The Dead in Fine Form: 'Grateful Dead View from the Vault Vol. III and IV'
Fans of the Grateful Dead all have their favorite era, but in 1987 and 1990, the San Francisco outfit was playing some of the best shows of its career. These two volumes are proof positive of that.
During July 1987, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead teamed up for six dates on the East and West coasts. These gigs afforded the Dead the chance to play on its own each night, then take to the stage with Dylan. Two of those gigs are captured in the newly reissued View from the Vault IV, featuring the venerable San Francisco act Oakland Stadium on 24 July and Anaheim Stadium on 26 July. Volume III, also out once more, finds Jerry Garcia and Co. at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California on 16 June 1990.
The group that took the stage on the latter date was in fine form, sounding better than it would be just a few weeks later when it rolled into Pittsburgh for an 8 July gig at Three Rivers Stadium (seen on the first volume of the View from the Vault series). As good as the 8 July gig is, the 16 June date captures the group having fun and going for the throat, taking to the stage with a booming, unapologetic reading of “Let The Good Times Roll” and moving, without pause, through “Truckin’”, “Touch of Grey”, “Mama Tried” and “Big River”. Not only is it a kind of greatest hits night, it’s the hits played at maximum capability.
The Dead was guilty of some sketchy vocalizing but here everyone, including Garcia, is in fine voice and the guitar interplay between him and Bob Weir is priceless. Garcia never really lost his touch as a lead player on this night he was playing near the peak of his powers. Covers, including “I Know You Rider” and “Big Boss Man” shine beside band standards such as “Estimated Prophet”, “Sugar Magnolia” and “Friend of the Devil”. But it’s the closing reading of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that’s perhaps most affecting on this collection; the sextet finds nuance after nuance in the Dylan masterpiece which seems to have been written expressly for an outfit just like it. Hearing Garcia who, like Dylan, doesn’t have a classically beautiful voice, emote as he does here is a firm reminder of how the Dead captured our attention and maintained our interest for so many decades.
The two sets from that night are augmented by a 3 October 1987 gig at the same venue with “My Brother Esau” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” fitting in nicely with tracks such as “New Minglewood Blues”, “Candyman” and yet another Dylan composition, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. This set, along with a visible lyrics option and photo gallery comprise the extras on the DVD.
The Oakland and Anaheim dates found on Volume IV are also evidence of a band that was in fighting form. Coming just weeks after the release of what would become the Dead’s most commercially successful studio album, In The Dark, the two dates are particularly fascinating when you consider that a year before Garcia had emerged from a coma and had to re-learn guitar. He’s especially vibrant during “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”, “Deal” and “Uncle John’s Band” during the 24 July gig and “Iko Iko”, “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Shakedown Street” from 26 July.
Keyboardist Brent Mydland, who possessed a good but anonymous voice (as in, you could hear him on a thousand beer commercials and think he had a good voice but if left in charge of fronting a band, you’d probably find his singing too generic) delivers on “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Tons of Steel”, a tune that in many others contexts does little to excite but breathes in a way its studio counterpart never could.
Given that this disc offers two full shows there’s not much room for bonus material (aside from, once more, a visible lyrics option) but that hardly matters. Fact is, this is prime Dead and if one were to only snag one volume of View from the Vault it might as well be this one.
Naturally, each iteration of the Dead has its own dedicated fans but these releases, which lean heavily on the Mydland years, suggest that 1987-90 really may have seen the band at its finest hour since the early '70s, having recovered from the ravishes of the Keith and Donna Godchaux and remaining more solid and focused than it would be in the final, post-Mydland years (1990-95).
Whatever era you tend to favor, the dates captured in this series will no doubt offer something to please you as the Dead proved it was a band never short on good playing and unexpected detours into the sublime.