Nightfall of Diamonds – The Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4081
That wacky Grateful Dead Merchandising — you never know what it will
do next. It had been barely been two months since they concurrently
released "Dick's Picks XXII" and "View From the Vault II" (on both CD and
DVD), and it was under a month before their major release of the year – the 12 disc "Golden Road" box set – was to come out. The last thing
that anyone was expecting was a sudden release of a "From The Vault".
Throwing everybody a curve though, the legendary October 16, 1989 show was
released on September 25.
The 1989 fall tour was a turning point in the Dead's career. For
years the Dead had allowed fans to sell merchandise in the venue
parking lots. They would set aside a special camping lot for people
to sleep in. After the summer tour though, it was decided that those
practices were causing too much trouble. This tour was the first one
to be done under the slogan, "No Camping/No Vending."
That was not the only major event of this tour mind you. According to
the official schedule, the tour was to start with a give show run at the
Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands (10/16 was the final show of
that run). However, right before that run was a mysterious booking at
the Hampton Coliseum. "Formerly the Warlocks" were playing there.
The rumored stealth Dead shows turned out to be a reality and songs
such as Help On The Way, Attics of My Life and – yes – Dark
Star were played for the first time in years. Those of us who blew
off Hampton were dying to know what the Meadowlands run would bring.
Three shows into it, we got our Help > Slip, but the run was almost
over and we still hadn't received our Dark Star. People were
getting frantic. A rumor went around the parking lot saying that
Jerry had been on a radio show earlier that day and said to expect a Dark
Star "soon." Surely, they wouldn't slip out of the New York area
without throwing us that bone, right? It was with that undercurrent
of expectation and interest that this show was played.
"Nightfall of Diamonds", as mentioned above, was released in late
September 2001, a time where people were thinking a lot more about
terrorist attacks than the more innocent pleasures of setlists. In that
context, the packaging is interesting. The design
was surely decided on before the 11th, but it was shipped to stores
afterwards. The artist didn't think anything of putting pictures of
the New York skyline on the front cover, the back cover, and both
discs. In other times it would have been a cool choice, Manhattan
at night being lit up with glowing diamonds — a nightfall of diamonds
indeed. Between the time of the printing and the actual release, the
art takes on a whole different meaning. There are four different
drawings of the World Trade Center in this release; it even is on both
of the actual CDs. This can never be done again. Putting the World
Trade Center in the artwork of any future CD would be making a
statement. For one last time though, the Trade Center is allowed to
be a building.
The packaging doesn't just remind us of more innocent days; it
reminds us that those days weren't as innocent as we would
want them to be. At the end of the liner notes appears the
phrase, "In memory of Adam Katz." During the setbreak of the show two
nights earlier, Adam Katz went for a walk. His friends never saw him
alive again. He was found later that night outside the venue,
dead. For years afterwards his parents hired people to pass
out fliers at show asking for information about his death. There was
just enough evidence (or rumors) floating around to make it sound like
the security was responsible for the death. Nothing was even proven
in this case either way. Adam Katz is as much a part of this run as
the return of Dark Star. The dedication was a great touch.
As you can see, this show is steeped in all sorts of history, from the
setlist played to the artwork in the jewel boxes to the fact
that the show was performed on Bobby's 42nd birthday. None of that
will help you decide if you want to purchase this disc. There are no
essays inside explaining the import of these shows. For the first
time ever, 10/16/89 is forced to be judged solely on its musical
contents. Fortunately, it's more than able to pass the test.
On a night filled with band history, perhaps the least
interesting event is the fact that this show opened with the first
east coast Picasso Moon. Yeah, the "bigger than a drive in movie
oooo-eeeee" lyric is really stupid, but this version shows the
potential this song had. Early versions of Victim or the Crime and
Corrina are close to unlistenable. That’s not true of Picasso
Even from its debut, it's an exciting song.
After the debut, most of the first set is made of solid, if
unspectacular, versions of songs. Most of what stands out are the
mistakes. The Mississippi Half Step is notable for the
little experiment they tried in 1989, removing the "Across the Rio
Grande-o" lyrics. Fortunately that was a shortlived one. During
Built to Last, Jerry hits the wrong switch on his new midi guitar to
make a crashing noise. He plays an entire line that way before
changing to the horn sound he was going for.
Things pick up at the very end of the CD though. After Bobby is
wished a happy birthday, he gets the present of being able to play two
songs that he sings in a row. He chooses Let It Grow, and it's
completely nailed. Halfway through the jam, Jerry chooses a horn
sound on his MIDI and sticks with it for most of the song. It adds
an interesting jazz texture to the song. Normally this would easily
be the set topper, but they weren't done yet. Let It Grow was
followed by a fiery Deal. Including "Dead Set", the Dead have
five live versions of Deal. This version is clearly the best one.
The second CD opens up with a little jam. The band is just kind of
noodling as a warm up. The beginning is cut; you can hear the
whole thing at the beginning of Gray Folded if you're so inclined.
After about 30 seconds, they stop. There's a long dramatic pause.
The fans start to get anxious. And then… Dark Star.
If there's one flaw with the mix on this CD, it's that one can't
really hear just how nuts the crowd goes at the opening of this song.
On the other hand, it's nice to actually be able to hear the beginning
of this version for a change.
The one thing that differentiates the Grateful Dead from a lot of the
modern day jambands is how much they played with melody. Their
influences were bluegrass and jazz; they were too old to let techno
stylings influence them. This Dark Star shows the advantage of that
approach. It's largely the Jerry and Brent show, and they both go
wild in it. All throughout this version they dance around the barrier
between beauty and space, but never actually cross over into spacey
playing. This is far from the longest Dark Star ever, but it packs a
lot of interesting punches into its 12 minutes.
There are only a few songs that could logically follow a set opening
Dark Star. Fortunately, the Dead go for their best option: Playin'
the Band. The jam in Playin’ picks up where the Dark Star one
It's faster paced, but Jerry's playing is no less beautiful. After give
minutes of jamming, Uncle John's Band emerges. It's the first real
song of the set. At their best, the Dead were all about the dichotomy
between the structure of the song and chaos of the jam. Whenever a
jam was about to fall apart, they find haven in a song. Whenever the
set was about to get too boring, they stretch it out. Uncle John’s
anchors the set. Lyrically it's a sloppy version – check out Bobby
loudly correcting Jerry when he forgets the "Will you come with me?
Won't you come with me?" lines – but it's a needed respite before we
launch back out.
As soon as Uncle John’s Band ends, the Playin’ reprise theme
introduced. Instead of finishing Playin’ though, a jam ensues.
It's the third great jam of the night. This one comes a lot closer
into becoming pure space around the four minute mark. If the first two
jams were one part space, three parts melody, this one is a lot closer
to a 50-50 split. After a few minutes of flirting with chaos, they
return home to the Playin’ theme. Brent stays out and plays for
another minute or two before Drums can begin. Finally he leaves,
one of the best post-hiatus 40 minute periods of the Dead comes to an
After an abnormally short Drums/Space, I Will Take You Home is
While I never liked this song when Brent was alive, his death makes
the song scary. Hearing someone pledge his eternal oath of protection
to his daughter – but knowing he would be dead by his own hand within
a year – gives the song an edge. It becomes tragic.
After the rather bizarre call of I Need a Miracle, the set starts to
get interesting again. The magic of pre-Drums is clearly gone, but
what they can still do is perform some setlist sleight of hand. First
Dark Star is reprised. The second verse was never sung when they
started the set, so after a decent three minute jam to remind everyone
what they did earlier, they sing it here. This is followed by the recently
revived Attics of My Life. The crowd is respectful here, saving
their cheering until after each line. It's a good version, but not a
great version. If you didn't know that this was only the second time
it was played since 1972, you might wonder what all of the cheering
was about. Completing the early 70's feel, Playin’ is reprised to
close the set. It feels like Donna should wail before they sing the
The encore, of course, was going to be the other recent return to
rotation – And We Bid You Goodnight. One last time, the setlist game
was played. One last time, you can hear the crowd go completely nuts.
It wasn't a perfect version, but at this point the crowd would forgive
anything. We walked out into the night and prepared to recite the
setlist to the poor people who were stuck outside ("And then they
went BACK INTO DARK STAR!" "WHAT?!? NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" "And
went into Attics." "AAAAAAAAAAAH! I’m going to kill myself!").
Should you buy this CD? If you can get only one recent release, I
might suggest "View From the Vault II" over this, but it's a close call.
If you do get this though, I suggest that you get a copy of the
Taper's Compendium or Deadbase '89. Read the reviews of the show.
Pretend that you don't know what is going to be played and that you
are hoping for a historic show. Try to become part of the moment.
This was a very special night. On the drive home afterwards, I asked
a fellow head at a Thruway rest stop what he thought of the show. He
just looked at me and laughed. We both knew it was a ludicrous
question. If you were there, buy this and relive the moment. If you
weren't, buy it and pretend that you can. Twenty dollars is rarely spent