Grateful Dead, 7/21/90 Tinley Park, IL

[Author's Note: I've finally done what I'd promised myself to do for ages and distilled my notes on a Grateful Dead show into a coherent review. Reviewing live music was the principal intended purpose for this blog, so I hope to make this something of a regular occurrence. This post is first in a planned three-part series dissecting Brent Mydland's last shows with the Grateful Dead.]

Grateful Dead
Tinley Park, IL 7/21/90

Brent Mydland's Last Stand: Part I of III

There's a lot to love about set one tonight. In the first fifteen minutes, the band delivers a truly wonderful string of uptempo songs: "Touch" and "Greatest Story" show both Jerry and Bobby in excellent voice, as well as energetic and attentive playing from all, which spills over into an infectiously bouncy "Jack-a-Roe." In the last fifteen minutes, we get a beautiful and expansive "Bird Song," which reaches some piercing and resounding highs at the end of its long, cathartic climb, hinting along the way at startling wells of dissonance and space—it's about as good as the song ever got.

In between these extraordinary bookends falls half an hour of more uneven fare. "Walkin' Blues" is fun and fresh, and "Friend of the Devil" is even better, if not 6/16/90. The show comes to the first of two considerable crashes, however, with "Just a Little Light." Brent's voice is showing a lot of strain this entire show, as it was throughout July, and these difficulties somehow sap his keyboard playing which in turn throws the band out of sync and derails the song. It takes them the entirety of the following "Queen Jane" to fully recover.

The second set starts off at least as promisingly as the first. After an average, low-key "Scarlet," the band creates magic with a "Fire" that truly lives up to its name. Bobby and Brent know just how to poke Jerry for maximum intensity, and tonight they really succeed—his playing is simply ablaze. "Fire" is the absolute highlight of the show and a wonderful reminder of the copious treasures of Summer 1990.

There's still a "Playing" and "He's Gone" to come before "Drums," and both are well-played, especially in the last few minutes of each. The former dissolves into a jam like something from late in "Space" as they search for the next path to take; the latter resolves into a gorgeous, E-major dew with generous contributions from Phil, hinting at at "Eyes," "Stella," maybe even the coming "Miracle."

Post-"Space" isn't nearly as successful. In between a head-banging "Miracle" and a juicy "Dear Mr. Fantasy" comes the second great crash of the show, an all-around weak "Crazy Fingers" followed by a whimper of a "Playing" jam. To round out the set, we get the conclusion to "Playing," which is crisp but flat, and an average "Saturday Night," which, along with the average "Quinn" encore, still makes for a fun end to the show.

7/21/90 offers a relatively attractive package of Grateful Dead from the end of the Brent years and boasts its share of really stellar playing. However, its frustrating unevenness, particularly in the second set, takes a heavy toll on the show, which ultimately does not have enough to recommend itself over many others from that tour.


The recent remasters of this run by Charlie Miller sound fantastic, on par with, say, Dick's Picks, Vol. 9. This is unquestionably the version you will want to seek out.


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