In 1992 Garcia had his second collapse (far less serious than in ’86), which once again caused the cancellation of the fall tour on the east coast (22 shows altogether). He had asked, in a GDP meeting a few months prior, to find a way to cancel that very tour because he was already feeling exhausted. These shows represented a quarter of their receipts, and the massive overhead of the GD organization ($500,000/month, according to Phil), made it almost impossible to do so without massive salary cuts or layoffs. He was overruled.
The band had settled into their post-Touch routine: they had three major tours a year and five or six shorter runs on the west coast/mountain region. They played 70-80 shows annually in front of well over a million people, in stadiums and sheds holding an average of about twenty thousand people each. Their audiences clustered in the mid-west and on the east coast, so the tours were far from home. The band-members were well past their days of communal living: they shared hotels, but offstage they were mostly separate. Garcia spent most of his time alone; Weir had his “hospitality suite;” Phil was focused on his family, who traveled with him… The atmosphere was all business, a realism born of twenty-five years of touring, the dependence of everyone in the organization on the band, and relatively commonplace incidents caused by rowdy fans.
The 17-date east coast tour in June was prefaced by nine shows in California and Nevada. The first, in Sacramento, was their annual Rex benefit; I listened to the second and third runs: three consecutive shows at Shoreline, followed four days later by three more in Las Vegas. It was the first tour where Vince Welnick handled the keyboards alone, Bruce having returned to his own career. Garcia wasn’t looking good, though Phil doesn’t think he was using (there had been an intervention in June ’91. Garcia had told everyone to get lost but had checked himself into a methadone clinic soon after).
The six shows are an example of the range of quality in the GD’s performances of that period. The beginning of the first run was disastrous in terms of Garcia’s instrumental contributions, but showcased redoubled efforts from the rest of the band. Aside from the intros, Jerry was way down in the mix, he bailed on a lot of his fills and solos, and wasn’t leading by any means. The rest of the band was, by contrast, very tight and intentional, the result being that the shows are not bad technically, even if Garcia’s apathy makes for painful listening. By the end of the second show, Jerry was more or less on point, though still in the background. On the other hand, his vocals were strong, especially in the second-set ballads (Stella, Dew, Knockin’…).
By moments, Vince Welnick was turned up louder than anyone else on the stage. To a large extent, his playing compensated for Jerry: he played lots of fills and was active in the jams. When Jerry copped out in the middle of his solo on Tom Thumb (Shoreline 2), Vince stepped in. While he was louder than necessary, he did contribute well: Cassidy (Shoreline 1) stands out: the jam was thoroughly lackluster but Vince played big swells, and while the rest didn’t necessarily follow him, it made things more interesting. The same goes for Music: the bridge jam had nothing happening, but Vince was giving it all he had. It’s worth poking around this run to hear what Vince was capable of. In particular: night 1 - Sugaree, Minglewood, night 2 - All Over Now, Way To Go Home.
This must have been one of the first runs when the band had foot switches for their microphones. There were multiple instances of band members starting a sentence intended for the monitors and then cutting out, or of missing vocal lines. At the beginning of All Over Now, for instance, the band was noodling their way in when Weir said: “Remember the […];” there was a beat after which they went into new the intro lick. We later hear Phil ask for “Everyone some more. Except myself.” At various points one can also hear audience noise cut in and out through the vocal microphones at the front of the stage.
The drum-space segments in those days averaged about twenty-five minutes each, with about 14 devoted to drums. Mick and Billy had diversified their sound extensively and were getting quite intricate in their arrangements. Aside from the long-standing Beam, roto-toms, rack-toms and gourds, there was a very wide range of MIDI effects: there was a passage based on slot-machine noises at Vegas 3; they opened two segments with whipping sounds; there were bells of all sorts, car horns, roaring wind noises, xylophones etc., occasionally complemented by that stereo whooshing effect (I never figured out if that was due to Healy or the drummers, but it is powerful). Finally, the ever-popular train air-horn made an appearance at both Shoreline and Vegas. I had not noticed the use of loops before, which served as background while they improvised on various other instruments. I have often felt that the drums segment was underappreciated. Mickey in particular, aided by Bob Bralove, never stopped experimenting with new sounds and rhythms, and those ten-fifteen minutes gave the two drummers a lot of freedom to play around.
The second run was a different animal altogether. There had been three days off in the meantime, but the contrast is striking. The overall mix was much more similar to what one is used to. Garcia up front, Weir more present than at Shoreline, and Vince relegated to a supporting role with a few solos (although the quality of his playing is just as high). Peggy-O (Vegas 1) is the first noticeable Jerry appearance but he doesn’t let up. His leads on the second-set Watchtower are just screaming, and he and he band remains in top form for the rest of the run. These are shows well worth having.
If I had to advocate one show I would pick night two; set one was high-energy, with Wang Dang, Maggie’s, Cumberland and Don’t Ease, and set two boasts, in part, Eyes, a great Way To Go home, Truckin’>Smokestack, Terrapin, a Spanish Jam during Space and a Knockin’ encore. There are other standout moments in the run: a “thunder” MIDI during LL Rain (Vegas 1), Jerry just howling the “So many roads” line, and a beautiful Attics (both Vegas 3). Steve Miller opened all three nights, and on the last he came in post-drums, notably for Spoonful>Other One>Dew. Even though the closer is arranged quite delicately, he contributed throughout and took a great lead in the big ending rave-up.
All nine of these pre-tour shows were sold out and after the last encore in Vegas, an announcer came up to thank the crowd for making this the biggest concert event in the history of the state of Nevada.
For many, 1992 was the beginning of the end. In the overall scheme of things, May 92 was the cusp of that period. The lineup was in its final form, and the range of quality between Shoreline 1 and Vegas 3 exemplifies the unpredictability that would turn off so many in the final years. On their good nights they were as good as ever, but there was a depressing apathy lurking in the wings. If it weren’t for a sort of masochistic completist obsession, I don’t think I would have bothered listening to more that the first set of the Shoreline run. It took Jerry a show and a half to get on the ball, and he didn’t tweak that volume knob for another week. And yet the Vegas run is dynamite, worth every minute, and there are other great shows in the ensuing tour, most notably DC, 6/20. The difficulty with those later years is knowing where to look. I’m trying to piece it together.
Up next: I haven’t listened to anything between ’71 and ’80 in well over a year. I recently grabbed five consecutive shows from August ’72 (one in San Jose and four at the Berkeley Community Center) so that’s next, while I wait for the Jamaica RatDog shows to trickle down the vine.