cool to check out. They’ve got these four plaques on a wall there, and three of them can represent Dead tunes (or covers), if you’re in that mindset: The Law, The Way, and Liberty. At one point, I saw the skeleton walking around inside the Square.
Like the lot, the inside of the venue was pretty mellow, too, although there were so many event staff cracking down on dancing in the aisles and the like (at least on the lower level and floor) that I wouldn’t have wanted to press my luck doing anything too crazy (translation: blatantly illegal). The Delta center is an ample facility, although not great. There is a decent amount of space in the corridors and the venue provided a smoking section--something which too many venues never took the effort to provide. Unfortunately, the sound was terrible, which would explain why every audience tape I have ever heard from these shows sounds like it was taped in the bathroom.
The first thing that pops to mind thinking about this show was when my buddy Kevin called me just after the shows were announced. He drew my attention to the fact that the last two times the Dead played Salt Lake City they brought songs back. Now, Kev probably spends too much time reading Deadbase, but in this case he was on to something. After giving birth to all those new songs the last three Februarys, the band was ready to shine the light of day on some older tunes this year. It was revival weekend in Brigham’s valley.
The Dead had never played the tune Salt Lake City before, and our inside joke was that they were sure to play it at these shows, although I doubt any of us actually believed it. By the third night we had all forgotten about the song, which gave it back its element of surprise when they opened this show up with it. What a thrill! The lyrics were hard to hear, at least where I was sitting, and it did come off performance-wise as you might expect a debut to sound--but WOW! This set the stage for a really great show; although there were a couple of patches of average play and selection, overall this show was really solid and the special inclusion of some rare numbers gave it a unique personality all to its own.
The first set continued with a cool FOTD and a Wang Dang which featured some nice guitar work by Jerry. After Tennessee Jed and Broken Arrow, we were treated to a sweet BT Wind, one of my personal favorite first set numbers. The So Many Roads was an emotion-laced masterpiece, as most were in 1995. The set closed with a really great Music Never Stopped. The slow jam was nicely spacey and Vinny went off loud in the mix on the hard jam, celebrating his 44th birthday with flare.
I went up to the upper level to be with some friends for the first half of the second set. If you’ve never been to the Delta Center, you can trust me when I say that the sound up top absolutely sucks. The venue is very short in length, but more than makes up for it in height. The second level starts at an unusually lofty elevation compared to the bottom tier. Clearly, this venue was not built for acoustics. The second set was very short. In fact, the entire pre-drums clocked in at a mere 35 minutes or so, barely longer than your average Scarlet/Fire. While it lacked in the wide-open jams which always get me off, it was a really good set nonetheless. The Foolish Heart came over strong and, following Samba, the band launched into Truckin’. This version was short in the back end and didn’t have the exploratory zeal that so many renditions possess, but it joyfully segued into surprise #2 of the night: I Just Want to Make Love to You. It was the first time the boys put it on stage since they played a pair of them in 1984. But Jerry’s version was much different than the Brent versions and was a little hard to pick out at first. I can’t say that I’m too disappointed that they never played it again after this show. It didn’t come off too well. Truth is, it was barely coherent. To say it needed work is probably a severe understatement, but WOW again! It was an incredibly unexpected treat to see the Dead reach so far down into their bag of tricks--and this was one of my highlights of the year to be sure. Following That Would Be Something, I headed down back to the lower bowl where the sound was a little better.
Drums was pretty cool, and had this submerged-under-water-type-thing going on. Drums gave way into Space pretty quickly and Space rapidly congealed into the melodic realization of surprise #3 of the night. I’ve always liked Visions of Johanna and I’ve listened to the ’86 versions countless times, but I never would have thought that they would possibly bring that one back. Not tonight, at least. But WOW again, again! It came off nearly perfect, settling the show’s claim as one of the greats of 1995, in my opinion. A truly rocking Sugar Mag closed the show off and we were waiting for the encore a scant one hour fifteen minutes after the start of the set. This show really deserved a special encore. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Liberty was the final number of the three night stand. We rushed back to the hotel room to grab some floor space and went skiing the next day. I fell down a lot. Then, off to Oakland.
ATLANTA - 3/29, 30/95
F UCK ATLANTA. So here’s the story I heard. One or more vendors get busted at the Omni for selling shirts or whatever he or they were swinging, and in response they print up these shirts with the aforementioned message emblazoned on the front to sell just to spread their message (the back says "This Town Ain’t Got No Heart"). Now I go and buy this shirt (since few statements of fact could possibly be more accurate) and I wear it continuously until it reeks and is stained more heavily than Harry the Dirty Dog after he’s rolled around in the mud at the construction site. I still wear the shirt. And I get two responses from this shirt. The first is to be asked "why fuck Atlanta?" To which I always reply "oh, you’ve never seen the Dead in Atlanta, huh?" Invariably I get a response in the negative. The other is the classic thumbs up, head-nod, always topped-off with the emphatic compliment of the shirt. Sometimes they’ll even kickdown a free beer! Guaranteed, these folks have been to the Omni. Because if you have ever seen the boys in Atlanta, you know the real meaning of harassment.
Unquestionably, any review of a show in Atlanta must begin with a mention of the environment, which consistently resembles the kind of scene you would expect to see at Tiananmen Square. Forget your Charlottes, your St. Louis’, your Rosemonts, your (insert the name of the town which displeases you the greatest here). This is Atlanta, where the police will arrest you for stepping off the curb (seriously) and would be ever so gracious as to beat you senseless if you are in possession of anything higher grade than bubble gum. If there really is a place where the cops would bust you for "smilin’ on a cloudy day," no question about it, it is in Turner Town.
So why go? Well, despite the incredible persecution at the show, the Dead have always played real well in Atlanta. The Omni has been home of some of my all-time favorite shows, and the 1995 run did not fail to meet these high expectations. I was lucky to get the seats I had, as my mail-order tickets were the best I had ever received for the this venue. On top of that, I inherited some tasty upgrades from my friend Michael, who had to stay home to work on a project for GDM, which later became the summer tour poster. After some fine shows to start the run, we had a day off to rest before the third and fourth nights. Come show three on Wednesday, I was fully raring to go!
I almost arrived late for the Wednesday show. I met up with my cousin at his office beforehand and partook in the kind of activities which you might expect Deadheads to do at a dentist office before a show. Fortunately, we made it in a few moments before the lights went out to start the show. Now the Omni may not be as loud or crazy as Madison Square Garden or some other northeast venue, but you can trust me when I tell you that the boisterousness of an Atlanta audience can send you looking for earplugs the moment the lights go out. Along with the first tinge of air conditioned wind which hit your forehead when walking in, you were sure to be smacked square in the chest by the enormous energy emanating from the crowd. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Shoreline anymore. The entire first set was played real tight and you could feel Phil’s bass storming through the venue, rattling seats. The band closed the first set off with Cassidy. It was nice, but I’m partial to a rocker to end a set. But who would dare complain about hearing a Cassidy?
The second set was tremendous and opened with a highly anticipated Unbroken Chain followed by a solid Help on the Way and an aptly warped and spacious Slipknot. The Franklin’s Tower had its bouts of sloppiness, but came through when it really mattered for a glorious presentation. The Corinna was unique in its pre-jam closing with the boys singing (or more accurately, screaming) "Corinna!" in the part where usually only Bobby goes off vocally. I’ve never heard it played at all like that either on tape or live, and it came across very well, making this particular version well worth hearing. If you haven’t heard this tape, it is worth checking out simply for this distinctive moment. The Atlanta Matilda wasn’t anywhere near the level of the versions which preceded or followed it, but what can you expect when you don’t have Hornsby or Willie Green joining in? It was still great to hear, especially after I had been shut out of its debut and had to this point only heard the notes pouring over the eventually-to-be-torn-down fence of Deer Creek on my way to the port-o-potties. The band rocketed out of space with Miracle and followed up with Standing on the Moon. Isn’t it amazing how Standing has evolved the last couple of years? Some of these versions have been mammoth and it has become a real highlight for me. I guess it’s not so surprising that the band started closing the second set with this number. Fortunately for us on this day, this was not one of those shows as the climax came instead with a raging Not Fade Away. This was a really great show.
I didn’t want to be late for the Thursday show, so I was careful to arrive early. I think the show was sold out, but there were tons of tickets in the lot. The set was highlighted by a performance of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. This particular song is special to me and I love to hear it--and not only because I like underage women. I saw them bring it back after its five year hiatus in Chicago in 1992, and then saw it the next time it was played in Eugene the next year. This was the first time it had been played since then, but of course, this was the fast-paced version that the Valentines had played a couple of months earlier and not the slow, well-pronounced version I had become accustomed to hearing from the Dead. Frankly, it took me a couple of verses to realize what the hell was going on. As far as setlist variety goes, the other notable feature of this first set was the Alabama Getaway to close. It sounds pretty rockin’ when I listen to it on tape, but I distinctly remember feeling it was a poor version with little punch in the live context. Too bad.
They opened the second set up with China Cat. I swear, I can always feel a 30 mph wind blowing over my head during the bridge into Rider, and the wind was blowing twice as hard on this particular version, forced along by some unusually powerful drumming. The musical introduction into Rider was absent, as Jerry ebbed into the lyrics. The Rider was faster paced than usual and did not have any incredible jams, but the repetition of explosions coming from the drummers gave the Rider more force than normal. A nice Looks Like Rain followed by Samba, continued the set. Jerry kicked down a sweet He’s Gone, after which Mickey and Billy picked up their cues and began making their thunderous leap into drums. Jerry, however, had other ideas and noodled his way into That Would Be Something over the increasingly loud outpouring which the drummers were leveling on their kits. After a melodic mini-jam out of Space, we were royally treated to Visions of Johanna (Bless the man who invented TelePrompTers!). This one missed the mark in a couple of places, but possessed extra doses of emotion in some of the lyrics—as far as delivery went, perhaps the most emotion-laced version played since its revival. It took a little while for the crowd to react when it started, but the crowd was right on cue when Throwing Stones followed. Lovelight is a song which I personally am sooooo sick of, but the one the boys closed out this set with wasn’t bad. And, after a nice Lucy in the Sky, it was time to head out.
Following the show, we walked out through the tight, poorly designed corridors of the Omni into a night set aglow by the blue and red illumination from the squad cars belonging to Atlanta’s finest. Noticing that neither the SWAT team nor the black, unmarked helicopters had arrived yet, we hurriedly gathered our belongings and people and scurried through the lot to our awaiting vehicle, and got the hell out of Dodge...
TAMPA - 4/7/95
The Tampa show fell right in the middle of a twenty-one consecutive show binge for me. I felt 1995 generally, and spring tour specifically, was surprisingly consistent and quite good overall, at least compared to 1994. Unfortunately, Tampa was perhaps one exception to the tour and truly harkened back memories of wishing for a shiny new birthday bike and instead unwrapping an undersized box of tube socks. It was a very special night nonetheless; my 100th show in my then hometown surrounded by friends and family on their first Grateful Dead experience. However, this show lacked bite and the scene was awkward. The venue was a large outdoor stadium, unusual for spring tour, and many of the regular tour heads had already jumped off ship due to the long trip in the wrong direction from Birmingham for this single show. Also, Florida has never been a heavily traveled area for the Dead and many of the 46,000 ticketed souls were there to get their first taste of the circus, and were thus unaware of some of the subtle conventions and etiquette of the lot. Like the tear gas incident the year before in Orlando, this show was marred by an unfortunate incident where a police officer was knocked unconscious by a crowd rush. I can’t say the vibe felt quite right and this show experience seemed to lack the flavor that Dead shows usually distinguish themselves by. With all the Budweiser swillers and black leather, it would have been darn easy to convince yourself that you were at Tampa Stadium to see the Black Crowes instead of the good ol’ Grateful Dead.
The Black Crowes were, of course, there; they opened the show. Once they finished their hour of screaming and arm-flailing, the boys kicked the show off with a solid Jack Straw. Sound problems somewhat flawed the first couple of songs, but seemed to be under control by the end of Peggy-O. The first set was highlighted by the surprising inclusion of the newly-revived Visions of Johanna in the first set; its only such placement since being brought back off the shelf. Jerry first began tuning up So Many Roads, then decided otherwise and instead presented us with this gem, demonstrating a dash of creativity which seemed clearly lacking in the rest of the show’s setlist. While the setlist itself may have been garden variety and nothing to call home about, the entire set was played very well and real tight. This was the Promised Land tour as, unbelievably, 12 of the 15 shows were set in the southeast and three different cities were guaranteed to elicit hometown cheers. Nonetheless it was here in Tampa (and Memphis) instead of the more obvious selections of Atlanta or Birmingham that Bobby chose to play Promised, showing flashes of either great detachment or surprising brilliance (I choose brilliance). Audience explosions aside, I have always thought this a rockin’ way to end a set and this one certainly didn’t change my mind.
The second set started where the first set ended. The sixteen minute Eyes of the World was beautiful and extraordinarily well-paced. A tightly played Saint of Circumstance followed. However, after this point the set began to fall into the troubles which seem to plague so many last-night-of-tour shows. Vince began the spiral with his requisite Samba. Phil countered with an inspiring Unbroken Chain which briefly brought hope back to the set. This one may not have been quite to the level of the Charlotte Unbroken, but it was nonetheless special and featured some wonderful guitar work and Phil sounded great. Next, the band meandered through a slow-starting and somewhat short Corinna, followed by an amply spacey Drums, an Easy Answers which lacked any of the long jams that usually make that song bearable, and a less moving than normal Days Between. The set ended with an unfortunately flat and tired version of Not Fade Away and the band sent us shoe searching with a short U.S. Blues with few audible lyrics. Overall, sloppiness was not the problem with this show generally, but the setlist and performance failed to satisfy the presumption that, at any Dead show, you were either going to be rocked or spaced out of your brain, or both. Taken as a whole, this show did neither.
Following the show, our plan was to head up to the Farm (where most of the out-of-towners were staying) to hang out. It was held about twenty minutes from the show and some local bands were slated to play. Unfortunately, by the time people started returning from the show, it had been closed down by the county for lack of a festival permit. Many heads never made it to meet up with their rides out of town and four friends were stranded on my couch for a month. By then, it was about time to head west to Vegas...
I still keep meeting folks whose only show experience was this one in Tampa. And all of them remark about how great the show was and how incredible they thought the experience. Although this show should probably go down in the annals of Grateful Dead history as merely average, the impressions which survive serves as a great reminder that even in their less than best performance, a tired Grateful Dead coasting on automatic pilot is still easily the best ticket in town. Amen.
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