Monday 29 January 2018

Grateful Dead Essay: Why The 'Dead' Makes Fans Feel So 'Alive'/Updates

'High Time - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Grateful Dead' is available now by clicking here!

It won't be the surprise of the century if I tell you, dear readers, that I listen to an awful lot of music, even over and above what I need to listen to review for these books (I listen to a lot of awful music too, sometimes, but usually when I'm forced to. That hatred of The Spice Girls didn't arrive as a whim I tell you). Usually I listen to the music the way I live my life: on shuffle, never quite knowing where I'm heading next (is it 1950s innocent rockabilly, 1960s Merseybeat, folk-rock and psychedelia, 1970s prog rock and punk, 1980s electronica or 1990s Britpop? I love not knowing, that's part of the fun, unless I'm listening to an AAA concept album). That tends to work quite well, except in the case of the Grateful Dead. Try as I might, if I start listening to this band as just another jigsaw piece in the tapestry of life's musical collection they don't quite connect with me the same way as, say, a CSN political rant or a Kinks misfit lullaby. The Grateful Dead aren't the kind of band you can just dip your toe into - you need to fully immerse yourself, which usually means listening to multiple albums in a row and nothing else by any other group for months (just as well they released a lot of albums then really, which is especially true since they split up, if that makes sense? Most things with this band are topsy-turvy). If my head spends enough time in Deadland, though, the opposite happens - something 'extra' takes over that suddenly makes their music louder, brighter, greater and a lot more multi-dimensional to the point where the opposite happens and it becomes a struggle to listen to anyone else, until the point where - finally - the long Dead train is exhausted and can finally come to a halt several months later, to be picked up again further on down the line. None of the other bands I collect (and there are a lot more I don't write about but might return to later - take that as a threat or a promise, depending whose side you're on and how much of a struggle it was to get to this point in the book!) have quite the same effect on me. This essay is my attempt to find out why.
Perhaps the most obvious reason is the 'risk' factor. The Grateful Dead may well be the most successful musical experiment of modern times (since somebody decided to gut a cat and stick bits to a hunk of wood and play it). Whilst not all Dead albums have it (indeed records like 'Shakedown Street' and 'Go To Heaven' play things so 'safe' they become the most 'dangerous' AAA records of all), most do and that's especially true of the concerts. The first time around (and let's face it, few fans have time to hear them all over and over again just their favourites) it's a glorious step into the unknown. Even if you've read about these records, here or elsewhere, and know that 'Anthem Of The Sun' features some mega musique concrete mischief and a song titled 'Feedback' that lasts nearly ten minutes, that's somehow different to actually hearing it in the flesh. The psychedelic years were arguably more psychedelic than any other band's (and then broke things up with an extended R and B jam more often than not) up to the point where fans became to expect stuff completely way-out (at which point the Dead decided to give them compact country-rock-folk songs very much about down to earth subject matters). Up until at least 1977 every Dead album tried something a little different, sometimes a lot different and each of their albums up until that point all have a sound completely different to anything the band had done before. Becoming a Grateful Dead fan means being brave, signing up to take a risk into the unknown which you might love or might loathe but will nevertheless take you to places where you have never ever been before and which (unless you put the record back on again) you will never go to again. Other bands, including several AAA ones, tried something similar: Dead twins the Jefferson Airplane had a flightplan but their records arguably flew closer and closer to the middle of the road with each passing album (after peak weirdness on glorious album three 'After Bathing At Baxters') and Neil Young, while his songs all came dressed in very different and often contradictory clothing, nevertheless wrote largely in the same way and only had the one 'voice' to offer (even when playing the part of another character, drunk or surrounded by vocoders). The Grateful Dead, though, had such a wide palette that they could stretch in all manner of directions whenever they chose and they chose to often, unafraid of taking off into the wild blue yonder whenever they felt like it.
Another reason being a Deadhead is so unique is that this band almost always played live, even on studio records (again up until around 1977) and did so in a very different way to any other band. The Dead are in many ways rock and roll's premiere jazz band; the instrumentation and sensibilities are very different (no horns, or at any rate yet again not until 1977! Not to mention a distinct lack of the 'cool' needed to be a good jazz band; the Dead were far too emotional and into their music for that!) It's not just the audience who don't know where the band are going next but the members themselves. With at least five, usually six, sometimes seven of them all improvising away the group really have to be on their toes, flying by the seat of their tie-dyed pants and that's exciting. Even when the band are playing a song that's been in their set twenty years and they've played every which way they often find new nuances, extra places on the map they haven't explored yet during an instrumental break or a lengthy coda. Most musical journeys have a pilot firmly in control but this band have several and one thing the Dead excel at is the rare skill of being able to listen to each other, to 'feel' where a song is heading next and there's enough trust in the band (sigh, again until around 1977 when things start going wrong...) for them all to play by telepathy at times, knowing each other well enough to second-guess when to all pile in, when to all back away or when to take it in turns to explore ideas. Of course being in a band that improvises every night mean that things can go wrong as well as right. There are more than a few duff nights in the archive sets out there where the fingers weren't flying, the minds weren't thinking quick enough and the mood wasn't right for whatever reason (yup, you guessed it, especially after 1977). But what impresses me most sometimes about this band is their consistency: even when Pig is ailing in the mid 1970s, even when the band are bedding in a new drummer and a new keyboard player, even when they're trying to placate the psychedelic weirdness and home-brewed folky wisdom in their fanbase, they more often than not get something to spark. It all comes back to bravery again: your average band on tour takes great pains not to look silly or stupid and rehearses the wrinkles out of any stage-show so that the band know what they're doing note for note. Having just come to this book from the Dire Straits one their finale live show 'On The Night' from 1993 is a good example of a band so well drilled they're practically stationary, stuck on the wall in a particular space and time they developed during endless weeks of rehearsal time.
The Grateful Dead, by contrast, used the stage for rehearsing with their audience honorary members of the band allowed in to watch. The Dead aren't afraid of their fans the way some other bands are. They always had a special relationship that enabled the band to promise their fans something they couldn't get anywhere else and back from fans that they would stay loyal enough to put enough with the odd duff night and still come back for more. This relationship is such an under-valued one that all the non-Deadhead scholars who come to this band (especially in the 1980s when they were a 'cult' again) leave scratching their heads and asking why people would pay money for a lousy gig in which the band seem to be playing five different songs at once in different keys. The answer is because Deadheads have learnt the art of patience in a way no other set of fans have to, willing to wait for those magical few moments, sometimes minutes, occasionally on a magical night a whole set, when this experiment 'works'. For a moment there the music feels like flying when other bands, however talented, are confined to walking. The band get to play by gut instinct rather than memory, via muse rather than musical rules and through belief and hope and faith rather than pure knowledge and skill like other bands. That word 'faith' is a big one when it comes to the Dead (err, at least until 1977...) There's no point the Dead playing this music to an empty room. This is a conversation between band members that's also a conversation with 'us' too and the Dead often spoke about picking up on ambiences and atmospheres in rooms. You only have to look at what happens the two times the Dead ever played to an audience that wasn't primarily 'theirs' (Monterey and Woodstock, both under-par gigs rated as amongst their worst by Deadheads) to see how disastrously this experiment can go wrong without the 'right' people there. All bands needs their fans, that goes without saying, but you sense that half of them would still be making their music as a hobby in an upstairs attic somewhere for the pure joy of making it. The Dead are nothing without Deadheads and part of the joy of being a fan of this band is that we all get to hold hands and leap off the cliff together to see where it takes us. It's a bonding, brotherly, unity thing and I feel that every time I get in a 'Grateful Dead rut' and can't hear any other band for weeks at a time - even though chances are the audiences I'm listening  to were born a half-century before I was and half of them have probably long forgotten ever being at a particular show.
It's surely also not a coincidence that the Deadheads were the greatest audio practitioners ever, recording the band in a whole variety of shows on state-of-the-art technology that often sounds better than the official live releases. It speaks volumes, too, that most of them gave the music they tapes away for free, for the sheer thrill of keeping the experiment alive a little bit longer and passing the experience they enjoyed down to other fans too. It's a factor that other bands would have stomped out, fuelling a community of bootlegs that most artists hate with a venom and bitterness I only ever feel for the Spice Girls and Conservative MPs. But the Dead encouraged it, allowing fans to patch their equipment into their own soundboards and encouraging the swapping of tapes. Now that we're here some twenty-five years after the wheels came off the bus and the Dead have their own multiple series of archive sets featuring these very tapes (given back to them for free by the fans who taped them) and keeping the band's name alive much longer than it would normally have been, tell me who has the better business model now? The Dead with a pretty darn complete set of 2000 shows to plunder and release or the artists who broke up after one album because they had a disagreement with fans who they'd lured and hypnotised into adoring their products and then got cross when they got so addicted they asked for more?
Why tape this band? Because they sound like 'us'. I don't mean the specifics (there are no bad jokes about The Spice Girls, for instance, so they don't sound specifically like 'me') but this is a band plainly not made up of superstars. What's more it doesn't even look like a band: never did so many different builds end up sharing the same stage, not to mention different backgrounds from mega-rich to mega-poor, from complete amateurs to experienced professionals. There's a little something for everybody and a chance to feel that even we, too, can 'fit in' with this crowd. There's no one to impress, no qualifications to being a Dead fan, no age barrier, no gender issues (which is what shocks me most when looking back at old pictures of the crowd - how many other bands got as many boys and girls out to play more or less equally?) The only thing you need to be a Deadhead is a pair of ears and an open mind and you're in the club. What's more, once you're in the club you're unlikely ever to want to leave it: being part of the Deadhead community feels like a real brotherhood, that 'we' know something the rest of the world doesn't and to add fuel to the fire the Dead aren't the kind of band who ever played with fashions (oh ok then, not until after 1977!) so they never had to worry about fans coming in and out (at least until things got big circa 1987, which is what unexpected hit singles perfect for their times twenty-two years into a career does to you). Being a Deadhead means feeling like I have an extra family, an extra hobby and extra door leading to new dimensions all in one.
One other thing that makes the Dead stand out and in extra dimensions is the sheer muscle of their work. Most people who never got on the bus and just stared at it open-mouthed at bus depots (CD and record shops to you) assumed that the Dead were weak-kneed hippies who rambled in a monotone voice about saving the world. The Dead were actually quite a heavy kind of a band. I'm currently listening to the mother of the jam on 'Alligator' that's on the end of the 'Anthem Of The Sun' CD re-issue and let me tell you that thing is noisy: there are two guitarists trying to destroy their instruments in a much louder, more aggressive manner than the supposedly more experienced Jimi Hendrix could manage and a love of feedback that borders on binge-drinking. No other band ever enjoyed such squeals and noises and bleeps and sheer love of sound purely for the sake of tonality. Some of the best Dead jams descend far past the point where lyrics are sung and melody is heard, becoming instead a primal force of essence, a howl of notes played from the heart that take us to places long past the idea of being musical enough to be played on radio or even erudite enough to make sense. That's coupled with a bass that's loud enough to cut through steel (Phil had his own special place next to his speaker where fans could 'get off' hearing his bass notes ten times louder than anything else in the room) and keyboard players who were by turns as earthy and gutsy or as light and ethereal as any other players out there. Mostly, though, I think it comes from having two drummers (at least between 1968-1971 and 1974-1995), each one totally in synch with the other (again up until 1977 ish...) and yet unafraid to play against each other in glorious counterpoint. Most rock bands have an extra 'charge' and power over other forms of music simply because they use drums. The Dead have two drummers and yet have far more than twice the size and scale. On their best gigs (mostly 1968-1971) it often sounds a like a third drummer is involved, playing right between Billy and Mickey, a ghostly angelic presence with an ear for noise that just adores taking things back to their most primal, beat-driven and basic, even when the two drummers are playing in some ridiculous 12/8 time signatures over bands wouldn't dare go near. Grateful Dead music is music that sounds as if it was the first thing put together by man when he discovered that music was a way of embracing and unlocking all the agonies, doubts and fears tied up in his subconscious. It's music that's as dynamic and forthright as any heavy metal band and one hell of a lot more exciting than their three-chord-thrashes to. Getting stuck in a Grateful Dead rut is a little like learning to tear off your suit and tie and to get naked, giving up all pretence and intellectualism and go back to being an animal (which might be why so many fans did just that during gigs).
And yet...sometimes, in the right mood, listening to the Grateful Dead may well be the most intellectual moment of your musical life too (naked with a mortarboard, that's what being a Deadhead is like). Robert Hunter and to some extent John Barlow and Robert Peterson weren't your typical run of the mill lyricists but came to their work more like poets. I defy anyone to find your average 'moon' and 'June' lyric in any Grateful Dead song (well, [195] 'If I Had The World To Give' comes close I suppose, but that's a one-off and - you guessed it - dates from after 1977). I defy you too to find any  of the things most bands use as subject matters for songs: any regular romances, direct political rants ([153] 'Us Blues' is more sarcastic) or novelty pop songs (unless you seriously include the surrealism of [57] 'China Cat Sunflower' or the heavy weirdness of [59] 'Cosmic Charlie' on that list). Hunter, especially, isn't a mere pop writer but a poet, able to turn a phrase and imbue it with thought in a way no other band can. Bob is also a master of ambiguity, allowing his songs enough size and space to sound completely different depending on the mod in which they are sung. After hearing some Garcia-Hunter songs everything else sounds one-dimensional in a lyrical way too, while this is surely another reason the Dead archive sets have taken off as much as they have for even songs that have been played several hundred times can change from show to show, switching from happy to sad to fierce to guilty to tired to angry to frustrated to lonely depending on what's happening in the lives of the people singing and playing them - or indeed the audience mood yet again. The Grateful Dead would have done well as a covers band, with their own distinct melodic feel, but Hunter's words make them brilliant and are an exceptional part of this great experiment too that allow the songs enough room to breathe and change, chameleon-like, as the band play on.
You can of course hear all this for yourselves, which is one of the things that makes the Grateful Dead so great. We don't just have one gig or one LP to listen to - we have lots and lots and lots, far more than I will sadly probably ever get a chance to hear in a lifetime. There's a whole 11, 000 of them (including lots of duplicates) available legally for free at If you so wished you could spend the rest of your life never having to listen to another note by another band ever again - and sometimes, after months of getting in a Dead space, I feel like doing exactly that, until finally some other music breaks through the barrier and that feeling slowly dies away for a few more months again. The Dead is, however, a band you could immerse yourself in if you truly wanted to, one you could easily wallow in forever, teasing out similarities and differences between time periods, band line-ups and even cities (the band always sound in a more assertive mood when playing on America's West Coast to my ears, getting more and more laidback as they go East, whereas in Europe they could do anything and often change by the song). They're a band built for fans, where we can discover our own 'favourites' (whether it be songs, venues or eras) and play 'top trumps' with our fellow Deadheads over what we like and why (my likes are surely obvious in the rest of this book - *ahem* particularly about the years post-1977 - though I can guarantee that none of you will agree with me on everything).
In short, time and space run to a different continuum when this band play. I feel it in every groove, in every thought inspired by every lyric and it seems different somehow depending on mood each time I hear them and changes anyway depending what gig I'm listening to at the time. The Dead come in so many extra dimensions bands don't have: the weight of two drummers, a poet as a lead writer, a courage to be daring and a fanbase that allow the band to do anything they please who also came with the equipment to allow us all to wallow. They're a band who allow us to experience something we can't get from any other place, where all of us misfits get to run away and join the circus for a few precious moments and get to feel like part of something special and wonderful that runs against the usual laws of time so that it continues whenever we play a tape, even if the band broke up a long time ago. In a nutshell, there's a special magic that happens when the Dead play (at least at most shows up until the end of 1977) and it's one we get to join in with too. As Bill Graham once put it, the Dead are 'not just the best at what they do but the only ones who do what they do'. And that's why the Dead make us feel more alive than any other band. Even long after they've gone. Probably forever (in fact I'm Dead certain of it!)

Houston Texas 11-18-72
(Hofheinz Pavilion, Texas, November 18th 1972, Released 2014)
Bertha/Greatest Story Ever Told/He's Gone/Jack Straw/Deal/Playin' In The Band/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Sugar Magnolia
The first of two shows played at this venue on consecutive days. Sadly there was no support act for these gigs as planned - The Allman Brothers pulled out when their bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorbike accident on the 11th November. Similar nearly happened to the Dead when roadie Steve Parrish fell asleep at the wheel and overturned their truck on a sleepy straight road late the night before the gig - thankfully nobody was hurt but the truck took a long time to get out of the mud. Sadly this concert features only the second set (if the first was taped it has yet to come to light) which makes this one of the very shortest CDs in the Dead re-issue run. That's a shame and feels like we're only on to half a great thing here, but then the band play a little of half-and-half all night, alternating between brilliance and mistakes. Best Song: 'He's Gone' is tasty tonight, slow but with a real bass 'n' drum swing to it as well, while Jerry's voice is fragile and pure. Worst song: Nothing is that bad tonight but 'Mississippi' is a 'half-step' out from the first few notes and never quite recovers. A loose and rambling 'Sugar Magnolia' isn't quite the beauty she normally is either. Biggest Talking Point: That comes not in 1972 when this show was recorded but in 2014 when the Dead agreed to release it for 'National Record Store Day' on double-vinyl (a single CD version followed soon afterwards) Best Speech: None Longest Song: 'Playin' In The Band' at 25:49 which is one of the very best, with a great gulping bass intro the band didn't use very often Front Cover: Two skeleton outlaws and an anaemic looking horse plot to rob a Casey Jones style train! Overall rating - 5/10, Average, caught between greatness and ghastliness, often in the same song

Dave's Picks Volume Thirteen
(Winterland Arena, San Francisco, February 24th 1974, Released 2015)
US Blues/Mexicali Blues/Brown Eyed Women/Beat It On Down The Line/Candyman/Jack Straw/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/El Paso/Loser/Playin' In The Band/Cumberland Blues/It Must Have Been The Roses/Big River/Bertha/Weather Report Suite/Row Jimmy/Ship Of Fools/Promised Land/Dark Star > Morning Dew/Sugar Magnolia/Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/It's All Over Now Baby Blue
The last of three gigs played on consecutive nights at the same venue. After a six week touring fast the band are back together for just this trio of gigs before taking off again for a month. Playing in front of a home crowd often brings out the best in the Dead and they're on solid if tentative form here, with only the second or third performances of 'Ship Of Fools' 'US Blues' and 'It Must Have Been The Roses'. Like many of the band's 73-74 shows, the band are in mellow, laidback form with the slower songs from 'Wake Of The Flood' and old standards like 'Morning Dew' sounding particularly on-the-ball tonight. However while nothing gets messed up badly tonight and the band play well, nothing really sizzles and soars like some other sets of the period, too full of bland covers and with a far too shortened second exploratory set. Best Song: Unusually, it's 'Beat It On Down The Line' sung as a duet between Bob and Donna, which works far better than the faster paced versions from later years. The two shortened 'Not Fade Aways' are good too. Additionally this 'Loser' has a real smirk on its face, as if it's just nicked your wallet and charged you for looking for it Worst song: This 'Dark Star' is a mockery of the pizzazz and sparkle from just five years earlier, ending up a slow stilted jazz ramble. 'Row Jimmy' is harpooned by a slow tempo that stretches this song out to twice it's natural length a smidgeon past ten minutes.  Best Speech: Emcee, perhaps referring to the Watergate hearings as well as Vietnam: 'Whatever's going on in the rest of the world, if it's wars or kidnappings or crimes, this is a peaceful Sunday night with the Grateful Dead!'  Biggest talking point: The band are clearly gearing up for the next album 'From The Mars Hotel' with the two songs that bookend that album debuted this week and heard here on their earliest available appearance. There aren't really any rare songs tonight, although it's odd to hear the band play the downbeat 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' as a final encore rather than as part of the first set. Longest Song: An 18:37 'Playin' In The Band'  Front cover: A well dressed skeleton wearing ice-skates! (Well he is at the 'Winterland'!) Overall Rating: The Dead's equivalent of sensible shoes: gets the job done perfectly well but just doesn't dance! 3/10

Dave's Picks Volume Fourteen
(Academy Of Music, New York City, March 26th and 27th 1972, Released 2015)
March 26th: Greatest Story Ever Told/Cold Rain and Snow/China Town Shuffle/Black Throated Wind/You Win Again/Mr Charlie/Jack Straw/Loser/Looks Like Rain/Big Railroad Blues/Big Boss Man/Playing In The Band/El Paso/Good Lovin'/Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Me and My Uncle > The Other One/Wharf Rat/Sugar Magnolia/The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)/Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away
March 27th: Bertha/Brown-Eyed Women/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Cumberland Blues/Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat
This release of the entire fourth show of the Academy Of Music run (with more highlights from the sixth on the 'bonus' disc) looks in more detail at a full show from this famous run of dates. Sadly this set doesn't include the earlier matinee gig when the Dead backed guest Bo Diddley (which is fabulous and dearly deserves a release by the way, Weir really nailing Bo's distinctive beat) but does feature Donna's first contributions in full (though then only for the second half). The show is a particularly important one for Pig, who gets a last chance to shine on home soil with several songs of his in the set here including the first performance of only a handful of one of his greatest songs 'Two Souls In Communion'. It might be that the rest of the band, fearing for his health, assumed he'd never make the trip to Europe so they'd better give him a proper farewell, until Pig goes against doctor's orders and goes anyway. The result is a show that takes a long time to warm-up and one where Jerry sounds a lot more subdued than normal, with the tempos of some of these songs so slow the band sound like they're nodding off. At its best, though, particularly on the strong rocking second set full of extended jams, this is another strong show that finds the Dead sifting through a whole batch of new material in preparation for the Europe tour, including what will become 'Europe '72' and songs from 'Ace'. Best Song: A terrific funky 'Mr Charlie' that is far more lively and rocky than the timid version that will appear on 'Europe '72' from a few weeks later. The rarely heard 'Two Souls In Communion' is always welcome too. Worst song: 'El Paso' feels even more thrown away than ever. Best Speech: Bob: 'There's a guy whose been there the last few nights and he's been yelling 'Alligator!' every night. It seems there's one on the loose between rows four and six so you'd better watch out for that!' Biggest talking point: Hello Donna, nearly goodbye Pig, not to mention the fact that this is the middle of one of the longest residencies the Dead had ever played outside their famous Filmore West shows. Longest Song: A 23:35  'That's It For The Other One', heard in an interesting arrangement where the drummers play loud and fast and everyone else is on a go-slow Front cover: A psychedelic looking Statue of Liberty looks out over her nation! Overall Rating: 7/10 - A useful warm-up act for a lengthy European jaunt that in many ways is better than the real thing!
Dave's Picks Volume Fifteen
(Municiple Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, April 22nd 1978, Released 2015)
Bertha > Good Lovin'/Candyman/Looks Like Rain/Tennessee Jed/Jack Straw/Peggy-O/New Minglewood Blues/Deal/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/It Must Have Been The Roses/Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Not Fade Away > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia/One More Saturday Night
I can't quite put my finger on it, but this archive gig (and the next from two days later) represent the Dead on the turn. The songs are the same as usual but just that dash sloppier. The tunings take slightly longer before the Dead get it together. Jerry is just beginning to struggle and reach for things he once did so effortlessly. At the times fans probably thought this was just one duff show (we've had them before), but actually it's the start of a downward trend that won't go back up again until Jerry recovers from his mid-1980s coma. Which is not to say that this show is bad - if you'd never heard the earlier Dead you'd have been quite happy - but there's a melancholy in the air too as if the band know this has stopped being quite so fun or so natural all of a sudden. All of which makes this run of shows a strange choice for release so early in the archive series when there are so many better shows around to choose from, then now and always. Best Song: An intriguing slowed-down 'Not Fade Away' that sounds almost like a ska ballad, albeit one that's very percussion heavy tonight Worst song: 'Lazy Lightning' and 'Supplication's is really tentative tonight, performed slow and raggedy so that it sounds more like distant thunder than the usual charging beast. That and an interminable twelve minute 'It Must Have Been The Roses' which stretches patience to an all-time limit. 'Eyes Of The World' is twice the speed of usual at first and very messy too. Best Speech: None, despite copious amounts of tuning Biggest talking point: The closing jam lasts for 71 minutes (split across the final two discs with a fade up on 'Not Fade Sway') and is a monster, taking in all sorts of old friends from different eras in one (nearly) seamless jam that feels like a flower slowly unfolding. Longest Song: In a - relatively - short set a 14:09 'Rhythm Devils' big on Latin American percussion is the longest thing here and such a struggle to sit through you wish it was much much shorter!  Front cover: A Van Gogh style skeleton, wearing a hat, eyes a psychedelic looking pagoda bus. As you do. Overall Rating: 3/10 - The beginning of a real downward trend
Dave's Picks Volume Sixteen
(Springfield Civic Centre, Massachusetts, March 28th 1973, Released 2015)
Cumberland Blues/Here Comes Sunshine/Mexicali Blues/Wave That Flag/Beat It On Down The Line/Loser/Jack Straw/Box Of Rain/They Love Each Other/El Paso/Row Jimmy/Around and Around/Brown-Eyed Women/You Ain't Woman Enough/Looks Like Rain/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Promised Land/Loose Lucy/Me and My Uncle/Don't Ease Me In/The Race Is On/Stella Blue/Big River/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Weather Report Suite (Prelude)/Dark Star ? Eyes Of The World ? Playing In The Band/Johnny B Goode
Oh how I love the Dead in 1973! The year hasn't really been tapped into yet in the various Dead archive series and for the life of me I can't think why -this sparking, sunny, optimistic show is one of the band's best and sounds as if they haven't got a care in the world. There's a lightness of touch and a hope in many of the songs performed tonight and a spring in the band's step on this Spring day. This is more than just your run-of-the mill set list too, with quite a few surprises:  The performance of 'Wave That Flag' - the early version of 'US Blues' - had previously featured on the 'Mars Hotel' CD re-issue andis one of the very first times the band sang it; this is the first 'Box Of Rain' (and Phil lead vocal) in some time and though it's not one of his best it's nice to hear with a new country-rock makeover that makes it sound like The Eagles (only better, obviously); then there's a whole bunch of songs from 'Wake Of The Flood' that won't appear on album for another four months yet; Don Rollins' 'The Race Is On' isn't exactly a common sight in Dead setlists either. Weirdest of all though is one of only fifteen known performances by Donna of Loretta Lynn's song 'You Ain't Woman Enough'. The Dead perform this track with the same grunt as Bob's 'cowboy' songs and it rather suits Donna and her fake Texas accent!  Best Song: Wowee 'Here Comes Sunshine' is hot tonight, played in comparatively compact form near the beginning of the set and with Jerry and Bob meshing and weaving guitar lines in a way that sounds particularly great but sadly they never used again on the arrangement. A sixteen minute 'Playin' In The Band' is pretty exquisite too. Even 'They Love Each Other', a song I'd never really reckoned on much before, sounds great here played at a much faster tempo and sung for joy rather than sobs. Worst song: Opening number 'Cumberland Blues' is a little bit rusty, but that's pretty much the only foot the band put wrong all night! Best Speech: The band let the music do all the talking tonight. Biggest talking point: The day before this gig Jerry had been busted for pot after he and Bob Hunter were caught speeding on their way to the gig from the previous night's stop off point in Buffalo. Jerry gets fined but no jail time. This is also (so far) the earliest gig released following the death of Pig on March 8th - the first actual Dead show was a week later on the 15th at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum which opened with a haunted 'He's Gone' that will send chills down your spine. Longest Song: At 31:46 this is one of the best 'Dark Stars' around, slow and brooding compared to some and slowly turning into a fiery 'Other One' style jazz jam. Front cover: A very psychedelic take on the band's Haight Ashbury house with tie-dye curtains and 'lightning bolt' skulls on the lawn! Overall Rating: 9/10 - One of the very very best. Whatever was in the Dead's tea that night (happy pills?) I wish they'd taken it every night!
Dave's Picks Volume Seventeen
(Selland Arena, Fresno, California, July 19th 1974, Released 2016)
Bertha/Mexicali Blues/Deal/Beat It On Down The Line/Row Jimmy/Me and Bobby McGee/Scarlet Begonias/El Paso/Tennessee Jed/Playing In The Band/Seastones/Brown-Eyed Women/Me and My Uncle/It Must Have Been The Roses/Jack Straw/He's Gone > US Blues > Weather Report Suite > Jam > Eyes Of The World > China Doll/One More Saturday Night
A Dead-by-numbers set for the most part, with some straightforward renditions of the usual tried and tested songs played on a blazing hot summer's night. What's interesting though is that this show includes a bit of everything, the band throwing in one of most things be it cowboy songs, rockers, ballads, psychedelic magnum opuses or the mother of all weird moments 'Seastones' (not technically a band song, but what other band would have handed over the stage for thirteen full minutes of sonic weirdness by a friend of the group?) The show finally gets going in the second half with a mesmerising 'Playin' In The Band' that goes on forever but sticks largely to home for once instead of darting into other songs. This set was a limited edition of 16,500 copies. Best Song: 'Weather Report Suite' is particularly interesting tonight. It's slower than normal, more thoughtful and reflective, but at the same time played with a heavier bass and drums call which gives it a real world-weary feel that really suits it. Phil plays a fuzz bass throughout 'China Doll' that adds a real jagged anger to this song of suicide. Worst song: I'm really beginning to go off these interminable 'Spanish Jams' between songs. At least this one's short though! 'Eyes Of The World' rambles a lot more than normal too as it celebrates its first birthday and the Dead begin to get a bit bored with it. Biggest Talking Point: Phil Lesh's buddy Ned Lagin arrives during the interlude to play a thirteen minute reduction of his 'Seastones' musique concrete work. It sounds at its best here, but is still very very weird! The audience whoop as if they're watching a boy band, which is most disconcerting! Phil, on hand to help, goes for his break during a unique 'US Blues' performed without a bass part. Longest Song: 'Playing In The Band' clocks in just a few seconds short of half an hour! Best Speech:None Front Cover: Two skeletons in tuxedos visit the opera. They're throwing roses at the stage, naturally. Overall Rating - 5/10 Standard stuff - albeit standard Dead stuff, so there's still plenty of reasons to own this set
Dave's Picks Volume Eighteen
(Orpheum Theatre, California, July 16th and 17th 1976, Released 2016)
Promised Land/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Mama Tried/Deal/New New Minglewood Blues/Peggy-O/Big River/Sugaree/Johnny B Goode/Samson and Delilah > Comes A Time > Drums > The Other One > Space > Eyes Of The World > Jam > The Other One > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > One More Saturday Night/US Blues/Not Fade Away/Big River/Brown-Eyed Women/Looks Like Rain/Peggy-O/The Music Never Stopped > Scarlet Begonias/US Blues/Playin' In The Band > Cosmic Charlie/Spanish Jam > Drums > The Wheel > Playin' In The Band/High Time/Sugar Magnolia
Parts of the fifth and all of the sixth show from a seven day run organised by Bill Graham at an alternate Californian venue for a change. The main show here - the one from the 17th - is one of those occasional Dead shows that's a bit frothy, the band happier sticking to weak-kneed country covers and good time rock and roll than they are stretching out or going anywhere they've never been before. That said the second set has its moments, with the gentle 'Comes A Time' an unusual jumping off point for a 75 minute jam but even there the usual exploratory songs such as 'The Other One' and 'Eyes Of The World' are cut short compared to the usual monster jams of old. As so happens the more interesting gig is shunted to the bonus disc, with the show from the 16th slightly tighter and full of the more interesting material such as 'Cosmic Charlie' (not heard regularly since the 1960s)and the first 'Spanish Jam' for a while (more interesting than most, too). Frustratingly the full concert included more rarities yet such as the second truly 'New' New Minglewood Blues following a five year hiatus and the last ever 'Stronger Than Dirt Or Milking The Turkey'.  Best Song: Of the 'main' show a faster, jollier than usual 'Eyes Of The World' is about the best thing here. On the bonus disc it's good to hear 'Cosmic Charlie' again, sounding just as silly even in his old age even if he waddles a little slower these days. Worst song: 'Comes A Time' is awfully flat and painfully slow, killing the momentum just as the show's finally got going! Biggest Talking Point: As well as the above semi-rare tracks heard tonight, Donna sits out the second set tonight to look after baby Zion, now a toddler, as the pair couldn't get a babysitter in time though daddy Keith plays the show as normal Best Speech: Bob: 'You can stop hollering requests for songs we already did tonight! Once is enough...' Longest Song: Of the original set it's a 15:24 'Not Fade Away' that does indeed take a mighty long time to finally fade away! Front Cover: A skull with roses plays the harmonica Overall rating - 3/10 Livened up by the bonus disc, otherwise this dull set would only get a one
Dave's Picks Volume Nineteen
(Honolulu Civic Auditorium, Hawaii, January 23rd and 24th 1970, Released 2016)
China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Black Peter/'The Yellow Dog Story'/Hard To Handle/Mama Tried/Casey Jones/Dire Wolf/Good Lovin'/The Other One/Dark Star > St Stephen > Turn On Your Lovelight/Cumberland Blues/Cold Rain and Snow/Me and My Uncle/I'm A King Bee/Mason's Children/Black Peter/Good Lovin' > Feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight/Dancin' In The Street
Aloha - and how! This gig contains the second and third of a five day run in Hawaii, a show the Dead co-headlined with Jefferson Airplane and sadly the first of only two times the Dead ever performed on the island in all their thirty years together. The main feature from the 23rd is a strong show, capturing the Dead in transition between two of their greatest live eras. The 1969 Dead is well catered for: spacey telepathic lengthy jams on songs like a mercurial, restless nineteen minute 'Dark Star', a percussion heavy twenty-two minute 'That's It For The Other One', a sprightly 'China Rider' medley and a thrilling ten minute 'Dancing In The Streets' which beats every single other Dead version out there by actually dancing instead of tripping over itself! Then so is the 1970 Dead: a stunning tearful version of 'Black Peter' sung in a painful Garcia whisper not once but twice, a slow and thoughtful 'Dire Wolf' back in the days when Jerry not Bobby sang lead and a spirited take on 'Mason's Children' with a fierce final jamming session, one of the band's finest outtakes at its finest. Then there's one of Pigpen's last hurrahs to enjoy with two separate energetic takes on 'Good Lovin' and a tour de force thirty-eight minute version of 'Turn On Your Lovelight' in which Pig charms, coaxes and bullies the crowd and plays the greatest cat and mouse game with them you've ever heard, slowing the song down and building up a head of steam again, even if the rest of the Dead are clearly dead on their feet. Alas the 'alternate' 'Live/Dead' progression in the second set is a little clumsy without the natural segues of the album the Dead were trying their hardest to vaguely kinda promote, sorta. Regrettably the taper's reel ran out 90 seconds into 'Casey Jones' - oddly this extract is included and simply cuts off with a muffled cry just as it would have done on the original. The bonus disc of the show recorded again in Hawaii a day later is for once less interesting than the main course but has its share of moments too. Best Song: Pig sounds superb on a suitably hard-hitting 'Hard To Handle' and a rocking 'Good Lovin' stretched out to ten minutes of 'yeah yeah yeahs!' Tonight's 'Dark Star' features a fascinating middle section too, full of noisy angry guitar-weaving a million solar systems away from the song's usual languid laidback feel. Over on the bonus disc a second stab at 'Black Peter', stretched out to ten cruel minutes, is one of the most heart breaking versions the Dead ever played, Jerry's guitar growl so full of anger and hurt contrasting greatly with his fading old man's voice. Worst song: The band have run out of steam by 'Lovelight' and hard as he tries even 'Pig' can't get the band back on their feet Biggest Talking Point: There's yet another flipping Bob Weir yellow dog story told to cover the fact that Jerry has broken a string. The others are getting a bit fed up of it by now with Mickey ruining all the punch-lines before Bob can get there! 'Dire Wolf' starts off with a quick cry of the chorus from Leiber and Stoller's 'Searchin' - the Dead never did play this song stage. The rarest song actually played here is 'Mason's Children', though this performance is sadly a repeat of the one included on the 'Workingman's Dead' CD re-issue. This runs of shows marked the last Tom Constanten played as a full-time member of the band rather than a guest, although he's largely inaudible on both nights with most of the keyboard work sounding like Pig to me. Longest song: A 38:09 'Lovelight' isn't as appetising as it sounds given that the Dead start at a canter and get slower and slower from there. Best Speech: Bob's rejoinder to Mickey's interruption of his 'Yellow Dog' story. 'Pernicketty drummers, you can't keep them happy - there's no arguing with a drummer either!' Front Cover: A terrapin on a surfboard - surf's up! Did he lose his ticket? (One of the better series covers despite being so anachronistic - that song won't be written for seven years yet!) Overall rating - 7/10 Not the best show from 1970 but even an average show from this golden era is well worth hearing
"30 Trips Around The Sun: The Definite Live Story 1965-1995"
(Rhino, September 2015)
CD One: Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) (1965)/Cream Puff War (1966)/Viola Lee Blues (1967)/Dark Star (1968)/Doin' That Rag (1969)/Dancin' In The Street (1970)/Ain't It Crazy? (The Rub) (1971)/Tomorrow Is Forever (1972)/Here Comes Sunshine (1973)
CD Two: Uncle John's Band (1974)/Franklin's Tower (1975)/Scarlet Begonias (1976)/Estimated Prophet (1977)/Samson and Delilah (1978)/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance (1979)/Deep Elem Blues (1980)
CD Three: Shakedown Street (1981)/Bird Song (1982)/My Brother Esau (1983)/Feel Like A Stranger (1984)/Weather Report Suite: Let It Grow (1985)/Comes A Time (1986)/Morning Dew (1987)
CD Four: Not Fade Away (1988)/Blow Away (1989)/Ramble On Rose (1990)/High Time (1991)/Althea (1992)/Broken Arrow (1993)/So Many Roads (1994)/Visions Of Johanna (1995)
 "Thought I heard a Jug Band playing from over the other side of the hill..."
Much more fitting and 'Dead'ish were the end of year celebrations, marked by something no other band could possibly have gotten away with: a four disc box set featuring a song recorded live from every single year of Dead-dom (although the 'live in the studio' Autumn Session version of[5]  'Caution' is perhaps a bit of a cheat!)  What's more all of it was - officially at least - unreleased, taken from twenty-nine different shows as yet uncollected onto official disc. It's a real tour de force this set as what other band could possibly claim to have changed so much down the years or had a following committed enough to record pretty much every moment of that change? Never mind have so much releasable material still sitting in the vaults after a twenty-year re-issue series: if ever the public needed a sign that the Dead is an experience not to be forgotten or matched by anyone else it's here twenty years after the final Dead gig with that silence stretching back two-thirds of the way as long as the original strange trip. This is - gulp - also just the 'highlights' set too,  for casual Deadheads, with the more committed (and/or mage-rich) given a whole eighty-disc set of their own featuring the entire shows featured here. For most fans though this twentieth-size set is enough.
The decision to include a track from each year is a masterstroke as it allows the band to evolve and change little bit by little bit, from the folk-blues beginnings through psychedelia to the 1970 twin country-rock masterpieces and on through the disco and pop mainstream years (laid out like this it really does feel as if the Dead lived their career out the 'wrong way round', starting off miles out in the middle of nowhere and slowly getting nearer and nearer the middle of the road). At times the selections are glorious and spot-on: no songs better sum up the Dead in 1968 than a particularly riveting [63] 'Dark Star', or a spooky jazzy [165] 'Franklin's Tower' in 1975, the on-yer-toes improvisations of 1977 best heard on an endless[177]  'Estimated Prophet', the sudden switch to acoustic for [93] 'Deep Elem Blues' in 1980 or Brent Mydland's greatest moment with the band [205] 'Blow Away' in 1989.
There's also the set highlight and one of the most stunning Dead recordings of them all, a sudden moment of dizzy hope and optimism on a glorious [147] 'Here Comes Sunshine' from 1973, starting off tired and slow and ending up (false ending by false ending) into a joyous singalong of pure joy that ends the first (and by far and away the best) disc on a real high. Jerry Garcia has got so into the song by its natural end that he simply refuses to let go, kicking back into the final verse one more time, while the band pick up on what he's up to and unite on an extended cry of 'here comes sunshine' that sounds like the most hopeful and uplifting thing you've ever heard. The band jam on, inspired now, getting tighter and tighter until they unexpectedly hit the chorus again and a few minutes later (this is a thirteen minute version after all!) hit it again for a 'full' ending which, to the best of my knowledge, they never managed again (most songs simply have the jam come to a natural end). The other highlight is a reckless [165] 'Franklin's Tower, hot off the press on the band's 'reunion' tour of 1975, which playfully feels out all the usual chords until Jerry hits the line 'if you get confused listen to the music play!' Suddenly he takes his own advice, stops pawing at his guitar and wrestles with it, putting down a stamping screaming full on rock solo that pulls the rest of the band into shape and turns the song around from snoozeville into the most inspired live version of the song I've yet heard. The set is worth owning for these two moments alone, revelatory moments that only this band can offer which seem to come out of nowhere.
Other choices are less successful: instead of any number of the two dozen songs that sum up 1970, the period of 'Workingman's Dead' and 'American Beauty' we get a rather dull thud through [21] 'Dancin' In The Streets', a cover the Dead played flipping nearly every year! The Dead's hiatus year of 1976 is covered by a rather off-the-boil [156] 'Scarlet Begonias' simply because there isn't much other choice, while the years between records of 1981-1986 (which takes up almost all the third disc) features old classics from yesteryear done (by Dead standards) rather badly. What price a 'Fifteen Trips Round The Sun' box set ending in 1980? [269] 'Visions Of Johanna' is also an oddly anticlimactic way to end after six hours: why not include a more emotionally resonant song such as [247] 'Standing On The Moon' or [275] 'So Many Roads' or even an extract from that last ever Dead show still unheard on official disc (either Jerry's last vocal on [229] 'Black Muddy River' or the very final song the band sung on stage [82] 'Box Of Rain' would really have sent shivers down the spine).? Plus calling any box set collecting work by a band who recorded that much across so long can surely never really be called 'definitive' whatever it says on the outside of the box (even the 80 disc version can't lay claim to that so what chance has a four disc set?!)
But then that would be to miss out on the fun for fans of particularly eras for once getting to hear the whole bang lot in one go rather than picking and choosing their way through the band's archive sets depending on the year. Despite my nit-picking it really is a very clever way of celebrating all of the Dead's long story without concentrating on just one particular little part of it. The set includes just enough titbits for old jaded fans who've seen the lot (how many Deadheads have ever heard [95] 'The Rub', a piece of Pigpen double entendre from 1971 or 'Broken Arrow', the Phil Lesh sung Band cover that became perhaps the last Dead song introduced to the setlist, while also including pretty much all the Dead standards in there somewhere (though I still wish there'd been space for a version of [52] 'St Stephen' or a [57/2]'China Rider' or [114] 'Wharf Rat' in there too). And that name is pure genius: the Dead's time on Earth counted not through anything as human-made as years but in actual trips around the sun, a title that also suggests that maybe, just maybe, this is a fuller example of 'Anthem Of The Sun' with thirty different 'trips' laid on top of each other this time and all coming from the same source. If ever a box set made you want to pray in thankfulness to a Sun God then 'Thirty Trips' is it, a glorious birthday present from the band that keeps on giving with an over-stuffed goody bag to take home!

"30 Trips Around The Sun: The Box Set"
(Rhino, September  2015)
Show One: Filmore Auditorium, California (July 3rd 1966)
Show Two: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles (November 10th 1967)
Show Three: Greek Theatre, Berkley, California (October 20th 1968)
Show Four: Dream Bowl, Vallejo, California (February 22nd 1969)
Show Five: Winterland, San Francisco (April 15th 1970)
Show Six: Fox Theatre, St Louis (March 18th 1971)
Show Seven: Palace Theatre, Waterbury, Connecticut (September 24th 1972)
Show Eight: San Diego Sports Arena (November 14th 1973)
Show Nine: Parc Des Expositions, Dijon (September 18th 1974)
Show Ten: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco (September 28th 1975)
Show Eleven: Cobo Arena, Detroit (October 3rd 1976)
Show Twelve: Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey (April 25th 1977)
Show Thirteen: Providence Civic Centre, Rhode Island (May 14th 1978)
Show Fourteen: Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth, Massachusetts (October 27th 1979)
Show Fifteen: Lakeland Centre, Florida (November 28th 1980)
Show Sixteen: Cornell University, Ithica, New York (May 16th 1981)
Show Seventeen: Manor Dawns, Austin, Texas (July 31st 1982)
Show Eighteen: The Centrum, Worcester, Massachusetts (October 21st 1983)
Show Nineteen: Augusta Civic Centre, Maine (October 12th 1984)
                       Show Twenty: Riverbend Music Centre, Cincinnati, Ohio (June 24th 1985)
Show Twenty-One: Cal Expo Amphitheatre, Sacramento (May 3rd 1986)
Show Twenty-Two: Madison Square Garden, New York (September 18th 1987)
Show Twenty-Three:  Oxford Plains Speedway, Maine (July 3rd 1988)
Show Twenty-Four: Miami Arena, Florida (October 26th 1989)
Show Twenty-Five: Le Zenith, Paris (October 27th 1990)
Show Twenty-Six: Madison Square Garden (September 10th 1991)
Show Twenty-Seven: Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ohio (March 20th 1992)
Show Twenty-Eight: Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York (March 27th 1993)
Show Twenty-Nine: Boston Garden, Massachusetts (October 1st 1994)
Show Thirty: Delta Centre, Salt Lake City, Utah (February 21st 1995)
"I was blind all the time I was learning to see"
What other band could possibly release a four-disc box set as merely the 'sampler'?!? Because here, in a set that's surely heavy enough to alter the sun's gravitational pull all on its own, is a full eighty disc seventy-three-hour collection of thirty full shows recorded in every year between 1966 (the earliest Dead show we have on record) and 1995 (the last). Like the smaller box the idea is to sum up every single era of Dead-dom with a 'representative show'  Assembling this colossus box set must have been a nightmare: with the exception of the 1966 concert (heard in part already on 'Rare Cuts and Live Oddities 1966) and the 1967 concert (released shortly afterwards as a standalone set) everything here had to be 'new', in official terms at least. Each gig had to be roughly representative of its era so that, for instance, the 1969 shows came with lengthy improvisations, the 1970 sets came with a down-homely feel, the 1975/1976 shows came with the jazzy 'Blues For Allah' feel, the 1980 gig included the 'acoustic' format and the late 1980s sets felt like they came from the 'In The Dark' and 'Built To last' era rather than the nights the Dead ignored their new influx of fans and stuck to the oldies all night. Though the Dead had their favourite arenas they played on every tour none are repeated here and all feel in the right 'place', so that for instance we spend the 1960s in the Filmore, the 1970s in the Winterland and the 1990s at the Knickerbocker Arena (although there are two Madison Square gigs for some reason, neither particularly special). The songs can't be repeated too many times across the set for comfort but the favourites all have to be here somewhere - and they are, with every song the Dead played, say, at least thirty or forty times present and correct somewhere as far as I can tell.
This set is too big to review everything - I just haven't got enough pens or enough hours in the day. So here instead are a few highlights: the Shrine Auditorium Show of 1967 is a fascinating one, so many old friends sounding so brand shiny and new as the Dead foam at the mouth to try and go to new places they've never been to before. All shows from 1968 and 1969 are great but these two are in particular, the 1968 show with an alternate 'Live - Dead' hour long jam that's just as great as the version fans know and love and the 1969 one with [63]'Dark Star' instead lurching left into a thrilling [48] 'The Other Ones' after a first set full of rarities like [53] 'Dupree Diamond's Blues' and [56] 'Mountains Of The Moon' rarely played. All the Winterland shows are great and the 1970 choice is no exception, the Dead fighting failing sound equipment to reach new heights of improvisation with a couple of previews from 'Workingman's added to the mix. There's a beauty of a show from 1973, all slow acoustic beauties of which [147] 'Here Comes The Sunshine' as featured on the 'sampler' box set is just the tip of the iceberg.
Most unexpectedly, though, the shows that I keep returning to over and over again are the ones from 1975 and 1978 (not traditionally seen as the very best year for the Dead) in which everything comes together: the band play with a real lightness of touch and bring out some old favourites, with some classy band banter along the way (Bob in 1975 responding to a wag in the crowd: 'We'll get around to all the old favourites we can remember' before nodding backstage, 'You wouldn't be clapping if you knew what that meant!') The 1978 gig meanwhile features an exquisite take on 'Looks Like Rain' and the Dead democracy at its finest, with everyone on good form and everyone getting a welcome turn in the spotlight - even Donna is at her harmonic best here and the Dead play with fairy-dust on their feet all night. At their best across this mammoth set (and the Dead are often near their best, especially in the early years) the Dead have never sounded such a fun band to follow, such an inventive and courageous one or such a tight unit. Unfortunately, though, a set this big and comprehensive has to include the bad along with the good and with so many of the usable 1980s shows out in the archive series already lets' s just say the average fan won't be returning to many of the post 1977 discs for a second hearing (unless they were at the show of course - or a baby being born at the show!)
Yep I really do mean a baby being born during a show: for this set is at its best when it's working as a historical document as much as a collection of live gigs. The 1975 gig for instance is interrupted by a woman having a baby and the band getting lost where to direct the doctor from the stage ('Maybe there's even two of them?' wonders Phil. 'Not yet!' grins Jerry. 'Everybody wave whose gonna have a baby, no hang on that's not what I meant to say' cracks up Bob, 'Anyway, there's a baby being born around here somewhere!') This is a set so big that it captures everything: birth, death (the 1973 show features a lot of Pigpenisms) and all the minutiae of life along the way. And so it should: the Dead were no minor band but a major one and it makes sense that a true birthday set celebrating everything this band could do that no other could should be so large. Even if that means a couple of oddly lacklustre shows from 1971 and 1972 (the weakest yet?) and more evidence that the 1980s was a struggle for even the biggest Deadhead (none of these shows are good but the 1985 one might be the weakest of them all released so far, with a poorly Jerry covered by lots of Brent and Bob and endless lethargic jamming sessions; as an aside this set features the only full Dead sets currently available from the years 1984, 1986, 1994 and 1995) that seems like a small price to pay to have a bit of 'everything'.
Even so this set is not for everybody. For a start it's so big it's 'beyond description'. Where on earth am I meant to keep it? My wardrobe is getting so full I can't keep my clothes on it what with all these 'skeletons', sorry Dead shows in there! (My CD rack ran out of space for Dead shows a long time ago). And yes I went for the CD version: there is a 1000-copy edition usb stick of the entire contents (complete with 'lightning bolt skull' logo) but what if I lose it? I lose box sets, never mind tiny usb sticks and at that price I can't risk it! For second, it costs a fortune considering that it's a release by a bunch of hippies who aren't meant to know anything about capitalism. This is a box set that has a little for everyone - but, perhaps, not a lot for everyone. There' simply too much here, too many changing tastes, too many changing line-ups and any and all fans interested enough in paying money for a set this big and pricey surely already has many of their favourite years pretty comprehensively covered in their collection anyway. Most of you will, like me, have already spent enough of a fortune on Dick's Picks and Dave's Picks and maybe one day an Alan's Album Archives Picks (specialising in 1967-1973)- you already have your favourite eras, you don't really need a box collecting another twenty other eras you might not enjoy quite so much.
Or do you? This is, after all, a set that will take you a straight three days of your life (that's a trio of trips of the moon around the Earth) to hear and that's without breaks to eat, sleep or do anything else. I'm willing to bet most of you got 'stuck' in this set somewhere like me (I haven't got past 1992 yet!) and if you have then I take my 'skull-cap' off to you in salute! It is also, however, a set to keep returning to, one little piece at a time, with different shows from different eras waiting to be played depending what mood you're in at any particular time. After all, it's a set that includes everything, the good the bad the ugly and the ridiculously wonderful, as close to the full Dead experience you can get in the 21st century without having a time machine. Beautifully packaged, like most archive Dead sets this slab (the word 'box' hardly does this set justice!) also includes a 300 odd page booklet (which is great) and a 'scroll depicting the changing nature of the Dead live show' (which isn't), both of which are hidden behind a 'secret compartment' that feels a bit like unwrapping a pyramid (very Dead). The outside of the box is magnificent, the insides less so for the $700 this set costs on first release (for space reasons these are cardboard sleeves rather than digipaks and everything is tightly packed for shipping, so good luck getting through all eighty discs without getting fingerprints on at least one of them as you slide them out the sleeves). Everything - even the 1966 stuff - comes in stunning sound too (how do they manage to get thirty years worth of recordings in different theatres using different technologies to match up so well?) In all, this a set we'll still be enjoying and exploring come the 60th anniversary, when there'll probably be an even bigger (and pricier) box to buy!
Note: as if the box wasn't big enough in and of itself it also includes a special gold 7 inch single which includes two key moments: the 1965 studio take of [  ] 'Caution' picked as being representative of the band's earliest days and the final encore from the final show ([82] 'Box Of Rain' from July 9th 1995) to bookend the set and the Dead's career. It's a sweet gesture, though the full 1995 show on CD might perhaps have been a better choice still
"The Best Of The Grateful Dead"
(Rhino, March 2015)
CD One: The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)/Cream Puff War/Born Cross-Eyed/Dark Star/St Stephen/China Cat Sunflower/Uncle John's Band/Easy Wind/Casey Jones/Truckin'/Box Of Rain/Sugar Magnolia/Friend Of The Devil/Ripple/Eyes Of The World/Unbroken Chain/Scarlet Begonias/The Music Never Stopped/Estimated Prophet
CD Two: Terrapin Station/Shakedown Street/I Need A Miracle/Fire On The Mountain/Feel Like A Stranger/Far From Me/Touch Of Grey/Hell In A Bucket/Throwing Stones/Black Muddy River/Blow Away/Foolish Heart/Standing On The Moon
 "A lovely view of Heaven - but I'd rather be with you"
...Or not. Released to commemorate the band's fiftieth anniversary, best-of number six is a curious beast - so right in so many ways, so wrong in others. This just about wins the award of 'best' compilation, I guess, if only for its thoroughness, being the first set to combine all eras of Dead in one place across two pretty full discs. The track listing appears in chronological order (at last!) so you get to experience all twists and turns of the Dead story in order rather than randomly in a way that upsets the ear and the black deluxe packaging retains the mystery and allure of being a Deadhead pretty successfully. The decision not to edit any songs down needlessly also wins this set several plus marks, as does the decision to make the Dead more than just Jerry's backup band, with selections from Phil, Bob, Pig and even Brent in there too. But there's a big black hole at the heart of this set: namely the live dead.
There isn't one song featuring the band in concert here, not one. Nothing from 'Live/Dead', 'Skulls and Roses' or 'Europe '72' (Ok maybe 'Steal Your Face' and 'Without A Net' omissions are a little more understandable!) and when that means skimping on such career highlights and fan favourites as the full  [63a] 'Dark Star', [106] 'Bertha' [126] 'Jack Straw' and [114] 'Wharf Rat' you know you're in trouble. Other sets with shorter running times could do it so why not this longer one - and would any fan really claim that an all studio Dead is the band at their best? Plus the decision to split the set equally in terms of running times between the 'Warner Brothers' and 'Arista Years', while making sense in terms of contractual shenanigans, just seems wrong: are the 1977-onwards Dead really as worthy of airtime as the 1967-1975 model? Is any fan, even the 'Darkers' and 'Touchers' who arrived post 1987, really convinced that this is the Dead's best period? Even more damagingly, no [56] 'Mountains Of The Moon' [86] 'Candyman' [90]  'Attics Of My Life' or [147]  'Here Comes Sunshine?' But the set does include [192] 'I Need A Miracle' [201] 'Far From Me' and [242] 'Foolish Heart' ? Seriously? The result is an album that's better than past attempts at this sort of thing but still doesn't quite get this long strange trip right. Now a triple disc set featuring more of the live Dead from 1970-1973 in the middle and I'd have been won over...
Shrine Exposition Hall
(Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, California, November 10th 1967, Released 2016)
Viola Lee Blues/It Hurts Me Too/Beat It On Down The Line/Morning Dew/Good Morning Little Schoolgirl/That's It For The Other One/New Potato Caboose/Alligator/Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)
Well this is an unexpected treat. Released so late in the day this book is on its second draft catch-up adding it, this is the honest-to-goodness earliest Dead archive set (barring the semi-legal 'History' and 'Vintage' sets and the 'Birth Of The Dead' and 'Rare Cuts' 1966 tape highlights anyway. The series starts (chronologically speaking) as it means to go on, fading up midway through an already-firing on-all-cylinders 'Viola Lee Blues'. This gig is incomplete but wasn't that long anyway, the Dead playing support act to another AAA band The Buffalo Springfield who at the time were just about still riding high on the success of 'For What It's Worth' and celebrating the release of their second album 'Again'. Just 6,700 copies of this set were released which is a travesty as more fans deserve access to it, although it was included as the band's token (only?) 1967 show in the '30 Trips Around The Sun' box set. More famously, parts of it also appear in 'Anthem Of The Sun' cut up and pasted into the album's aural collage along with three other concerts, but good luck working out which parts! Best Song: Big is beautiful tonight with a 15:15 'Viola Lee Blues' - presumably much longer without the fade-in at the start  and a 22:15 'Caution' that takes no prisoners and does very much step on the tracks! Worst song: I've never heard a 'Morning Dew' like this one before - much quicker than usual and treated like a jolly singalong rather than a mournful cry from the heart. Jerry puts on an accent closer to Noel Coward! The 'Cryptical Envelopment' opening to 'The Other One' also sounds deliberately messy, sung by Jerry as if he's drunk and with the two drummers turning manic, before the 'main' theme is played straight as an arrow and fabulous! Biggest Talking Point: Everything is new, new new! Several songs are previewed off second album 'Anthem Of The Sun' while even the songs from the debut record of a few months earlier sound completely different. This is, you could say, the earliest recording were the Gratefu Dead are recognisably like The Grateful Dead we all know and love. Best Speech: Jerry: 'You can take advantage of this time to take off your clothes, order a pizza, maybe catch a bus...or get high! Hoot and jeer at the performers? That's fine!' Neal Cassady is introduced on stage to speak and the rest of the band drown him out with squeals of feedback and hard guitar strumming! Longest Song:: A 22 minute 'Caution' is full on heavy and starts with what sounds like the Dead sounding like a train that's just de-railed and crashed into a mouthorgan factory. This is, depending on your taste, either brilliantly deliriously exciting or horrifically noisy! Front Cover - An alligator skeleton picks some magic mushrooms. Look these front covers are getting silly now but we are up to 134 in the series by now  suppose, you gotta run out of ideas sometime! Overall rating - More interesting than brilliant, this early show reveals the Dead right at the cusp of a wave of greatness. Sometimes they surf it, sometimes they fall, but this is a very entertaining set and features some pretty fabulous moments.7/10

Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New York
(Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New York, April 25th 1977, Released 2016)
New New Minglewood Blues/Deal/Mama Trierd/They Love Each Other/Looks Like Rain/Peggy-O/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet/Brown-Eyed Women/The Music Never Stopped/US Blues/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Samson and Delilah/Terrapin Station/Playing In The Band > Drums/Wharf Rat/Playing In The Band
The first of a three day run at the Dead's 'alternative' favourite New York venue. The second show from the '30 Trips Around The Sun' box set to get an individual release, this followed the 'Shine Auditorium gig and is a surprise choice given how over-covered the year 1977 is in Dead circles already and how lacklustre this gig is compared to the more interesting shows from the decade that were featured alongside it in the box. It's a sloppy night on which the band miss cues and trip over each other's feet for the most part, albeit with the usual magic in there somewhere too occasionally. Everything sounds a little cut short too, without the extended jamming of usual, 'Wharf Rat' coming the closest at seventeen minutes but even the usual suspects 'Terrapin' and 'Playing In The Band' cut back to nine minutes apiece. Jerry is on low-key form (this is reportedly the month he first got hooked on persian blue heroin - is this the first example of his decade-long decline already or just an off-night?) but luckily Bob's stage presence make up for this with more Weir songs in the set than normal and Keith a star twinkling away on piano to fill all the gaps. Not much Donna tonight either, which is a bonus for many fans. This show was another limited edition, of 7700 copies and only released on four-disc vinyl (CD heads of course had already bought it on the '30 Trips' box set in digital format). Note that the running order has been slightly changed as a result, the encore of 'US Blues' now positioned at the end of side four. Best Song: 'Deal' has a lot of Chuck Berry-style muscle tonight and a stunning guitar solo, even if Jerry sounds a little out of control Worst song: 'Terrapin Station' features in very early primitive form, shortened to a mere nine minutes and with a very sloppy opening Biggest Talking Point: Nothing much to write home about really - no new songs, no unexpected revivals and one of several gigs played at this venue. Business as usual then. Longest Song: A 17:34 'Wharf Rat' that's clearly down on his luck and has seen better days, really creaking in the middle before recovering for a fiery ending Best Speech: None Front Cover: The sailing ship of the dead (complete with a skeleton crew) sails off to the sun Overall Rating - 3/10 Nothing here all that bad but not much that's memorable either

July 1978: The Complete Recordings 
(Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, July 1st 1978/St Paul Civic Centre, Minnesota, July 3rd 1978/Omaha Civic Auditorium, July 5th 1978/Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado, July 7-8th 1978, Released 2016)
Show One: Bertha/Good Lovin'/Tennessee Jed/Jack Straw/Friend Of The Devil/Me and My Uncle/Big River/Terrapin Station > Playin' In The Band > Rhythm Devils > Space > Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Around and Around/Johnny B Goode
Show Two: New New Minglewood Blues/Loser/Looks Like Rain/Ramble On Rose/Mexicali Blues > Mama Tried > Peggy-O/Cassidy > Deal > The Music Never Stopped/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Dancin' In The Street > Rhythm Devils > Not Fade Away > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia/Werewolves Of London
Show Three: Sugaree/Beat It On Down The Line/They Love Each Other/Looks Like Rain/Dire Wolf/It's All Over Now/Candyman/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Deal/Samson and Delilah/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > Wharf Rat > Truckin' > Iko Iko/Around and Around/Promised Land
Show Four: Jack Straw/Candyman/Me and My Uncle/Big River/Friend Of The Devil/Cassidy/Tennessee Jed/Passenger/Peggy-O/The Music Never Stopped/Cold Rain and Snow/Beat It On Down The Line/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Dancin' In The Street > Rhythm Devils > Space > Not Fade Away > Black Peter/Around and Around/US Blues/Johnny B Goode
Show Five: Bertha > Good Lovin'/Dire Wolf/El Paso/It Must Have Been The Roses/New New Minglewood Blues/Ramble On Rose/Promised Land/Deal/Samson and Delilah/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > Wharf Rat > Franklin's Tower > Sugar Magnolia/Terrapin Station/One More Saturday Night/Werewolves Of London
Fans rate the closing pair of shows at Red Rocks highly so their release makes perfect sense. Tacking them onto the end of a twelve disc set along with shows very few people mention (with the last of these dates released in its own right soon afterwards) seems like a crass business move for a band usually said to be above such things. These five shows in this mammoth set are variable to say the least: the Dead snooze their way in Missouri on the first with a very low-key poorly played show that noodles worse than a Chinese Restaurant, guests on a bill organised by Willie Nelson for a '4th July picnic' (three days early, very Dead!) The band play much better for the second in Minnesota but sadly bring all their most one-dimensional and unappealing songs along for the ride with only a reggae-fied 'Scarlet Fire' truly catching the ear. The Dead play well but slow for the third show from Omaha, with even the fast-paced songs sounding like lullabies and the slow songs down to a crawl. The fourth show in Red Rocks finally nails it - there's a palpable atmosphere in the room and some real classics in the set. The best though is the final gig, which we've talked about in detail in the following article, sensibly lifted as a solo gig. Even so, if you can afford it and the 'Terrapin/Shakedown' era Dead is 'yours' then this is a worthy purchase for the 'other' Red Rocks gig too. Best Song: The fast-paced songs in the third show really stands out, such as a 'Dore Wolf' with a lovely Garcia lead (taking it back from Bob again in this era) and a cracking 'Lazy Lightning > Supplication' jam with a raucous finale. Worst song: Pretty much anything off the first disc, seemingly designed to put casual Deadheads off getting through any more of this set. If I had to pick one song then ten minutes of 'Tennessee Jed' is at least nine-and-a-half too many. Biggest Talking Point: The band play a rare encore 'Werewolves Of London' by Warron Zevon for the Minnesota show, though it's arguably the weakest, certainly the sloppiest, of the handful of versions of this song out on these archive sets. You don't hear many 'It's All Over Now's either like you do at the third show. Or 'Passenger' as you do at the fourth. Note too the string of 'outlaw songs' cobbled together near the end of the first set of the first gig and not usually heard back-to-back: 'Tennessee Jed' 'Jack Straw' 'Friend Of The Devil' 'Me and My Uncle' 'Big River'... (only 'Mama Tried' gets parole till the re-appearing at the third gig!) Longest song: All of these shows tend to be compact rather than full of marathon jamming sessions, with the longest across all twelve discs a comparatively sprightly 13:32 'Dancin' In The Street' from the Minnesota show. Best Speech: One of Bob's best 'take a step back' routines: 'It's time for everybody to take a moment and look around them, especially if you're up here, and find out that everyone looks real flat, you'll probably turn to your neighbour and notice that his eyeballs are kind of bulging out. This is an acute case of depression, or compression actually, and what we need to do about it is for everyone to take a step back. So now it's time for everyone to play America's favourite bug game 'take a step back and then take a step back and then yet another step back!...' Meanwhile Jerry plays 'Funiculi, Funicula' behind, the rest of the band joining in once the crowds are dispersing. 'Hey Grandma, that was for you' quips Jerry off-mike at the end. Front Cover: A skull lying on a bed of roses, like the American Beauty film but with far more, umm, 'life' to it (and way more believable!) Overall rating - 5/10 Everything, good bad and indifferent, ranging from the most magical monumental milestones to the most maddening mediocrity

Red Rocks 7/8/78
(Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado, July 8th 1978, Released 2016)
Bertha > Good Lovin'/Dire Wolf/El Paso/It Must Have Been The Roses/New New Minglewood Blues/Ramble On Rose/Promised Land/Deal/Samson and Delilah/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > Wharf Rat > Franklin's Tower > Sugar Magnolia > Terrapin Station/One More Saturday Night/Werewolves Of London
A three-disc reduction of the 'complete July '78' box set sensibly featuring just the best gig of the five (I hope the other Red Rocks gig from the night before still comes out separate one day though - some fans rate it even higher and they'd have made a fine five-disc set put together). The band have a particular finesse at this gig which brings out the detail in songs generally heavy-handed in this period (just listen to the other three July 1978 shows in the above set for an example...) The first set is neat and tidy, beginning with a glorious Keith Godchaux piano slide across 'Bertha'. The second is daring and inventive with a medley that combines several of the band's typical starting points for extended jamming sessions but all strung together in a row one after another with 'prophet' leading to 'The Other One' into 'Eyes Of The World' into a mesmerising 'Wharf Rat' and into the jazz of 'Franklin's Tower' and out into the rock of 'Sugar Magnolia' and then further into the fantasy of 'Terrapin Station'. This hour long medley isn't exactly seamless (sometimes the band come to a full stop before picking things up again) but it's still one of the best the Dead came up with across the second half of the 1970s with several key songs all so different from each other stuck together in a way we've never heard before - or will again. Roll away the dew, indeed! Best Song: There's a unique 'floral' opening to 'Eyes Of The World' that sounds like a lesson in playing the flamenco guitar, while Jerry sings the first verse in a breathless falsetto! Also, I don't usually go in much for 'Samson and Delilah' but this version is right on the money, smart and sassy and with an electric synchronised beat from Billy and Mickey. 'Wharf Rat' is also particularly haunting, coming after half an hour of rocking, prefaced by one of the most golden guitar solos Jerry ever played, sad and sombre and reflective. Worst song: Jerry and Bob start off slightly out of synch for 'Estimated Prophet' and slow the song down to get back in with each other, never quite recovering from then on in. 'Sugar Magnolia' is a bit limp too, with Bob matching Donna squeal for squeal!  Biggest Talking Point: The Dead's second gig at Red Rocks is (along with its pair included on the set above) the start of a love affair between the venue and Deadheads that will last another ten years until the success of 'In The Dark' means there are too many fans to get in anymore. There's also another of the (a-wooo!) semi-rare 'Werewolves Of London' again as a final encore played with a real menace and confidence unlike the 'Minnesota' show. Longest song: A 13:08 'Estimated Prophet', mainly because it's been slowed down to a sizzle Best Speech: None Front Cover: A skull lying on a bed of roses again, but this time in front of a 'red rock'! Overall

July 29th 1966 PNE Garden, Aud., Vancouver, Canada
(Pacific National Exhibit Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, July 29th 1966 with four songs added from the same venue July 30th 1966, Released April 2017)
July 29th: Standing On The Corner/I Know You Rider/Next Time You See Me/Sitting On Top Of The World/You Don’t Have To Ask/Big Boss Man/Stealin’/Cardboard Cowboy/It’s All Over Now Baby Blue/Cream Puff War/Viola Lee Blues/Beat It On Down The Line/Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Bonus Side (July 30th): Cold Rain and Snow/One Kind Favour/Hey Little One/New Minglewood Blues
Welcome dear readers to the first of many (so so so many…) complete Dead shows released as part of an ongoing archive series that will take many different names and several different formats but basically consists of The Grateful Dead performing to their best of their abilities wherever around the world they happen to be. This first entry though is a bit of an odd one. These tapes of the first Dead show ever outside America suddenly came to light in the year 2000 and shocked everybody who didn’t know the Dead had been captured on tape complete back so far (alongside the oddities that had existed before this). What’s more the reels were in better sound than some others from years later when experienced tapers were taping things on professional equipment. A slam dunk for a best-selling release then? Well, not quite. The show was considered for a Dick’s Picks series but rejected for not being up to ‘CD length’ (as if that matters to fans used to buying multiple box sets. Plus the earliest of the two concerts here is sixty minutes, not too short at all). After being broadcast on radio host David Gans’ Grateful Dead hour the show finally came out as part of the fiftieth anniversary edition of the debut album – but many fans wondered why they couldn’t buy it separately. The Dead like to do things for National Record Store Day and finally sanctioned its release as a limited edition (6,600 copies, the lowest yet!) as a standalone show after all double-vinyl set in 2017 with the last side padded out with four songs taped the night after (the Dead were already changing their setlists around, given that none of them are a repeat). Being able to hear the ebb and flow of a whole concert makes a lot more difference than it should on paper: this show isn’t song for song better than ‘Rare Cuts and Oddities’ or the live side of ‘Birth Of The Dead’ but it hangs together better somehow and even though the band don’t do that many songs you’ll recognise from the records this is the first time they sound utterly and completely like the Grateful Dead. The band are more cute than subversive throughout, closer to pop than rock or blues, but this is also more than just a historical document with some great examples of band telepathy already. The show was a big one for the Dead at the time and an unusual one too, with the band perched on top of an elevated stage and reportedly scared about falling off it! The audience clearly don’t know who they are and the applause is pitiful. For all that though The Dead turn in a really strong and powerful gig here with a real kick in their step throughout the more compact songs and a nicely spacey feel to the longer jams (well ‘Viola’ basically, the only song of any real length here and even that’s a bit short). There aren’t that many surprises in the setlist, but it’s nice to hear another version of the bluesy ‘One Kind Favour’ and the sweet ‘Hey Little One’ from the night of the 30th, with Jerry on particularly strong form. 
 Best Song: ‘Standing On The Corner’ is a much tighter version than the wobbly one on ‘Birth Of The Dead’ and reveals afresh what a sweet song it is. ‘You Don’t Have To Ask’ knocks spots off the studio version, with Jerry and Phil’s harmonies flying around Bobby’s lead, Billy flying on some manic drums and Jerry stepping out for an extended final solo that’s so fast it will leave you breathless just listening to him, never mind trying to play at the same speed, extended to five glorious minutes. Then 7:52 of a gloriously manic ‘Cream Puff War’ that nevertheless sounds far more in control than the studio version of it recorded in a few months’ time Worst song: The band will play many finer ‘Big Boss Mans’ than this one and of all the Dead Pigpen is the most nervy and off-form all night. Biggest Talking Point: It exists! A full concert from this early on in the Dead history! Wowee! Zowee! Gosh! Blimey! Etc Longest song: 10:03 worth of Viola Lee. Best Speech: Emcee: ‘Good evening from Captain Consciousness. Tonight for your pleasure we’re going to kick off with a group from San Francisco known as The Grateful Dead!’ *complete silence* Phil: ‘Ah, I see our fame has preceded us!…’ Front Cover: The concert poster, of a girl looking very Medusa like and seducing the camera. It’s not very Dead-like just yet. Overall rating – This is history! Right here, right now, this is history! And it sounds rather fab too! 7/10

(Felt Forum, New York City, December 7th 1971 with some songs added from December 6th 1971, Released 2017)
(December 7th): Cold Rain and Snow/Beat It On Down The Line/Mr Charlie/Sugaree/Jack Straw/Next Time You See Me/Tennessee Jed/El Paso/Brokedown Palace/Run Rudolph Run/You Win Again/Cumberland Blues/Casey Jones/Sugar Magnolia/Ramble On Rose/Big Boss Man/Mexicali Blues/Brown-Eyed Women/Me and My Uncle/Smokestack Lightnin’/Deal/Truckin’/Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad
 (December 6th): Big Railroad Blues/Me and My Uncle/Ramble On Rose/Playin’ In The Band > Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > That’s It For The Other One > Me and Bobby McGee > Wharf Rat/One More Saturday Night/Uncle John’s Band
Bonus Disc (December 6th set One Highlights): Truckin’/Loser/Mr Charlie/Jack Straw/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Tennessee Jed/Mexicali Blues/Black Peter/Casey Jones
The last two nights of a four-run show in New York – though technically known as ‘The Felt’ most fans know it as the Madison Square ‘Theatre’ section as the two concert halls are not that far away. This may not be the most talked about or historical gig and it may be low on jam-athons, but boy is it a good one! Billy’s been cruising lately but here he really piles on the attack, driving all these songs forward (even the ballads) and keeping them snappy! Phil is more audible than usual too and still sounds pretty good for the most part before the vocal problems that will silence him for much of the decade. The main gig of the 7th is the keeper I would say; the one from the night before is a little more ordinary with Billy following the band rather than leading and Bob and Jerry a little off-sync (what did they slip into Billy’s coffee at the hotel?) There’s a weird old jamming medley on the night of the 6th that starts with a slow and ploddy ‘Playin’ In The Band’, falls apart and lands into ‘Drumz’ before refusing to head into ‘The Other One’ where we know it’s going and instead Jerry picks out the opening to ‘Bobby McGee’ on his guitar, only for the loose noodling at the end somehow making it into ‘The Other One’ anyway, sounding slower than usual too. Rather than stretching into space again everything folds in on itself once more and turns left-field out of ‘cryptical envelopment’ into the sad lonely opening chords of ‘Wharf Rat’. Strangely, though, once it gets going this is one of the toughest and rockingest versions of the song, really heavy and desperate rather than mellow and one of the best out there, ending in high adrenalin ‘Sugar Magnolia’ style rock before mellowing out once more. Weird, man. A real shame there isn’t a box set of all four nights as all are good and very different to each other, at the top of many a fan’s picks of the year (plus it would be fun to have the Dead’s one-off version of ‘I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water’ from the 5th out on the shelves). Best Song: The opening quartet of songs are all amongst the best versions the band ever played, especially a hot and happening Mr Charlie with Billy chasing Pig’s tail. Pig is on good form all night actually with a snazzy ‘Next Time You See Me’ answered by Bob and Jerry in perfect harmony. ‘Sugar Magnolia’ is a storming opener to set two as well, note-perfect until it all falls apart right on the very last note! This is a good gig for sugar as ‘Sugaree’ is sparkier than normal too. On the night if the 6th a fascinating ‘Wharf Rat’ runs the gamut of emotions from sad despair to snarling anger.  Worst song: Even the new breathe of life at this gig can’t save ‘You Win Again’ from being a dirge. Biggest Talking Point: Happy Christmas! Pig has great fun on a charging version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Run Rudolph Run’ with Billy once again the star of the show. Best Speech: Bill Graham: ‘Beneath all the madness, a bundle of joy – The Grateful Dead!’ Phil’s introduction: ‘And now ladies and gentleman the dog-suckingest man in show-business, Pigpen!’ Longest Song: On a day of mostly compact favourites a 12:43 ‘Smokestack Lightning’ – one of pig’s last - really stands out. It’s a good one, with Pig playing some blistering harp and it’s unusual to hear him sing against Keith’s piano, but its blues seems out of place in such an energetic set. Front Cover: A cute one for a change. Mr and Mrs Skeleton have returned to their empty pad with their reel-to-reel machine in the middle of the floor proudly playing back the gig they’ve just bootlegged. Note the lack of furniture in the place – that’s what it cost to be a Deadhead then and now, folks! Overall rating - Terrific, the Dead haven’t had this much life about them in ages and this is my candidate for Billy’s greatest ever gig! Only the lack of lengthy jams heading out into the stratosphere and a ‘safe’ set listing knocks this one down a tiny bit but seriously folks, it’s a gem! 7/10

(Berkeley Community Theatre, California, August 25th 1972, Released 2017)
Cold Rain and Snow/Black-Throated Wind/He’s Gone/Beat It On Down The Line/Loser/The Frozen Logger/El Paso/Black Peter/Jack Straw/Friend Of The Devil/Promised Land/Bird Song/Playin’ In The Band/Bertha/Truckin’/That’s It For The Other One/Stella Blue/One More Saturday Night/Sugar Magnolia
The last of a four-day run at Berkeley, taped just two days before the more famous Dead gig released on the DVD ‘Sunshine Daydream’. The band are having an odd night: they all sound great at different times but rarely together: Jerry fluffs a few guitar lines, Bob fluffs a few harmonies, sometimes the drums drag and Phil might as well have not turned up in a few places…and at other times Jerry is a genius, Bob is charismatic as anything, Billy flies with sudden bursts of adrenalin and power and Phil will play something mind-boggling just to prove that he’s really there. Just not all at the same time. Finally midway through set two the band seem to have finally got it together with a cooking opening to ‘Playin’ In The Band’ and then Donna steps up to the microphone and warbles worse than ever. Oh dear! The result is a chaotic, clumsy but occasionally brilliant set when all of these elements line-up at once. Another set released in a limited edition of 16,500 copies.  Best Song: This is a great ‘Black-Throated Wind’ which Bob has never sung better. ‘Truckin’ really grooves away nicely too with one of the best jammed endings around. Worst song: There are some truly awful harmonies on ‘He’s Gone’ tonight and it’s played far too slow Biggest Talking Point: The band play a burst of the unusually patriotic ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ while turning up before ‘Beat It On Down The Line’ as well as their more usual favourite ‘The Frozen Logger’. There’s a very jazzy rendition of ‘Friend Of The Devil’ quite different to normal too, Keith setting the tone with a more floral than usual introduction and everyone following suit Best Speech: Jerry: ‘We’re having a few issues but our crack staff are busy working on it!’ Cue much hilarity… Longest Song: 17:01 of a self-contained ‘Playin’ In The Band’ Front Cover: Around thirty Deadheads clambered around and around (and sometimes on top of) a suitably psychedelic bus Overall rating Sometimes brilliant, sometimes wretched, 3/10

(Boston Gardens, Massachusetts, April 2nd 1973, Released 2017)
Promised Land/Deal/Mexicali Blues/Brown-Eyed Women/Beat It On Down The Line/Row Jimmy/Looks Like Rain/Wave That Flag/Box Of Rain/Big River/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/You Ain't Woman Enough/Jack Straw/Don't Ease Me In/Playin' In The Band/Ramble On Rose/Me and My Uncle/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Greatest Story Ever Told/Loose Lucy/El Paso/Stella Blue/Around and Around/Here Comes Sunshine > Jam > Weather Report Suite (Prelude) > Eyes Of The World > China Doll/Sugar Magnolia/Casey Jones/Johnny B Goode/And We Bid You Goodnight
The Dead are in a reflective flame of mind for this gig, playing many of their moodiest and most sombre songs. There's 'Looks Like Rain' 'Box Of Rain' 'Jack Straw' and 'Mississippi', sob stories all - the result is a Dead who sound cowed and guilty about something (Pigpen maybe?) It makes for a lovely change from the band's normal fare if you're not coming to this set for pure adrenalin-fuelled rock and roll, although the times the band do rock out they fare rather well too. The most major moment comes in the form of a mammoth version of 'Here Comes The Sunshine' which might not be the best out there but is probably the longest, a closing atonal jam stretching the song out to twenty minutes and sounding - in context of this downbeat, sour set - like a raincloud following the band around however much they try to think 'sunny' thoughts. Note that the sound quality isn't quite as superb as normal, with drop-outs on 'Wave The Flag' patched in from another source. Best Song: An exquisite 'Looks Like Rain' sung by Bob alone for once, without Donna. This lovely song has never sounded sadder. Worst song: Billy plays the lovely sweet 'Row Jimmy' with all the restraint of a drum-stick wielding gorilla having a sugar-rush, uncharacteristically desperate for the audience's attention Biggest Talking Point: A rare performance of 'You Ain't Woman Enough', Donna Jean tackling a Loretta Lynn number that's a rare slice of feminism in the Dead setlist. That just pips 'Wave That Flag', the early version of 'US Blues' and the first part of 'Weather Report Suite' (reduced to the three minute instrumental part before suddenly taking a left-turn into 'Eyes Of The World') as the set's rarest song. Longest song: A bright and breezy 17:31 'Playin' In The Band' but even that is shorter than average and ruined by some of the worst Donna caterwauling around Best Speech: None Front Cover: A boy skeleton and a girl skeleton lie down in the long grass at what is presumably a Dead gig. Fully clothed, oddly. They're skeletons. Why are they censored? Overall rating - 6/10 If the Dead's sadder songs make your heart go pit-a-pat though then this gig is for you, although there are better 1973 shows around!

(Boston Gardens, Massachusetts, April 2nd 1973, Released 2017)
Promised Land/Deal/Mexicali Blues/Brown-Eyed Women/Beat It On Down The Line/Row Jimmy/Looks Like Rain/Wave That Flag/Box Of Rain/Big River/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/You Ain't Woman Enough/Jack Straw/Don't Ease Me In/Playin' In The Band/Ramble On Rose/Me and My Uncle/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Greatest Story Ever Told/Loose Lucy/El Paso/Stella Blue/Around and Around/Here Comes Sunshine > Jam > Weather Report Suite (Prelude) > Eyes Of The World > China Doll/Sugar Magnolia/Casey Jones/Johnny B Goode/And We Bid You Goodnight
The Dead are in a reflective flame of mind for this gig, playing many of their moodiest and most sombre songs. There's 'Looks Like Rain' 'Box Of Rain' 'Jack Straw' and 'Mississippi', sob stories all - the result is a Dead who sound cowed and guilty about something (Pigpen maybe?) It makes for a lovely change from the band's normal fare if you're not coming to this set for pure adrenalin-fuelled rock and roll, although the times the band do rock out they fare rather well too. The most major moment comes in the form of a mammoth version of 'Here Comes The Sunshine' which might not be the best out there but is probably the longest, a closing atonal jam stretching the song out to twenty minutes and sounding - in context of this downbeat, sour set - like a raincloud following the band around however much they try to think 'sunny' thoughts. Note that the sound quality isn't quite as superb as normal, with drop-outs on 'Wave The Flag' patched in from another source. Best Song: An exquisite 'Looks Like Rain' sung by Bob alone for once, without Donna. This lovely song has never sounded sadder. Worst song: Billy plays the lovely sweet 'Row Jimmy' with all the restraint of a drum-stick wielding gorilla having a sugar-rush, uncharacteristically desperate for the audience's attention Biggest Talking Point: A rare performance of 'You Ain't Woman Enough', Donna Jean tackling a Loretta Lynn number that's a rare slice of feminism in the Dead setlist. That just pips 'Wave That Flag', the early version of 'US Blues' and the first part of 'Weather Report Suite' (reduced to the three minute instrumental part before suddenly taking a left-turn into 'Eyes Of The World') as the set's rarest song. Longest song: A bright and breezy 17:31 'Playin' In The Band' but even that is shorter than average and ruined by some of the worst Donna caterwauling around Best Speech: None Front Cover: A boy skeleton and a girl skeleton lie down in the long grass at what is presumably a Dead gig. Fully clothed, oddly. They're skeletons. Why are they censored? Overall rating - 6/10 If the Dead's sadder songs make your heart go pit-a-pat though then this gig is for you, although there are better 1973 shows around!

(Broome County Veteran’s Memorial Arena, Binghamton, New York, November 6th 1977, Released 2017)
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Jack Straw/Tennessee Jed/Mexicali Blues > Me and My Uncle/Friend Of The Devil/New New Minglewood Blues/Dupree’s Diamond Blues/Passenger/Dire Wolf/The Music Never Stopped/Samson and Delilah/Sunrise/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Good Lovin’ > St Stephen >Drums > Not Fade Away > Wharf Rat > Truckin’/Johnny B Goode
There have been a lot of archive releases from this particular week in November 1977 haven’t there? This is perhaps the weakest one yet but it’s still solid with some particularly interesting track selections such as ‘Dupree’s Diamond Blues’ given a dusting and some of the rarer stuff from ‘Terrapin’ such as ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Passenger’. However it’s the lengthy jamathon marathon that crosses the second and third discs that’s the biggest starting point. This is, in truth, one of the weaker ‘Scarlet Fires’ out there with Jerry straining for the notes but something magic happens in true Dead fashion with a slinky and cheeky ‘Good Lovin’ with some great Brent jazz piano giving way to a very trippy ‘St Stephen’ that’s played ultra-fast, stays mellow through a laidback ‘Not Fade Away’ and finally crashes into a growling ‘Wharf Rat’ before a short ‘Stephen’ segue-way’ moves in on again into a joyous ‘Truckin’. It’s as if the Dead have been teasing us for an hour by threatening to rock before finally letting go in a blissful ten minute burst. The first set can’t match this one and is a little sleepy too, but there’s still magic in this band’s step even nearer the end of a lengthy tour. For some reason this set was released in a limited edition of more than usual, 18000 copies. Best Song: For the one and only time in this book it’s a superb ‘Me and My Uncle’ played faster than usual with extended solos for everyone and a great double-drum weight behind it all. Funky! Worst song: ‘Dire Wolf’, fittingly, sounds like someone being murdered Biggest Talking Point: ‘Dupree’s Diamond Blues’ beats the odds to sound like it’s the song the Dead know best, as if they’ve been playing it every day not just leaving it largely in limbo since 1969 Best Speech: None Longest Song: Uniquely the longest song comes at the start with twelve minutes of a particularly soulful ‘Mississippi Half-Step’ Front Cover: Two skeletons dance on a yellow brick road while a little red rooster looks on (even though it’s a song the Dead don’t perform tonight!) Overall rating – The weakest from November 1977 so far is still pretty darn good 6/10

 (McArthur Court, The University Of Oregon, Eugene, January 22nd 1978, Released 2017)
New New Minglewood Blues/Dire Wolf/Cassidy/Peggy-O/El Paso/Tennessee Jed/Jack Straw/Row Jimmy/The Music Never Stopped/Bertha/Good Lovin’/Ship Of Fools/Samson and Delilah/Terrapin Station > Drums > That’s It For The Other One > Space > St Stephen > Not Fade Away/Around and Around/US Blues
 Generally regarded as the best show the Dead played in 1978, perhaps that’s because it comes so early in the year that it sounds so much like a 1977 one. It’s all very mellow, Keith’s flowery piano is up loud in the mix and Jerry doesn’t yet show the slowness of the fingers that he will in the months to come. Though the first set is nothing special the gig gets moving nicely in the second with a lengthy jam that takes in five different songs across the space of an hour and is most famous amongst collectors for the ‘Space’ jam where Jerry joins Brent and the drummers on stage to pick out the five-note phrase from ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’. Released in a limited edition of 16,500 copies. Best Song: This is the Cantonese Restaurant version of ‘Terrapin’. Full of noodles.This is followed by a seven minute ‘Drums’ that’s really testing your patience and then suddenly…WHALLOP! The whole band rush in with the first few chords of ‘That’s It For The Other One’ and you know this gig is finally going to soar. The opening few bars of ‘St Stephen’ is jaw-dropping too, so powerful and tough, until the harmonies kick in messily and it all goes wrong. For a few seconds, though, this is how the band’s psychedelic magnum opus should always have sounded. Worst song: At 9:57 you wish Jed would just shut up and go to Tennessee already Biggest Talking Point: Space – The Final Frontier Longest Song: Just as well it’s the best song here with 16:57 of ‘That’s It For The Other One’ Best Speech: A fed-up and sarcastic Bob complains after the second song: ‘Well it doesn’t sound the least itty bit like it did in soundcheck, so while we’re all reeling in disbelief we’re going to try and get our act together’ Front Cover: The cover picks up on the alien excursions by having a ufo abduct some skeletons at a camp-site Overall Rating - A bland first half is partly rescued by a stronger more adventurous second but it’s still not prime Dead 5/10

(As the title says, Robert F Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC, July 12th and 13th 1989,  Released 2017)
(12th): Touch Of Grey/New Minglewood Blues/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues/Far From Me/Cassidy/Friend Of The Devil/Promised Land/Sugaree/Man Smart Woman Smarter/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet/Eyes Of The World > Drums > Space > I Need A Miracle/Dear Mr Fantasy/Black Peter/Turn On Your Love Light/Black Muddy River
(13th): Hell In A Bucket/Cold Rain and Snow/Little Red Rooster/Tennessee Jed/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/To Lay Me Down/Weather Report Suite: Let It Grow/He’s Gone/Looks Like Rain/Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home/That’s It For The Other One/Wharf Rat/Throwing Stones/Good Lovin’/US Blues
This is a so-so show most notable for being one of the first times future keyboard player Bruce Hornsby will sit in with the band. His band ‘The Range’ are the support act on these two dates and he sticks around for the set two openers of both shows (‘Sugaree’/’Man Smart Woman Smarter’ and ‘Tennessee Jed/Stuck Inside Of Mobile’), good practice for when he briefly becomes a member of the Dead in the 1990s (he plays some jazz piano while Brent sticks to synths, making these songs a little keyboard-heavy). Otherwise it’s a standard couple of sets from the late 1980s with Brent’s keyboards loud in the mix, Jerry slowing down, Bob falsely trying to gee things up with some rock and roll and a lot of spacey jams that don’t really go anywhere much. There are some affecting moments though when it all comes together, especially at the start of the show on the 12th when Jerry uses up the last of his energy early on for a most affecting ‘Mississippi Half-Step’ with Brent finding new ways to make this song his own rather than copying what Keith did. There’s a lot of Dylan on these nights too, a hangover from the collaborative live album released five months earlier. My take would be that the first set has the better performances and the second the better material, but it’s all a bit sluggish, with Jerry drained for most of both. The show was released in a limited edition of 15,000 copies and the first of two shows was familiar to addicted Deadheads having been screened once in cinemas across America on August 1st 2017 to celebrate what would have been Jerry’s 75th birthday. Sadly the visuals of this show have yet to be released on anything official though it’s good to know it’s still around for the future. Best Song: This set peaks early with second song o0n the first disc ‘Mississippi Half-Step’ very moving as Jerry reaches out into the darkness for hope Worst song: I need a miracle to get through this night’s ‘I Need A Miracle’ which comes crashing out of the end of ‘Space’ and is still being played by everyone with their instruments on the ‘weird’ settings. ‘Black Peter’ is a struggle too, with Jerry never sounding sicker and wobbling off the notes something awful. ‘Let It Grow’ ignores the title by not really going anywhere. Biggest Talking Point: Apart from Bruce I guess it’s the semi-rare cover of ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’ which has even more of a calypso feel than usual and a truncated and rather flimsy six minute run through ‘Lovelight’ with Bob doing his best Pig impression Best Speech: None Longest Song: 13:01 of ‘Terrapin Station’, with the engine set to auto-pilot Front Cover: A skeleton hand rises out of a drawing of the arena, clutching a rose Overall rating – Not that great really 2/10

(Rhino, January 2017)
CD One: The Album
CD Two: Live At The PNE Garden Auditorium, Vancouver, British Columbia, July 29th 1966
"*It’s just another trick she’s got up her sleeve!”
You can, dear readers, have too much of a good thing. There I was, still recovering from the end of celebrations for the Grateful Dead’s err thirty-eighth birthday when the fiftieth suddenly appeared, complete with yet another re-issue of an album that’s already been re-packaged more time than Madonna. The bad news is that all those superlative extras that once filled up the 2003 re-issue are missing, so there’s no chance to hear the very earliest Dead studio performances again and if you have a straight choice between the two the 2003 version wins out every time (better packaging, more care and – originally at least – a cheaper price). However if it’s a choice between simply re-issuing the same version of the album, letting it go off catalogue or doing something entirely new with it I guess this is the lesser of the three evils. This time as well as the short-running first disc you get a whole period concert – unreleased at the time though it came out shortly after as the fascinating standalone archive set ‘Live At The PNE Garden Auditorium’. Recorded even before the two sets released as ‘Historic Dead’ and ‘Vintage Dead’, it’s the earliest full concert we have from the Dead’s first trip out of America where they perform brilliantly to very muted and confused applause. This is a show more than worthy of being released on something, with a particularly great ‘Cream Puff War’ that knocks spots off the album version, but I’m not sure the two really go together. This show was, after all, recorded a full year before the first album released and they share only three songs together – useful for showing what these songs sound like at ‘proper’ speed maybe, but why not release one from around the time of the album recordings in April 1967? It also seems oddly stingy of such a generous band to take those bonus tracks away when we know they can all fit on a single disc. The result then: keep an eye on this series as it promises to be a good one (especially if we follow it through every ‘fiftieth anniversary year’ all the way through to – gulp – ‘Built To Last’ in 2039), but don’t throw out your 2003 sets and this first release in particular is deeply stingy.

(Rhino, May 2017)
Death Don’t Have No Mercy/St Stephen/Uncle John’s Band/Dark Star*/Easy Wind/Candyman/ China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider*/Morning Dew/He’s Gone/The Music Never Stopped/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Althea/Touch Of Grey/Dear Mr Fantasy > Hey Jude*/Ripple/Brokedown Palace
Third Disc Exclusive To Amazon: Playin’ In The Band/Eyes Of The World/St Stephen > Not Fade Away/Dark Hollow/Stella Blue*/Days Between*
* = Recordings currently exclusive to this set
"*You are the ones that can make us all laugh, though doing it you break down in tears…”
Released the same day as the ‘Long Strange Trip’ film, this is a long, strange soundtrack album that tries to be all things to all Deadheads and doesn’t quite get it right. Most newbies would probably be running to the door before the end of the first track [47] ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ and more than a few probably skipped through to ‘A Touch Of Grey’, the first song they recognised buried near the end of disc two. This set really doesn’t go for the obvious: there’s no [91] ‘Truckin’, no [80] ‘Casey Jones’ no [84]‘Sugar Magnolia’ and no [48] ‘That’s It For The Other One’. For the more serious collector this certainly isn’t ‘untold’: a few odds and ends that we haven’t heard before but will no doubt come out one day on their own archive sets along with bits and pieces from ‘Europe ‘72’ ‘Reckoning’ ‘Cornell 8/5/77’ ‘Sunshine Daydream’ and ‘One From The Vault’. None of these selections are generally talked about by fans as being the Dead at their greatest. A third disc, exclusive to Amazon buyers as a tie-in with Amazon Video who screened the film, just rubs it in more by being the most essential of the three discs, with the rarer released material of the set and the best of the new finds including a beautiful, fragile ‘Stella Blue’ performed in Oklahoma in May 1981 and a haunting ‘Days Between’ recorded right near the end of the Dead’s life in Madison Square Gardens on October 18th 1994 that’s really powerful. Meanwhile over on the ‘proper’ disc there’s a rather jittery and languid twenty-four minute take on [63] ‘Dark Star’ from The Fillmore East on February 14th 1970 that will surely end up being released as a standalone show at some point, a torturous medley of [231] ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’ and the coda from [72] ‘Hey Jude’ from Massachusetts in July 1989, neither of which should keep you up at night as a collector wondering if you ought to buy this set. The rest, made up of what we know and love however well or barely, is an odd mix of the great (the Live Europe ‘Morning Dew’) and the ghastly (the Cornell ‘St Stephen’ interrupted by ‘Not Fade Away’) and everything else in-between. It doesn’t really convey the feel of the Dead anything like as well as the film sadly.
 (Rhino, November 2017)
The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)/Cream Puff War/Morning Dew/That’s It For The Other One/Born Cross-Eyed/Dark Star/St Stephen/China Cat Sunflower/Doin’ That Rag/Cosmic Charlie
"Hey hey come right away, join the party every day!”
This is an interesting one. Having bought up the rights to the Dead back catalogue Rhino put together the first compilation dedicated to a particular era and go right back to the start with extracts from the first three studio albums. Very much an affordable set to bring in new fans who had never tried the Dead before, it’s bright and colourful and useful for what it is and gives a different viewpoint on the band than we normally get. In that sense the track listing is pretty darn good with nothing to scare the horses except [48] ‘The Other One’ strangely, with the compact single version of [63a] ‘Dark Star’ here over the Live/Dead one and all of the Pigpen jams missing. Everybody needs to start the long strange trip somewhere – this is as good as any I would say, though it has nothing there for the long-term collector and doesn’t even feature a picture of the band anywhere in the packaging.
 (Rhino, March 2018)
St Stephen/Bertha/Wharf Rat/Sugar Magnolia/Jack Straw/Truckin’/Morning Dew/Brown-Eyed Women/The Music Never Stopped/Estimated Prophet/Friend Of The Devil/Feels Like A Stranger/Fire On The Mountain/Bird Song/Ripple/Eyes Of The World/Touch Of Grey/Blow Away/So Many Roads
"Like an angel standing in a shaft of light, rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine”
Remember when I moaned that you couldn’t have a Dead compilation without some live stuff on there somewhere? Someone was listening! Well probably not to me as lots of fans were saying it, but anyway this sort of ‘companion’ volume is a very useful way for casual fans to catch up on the best of those many archive releases out there. It’s a welcome summary of the impossible, with thirty years of almost constant touring to choose from, but I think it does the job well and it’s good to have these tracks in ‘order’ so that you can hear how the Dead sound develops across the set. Putting the glorious Live/Dead version of ‘St Stephen’ first to catch the ear is a smart move I think and the better tracks from ‘Skulls and Roses’ and ‘Europe ‘72’ are here too. Full marks too for including Brent at his finest on a cooking ‘Blow Away’ and ‘So Many Roads’ performed by Jerry at the Dead’s very last gig in 1995 to complete the circle (shame there’s nothing from ‘Birth Of The Dead’ to truly bookend the journey, but you can’t have everything I guess). There’s a good mix of years and periods here too, though oddly not much from the Fillmore in 1969 –[52] ‘St Stephen’ apart – or May 1977, the periods so many people think were the Dead’s two live peaks. I have to say too that I’m shocked the killer [48] ‘Other One’ from the ‘So Many Roads’ box set isn’t here which is, for me, the Dead’s true live peak but hey every Deadhead is going to have his own particular favourite live tracks to save from pruning and this track selection is better than I thought it might be. It’s a shame though that this set isn’t assembled to seem like a ‘true’ Dead show, complete with a compact punchy first disc and spacey second set full of ‘Drums’ and ‘Space’ plus rock and roll encore for the true Dead experience. Instead this two-disc set is in danger of seeming like just another compilation and a ‘skeleton’ one at that without much meat on it, but at least it’s out there now for more casual fans to have a taste of what being a Deadhead is all about.

(Rhino, July 2018)
CD One: The Album
CD Two: Winterland San Francisco October 22nd 1967
Morning Dew/New Potato Caboose/It Hurts Me Too/Cold Rain and Snow/Turn On Your Love Light/Beat It On Down The Line/That’s It For The Other One
"*Another bus came by fifty years later and I got on and it all began again…”
This second release in the ‘fiftieth anniversary’ series is so much better than the first. Though it was originally advertised as including just the original 1968 mix of the album, actually the first CD contained both this and the better selling 1971 remix, making for a much easier comparison between the two (I prefer the 1971 mix for this record and the original mix for ‘Aoxomoxoa’ but that might just be because they’re what I’m more used to). While I’m still smarting from the loss of the [51] ‘Alligator’ jam from the 2003 version, the ‘bonus’ concert disc here is both worthy and illustrative, with lengthy and brilliant versions of ‘Anthem’s two opening songs (Including the first ever performance of [48] ‘That’s It For The Other One’ which already sounds like a masterpiece, taken slightly faster than what will become the norm!) along with a handful of other favourites in the setlist at the time. Both songs are the highlights, especially the psychedelic howl in the middle of ‘The Other One’ back when it was still missing Bob’s part, but almost all the songs are good tonight including a mournful [42] ‘Morning Dew’ and a punchy [39] ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ (only a tentative[64] ‘Lovelight’ is a little off). A shame, then, that this show isn’t – yet – out separately so more fans who already owned the parent album didn’t have to fork out for it again (a shame too that we didn’t get a full box set of all the live shows recorded for this studio/live hybrid album so we could piece all the bits and pieces back together again – maybe the 60th anniversary?!?) The show is notable too for being only the second gig the Dead played after their infamous drugs bust on October 2nd  - infamous because it snared both Bob and Pig via the smallest of contents found in the Dead Haight Ashbury house, neither of whom smoked at the time! This gig is, cheekily enough, a benefit for the ‘Marijuana Defence Fund’ that paid the legal fees of broke hippies busted for pot. Take that the man! One awaits the ‘Aoxomoxoa’ and ‘Live/Dead’ anniversary releases sometime around June and November 2019 with great interest!
(Would you believe…Fillmore West February 27th 1969? Released 2018)
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl/Doin’ That Rag/That’s It For The Other One/Dupree’s Diamond Blues/Mountains Of The Moon/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Turn On Your Lovelight/Cosmic Charlie
Forty-nine years after ‘Dark Star’ and ‘St Stephen’ etched their way into a generation’s sub-consciousness as part of ‘Live/Dead’ and thirteen after being released as part of the ‘Fillmore’ at last one of the Dead’s most important shows is out to own at an affordable price. If in truth the 27th isn’t the greatest of the celebrated Fillmore run (the 28th has the edge I think) and even if nothing here adds to up to the half hour that everyone loves, it’s still one of the Dead’s best concerts, especially if you’ve never heard any of it. The set was released primarily for hi-buffs anyway as a quadruple vinyl set (that’s even longer than ‘Europe ‘72’!) for record store day. The uneven sides, though, mean that the last disc runs terribly short basically consisting of the six minute encore ‘Cosmic Charlie’ and a blank side consisting of an etching of the rather weird cover art (surely they could have squeezed those eight minutes onto one of the first side without too much trouble or loss in sound?) Like many a Dead release this was a limited edition, restricted to 9000 copies. Oh and please somebody, now that you’ve done everything else with this set, please put it out complete with support acts as Pentangle’s set is pretty legendary too! Best Song: Pretty much everything soars. The ‘Other One’ from tonight’s gig is my pick as the Dead’s best live performance ever, a rollercoaster ride full of danger and daring bookending by real emotion from a fragile Garcia. It’s hard not to see past the Live/Dead performances of ‘Dark Star’ and St Stephen’ either… Worst song: Though I can see why the band patched in a different jam on ‘The Eleven’ from the following night as they mess it up quite badly here. ‘Schoolgirl’ is a bit tentative tonight too without Pig’s usual joyous leering and sneering. Biggest Talking Point: The Dead’s best gig? (Or second or third?)Out separately at last? That will do for now! Best Speech: Bob introducing the two drummers as ‘Thumpy and Drumstick’ Longest Song: The 22:21 ‘Dark Star’ every Deadhead knows and loves Front Cover: The ‘Complete Fillmore’  skulls and roses logo but this time in an ugly shade of pink Overall rating –

As close to perfection as you can get, though if you can afford it the ‘Complete Fillmore’ box offers even more thrills and spills from a b
(Albuquerque Civic Auditorium, New Mexico, November 17th 1971 with a bonus disc taken from Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbour, Michigan, December 14th 1971, Released 2018)
Truckin’/Sugaree/Beat It On Down The Line/Tennessee Jed/El Paso/Big Railroad Blues/Jack Straw/Deal/Playin’ In The Band/Cumberland Blues/Me and Bobby McGee/You Win Again/Mexicali Blues/Casey Jones/One More Saturday Night/Ramble On Rose/Sugar Magnolia > That’s It For The Other One > Drums > Me and My Uncle > Wharf Rat > Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad
Bonus Disc: Truckin’/Sugaree/Mr Charlie/Beat It On Down The Line/Loser/Next Time You See Me/El Paso/Big Railroad Blues/Me and My Uncle/Run Rudolph Run/Big Boss Man/You Win Again/Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad
The main one of these two gigs was quite a famous one amongst fans thanks to being broadcast on local radio and thus being ripe for several early tapers. For once the Dead play well despite knowing that someone is out there in the shadows taping them and the November gig is a good and tight set even by 1971 standards with a bounce in everyone’s step and even the cover material Deadheads would usually regard as filler sound good tonight on a very consistent show. If I was looking for faults the second set isn’t quite as strong as the first and a mammoth jam that snakes its way in and out of ‘The Other One’ isn’t as seamless as some others from the period, but at least the band are pushing themselves and trying to aim for something big and bold. The ‘bonus’ show isn’t as consistent or well played but nevertheless may be the more interesting show. At the time Pig had only just returned to the band after his health scare and it’s great to hear him singing against Keith’s playing (there are so very shows released from this brief period so far). Often the 1971 Pig sounds sleepy and struggling but he’s full of fire here (it’s the others that strain to keep up with him instead!) Pig also sings a rare version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Run Rudolph Run’ especially for Christmas with a great duck walking Garcia guitar break. Overall a nice couple of shows. Best Song: An energetic and tight ‘Truckin’ is one of the best with a full ending for once rather than a ‘jam’. Pig just owns the second show with top versions of ‘Mr Charlie’ ‘Big Boss Man’ and the best of a small handful of ‘Run Rudolph Run’s. Worst song: Ten minutes of a muted ‘Loser’ sounds particularly lost tonight Biggest Talking Point: The return of the Pig. Yee-ha! There’s also another burst of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ during the tuning before ‘You Win Again’ Best Speech: None Longest Song: On a short night it’s an 18:42 linking section of ‘The Other One’ that really stands out Front Cover: A hot air balloon full of skeletons flies over a re-creation of the Albuquerque Auditorium Overall rating – The first is just great all the way through, the second isn’t as good but comes alive when Pig takes to the stage 7/10

(Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey, June 17th 1976 with extras, Released 2018)
(17th): Cold Rain and Snow/Big River/They Love Each Other/Cassidy/Tennessee Jed/Looks Like Rain > Row Jimmy/The Music Never Stopped/Scarlet Begonias/Promised Land/Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower/Dancin’ In The Street/Samson and Delilah/Ship Of Fools/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Friend Of The Devil/Weather Report Suite: let It Grow/Wharf Rat/Around and Around/(23rd): Sugaree/(28th): High Time
The bulk of the three discs is taken from the opening of a three-night run at Capitol Theatre. However rather than do the obvious and combine this show with extra tracks from the 19th (the 18th having already been released) instead Dave Lemeuix includes one song apiece from the third in a four night run in Derby, Pennsylvania and the third of a four night run in Chicago, Illinois. I’m not quite sure why as the extra two tracks don’t add a lot to what’s already one of the Dead’s longer running gigs. After a fairly shaky return to live performances since their ‘retirement’ this show – only the eighth in the past eight months which is nothing for the Dead - feels like the moment the Dead start having fun again and are warmed up enough to go anywhere with an extra bounce to many of the performances that makes everything shine, even the country covers. The Dead are often a band only as good as Jerry is on any given night and here he’s on top form, his vocals quietly in charge and gripping each one by the throat, while he’s forever sticking in guitar solos where they usually don’t go, just having fun at being on stage. Keith too plays a truly great show here, rolling bar-room piano good vibes across everything, caught at the midway point between his early quiet shy years and his later repetitive drug-fuelled ones. For some time now the Dead have been strong across either their first set or their second – this is the first for quite a while where both are largely great. The result is one of the best Dead archive sets of the Dead’s entire twenty year ‘return’  and it seems amazing in retrospect that this well loved show hadn’t been released before now. Best Song: Most everything, this show being strong in its consistency. The opening ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ is the sprightliest for many a long year, getting better and better as the song’s fade extends into a jamming session with the Dead really coming together and Garcia seizing on the chance to add a rare guitar solo instead of bringing things to a close. ‘They Love Each Other’, so often amongst the slowest weakest portions of the set, is brilliantly tight and really swings tonight. Once it gets going the ‘Allah’ trilogy at the start of the second set is quite a winner too, slowing down from a panicky opening to laidback cool by the time of an extra specially long ‘Franklin’s Tower’. ‘Let It grow’ is played with a particular manic glee tonight too. Worst song: 'Ship Of Fool’s just doesn’t give the Dead enough space to do anything with it and that shows on this night more than usual with an especially plodding tempo and a lengthy ending stretching the song to ten minutes and way past breaking point. ‘Friend Of The Devil’ is a little muted too. Biggest Talking Point: The Dead are alive again! Best Speech: None Longest Song: An 11:47 ‘Dancing In The Streets’, about as good as this song ever got in the 1970s Front Cover: A band of skeletons busk outside the theatre atop a jalopy, looking not unlike the music video for ‘A Touch Of Gray’ Overall rating – 7/10 A terrific show that’s solid all round with the Dead sounding hungrier than they had for a long time

(Boise State Pavilion, Idaho, September 2nd 1983, Released 2018)
Wang Dang Doodle > Jack Straw/They Love Each Other/Mama Tried/Big River/Brown-Eyed Women/New New Minglewood Blues/Big Railroad Blues/Looks Like Rain > Deal/Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower/Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Jam > Drums > Space > Throwing Stones > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad > Black Peter > Sugar Magnolia/It’s All Over Now Baby Blue
The Dead ring in the changes a little for this gig (anyone who had money on the band opening with oddball blues song ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ will have made a fortune at this gig!) ‘Baby Blue’ isn’t exactly a regular show closer either, a slight ballad rather than something noisy and adrenalin-fuelled to send crowds out on a high. There is an epic jam at the heart of the second set, but oddly it comes after the ‘Blues For Allah’ trilogy with which it starts and is equally spaced between the many songs for a change starting in a funky ‘Estimated Prophet’ and moving on through a jazzy ‘Eyes Of The World’ into an angry ‘Throwing Stones’, an energetic ‘Goin’ Down The Road’ (which isn’t connected to ‘Not Fade Away’ for once) and ending up in the sheer misery of ‘Black Peter’. That’s an odd string of songs to fit together but proof enough that, even in a bleak period in their career, the Dead can do anything so expect the unexpected. In terms of performance sadly it’s more usual: the dominant sounds here are Bob and Brent as an audibly ill Jerry fades into the background. Mind you, Phil suddenly comes out of nowhere to play with the dire and energy of his early days and is driving the band along from his opening statement (‘Hello Boisie, there are hundreds of you!’) to the last encore. As per usual in this series this CD was a limited edition, this time of 18,000 copies.  Best Song: Stretched out to eight minutes, this is an epic and bluesy version of ‘New New Minglewood Blues’ with a fab, teasing introduction Worst song: The entire ‘Allah’ trilogy is taken way too fast and Jerry really struggles to keep up Biggest Talking Point: The above song choices and song combinations Best Speech: Nothing really Longest Song: A 14:10 ‘Franklin’s Tower’ – now that’s a lot of rolling away the dew! Front Cover: A human skeleton rides a dinosaur skeleton into the clouds Overall rating A good show considering this is always seen as one of the lesser years for the Dead 5/10

The complete Dead-related shenanigans from this website:

‘Live/Dead’ (1969)

'Workingman's Dead' (1970)

'American Beauty' (1970)
'Blues For Allah' (1975)

'Terrapin Station' (1977)
'Shakedown Street' (1978)
'Go To Heaven' (1980)
'In The Dark' (1987)

'Built To Last' (1989)
Surviving TV Clips 1966-1994
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993
The Last Unfinished Album 1990-1995
Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1966-1976
Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1978-2011
A Guide To The CD Bonus Tracks
Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks
Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases

Essay: Why The ‘Dead’ Made Fans Feel So ‘Alive’
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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