Formerly The Warlocks Box
October 8 & 9, 1989
It is a measure of the Grateful Dead’s confidence going into their fall 1989 East Coast tour that they decided to travel with the state-of-the-art Le Mobile remote recording truck so they could capture a bunch of their shows on 24-track tape, with an eye towards putting out a live album in the summer of 1990 in conjunction with a European tour that was already in the works. (Indeed the band recorded a number of shows on multi-track through the spring of 1990. The eventual album was Without a Net, released in September 1990.)
There’s no question that the band had been on fire for quite a while. If you’re familiar with the CD/DVD releases Truckin’ Up to Buffalo from July 4, 1989, Crimson, White & Indigo from July 7 (Philly) and the video-only Downhill From Here from July 19 (Alpine Valley, Wis.) — not to mention the earlier nationwide telecast of the Summer Solstice show from Shoreline Amphitheater (Mountain View, Calif., June 21) — you know the group was playing at an exceptionally high level, arguably getting stronger each tour since Garcia’s remarkable resurrection following his Summer ’86 meltdown/near-death. The band had also been in the studio working on a new album, Built to Last (released Halloween ’89), and that newish material was starting to sharpen up on the road, too.
When the first few dates of the October ’89 East Coast tour were announced, the Hampton (Virginia) Coliseum, long one of the band’s favorite places (and the site of many a fine Dead show) was not included on the list. You see, there had been some problems outside the last shows the band had played there — too many ticketless folks, too crazy a scene — and the powers-that-be in Hampton weren’t sure they wanted the Dead back at all. This is a problem the Dead encountered a lot during their post “Touch of Grey” renaissance, so the band got creative: Just ten days before the tour was to begin, the Dead suddenly announced a pair of “stealth” shows at Hampton set for October 8 and 9, 1989. There were no mail-order tickets sold for these gigs (as was common in those days); in fact, ducats were only sold in Southern Virginia through local ticket outlets, as a way to keep out the inevitable Dead Head invasion that followed the band everywhere. Instead of “Grateful Dead,” the tickets said “Formerly The Warlocks” on them, and when fans arrived at the gig those nights, the marquee read “The Warlocks.” Non-Deadheads passing the Coliseum must have been very confused seeing a band they’d probably never heard of headlining the arena. That, of course, was the point.
The folks who were lucky enough to score tickets for the “Warlocks” shows in Hampton were treated to two of the most exciting shows of the year. Because not only was the group playing great, they had also taken the time to rehearse some old favorites they hadn’t tackled in a number of years, including “Dark Star,” the glorious triumvirate of “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower,” “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” (played just once at Shoreline 11 days earlier), and perhaps most surprising of all, “Attics of My Life” (unplayed since 1972!). Not surprisingly, the crowd greeted these “revivals” with ecstasy bordering on hysteria. Can I get a “Woo-hooooo!”?
Over the course of the two concerts, the band offered up what was practically a career retrospective, delving into crowd pleasing nuggets ranging from “Playing in the Band” to “Bird Song” to “Uncle John’s Band” to “Eyes of the World” to a spectacular “Morning Dew”; raucous rockers including “I Need a Miracle,” “Good Lovin’” and that incendiary Brent-Phil stomper “Gimme Some Lovin’”; and recent tunes such as “Foolish Heart,” “Victim or the Crime” and “Built to Last,” among many others (“Dear Mr. Fantasy”! “Stuck Inside of Mobile”! Lotsa good stuff, for sure.) You can find the complete set lists here.
The Formerly The Warlocks box collects every note of the band’s two nights there, spread over six CDs. The concerts were originally recorded by Grateful Dead sound wizard John Cutler in the Le Mobile remote truck, and mixed recently by longtime Grateful Dead-associate and Bob Weir/RatDog studio engineer and front-of-house mixer Mike McGinn. As always, the discs have been mastered to HDCD specifications, so needless to say, it sounds like you’re there, in the best seats in the house.
As this is the latest in a distinguished line of remarkable complete-run boxes (which includes Fillmore West 1969, and Winterland 1973 and Winterland June 1977), the folks at Rhino have gone above and beyond to design a package that’s (almost) as exciting as the music. This time out, they’ve packaged the CDs in a wooden replica of a cigar box (Virginia being a tobacco state dating back to colonial times), and filled it with all sorts of goodies, from a photo-laden historical essay by your humble narrator, to various pieces of cool memorabilia from the time/shows we won’t spoil for you by describing here.
All in all, it’s a potent blast of the Dead at their late ’80s best that you won’t want to miss. To order your copy of the Formerly The Warlocks box, click here!
NOTE: Now available for PRE-ORDER ONLY. Item is estimated to ship on September 7, 2010.