Sound: For the past couple of decades, those fans who relished in memories of following the Grateful Dead have been able to live vicariously through collections released via labels like Rhino Entertainment. Select concerts from the Dead's wildly popular touring days have been available for the public to re-experience, with the latest CD/DVD release Crimson, White & Indigo chronicling the jam band's July 7, 1989 performance at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That particular show was memorable for a few different reasons, in that it was the last rock concert held before the venue was demolished and it marked a prominent return for the Dead following Garcia's diabetic coma in 1986. If those historic factoids don't mean much to you, as a viewer of Crimson, White & Indigo you'll at the very least get another solid dose of what the Dead did best: jam their hearts out.
The late-80's Kennedy Stadium show certainly represents a more seasoned batch of musicians, with a crowd that in many ways follows suit. While at one time it might be just as entertaining to film audience members in the zone as they listened to songs like Scarlet Begonias or Iko Iko, the attention is geared almost entirely on what's happening onstage. If you've purchased any number of the past releases from the Dead's live collection or spent a good chunk of your life as a Deadhead, you will know essentially what you're getting and that's not a terrible thing. There is comfortable quality to Crimson, White & Indigo, and ready applause at the tunes beloved by a feast of fans.
The DVD performance is essentially the same concert you'll hear on the accompanying three CDs, with 19 tracks heard in total. The concert begins with Hell In A Bucket, a track that immediately shows off the capable lead work of Jerry Garcia and is enhanced by Brent Mydland's infectious piano-heavy sections, and ends with the Bob Dylan classic Knockin' On Heaven's Door. There are quite a few staples in the setlist (Iko Iko, Wharf Rat, and Turn On Your Lovelight), and they deliver the expected thrills. Mydland's vocals on Little Red Rooster could absolutely be considered of the powerhouse variety, and you almost wish he was behind the mic a bit more often. The slide work on Little Red Rooster oozes the blues, while the all-percussion jam Rhythm Devils is easily a highlight. Following that number is the experimental (and satisfying), tripped-out Space, which should intrigue even the Dead naysayers.
The Grateful Dead is one of those bands that you have to be in the appropriate mood to watch, particularly given the fact that a good chunk of the tracks average 10 minutes. If you're a fan of solos galore, then you'll undoubtedly be on board for Crimson, White & Indigo. Because there isn't much focus on the audience (and at one time so much of a Dead show dealt with the band-crowd relationship), there is a certain amount of disconnect with the band's heyday. Any Grateful Dead fan, however, should find the latest CD/DVD combo another welcome addition to the collection. // 8
Content: As far as easy-access to the music goes, the record company was wise to release Crimson, White & Indigo as both a DVD and 3 CDs. The concert runs about 176 minutes, so you can't complain that the Philadelphia show is lacking in musical content. There aren't any extras in the way of interviews or behind-the-scenes material, but because Rhino puts out these concerts as almost commemorative editions and you will likely get more down the line, it's passable. // 7
Production Quality: The footage was recorded back in 1989, which means you can expect fairly standard quality from back in the day. What should be given extra credit, however, is the director of photography's excellent knack at providing close-ups of key solos. The viewer gets a gorgeous look at the intricate workings of many of Garcia's guitar solos, and that's a sign of a director who is in tune with his subject(s). // 8
Overall Impression: Not everyone will be able to appreciate the distinctive musical show that the Grateful Dead has been known for, but there are fields of fans who do understand and will be happy to snap up Crimson, White & Indigo. Considering that this concert was put on after Garcia's brush with death (and the man plays his heart out for a good three hours), it's a credit to the band's dedication and musicianship. Again, Rhythm Devils and Space are the standouts because of their generally odd nature, but consistency in setlist is what probably what fans expect and want in any case. // 8