Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Truckin' Up To Buffalo

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM

The concert documented on Truckin’ Up to Buffalo took place when this writer was in the midst of an intense bout of high school Deadheadism, so the sounds are familiar and welcome.

1989 was a fantastic year for the Grateful Dead. The band had achieved an unthinkable level of commercial success, and leader Jerry Garcia was in good health after recovering from a diabetic coma. The good luck wouldn’t last. A little more than a year later, keyboardist Brent Mydland died of an overdose. The band’s playing deteriorated amid riots, death treats and the invasion of the scene by scary, tweaked-out kids looking to score rather than to dance. When Garcia finally died in 1995, the collapse was complete.

What do we learn on this two-disc set? First, Mydland was the best keyboardist the Dead ever had, and the group’s ensemble singing was at its best when he was there. His songwriting, though, was crap. The customary “Drums” and “Space” sections of free-improv were almost always boring wankfests. Feel free to hit the skip button — you won’t be missing much.

Those criticisms aside, this concert featured a band near the top of its game. Old live staples like “Bertha” and “Morning Dew” turn up alongside newer fare like “Touch of Grey.” Two Dylan songs appear — a languid “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and a shit-hot “All Along the Watchtower.”

Truckin’ Up to Buffalo, ultimately, is a tribute to a band — and a scene — that still had some life in it, back when it was still OK to wear patchouli and do your stupid spinny hippie dance.

Brian J. Bowe writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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