Blair’s Golden Road Blog - After Brent
by Blair Jackson
I’m generalizing somewhat, but it seems as though the Dead Heads who have chimed in here on various topics favor one (or more) of five eras of Grateful Dead music: the primal psychedelic beast of ’68-’69; the ’72-’74 group with Keith and Donna, pre-hiatus; the same group, with Mickey added, in ’77-’78; the early Brent years from ’80-’85; and the post Jerry coma years from ’88-’90. (Yes, I know there are many who love all the years I didn’t mention—including me! Just go with my premise, please.)
But you hear very little love or even much respect for the post-Brent years, especially once Bruce Hornsby is out of the picture in mid-’92. There are, of course, multiple reasons for this.
Many Dead Heads never warmed up to Brent’s replacement, Vince Welnick (just as thousands of mostly older Heads never warmed up to Brent during his 11-year stint with the band). Vince had a lot of things going against him when he joined the group. He was banned from playing B-3 (like Brent) or an acoustic grand piano (like Keith), and was instead saddled with a rather harsh electronic keyboard with sounds pre-programmed for him by the band’s resident MIDI whiz, Bob Bralove. A lot of the timbres that were chosen for him were, frankly, cheesy-sounding—it was a couple of years before he had a decent B-3 sound in his arsenal (and it was never as full and rich as real B-3).
Though an excellent technical player, he did not have a background as a soloist particularly, and since his younger days had not played in a band that actually jammed. He turned some people off by consistently using his MIDI saxophone sound on the jam after “Estimated Prophet” (which he had learned, he admitted, from the album version of the song—sacrilege!— featuring Tom Scott), tossing bird effects into “Birdsong” and occasionally overdoing the atmospheric textures on “Stella Blue” and other ballads. His first songwriting contribution, “Way to Go Home,” was accepted by many at first, but then lost its luster to some when it became one of the most common songs the Dead played and appeared exclusively in second sets. “Samba in the Rain” was even less popular.
I can’t argue with any of those points, yet my experience of Vince was almost entirely positive. I loved his upbeat onstage demeanor (especially compared to Brent, who was often so dark and surly towards the end). Some of the new colors he brought to the group’s sound were cool and imaginative. I dug his choice of cover tunes—“Baba O’Riley,” “It’s All Too Much”—and wish he’d gotten to sing more. As time went on, he played better and chose more appropriate sounds. I liked his harmony singing. I am not a Vince detractor at all. On a personal level, I had the opportunity to interview him a few times (during his Dead years and after) and I found him to be bright and friendly; a really good guy.
And there was plenty of other stuff going on in the Grateful Dead besides Vince from ’92-’95 that was disturbing/dismaying. A few of the other band members’ new song contributions were greeted with indifference and hostility by some. (As usual, it’s all just personal taste. I loved “Corrinna” and “If the Shoe Fits.” So sue me.) Poor Vince’s ascension also coincided with Garcia’s decline. The whole band tried so hard during ’94 and ’95 to make up for Garcia’s lapses, some of which were drug-related but also affected by his obvious physical deterioration. The lack of precision in his playing was partly from losing feeling in his fingers due to his ongoing struggle with diabetes. His heart disease contributed to his brain not getting enough oxygen. You know the whole grim story.
But through it all, the band gamely persevered and often rose to amazing heights. A show in which Garcia seemed spaced and/or distracted for long stretches might have an incredible “Wharf Rat” or a killer “Scarlet-Fire.” There were beautiful and moving versions of late-period gems such as “Lazy River Road,” “So Many Roads” and “Days Between.” Sometimes the chemistry and interaction among everyone except Jerry was enough to elevate a show. Remember that period when a bunch of the band members got into yoga and suddenly seemed to connect in special ways?
It was also a period when thousands upon thousands of new Dead Heads fell in love with the band for many of the same reasons us older fans did. So, we can sit here and be all critical and nitpicky (for good reason!), but it obviously still worked on some level; that essential Grateful Dead X-factor still had the power to reel in newbies until the bitter end—and to occasionally satiate old-timers like yours truly, too.
Two of the last three shows I saw—at Shoreline Amphitheatre in early June ’95—left me feeling hopeful and optimistic about the future of the band. Even with all the horror stories emanating from the road on that grisly, nightmarish summer of ’95 jaunt (the “Death Tour” we called it, even before Jerry died), when word came down that Jerry had gone into rehab shortly after the final show in Chicago, I figured the next Grateful Dead renaissance was right around the corner. (Believe it or not, I never had that feeling of impending doom that so many of you did in ’94-’95. I’ve always been an optimist to a fault.) Alas, it was not to be.
Tell us about some of your experiences of the post-Brent era. I’d love to hear about the shows that you enjoyed and that you think we should check out (Boston Garden 10/1/94 is loved by many, for instance, as are the two Salt Lake City ’95 shows and various Las Vegas shows from the ’90s). And if you hated everything post-Brent, tell us why. Would you buy CDs of a ’94 or ’95 show, or should David Lemieux stick to earlier years? How do you feel about the few Dick’s Picks and Road Trips releases that have come from the final era?
Still some good shows after brent,sometimes they were jammin really hard but jerrys guitar was so low in the mix it would piss me off i mean everyone else was loud but i be straining to hear jerry and he was playing hard.They got rid of dan healy after all those years and it was never the same with out him.Like in miami 94 they were playing a watchtower and i know jerry was rippin some intense leads but you could not even hear him what the hell was up with that.Thats my beef its as if they turned him down on perpose.Drums and space was really cool all the way till the end.
the Terrapin Station version of DITS, and Wave to the Wind. WHAT were they thinking?
Eternity gets good 'n weird. Corinna is ok. Samba has a few good moments. Way to Go Home is good to me as long as it's not played every day going into drums or out of space.
I thought that it was a cool, funky tune. It seemed to be a solid launching point for jamming.
memories of a "special time" in my dorm room listening to it. :)))))))))))))))))))
AND listening to it while I was living in California in the back yard. hmmmm...
right on about 11/19/72 and 2/9/73!!
I have always enjoyed 11/19/72...that Dark Star is AWESOME!!!!!
Philled with power. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. ha.
A vintage wine may age well but if it is not taken care of properly it becomes vinager. I don't think I would love the dead if all I had to listen to was post 85. There are so many special shows that will it all likelyhood never see the light of day. Do we ever hear about shows like 4/17/71, 11/19/72,2/9/73 or 11/6/77 ever being released. Jerry and the boys were in their prime and the music is testament to that. I'm sorry but listening to the dead post 85 is like watching Ali fight in his 40s. This is crazy talk about releasing late dead stuff when what made us listen to the dead in the first place is there waiting in the vault for someone to make a decision on what to put out. Please 85 or earlier before we all die or become too senile to care.
Thanks for another great topic for a blog Blair, you never shy away from topics that everyone seems to have an opinion on, and here's mine :)
Loved Vinny, from those first shows with Bruce, right thru the nineties, I really enjoyed both Bruce and Vince together, those 90-91 shows were excellent, perhaps a release of that 90's european tour, that had some moments, or anything from the spring 91 tour, or 10-27-91, I know, guest musicians on that one but it was a fine show with some fine licks from Gary Duncan and Carlos Santana, or 5-29-92, or one of my personal favorites 3-24-93, perhaps the 4-1-94 show from Atlanta, or the 7-31>8-1-94 shows or 10-15-94 or even something from the spring of 95 tour, that 4-2 show is sweet, so, yeah, there's a lot of good stuff in the 90's, just got to poke around and you will hear the x factor, big time.
As far as releasing material from the final version of the band, I for one see no problem in doing it ....even full shows .....its the great thing about this band....feel like the 60's...its there...a little 70's ....no problem....the 90's why not .....its like a fine wine you can always let age....as far as Vince is concerned he was just another player in the transition of piano players.....I'm lucky to see all of them...can't say I prefer one over the other, each had there input on the band ...Release stuff from the 90's .......its all good!!!!
For a long time my attitude was complilations or "best of the run" approaches were just fine. But I've changed my tune.
Just release a good show. There are a ton from '92 until the end, many have been listed here. There are plenty that are good enough to have at least a chunk of the first set and all of the second included. If you want to cut out Way to Go Home or a botched first set tune I perhaps live with it. But that's as far as it should go. As the previous poster mentions, it's especially critical for the late period to have a flow going into drums and space and back out.
The MSG 90 Road Trips - nice try but it doesn't really work for me. Just pick one of the dates and put that show out, or put it all out as a box.
Anyone with iTunes can make their own playlists from their own collection. I'm not spending any more money on the company's effort to create a playlist they think I might like.
For better or worse part of what made a year like '94 was the unpredictable and erratic quality. Let it shine. The peaks are worth the entire journey.
I really think 9-13-93 would be a great place to start.
A trademark of the 90's shows is the evolution of the Space Jam. The Drums portion is a trip through the sounds of the world- One night could feel like you're on a safari in Africa, and the next night could seem like a journey through the Orient. And then Space could be Jazz Fusion, or perhaps a delicate floating pulse, hauntingly beautiful. I read once a review of the Spring of 94, that described Drums and Space as the most consistently innovative part of a show. That about seems to sum it up.