By 1992, there was no secret about the affinity the Grateful Dead had for Albany’s Knickerbocker Arena. This would be the third year in a row they made sure to make a tour stop here. But after two previous three-night runs, including the acclaimed one from 1990 that will always be associated with their acclaimed Dozin’ At The Knick live album, the Dead only had two nights to play all the hits this year. This first of these performance went down 29 years ago today.
Tonight’s Grateful Dead show, despite a ravenous Knickerbocker Arena, has a very relaxed open as the band slowly ambles into a “Bertha” opener. No complaints are heard as the crowd drowns out the opening lyrics in delight. After a mild jam that’s peppered with some thunderous bass notes from Phil Lesh, the entire room seems to be singing along for the remainder of this first set staple. The “New Minglewood Blues” that comes next begins in similar fashion. Garcia and keyboardist Vince Welnick each drop a couple of bluesy solos and get stretched out a little while, in between, Bob Weir takes care of the vocals, making note of the “Upstate fllies” in a nod to the locale.
“Row Jimmy” gets the rest of the band singing again, and sees more dexterous work from Garcia on guitar, as he digs into his MIDI bag of effects and offers something that sounds closer to a flute solo at one point. After three classic Dead originals, the first cover of the night is Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,” with Weir once again manning lead vocals. Welnick gets in on the act here and highlights this one with a blissful, ethereal piano solo.
“Dire Wolf” finally brings the tempo back up and the band rips through another first set mainstay, with Garcia plowing through his requisite solo with ease. But it’s near a minute and a half until the next selection is made, “Beat It On Down The Line.” With both the Dead and Knickerbocker Arena now alive and well, the sing-a-long is back on thanks to “Loose Lucy” as the crowd continues to add their collective backing to the lyrics in revelry. Welnick makes the shift from piano to Hammond organ nicely and adds some flavorful support as well. “The Music Never Stopped” then puts the fitting finishing touches on a crisp opening set that’s nothing but treasured Dead originals and a Dylan cover.
The Dead dive into one of their more recent originals with “Foolish Heart” to kick off the second set at the Knick. Garcia and Welnick once again complement each other beautifully on guitar and keys, respectively, as the band sears through this one effortlessly. No extended jam of note develops afterwards. Instead, it’s a brief pause and away with “Playin’ In The Band” where, after a quick run through of verse, the collective improvisation starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up anytime soon. When it does, the beginning to “Uncle John’s Band” ensues, as the audience seems to come back up for air after the quick yet heavy display of psychedelic mayhem that immediately preceded it.
The Dead then go back down to the bottom, the way bottom, courtesy of an extended “Drums” > “Space” sequence that stretches out to nearly a half hour. A well rested Knick is more than happy to help out with the vocals for the “I Need A Miracle” that finally emerges. A quick jam, punctuated by an aggressive Welnick piano solo, is crafted before things slow down one last time with “Wharf Rat.”
After another set comprised of solely live Dead originals, and some intense improv, the evening closes out with a pair of covers. Weir hams it up one last time on vocals, and Welnick on piano as well for that matter, on Chuck Berry’s rocker “Around and Around” that suits the crowd perfectly. And the band help themselves to some more Dylan material with “The Mighty Quinn” that serves as tonight’s encore.
With night one of the two-night run now in the books, expectations were surely through the roof for the following evening. Thanks to some sort of odd cross-promotional gadgetry straight out of 1992, if you held onto your ticket stub from tonight, the Dead would make sure you were well fed for tomorrow.
Grateful Dead Knickerbocker Arena – Albany, NY 6/11/92
Set 1: Bertha, Minglewood Blues, Row Jimmy, Queen Jane Approximately, Dire Wolf, Beat It On Down The Line, Loose Lucy, The Music Never Stopped
Set 2: Foolish Heart, Playin’ In The Band-> Jam-> Uncle John’s Band-> Drums-> Jam-> I Need A Miracle-> Wharf Rat-> Around and Around
E: The Mighty Quinn