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Exclusive: Grateful Dead Commemorate Peak Shows With 'Spring 1990' Box Set

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The Spring 1990 tour marked your 25th anniversary as a working group. Yet you were playing at a higher rate of excellence and adventure than a lot of bands half your age.
Mickey Hart:
With In the Dark, we had to start defending the shows. People were breaking in. It was 50,000 people inside, 50,000 outside. There was a lot of pressure on us to keep the peace. But it was hot on all fronts – the band was in a good playing place. Brent was really cranking, and we were bringing a lot of the old stuff out – "Death Don't Have No Mercy," "Attics of My Life." There was no pressure to reinvent. We were just being the Grateful Dead. And Jerry was feeling good.

Your "Drum" spot with Bill Kreutzmann was an established part of the shows but also a place where anything could happen. How much did you and Bill talk about what to play – and what was new to do?
Hart: We never did. That was one of the rules of "Drums" and "Space." It was a place we left barren as far as talking about or arranging anything. Sometimes we'd have fun with stuff. If we were in Las Vegas, I'd sample the slot machines and make that part of it. It was a surprise to Bill, and we'd both react on it.

We'd play with the band all night on drums, so we were anxious to get off to a new space, like open-field running in football. It was the place where you could take a deep breath, relax and create something in the moment, as opposed to recreating something and embellishing it, which is what jamming [on a song] is all about. This was making it happen in the moment.

In the first show in this box, at the Capital Centre, you play the hit single "Touch of Grey" right away: second song, first set, as if to say, "Let's get this out of the way."
Hart: [Laughs] Yeah. Everybody wanted us to play it, Clive [Davis, Arista Records president] and all. In good old Grateful Dead spirit, we were like, "No, man, we're not gonna be that band that goes out and plays its hit. That's so lame." The most important thing was to be the Grateful Dead.

But this Spring 1990 set is significant in that previous tour boxs, like the complete Europe '72 suitcase, covered older, historical eras. This one shows the Dead in their adult prime – still relevant and charged fairly late in your history.
Hart: The Grateful Dead meant a lot to us. It was everything. And to let it go, to peter out after all we'd been through, was unthinkable. We had a burst of energy around that time, because of the hit. A hit brings a whole bunch of energy, negative and positive. The kids breaking down the stadium doors – they almost killed what they loved the most. They almost put us out of business.

But that created an energy that we transferred into the music. We were energized by that hit – and reacting against it. The hard thing is, as [Ken] Kesey said, to stay within your own movie. We were able to do that on this tour.

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