To celebrate the 4th of July in 1989, the Grateful Dead decided to heed the advice of their song “Truckin'” and return to Buffalo. By now, it was near tradition for the band to celebrate our nation’s independence with summer tour shows in the Northeast. Starting with a show at the same venue, Rich Stadium, for a 4th of July gig in 1986, the Dead followed this up with another one in 1987 in Foxboro, MA.
In classic Grateful Dead style, for 1989, they mixed it back up, with a summer run of shows that began at Foxboro two days prior and landed back in Buffalo on the 4th. It’s a well-crafted and enjoyable show that sees the band in fine form, all fully engaged, cohesive, and perhaps most importantly, healthy. In 2005, it was officially released on DVD, with an accompanying CD soundtrack, appropriately titled Truckin’ Up To Buffalo. Although, oddly, the title track never makes an appearance tonight.
For an opener, the Dead bring out an old faithful in “Bertha” that sparks the ignition at Rich Stadium this evening. Jerry Garcia adding a little extra “4th of July” mustard to the lyrics and the band easily toying with the reentry at one point only enliven the crowd further. This is succeeded by “Greatest Story Ever Told,” with fellow guitarist Bob Weir taking over the controls, admirably backed up, as usual, by Brent Mydland both vocally and instrumentally on electric piano. In the pivotal three-spot tonight, the band reverts back to another old standby, their signature take on the folk classic “Cold Rain And Snow.”
Weir then tags back in for another cover tune. This time it’s the band’s take on “Walkin’ Blues,” an old blues standard that was reintroduced to their live shows a few years prior. A lively Hammond organ solo from Mydland that’s supplanted by slick work from Weir on guitar along with his signature vocal stylings highlight this one. Garcia seems to take great delight in playing the “Row Jimmy” that follows, as made evident by the smiles that accompany two poignant guitar solos and a flawless vocal delivery. It’s a beautiful rendition from an era of the band’s history that produced a lot of them.
The Dead then go back to their vaunted bag of “covers,” this time going with a choice version of the Bob Dylan-penned “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
The Dead go back even further for the next song, “Stagger Lee,” their electricized cover of another folk song that dates back to the early 20th century. To close out the rest of the first, they return to their immense catalog of original material, starting with “Looks Like Rain.” Weir tackles the emotional vocals with ease while Garcia tacks on some more transcendent guitar fills for good measure. A rowdy “Deal,” accentuated by more frenetic work from Garcia on the fret board, then caps off the first set, with the Rich Stadium crowd vociferously making their appreciation known.
To ring in the second set for Buffalo’s 4th of July celebration in 1989, the Grateful Dead rip into an immaculate “Touch Of Grey.” The pulsating bass line deployed by Phil Lesh that doesn’t quit and more nimble guitar play from Garcia gets the communal engine revved backed up again in a big way.
After a quick pause, “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” keeps the line moving. Brent Mydland steals the show on this one, lending both his signature raspy singing tone and some dazzling work on the organ that flavor the song perfectly. The Dead then go back into the earlier pages of the songbook again and slow things down a touch with “Ship Of Fools.” Some exquisite rhythm guitar play from Weir and fully engaged vocals on Garcia’s end seem to give this “Ship” a little extra edge to it.
But instead of a full stop afterwards, the Dead effortlessly slink into an instrumental section of “Playin’ In The Band” before taking it out for one verse, merely serving as a reprise. Perhaps remembering they opened the previous show with PITB two days ago at the Foxboro show, the proverbial ripcord is deployed and the band effortlessly shifts gear into a different classic, “Terrapin Station.”
Like it’s done so many times before, the percussive heavy outro of “Terrapin” slowly gets consumed by drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart and the “Drums” portion of the evening ensues. They leave no stone unturned, unleashing an impressive arsenal of percussive agents from around the world, including an electronic-sounding steel drum and an African talking drum.
Some heavy duty kaleidoscopic imagery accompanies their playing on the video, as the rest of the band begins to reenter the fray for the “Space” portion. Eventually, a familiar tone breaks through, a quasi-trumpet sound, courtesy of one of Garcia’s many guitar filters. This paves the way for the delicate “I Will Take You Home,” sung passionately as always by Mydland, that’s juxtaposed wonderfully with the scorching take of “All Along The Watchtower” that follows.
The end of the second set wraps with another couple of tried and true Grateful Dead live staples. “Morning Dew” allows Garcia to drop a few more staggering guitar solos, which he does with ease in conjunction with some truly inspired and emotional singing. “Not Fade Away” then gets the rest of the band, and the Buffalo faithful, singing together one last time to close out the set.
The crowd continues to serenade the band through the encore break which ends once “U.S. Blues” emerges, a fitting closure to this 4th of July show, and just like they had done three years ago as well.
Both full audio and video of this vintage Dead show can be found below. Happy birthday, America!
Grateful Dead Rich Stadium – Buffalo, NY July 4th, 1989
Set 1: Bertha > Greatest Story Ever Told, Cold Rain And Snow, Walkin’ Blues, Row Jimmy, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Stagger Lee, Looks Like Rain > Deal
Set 2: Touch Of Grey, Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Ship Of Fools > Playin’ In The Band Reprise > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > All Along The Watchtower > Morning Dew, Not Fade Away
E: U.S. Blues