Grateful Dead: Without A Net (1990)

Kronomyth 23.0: FLYING TRIP EASE. If you’ve heard Dylan & The Dead or Nightfall of Diamonds, you don’t have any illusions about the state of the Dead’s live performances in the late 80s. Here it’s all illusion: Jerry doesn’t miss a note, the vocals are strong and balanced, Brent Mydland’s sparkling touches always arrive on cue. That’s not the way it really went down on these dates, drawn from a healthy stretch of the band’s Built To Last tour, but it’s the difference between a lovely swan song and a lame duck live album. In a real sense, it’s like hearing these songs for the first time, a comment I’ve heard made before by Dead fans but never fully understood. Granted, I don’t own any of the band’s avowed wonders (Live Dead, Europe ’72), which I’ve read are equally fearless in their reinterpretation of the originals. The selection from this show is predictably eclectic; albums as seemingly disconnected as Wake of the Flood, Go To Heaven and Bob Weir’s Ace constitute the bulk of the material, swirled together into the Dead’s magnificent memory blender. The performance is all over the place, and sometimes so is the mix, but in exchange for accuracy is a vitality that I haven’t heard from their recorded output in years. This is how the Dead should be remembered in their waning years, easy in their confidence, their curiosity undaunted by age, proud lions possessed of a gentle touch. As with any great performance, the best song is the one playing at the moment, though the Bob Weir tracks seem to shine (“Cassidy,” “Looks Like Rain”) and “Eyes of the World” (featuring Branford Marsalis on sax) is sixteen minutes of bliss. And if Brent Mydland seems to be a little higher in the mix than usual, it’s only fitting of an angel.

The Songs
Disc One
1. Feel Like A Stranger (John Barlow/Bob Weir) (7:32)
2. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (8:00)
3. Walkin’ Blues (Robert Johnson, arr. by Bob Weir) (5:44)
4. Althea (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (6:55)
5. Bird Song (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (12:57)
6. Let It Grow (John Barlow/Bob Weir) (11:54)

Disc Two
1. China Cat Sunflower / I Know You Rider (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia // Traditional, arr. by Grateful Dead) (10:24)
2. Looks Like Rain (John Barlow/Bob Weir) (8:04)
3. Eyes of The World (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (16:14)
4. Victim Or The Crime (Gerrit Graham/Bob Weir) (8:04)
5. Help On The Way / Slipnot! / Franklin’s Tower (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia // Jerry Garcia/Phil
Lesh/Bob Weir/Bill Kruetzmann/Keith Godchaux // Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia/Bill Kruetzmann) (18:58)
6. One More Saturday Night (Bob Weir) (4:50)
7. Dear Mr. Fantasy (James Capaldi/Christopher Wood/Steve Winwood) (5:44)

The Players
Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals), Mickey Hart (drums), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), Brent Mydland (keyboards, vocals), Bob Weir (guitar, vocals) with Branford Marsalis (tenor and soprano saxophone on track 2.3). Produced by John Cutler and Phil Lesh; engineered by John Cutler, Jeffrey Norman and David Roberts; additional engineering by Peter Miller, David Gallo, Andrew Warwick and Justin Kreutzmann; concert sound by Dan Healy.

Did You Know?

  • Brent Mydland died before this album was released, on July 26, 1990. He was 38 years old.
  • This would be the last album cover designed for the Dead by Rick Griffin (Aoxomoxoa, Wake of The Flood), who died the following year in a motorcycle accident.

The Plastic
Released as 3LP, 2CD and 2CS in September 1990 in the US (Arista, AL3/ACD2/AC2-8634), UK (Arista, 303935) and Japan (Arista, BVCM-37144/5); reached #43 on the US charts (RIAA certified gold record). Cover illustration, pull-out poster and picture CD by Rick Griffin; mini-jacket illustration by MIKIO/William Giese; photography by Ken Friedman, Susana Millman, John Werner; design by Carolyn Quan; art coordination by Amy Finkle. Re-released on remastered 2CD in 2000 in Japan (BMG, 180417).

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