Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals; Bob Wier - rhythm guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals; Bill Kruetzman - drums; Mickey Hart - drums
On the Grateful Dead's long strange trip, 1987 was possibly the strangest year of all. Many Deadheads had reasons to be thankful, as Garcia's health problems had put the group's future in jeopardy the previous year, when he lapsed into a diabetic coma. Following his miraculous recovery, the Dead returned with a new focus, a new album, and would soldier on into their third decade together. Much to everyone's surprise, the group would actually score a hit that year with "Touch Of Grey," a song written years earlier by the Dead's primary lyricist, Robert Hunter, and revamped with an arrangement by Garcia. A song of survival that resonated with radio programmers and MTV as well as Deadheads, this would catapult the band into financial success and media exposure like they had never experienced before. However, it was a double-edged sword. Along with all the new accolades came an onslaught of new fans and the Dead's cultural scene would begin collapsing under the pressure. Police and local officials would react negatively to the legions of Deadheads converging on their cities, many without tickets, and arrests and violence were becoming more frequent occurrences outside the venues. Several venues even banned the Dead from returning. Still, it was a monumental year in the band's history. They would embark on a tour with Bob Dylan that summer, release their "So Far" home video, and their new album, In The Dark was a bonafide hit. For their annual New Year's Eve concert, they arranged a nationwide radio simulcast and a Pay-Per-View cable TV event, guaranteeing the largest audience of any Grateful Dead concert to date. The King Biscuit Flower Hour also recorded the evening's festivities and later broadcast highlights from the performance in two hour-long broadcasts.
The first of these KBFH broadcasts contained the entire first set of the night. Although the first set contains few revelatory moments, it is a consistently well-played set displaying the band focused and energized. The set starts off strong with the band immediately rocking out on "Bertha" into Chuck Berry's "Promised Land." The momentum continues on "Cold Rain And Snow" which is played with more vigor than usual. The middle of this first set is relatively forgettable, with a loose bluesy excursion on "Little Red Rooster" and a perfunctory "When Push Comes To Shove," but the band again redeems themselves during the remainder of the set. A strong performance of Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" gets the band back on track. "Bird Song," while not as exploratory as it could often be, begins venturing into the spontaneous space jams that endeared the Dead to so many. This contains beautiful interplay between Garcia and Brent Mydland and the entire band sounds focused throughout its nearly 10-minute length. They conclude the first set with a smoking hot take on "The Music Never Stopped," with sparks flying and the entire band sounding inspired. This, and the fact that midnight was soon approaching had the audience pumped up and excited for the second set.
Although edited to conform to the hour-long King Biscuit Flower Hour format, the second broadcast contains much of the second set that evening, beginning with one of the more unusual songs to welcome in the New Year, "Hell In A Bucket." This song's "We're going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride" chorus seemed to sum up the feelings of many listeners as they welcomed in the New Year. This song (and the rest of the set in general) features drummer Mickey Hart taking full advantage of sampling technology and experimenting with many new sounds. Hart's virtually unlimited palette greatly expands the soundscape of the Grateful Dead and this song is a prime example of his contributions. From here on out, the recording is virtually one long continuous jam, with songs transitioning from one to the next. This begins with a strong focused take on the band's 1977 opus, "Terrapin Station" before dissolving into some mind bending free-form improvisation. Garcia is particularly inspired here, virtually soloing alone for several minutes while Weir and Mydland provide washes of sound for him to build upon. Utilizing delay processing, Garcia begins soloing over his own riffs to dramatic effect. Several minutes in, Phil Lesh begins adding counterpoint bass runs, gradually beefing up the sound, followed by the return of the drummers. Throughout this improvisation, hints of "The Other One" periodically surface. This eventually does ease into "The Other One," one of the bands primary jamming vehicles. However, Lesh is deprived of signaling the launch with his trademark pummeling bass, as Bob Weir prematurely jumps in with the first verse vocal before the group can really lock into a groove. Tentatively, the bandmembers hold back until the first chorus, at which point all jump back in, inspiring Garcia and Lesh to take full flight. Garcia next leads the band into a forceful reading of "Wharf Rat." This is a fine, emotional reading that again has the band concentrating and listening to each other. This song of destitution and redemption is quite compelling, before the recording ends with a loose romp through the perennial crowd-pleaser, "Not Fade Away" to conclude the set.