It’s About Time! New Road Trips Digs into 1988!
You all know about the glory that was 1987. A year after we almost lost Jerry to his diabetic coma in the summer of ’86, the Dead were back, Jerry was the phoenix risen, and the band was bigger than ever: There was “Touch of Grey,” In the Dark, the stadium tour with Dylan, a huge influx of new Heads; it was good times all around, for sure. The band was revived and a new day dawned!
But when I interviewed Garcia for my old Dead ’zine, The Golden Road, the following autumn—1988—he revealed that he felt like he was just then finally catching up to his old, pre-coma self, “That is to say, having access to everything I know about playing. I’m getting to that point where it’s physically as comfortable… [and] feeling there.”
Indeed, 1988 was a fantastic year for the Dead, with some of the band’s most explosive and energetic playing, as the whole band rose to meet Garcia in his return to absolute peak form. This “high” washed over into 1989—a year that has been extensively documented with official releases in part because the band recorded so many shows on multi-track tape and multi-camera video (Downhill From Here,Truckin’ Up to Buffalo,Nightfall of Diamonds, the recent Formerly the Warlocks box). But 1988 has, curiously, been largely ignored, save for a single official download-only release many years ago of the epic 3/27/88 Hampton show. What gives? It’s certainly no reflection of the quality of the music from ’88, which most Dead Heads would agree was almost uniformly strong. You’ll find many folks singing the praises of runs at Kaiser, the Centrum, Irvine, Alpine, Frost, the Greek, Alpine, Oxford Plains in Maine, Laguna Seca… just solid stuff all around. Gets me tingly just thinkin’ about it!
Well, we haven’t forgotten ’88—far from it—and this edition of Road Trips (Vol. 4, No. 2) shows you why. It offers up the entire April 1, 1988 concert from the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, NJ (maybe you just called it “the Meadowlands” back in the day), plus the entire second set and a few first set highlights from the previous night’s show, March 31. That April Fools show is a real barn-burner, with a first set that includes a “double-opener” of high-octane versions of “Mississippi Half-Step” and “Jack Straw,” a rare and nearly perfect take on “To Lay Me Down” (played for just the second time since 1983), followed directly by the second (and final) GD-only version of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Less than a year after their six-show jaunt with the Mysterious One, Weir & Co. give the classic tune an impressively emotional workout; in fact, it’s hard to discern why it didn’t remain in the Dead’s repertoire after this evening. That first set also includes nearly manic versions of both “Cumberland” and “Deal.” Blazing!
There’s no letup in Set Two, either, as the band tears through what looks on paper like a fairly conventional set list, but in execution is far from that. “China Cat” > “Rider,” “Estimated” > “Eyes” and “The Other One” > “Wharf Rat” all sound fresh and alive, and seem to glow with fiery embers thanks to Garcia’s speedy and imaginative runs—basically the guy is on fire!
A few nuggets from the 3/31 first set are tucked onto the back side of Disc One—including a superb “Let It Grow”—and then that night’s second set fills the other disc, and it’s another rockin’ affair loaded with favorites: A “Scarlet” > “Fire” nearly the equal of the famous Hampton version just four nights earlier, a fine “Terrapin,” and a post-“Drums” that never lets up as it moves from “Goin’ Down the Road” into “Miracle,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” the coda of “Hey Jude,” and “Watchtower” in the closing slot. The encore is another Dylan tune, “Heaven’s Door”—a perfect grace note for a raucous and exciting show. We should also note that the “Rhythm Devils” and “Space” portions of each show are also fantastically varied and interesting—in the spring of ’89 Garcia will be the last band member to “go MIDI,” so this is provides a glimpse of the more “pure” Garcia “Space” tones.
Intrigued? You should be! It’s hot stuff from beginning to end. As is customary, the original recordings (in this case by Dan Healy) have been mastered to HDCD specs by Jeffrey Norman, and our art team of Scott McDougall and Steve Vance have once again come up with a stunning package to entertain your eyeballs. This time out, Dead scribe Gary Lambert has contributed a splendid essay for the booklet, which true-to-form, is also loaded with period photos of The Boys in action. You can find the complete song lists for all three discs, plus ordering information simply by pressing this magic button! What a way to start the New Year!
- Blair Jackson