Nightfall of Diamonds
Meadowlands Arena - E. Rutherford, NJ
[October 16, 1989]
The Music Box's #5 specialty package for 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box December 2001, Volume 8, #12
Written by John Metzger
On guitarist Bob Weir's 42nd birthday, the Grateful Dead concluded a five-night stand at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey by throwing a huge party for all in attendance. The event immediately took on mythic proportions, becoming a standard among tape trading aficionados — not only because of the show's intriguing set list but also because of the band's intense performance.
At the time, the Grateful Dead were rapidly shifting from a well-kept secret into mainstream popularity, largely due to the incredible success of In the Dark. Perhaps yearning for its low-key early days, the band pulled off a pair of stealth shows in Virginia — billed as Formerly The Warlocks, an ode to its original moniker — just prior to the start of its fall tour. There, the group reconnected with a number of songs long-gone from its repertoire, thereby raising the stakes and expectations for what was to come.
Could anyone have anticipated what happened in New Jersey? Probably not. But many still hoped and dreamed, and for once their wishes actually came true. Consequently, while there were better overall Brent Mydland-era concerts performed by the Grateful Dead, few hold quite the aura and mystique of that fateful night in October 1989.
Twelve years later, the concert has been beautifully remastered for the group's latest archival release Nightfall of Diamonds. True, there were several weak moments — the lyrics to Uncle John's Band were jarringly blown, I Need a Miracle was tossed off with nary an afterthought, and Picasso Moon never really got moving — but the concert's strengths were many, helping the good outweigh the bad — by far — and allowing plenty of room for forgiveness.
Any doubt that this would be a special show surely must have been jettisoned after the triple salvo of songs that began the evening. Following Picasso Moon came a majestic, celebratory Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, which in turn led to a fiery Feel Like a Stranger. Each raised the bar a little bit higher as Jerry Garcia made his guitar sing and soar over the band's burbling rhythm. Yet, each song also never revealed where the winding path would lead or which secret, dream-filled spaces were bound to be explored. Traversing gritty blues (Never Trust a Woman), Bob Dylan's playful folk ramblings (Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again), blazing country-rock (Deal), and laid-back rural orchestration (Let It Grow), the Grateful Dead was clearly at the top of its game, determined to throw a birthday bash destined to be remembered for years to come.
All this, however, was merely a prelude to the illustrious second set, a medley of material that harkened back to the Grateful Dead's early years. Beginning with the recently resurrected Dark Star, the group painted an aural portrait that was sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, at other times sharply harrowing. Yet, this wasn't quite the band of old; the group had a few new tricks up its sleeve that it wanted to demonstrate. Thanks largely to the newly incorporated MIDI interface, sounds sliced, diced, shifted, and mutated with mind-boggling dexterity. Instead of muscling its way through adrenaline-soaked exchanges, the band allowed its songs to build a different kind of intensity — one that dripped with a newfound ethereal air that suited the musicians perfectly.
There was, of course, no better way to unleash such a furiously mind-bending assault than to utilize the Grateful Dead's two most exploratory numbers — Dark Star and Playing in the Band. These, then, became the fluid cornerstones of the set, allowing the group to careen wildly from one space to the next, fully exploring each song's open-ended terrain with unabashed glee. The other selections — which included Mydland's touching lullaby I Will Take You Home and a gorgeous rendition of Attics of My Life — became mere flashes of clarity amidst the phantasmal forces and sonic abstracts that comprised the bulk of the set. For these very reasons, Nightfall of Diamonds finds the band happily caught in two parallel worlds of existence, making it a powerful glimpse at music history and an essential part of any Grateful Dead library. ½
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box