A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Not many people that actually heard of the Grateful Dead will be indifferent to them: you love them or you hate them. The 1990 tour is usually considered their last consistently great tour. In true Grateful Dead style all fourteen concerts have been released in two lavish boxes (numbered, with tickets, back stage passes, and other memorabilia) for the hardcore fans. While definitely in the ‘love them’ camp, I think this 2cd best of tour set is a nice overview for the uninitiated.
Although a 2 CD set cannot do justice to the tour, it does show their strengths and weaknesses. As strengths I would present:
- The breadth of their repertoire, including an enormous number of their own compositions and selected covers
- Phil Lesh is a great lead bass player. Like Paul McCartney in his prime he doesn’t always go for the most logical solution, and especially in the jam parts he’s often leading the band
- Their ensemble playing is amazing: you have to like jam music, but like the best Miles Davis groups, the band members listen to each other and create music on the spot. Best examples: Bird Song, Eyes of the World, Scarlet Begonias and Playing in the Band
- Jerry Garcia has a nice voice and is a great melodic guitar player: bluesy, jazzy, folky, he can handle it. His playing and singing in Loser for example turn a nice enough song into a version that is considered one of the best in their entire career.
- Yes, they play a lot of covers and deadify them, but they usually do not actually improve on them: Gimme Some Lovin’ and It’s All Over Now, if not exactly painful, do not add anything much to Steve Winwood or the Stones. Morning Dew, almost a signature tune may be the exception here: they own it
- Although Jerry has a nice voice, vocals are on the whole not their strong point. Also, they tend to forget some of their lyrics
- Brent’s voice, while great as a harmony singer, is quite annoying to listen to. Here it’s most prominently featured in his own (rather bad) song Easy to Love You, and it makes for some frustrated listening.
On the whole, I would urge newbies to go for some 1969-1974 Grateful dead, but to strongly consider this set for some late career highlights.