Nightfall Of Diamonds
Grateful Dead Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/13/2004
There's a fundamental truth to Grateful Dead live concerts. When the band was on, they were unstoppable. When they had an off-night, they were terrible.
I kind of thought about this as I listened to Nightfall Of Diamonds, a two-disc set taken from a 1989 concert in New Jersey. (Turns out this was recorded on Bob Weir's 42nd birthday, and is a set revered by Deadheads. I didn't know this until after the bulk of this review was written.) This is a set which has been kicking around in the Pierce Memorial Archives for a few years now - and after listening to it, I think it'll go back on the shelves for a long while. Jerry Garcia and crew put out some great CDs in their time. Pity this isn't one of them.
The band just never sounds like they get things out of first gear from the outset, kicking things off with a lackluster "Picasso Moon" - admittedly not one of my favorite songs in the Dead's discography. In fact, "lackluster" is the key word for the entire first disc, one which absolutely drags, even through more established songs like "Feel Like A Stranger," "Let It Grow" and "Deal". Brent Mydland again is featured on "Never Trust A Woman" - a track included not terribly long ago on Dozin' At The Knick - but this version is much weaker in comparison.
The band continues to snooze their way through the second set, even managing to turn "Dark Star" into something not really noteworthy. (I can hear the Deadheads now - "Blasphemy!") Only when they hit the opening notes of "Playing In The Band" do the boys wake up and realize they need to exert some energy in order to get it back from the crowd - and from then on, it's fairly decent.
I do admit being disappointed in this version of "I Will Take You Home," a song which, when played right and catches me in the right mood, can reduce me to tears. Undoubtedly Mydland's best song he wrote with the band, this version has almost all the emotion sucked out of it. (For an absolutely killer version, check out the one Mydland sang in Atlanta, Georgia a few months later. The show is out there in the tape trader network, or on Furthur.)
So what happened this time around? Truth is, I dunno. Maybe it was related to the Built To Last album, one which I remember as a disappointment. Maybe the band just had an off night. Whatever the case, this snapshot of the Dead at work illustrates that even after over two decades slugging it out on the road, the most established band can phone in their performance and create a show which is nothing short of mediocre. The memories of both Garcia and Mydland deserve better than this.