Jerry Garcia - vocals, guitars; Bob Weir - vocals, guitars; Phil Lesh - vocals, bass; Bill Kreutzmann - drums; Mickey Hart - drums; Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals; Clarence Clemons - saxophone;; Any Grateful Dead show staged in their local Bay Area was an event, and this performance, recorded in Oakland on New Year's Eve was no exception. The band had been through many turbulent changes in the past decade, but when they regrouped onstage to ring in 1989, their musicianship prevailed and they delivered an exuberant and noteworthy performance.
With this show, the band capped off what had been a very busy year of recording and touring. They had gone out with Bob Dylan, for the historic Dylan and the Dead tour and live album. There had been solo projects from nearly all the members, and the group had finally returned to the recording studio after a seven year absence to write, record and release In the Dark. The record had been a surprise commercial hit, thanks to the Top 10 single "Touch Of Grey." Its high-rotation MTV video, which had been directed by Bill Kruetzmann's 20-something son, brought the Dead into the living rooms of a younger and more diverse audience.
The band was tight and in a great mood on this New Years Eve. They play a wide variety of material, ranging from Dead standards like "Sugar Magnolia," "Terrapin Station" and "Wharf Rat" to band members' solo hits including "The Wheel" and "One More Saturday Night" to classic blues/R&B versions of "Let The Good Times Roll" and Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." Some classic folk and rock standards, "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Morning Dew," as well as two holdovers from their tour with Bob Dylan, "All Along The Watchtower" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece," are also represented. Right after the countdown to midnight, they break into "Touch of Grey" followed by a brilliant version of "Man Smart, Woman Smarter."
The late '80s found the Dead enjoying a surge in popularity reminiscent of their 1970s heyday. Within a few years, Jerry died while at a rehab treatment facility and what was left of the band regrouped as "the Dead," but this recording captures them at a special time in their lengthy career. Definitely worth a listen by even those who wouldn't call themselves Dead Heads.