Is it right to call Ship of Fools a ballad? It certainly has many of the elements that make a ballad in my mind, namely it’s on the slow side and emotive. I think that’s why this version stands out to me. It doesn’t drag along, but does more loping. I attest that a large part of this is due to Phil’s bass. It seems bouncy for a tune like this.
Not only is the Truckin’ Up To Buffalo available widely on CD, but there’s also a DVD of the performance as well. It’s been well documented by David Lemieux, the Dead’s vault master and chooser of the eponymous Dave’s Picks series, that there isn’t a ton of video in the vault. A lot of what does exist is the feed that was show on the jumbotrons when the band was playing big sheds in their last decade or so. A lot of these are plagued with trippy effects, which, many appear to agree, were cool at the show, but the lack of a B roll means that there is no way to replace them if the Dead Brain Trust wants to release a video. Regardless, it’s a great show (obviously, they released it after all) and the video is an opportunity for Heads like myself, who never got the chance, to see the band in action.
Jerry sounds really good vocally on this one, too. Sometimes he really had to stretch to hit the right notes (assuming he made it, which didn’t always happen). Oftentimes that effort bequeathed the song an additional degree of emotional impact, but that’s not the case on this Fourth of July in 1989. The big man seems in command vocally.
I can’t decide if I like the effect that Brent is using here. It sounds like some type of stringed instrument fed through MIDI. On the one hand it’s got a cheesy 80s vibe to it, but on the other it seems to provide just the right amount of sustain. I’m a bit torn.
Speaking of musical textures, Bobby kicks on an interesting effect at the end of the 2nd chorus, heading into the final verse (c. 2:15 mark). It might be a wah pedal in one position because he uses some wah wah-like inflections in that verse. Through it all Phil keeps things moving forward. It’s often said that if Phil is on, the band is on. That certainly seems to be the case here, at least to my ears.
Once all the shouting is done Garcia takes his solo. It’s perfectly suitable, and Bobby has some really nice rhythm work underneath it. They do another chorus before going back and singing the third verse again. I’ll have to keep this in mind going forward. Did they repeat the third verse frequently? If so I haven’t noticed and regardless it’s something that I’ll keep an ear out for going forward.
Bobby and Brent’s background vocals seem more pronounced in the last couple of verses as well. Just another random observation.
Jerry tags the melody line at the end before the band moves into Playing In The Band.