31 years ago today, the Grateful Dead were finally able to play a show in the city of Albany thanks to the brand new Knickerbocker Arena, aka The Knick. Somehow, they had gone all this time without ever paying a trip to New York’s capital. But now with a shiny new venue opened just months earlier that easily fits thousands, Albany became a logical destination for the Dead. This would mark the first of thirteen shows the band would play at this venue. But Spring of 1990 is a particularly special time of Dead, one of their most acclaimed and widely popular tours of all time. So it’s only fitting that these first Albany shows are captured in the band’s 1996 official live release Dozin’ At The Knick. Much of the album’s material is rightfully culled from this special, first ever Albany Dead show.
Local promoter Greg Bell of Guthrie/Bell Productions played a small but critical role in those March 1990 shows.
A friend of mine worked for Mayor Whalen and I was the only Deadhead she knew, so they asked me to come in snd speak to the Mayor’s people, the Police, Fire Department and several other various Albany officials.
I gave them advice on how to deal with the Deadheads. They listened to everything that I suggested and it was one of the most relaxed and cool scenes I had ever seen at an East Coast show.Greg Bell, Guthrie/Bell Productions
This would be the first night of a three-night run in Albany and the Dead were quickly and comfortably settled in at the Knick. This sentiment comes across in the quasi-casual start to the “Let The Good Times Roll” that opens the show this evening. By the end though, the band is fully engaged, as is the rest of the building. Riding this early wave, the band then quickly jumps into the crowd favorite “Help On The Way.” Jerry Garcia digs into his guitar’s bag of tricks and comes up with some interesting effects on “Slipknot!” And despite some shaky early lyrics, there’s no issue with the dismount on “Franklin’s Tower” and the Knick crowd eagerly shows their love for this quintessential sequence of Grateful Dead.
Bob Weir then takes center stage and coolly leads the band through “Walkin’ Blues” which is featured on the album. But somehow, to the disbelief of Deadheads worldwide, the “Loser” that follows somehow did not make the final cut. A goosebump-inducing roar of approval from the Knick greets this one and the performance certainly lives up to it. Garcia’s singing is steady on this one and his poignant solos along with Brent Mydland’s blasting organ fills help fuel this instant classic.
The first set also features “Desolation Row,” one of the many Bob Dylan songs the band would cover and make their own. More delicate guitar licks from Garcia and intricate bass play from a “turned up” Phil Lesh dominate this one. The Dead’s first ever set at the Knick then closes up with a lively take on “Tennessee Jed,” with the crowd in full sing-along mode, and Bob Weir’s typically rowdy “One More Saturday Night.”
With their first set at the Knick now in the books, the Grateful Dead then proceed to rip through a second set that, justly, makes up a significant portion of the album. It fills up the entire second and some of the third of the three-disc release. “Playin’ In The Band” is the set opener choice and sets the tone nicely. Phil Lesh and his vibrant bass play continue to shine early on this one before the jam begins to stretch and digress. Mydland and his electric keys also add a spiritual element to this jam that gets heavy in a hurry. However, instead of truly going off the deep end, the jam calmly and steadily veers into the opening chords of “Uncle John’s Band.”
This band rips through the composed section with ease, stretching it out nicely between verses with ease. This proficiency carries right over to another quick and rapid-fire type jam, one that seems to almost be a continuation of PITB. But instead of stretching it out again, Garcia quietly begins strumming the open to “Terrapin Station,” much to the crowd’s delight. This caps the set’s powerhouse opening trifecta of Dead classics.
The whole band is locked in on the song and it’s customary outro jam never gets stale on this one, with each member adding a little “spice” of their own to keep it interesting – Mydland especially. But as the jam loses its “Terrapin” structure, an old friend emerges. A slow-building familiar four chord jam begins to develop, none other than the “Mind Left Body Jam.” Dead scholars maintain this is the first one in more than five years, if not longer. It’s believed by some to be related to the Paul Kanter song “Your Mind Has Left Your Body” and also shares the same chord progression as “You’re All I Need To Get By,” among other songs. To the Knick’s delight, the Dead dust off this simple, pyschedelic instrumental that’s labeled on the album as “Mud Love Buddy Jam” in a nod to a former taper’s description of it.
After lengthy “Drums” and “Space” sequences led by drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, “The Wheel” emerges in boisterous fashion. But this one is kept pretty short and simple. At its conclusion, another familiar Dylan cover immediately takes shape, this time it’s “All Along The Watchtower.” Garcia produces a bed of wailing guitar sounds that dominate this cover that’s been a part of the Dead’s live repertoire since 1987.
After the band is done toying around with the “Watchtower” jam, things slow down one last time for a typically poignant Garcia-sung “Stella Blue.” Brent Mydland leads the backup harmonizing vocals while Garcia delivers a pair of hauntingly beautiful guitar solos in a staggering, soulful juxtaposition to the raucous “Watchtower” from just minutes earlier.
The opening shuffle-beat of “Not Fade Away” then emerges, giving the Dead one last chance to jam. They rip through the Buddy Holly cover with no abandon, gladly declaring their love “will not fade away.” This then devolves into Weir singing by himself while the rest of the band phonetically sings the beat before it then turns into the full Knickerbocker Arena crown singing the chorus back to the band well after they’ve left the stage- a truly special Grateful Dead moment that Dozin’ captures beautifully.
Grateful Dead Knickerbocker Arena – Albany, NY 3/24/90
Set 1: Let The Good Times Roll, Help On The Way-> Slipknot!-> Franklin’s Tower, Walkin’ Blues, Loser, Desolation Row, Tennessee Jed, One More Saturday Night
Set 2: Playin’ In The Band-> Uncle John’s Band-> Terrapin Station-> Mind Left Body Jam-> Drums-> Space-> The Wheel-> All Along The Watchtower-> Stella Blue-> Not Fade Away
E: We Bid You Good Night