Grateful Dead - 'Truckin' up to Buffalo' a review
Last month, the Grateful Dead released a concert DVD from Buffalo, NY 1989. The press line says “Arguably considered to be the Grateful Dead's best tour of their last 15 years of touring”. Now, I can speak to that… and I slightly disagree. Though the band has spend a lot of time suckin’ over the years (the entirety of the 80s, for example)… mostly due to various serious drug addictions… I found the 1991 tour to be better. This tour did began a golden era for the Dead. This tour was also chronicled on DVD with the release several years ago of ‘View from the Vault’. I am very partial to both these shows, as I was at both of them. In fact, the Buffalo show was my very first Dead show. I wish I could gush over details of finally getting to see Jerry Garcia in person, but I think I had a head full of acid at the time. Actual recollections of the show are scarce, to be terribly honest. The DVD is a wonderfully crisp audio and video transfer of the event.
I should note this set is also available on audio only CD. However, don’t pick up another live Grateful Dead set until you have ‘One from the Vault – Great American Music Hall 1975’ or ‘Live without a Net’. To me, those are definitive Dead documents. There are zero extras on this set, not even bonus footage from other shows (as they have been doing on this series of releases)
However, we have this document to remind us of the state of the Dead circa 1989. Jerry remains much of the same character he was when I saw the whole East coast tour in 1991: the best guitar player in rock… and wasted most of the time. Somehow his talent must have been unconscious, because the more zoned he looks in the eyes… the more his fingers are dead on. For the record though, Jerry was decently lucid at this show.
What I saw in the DVD is the coming of an entire new era for the Grateful Dead… the Brent Mydland era. Now, Brent had been with the band since 1980’s ‘Go to Heaven’ but only now was beginning to take an active role. Brent was their insanely talented keyboard player who could out-sing the rest of the guys in the band with two tourniquets tied behind his back. My soon to be sister in law declared herself a “Brenthead”. I didn’t know what that meant until I saw him and completely understood. If you want a taste of why I bring this up, watch Brent take the second verse of ‘Women are Smarter’. Notice how he flags Bobby down tointercept the second verse as if to say ‘I got this one’. (1:23) Then, he just fuckin’ nails it. I don’t think you have to be a hardcore Dead fan to catch how powerful that moment is. This pirated video is interestingly different than the one released for the DVD. The camera angles are all different. The whole band drops back after Brent finishes his verse… just floored. Out of Jerry comes the super elusive smile. It’s like the torch was passed to Brent at that moment. “Hey Brent, you carry the band for a few years… we’re too fucked up.” Problem is, so was Brent.
That moment alone to me says the future of this band belongs to Brent Mydland. While you are saying what I know you are saying… there is proof. When the band played that show they were in the process of recording their final studio album ever; Built to Last. On that album, Jerry sings three songs and Bobby Weir sings two. Brent Mydland sings four songs. Also, his songs are better than the others. Brent could out-sing the others and played a mean keyboard.
Let’s look at some of the other performances on the set. We close with a terrific and fourth of July inspired ‘US Blues’, Looks like Rain - Bobby nails it. Touch of Grey - seems half assed to me,. However, it is such an amazing song, it is always welcome. Terrapin Station – terrific, as always. To me, this song is a true lynchpin of a great Dead show. Some worship Dark Star, which is never ending hubris filled crap jam. No sir, I do not need a Dark Star. However, if you get yourself a Terrapin… then you are at a great show! I will take you home – Brent nails this very new song. The crowd had most likely never heard it, as it was off of ‘Built to Last’ which hadn’t come out yet. It is a very beautiful song that Brent sings to his children… about how he will ALWAYS be there for them… always. This becomes pertinent, read on. Brent always had this look in his eyes. He had this extreme focus and intensity that I can’t possibly describe. However, if you have seen him… you know what I mean.
However, if you know anything about the Grateful Dead… you know their keyboard players don’t last long. Tom Constanen, left the band after two albums, Pigpen – dead, Keith Godcheaux – dead
and the week I got back from seeing the 1991 summer tour? Brent Mydland – dead! Drugs, overdoes, suicide, nasty divorce, custody issues – dead. Gone. Ah, shit!