Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alpine Valley, 1989-07-19

We’ve been going to the Grateful Dead “Meet-up At the Movies” the last few years, and it’s always been in August.  But they suddenly announced the next one back at the end of March, with not much time to get ready.  What was going on?  It must be that this video release (1989-07-19, East Troy, WI (Alpine Valley Music Theatre)) was holding up plans for other “50th birthday” releases, so they wanted to get it out of the way.  I think it likely that this one will be released commercially sometime after the live event.

But anyway, seeing the last few movies in theaters has been a lot of fun, so we went ahead and got tickets to this one, on May 4th at the Lowell Showcase Cinemas.

I met Dave and Sarah at the train station, we had a great dinner sitting on the sidewalk of Fuse Bistro on Palmer Street (a warm/hot day at last!!!), a couple of fancy beers, and then booked on over to the theater, where the Deadheads were definitely convening and getting ready for a movie.  The theater itself was only a quarter full, but we all had a great time, with everybody applauding desultorily and a few dancing in front of the screen and in the aisles.

We were a bit familiar with the show since the “Downhill From Here” video is from the show two days before at Alpine Valley, and for some reason includes the last 3 songs from the first set of the 19th!?!  The question was if they’d be reprised in this film or what.  And the whole stand is fantastic, considered by many to be one of the best of that period, which no less an authority than Bobby says is the peak of their career.  Phil had selected the first song of the second set (Box Of Rain) for his From the Phil Zone record.  So we were psyched.

We got great seats, and the sound was very good; I could have used a little more volume in all, and a bit more of Phil in the mix but I’d say it was better than the last two Dead movies we’d seen in theaters.  The lighting and production values were very good; they had a consistently dark, back-lit look that was easy on the eyes and set a great mood.  The credit sequences were nice and simple, no need to gild the lily here.  But the camera work was a little bizarre and got tiresome.  It seemed they had no more imagination than to zoom in, zoom out, pan right, and pan left … over and over.  Their close-ups were way too close (we don’t need to be able to count the blotches on Jerry’s face), and when they panned it seemed to have no purpose at all other than to do something with the camera.  During Space the cameras couldn't figure out where to focus, so zoomed in on Billy's abandoned drum set, then zoomed out, then zoomed in, then zoomed out, ad nauseum.

Besides those technical details though, it was a fantastic experience … we were there for the music and it was beyond excellent.  We came away saying the same thing the experts had said, that the first set was ridiculously awesome and the second set, though it had its not-great stretches (TOO was just not the same in 1989 as compared to what it had been in 1969), was pretty awesome itself.  Highlights for me were some excellent guitar work on Mama Tried > Mexicali, a stunning Althea, and Morning Dew in the second set.  Other great moments were the ensemble singing on Box Of Rain (though at other times the singing was not far above average), Garcia’s leads on Foolish Heart, possibly the best West L.A. I’ve ever heard, and of course the following Desolation Row and Deal.  These last 3 are the ones that are on Downhill From Here and were mostly shown with different camera angles, though some were literal repeats.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
Hell In A Bucket
Mama Tried >
Mexicali Blues
Victim Or The Crime >
West L.A. Fadeaway
Desolation Row >

Set 2
Box Of Rain >
Foolish Heart >
Looks Like Rain
Terrapin Station >
Drums >
Space >
The Other One >
The Wheel >
Morning Dew

Turn On Your Love Light

Closed with an uninspired 80's Lovelight, and then we all applauded, whooped it up, and took off for home.  It was suddenly another Monday night with a long work week ahead, but we were all smiling because for a few hours we’d just been back in 1989 with the Grateful Dead!

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