In 1989, The Grateful Dead were enjoying a late career resurgence, and playing together at a remarkably high level. Much of this had to do with the renewed vigor of Jerry Garcia. After slipping into a diabetic coma in 1986, Garcia had to virtually re-learn the guitar. In 1987, the band released their biggest album ever, In The Dark. On July 7, 1989, The Dead were still touring behind it, and previewing new songs from the follow-up, Built To Last.
In The Dark touched off the final era of The Grateful Dead, which the band termed “Mega-Dead.” Their audience exploded, and they were playing the largest venues in the country. The 100,000 fans filling JFK Stadium in Philadelphia that day were no exception. On what turned out to be the final concert ever in the stadium, the group were firing on all cylinders.
Crimson, White & Indigo documents every note of this great night, on three CDs, and one DVD. The concert begins with one of the highlights of In The Dark, “Hell In A Bucket.” Right from the start, you know that this is going to be a good night. Bob Weir’s voice is in tremendous form, and Garcia’s leads are perfect in their economy.
Things get really interesting with “Little Red Rooster.” This Willie Dixon classic features some furious guitar exchanges between Garcia and Weir, and the first vocal appearance of keyboardist Brent Mydland. Bob Dylan had always been a Grateful Dead favorite, and they pay tribute to their friend with a rollicking version of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.”
The second set opens with Phil Lesh‘s semi-autobiographical
“Box Of Rain.“ Lesh’s bass playing is in top form throughout the show as well. The drum duos of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart are a wonder. “Rhythm Devils” in particular is a thrilling ten-minute polyrhythmic excursion. As this segues into “Space,” then “The Other One,” we find ourselves transported back 20 years to the legendary Acid Tests.
The band then step out of the ether, with Jerry’s grand lament, “Wharf Rat.” This is followed by “Turn On Your Lovelight,” and finally a version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” And there you have it, three hours of prime late-period Grateful Dead.
Crimson, White & Indigo is the way I like to remember this band. Not long afterward, Garcia would relapse, and never really recover. But on this tour, and this night specifically, The Grateful Dead were as good a rock and roll group as you are likely to hear.
The three CD, one DVD packaging is nice too. I find myself listening to the discs in the car, and have already watched the whole concert a couple of times. I have never considered myself a Deadhead, so this is not a case of preaching to the choir. I just find Crimson, White & Indigo to be a superlative three hours of music. For anyone who has never “gotten” The Dead, this is a perfect starting point. For longtime fans, the set is yet more proof of the unprecedented career renaissance they were enjoying at the time.