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?
I didn't see my first show until '89, so I have a high tolerance for 90's Dead. I was at those Vegas '94 shows, that So Many Roads holds a very special memory for me. Keith and Donna are my first preference though.
Anyway, there are a few full shows that might cut the muster - the Branford show for example I can't believe no one hasn't been mentioned it. In fact, they were recording for Without a Net I think for some time, lots of grate playin' during those tours. Another is 3/20/91 from the Crap Centre, was at the one too. Fired that up the other day, set II begins with a very good 20 minute Eyes. 10/1/94 might be worth releasing in it's entirety. But, like most, I would agree we are in compilation territory. Eternity, Victim or the Crime - geez, terrible man! But, So Many Roads, Corrina, Lazy River Rd, lots of good stuff to cherry pick from.
i got on the bus pretty late to start with (say end of 80s).... and my only show was buckeye lake 7/29/94 (can anyone hook a brother up?)... so, yes. i've learned now about all the dead eras, even the early-mid 80s i'm still learning to dig.... but i am fascinated with the dead's sound and arranging in the 90s. wow, playin in the band got *sick* in the last years.... i haertily encourage the dead team to release all the 90s dead they can! thanks, off podium now, ymmv :^)
because it sure rocked the (definitely West Coast) house when I saw it. It was a really sweet moment.
Bobby and Brent played an impromtu gig at Windows on the World sometime in the eighties.
I remember hearing that they played that and Love Potion Number Nine also, if my memory serves.
No doubt during a Garden run.
I leave it to the more zealous to look up where this actually happened, though I'm pretty sure it was a side-band show rather than the Dead, but the out-of-the-blue Bobby song that knocked my socks off in the moment was "Twilight Time." No, technically speaking he probably doesn't have the voice for it, but it was such a delight to have the song suddenly appear out of left field and him getting such a kick out of it.
Black Dragonflies = Trouble Ahead.
i am a person who's first show was norfolk scope april 1982 while in 9th grade, i am a relative late comer, btw of course i didnt know it at the show but that was the first show with jerry on brent's side and phil on stage-right (left from the audience perspective), it was also a great brent show including a fine "good time blues"
yet despite not discovering them till the 80s... i learned early on that this incredible band had morphed quite a bit from its heights of the late 60s and early 70s, while i cherished the opportunity to enjoy many great shows, i realized i had missed out on the youthful dead doing what no band had dreamed of before, but we had tapes
the late 70s are interesting, in retrospect we can all say they werent nearly as adventurous or jazzy as the early 70s, but at the time i imagine what they were doing seemed a logical follow-up to what they were doing in the billy-only period: tightening up, updating their sonic delivery to a more modern feel all the while busting out a few classics that had been dormant for a while, im sure some heads and the even the band expected they would return eventually to an all out jam format just like they did after the jam hiatus of early and mid 1971, but they never did
some jams and "space" itself of course emerged during the brent era, but not the loose jazzy unpredictable type jams and space of 72-74 (there are exceptional shows), what they did accomplish with brent was being about as outright psycheldelic as any other era in their history... at times, and you gotta give em credit for constantly changing and trying new sounds when it would be easier to just stick with a formula that had worked, i guess it's called going furthur
i have a hard time listening to post brent but i would love a "compilation" to open my eyes to some of the brighter spots of that era
id also like to say being in my age group (i am exactly 20 years younger than bob) was a great perspective to discover and follow the band, since the boys were all 20 to 27 years older than me they could command a certain amount of respect from me just by virtue of being "so much older" and yet still rockin, thats different than getting into them when youre almost the same generation as the boys, it taught me that music and rock could be a lifelong passion and not something that you put away when you become an adult, and it helped me realize you dont have to be uncool when you are old
i am glad all the different eras and sounds exist and are recorded and are now so accessible, all spokes of one wheel, but even as a late comer i cant help but love 69 - 74 the best
The Hornsby moment was nice, and Vince was great but didn't have time for his own groove. The last decent show I saw was Deer Creek, June 23rd '93...and even then the best part was Terrapin Station>drums>Dark Star>The Wheel>Good Lovin'; enc: Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Even that show had the endurance test of Easy Answers (Cheesy Dancer, as we called it), and Phil's dirge of "Wave to the Wind"...may as well been pissin' in the wind. But Jerry turned it all around with Terrapin, and it was golden after that.
If you do release '90's shows, do it in segments. I will not be purchasing them, as I decided while in the Rosemont Horizon, March 18, '94, that I'd be giving no more money to Grateful Dead, Inc...it was College Beer night at the Dead show, and crackHeads in the lot after the show acting like criminals. Totally trashed parking lot...nobody bothered to stay around and pick up trash anymore. The free kitchens were all gone, and pretty soon the phisHeads/gate crashers had taken over.
So, peeps, find your Dead FOR FREE...you can do it! Find your own network, we are still out there, "just gotta poke around"! These guys have enough money, and at this point should be playing FREE benefit concerts, not lining their kids and grandkids pockets with YOUR dough!
FREE THE DEAD! DON'T PAY FOR IT ANYMORE, FIND A FRIEND, BE GOOD AND A MIRACLE MAY COME YOUR WAY!
stated in "The Keyboardist Question", after Brent, the boys should have simply taken the rest of the year off out of respect if for nothing else.
That would have given them plenty of time to get their affairs in order and possibly a new approach to their touring agenda.
Let's not forget that in 1974 they found a reason to "hang it up and see what tomorrow brings". And thats when health and age was not an issue.
Prior obligations aside, it's as if they had to prove something to whoever that it was
not a monumental task to find a replacement for Brent.
Even if Vince was the inevitable choice, he could have used the hiatus to hone his chops sans Bruce Hornsby.
Vince Welnick in my opinion turned out to be a fine replacement for Brent Mydland.
And we wouldn't have had to hear those God awful synth-tones if there were just one keyboardist who had time to prepare himself to become part of the best band in the land.
I will now plant my foot in my mouth and say that 6-25-93 was a great show.
Even with Bruce on accordian.
If I may steal a quote "they pulled out the vista-cruiser not once, not twice, but for the whole damn show"
So there you have it.