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 wouldnt last. A little more than a year later, keyboardist Brent Mydland died of an overdose. The bands 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 groups 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 wont 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 [email protected].