Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Album Review: Grateful Dead - Giants Stadium 1987, 1989, 1991

Grateful Dead
Giants Stadium 1987, 1989, 1991
*** out of *****

The summer is here and while Corona Virus has wrecked havoc on live tunes in 2020, the ultimate summer time band the Grateful Dead released (in fall 2019) a huge box set commemorating their jaunts to the 80,0000 seat Giants Stadium in the swamps of New Jersey and we can use the lock down to revisit the behemoth.

These years in Dead history history (somewhat surprisingly) found the Grateful Dead at their popular peak and while long time fans will love/bemoan any era, the band was generally in fine form during these years. Playing these massive outdoor shows spitting distance from the countries largest city guaranteed huge crowds, and if you were one of the thousands who caught these shows this is a fantastic memento...if not, you can skip this bloated release from the band.

It is not that these are bad shows, or poorly played, but there is very little that is must hear over the 15 CD's. Unlike say the recent June '76 box set which illuminated an era and proved wondrous, these concerts have been available to fans in high quality versions for years. If you are new to the band, start elsewhere, this is too big of an investment. The best option may be to just skim the cream of the crop as the best show from this box set has been released on its own and find a good copy of 7/10/89 to round it out.

Below are highlights and comments on each of the shows, it should be noted the quality of the music is fantastic with crystal clear production and restoration of these tye-dyed nights:

7/12/87: This show found the band on tour with and supporting Bob Dylan, so their is a noticeably shorter second set. The first set is just OK, the best efforts are "When I Paint My Masterpiece" a juicy "West LA Fadeaway" and an oddly placed but well played "Bertha" closer. The "Morning Dew" second set opener is speedy, a short "Other One" and a short but solid "Stella Blue" are the other bright spots from this night.

7/9/89: Overall the weakest show in this box set. Highlights are both in the first set as a funky "Shakedown Street" is a fun jaunt and the dark "Victim or the Crime" is a great rendition of an underappreciated Grateful Dead tune. The second set doesn't sync up much at all as the band lays a few decent tracks but nothing worth seeking out.

The following night is instantly better off the bat, Brent Mydland is playful on "Feel Like A Stranger", Phil Lesh bass is loud and super active as is Jerry Garcia's guitar. "Franklin's Tower" is a bit shaky while "Walkin' Blues" is sung by Bob Weir swimmingly, preceding the version officially released on Without A Net. There is a spunky "Jack a Roe" as Jerry is fiery while "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is far from it, sloppy while the rains fall on band and crowd."Tennessee Jed" switches the lyrics to "Bound to end up wet" with the deluge soaking the fans who give a great crowd reaction.

Second set has a smooth version of "Just a Little Light" as Brent shines bright on this night continuing through an energetic "Playing In the Band" as great Phil lines support Brent's piano. There is a clunky transition, "Playing" seemed to be building only to be cut short and the best part of "Uncle John's Band" is the end as Lesh leads a jam out of it melting into a long "Drums" for Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and creepy freaky "Space". A super rocking second half of second set is lead by Jerry as the band are joined by The Neville Brothers. Garcia is magical on "All Along The Watchtower", "Morning Dew" and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" which also let's Brent play on organ. So much better than the night before and nipping at the heels of 6/17/91 for best show in this collection.

The sound is loud as two keyboardists Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby join the band following Mydland's passing. Hornsby's piano shines on "Bertha" and "Little Red Rooster"  while Vince's organ work on "Stuck Inside a Mobile with The Memphis Blues Again" is energetic. The band's take on "Stagger Lee" is really impressive before a wandering "Let It Grow".

Second set pumps things up with a cooking "Jack Straw" as Hornsby helps on vocals. "Crazy Fingers" is dragged by Phil into "China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider" combo which he leads. After a skippable "Drums>Space" and meh "I Need A Miracle" a groovy "Black Peter" is more upbeat than most."Throwing Stones" grows with Jerry's midi work and a really strong "Box of Rain" encore wraps things up.

The best individual show of the collection, released separately  as Saint of Circumstance which starts great via an "Eyes of the World" opener, signalling this night could be a special one. A killer version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" drifts out as Welnick and Hornsby are loud for an enjoyable "Loose Lucy".

They continue that cool double keyboard work on "Saint of Circumstance", while Garcia displays strong singing on "Ship of Fools".  "Dark Star" teases are abound this night flowing in before a good short "Truckin'" and "New Speedway Boogie" which stays surprisingly upbeat with Jerry singing well. "Uncle John's Band" into "Dark Star" into an interesting "Space" is where this show gets freaky before an unfortunately dull "China Doll". A Playing Reprise" is always appreciated as is a rocking "Sugar Magnolia" to end the second set full of surprises.
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