It may not be a statistic in Deadbase, and really, it’s a theory based on a combination of my personal experience at shows and listening to shows, that when the Grateful Dead opened with “Hell in a Bucket” the next two to three hours would follow the propulsive lead of that tune. The band would sound focused and determined throughout the two sets, making that energy flow as one lengthy joyride. Hearing that song becomes the first indication that things should turn out well on Crimson, White & Indigo: Philadelphia, July 7, 1989. The 3 CD/DVD set chronicles the last concert held at John F. Kennedy Stadium with the Brent Mydland incarnation of the band powerhousing through 19 tunes like 500,000 tons of steel (“The Other One”) yet with the precision of a diamond cutter (“Scarlet Begonias”).
Surprisingly “Samson and Delilah,” and its “If I had my way, I would tear this old building down” chorus, doesn’t make the set list, but the evening offers a good balance of something old, something new, something classic and something blue(s). After “Hell” the mood immediately turns even higher with the always appreciated “Iko Iko.” “Little Red Rooster” features nice slide work from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir and receives a boost from Mydland’s improvised verse. In fact, what the set displays is not only the magic created by the members’ brand of psychic interplay but the kinship between Garcia and Mydland. The first of two Bob Dylan covers, “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” shows off this musical partnership.
Although it seems as if there’s a “leash” keeping Mydland in check during much of the second set, it still keeps up the consistent quality. Starting on a high note with a well-played “Box of Rain” it quickly moves into a “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain” with an “Estimated Prophet” that travels through all the liquid jamming territory one expects and the song requires. While good, “Standing on the Moon” lacks the dramatic peak it gained in later years. That experience shows up in “Wharf Rat,” which leaves the one-two punch of “Turn On Your Lovelight” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” to end the show. In the end there may not be that mythical “transcendent” moment some seek, but it’s a very solid night that’s driven by a precise and concise approach that could be seen as an extension of the sessions for the “Built to Last” album.
The DVD illuminates the three discs of music. Although a good deal of the twists and turns within the songs are ingrained from years of playing together, the multi-camera views also provide numerous opportunities to watch the musicians working with each other to make the musical engine purr oh so sweetly. It’s particularly enlightening, and heartbreaking, to see the give-and-take between Garcia and his greatest instrumental foil, Mydland. Taken as a whole, it’s a trip back to those simpler times. And, after awhile you can’t help but begin to feel the heat.