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Grateful Dead - Road Trips Vo. 2 No. 1
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Grateful Dead
Road Trips Vol 2 No. 1

It was remarkable that the September, 1990 Madison Square Garden shows took place at all.  The fact this series sounds so great makes it the Rock ‘n Roll equal of the one-legged pinch hit home run Kirk Gibson ended the first game of the World Series with a couple of years earlier.  
Brent Mydland died just weeks before these concerts took place.  To the band’s great relief, Bruce Hornsby offered to fill-in. A fan of the band long before he and his group were invited to open Dead concerts, Hornsby often joined the Dead on songs in their sets so Garcia & company knew he could slide right into the roll.  Vince Welnick, the next full time keyboard player, on the other hand, faced learning mountains of material and getting comfortable with an approach 180° from his former band, The Tubes.
The risk/reward understanding between the Grateful Dead and its fans did little to reduce the expectations of New York City audiences.  With a European tour scheduled to follow, the band could have opted out of the Garden dates. They could have jettisoned jams and gone with a song by song approach to make it easy for Welnick. Instead, it was baptism under fire.
Jerry Garcia's voice is a little raspier than usual, but his playing more than makes up for it.  Bob Weir is  strong throughout, and Phil Lesh on bass was so seismic these nights that some of the notes he played may still resonate in the rails leading to and from Penn Station below.  Bruce Hornsby is spot on – his piano in “I Know You Rider” triggers the kind of crowd eruption usually reserved for Garcia’s most mind melding solos. As for Vince Welnick, he is a bit tentative in just a couple of spots, but is a confident contributor in most – and is a surprisingly active and creative participant in several of the jams, some of which can be counted among the best of their era.
Even for a band accustomed to working without a net, these shows were a crowning achievement. Dan Levy’s wonderful account of the shows in the accompanying booklet deserves special attention as well.