THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Summer Solstice ’89 – Shoreline Amphitheatre, CA (3CD)

We are told - and it's a LONG read @ 3,374 words!

"After a brilliant performance on June 19, 1989, the band returned after an odd day off, to play not only on the summer solstice, but also nationally on Pay-Per-View. In fact, I believe that I purchased this event way back when…

As could only be expected, the sound system was not too functional to begin the show resulting in about a 10 minute delay prior to the opening song. The band filled the gap with various noodlings including a structured Hide Away – which was pretty cool.

Finally, Touch of Grey is entered by the band. The song itself is very tight and relaxed. This was to be their 9th California show in a row, and the west coast aura was clearly relaxing their sound. In all seriousness, this version is quite impressive in just how tight it is. The band emits an exuberant and confident sound. The jam led by Jerry is textbook for 1989 Touch of Greys, but the pacing and the note selection by Jerry distinguish this version. This certainly rivals 4.28.1989 as the hottest Touch of the year.

Weir wastes no time in driving the band into Minglewood Blues. Weir’s vocals are cocky and confident with a brush of insolence. Jerry’s first solo is sweeping in its attack and gets so deep that one almost forgets it is Minglewood. The main jam starts out with a superb organ solo from Mydland that builds a very nice platform for Weir. Throughout this and the ensuing Weir solo, Jerry’s rhythm is nearly hypnotic. Weir’s solo is in the key of slide, and it results in a nasty and gnawing sound.

That likely was the desired effect. The Dead have always had things that musically make you cringe but secretly want more of – Donna’s PITB wails, and Weir’s slide solos. Jerry’s finale is a bit of a contrast to Weir’s disgusting (yet enticing) display, but soon Jerry’s solo has its own feet and surges through some very fast note picking. The jam ends with the structured walks. By no means is this a sinister version of Minglewood (e.g., 2.26.1977) but in its own right is a very fine and exceptional version. The band up to this point was quite on, and for 1989 standards, this was the first post amazing show of the year that they started out brilliantly.

Ramblin’ Rose is Jerry’s 2 Spot selection. This version is rather careful and precise, but the delivery is full of exuberance. The band really seemed to be enjoying themselves as the Pay Per View showed them full of smiles and giggles. Jerry’s guitar solo is on the wah wah and it is nailed perfectly. Three songs into the show and three exceptional versions.

The crowd massively started chanting We Want Phil over and over and the maestro accommodated the gallery with Box of Rain. Despite the beautiful interaction between the crowd and the band, this version is a bit listless. Lesh forgets several of the words, and Jerry’s guitar solo stalls in the middle of its theme. Better versions of this tune exist (3.22.1973).

Jerry quickly reenergizes the show and the crowd with an out of place (wasn’t it bobby’s turn?) Dire Wolf that is a high energized and enthusiastic version. On several occasions Jerry openly screams out the lyrics ---- while the BOYS sit ‘round the fire. The rhythm from Mydland is expressive, and the guitar solo by Jerry quickly reaches the edge of panic. This is one of those versions where the music overpowers the singing, but the singing keeps the music at bay – just barely. A great and fun version. The band was really cruising at this point.

Keeping in step, When I Paint My Masterpiece next rolled in. Weir’s vocals are strong and determined. Jerry’s harmony blends beautifully with Weir’s voice creating a unique sound only the two of them could create. Jerry’s solo, however, makes an early stab at the bridge that flubs and stops the sound for an awkward two seconds. After another series through the chords Jerry nailed it the next time around. This flub tarnished the energy for the remainder of the jam. The vocal finale is very well done, but with the flubbed guitar solo, this version is average.

The band enters its first mellow tune of the night next with Row Jimmy – rumoured to be one of Jerry’s favourite tunes ever. Rumours and legends aside, this is a great tune and this version is great as well. Jerry’s singing is poignant and steady. The guitar solo soars in its delicate presentation and dances. Jerry’s themes are not so much impressive in speed but rather in the careful and contemplative delivery. This version also has a very nice sweeping rhythm from the band which makes this version particularly well done. Mydland deserves credit here as well for a very impressive electric piano.

The band ends arguably one of the finer first sets of 1989 with two incredible versions of Cassidy and Deal. The Cassidy is likely the strongest of the year up to that point. The rhythm supported by the band is extremely tight and the Mydland Weir vocal delivery is flawless. The first instrumental jam is literally perfect as the rhythm is more than precise and Jerry’s note picking is pronounced and confident.

Finally, the main jam is nothing short of an adventure. Jerry opens the main jam with a cautious but aggressive sounding lead that mostly resides in low notes. Eventually the pace picks up and Jerry wanders down to the middle of the fret board improvising at will, but keeping the jam just one inch short of explosion. The pace picks up again and Jerry begins a cyclical progression of notes that again reaches that zone of dancing on a cliff of no return.

Jerry regains energy for one last surge through the complex chord changes provided by Weir and Lesh and Mydland, and seemingly dives in-between all of the rhythmic stabs. Finally the band leaps back into the song, and once again the band has completed a Cassidy – but not just Cassidy, but one of ___those___ Cassidys. Actually, Jerry does commit a minor note flub upon re-entry out of the jam to the main part of Cassidy – it is noticeable, but considering what transpired before it, it does not tarnish this enormous version of Cassidy.

Deal comes in and as if the entire Shoreline Amphitheatre wasn’t on fire enough, Jerry basically drops about 19720000 tons of gasoline on top of it, causing the fans to drown in Garcia’s heat. This version of Deal may steal the set. Jerry’s vocals are a bit harsh as his ability to hit high notes certainly diminished over the years, but the jams he created were astonishing. The first small jam is short, but is extremely complex suggesting that the main jam would be one to remember. It was. Jerry starts out on a path of pure lightning fast leads and ferocious bending of notes.

This lasts about 3 minutes and there isn’t much to say about it except that it is all jam. Once this completes Jerry starts about a minute long contemplative period of feedback and low moaning notes as he likely was letting the crowd, band, and himself catch their breath prior to one last surge. Slowly Jerry started the upward descent of pace and desire until he was again operating at lightning fast speed. The jam envelops itself in the finale as Jerry emits a strange but very hot and in tune blast of feedbacks that catapults the band in an even faster direction. Ultimately Jerry slowed the jam down, and the band vocally laid down not only the amazing Deal, but the purely amazing and dazzling first set.

A lot of comparisons have been made between 9.27 and 9.28.1972. 9.27 is commonly referred to as the more contemplative of the two shows and 9.28 the more rock out of the two shows. Here, we have 6.19.1989 where the first set was very careful and precise but extraordinarily effective – just like 9.27.1972. The first set on 6.21.1989 with the all out Touch, the Dire, the Cassidy and the Deal was definitely the more rockin’ of the two sets, just like 9.28.1972.

But, there still was a second set to play in this Shoreline Run, and that was to be with Clarence Clemons.

The band starts the second set with Scarlet Begonias. Considering just how well the first set had been played, this Scarlet had a lot of potential. As the song begins, Weir’s rhythmic chops stand out for their full sound. Jerry changes one of the verses a bit – “from the other direction, __I__ was calling her eyes.” Jerry’s first solo is filled with very nice note runs and solid rhythmic support from the band. The first set energy seemed to be carrying over to the Scarlet as Jerry created a complex web of progressions in the pursuit of the “Wind and the willow” bridge.

As the jam reaches the zenith, it didn’t reach any delirious state or wicked ultra-fanning. Instead, it was just another complex progression from Jerry that beautifully led back to the verse. This really was the theme from 6.19 and 6.21.1989 – precise and meaningful note emissions over fast paced and over the top. Jerry’s sound was thoughtful, contemplative, creepy, and cryptic --- but perhaps more than anything --- Jerry sounded entranced with the music, and he sounded excited.

After finishing the Scarlet vocals, the band seemingly enters the Fire On The Mountain Expressway. Jerry starts the lead with a medium paced lead that is very expressive in its theme. While not being very fast, Jerry presents an uncomfortable sound that nonchalantly unnerves the listener. But, just as the jam was perhaps headed to the zone of in-between Scarlet and Fire, Jerry stops completely, and the band starts Hell In A Bucket – a big surprise.

This Hell is very solid and strongly delivered by Weir. Once again, the band’s sound was extremely confident and cocky. The main jam has Jerry surging through the rockin’ roll progressions in a surly sound. His jam culminates in a nasty fanning of notes that sound like a gurgling. The vocal finale by Weir has him screaming like the ol’ days (see the version on 12.31.1984) and Jerry wailing away on rhythm. Clarence Clemons enters the scene here and does not inhibit the Hell. On this song he only played rhythm, which based on the 5.27.1989 performance, is ideal for him. Despite the lack of Fire, this Hell was a surprise that became welcome as the band scorched this version.

Ship of Fools provides Jerry a chance to mellow the crowd and sound a bit. His singing is very on, and the guitar solo is flawless but not overwhelming. But, this version, like many other nailed versions, is a bit boring. Clemons provided an occasional note or two during the song, but stayed out of Jerry’s jam.

Estimated is next, and is well delivered by Weir with saxophone notes buzzing around his head. The first minute or so of the main jam has Jerry starting leads and stopping in anticipation of Clemons starting a lead of his own. Clemons passes, and Jerry eventually starts a true lead that rapidly evolves into the jam ending strumming back into the end of the song. A rather disappointing jam considering how well Jerry was playing – it would have been nice to hear a full note progressed theme. Alas, we can’t always get what we need.

The end of Estimated is rather typical with strong Weir yelps. The outro jam starts with Jerry spinning a very complex and slowly delivered web of Estimated notes that is very impressive. The jam slowly develops into the Estimated/Eyes zone before Jerry commits to Eyes. Clemons played no lead in this jam, and didn’t seem to interfere. Clearly his goal was rhythm and not in doing leads.

Eyes quickly starts, and Jerry’s voice sounds very clear. The first jam has Jerry spitting out notes from one extreme to the next. Half way through the jam Jerry once again tries to get Clemons to take a lead, which he finally does. Jerry’s rhythm is daunting and is more complex than the Clemons lead. Clemons presented little in the area of lead as he mostly sounded the same as he did with his rhythm. Jerry picks up quickly and reasserts a lead that soars and is filled with bending notes.

The second jam starts with Clemons taking the reigns again, and getting the same stalled sound. As was seen on 5.27.1989, Clemons had a lot to offer, but it mostly was in the form of interesting rhythm. Jerry picks up eventually and presents a fast paced and very complicated series of progressions that does a great job of salvaging this Eyes of the World. While Jerry was still on fire, the introduction of Clemons to the second set was stifling it. The Estimated and Eyes were slightly above average because of Jerry’s attempts to get him involved. This resulted in a stalled sound, and instead of having the jams build, the Jerry jams were interrupted by periodic moments of space while Clemon’s attempted taking leads. As was to be seen in March of 1990, the band was to play very well with Branford Marsalis.

Clemons, however, is a different type of saxophone player than Marsalis, and wasn’t capable of opening up interesting leads on the flip of a dime. Perhaps the main culprit in all of this wasn’t necessarily Clemons, but was Garcia as he relentlessly tried to get Clemons involved. Either way, the band was still showing amazing signs of life as the post Eyes jam died down into drums. Despite the Clemons interruption, the band was playing like Kings again --- and for the first time in 1989, they had two amazing nights in a row lined up.

The Space features mostly Garcia still playing with his midi, but on this Space he actually crafts some different themes that slowly build on each other with a hint of The Other One mixed inside of it. Eventually Jerry switches to an organ-esque sound and creates a haunting – Phantom – of – the – Opera kind of sound. This marked a very interesting and creative Space in which Jerry was now switching from experimenting with the sound of his new midi guitar, to actually utilizing the sound to create new layers of progressions. His midi now knew few boundaries.

At different points, Lesh and Weir separately played with him, and near the end Mydland stayed. Eventually, at about the 12 minute point Jerry switches back to his old guitar and starts the transition into the next song. The Space sounded like The Other One to me and as Lesh returned to the stage I was awaiting a Bass roll. And so marked one of the better Spaces from the year. Jerry was really starting to layer his midi sounds in comprehensive ways.

Jerry started an echoey transition complete with vacuum sounding (and feeling?) effects that wreaked not of the Other One but of Truckin. As Clemons stepped back on the stage I didn’t know where they were going, but one thing was certain --- this was easily one of the longest post space tune transitions of the year.

Truckin’ is started by Jerry. The Clemons sax sounds great during the vocal Truckin. Once again the band sounds strong and confident. The outro structured Truckin’ jam is timed perfectly and Jerry stays in synch for the duration culminating with a loud thump of a punch by Phil. Easily one of the better structured Truckin’ jams of 1989. The ensuing jam begins immediately as a Truckin’/Other One hybrid (ala 12.31.1972). The drummers immediately shake the rhythm to a slower and more determined beat, and Jerry follows suit with low note Other One emissions. Slowly Jerry begins building the pace and, with Phil, they both do a Bass Roll into the Other One.

The band was incredibly on at this point.

The pre verse Other One jam is massive Jerry creating a wide open assault that culminates in a extended high note blitz. Shocking is an understatement. What year was it? Is an apt question. Weir brings in the first round of vocals. Jam 2 begins again with Mydland altering the pace to more of a slowly paced march with Jerry screaming lightning fast notes on top of it. This second jam featured three distinct themes. Each covers extensive ground and ends up in peak outs. The third jam ends with Jerry fanning savagely and even racing further up the fret board and culminating in a splash of notes which wind up into heavy Other One E Chord strumming back into the second verse.


After the second verse, Jerry begins the free fall drift that falls, floats, and drops into…

Morning Dew.

Aptly, considering that 6.19 and 6.21 were likely the strongest two shows of the year that Jerry’s ballad on night 2 be Morning Dew. After the loud cheers from the crowd, Jerry’s vocals are more than meaningful or sorrowful, but teach of an understanding I have yet to comprehend. The transitions in-between the verses are crisp and tight, just like the Europe 72 versions. As Jerry screams “Young Man” the band geared for the first jam, and based on just how well Jerry was playing – I guessed it would be a big one.

It was more than big. Jerry surged back and forth with the band through the jams, and created that exhilarating feel that only special Dews can yield (12.31.72, 12.15.72, 5.26.72, 6.18.74, 9.17.82, etc.). Jerry complex note progressions are equally impressive and similar to nearly every other song and jam from these two special nights.

After the vocal reprise, Jerry starts the upward ascent to the same peak he just visited. Beautifully, Jerry stretches the ascent out and provides numerous note runs. Finally, the jam builds to the point of no return, and Jerry starts racing up and down his fret board – not missing a single note nor emotional expression. Bending notes, gurgled fans, poignant high note plucks, and finally --- one last surge of energy with a hummingbird fast melting of his guitar strings lasting for about 70 straight seconds. As Jerry finishes off the final “doesn’t matter” the crowd cheers loudly in appreciation. I too nod my head in appreciation and pride in knowing that still floating out there are profoundly amazing shows I had yet to hear nor understand. A deeper sense of pride in that this person that I consider my friend who never even met me had yet another special night.

Weir immediately started Lovelight, and the band pounces on it with him. Clemons here certainly had a chance to shine a bit more on this tune. He was present throughout the Truckin Other One Dew but barely audible and certainly unobtrusive. Clarence takes the first lead and while it mostly was rhythm, it sounded pretty good. Jerry soon follows and develops about a 3 minute solid jam that races back and forth. Jerry was still clearly on fire. The vocal finale of the song is well done and features very strong Weir screaming/singing and very strong rhythm backup from Jerry and Clarence.

The band encores Brokedown - which in many ways serves as a tribute of Jerry’s kindness. Here he was in the midst of his finest playing of the year, and instead of riding that out on one more tune, he chooses the tune that Clarence performed so well on 5.27.1989 – Brokedown. As the song ends Jerry is the one who says thanks and good night. And after a few seconds of pause, Jerry thanks Clarence and asks the crowd to do so as well. This Brokedown is as well done as the 5.27.1989 version.

These were the final shows prior to the beginning of the 1989 Summer Tour. The band sounded more confident and determined than they had throughout the first half of the year. In particular, Jerry sounded phenomenal and legendary. Would 6.19 and 6.21.1989 be the two best shows of the year? Or would they just mark the beginning of a very amazing run of shows?"


Leave a Reply