30th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 Tour: The Omni, Atlanta, GA 4/1/90

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’. Glide is continuing to revisit Grateful Dead’s Spring ’90 tour in honor of its 30th anniversary, with recaps and video highlights and we now on the final run of the tour- Atlanta’s Omni. Without further ado….

April 1, 1990 – The Omni, Atlanta, GA:

Fresh off a sublime week-long stand in the New York enclaves of Albany and Long Island, the Dead headed south to Georgia to conclude their legendary Spring tour with a three-night stand at The Omni in Atlanta. While the Dead made their initial appearances at this architectural marvel of an arena in 1973 & 1974, they eventually opted for the more intimate confines of Atlanta’s Fox Theater whenever the travelling circus came to town for the next decade – including some historic late-70’s shows – before returning to the cavernous Omni in 1988. The group ultimately made The Omni their Atlanta stomping grounds, staging multi-night runs every spring until their final four-night stand in March of 1995.

While most of the press & critical reviews surrounding this run were positive, including some glowing mentions from local publications such as The Atlanta Constitution, “the Dead pretty much earned the volcanic response they aroused” and Macon’s Telegraph-News, “All in all, a ‘sunshine daydream’ of a night…Nothing short of Deadhead heaven!”, there were still those who vocally detested the Dead and their throng of devoted followers. “They [Dead Heads] want everyone involved to think that they’re meek, mellow folks just tripping out on LSD and mushrooms, and what they’re really doing is dropping poison on our streets”, according to a narcotics officer quoted in one local paper. Though, perhaps the ugliest comments came from the brilliant minds at the creatively-named Covington-based News, who proclaimed the concerts to be “one of the most devastating scenes in [Atlanta’s] history” – a city that was almost entirely razed during the Civil War, mind you – and openly mocked the attendees, asking “What kind of plans do they have for the future? Do they ever recover? Or do they die on the floors of bathrooms in civic centers?” Insightful stuff indeed.

Despite the mixed reviews, the Dead ultimately concluded their 16-show tour on a musical high note. While admittedly not the strongest run of the Spring circuit, these performances still feature plenty of standout moments, particularly the opening night, from which “China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” were chosen to appear on Without A Net

The opening set to the Dead’s “April Fool’s Day” concert was all over the map stylistically but still maintained tight & cohesive playing throughout. Starting off with an energetic “Touch of Grey”, the band then tore through a strong trio of “Walkin’ Blues”, “Just a Little Light” and “Candyman”, with the latter tune showcasing some remarkably emotional vocals from Garcia. A fun pair of Weir cowboy-cover songs, John Phillips’ “Me & My Uncle” and Johnny Cash’s “Big River” then preceded a poignant “Althea” as well as an energetic reading of Bobby’s polarizing “Victim or the Crime.” The set came to a close with a tender rendition of the first “To Lay Me Down” in nearly nine months followed by a rocking “The Music Never Stopped.”

The aforementioned “China->Rider” combo that opens the second set with a bang was something of an anomaly on the evening as it was one of the only occasions in which two different songs were linked together with some sort of instrumental jam. The remainder of the set, save for the “Dear Mr. Fantasy->Hey Jude (reprise)” pairing, was relatively segue-free – a rarity in the realm of Grateful Dead second-sets – and a disappointment to tapers everywhere who prided themselves on the myriad ways of creatively writing the “–>” symbol denoting a musical segue on their Maxell XL-II cassette-tape case labels. The otherwise stand-alone numbers were highlighted by “Ship of Fools” and “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” as well as a formidable closing trifecta of “Truckin’”, “Stella Blue”, and “Sugar Magnolia” before saying goodnight to Hot ‘Lanta with Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

 

“Touch of Grey”: The Dead’s only serious foray into the U.S. Billboard pop-charts (it reached #9 and #1 on the “Hot 100” and “Mainstream Rock Tracks” charts, respectively, in 1987), this Garcia/Hunter anthem made its concert debut in 1982 before being recorded on the multi-platinum studio album In the Dark five years later. Originally performed with a faster tempo and somewhat looser structure, the band ultimately tightened things up and emphasized the simple-yet-catchy-as-hell keyboard hook performed by Brent Mydland during the chorus, thus transforming this Garcia/Hunter number into the commercial juggernaut that, for better or for worse, captured the hearts – and wallets – of mainstream America. Tonight’s version, among the stronger of the song’s 200-plus performances, is a typically high-energy affair with a spirited guitar solo and vocals from Garcia.

“To Lay Me Down”: Introduced at a 1970 concert, this Robert Hunter-penned love-song was originally recorded on Garcia’s self-titled 1972 solo album. While the piece was something of a concert-regular during the early and late-80’s – particularly as an acoustic offering during the legendary 1980 multi-week stands at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and San Fransisco’s Warfield Theater – its visibility began to abate as 1990 drew near, with tonight’s version marking the first performance in almost nine months, as well as the last with keyboardist Brent Mydland. This take is particularly emotional, with haunting vocal harmonies from Messrs. Garcia, Mydland & Weir.

 

“China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider”: Musically joined at the hip since its 1969 debut, this pairing was ultimately performed 522 times through 1995, often as a gratifying second-set opener. Interestingly, each song was performed exactly 24 times without the other – most often during the late-60’s – leaving both “China Cat” & “Rider” with a total of 546 performances, tying both songs for fifth most commonly played, behind only: “Me & My Uncle” (608), “Sugar Magnolia (591), “Playing in the Band” (587)  and “The Other One” (585). Among the earliest lyrics Robert Hunter ever sent the band, “China Cat” originally included a lyrical coda that was ultimately cut and used for “The Eleven” instead. This version, selected by Phil Lesh to be included on Without A Net, is among the best late-era renditions with a strong & driving jam linking the two pieces before Garcia delivers a chill-inducing reading of his trademark “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train” line towards the end of “Rider.”

 

“Ship of Fools”: Debuted in 1974, this political apologue, released on From the Mars Hotel the same year, was a second-set regular with over 220 performances prior to Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. Filled with some of Robert Hunter’s most sage advice, “Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools”, this cautionary tale remains strikingly relevant nearly forty years later – perhaps now more than ever. This version, the second – and final – of the Spring tour, features an impassioned performance from Garcia along with top-shelf dynamics from the entire band.

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