30th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 Tour: Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY 3/25/90

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 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 25, 1990 – Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY

With the 16-show Spring tour now more than halfway complete, the Dead continued to remain in peak form for the second performance of their three-night Albany run. Once again, a large portion of this evening’s set was ultimately released on Dozin’ at the Knick in 1996, with pristine versions of first set gems “Never Trust a Woman”, “Jack-A-Roe”, and Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, as well as the entire post-”Drums” segment from the second set making the cut. 

In addition to the stellar musicianship, the show is also notable for its somewhat heavier-than-usual emphasis on the group’s more bluesy material with standout takes on “Wang Dang Doodle (a relatively uncommon cover during the Brent Mydland-era), the aforementioned “Never Trust a Woman”,  and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, in addition to a pair of blues-influenced original numbers: Truckin’ & Black Peter. 

Other highlights from tonight’s performance include an all-time version of the Dead’s lone top-10 hit “Touch of Grey” as well as a rare back-to-back pairing of first-set improvisational launchpads “Bird Song” and “Let it Grow” to close the opening frame. The second half is anchored by the first “slow” version of “Eyes of the World” since the 70’s in addition to a welcome appearance from the Brent Mydland-penned lullaby “I Will Take You Home” before closing the set with explosive readings of the traditional “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” and Chuck Berry’s “Around & Around.” The evening’s second Dylan number, a rousing rendition of “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, capped off the performance with a full-fledged sing-along from the crowd before being ushered out into the cold dark March night.

“Jack-A-Roe”: Introduced in 1977, this centuries-old British folk song was a favorite of Garcia’s to perform, with nearly 120 first-set appearances with the Grateful Dead in addition to dozens of renditions with his various acoustic & electric side projects. Originally performed by the Dead as a somewhat relaxed shuffle in the late-70’s and early-80’s, the song’s tempo eventually quickened, resulting in the much tighter and high-energy format which is perfectly exemplified with this version. 

“When I Paint My Masterpiece”: This Bob Dylan anthem, originally recorded by The Band in 1971 before being released by the author himself later that same year, was occasionally sung by Garcia with his assorted side projects during the 70’s and early-80’s before Weir took over lead vocal duties when the Dead debuted it in 1987 as they were rehearsing material for their upcoming summer tour with Dylan. Always a welcome regular in Weir’s first-set Dylan slot with nearly 150 appearances though 1995, this version features strong lead & background vocals from Weir & Garcia, respectively, along with a series of melodic complementary lines from Brent on his electric piano.

“I Will Take You Home”: Easily Brent Mydland’s most touching composition, this gentle ode to a father’s unconditional love for his daughter was beautifully recorded on Built to Last and occasionally performed in-concert with Brent singing to his young daughter as she sat beside him at the piano. While most of the 30-plus live versions remain relatively close to the album cut, this particular performance is especially poignant, with a gorgeous MIDI intro from Garcia that proceeds Brent’s tear-jerking delivery. 

“Black Peter”: Among the oldest and most-played original songs in the Dead’s repertoire, this Workingman’s Dead track made its concert debut in 1969 and went on to be performed nearly 350 times as a solemn yet inspirational second-set dirge for Garcia to sink his teeth into. Robert Hunter expanded on the song’s origins in his book of collected lyrics, A Box of Rain: “I wrote this as a brisk piece like Kershaw’s ‘Louisiana Man.’ Garcia took it seriously, though, dressing it in subtle changes and a mournful tempo. The bridge verse – ‘See here how everything leads up to this day…’ – was written after the restructuring of the piece and reflects the additional depth of possibility provided for the song by his treatment.” This standout version features emotional and dramatic guitar & vocals from Garcia, particularly towards the final coda as he pleads with the audience to “run and see.”

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