May 27th, 1993
Cal Expo Amphitheatre
Picasso Moon>Fire On The Mountain>Wave To The Wind>Cassidy>Uncle John’s Band>Cassidy>Drums>Space>The Other One>Wharf Rat>Sugar Magnolia
The Grateful Dead’s 1990’s output was sadly cut short by the death of Jerry Garcia. But, that doesn’t mean that, scattered among the increasingly erratic performances, there weren’t some fantastic sandwiches performed during this brief time. And though this era is often defined by the violent gatecrashing that plagued many of the venues the band visited during their post-Touch Of Grey mainstream popularity, there were certainly bright spots worth celebrating.
One such example is the monster second-set sandwich the band played at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre on May 27th, 1993. It’s not perfect, but it’s more good than bad with the lowest point being Wave To The Wind. If it’s not The Dead’s worst song, it’s damn sure a contender. But, more on that later.
After a quick tuning session, the catalyst for this sandwich is a rollicking Picasso Moon off the 1989 album Built To Last. Inspired by an off-the-cuff remark Phil made in the studio once day, this Barlow/Weir/Bralove penned tune kicks the festivities up to ten as Bobby snarls about the seedier side of life South of Market. The groove is solid and lays down a fine foundation for what’s to come.
And what’s to come is one of the finer Fire On The Mountains of the 90’s. Trickling in with a heavily modulated tone, Jerry and Phil slowly and methodically tease out the main riff like an invitation to the rest of the group to join in. As if to say, “No hurry. Just whenever you’re ready, fellas. Come on in.” It being 1993, Jerry’s voice was beginning to show its wear and while his vocal delivery is somewhat strained, his guitar playing is nonetheless fantastic. Just before the seven minute-mark, the band takes off into a short jam that finds Vince Welnick plinking out a nice little run on the keys before they bring it back around for another verse. The group plays this one out masterfully, bobbing and weaving like a skilled, old boxer up to the final round.
Sadly, this is where things start to take a bad turn. After an admittedly smooth transition into Wave To The Wind, the momentum fades. It’s just not a strong song to begin with and Phil’s vocals are too spotty to carry it. The band played this song live less than two dozen times and while none of the performances were anything spectacular, this one is particularly dismal. Mercifully, it’s under eight minutes long and once they transition into Cassidy, this jam gets rolling again.
Inspired by the birth of office manager/archivist Eileen Law’s daughter, the song Cassidy draws a stark contrast between the newborn baby and the deceased “Cowboy Neal” Cassady and is the tasty middle of this sandwich. The gentle rhythms and heartfelt lyrics of Cassidy serve as a nice set of bookends around the next tune in this montage, Uncle John’s Band. As the band is winding down the first Cassidy, Jerry and Vince engage in some more tasteful interplay.
Once they ease into UJB, it's like they’ve slipped into a nicely broken-in pair of shoes. It’s comfortable and familiar and there are no real surprises, but that’s okay. Because, sometimes knowing what to expect, and getting that from your favorite band, is exactly what you want. The Dead delivers on this faithful Uncle John’s Band, then melds back into Cassidy. Just the way it should be. But, only for a few moments. It’s time for Drums>Space.
Drums>Space is where a lot of Heads hit the fast forward button. But, don’t skip this because Mickey employs his fabled “Beam” to great effect sending everyone in attendance into the stratosphere during the first half and Jerry goes extra-terrestrial in the second half using a harmonizer on his guitar for an out of this world doubling effect before switching his midi controls for a more brassy sound (Think: Jerry’s tone on the guitar solo for Built To Last). It’s a weird and wonderful Space that leads nicely into The Other One. It takes a little over five minutes, but once the band latches onto the main groove, they don’t let go.
From there it’s on to Wharf Rat. At this point we’re over 75 minutes into this sandwich and pulling things back to Earth with a song like this is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a lovely rendition of the tune, made all the more heartbreaking by Jerry Garcia’s well-seasoned voice. The tale takes on much more weight when sung by a 51 year old Jerry in 1993 than it did when it was sung by a 29 year old in 1971. And though the band would play this song over 400 times live, they never did commit the tune to tape in the studio. I believe that also gives this one the vibe of folklore, handed down from generation to generation, changing a little here and there over the years. Sort of a living history.
Putting the final puzzle piece in place for this endurance test of a sandwich, The Dead brings the mood back up with a rousing Sugar Magnolia that’s more rock n’ roll than hippie folk. Bobby kicks this one off with a fuzzed out interpretation of the main riff allowing Jerry to delicately glide across the top in his unmistakable style. By the end of the third verse, Bobby’s voice is shredded, but he never lets up the intensity. It reminds me a bit of John Lennon’s exhausted, hoarse vocal delivery on Twist And Shout. It might not be in top form or pitch perfect, but that’s a big part of its charm and fantastic way to wrap up this epic sequence.
This show was officially released as Road Trips Vol 2 #4.
Further listening: Cassidy performed on 10/31/1980 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and Wharf Rat performed on 07/16/1990 at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.