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?
...July, 87/ with Dylan. The crowd...well...gave it away for me...I had some good bud, rolled a joint, tried to pass it along. The people next to me...said...'nah, we got our own". That told me volumes...It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Never went to a dead show since, except for the Further/1996...Cow Expo. That was fun!
WTF! Wadday mean banned from playing B-3?!!!! Nobody gets "banned" from doing that! Nobody!!! One of THE best sounds around!!! Bar-None!!! Take that to the bank, and cash in!
and the Gimme Some Lovin' is a classic. LOVIN'!!
Naww, Antonjo, I won't kick 11/5/85 to the curb, yet. I just thought it was generally accepted wisdom that it was a turkey. I never heard anyone defend it. My Dead views are constantly "evolving" though, much like a politicians. I'll give it another spin- I bet I've never even heard the whole thing once, yet.....
SURELY you're not sh*t-canning Richmond '85...... Dude. That was a classic.
Each to our own, as this thread amply demonstrates..... I'll hold up Dick's 21 as one of Dick's SOLID Brent-era excavations, and wonder what he was thinking on Dick's 6 (Hartford '83).... Disc 2 is era-representative (Scarlet -> Fire -> Estimated -> Eyes), but that first set is seriously sloppy.
I've been generally disappointed with the post-Brent releases that I bought, such as DP27 and the '93 Road Trips release, however the '93 one has some solid moments and it's probably one of the best examples of late-era, post-Brent and non-Bruce Dead out there. Vince had a huge problem joining when he did, he was just parachuting in as a last-minute replacement on a sinking ship and never had time to develop. I last saw them in August '91 at Shoreline when they were in the 2 headed keyboard monster phase, which was kind of a novelty at the time but in retrospect that was very cluttered with Bruce and Vince excessively comping behind Bob and Jerry and when you threw in the MIDI stuff it could sound really messy. I don't think you can entirely blame Vince for his tonal palette, it sounds like it was out of his hands for the most part. It's sad because you look at many of the setlists from that era and they look pretty interesting, a lot of old tunes being resurrected and new covers introduced, but when you hear it you realize that it just doesn't really deliver, largely because of Jerry's decline and I think some indifference in general on the part of the other band members. At this point I would really hesitate to buy anything else post-Brent (other than the May or August '91 Shoreline shows which I attended) because it's just hard to find a solid show from beginning to end in the last 5 years. Unlike many others here I'm not a complete show advocate as a rule if there aren't solid complete shows; I'd consider a "best of" compilation of a tour or series of shows, placing my faith in D.L. that the best performances were culled. I still really enjoy the Go To Nassau release, for example, and when you listen to the rest of those shows on the Archive or elsewhere, at least I think the best parts were preserved other than the somewhat odd placing of the encore Alabama in between songs on the 2nd disc to maintain the Bob/Jerry rotation. As long as they don't do stuff like that, I'd think about a compilation from 91-95 but it would have to be really good. A lot of that material is, unfortunately, unlistenable and downright sad.
Thank you for keeping the music coming!
How about a high-value production of the Aoxomoxoa sessions!!!???
Having no control over when I was born, nor the moments in which the Dead came into my world, I was thrilled to see shows (good, great, awful, and the regular ol' night). Seventeen years since the rainbow ended on the Good Ol' Grateful Dead, I would be thrilled to travel back in time to even a rough-sounding show-- with whomever on the keys.
I was not a Brent fan early on, but he really grew on me-- especially as he could rip it up on Rooster and Good Golly Miss Molly, Hey Pocky Way and Gimme Some Lovin'. I feel fortunate to see the last Tons Of Steel (Philly., '87), as that song would have special meaning years later. Plus, I missed the interaction with Jerry that made it seem like they all were having fun.
There were times in which I thought the band should have packed-it-in after Brent passed, but they could still have those shows in which you were so glad they were there.
My favorite Vince-era shows are Richfield, OH 3-20-94 (Cold Rain opener and Fought The Law encore (3-20-94?); RFK June '93 (1/2 Step Opener and The Weight encore-- incredible Corrina). Philly '95 when Phil broke out Unbroken Chain.
Although not my favorite times for the sound of the band, I would buy a set of the last shows at Soldier Field would be important for the "story" of the band. The first night of the Chicago run had an interesting first set with all first names for the songs (Jack Straw, Sugaree, Tennessee Jed, etc., plus a solid reading of Visions Of Johanna).
I would also buy a spring '82 box set. It was the last year (except for 87-90) in which I really liked Bobby's sound; the late 90s it got shrill for me.
Other eras that would interest me would be '65 - '67. How about any recordings from Monterey Pop. In addition, '74 shows with Phil & Ned doing their thing-- mixed in 5.1?
I also enjoy collecting shows from nights in which other things occurred (e.g., 10/4/70; the second eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in '80, Woodstock-- the Dark Star and Lovelight were not all THAT bad-- ... I love '69-early '78, but the shows were so similar that I have tended to pass on many releases. The May 25 '77 was a must get as I remember lining-up to see Star Wars at Tri-State Mall in Delaware. Not yet a Dead freak, but on my way.
Thanks for asking.
Both have/had amazing high batting averages by me, though yes Dick had those 90s blooper releases, I stand corrected. But can you find anything nearly as good as the MSG '90 RT set? I think only a compilation is workable.
Is there a reason that very little Greek Theater material has come out?
Hey Blair..Great post, as always. I was unaware of limitations placed on Vince. That strikes me as a little odd, but whatever. I could always find a whole lot of fun in just about any show. Those moments always made it worth the effort. I would agree with others that Vince's voice was mixed a little hot, ( for my taste ), but then so was Donna's, ( again for my taste ), but never to the point of ruining a show. I attended 13 shows in Las Vegas, and despite some hot days, always enjoyed myself. Those shows seem, however, to be sadly overlooked with regard to Picks, Road Trips, Tapers and Jams of the Week. I have always wondered why. One of my favorites Drums/Space memories comes from a show there with Mickey playing off a desert thunderstorm rumbling off in the distance...it was awesome. I would definitely buy a Road Trips type Las Vegas set. If memory serves there were enough moments to warrant that. I think we were all aware something was up in the spring of 95. I remember commenting to my buddy at the end of my last show that it seemed like something would be different next year. Little did we really know.
Ive always disliked the key's from the post brent era, though I have to say even brent got a lil into some of the stuff I didn't care for but I definitely still love brent! I often find when I have this conversation that the people that stick up for this era are almost completely new comers of that era. when anyone thinks I said something crazy bout that keys sucking, its almost always people who started seeing them in that era or shortly before. Never had I had a deadhead from the earlier years say anything that disagrees with my opinion to a strong degree like the people that started being deadheads in/around that era. Of course I'm sure there are exceptions as there is with most things.
Everyone is usually partial to the era that they started seeing the band is, thats pretty universal, I think the only group thats (more) impartial is the younger (after Jerry) deadheads. Mostly because they have a treasure trove of recordings to listen to and they don't have personal feelings and experiences at shows they attended to..."taint" they're opinion. Taint is an awful word but it portrays what im tryin to say well enough I think. of course there are always exceptions but as a general rule of all the people Ive met. most ever single person is partial to the era they started seeing the dead in. and at the very least have a fondness for. and why shouldnt we? anyways i just never could get behind the keys from the late 90's too cheesy too much and often overpowered some of the other good stuff that was happening.
to answer your question I would probably not buy it. though I may depending on the show. but as a general rule.
on a side note, Ive noticed that they release alot of shows that are good but most people already have a very high quality copy of I think the last release maybe didn't have a small cut in it somewhere, and a lil bit of a sound upgrade. (some people say they got they're timing off on some of the recordings...I wont touch that w a 10ft pole right now) BUT I think if they released something that isn't in circulation in soundboard form (and there are still alot of great shows that fit into the category) you'd find WAY more buyers and way more happy deadheads who get to hear something like that never before) just a thought....its always a hope when I am waiting to hear bout the next release. so glad they started to do only complete shows!!!
Why was vince banned from the b3? ive never heard that before.