Grateful Dead

Saint of Circumstance: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, 6/17/91

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During a period of unprecedented success, the Grateful Dead had, by the early '90s, become one of the highest-grossing touring acts in the world. The band's unswerving commitment to their own exploratory ethos and the die-hard fanship that grew around them made them an anomaly among their '60s-rock peers who toured America's football stadiums and sheds presenting a tidy, crowd-pleasing revue of greatest hits and latest singles. In spite of their constant windfall of ticket revenue, the Dead approached each show afresh, dictating set lists at random, experimenting boldly with whatever sonic toys were currently tickling their fancy, and subjecting listeners to nightly periods of often-impenetrable improvised space-jazz mayhem to be traded, rated, and heatedly discussed over the coming days by the group's traveling community of bootleggers.

A somewhat legendary taper's classic, the band's second night at New Jersey's 80,000 capacity Giants Stadium in the summer of 1991 was a predictably unpredictable behemoth lauded more for its oddities than overall cohesion. Boasting the relatively short-lived two-man keyboard battery of Bruce Hornsby (piano, accordion) and Vince Welnick (synths), the show's lush tonal palette was a hallmark of this era. Out of the gate, they toss fans a curveball, opening for the only time in their career with the 1973 classic "Eyes of the World." Ten minutes into its sprightly tangle, each member seems to be bouncing along on his own misty plane, punching out a litany of orange-hued notes before Jerry Garcia casually slips in a closing verse. Another of this show's defining narratives is its recurring "Dark Star" flirtation, instigated early on by Bob Weir, which teases instrumentally at various points during each of the three sets without ever coming to full-suite fruition. It seems to exist as more of a spiritual undercurrent, spurring on other improvisations, some of which get quite heady. Weir's "Saint of Circumstance," whose title retroactively graces this set, reaches particularly colorful dynamic heights, its soaring intro a fusion of luminous synthetic guitar crescendos and cascading keyboards. Later on, Garcia drives the band into an unhurried and rather dreamy 11-minute edition of "Uncle John's Band," before briefly heading back to "Dark Star" base. Somewhat shorter highlights include the then-recently reintroduced "New Speedway Boogie" and Weir's blissfully riffed gem "Cassidy."

One of just a few shows mixed from 48-track analog tapes, Saint of Circumstance captures the Dead not necessarily at their best, but certainly at a point where they had begun to morph into yet another unique phase. Embracing MIDI-technologies and touring with a confounding triple threat that, in addition to lead bassist Phil Lesh, consisted of dueling keyboardists, guitarists, and drummers, the Dead somehow bore none of the neo-classical pomp of prog-rock or tired swagger of their classic rock contemporaries, but simply existed as they always had, on their own island chasing the nightly whims that made each show a unique experience.

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