30th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 Tour: Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT 3/18/90

Spring ’90 is synonymous with many things to many people, but in the Grateful Dead world, it was perhaps one of the most vital tours in the beloved band’s history: everything was clickin’. Over the next few weeks, Glide will be revisiting Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 tour in honor of its 30th anniversary, with recaps and video highlights. For those stuck at home during these bizarre times, there’s no better time than now to go back 30 years and couch up this run…

March 18, 1990 – Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT:

After a successful tour-opening three-night stand outside of Baltimore, the traveling circus that was The Grateful Dead headed up Interstate-95 to the Deadhead-centric confines of Hartford, CT for a pair of concerts at the Hartford Civic Center. As was the case with Landover’s Capital Center, this arena acted as a familiar stomping grounds of sorts for the Dead and their legion of fans, with their first of nearly 20 shows occurring in 1977, including a series of multi-night stands throughout the 80’s. 

While mail-order tickets for these performances were available when the tour was first announced, issues between fans and the local police that arose during their previous visit in 1988 forced the band to otherwise approach these shows guerilla-style, publicly announcing the pair of concerts and releasing the remaining allotment of passes only a week prior in hopes that it would make things “very easy on the city of Hartford,” as band publicist Dennis McNally explained to the local media. Those efforts largely paid off as 90the events took place without a hitch (relatively speaking), though it was not enough to appease local officials as this run would ultimately mark the last time the Dead were invited to perform at the cavernous arena.

Musically, the band remained in fine form, building off the momentum from the hot Cap Center shows. Starting things off with a monster “Shakedown Street”, the group proceeds to tear through a series of first-set standards, including well-played takes on “Stagger Lee”, “Just a Little Light” and a rocking “The Music Never Stopped” to close the opening frame. 

The second set kicks off with an incredibly fun “Iko Iko” opener and well-placed “Looks Like Rain” before stretching things out with a bluesy romp through a smoking sequence of “He’s Gone”, “Truckin’” and the somewhat rare Willie Dixon classic “Spoonful”. The post-drums sequence features upbeat takes on “The Wheel” and Bob Dylan’s anthemic “All Along the Watchtower” before dissolving into a typically powerful version of “Morning Dew”, which caps the set before an exclamation point was placed on the evening’s festivities with a rousing “U.S. Blues” encore.

“Shakedown Street”: This “get-off-your-ass-and-dance” rocker, debuted in 1978, became an instant fan-favorite and was often trotted out as a first or second-set opener to start things off with a bang. This version of the Mutron-infused “Disco-Dead” number is typically high-energy and successfully achieves the desired effect from the audience, particularly after the oft-quoted lines “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, when I can hear it beat out loud!” A playful vocal-jam gives way to a funky R&B instrumental sequence that features Jerry Garcia and keyboardist Brent Mydland trading awe-inspiring leads before settling back into the song’s signature hook.


“The Music Never Stopped”: A somewhat self-referential allusion to the band’s hiatus from touring in the mid-70’s, this Bob Weir/John Barlow anthem was a fireworks-inducing first-set closer with an outro jam that represented some of the group’s most intense and ardent playing. This version is no exception as Garcia leads the charge with an extended series of distortion-heavy lines over top of some impeccable dynamics from the rest of the band as they slam head-first into the intermission. 

 

“Iko Iko”: Popularized by the all-female New Orleans vocal group the Dixie Cups in 1964, this slavery-era number quickly became a Grateful Dead concert staple after its 1977 debut, often appearing regularly in both their first and second sets. A “call-and-response” crowd-favorite along the lines of “Throwing Stones” and “Not Fade Away”, this version features some bouncy bass lines from Phil Lesh along with an inspired scat-vocals infused B3 solo from Mydland.

 

“Morning Dew”: Bonnie Dobson’s powerful antinuclear message, the Dead debuted this tender ballad in 1967 and it slowly evolved into one of the Dead’s most cherished numbers with over 250 live renditions through 1995. While initial versions of the song were performed at a faster and slightly off-kilter tempo, this piece eventually settled into its role as one of Garcia’s finest and most emotional second-set vehicles and would ultimately come to represent some of the group’s finest moments ever, including the legendary 5/8/77 version from Cornell University. This performance, of which there were only two during this tour, finds Garcia with the entire arena in the palm of his hand as he gracefully guides the band towards a goose-bump inducing climax.

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