Culled from a tour now represented by two box sets and a number of official releases, the new Grateful Dead vault release, Wake Up to Find Out captures the most famous and arguably the most powerful performance of the Spring 1990 tour taking place on March 29, 1990. This concert occurred during the middle night of a legendary three night stand at Nassau Coliseum, the site of many memorable Dead Head convergences. In Dead Head circles this particular tour is mentioned in the same breath as Europe 1972 and Spring 1977, well-known era’s containing musical alchemy occurring on a nightly basis.
The factor that contributes to making this particular concert even more unique is the addition of jazz saxophonist extraordinaire Branford Marsalis joining the band for one song in the first set and the entirety of the second set. As is usual for the Grateful Dead, when guest artists sit in it often drives the band members to new and unusual heights in their improvisations. In the case of Marsalis who was no stranger to jamming, he was indeed a virgin to Grateful Dead music, making his instant assimilation and dissemination of their music even more impressive. Wake Up to Find Out captures the Grateful Dead prior to their slow decent and at their final musical pinnacle. Following Garcia’s 1986 coma and 1987’s gigantic resurgence with the hit LP In the Dark, the Spring of 1990 is witness to a culmination of the group’s career coming to a head in a flurry of all-star performances.
Taken from the original multi-track recordings, the sonic clarity and definition on this release is unsurpassed. As this particular run of shows was being recorded for the eventual live release, Without a Net, all of the shows were being captured for posterity in a professional manner. This ain’t no bootleg. The high musical standard set during the playing of the tour was equaled by the recording method of the shows.
The concert and recording begin with the high tempo on-two punch of a “Jack Straw”/”Bertha” opener. Rough but ready and extremely high energy the band comes out swinging with a stinging duo of opening songs. The entire first set is typical of the era, which is to say played to an extremely high standard. The set is somewhat short but in this case quality outweighs quantity. After reaching an early summit with a fragrant and fat “Ramble On Rose” the first highlight of the set lifts off of the earth with a breezy and all time version of “Bird Song”.
Marsalis joins the band for an extended and delicately constructed version of the song in which his saxophone blends in with the band like a permanent fixture. Immediately Garcia and Marsalis trade feathery licks while Lesh and the drummers navigate the winds aloft, rising and falling with the altitude. It doesn’t take long for the band to generate a blustery convalescence of sound. Garcia switches to rhythm causing the jam to collect and disperse momentum. Once the tempo has been stated Mydland, Garcia and Marsalis weave their scaled discoveries into a slithering melodic dance. The song is driven by the breezes of inspiration, moving by its own accord, Lesh the main impetus constantly shifting the directive allowing for the soloists to create on an ever changing canvas. “Bird Song” soon gently returns to earth, headed toward the “Promised Land” and a rip snortin’ rock n roll conclusion to the first set. The rendition of “Bird Song” obviously got everyone off because as Marsalis prepared to leave after his appearance, he was notified by Lesh and other band members that he would be invited to join the band for the entirety of the second set. What a set it would turn out to be.