Today, we celebrate the anniversary of a Grateful Dead show at the most iconic of all New York music venues: Madison Square Garden. The Dead were certainly no strangers to this room by 1991. They had been playing the Midtown Mecca since 1979 and loved taking extended stays there. Fittingly, this show would be number five of a nine-show run at The Garden.
1991 was still very much a transitional time in the band’s history. Vince Welnick had only joined the band a year earlier and Bruce Hornsby was still making regular appearances. This show would be no different. And while this one may not be designated with a “legendary” status in the record books, there are certainly moments that shine.
To put it nicely, whether its the recording or the performance itself, the “Touch of Grey” opener is fairly mangled. Guitarist Jerry Garcia doesn’t seem to realize his part until a full verse passes first and the rest goes downhill from there. Fellow guitarist Bob Weir then takes over and directs “Wang Dang Doodle” afterwards that has a couple of inspired Garcia licks towards the end that seem to wake him up a little. With the band seemingly picking up on this, it carries right through the ensuing “Peggy-O” where Garcia continues to shine and brushes off some of the earlier mishaps.
The first set doesn’t seem to really take off until “Althea” which features more delicate guitar licks from Garcia that’s finally accompanied by a vocal performance to match. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” follows nicely with the always lovely accordion fills supplied by Hornsby. The first set closes with a triumphant “Bird Song” that soars for more than 14 minutes with both Welnick and Hornsby, along with the rest of the band, on top of their respective game.
After a rather nondescript Weir-led “Victim Or The Crime” to open the second set, things escalate quickly with a rousing “Scarlet Begonias” where the intensity of an MSG show is very much audible. The seamless segue into its traditional pairing with “Fire On The Mountain’ is vintage Dead and one of the definitive bright spots of this show.
Another valid complaint for this show may be the extended “Drums” > “Space” sequence that follows. While it does feature a few moments of fun, psychedelic mayhem, it also drifts off completely at parts and takes up almost 28 minutes of the second set.
Garcia brings a little of the “Space” along with him in the beginning sections of “The Other One” that follow before falling into its signature pattern. This brings about another inspired jam with all seven legs of the band acting as one cohesive unit while Weir belts out the lyrics he penned for this song years ago.
The second set ends with a joyous “Throwing Stones” that features both Weir and Garcia with some passionate singing. A somewhat abrupt cut to “Not Fade Away” follows that gives the band one last chance to stretch out and jam.
Grateful Dead 9/13/91 Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
Set 1: Touch of Grey, Wang Dang Doodle, Peggy-O, Big River > Cumberland Blues, Althea, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bird Song
Set 2: Victim Or The Crime, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Drums > Space > The Other One > Stella Blue > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away
Encore: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door