Grateful Dead - Truckin Up To Buffalo 07.04.89 - DVD

The Dead were on a roll back in 1989 and this show caught them in full flight on July 4, in front of a huge crowd at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Three months before the Mother of All Breakouts, “Dark Star,” the band was relaxed and poised for the next level. This wasn’t a mid-90s romp through the old chestnuts. Nope, not that easy. Each song was given new life while all of the tried and true Dead hallmarks were captured in beautiful start-of-the-art imagery and mixed in 5.1 sound from the master tapes. The holiday gig starts off in third gear with an opening “Bertha”>“Greatest Story Ever Told” that has the stadium floor bouncing like martinets as the Dead, again, pull all of the right strings. Well, they ain’t ready for a breather, just yet, as Garcia veers them into a solid “Cold Rain and Snow” that continues the thunder of the opening trio.
I'm an aging Head and I prefer the Biker-Pigpen era of the Dead circa-1966 to 1972 and the early Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia songwriting period. HOWEVER, 1989 completed the full Dead Renaissance after Garcia's near fatal diabetic coma in July 1986. By this date, they had regained their form, introduced new, powerful material by Hunter, Garcia, John Perry Barlow, Bob Weir and, the increasingly important, Brent Mydland--a keyboard player who had grown in immense value with each passing year. Mydland was a highlight on the filmed show just two weeks later at Alpine Valley--featured on Downhill From Here. On Truckin' Up To Buffalo, he is present in every moment while keeping an eyeball tractor beam with Garcia as the two play numerous dueling licks. The interplay between the two late, great musicians is worth the price of the DVD alone.

The same animation seems to ignite Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, as well. Although, Bass Great, Lesh Filling is slightly too low in the mix for my ears, he's still holding it all together like cement between the bricks. The two old dogs--Lesh and Weir--are almost comatose on the Downhill From Here DVD--no eye contact with anyone or anything but their strings. On Buffalo, Weir is exuberant while Lesh is all toothy grin and fingers flashing from the set opener. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are their dependable selves on percussion as the two-headed beast offer many examples of beat mixed with muscle that never let up. "Row Jimmy" is an astounding version as Garcia grabs his concert requirement: a sweet moment of silence within a song that lifts the whole crowd to another emotional level. The always welcome "Looks Like Rain">"Deal" is especially strong and appropriate since it appeared to be raining buckets by this point. My best friend and old-time New York Head, Erik Brown, who opened the Dead universe for me, was at this show and doesn't remember rain but, that's the Dead for ya!

Nightfall. Darkness ensues. The Holy Grail: a Dead Second Set. The action begins awkwardly after a "Touch of Grey">" "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" duo spins wheels. "Ship of Fools" lifts another Jerry Ballad into the stratosphere with plenty of pathos and soul searching from Captain Trips. Slowly, the band weaves into the first "Playin' Reprise" since 1986, effectively closing the sandwich that began the show before in Foxboro, Massachusetts when they opened the first set with the other half of "Playin'." This is one of the highlights of the set as the band breaks down the melody before kicking into the famous theme which drops into a monumental version of "Terrapin Station"--to get yet another version of this gem on film is quite a treat since this take is pure snaky evil in its toxic chase towards a conclusion that feeds into a very wicked "Drums"> "Space" sequence that has the one and only trippy cinematic effects of the DVD.

So...time your pleasure appropriately and you can sink the "Ship" into "Space" and really get quite a colorful buzz. Either that or jump over these dated visuals and move into Mydland stroking the keys with "I Will Take You Home"--a song I almost skipped over before noticing the photos of Mydland's daughter taped to his keyboard. I pretty much lost it at that point as I realized that Mydland would be dead a year later. Once you have a child, your entire worldview changes and that shot alone tells a story more profound than a thousand VH-1 Behind the Music episodes. "Home" segued into another fine version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" with Garcia plowing through power chords before a perfect landing into a glorious reading of "Morning Dew" that shook my speakers. "Dew" fed into a goosebump take of "Not Fade Away" as the New York crowd roared the chorus over and over and over until the Dead returned for the appropriate encore, "U.S. Blues."

Truckin' Up To Buffalo is a taut, rocking and historic show from a band cruising through one of their finest runs of their entire career. The only remaining element awaited them: Hampton Coliseum, October 9 and the return of "Dark Star." Catch this DVD and see the Dead re-inventing themselves once again while the Deadheads push them into another landmark performance: love not fade away, indeed.

- Randy Ray