There is a consensus that from Spring 1989 until Brent Mydland's untimely death after the 1990 Summer tour that the Grateful Dead had a achieved a renaissance, never again to be reached before Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. Multiple factors including but not limited to Garcia's renewed health, the bands new found popularity, as well a new found camaraderie and consistency in the band equated to a tour that reached new and exciting heights. Garcia also returned to his beloved 1970's guitar, 'The Wolf', outfitted with a full MIDI exploration hook up. The tour was brimming with song breakouts and extended improvisations none more impressive than the return of 'Dark Star' The version on October 26th the final of three, is arguably the best and the one I am enjoying, although all of them offer unique moments deserving of inspection.
After an extended spacy tuning break, the band opens the mossy ancient door of 'Dark Star'. After settling into a dreamy pre-verse jam Garcia quickly sings the first verse, standard for these three October versions. By two minutes and following a squealing feedback statement by Weir, Garcia sings verse one in a tour worn rasp,ragged, but still soulful.
When the first verse is disposed of the group eagerly, the band pops into a jazzy excitable groove with the drummers in particularly wonderful form. Garcia scrutinizes the theme with a shimmering tone that leaves a trail of glitter across the rhythm section. Brent inserts well timed glissando's as the band pushes anxiously.. At half past four minutes Lesh thumps a series of low sepulchral notes that initiate the group to veer down a barely visible and secluded path. Lesh is very active and Garcia follows, now with a clean tone disassembles the band, the knot loosens and the drummers up the ante.
At eight minutes the martian flute tone materializes for Garcia. Lesh and the drummers induce an erratic dance while bearing cavemen clubs. The central orbit of 'Dark Star has been reached, the band caresses the muse and at half past nine create a series of rotating concentric mandalas. The heart of the jam has been found, fluttering planetary anomalies rush by while the music becomes colorful and waxy, with the band feeling the space for extended riffing. The groove slithers dynamically and beautifully with Garcia zoning out, only stopping to admire the sonic horizon that starts to coalesce as the second verse comes into distant focus. A sweet 'Dark Star' themed jam hits the spot as Garcia sings the slightly flubbed second set of lyrics.
After the verse the band anxiously and immediately falls into deep space improv. Garcia uses sizzling distortion and then muted tones against Mydland's crazy house piano lines. The space becomes clustered with woodland flutes, a chiming series of bells and pitch bending keyboards. Lesh starts to lay a foundation down coaxing the group into stacking stones on top of the slowly pulsing hand drums. Weir hits on a hot riff, Lesh is all over the fret board, static forms, Hart gets strange, Mydland starts to assert himself with massive pieces of found piano sound. Comedic car horns and confused panning of the stereo image create insanity as the jam peaks suddenly then languidly evaporates into drums. Weir, Mydland are the last to leave the stage to the drummers, conjuring a fragmented prelude to drums.
This particular performance is a flashback to 'Dark Star's' of years past. Years of the huge two verse variety, where time was of no issue for the band. Regardless of your feelings about the incorporation of MIDI into the bands sound, on this particular evening everything comes together to create a magical series of improvisations. The drummers are playing particularly well, pushing the band even when they deconstruct into free space. Garcia's 'Wolf' guitar is a glorious psychedelic horn, navigating the aural jelly of the grooves created.
The song would appear again on New Years of 1989 and then stick around the bands song list for the next few years. Always a special and hoped for performance, this Fall 1989 version is the greatest of the three performed that October, and in my opinion the best late era version. Pick any Grateful Dead performance from October 1989 and you are bound to find a moment of pure bliss for your own 'Now Playing'.
Dark Star 10-26-1989