30th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 Tour: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY 3/28/90

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 28, 1990 – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY:

After a rousing three-night affair in Albany, the Dead weren’t finished with the Empire State as they headed south to the Deadhead-mecca of Long Island for another trio of concerts at the fabled Nassau Coliseum. Starting with their 1973 debut at the arena, the band would go on to play a total of 42 concerts in Uniondale through 1995, more than any other non-California venue outside of New York City’s Madison Square Garden (52 concerts) & the Philly Spectrum (53). 

The inclusion of these shows when tour dates were announced was not without controversy, however. After a long history of heavy-handed police tactics towards Deadheads during the band’s previous stops there, Garcia made a vow to never return during a Rolling Stone interview that was released only a few months prior to the tour’s opening night. “Every time we played there, they busted 300 or 400 kids. We’re not going to be bait for the police department, so we refused to play there. And they said, ‘Please come back. We promise we won’t bust anybody. Honest to God. Come back.’ So we said, ‘Okay, we’ll go back.’ And when we played there, they did it again. This happened a couple of times. So they say, ‘Honest to God, we really aren’t going to bust anybody – no shit. Please come back and play.’ So I just played there with my band. They busted forty or fifty kids. So the Grateful Dead ain’t going to go back there. What is it about our fans that makes them so fucking offensive to everybody? They’re certainly no worse than sports crowds.” Despite Garcia’s strong protests, the almighty dollar and influence of promoters & corporate-interests were too much to overcome, putting band publicist Dennis McNally in an awkward position when reporters inquired about the guitarist’s comments during press interviews at the time. As he wrote in the liner notes the Dead’s “Spring 1990” box-set: “I had to mumble some truthful but evasive nonsense about how Jerry didn’t make every decision for the Dead and so forth, because I couldn’t tell the real truth, which was that the Coliseum management really wanted the shows and was exerting every bit of influence it had to keep things cool.” That exertion clearly paid off as the Dead would ultimately return to the cavernous venue every Spring for a series of multi-night stands through 1994.

While this three-night run is primarily known for the infamous “Branford” show on the 29th, the opening and closing nights are still very strong performances in their own right, each bountiful with highlights and stand-out moments. Tonight’s first set is anchored by a pair of Garcia/Hunter gems, including a somber take on the first “High Time” since 1988 as well a scorching delivery of the set-closing “Deal.”

The second set features a gorgeous “Looks Like Rain” – featured on Without A Net – as well as another unorthodox pre-“Drums” song selection with a highly unusual but remarkably well-executed trio of “Cumberland Blues”, “The Weight” (a Grateful Dead debut), and The Meters’ classic “Hey Pocky Way.” The latter half sees an emotional “Wharf Rat” and energetic “Good Lovin’” close the set prior to the band returning for the encore to take one last shot at the Beatles’ “Revolution” before retiring it for good. 

“High Time”: Recorded in 1970 for Workingman’s Dead, this tender ballad made its concert debut in 1969 and went on to be performed just over 130 times despite a six-year shelving from 1970-76. Liberally used in both first and second sets throughout its history, this song is replete with some timeless Robert Hunter maxims such as: “Nothing’s for certain, it can always go wrong / Come on in when it’s raining, go on out when it’s gone.” This version, the first since 1988, finds Garcia in fine form with a strong & effective vocal performance. 

Looks Like Rain: At over 400 live performances, this Weir/Barlow love-song ranks among the most commonly played in the Dead’s catalog. A stray-cat lullaby if there ever was one, this track was originally recorded on Weir’s 1972 “solo” album Ace and made its concert debut the same year. Interestingly, the song was pretty much a first-set exclusive until the mid-1980’s when its role suddenly switched and became entrenched as a second-set regular through 1995. This particular performance, pristinely recorded on the 1990 live double-LP Without A Net, features Weir’s trademark vocal rave towards the end that some Deadheads swear could magically conjure up some much-needed precipitation during particularly sultry outdoor shows.

“The Weight” & “Hey Pocky Way”: This pairing of popular covers was surprisingly an incredibly rare event in the Grateful Dead world as this show marks the only occasion in which both songs were played. “The Weight”, written and recorded by the Band in 1968 for the group’s debut album Music from Big Pink, remains one of the group’s most iconic and well-recognized songs despite a relative lack of commercial success as the single only made it as high as No. 63 on the U.S. pop charts that year. This version marks the first ever Grateful Dead performance of the classic-rock radio mainstay and features all four vocalists taking turns singing lead before coming together for some beautiful harmonies on the final verse. The band ultimately made it a welcome – if somewhat surprising – encore choice with just over 40 performances through 1995.

While the roots of “Hey Pocky Way” can be traced back hundreds of years as an old Mardi Gras “Indian” street chant, New Orleans’ legends the Meters were the first to set it to music in 1974 when they recorded it for their fifth album Rejuvenation. After most likely learning it from the Neville Brothers – who played with the Dead on numerous occasions in the 1980’s – Brent Mydland sang lead on this Bayou classic during the band’s 25 performances. The song was ultimately retired from the Grateful Dead’s repertoire after the keyboardist’s death in 1990. 

Grateful Dead Setlist Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY, USA, 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

3/22/90 – Hamilton, ON

3/24/90 – Albany, NY

3/25/90- Albany, NY

3/26/90 -Albany, NY

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