To say the Grateful Dead had a terrible Nineties would be an understatement. Keyboardist Brent Mydland died of an overdose in 1990, followed by Jerry Garcia’s fatal heart attack five years later after years of abusing his own body. The years in-between challenged the band like few eras had before. But they still rallied and made the best of a shaky situation, and one of those periods was the band’s summer 1991 tour.
By then, the Dead had incorporated not one but two replacements for Mydland: former Tubes keyboardist Vince Welnick and, on a part-time basis, pianist Bruce Hornsby. Hornsby’s animated piano in particular harked back to the work of the late Keith Godchaux in the Seventies but also egged the band on into jazzier, more experimental terrain. The result was a number of standout shows that year, including one at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on June 17, 1991.
That performance is the subject of the ninth annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies on August 1st, when the complete footage of the gig will be shown in movie theaters around the country. Recorded on 48-track analogue tape, the show features performances of standards like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Truckin’” along with deep cuts like “Saint of Circumstance” and “Loose Lucy,” and the multi-camera footage captures the band from various, often intimate angles.
That’s particularly true during the show-opening “Eyes of the World,” the luminous Wake of the Flood track that has always been a showcase for the band’s various keyboardists. (In the current Dead & Company incarnation, Jeff Chimenti takes the song to especially lofty heights.) In this exclusive preview of the 1991 movie, we see the way both Hornsby and Welnick newly enliven the song, especially when they and Garcia trade solos midway through its 15 minutes.
As Garcia told Rolling Stone that year, discussing Hornsby, “Well, he’s certainly been pushing me. He’s got great ears. And I also have a hard time losing him. I try, ‘Hey, Bruce, follow this.’ But he’s there all the time. He also has a good sense of when not to play. And he’s got a great rhythmic feeling.” That summer, the band again, briefly, had its eyes on the prize.