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 week Glide will continue to 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 24, 1990 – Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY:
Fresh off a historic two-night run north of the border, the Dead headed back to the States for their inaugural appearance at the brand-new state-of-the-art Knickerbocker Arena (currently known as the Times Union Center). After two decades of playing familiar upstate New York haunts such as Ithaca, Syracuse and Saratoga, this three-night run would mark the group’s first stop in the Empire state’s capital. The band clearly enjoyed their stay as they would ultimately return for a series of multi-night affairs, with their thirteenth, and final, show occurring during the Dead’s last tour in 1995.
Showing no signs of slowing down from the Spring tour’s blazing fast start, the Dead continued their remarkably high level of playing with three legendary shows, of which a majority were ultimately released on the outstanding 1996 triple-LP Dozin’ at the Knick. In fact, just this opening night alone has material that was included on three separate official releases: “Desolation Row” (Postcards Of The Hanging), “One More Saturday Night” (Without a Net) as well as “Walkin’ Blues” & the entire second set making the cut on the aforementioned “Dozin’”; a testament to just how well the band was performing at this time.
From the opening notes of Sam Cooke’s jovial “Good Times” to the spine-tingling interplay between the band and audience during “Not Fade Away”, this show is teeming with highlights and standout moments, including all-time takes on the Garcia/Hunter classics “Loser”, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Stella Blue.”
“Good Times”: This popular track was written & recorded by R&B legend Sam Cooke in 1964 and was an immediate hit, rising to No. 11 on the pop charts that same year. Often referred to as “Let the Good Times Roll”, the Dead debuted this number in 1988 and would go on to perform it nearly 50 times, exclusively as a show opener, through 1995. One of the few songs in the Dead’s repertoire in which Garcia, Weir, Mydland and later Vince Welnick traded lead vocal duties, this cover is also notable as it represents one of the only known occasions of Jerry adding his own lyrics to another artist’s composition: “It might be six o’clock, it might be eight. It don’t matter that it’s getting’ late. We gonna’ make the band play one more song. Get in the groove if it takes all night long…” This version is a typically upbeat rendition, with particularly spirited vocal deliveries from Bobby & Brent.
“Loser”: Even though we’ve already featured this Garcia/Hunter chestnut during last week’s look at the 3/16 show, this legendary version is absolutely worthy of inclusion as a repeat offender. Simply put, Garcia is playing like a man possessed, as is evidenced by the breathtaking solo which features a series of lightning-fast runs up-and-down his fretboard causing 15,000-plus jaws to drop simultaneously.
“Desolation Row”: Arguably one of Bob Dylan’s most important & ambitious songs, this Highway 61 Revisited track was a regular in Weir’s first-set Dylan slot after its 1986 concert debut, with nearly 60 total performances. With allusions to, and appearances by, an impressive cast of characters, including: Robin Hood, Einstein & T.S. Eliot, among others, this masterpiece’s anonymous locale is still a hot topic of debate today among Dylan fans, with possibilities ranging from Manhattan to “some place in Mexico” as the author himself put it – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – during a 1965 press conference. Another “best of” performance of a song to appear during this tour, this version features Weir remembering (almost) all the lyrics along with tasteful lines from Garcia & Mydland.
“Stella Blue”: Arguably Garcia’s “signature” song, this beloved ballad was among the Dead’s most commonly played with just over 325 performances and was often responsible for some of the guitarist’s most delicate & onion-cutting moments ever. In a 1988 Guitar Player interview, Garcia professed his love towards this Robert Hunter collaboration, “It’s one of those songs I was born to sing. Every time I do it, I find something new in it, like a little thing in the phrasing or some little thing in the sense of it. And the way the Grateful Dead plays ‘Stella Blue’ is just gorgeous. Everybody plays so beautifully on it…That song brings out a certain sensitivity and delicacy that only the Grateful Dead is capable of.” This is a stunning version with haunting vocals and a strong solo from Garcia which ends with a soaring jam that features world-class dynamics from the entire band.