30th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 Tour: Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ontario 3/22/90

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 22, 1990 – Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ontario:

There are bad Grateful Dead shows. There are good Grateful Dead shows. There are certainly plenty of great Grateful Dead shows. And then there are shows like 3/22/90. 

This concert, particularly the jaw-dropping second set, is undeniably among the band’s best ever and absolutely deserves to be in the running for the Dead’s “Mt. Rushmore” of shows, alongside other legendary performances such as 2/13/70, 5/2/70, 5/8/77 & 10/9/89. This evening also marks the beginning of – in this author’s opinion – one of the greatest single weeks in Grateful Dead history as the next seven nights would go on to feature, in addition to this performance, the veritable highlight reel that is the three-night Albany “Dozin’ at the Knick” run followed by an infamous trio of Nassau Coliseum concerts which featured the greatest guest-appearance in band history when iconic saxophonist Branford Marsalis joined the group on the 29th

While most of the fanfare surrounding this show focuses on the second set, for good reason, the opening stanza is certainly no slouch with several standout performances. A powerful one-two combo of “Feel Like a Stranger” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” opens things up, followed by a heartfelt reading of Brent Mydland’s “Easy to Love You” before Bob Weir leads the charge on a particularly hot rendition of Jesse Fuller’s “Beat It on Down the Line.” The remainder of the set features an exquisite version of the beloved Garcia/Hunter gem “It Must Have Been the Roses” as well as a fiery take on the Rolling Stones “The Last Time”, marking only the third Grateful Dead interpretation of the classic rocker since its debut the previous month. 

The second set, however, is what bestows the status of “legendary” to this evening’s performance. The “Scarlet Begonias->Fire on the Mountain” pairing that opens the set is the definitive late-era version – it was officially released on the career-spanning 1999 So Many Roads boxset – and arguably only topped by perhaps a few choice late-70’s takes. A smoldering reading of Rev. Gary Davis’s “Sampson & Delilah” is followed by a gorgeous rendition of the ultra-rare Garcia ballad “Believe It or Not” before a powerful “Truckin’” completes the pre-drums segment. An explosive “The Other One” develops out of a surprisingly accessible “Space”, setting the table for one the most intensely emotional – and heartbreaking – moments in Grateful Dead history: Brent Mydland’s singular performance of “Hey Jude->Dear Mr. Fantasy->Hey Jude (reprise).” The set closes with a rafter-shaking “Sugar Magnolia” before the band bids farewell to “The Great White North” with a haunting version of Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home chestnut “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

“Beat It on Down the Line”: Among the earliest of cover songs performed by the Dead, this Jesse Fuller rocker was trotted out over 320 times after its 1966 debut, almost exclusively in the first set. This particular version is full of energy with Brent’s robust Hammond B-3 laying the foundation underneath Weir’s forcible vocals and Garcia’s bouncy-as-hell guitar licks.

“Scarlet Begonias->Fire on the Mountain”: While the beloved Caribbean-flavored “Scarlet Begonias” made its concert debut in 1974, it took until the 1977 debut of another Garcia/Hunter gem, “Fire on the Mountain” to find its lifelong musical companion. This pairing was ultimately performed just over 240 times through 1995, most often as a welcome second set opener. Tonight’s legendary version is note-perfect throughout, starting with a nonpareil “Scarlet” that features every single band member absolutely locked-in from the opening notes. Garcia’s vocals are strong & compelling from start to finish, as is his masterful guitar solo which builds to a glorious peak before thundering back into the final verse. A purposeful and driving jam follows, with Garcia sounding like a horn-blowing jazz-master thanks to his commanding use of his MIDI effects rig, leading into the familiar two-chord progression of “Fire.” This version continues the trend that “Scarlet” set with impeccable playing from everyone, though Garcia is simply on another level as he lays waste to each solo with some of the most searing guitar riffs he’s ever produced.

“Believe It or Not”: This Built to Last outtake was among the rarest of Grateful Dead songs, with only seven total performances between 1988-1990. With Robert Hunter-penned lyrics that were inspired by the music he often heard as a child from various tavern jukeboxes, this love song shared similar musical themes with Garcia’s “Gomorrah” and featured an often-emotional vocal climax with Jerry desperately professing his affection for the lyric’s subject. Garcia discussed his surprise to the song’s positive reaction from audiences with Blair Jackson in 1988. “Like when we were rehearsing ‘Believe It or Not’ it was [shrugs] ‘Eh, Big deal.’ But when we performed it the first time, it had an amazing reception. It was an amazingly emotional moment. I had no idea that song would have that kind of effect: on me even.” This version marked the ballad’s final appearance and is arguably the finest of the handful of live renditions with Jerry working the crowd into a frenzy via his passionate delivery. 


“Hey Jude->Dear Mr. Fantasy->Hey Jude (reprise)”:  While the Dead often trotted out the familiar Traffic/Beatles “Dear Mr. Fantasy->Hey Jude (reprise)” medley as a second set Brent Mydland show-stopper, this version marks the first complete performance of “Hey Jude” since Pigpen sang it a handful of times in 1969. As mentioned above, this truly is one of the most powerfully emotional moments in the band’s history as Brent seemingly forgets the lyrics to the Beatles classic after the first verse and is clearly devastated, shaking his head in despair and unable to look at his bandmates as he barely holds on while still coming up with some beautiful piano vamps in lieu of the words. However, this is Brent-fucking-Mydland we’re talking about here folks, so of course he immediately recovered and proceeded to absolutely destroy the remainder of “Hey Jude” as well as the subsequent “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (even a rare broken string on Jerry’s guitar couldn’t cool this smoldering version down), thus cementing this performance as the keyboardist’s signature moment with the Grateful Dead.

Grateful Dead Setlist Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON, Canada, Spring Tour 1990

Previous Spring ’90 Tour Revisits

3/14/90 – Landover, MD

3/15/90 – Landover, MD

3/16/90- Landover, MD

3/18/90- Hartford, CT

3/19/90 – Hartford, CT

3/21/90 – Hamilton, ON

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3 Responses

  1. Just discovered this series of write-ups yesterday and look forward to revisiting each show while reading its companion piece here. Thanks for doing this, and Let’s Go O’s!

  2. I road tripped to these shows from Columbus with some friends. We were absolutely blown away by the second set of night two and I completely lost myself in Scarlet->Fire it was so hypnotic and the best I ever heard. Jerry kept climbing the mountain. An unbelievable set/show/tour!

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