Brent’s 36th Birthday: The Grateful Dead Light It Up in Dallas

by Peter Wendel
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GratefulDeadBrentMydland80

Mydland (center) shortly after joining the band

In honor of keyboardist Brent Mydland’s recent birthday – October 21st – here’s footage (see below) of The Grateful Dead performing on that special date at Dallas’s Reunion Arena in the late-’80s.

On October 21, 1988, Brent the bluesman turned 36, and the show that night in Dallas featured vintage Mydland, including the 1st set opener, “Let The Good Times Roll,” a Sam Cooke cover; the calypso classic “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)”; and one of the keyboardist’s originals, “I Will Take You Home,” in the middle of the 2nd set. (Brent’s ballad “I Will Take You Home” is the final track on The Grateful Dead’s 1989 album, Built To Last.)

In April of 1979, Mydland replaced Keith Godchaux, whose prodigious musical skills had become diminished by his prodigious appetite for drugs and alcohol. Brent, 26 at the time, stepped into large shoes with Pigpen, Tom Constanten (briefly) and Godchaux setting a dauntingly high bar.

grateful_dead-steal_your_face-sailfastchicago_clipped_rev_1Brent’s contributions to the band were enormous – his haunting blues-laced vocals (backup and lead), his rollicking keyboard play and his strong songwriting abilities.

His talents added a bright layer to The Grateful Dead’s sound and repertoire – a dimension that hadn’t been fully realized during Keith and Donna Godchaux’s tenure (particularly the songwriting piece).

And then there was the undeniable musical chemistry between Jerry and Brent – a powerful musical force that could rip across the stage and streak up to the rafters like a brush fire in a dry wind. The Jerry-Brent interplay frequently triggered a contagious fusion reaction that rippled through the crowd leaving burnt, elated synapses in its wake.

Tragically, Brent would die less than two years after his birthday show in Dallas on October 21, 1988. The official cause of death was an overdose of cocaine and heroin mixed into a “speedball.” He died on July 26, 1990 after playing with The Grateful Dead for more than a decade. He was all of 37.

Rest in peace Brother Brent.

THE GRATEFUL DEAD
October 21, 1988
Reunion Arena, Dallas, TX

MoreBirthdayCandlesThe footage (below) from October 21, 1988, captures most of the band’s 2nd set. The songs in bold are included in the video.

Reportedly, Brent had been partying much of the day so he was good and loose. Some folks who were there that night say he actually fell off his keyboard bench at one point during the show. Oooops!

SET I: Let The Good Times Roll, Feel Like A Stranger> Franklin’s Tower, Walking Blues, Believe It Or Not, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Dupree’s Diamond Blues, Jack Straw

SET II: Happy Birthday (“Brentski”), Wang Dang Doodle, Victim Or The Crime> Foolish Heart, Man Smart (Woman Smarter)> Drums> Space> I Will Take You Home> Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> All Along The Watchtower> Stella Blue> Sugar Magnolia E: Brokedown Palace

Don’t miss these highlights:

Happy Birthday “to Brentski” (0:13), Wang Dang Doodle (1:03), Victim Or The Crime (7:25), Man Smart (Woman Smarter) (25:16), I Will Take You Home (47:41), Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad (52:18) and All Along The Watchtower (58:32).

A very special thanks to Kevin Tobin for posting this video on YouTube. 

Listen to Brent’s entire birthday show from 1988 here at the Dead archive.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including Mountain Jam, The All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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