Monday 20 July 2015

John Lennon and Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" (1980)

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" (1980)

(Just Like) Startin' Over/Kiss Kiss Kiss/Clean Up Time/Give Me Something/I'm Losing You/I'm Moving On/Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)//Watching The Wheels/Yes I'm Your Angel/Woman/Beautiful Boys/Dear Yoko/Every Man Has A Woman Who Lives Him/Hard Times Are Over

"Hubble bubble...toil, no trouble!"

Rather fittingly, 'Double Fantasy' has been living a double life for much of its thirty-five year existence. The album was released on November 17th 1980, breaking a five year wall of silence from John and Yoko, to initially devastatingly poor reviews and sluggish sales that led to an all-time Lennon chart low (not counting the 'unfinished music' LPs) of #14 in the UK and #11 in the US. Three weeks later the intended critical reviews had been withdrawn and pulped, the album quickly became the best-seller of the 1980 (despite only being eligible for sales across five weeks of the year) and 'Double Fantasy' went on to win the grammy for 'best album of 1982' (it was too late for entry in 1981 but the organisers couldn't bear the thought of leaving the album out!) Most of you will already have guessed the reasons why: this was the record Lennon paid for with his life, stepping into the public eye after five years away only to be gunned down on the steps of his own apartment, still clutching the master-tapes of a Yoko Ono track intended for release as a speedy-follow up. Though in life 'Double Fantasy' was a rather flimsy and lightweight album, underwhelming after five years of hibernation and stories had led fans to believe that if Lennon ever came back it would have to be with something massive and powerful, in death it became Lennon's last will and testament and the easiest purchase for fans to lay their hands on to pledge their allegiance to Lennon's ideals and values, perhaps forgetting that not much of what made Lennon great was actually on this LP. Somewhere along the road to mythology the line between the double lives has become blurred, with the several months of hearing nothing but Lennon's songs from this album and the fact that all of John's songs from this record have become must-haves for compilation albums (though almost certainly for material considerations, Geffen not having much other product to make licensing the songs on that label worthwhile) transforming this album's fortunes to the point where everyone now assumes it was always a 'classic' album and no one dares speaks ill of this album - even though for three weeks everyone hated it. All these decades on 'Double Fantasy' has been transformed into becoming Lennon's post-'Imagine' masterpiece, critics have been silenced and fans have all changed their opinion - all except me. Much as I still continue to mourn Lennon's death (even though it happened before I was born, I still see the Lennon-shaped hole in music where our great talent should be), much as I admire one of the greatest canons in music, much as I can see how moved people are by this album's unwitting 'final statements' of contentment that now ring out with such irony, I still can't love this album - because by Lennon's high standards there's nothing much here to love. 'Double Fantasy' is a playing-it-safe record by a man who'd never sunk so low as to play it safe for any length of time before, stretched out across half a record. Even the probable 'real' reason behind this record (that Lennon was afraid of being too 'down' because Sean was so good at picking up on his moods and he wanted his 'twin' - both the same day 35 years apart to be happy) makes sense for Lennon but not for the listener. 

One of the people who felt angry and betrayed about this album was Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman, who never did offer a real motive for killing Lennon but came closest in a throwaway line to police that Lennon had become a 'sellout, a phoney' (thus mimicking a line Yoko herself uses to accuse Lennon on her iciest song 'I'm Moving On'; Chapman's line about 'wanting to become famous' was just made up copy by journalists trying to sell papers who knew they were never likely to get sued). One of the weirder aspects of the case is that - again despite the mythology that's now gone down in history - Chapman presented himself as a lifelong Lennon 'fan' despite having no Beatles or Lennon records in his collection at the time of his arrest and none of his friends or family remembering him showing any real interest in the fab four past watching the 'Ed Sullivan' show that everybody watched (in fact his reluctance to buy any Beatles records whatsoever marks him out from a good three-quarters of his generation). However the one exception was 'Double Fantasy', which Chapman had bought a week before travelling to New York from Hawaii and even got autographed a few hours before the murder when Chapman reportedly 'lost his bottle' with so many passers-by around and needed an excuse to be hanging round the Lennons' Dakota home. When asked why he considered Lennon a 'traitor' Chapman mentioned both this album and an interview for Rolling Stone Magazine published three days before the shooting on December 8th 1980. While no group, even the Spice Girls, deserve to be harmed in any way just because of their music - and there are far more arguments for why Chapman wasn't what he said he was (his blank conditioning, his odd behaviour, the expensive airplane flight he took despite nobody knowing where he got the money from, his lack of interest or knowledge in the Beatles and his confusing links to Russia and communism - though I still say Reagan is a more likely suspect given that the last thing Lennon did before tucking Sean in at night and mixing Yoko's track 'Walking On Thin Ice' was organise his first rally in eight years, on behalf of Japanese War Veterans living in America denied medical funding and social care) it's interesting that Chapman should consider himself 'betrayed' by this album and Lennon a 'phoney' for releasing it. Because that's more or less in line with what a lot of the (ultimately unpublished) reviews seemed to think of this album too - and what a few braver Lennon fans have sheepishly admitted to me down the years.

No artist is ever going to stand still and Lennon in particular was on the move permanently in his quest for the next new sound, so it's no surprise that his sound should have changed so drastically after five years out of the public eye. Perhaps sensibly, Lennon delays recapturing his youth for another time (though the first draft of intended sequel 'Milk and Honey' suggests a much more youthful album to come) and sings a lot about being 'middle aged'. However what's less forgivable across 'Double Fantasy' is how badly Lennon wants to re-write history, put down all his earlier mistakes to misguided youth and repeat over and over how much better contented middle age is than fighting the system. 'No rats aboard the perfect ship' Lennon sings smugly on 'Clean Up Time', a song that apparently flies in the face of every hippie ideal going. If you hear it in the right mindset, 'Watching The Wheels' basically tells fans that they were getting to be a drag and Lennon needed a break, never thinking of 'us' once. Many of the other songs sound smug and toothless compared to anything from Lennon's past- exaggerate all this by a five year wait for Lennon's anti-establishment roar and it's easy to see why this album was (at first) disliked as this record was and if any record was going to get you shot by a fan devastated by apparent utter betrayal then it's this one. Only Mark Chapman was not your average killer. He was no avenging hippie with a point to prove, just a security guard leading a boring life and a fixation with the book 'Catcher In The Rye' and in contrast to how most of the media portrayed him wasn't that much of a loner or a misfit - most of that came from vague acquaintances wanting to see their own names in print - and was happily married with a steady job, however low his wages (a novel I've always refused to read because of its close proximity in the case - Chapman handed it in to the arresting officer as his 'motive' and sat calmly reading it while Yoko and the Dakota security guards rushed around desperately for an ambulance - although from what others have told me there is no connection between the book and the deed except for a 'loner' character as Chapman undoubtedly was portrayed in kinder circumstances than normal).

And 'Double Fantasy' was in no way an accurate portrayal of the sheer hell Lennon had been through in the five years he'd been away. Lennon had first toyed with releasing an album in 1978 when the writing bug first began to hit him seriously, but depending on which source you read had either sunk into a dark depression that year or was so contented in his current life that he finally put his old demons to rest - either way the series of demos that Lennon recorded that year are nothing like 'Double Fantasy' - they're sad, lonely, self-critical, full of doubts and fears and have a 'haunted' quality that beats even 'Walls and Bridges' (imagine the 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' album without the screaming and even sparser performances). After writing his heart out across some twenty semi-finished songs Lennon seems to have abandoned his muse again for another two years, until the first half of 1980 when he was on holiday without Yoko but with friends, who were planning to sail to Bermuda (a favourite JohnandYoko holiday destination). Lennon had chosen his shipmates wisely and they were all experiences sailors, far more so than he, but a violent storm that raged for some twenty-four hours left even his hardened colleagues sea-sick and only Lennon was immune (because, so he thought, of all those years strung out on heroin when his body had trained itself never to be sick in 'public'). Stuck at the tiller facing heavy storms and singing sea shanties to keep himself awake, Lennon quickly ran out of songs so began to invent his own, unlocking his creative side as he faced mother nature head on. These immediate songs, so far as we can tell without dates, are the vibrant, largely joyous songs later to be released on 'Milk and Honey' full of life and hope. And yet Lennon passed almost all of these songs over for a sequence of songs written a few weeks later, when Lennon had re-found his sea-legs and had embarked on what he wanted his 'proper' comeback record to sound like.

I've often wondered why Lennon was so determined to make his record sound the way it did. Lennon seems to have been both terrified and excited at the thought of releasing this record, worried that his fanbase might have forgotten him while simultaneously wanting to 'reach out' to the audience with his latest set of discoveries ('well here we are at 40 and did you all get through it and wasn't the 70s a drag? Let's hope for better in the 80s!') He spent far longer working on the album than normal, with a far higher percentage of unreleased songs than any other Lennon album and a lot more re-takes than usual too, honing this album down with the help of Yoko and Jack Douglas and leaving all of the 'Lennon sounding' songs for another time. Why? Everything here sounds artificial and sentimental, as if in Yoko's words from the album, Lennon is putting on his 'window smile' and pretending everything is a-ok when, pre-1980 at least, it clearly wasn't - other performers we could 'forgive; for this much more but this the sort of schmaltz Lennon usually hated and spent his life trying to overthrow. Most reviewers at the time assumed that Lennon had simply gone soft in middle age - but while Lennon was understandably 'comfier' than his younger, restless self we know from the 1978 demos and the 'Milk and Honey' recordings that by far the most toothless songs all appeared on this record, suggesting it was deliberate. Now it probably doesn't help coming to this album so soon after re-reviewing the 'Plastic Ono Band's angry attack on anything less than 'real' but it's noticeable how few lyrics on this record deal with anything approaching 'real' feeling. 'Startin' Over' so screams 'comeback single' that it's easy to miss the fact that it doesn't really say anything. 'Woman' is a kinder, softer tribute to female-kind that Lennon had obviously been trying to say for years - but compare it to the outrage of 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' and you soon notice just how different Lennon's emotions are, from angry idealist to diluted crooner. 'Watching The Wheels' denies all sense of Lennon wasting his life away - but doesn't tell us what Lennon's been doing and lacks any sense of, well, anything (one of Lennon's greatest strengths was always wearing his heart on his sleeve so obviously, but these songs are so upfront about having nothing to say that for once it isn't ok). 'Dear Yoko' rewrites 'Oh Yoko' via 'Buddy Holly', a 'safe' option no matter how catchy it may be. Only the charming 'Beautiful Boy', written out of love for the second child Lennon thought he'd never have and the album's one 1978 leftover, the angry snappish 'I'm Losing You' have any 'real' emotion and everything else rings hollow somehow. Even Yoko snaps 'I'm moving on, you're getting phoney' in reply. Yet 'Double Fantasy' could have been oh so different - a far superior version of 'I'm Losing You' with a then-contemporary new wave act Cheap Trick playing instead of the sessions musicians - was nixed at John's insistence even though Yoko adored it. The tracks from 'Milk and Honey' recorded at the same session have emotion in droves: 'I'm Steppin' Out' (joy), 'Nobody Told Me' (frustration), 'Grow Old Along With Me' (love), 'My Little Flower Princess' (guilt) and 'Borrowed Time' (nostalgia) have exactly what this album is 'missing' (I'm not sure it would have saved Lennon from death, but had he switched his albums round and kept 'Milk and Honey' far less critics and fans would have 'betrayed' on release).

What makes this sudden 'false Lennon' antiseptic sound worse is that we can only blame part of it on the period technology. Jack Douglas, chosen deliberately by Yoko for his 'sound' with bands like Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick and Miles Davis, expertly helps Yoko get her songs onto tape whilst sounding fresh and contemporary and was clearly chosen because of his track record making rockers sound hard and edgy. Many fans expected Lennon to come out sounding like Cheap Trick when they heard the news of his appointment (ie something more like 'Milk and Honey') making what turned up on this album even more of a shock. He could - and briefly did - have done the same for Lennon: the 'Cheap Trick' 'I'm Losing You' shows just how great this record have been - and though sketchy 'beginner's takes' much of 'Milk and Honey' has a far more timeless-yet-of-its-time sound than 'Double Fantasy'. This finished record just sounds over-polished and lush, curiously mixed so that all of Lennon's witty asides are ducked low in the mix. Perhaps the real reason this record gets on my nerves so much is that it sounds like a series of in-jokes we were never intended to hear (the album is full of messages to Sean and Yoko, buried until the oh-so-superior-I-can't-believe-it's-the-same-album 'Stripped Down' remix in 2010 laid them bare). I've never understood why - Lennon was always leaving 'messages' for fans but we'd always been able to hear them before, even if we played them backwards - and what are we to make of the 'don't sell a cow' story' or Lennon's monologue sent from Bermuda instead of a postcard (which cuts off a few words in, even though the 'Stripped' Down' version reveals it to be a most beautiful Lennonisms, about how he's bought Yoko a painting and isn't sure if he should tell her even though he'll be home long before the painting 'and it's hanging up right now behind your desk, right?') Thankfully 'Milk and Honey' will be full of even more spontaneity like this and Douglas' own work isn't too far removed from this style - so the lack of this style across 'Double Fantasy' (indeed the lack of any humour at all, unless you count the woeful attempt on Yoko's 'Yes I'm Your Angel') must have been Lennon's decision. Why? These songs could have done with more charm and humour. Given how Yoko's records came out sounding fresh and innervated it also seems fair to say that Lennon chose to ignore the new wave sound Douglas had been hired to provide. Why? Lennon had been no hermit while he'd been away, scouring the charts for anything of interest and like his wife he'd fallen in love with new wave (his next lot of sessions booked after 'Double Fantasy' weren't for his own record but to record a cover of Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass' for Ringo, with a country and western spoof ':Life Begins At 40' and 'Nobody Told Me' pencilled in for the drummer too). When asked once why he returned when he did, Lennon even giggled that he's just heard Paul McCartney's most new wave-ish single 'Coming Up' on the radio and, impressed, thought he'd better get going too 'because Paul's writing was suddenly so good' (he added, correctly in my view, that 'I prefer the freaky version he did in his garage to the live one in Glasgow and I thought the record company had a nerve making him change it!') Usually Lennon was ahead of the pack - but compared to what Macca was doing naturally with 'Macca II' in this period and what George was doing when pushed with 'Somewhere In England' Double Fantasy' is eons behind, not just a five-year retirement. Just picture what this album could have been: a record with the material of 'Milk and Honey', played with the feel of new wave and the inventiveness of 'Coming Up' - how on earth did we end up with the album we got?

What makes it worse in a way is that Yoko is on top form across this album, her own 'return' to the music world after six years away (and even then her second-best album 'A Story', recorded in 1974, wasn't released thanks in part to her estrangement from Lennon who wasn't forcing her records though on 'Apple' the way he once had). Some mis-guided critics then and now have said that the only reason 'Double Fantasy' got bad reviews was because of the decision to put John and Yoko's songs on an album together - for the first time since 'Sometimes In New York City' in 1972. Not so: firstly one of the few things about this album that works is its 'conversational' tone, a 'dual' take on themes that leads us to see things first from John's point of view and then his wife's (at least it does until the curious decision to disrupt the flow of the album by having side one ends with 'Beautiful Boy'; and side two start with 'Watching The Wheels'). This works particularly well with 'Beautiful Boy' being answered straight away by Yoko's 'Beautiful Boys' (comparing toddler Sean with his 40-year-old dad) and Yoko's Give Me Something' segueing into John's pained 'I'm Losing You'. Yes the 'conversational' concept loses its way outside these tracks but hey - 'Sgt Peppers' only stayed a concept for three tracks! However what doesn't work is that John and Yoko's songs now sound so alien from each other - with 'Double Fantasy' made effectively as two different records (with Yoko working in the afternoon and John at night; Douglas has been quite open the fact that this was because the pair, so loving in private, tended to argue and bicker like mad when working on their music and the idea of a truly joint effort was abandoned early on when it was clear nothing would get done). Secondly, Yoko's songs are simply better than her husband's. Though Lennon is languishing in middle age at forty, his wife at forty-seven is still very much keeping up with trends and her anguished punkish tracks are perfect for the 'new wave' acts big in 1980: the conceptual art of 'Kiss Kiss Kiss' (in which a double-tracked Yoko orgasms in stereo), the angry spitting safety-pinned 'Give Me Something', the accusatory 'I'm Moving On' and the trippy 80s psychedelia of 'Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him' are absolutely what contemporary acts are doing in this period - all those tough rock chicks like Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark who came with the same idea of 'art' and method and feistiness of Yoko. Lennon recognised it too, hearing The B-52s on the radio in 1979 and saying to Yoko 'listen, that's you!' (possibly looking them out after hearing that old mate Paul Simon was raving about them having 'borrowed' them as the 'new' for his film about washed up one-hit wonder Jonah in 1980's 'One Trick Pony'. one of Jonah's band members, Tony Levin, plays bass on this album as it happens so they might well have cropped up in conversation; Paul also lived in New York City and while not a regular visitor didn't live all that far away - the). The rest has clearly done Yoko good, giving her a chance to bottle up her feelings about being away from music and art for so long (like Lennon she was in hibernation and keen to bring up Sean 'properly', though she dealt with all the 'business' from an office in the Dakota building - though unlike Lennon it wasn't through choice of leaving the music business behind) and with Lennon's support Yoko was finally getting the due recognition she'd deserved for so long (everybody now assumes 'Walking On Thin Ice' was a strong seller because it was the first song released after Lennon's death - not so, everyone who'd heard the song being worked on across Lennon's final week were adamant she was about to get her first solo 'hit' and many young acts adored it, especially in the 'club' scene). Yoko's youthful energy makes Lennon's pipe-and-slippers all the more apparent, though, even if it does liven up the LP considerably (the unfortunate atrocity 'Yes I'm Your Angel' aside).

This album has troubled me for decades now, partly because it's at such odds with the records around it and partly because everyone else seems to wax lyrical about this album while ignoring the Lennon albums that really deserve it ('Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' 'Walls and Bridges' even the under-rated M'ind Games'). However I had a whole new angle to think about when Yoko decided to remix 'Double Fantasy' for the Lennon 'Signature' set released for what would have been John's 70th birthday on October 9th 2010 and I can't tell whether that's been good for my understanding of the album at all. Now to be fair this new mix is brilliant - usually 'remixes' spell disaster for AAA bands, causing fans to fork their money out for something even monekynuts collectors like me can't see that much difference in. but this one is positively different in every way. Much of the 1980s technology has been taken out, bits of Lennon cut out from the final mix have been re-instated (so we get much more of his vocals and guitar-work) and the work sounds much more 'timeless' than it did (many of the first critical notices remark just how dated and 50s Lennon's recordings sound, in great contrast to Yoko's). Many of the Lennonisms that were so hard to hear the first time round have been restored and they're brilliant, from Lennon's opening evocation of all his muses, all sadly gone by 1980 ('This one's for Gene and Eddie and Elvis...and Buddy!') to his sly closing remarks on 'Hard Times Are Over' ('When I hold you in my armchair...Goodbye! Heh heh heh!...All done!') that recall both his retirement farewell on 'Just Because' and his cynical 'goodbye-ee!' on the Sgt Pepper's reprise that says more in a second than ringmaster McCartney manages in 150. Some songs are a true revelation: Yoko's 'Every

There's nothing here that couldn't have been done at the time - so why not do it? (The 'remix' idea - first practised by Kate Bush for her early 1980s monstrosities - is a potentially great AAA series: a few other candidates that should be first in the queue for being 'stripped down' include CSN's 'Live It Up', Paul Simon's 'Hearts and Bones', Pink Floyd's 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason', Neil Young's 'Landing On Water' and fellow Beatle Paul's 'Press To Play' and 'George's 'Gone Troppo'!)
The problem may have been how many youngsters Lennon was surrounding himself with. Douglas was potentially the perfect sounding board for the project, with a knowledge and understanding of contemporary music and yet a genuine love and enthusiasm for Lennon's period as well (onlookers were surprised at how well the two got on and so quickly - recalling Lennon's friendship with Phil Spector without the shouting or guns) yet may have been slightly too awe-struck to make Lennon go back and re-do his 'bad bits'. Record label Geffen were then in their infancy and didn't have the same commercial clout and mixing know-how that a bigger label would have delivered (John and Yoko, unsure how well they would sound, made the recordings in private at first, paying for them with their own money and offering them unheard to different labels - Geffen won primarily because they treated John and Yoko as equal partners). (In fact you could say that Geffen were 'cursed' by the signing - they lost a lot of money when Lennon died and of course wasn't able to fulfil his multi-album deal; their attempt at a big-name replacement - Neil Young - will be similarly unhappy, ending in a notorious court case against the guitarist for 'releasing albums that didn't sound like what people had come to expect from Neil Young'). Lennon was notoriously shy and unsure of his own worth, particularly as a singer but sometimes as a writer too, and seems to have done what he told George Martin and Phil Spector but which the pair sensibly ignored: 'make my voice more hidden! Cover me up with everything else!' Douglas, overwhelmed to be working with a Beatle with much more experience, seems to have largely done what he was told - much to the record's ultimate cost. For despite my diatribe across this review there are parts of 'Double Fantasy' worth the rescue (and worth forking out for the 'Stripped Down' version for).

'Beautiful Boy' proves that Lennon could skirt sentiment if he chose (though so often on this record he just plunged in head-first), demonstrating just why he chose to stay out of the musical spotlight for so long to witness the miracle of birth and to see his boy growing up. 'I'm Losing You' might not match past classics but it adds some rare pain and honesty that's always welcome to hear from Lennon's mouth. 'Watching The Wheels' has an interesting concept behind it, even if it is ultimately a very boring song. 'Woman' has a very pretty Beatley tune, even if the words are far less inspired. Yoko's 'Kiss Kiss Kiss', 'Give Me Something' and 'I'm Moving On' reinvent her style quite wonderfully for a new era, while 'Beautiful Boys' offers one last gorgeous 70s style prog rock lament farewell to it. The album cover, of JohnandYoko in full embrace, is what album covers were made for and the album title (the name was taken from a rose) is clever and very in keeping with the great JohnandYoko tradition and the concept of swapping stories and viewpoints back and forth, though ultimately fudged, was very much an idea worth pursuing. I just wish that there was a bit more oomph about this album, which manages to out-bore even 'Sometime In New York City' in terms of theme and 'Mind Games' in terms of performance and that Lennon's farewell message had been a properly composed goodbye musing on Lennon's usual themes of life, love and death rather than a hastily scribbled note penned between the shopping lists and fleshed out to record-size. Had Lennon lived and had his career gone the way of the darker yet sparkier 'Milk and Honey', perhaps returning to the darker demos of 1978 for a third comeback record, 'Double Fantasy; would have been forgotten, dismissed as a curio back in the days when Lennon hadn't quite woken up from his five year slumber yet. No doubt, knowing this site, this review would have been full of reasons why it deserves a second shot and isn't quite the 'failure' everyone thinks it is. But of course nobody thinks of this album as a failure - people think of it as an amazing success story, one that was loved and treasured from the moment of release and features Lennon at his best, to the point where no best-ofs are complete without all of Lennon's songs from this album and curious Beatle newcomers don't bother getting to know much else because they're so badly put off by how sterile and false everything from this record seems. Only a tragedy the scale of Lennon's death could disguise what an awful mess most of this album is by his own high standards - and how much we owe it to Lennon's legacy to stop talking this album up and instead explore his lesser known, forgotten works before they disappear from view.

'(Just Like) Startin' Over' sums up the album nicely - it's blandly pleasant and at the time of release as the first single from the album was greeted with shock by fans who were alarmed at just how...cosy Lennon sounded. The song flopped badly on first release and had disappeared from the charts a week before Lennon died - only to hold the number one slot for three of the four weeks after his death (when it lagged behind Bryan Ferry's Lennon tribute 'Jealous Guy'). With any other artist this phrase would be a compliment, but given the history between them it's actually an insult to call this Lennon's most 'McCartney-ish' single. It's all too obviously crafted, slot A fits a little too snugly into slot B and you can almost hear Lennon going 'what would make a good comeback single? I know - a song full of a metaphor about taking the missus out on the town like the old days'. What's odd is that while the end product sounds totally self-contained and crafted, it was actually written out using the 'old fashioned' Lennon method of being pieced together from lots of different songs that stretched back over several months (possibly back to that Bermuda trip). Several demos exist on bootleg and were broadcast on the 'Lost Lennon Tapes' radio series under the names 'Crazy' and 'The Worst Is Over Now', which is actually a much better song, about recovering from years of knockbacks to live the comfortable peaceful contented existence a younger Lennon could only dream of. There is, then, a real heart beating within this song but it's hard to find it what with an anti-septic pop backing that recalls the 'Rock and Roll' album's lifeless attempt at turning the clock back to the 1950s and throwing the magic out with the rough edges. Lennon's vocal is weedy (the one time he badly needs to double-track his vocal he doesn't!), the backing singers turn the whole thing into an unfortunate clod-hopping gospel and though the song seems to be leading up to a magic solo where it all comes together the backing band never get to do anything more than just plod along. More convincing is the opening tinkle of a wind chime - mimicking the beginning of Lennon's 'last' career in 1970 (the funeral bells that introduced 'Mother') and replacing that anger and desperation with a sound of joy and love which is all very Lennon. Unfortunately though the song isn't: 'Startin Over' has little in common with the Lennon that came before and all sounds woefully middle-aged with the roar against injustice, greed and suffering replaced by a ditsy lyric about taking a break from not doing much anyway. Lennon tells us that 'we have grown' to this point, but doesn't sound that convinced of the fact himself. The 'Stripped Down' version is better, thanks to a lovely opening invocating all of Lennon's old influences, a louder Hugh McCracken guitar part and the absence of that awful choir - but it still sounds lightweight by his old standards.

'Kiss Kiss Kiss' is much more like it, Yoko instantly summing up the sound of 1980 in the same way she effortlessly tapped into the sound of 1974 the last time around on 'A Story'. Though Yoko too sings about comfort in middle age and of the fact she now effectively has kisses on tap, she reminds us that it wasn't always like this, adding in an angry middle eight ('Why me why you? Broken mirror white terror!') like she's turned into Debbie Harry on acid and perhaps referring to the use of 'bells' in her husband's art by telling us that she's driven on 'by the sound of that childhood bell ringing in my soul'. Primal scream therapy clearly didn't bring closure to Yoko's demons the way they did her husband's and we'll get a lot more of this sort of thing on her next solo album, the heartbroken 'Season Of Glass' in 1981. However the mpost thrilling moment - and one that even contemporary acts would have thought hard about including - is the extraordinary middle eight where Yoko drops all pretence about love being reduced to kissing and instead comes to orgasm twice over in stereo over the song's insistent angry beat. Yoko, notoriously shy despite how she seemed in public, found she couldn't record this at first so instead sent all the engineers and musicians out of the room, turned the lights down low and 'faked' her climax twice over, in the name of art. It's the one truly memorable passage of the entire album, Yoko dropping her guard to prove just how much those kisses mean to her and how far she's come to get to the point where she feels 'safe' enough to do this sort of thing for her art. This all returns to an old Yoko classic theme - her sense of reserve and the sea of emotions bubbling below the surface she can't bring herself to demonstrate openly and it's well arranged this song, with Andy Newmarks' pounding drums and Hugh McCracken's powerful guitarwork recalling the best of 'Approximately Infinite Universe' and hinting at the sea of emotions below the surface, contained by Yoko's prim and proper vocals, broken only by her 'little girl' voice overdubbed on top.

'Clean Up Time' is a surprisingly ugly song for such a 'clean' song. Lennon was inspired to write the song after his first meeting with Jack Douglas where the pair were discussing the changes to the music scene since Lennon's retirement in 1975. Then the music scene, Lennon's especially, had been full of hard drugs and booze and yet by 1980 the new guard had moved on to a cleaner way of living and the old guard were either changing their ways or dying off. 'Well, it's cleanup time at last I guess!' Jack shrugged, leading Lennon to laugh in reply 'it sure is' - John's sub-conscious having been opening by all his recent songwriting the phrase stuck with him all day and had become a song by the end of the night. Unfortunately it's not one of his better ideas - while the idea of 'cleaning up' is a good one, allowing a former addict to reflect on the better space his head is in these days (Lennon was something of a health addict during his house-husband years, turning to brown macrobiotic rice and refusing all alcohol and most drugs - despite what you may have read in Albert Goldman's rather alarming series of Lennon books) Lennon wastes the opportunity by turning this into another rather McCartney-ish song about a fictional contented couple. The lyrics recall 'Cry Baby Cry' with their tale of the King and Queen but this time round the couple are clearly John and Yoko themselves, the Queen 'in the counting house, counting out her money' while the King is 'in the kitchen, making bread and honey'. There's no sense anywhere, though, that this song has come to any conclusions and the lyrics offer no reason for the change - just a description of how peaceful Lennon's current life is. A middle eight adds some belated tension with a scary horror-movie style chord step that causes Lennon to half-yell 'Weeeeeeeeeeell' just like the bad ol' days, but this just ends up becoming another strutting solo part for the clinical saxophones to parp through. The melody too is awful, the musical equivalent of a heavy robot trying to make its way downstairs, clunking where it should soar and stuck in rut rather than sounding 'free' as the lyrics spend so much time promising. The 'Stripped Down' version again improves the song by placing Lennon up front in the mix so you can actually hear him and taking away much of the extraneous noise so that only a twin guitar part and a drum thump can be heard and Lennon's vocal is a delight when you can hear it properly, full of gasp and shrieks and some very Lennonisms (that spoken word intro we never used to be able to hear turns out to be 'hubble bubble, toil no trouble' and Lennon ad libs 'it's Christmas time, yes it's that time of year again...' during the fadeout.

Yoko's 'Give Me Something' rips that image of a contented life to shreds. 'The food is cold, your eyes are cold, the window's cold, the bed's cold!' she snaps, clearly at her husband, pleading 'give me something that's not cold, come on come on!' as if she's preparing to walk out there and then. Taking a leaf from Lennon's song 'Scared' she goes through it all again, replacing the word 'cold' with the word 'hard'. Throughout the song's angular stabs twist this way and that, as if trying to get comfy, but the 'living's hard' and Yoko's at the end of her tether. 'Give me give me give me!' she demands by the end, while a second Yoko in the distance retches to show her distaste. However contented Lennon really was (and the 1978 demos suggest he wasn't as contented as all that), Yoko clearly wasn't and her unveiling of what sounds like the 'real' truth of the pair's years in private - on the day she wrote the song at least - is a real punch to the stomach with a pair of doc martins, with all the more impact given that this album spends much of its time so comfortable in slippers. A terrific Hugh McCracken guitar solo recalls Wayne Gabriel's sterling work on 'Approximately Infinite Universe' and is a sound that could cut bread, mimicking the rising bile in Yoko's throat as she tries hard to suppress her desperation at getting something, anything back from her husband. The song has nowhere to go after 90 seconds so instead of just repeating everything again Yoko sensibly brings the song to as weary halt. Underlining that this relationship is now a one-way street she quietly announces that 'I'll give you my heartbeat, a little tear and flesh' telling Lennon that while it's not much 'you can have it, you can have it!' while icy chords sound like a door is being slammed right in his face. You wonder what Lennon made of such an honest and open song, especially at a time when he himself was covering up his own honesty so much. It's another of the album's highlights, full of more than enough energy and emotion for the two of them.

The song may also have inspired Lennon's best song on the album in response. 'I'm Losing You' is a brief return to if not the 'Plastic Ono Band' days of bitterness then certainly 'Walls and Bridges' sense of desperation and turmoil. This song is one of the earliest on the album, written on holiday in Bermuda when Lennon tried to call up Yoko back home and discovered to his horror that he couldn't get through (notorious for its stormy weather, the island may simply not have had a good enough reception or one of the phone wires may have been broken). The incident reminded him of his 'lost weekend' phases when he spent hours staring at the telephone ringing Yoko to ring him and inspired what at last is a genuinely inspired song from Lennon who uses the metaphor for not being able to communicate with his wife in a wider sense. 'You say you're not getting enough' he sighs, recalling Yoko's complaints from the last song, but doesn't know how to put things right. 'What the hell am I supposed to do?' he demands, 'just put a band-aid on it?' The wounds from 1972 (when JohnandYoko went to a party, with John leaving his wife downstairs while he had sex with a guest upstairs and left Yoko feeling taken for granted, one of the triggers for the 'lost weekend') has been forgiven but not forgotten, a desperate Lennon telling his wife 'I know I hurt you then - but hell that was way back when and do you still have to carry that cross?' Eventually losing his eruditeness John takes on Yoko at her own game, demanding that she 'drop it!' to a heavy, crunching guitar riff, but like 'Jealous Guy' he knows he's the one at fault and cannot work out a way to put things right. Lennon ends up simply feeling sorry for himself, singing the chorus from the skiffle track 'Long Lost John' over the fadeout in lonely despair (a busked version of the whole song from the 'Plastic Ono band' sessions later appeared on the 'Lennon Anthology' box set). The climax of the song comes a little before that, though, with a terrifying chord sequence where two Lennons chase themselves over and over across a descending set of chords grimly trying to hold on from a great height, as if John is chasing Yoko to their mutual doom. It's Lennon's one 'real' moment on the album and he's more than up for it, turning in a terrific vocal (even if again the mix makes it hard to hear), making you regret all the more how far he's fallen across the rest of the album. There are in fact four very different versions of this song around, all of which sound great.The 'Stripped Down' version makes a great song even better, putting Lennon's guilt right under a spotlight and taking all the effects away, although a better version yet appeared on the 'Anthology' box set when after Douglas' urging Lennon was backed by Cheap Trick for one song only. A third version - a piano ballad titled 'Stranger's Room' also released on 'Anthology' - is pretty special too even if Lennon hasn't come up with a 'proper' ending yet. It's an even more powerful performance and one that both Yoko and Douglas pleaded with him to use - Lennon, though, preferred the slightly less unhinged quality of this track.

Yoko replies immediately with 'I'm Moving On', a hurt ballad revved up to being another rocker which sounds very much like her 'hurt' songs from the 'Universe' and 'Feeling The Space' period. 'Save your kisses' she demands, contradicting her earlier song, 'You know you scarred me for life!' Yoko, authentic to the last, threatens to move away for good this time if Lennon doesn't change her ways, telling Lennon what must have hurt him the most to hear - that after years of being the most 'real' pair in rock 'you're getting phoney'. Yoko reflects sadly on how she always used to know how her husband was feeling, how the emotion was always there in his voice and his eyes, but now all she gets is his fake 'window smile' and that's not good enough for here -she wants 'the truth and nothing more', however ugly or dark that might be. Pushed to more great heights Yoko is inspired to bring back her old-style squealing one last time as two of her hold on to her final note ('I'm moving ooooooooooooon!') for what seems like an eternity before she mad anger dies out and leaves her making her mouth noises (last heard on 'Fly' in 1971) to bring the song to a collapsing close. It's another powerful moment that takes you by surprise, with Yoko once again trumping John's material and differing from her husband by expressing her independence and that unlike Lennon she can exist outside the JohnandYoko story. For once the 'Stripped Down' version doesn't improve the song and simply messes around with the elements that made up the song - Yoko's emotion already came though the finished product loud and clear no matter what the slick production had to had. Sadly a reported outtake with 'Cheap Trick' recorded the same day they did 'I', Losing You', remains in the vault even though Yoko considered this too to be the better version.

The one moment of cosiness on 'Double Fantasy' that sounds sincere is Lennon's haunting 'Beautiful Boy'. Written for Sean somewhere around his fourth birthday in October 1979, it's a lovely song that subverts Lennon's usual mantra to the world that 'it's gonna be alright!' to his own son. John sounds protective, adding that the 'monster's gone' and that in absentia (was this song finished off in Bermuda?) his love is all the stronger. Wondering on how much he's missed out during a week away from home, Lennon grows impatient to see everything of his son growing up - 'I can hardly to wait to see you come of age' he sighs, 'but I guess we'll both just have to be patient'. Lennon also comes up with his single best line on the album: 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'. It's meant as a bit of advice from father to son, but as ever with Lennon it works equally well in the universal sense as the personal. I'm less keen on the melody, which uses a calypso reggae feel (that settles it - this was almost definitely written in Bermuda!) and settles into a slow-burning groove early on and stays there, but even that suits the overall cosiness of this song, with Lennon's twinkling vocal delivering just the right amount of pathos. I still prefer the demo, though, with Lennon using his guitar to tell the story instead of an entire steel band - this is one of those intimate songs that sounds all the better for being sparse (there's one on 'Anthology' although there's an even better and even sparser version out on bootleg). Of all the songs to play back after Lennon's death this is the hardest to listen to, with Lennon desperate to skip forward in time to see Sean turn eighteen (which he did in 2003) with us knowing well that he won't be there to see it first-hand. What a tragedy that, after vowing to take parenting seriously the second time around (poor Julian, born in 1963, barely saw his busy Beatle dad) and vowing to be there forever that turned out not to be true for a reason out of Lennon's hands. 'Goodnight' Lennon whispers 'See you in the morning' as if he's just been singing this performance directly to his sleeping son, not realising how few mornings were still left.  The song was always one of the better loved on the album the 'first' time round anyway but had grown in stature ever since and is many fans' favourite Lennon song (not least Paul McCartney's, who chose this song as his 'desert island disc' favourite in 1982, the only Beatle-related choice of his eight). The 'Stripped Down' version doesn't add a lot more, but Lennon's clearer vocal is even more of a delight. 'Beautiful Boy' may not sound much like the rest of Lennon's oeuvre, it may lack the distinctiveness and courage of his best work, but it's the one song here that demonstrates that this easier more comfortable way of life was good for the art as well as the soul.

'Watching The Wheels' starts side two in defensive mood. Lennon addresses the 'missing' five year period head on, remembering the 'advice' that 'friends' like Paul and Mick Jagger were giving him in absence to come out of retirement and recalls how he was called both 'lazy' and 'crazy' by peers who couldn't understand why anyone would turn their back on such a career. So far so good - but rather than answer with what Lennon has really been doing (Watching his boy grow up! Rooting himself in the 'real' world! Having fun fort himself after a lifetime of providing entertainment for other people!') Lennon just grumpily tells us that he's been 'watching the wheels go round and round'. The lyric has its moments ('There are no problems - only solutions' is a very Lennonish quote that would have gone well with 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night') but not enough of them - for the most part this is a boring song and it's a song that can't afford to be boring: it's the long awaited continuation of a lifelong conversation between artist and fan that JohnandYoko had spent their careers having and, well, it's forgettable. Welcome as it is to hear that Lennon jumped off the merry-go-und that was causing him pain, why didn't he do a better job of telling us how much better his new life is? Someone like Ray Davies would have made this song about returning to the simple things in life after a year of being the centre of attention the most moving thing on the record - Lennon sounds as if he's reading a shopping list, with what must surely be his most forgettable melody in years. The 'Stripped Down' version is funkier, but it can only improve the performance not the song. Oddly, 'Wheels' was another song Lennon worked on for years (it may well have been his first written in his house-husband days) but earlier versions of the song are far more interesting: the travelogue 'Tennessee' and especially the 'In My Life' style 'Memories'. Even on an album of lost opportunities this is the one that got away.

However Lennon is saved the ignominy of having the worst song on the album thanks to Yoko's excruciating roaring twenties spoof 'Yes I'm Your Angel'. Effectively a copycat version of 'Makin' Whoopee' without the wit or even the rhyming structure (the whole point of the original song), Yoko was even sued by Gus Kahn's publishers - they seemed to have a strong case but to their credit weren't mean enough to pursue it after Lennon's death and quietly dropped it altogether by 1981. This really is the worst of Yoko all in one song - heer trite 'little girl persona' is her less flattering 'character', her vocal is shrill and annoying and she hits every note flat, destroying a genre without ever showing any signs of understanding what made it work (to be fair even someone who does know how these songs work - Paul McCartney - can't write these sort of songs either, with 'You Gave Me The Answer' and 'Honey Pie' only slight less excruciating than this). The song starts with some confusing sound effects which according to Lennon's comments in period interviews represented him going for a walk through a time tunnel that opened up and finding himself meeting Yoko in a previous life performing in a New York nightclub, wolf-whistling along to her performance. You wish that he'd met any of Yoko's other past lives instead - she was almost certainly Boadicea and Yoko herself believed the pair to be the reincarnations of Elizabethan poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (there's more of this on 'Milk and Honey' by the way...) - but this past life is just awful. The 'Stripped Down' versions adds more Lennon, which is welcome, but also more Ono, which isn't.

'Woman' was another big hit for Lennon and his first posthumous single where it reached number one in early 1981 (it could hardly sell any less really could it?) Lennon apparently always intended this song as the second single from the album - possibly after rush-releasing 'Walking On Thin Ice' - and you could see why as it's another oddly McCartney-like structured pop song with a hummable chord sequence and lyrics that won't shock the neighbours. In one sense it's a breakthrough song for Lennon, who had spent so many years pushing for the feminist unit and attacking male chauvinism (including his own) now simply turning to how wonderful women can be. He admitted that he was thinking of his mother Julia and even his aunt Mimi and Astrid Kirchher as much as Yoko in this song by the way - though his dedication 'to the other half of the sky' is taken directly from Yoko's book of sayings 'Grapefruit'. However, nice though the song is, there's something awfully false about it all. McCartney can get away with this sort of thing (his track 'My Love' is very similar) because we know that this is how his brain 'works' - that's he's as liable to consider audience and appeal and think in terms of symmetry and neatness when he's writing as much as the genuine emotion that inspired the song. Lennon's brain, though, isn't traditionally that tidy - it's through the rough edges, frayed endings and asymmetry where Lennon's true self always lurks. 'Woman' is one of Lennon's few songs where none of that 'real'ness is on display and so for all it's good points 'Woman' just ends up being another pop song of the sort the older more bitter Lennon would himself have been sneering at (he hated 'My Love' for instance!) Lennon's attempts to 'breath-in' during the chorus (recalling The Beatles' 'Girl') and the Buddy Holly-style hiccup ought to be clever - but in this context they just make this overtly pop and popular song all the more artificial and false. The 'Stripped Down' version is a major improvement though, adding Lennon's warm voice rather than keeping him at a distance which makes a lot more sense of the song.

Yoko's tribute 'Beautiful Boys' really belongs back with 'Beautiful Boy' as it's less about mankind than about the pair she knows well. Yoko's ambiguous lyric is clever, leaving us unsure if she's singing about husband or son (Lennon liked his 'toys' too!) and her lyric shows that she 'gets' John in a way far deeper than he seems to 'get' her. 'You got all you can carry yet somehow feels kind of empty' is her best line on the album, summing up what's taken Lennon a career to realise. 'Never be afraid to cry' is her motherly advice to son Sean, whose already learning the 'grown up' way of using reserve and talking for his feelings, while her advice to her husband is closer to home with what she's been seeing across this album: 'Never be afraid to fly'. Noticing her husband's new found love of travelling after his 'green card' (why the hell was it actually blue?!) came through Yoko encourages him to see the world after a lifetime of 'going to hell and back' but warns him that seeing the world won't help him see himself ('You can go from pole to pole and never scratch your soul'). As George Harrison would have told him 'inner space is the answer - not outer space'. A lovely melody does much to add meaning to this song, especially oddly enough the much more 80s production on 'Stripped Down', full of maternal pride mixed with worry and concern. It's another album highlight and is the one song on the album that seems to come with the feeling of 'ominous alarm' that will appear on pretty much all of Yoko's recording for the rest of the decade. Hugh McCracken's flamenco guitar flourishes shouldn't fit this decidedly un-demonstrative song and yet they sound perfect - Yoko really had a way of getting the best out of her guitarists!

John signs off with the last song released on his lifetime the charming but slight 'Dear Yoko', a lazy re-write of his earlier not-that-strong 'Oh Yoko' from 1971. A Buddy Holly style 50s backing track is cute enough and Lennon's vocal is a delight as he spits out a quick-stepping lyric about how much his wife means to him. It's a delight to hear Lennon so happy that he turns the line 'never ever ever gonna let you go' into poetry and there's a gorgeous middle eight, that slides in from nowhere and takes us by surprise with the sheer power of Lennon's feelings. However even by 'Double Fantasy' standards it's all rather twee - the younger Lennon would never have written a lyric like 'the Gods have really smiled upon out love, Dear Yoko' and it's exactly the sort of lazy writing John would have condemned in his Beatle colleagues. Once again the 'Stripped Down' version is better, injecting more life into the song underneath all the honking harmonicas (sadly none of them played by Lennon, one of the greatest players of the instrument!) but the really good versions of this song are all on bootlegs, the simple two chord strumming bringing out much of the 'realness' on this song than any amount of production overdubs. In case you were wondering the 'don't sell a cow' speech heard over the fade is an 'in-joke' discussed by Lennon in what turned out to be his last interview for Playboy Magazine: one of the weirder aspects of the Lennon business empire was investing in dairy farms (though less hands on than McCartney). John had taken Sean out for another holiday and was hoping Yoko would fly out to join them - but she wanted to see that a transaction over a rare breed took place before she flew out and the bargaining ended up dragging on for days (Yoko eventually sold it for $60,000 - Lennon's comment being 'only Yoko could sell a cow for that much!') That's why Lennon ad libs 'next time you come over don't sell a cow - come over and spend some time with the kids...'

Yoko's 'Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him' used to be another of my least favourite tracks on the record. It's the first of only two occasions where John and Yoko sing together and you can tell why they don't do more of this across the album - both are terrible flat straining to stay in tune with the other and the very 1980 production of lots of criss-crossing guitars and the cold alien synth landscape is distinctly unappetising. This is made worse by the decision to release a remixed version of this song without Yoko's voice as a now hard-to-find single: Lennon's vocal, only ever meant as a harmony part, is his worst on record when heard as a 'lead' part even if his voice really suits the song's sense of desperation and longing. The 'Stripped Down' version is a revelation, however, turning the song into a slow-burning ballad that's a lament for everyone whose ever struggled to find their life partner. The fact that Yoko is about to lose hers makes this track incredibly powerful and hints that she too shared Lennon's inability to commit and settle down: 'Why do I roam when I know you're the one? Why do I laugh when I feel like crying?' The theme that every single person has a soulmate but that they come at a cost is a very Yoko image and the idea that everyone can tell simply by listening to their heartbeat or staring into their eyes could have come straight out of 'Grapefruit'. Hearing Lennon intone the line 'in rain or shine' (recalling his lyric for Beatles B-side 'Rain') and 'in life and death' like the grim reaper is a very eerie moment in either version, however.

Thankfully the album ends not there but on the weary upbeat of Yoko's 'Hard Times Are Over'. Summing up the difficult path both John and Yoko have trodden since they first stepped down their mutual road, Yoko recalls her own 'Waiting For The Sunrise' from 1972 by picturing the sun coming out after a storm. Musically it's the one song of Yoko's on the album that looks back and could have come from her earlier Apple career, with a slight country and western saloon-bar feel. Thankfully it's more like her inspired 'Universe' work than her lesser 'Feeling The Space' era. Like Lennon she's contented and at peace, but unlike many of her husband's songs on this album she makes it clear that it's the sort of unwinding that comes after a hard-fought for day in a hot bath - the couple deserve this rest because they've been nearly broken by what life has to throw at them. Lennon's harmony vocal, sadly ducked in the album mix, is much louder on the superior 'Stripped Down' version and turns this song of solidarity into an anthem for JohnandYoko both as they celebrate how 'hard times are over - for a while'. Tragically those hard times are about to begin again a mere three weeks after people first got to hear this track, turning what should have been a rousing album finale into a track now laced with irony and hidden messages, ending with the couple too busy staring into each other's eyes in love as they walk round a street corner into...well we never find out on record because the album ends then but in retrospect it sounds awfully as if John and Yoko know they're walking into tragedy without knowing it (Lennon reportedly spoke often during the sessions that he would die soon and apparently feared entering his 40s from his childhood days - was he told this by the 'fortune teller' - see the 'Haunted Liverpool' series - who told him and his three friends in 1956 at Allerton Park 'whoever catches this ball will have unimaginable riches and influence and success - but it will come at a price'; only Lennon was brave enough to catch the ball? Douglas has since said many times in interviews that his last conversation with Lennon - actually taped in the studio - was about his fear of death, but that he ordered the tape be taken out and burnt when he learnt of the tragedy).

Overall, though, what's perhaps odd about 'Double Fantasy' is that it doesn't sound like the sort of album release by someone fearing death or the last will and testament by someone who knows he's pushing his luck. Had any other Lennon come last - the honest confessional of 'Plastic Ono Band', the half-confessional of 'Imagine', the Nixon-baiting of 'Sometime In New York City', the sadness and guilt of 'Mind Games' or the confusion of 'Walls and Bridges' - it would have made retrospective 'sense'. Lennon spends most of those albums looking over his shoulder, worried about how much time he has - the tragedy is that only Yoko has that sense of impending doom across 'Double Fantasy' - John has never sounded more contented, more at peace or more willing to demonstrate that he's in life for the long run, taking care of himself and his family. No wonder, then, that the contented and peaceful 'Double Fantasy' became such a magnet for fans after Lennon's death, representing as it does the happier side of his art and fuelling people's anger that Lennon got taken away right when he was needed by his young family the most. The tragic circumstances of Lennon's death would have transformed any album into a million seller, even 'New York City' or 'Two Virgins' - 'Double Fantasy' was destined to become Lennon's biggest seller before he'd even died. But in truth it's a rotten record by his standards, weedy and calculating and often boring - the three charges you could never lay at Lennon's door at any other period - and it's not the way I want to remember him. Had Lennon lived there'd hopefully be so many fantastic albums in his catalogue (starting with the half-finished 'Milk and Honey') that this album would have been forgotten and over-shadowed, written off as Lennon struggling to get back in the groove. Instead my heart sinks every time I hear 'Watching The Wheels' or 'Woman' or 'Startin' Over' played on the radio and billed as 'classic Lennon'. This isn't classic Lennon in any way shape or form and the worst possible point for us to say goodbye, before Lennon had a chance to prove to us just how creative and how relevant he still was to his era and how much he still had to offer the world. Instead Lennon became a martyr in death, the last thing he'd ever have wanted, and the fact that so many of his lesser songs are now hailed as classics would have angered him as much as fans like me. For once we'll end by quoting another reviewer that sums up better than I can the main problem with this record and even more unusually it's the NME (never usually that on the ball for AAA artists): 'It all sounds like the product of a great life - but unfortunately it all makes for a lousy record'.


'Imagine' (1971)

'Sometime In New York City' (1972)

'Mind Games'(1973)

'Walls and Bridges' (1974)

'Double Fantasy' (1980)

'Milk and Honey' (1982)

Non-Album Recordings 1969-1980

Live/Compilation/Unfinished Music Albums 1968-2010

The Best Unreleased Lennon Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1968-1980

Essay: Power To The Beatle – Why Lennon’s Authenticity Was So Special

Landmark concerts and key cover versions

Grateful Dead: Road Trips/Download Series/Miscelleneous Archive Releases

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

Road Trips Volume One Number One

(Various Venues, October 31st-November 9th 1979, Released 2007)

Alabama Getaway/Promised Land/Jack Straw/Deal/Dancing In The Street/Franklin's Tower/ Wharf Rat/I Need A Miracle/Bertha/Good Lovin'/Shakedown Street/Passenger /Terrapin Station/Playin' In The Band/Not Fade Away/Morning Dew/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance/Jam/Althea/Estimated Prophet/He's Gone/Jam

Full versions of the shows from November 5th and 6th were released separately. This was the start of yet another new series, designed at first to show off 'eras' of the Dead rather than specific shows, although that didn't last past the first few releases. This is still an early era for Brent in the band and his keyboard plays less of a role than in some gigs in the 1980s, although what's fascinating with hindsight is how fully he's integrated into the vocals even on classics like 'Jack Straw'. Considering that this is a highlights set rather than a full show the results are oddly uneven and the set can be divided pretty neatly between great success stories and gigantic blunders. That's especially true for Garcia whose fading fast even from the songs recorded at the start of this tour to the end and the 'jumble' of these dates on this set means you're always on edge, never quite sure if Jerry's going to pull everything together or fall on his feet. Sadly for a 'highlights' set there's very little in the way of rarities either, with just four songs from forthcoming 'Go To Heaven' - three of which had already been played a lot by this time. Still when this set works it works very well indeed and makes 1979 seem like a much more interesting year than the record and reputation would suggest; just keep the skip button handy! Best Song: A spirited 'China Rider' is a wild strain of the species, featuring all sorts of funky percussion effects from the two drummers and takes longer than most to settle down and fit back into its box. There's a terrific extended 'Deal' too with the band getting 'stuck' inside the chorus for several minutes, building to a huge climax. Worst song: 'Bertha' is a struggle: the band come in at different tempos, speed up then slow down and then Garcia hits that opening line as a tour-weary 'Iharrarannin', sounding like he's rather be anywhere else at this moment. Luckily Bob joins in to gee him along.  Biggest Talking Point: November 4th sees the first ever, rather tentative performance of 'Alabama Getaway', a recording chosen to start this 'highlights' set. Best Speech: Weir (whose clearly on something other than just the stage): 'What's the difference between a duck? May I have an envelope please? One leg's both the same. What's the difference between a frog? One leg's both the same. What's the moral of the story? It takes a heap o'haulin' to make the pigeon toed'. Wait, that's not the way it goes...' Longest Song: A 22:17 'Playin' In The Band' that's another of the highlights of the disc, with Brent providing a more gospelly sound than usual and Lesh coming up with a quirky funky bass part Front Cover: Most future 'Road Trips' will feature a 'postcard' motif, but this one features that famous shot of the band pointing at the camera and laughing dementedly, while new-boy Brent's face says 'what the hell have I gotten myself into?!' Overall rating - A real mixed bag of tricks and treats 5/10
Road Trips Full Show: The Spectrum 11/5/79
 (The Spectrum, Philadelphia, November 5th 1979, Released 2008)
China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Cassidy/Friend Of The Devil/El Paso/Stagger Lee/Passenger/Peggy-O/The Music Never Stopped/Althea/Easy To Love You/Estimated Prophet/Franklin's Tower > Space > Drums > Space > Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance/Sugar Magnolia/Casey Jones
Basically a re-think of the original 'Road Trips' release (Volume One Number One), choosing one full show and re-releasing it in full rather than as part of a highlights set. Arguably it's the best of the bunch, with some excellent moments, even though heard in full it's an incredibly uneven set, the band as likely to finish a song with a mistake as they to soar off into the magic kingdom only the best Dead performances ever visit. You have to say this run of shows does work best when heard as a highlights set but, even so, it's nice to have one of the better shows from the transitional 'goodbye Keith and Donna, hello Brent' month of November 1979 covered officially. To use the 'bonfire night' metaphor of the date, this isn't a damp squib but there aren't that many fireworks either (what a shame the Dead don't play 'The (Catherine) Wheel' tonight, eh?! Best Song: The two drummers are on fabulous form on 'The Music Never Stopped', breathing new life into this 'Blues For Allah' pieces which has never been played so fast. Worst song: 'Franklin's Tower' is a rare miss, Jerry getting lost inside his own song and never quite rescuing it by the end of the track no matter how much the others fill in for him.  Biggest Talking Point: Note an early and rather good appearance for two of the three Weir songs that are due to appear on 'Go To Heaven' the following year - unusually he seems to have been ready before Garcia although an early reading of his 'Heaven' song 'Althea' is one of the best too Best Speech: None Longest Song: 'Franklin's Tower' and 'Estimated Prophet' both end seconds either side of 13:40 Front Cover: The same group shot that appeared on 'Road Trips Volume One Number One' Overall rating - Nice but all rather unnecessary given that the highlights had been out for some time 6/10

Road Trips Full Show: The Spectrum 11/6/79
(The Spectrum, Philadelphia, November 6th 1979, Released 2008)
Alabama Getaway/Promised Land/Tennessee Jed/Me And My Uncle/Mexicali Blues/Candyman/Easy To Love You/Looks Like Rain/Jack-A-Roe/Jack Straw/Deal/Terrapin Station/Playin' In The Band > Drums > Space > Black Peter/Good Lovin'/US Blues
More of the same, with a slightly lesser show given a belated full release the year after the highlights were already gathered on 'Road Trips Volume One Number One'. Garcia's in good voice, though, which is rare for the period - it's just that the band aren't quite together tonight and the drummers especially are rather sluggish (that monumental 'Music Never Stopped' from the night before must have worn them out!)  Best Song: Most fans don't like it but Brent's 'Easy To Love You' is easier to take here with a more 'human' vocal and a rockier accompaniment. 'Candyman' sounds healthier than it has in a while too. Worst song: 'Mexicali Blues' is all over the place. Biggest Talking Point: None really - the band only play two songs from the forthcoming 'Go To Heaven' tonight while Weir's revival 'Good Lovin' is back in the set after a bit of an absence Best Speech: None Longest Song: A full 21 minutes of 'Playin' In The Band', which starts off a bit gingerly but gets going nicely by the end with Brent finding new nuances in an old friend Front Cover: That same flipping group shot for a third time - is this the only picture of them the Dead like or something? Overall rating - Not so nice and even more unnecessary, although again with some highlights and a nice chance to hear Brent back when he really was the band's 'newboy' 4/10

Road Trips Volume One Number Two

(Various Venues, October 7-16th 1977, Released 2008)

Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Sugaree/The Music Never Stopped/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/El Paso/Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower/Playin' In The Band/Drums/That's It For The Other One/Good Lovin'/Terrapin Station/Black Peter/Around And Around/Brokedown Palace/Playin' In The Band/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Estimated Prophet/Loser/Sunrise/Iko Iko/The Wheel/Wharf Rat/Sugar Magnolia

Dick Latvala - the creator of the 'Dick's Picks Series - considered the show on the 11th to be the best the Dead ever played, so it's surprising that it took so long for this show to appear officially (and too see it released as part of a different series altogether). I'm not sure I quite agree - this set lacks the danger of the 60s material and the beauty of the first half of the 70s - but it is perhaps the best show from the  Dead's middle years. The handful of songs from that show are clearly the highlight of this compiled set, with the Dead in driving and rocky form on 'Let It Grow'  a rare 'Sunrise' and the 'Help/Slipknot/Tower' sequence so it seems odd that the rest of the complete show isn't out yet (are they saving it for some big anniversary?) I'm not quite sure what I think of these 'compilation' shows: they lack the drama of the 'pure' shows (many of which come out in their own right anyway if you wait long enough) and the 'beats' of the shows seem wrong somehow, with too any faster and slower-paced songs all in a line. However this is still a very good set to have for anyone who rates the 1977 shows highly and with its mixture of occasionally inventive jamming sessions and familiarity it's another good introduction to what the whole Dead experience is all about. Best Song: As well as the songs from the show on the 11th mentioned above there's an unusually upbeat 'Mississippi' that's awfully good which sounds almost defiant (and rather different to normal, with Keith sitting out much of the song and letting the two guitarists weave the riff between them instead) Worst song: 'Playin' In The Band' gets weird fast and sounds out of kilter with the more 'normal' songs here. While it's nice to see 'Brokedown Palace' back in the setlist everyone's a bit flat Biggest Talking Point: This is the last time the Dead will play the 'Help/Slipknot/Tower' trilogy for some six years, mothballing it after the version here on the 11th despite the fact it's a mere two years old by this point (the band will go o to play it much more frequently in the 80s than here).  Best Speech: None, this being a compilation set with all the talking taken out Longest Song: A very rambling 17:41 spin on 'Sugaree' Front Cover: A skeleton on a motorbike. Why is his sidecar empty? Because he had 'no body' to go with! Gettit? No body?...Alright then, please yourselves Overall rating - Interesting in patches but awfully inconsistent for a compilation set 6 /10

Road Trips, Volume One Number Three

(Various dates, July 31st- August 23rd 1971, Released 2008)

Big Railroad Blues/Hard To Handle/Me And Bobby McGee/Dark Star/Bird Song/Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/Uncle John's Band/Johnny B Goode/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Truckin'/Sugaree/That's It For The One > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Me And My Uncle > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia/Bertha/Mr Charlie/Cumberland Blues/Brokedown Palace/Hard To Handle/Sing Me Back Home/Big Boss Man/Not Fade Away/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/Turn On Your Love Light

A rare much-sought tape that only became a regular in the taping scene as late as 2001 containing highlights from two different shows, plus a third on the pre-order exclusive bonus disc. The band are really lively during this gig, playing everything with an extra energy and passion that makes this set of typical 1971 material sound more like a 1969 show. A lot of that comes from Billy, who plays most songs at double-quick time and throws in all sorts of extra drum rolls, although the rest of the band follow his lead - Bobby whoops and shrieks his way through the set, Phil dances around the bass strings, Jerry puts in one stinging solo in after another and Pig rips up like the good ol' days. All three shows are good, making this perhaps the strongest collection of shows from 1971, but the first disc is arguably the best, the band perhaps getting their extra energy from the fact they're playing to a then-record crowd of 10,000, discounting festival shows (a number that won't be beaten until the unexpected success of 1987 onwards). The sort of set that makes the official album 'Skulls and Roses' look ordinary, although given that the set is only two months away from here it's perhaps surprising how few numbers from that live record are featured here.  Best Song: This is my favoyurite version of 'Big Railroad Blues', with the band screaming into the opening song as if they just can't wait to get out on stage. 'Chia Cat' has an extra power tonight too, with Billy working overtime, as if he's got fireworks tied to his tail Worst song: Its the epics that fare worse tonight. Sadly 'Dark Star' falls apart badly in the middle, the band noodling for a good ten minutes before finding their way back into the song - a major change from the continually intense performances of 1969.  Biggest Talking Point: There are two songs broken out during this run of gigs, although sadly only a rather wild and chaotic 'Sugaree' appears on this set -the first  'Mr Charlie' isn't used for this 'highlights' set, although the second ever performance is here.  Best Speech: The crowd do a lot of muttering tonight but sadly most of it is just off mike Longest Song: A 22:48 'Dark Star' is the only really long song played tonight, while a fourteen minute 'Love Light' barely gets going Front Cover: A ye olde worlde sepia tinged shot of the band onstage with Bob turning round to face the others Overall rating - It's sad that this another highlights set when all three shows sound excellent, but it's undoubtedly one of the best archive sets of the seventies 8/10

Road Trips Volume One Number Four

(Winterland Arena, San Francisco, October 21-22nd 1978, Released 2008)

Sugaree/Passenger/Stagger Lee/I Need A Miracle/I Got My Mojo Working/That's It For The Other One/Stella Blue/Sugar Magnolia/US Blues/Ollin Arageed/Deal/Peggy-O/Jack Straw/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Not Fade Away/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/Bertha/Good Lovin'/Estimated Prophet/He's Gone/If I Had The World To Give/Around And Around

The last two of five shows played at Winterland to celebrate the band's return from Egypt and billed on the show flyers as 'From Egypt With Love'. As a 'souvenir' of their trip the band even have a go at 'Ollin Arageed', the song specially written for their arrival in that country with composer Hamza El-Din in attendance. The result is something of an odd show - the Dead have become a slicker beast on studio recordings but are much more of a shambles live in 1978, with Garcia's and Keith Godchaux's addictions slowing the tempos down. Most of the songs chosen for this set are noticeably slow anyway, with an emphasis on ballads, but even the rockers come a little unstuck. For once the band actually play quite a lot from forthcoming album 'Shakedown Street', released the following month! This is another of those archive shows that would have made more sense released as 'complete' shows - the 22nd is easily the better of the two despite getting less space here, although what's really odd is why it's out at all when better loved sets (even from 1978) remain unreleased. The result is one of the least appealing archive Dead shows although not without merit in places. The band were supported by John Cipolina, formerly of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Best Song: The version of 'Scarlet Fire' from this show used to be legendary amongst tapers; it's not quite the best out there but is awfully good with the segue particularly thrilling! Worst song: 'Sugaree' is a snore-fest, even in a set full of snoozers Biggest Talking Point: As well as the rare 'Ollin Arageed' (only ever performed in Egypt and in this week's run of shows) there's also a rare cover of the Preston Fister blues song 'I Got My Mojo Working', presumably not learnt in Egypt! It's very good too and should have stayed in the set longer, with some soaring harmonica and a funky rhythm - Pigpen would have been proud! Even more unusually Billy is chosen to address the crowd as he introduces Hamza-El-Din to the stage.  Best Speech: Bill Graham: 'Some of you have been here for the past five days sleeping outside -for those maniacs we want to say 'thank you very much!'   Longest Song: An epic 21:43 'Not Fade Away' - remember this is a song that barely lasted two minutes on Buddy Holly's original! Front Cover: A very clever cover which has the silhouette of a skeleton on the back of a camel preparing to cross San Francisco's Golden gate Bridge back home! Overall rating - 3 /10

Road Trips Volume Two Number One

(Madison Square Gardens, New York City, September 18-20th 1990, Released 2008)

Truckin' > China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Playin' In The Band > Ship Of Fools > Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow) > Jam > Jam Two > Dark Star > Playin' In The Band > Dark Star > Throwing Stones > Touch Of Grey > Turn On Your Love Light/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Picasso Moon/To Lay Me Down/Eyes Of The World > Estimated Prophet > Foolish Heart > Jam

One of the lesser 1990 shows around, though not without merit and the band are in a very bouncy mood for last show on the 20th in particular. Unusually this features not a complete show but a highlights set of four dates, for some reason featured in the wrong order. This is the second earliest archive set to date featuring Vince Welnick on the keys after Brent's death in July and he's already brought the band sound back to the soft tinkle of the Keith Godchaux years, with Mydland badly missed on the backing vocals (Phil, now restored to something approaching vocal health, covers most of his vocals). The band are still clearly re-learning their craft and are afraid to take as many chances wither with the set list or the arrangements, but when they do - especially with the oldest, most 'sacred' material interestingly - they're on top form. The last track had been previously included as 'Jam Out Of Foolish Heart' on the 'So Many Roads' box set.  Best Song: A late-period 'Dark Star' sounds as if it's flying slow motion, with a slower tempo and some nice Welnick keys breathing new life into an old friend. Worst song: 'To Lay Me Down' is a gorgeous song that deserves better than the 1990-look Dead can provide. Garcia has never been so shaky or hoarse. although it makes for a nice tribute to Brent. Biggest Talking Point: A rare outing for frenetic Bob Weir original 'Picasso Moon', which is suitably big at seven minutes (well, bigger than a drive-in movie oo-wee anyway!) Best Speech: None, this being a compilation of shows Longest Song: A 17:57 'Eyes Of The World' Front Cover: The Statue of Liberty wearing a laurel wreath. Umm, ok! Overall rating - 5/10

Road Trips Volume Two Number Two

(Carousel Ballroom (early version of The Fillmore West), San Francisco, February 14th 1968, Released 2009)

Morning Dew/Good Morning Little School Girl/Dark Star > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light/Viola Lee Blues/Beat It On Down The Line/It Hurts Me Too/Dark Star/That's It For The Other One > New Potato Caboose > Born Cross Eyed > Spanish Jam/Alligator > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback > In The Midnight Hour/Viola Lee Blues/Good Morning Little School Girl/New Potato Caboose > Dark Star > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light

Welcome to the earliest, chronologically speaking, of all the 120 and counting** Dead archive shows! The Dead open The Carousel Ballroom, the venue that will come to be known as The Fillmore West and will be forever linked with their name, alongside co-headliners Country Joe and The Fish. This show, a famous and much shared one, is also broadcast on local radio stations KPMX and KPFA - the first time ever a rock and roll concert was 'simulcast' (ie could be heard on more than one station).  In typical Dead style, they don't play a single love song for this Valentine's Day gig (not that there are that many Dead love songs out there!) or make things easy for their potential crossover audience at home - this is the Dead live loud and proud, full of the power and energy that makes their early days so thrilling. remarkably, almost all the best songs from the 1968-1969 era are in the set-list already, including three classics from 'Live/Dead' and an early 'China Cat Sunflower' not yet paired with its soulmate 'I Know You Rider'. However it's the stunning alternate version of the 'Anthem' sequence ('The Other One > New Potato Caboose' and a rare 'Born Cross-Eyed' ) from the second set that's the winner here and one of the best twenty minute sequences in this book, fumbled notes, miscues and issues with the sound notwithstanding. The three disc set also includes a great deal of material from other performances taken from across the first two months of 1968. Most of it is less intense and less satisfying than the main gig but is also chock full of highlights, including a nice and compact seven minute alternate of 'Dark Star' and a classic 'Turn On Your Love Light'. Fans of the later, subtler, less intense Dead might wander what all the fuss is about and laugh at the wrong notes but we -68-69ers know that almost everything the band touch in this period is paved with gold, irrespective of how well or not the Dead actually play, and this set is another crucial archive purchase. Best Song: This is a thrilling 'That's It For The Other One', taken at a faster lick than usual and with everyone on the ball and an even better 'Love Light' than the one on 'Live/Dead'! And then there's ten whole minutes of the most outrageous 'Caution' you've ever heard which covers everything from pounding blues to squealing peals of feedback that get other-wordly by the end. In anybody else's hands this would be a mess, but the Dead are on such fine form its all somehow ridiculously powerful. Worst song: Everyone seems to be coming at 'In The Midnight Hour' from different angles: Pig is pure soul, while Garcia seems to think he's in The Lovin' Spoonful and Lesh is revved up for rock and eager to get going! Biggest Talking Point: 'Born Cross-Eyed' isn't heard very often, 'Dark Star' 'The Eleven' 'China Cat' 'Turn On Your Love Light'  and 'It Hurts Me Too' all appear long before their performance is captured on record for posterity and Pigpen's soulful 'In The Midnight Hour' is the one song from this set that never did make to an LP (though it'll appear in these archive sets lots). Listen out for what must surely be one of the fastest 'Dark Stars' ever performed (the second of the two performed at this show), rushed through to the point where it only lasts six minutes and yet still contains all the usual improvisations of normal (do the band have somewhere to go ior did the band remember halfway through they'd already played it once tonight?!)  Best Speech: For once the emcee gets the best joke, a response to the band being signed to Warner Brothers, home of a certain cartoon franchise: 'Soon to have an album out on 'Looney Tunes', the Grateful Dead!' Garcia's response? A wry 'very funny!' Also this rather odd discussion later in the set - Weir: 'In 1941 The Japanese invaded the Solomon Islands - oh God, it was terrible!' Lesh (in his best JFK accent): 'And furthermore we will persevere in Vietnam!' Also Weir: 'We're blowing this one the first set - the second set's the live radio one, so we're going to blow this on the first set!' Longest Song: A 22:44 'That's It For The Other One' Front Cover: A truly weird cover of a man's face with the 'writing' where his mouth should be - apparently it's an early design by future regular artist Mouse and adapted from a concert poster for the gig. Overall rating -  Excellent, exquisite and exciting, like all early Dead should be 8/10

Road Trips Volume Two Number Three

(Iowa State Fairgrounds, June 16th 1974 and Freedom Hall, Kentucky, June 18th 1974, Released 2009)

China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/The Race Is On/Eyes Of The World/Big River/US Blues/Playin' In The Band/Loose Lucy/Eyes Of The World/China Doll/Weather Report Suite > Jam > That's It For The Other One > It's A Sin Jam > Stella Blue/Morning Dew/Around And Around/Deal/Greatest Story Ever Told/Truckin' > Nobody's Jam > Wharf Rat > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Sugar Magnolia

A memorable show, usually for all the wrong reasons - a member of the crowd died in the queue waiting to get tickets, having overdosed on some 'bad acid' before the show started. However while that bad vibe might have sunk the more fragile band of five years earlier, this one are in such a happy frame of mind nothing can stop them and there's a swagger in the Dead's step throughout that's a joy to behold. Another curious hybrid set when releasing both shows separately would have been more sensible. While the Dead are on good form on both shows it's the first that's special (weirdly split between discs one and three) with the second merely another good mid-70s Dead show. That said this is still one of my favourite archive shows - the band have all really gelled together into a solid unit but still have a few surprises up their sleeve with the arrangements and even the cover songs sound special at this show.  Best Song: This is one of the best 'China-Riders' in a very long time, with Billy hurling himself round the drum kit with abandon and breathing new life into the song. A nearly half-hour version of 'Playin' In The Band' that for once doesn't segue into anything else is one of the better period versions of this song and with an unknown member of the band playing along on kazoo! A slow and stately 'Morning Dew' - actually the final encore at the second show whatever its position on the disc - is also another classic, slow and stately and with Garcia in vulnerable mood. Worst song: 'Loose Lucy' is so loose she all but falls over! Biggest Talking Point: Jerry Garcia somehow fits the main riff from traditional song 'I've Been Working On The Railroad' into his solo on 'China Cat Sunflower' Best Speech: Weir: 'You're probably all wondering why we invited you here tonight. The upshot of it is that one of you is a Venusian spy. We believe this spy will reveal his or herself shortly' Lesh: 'And in the meantime, stay tuned!' Longest Song: A 28:53 'Playin' In The Band' Front Cover: A microphone snakes out from a bank of speakers in an elaborate Victoriana style etching of the 'wall of sound' that's rather fetching Overall rating - The first concert is one of the best archive Dead shows, the second brings it down slightly 8/10

Road Trips Volume Two Number Four

(Cal Expo Ampitheatre. Sacremento, May 26-27th 1993, Released 2009)

Samson And Delilah/Here Comes Sunshine/Walkin' Blues/Deal/Box Of Rain/Victim Or The Crime/Crazy Fingers/Playin' In The Band > Rhythm Devils > Corrina > Playin' In The Band/China Doll/Around And Around/Liberty/Shakedown Street/The Same Thing/Dire Wolf/High Time/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Picasso Moon/Fire On The Mountain/Cassidy > Uncle John's Band > Cassidy > Gloria/Broken Arrow/Ramble On Rose/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

And We Bid You Goodnight: this is the latest dated of all the many archive Dead releases, even though there are officially two years to go yet. These are the last two of three shows played at the same venue on consecutive days and again I'm curious as to why given that all three are considered excellent by fans. The first of the two shows in particular is considered to be the last truly classic Dead concert with lots of surprises in the set lists as well as a last sublime rendering of old warhorse 'Playin' In The Band' that's amongst the greatest released to date. Now admittedly Jerry's vocal comes as a shock - even on his rough days in the 1970s and 1980s he never sounded quite as bad as this and in the band's harmonies he often sounds as if he isn't there at all, the others drowning him out when they do anything above a whisper. But unlike some shows featured earlier in this book Jerry never sounds less than committed and at times his aged prematurely vocals really suit the songs he's singing. It's sad to say goodbye at all, but if we have to say it then this set - one of the last archive releases anyway at the time of writing - is a fine way to go out, with the Dead more or less having found their feet again with a set that manages to salute old friends and have fun with some new and rare ones with real magic at times again. The only thing preventing this being one of the absolute top-notch shows is thre weird way the running order has been messed around with, jumbling up the order and the two dates so that, for instance, the closing 'Gloria' is actually heard on these disc four tracks before 'Stuck Inside Of Mobile...' which was sung somewhere in the middle of the first show. Best Song: A miraculous 'Playin' In The Band' where, just for a moment, the years peel away and it could be the young vibrant Dead of 1972 performing. How delightful too to hear a modern version of 'Here Comes Sunshine' with a new a capella opening, a song not often heard since 1973! (Vince, a particular fan of the track, pushed heavily for its return to the setlist and he's right: it sounds great tonight even with Jerry's croaky voice!) Worst song: The Phil-led version of The Band's 'Broken Arrow' is best described as 'unusual'.  Biggest Talking Point: A rare outing for Bob's new blues collaboration with Willie Dixon 'Corrina' and Garcia/Hunter's new song 'Liberty', both of them a shoe in for the next Dead studio album that sadly never got made. There's also a rare cover of Van Morrison's 'Gloria', a cover song only featured on one other official release, and a unique cover of The Band's 'Broken Arrow'.  Best Speech: None - it's a shame the band aren't chattier on what will prove to be their last classic show, although of course they don't know that yet. Longest Song: An 18:59 'Playin' In The Band' Front Cover: A skeleton clutches two tickets. Actually I'm surprised he needs two seeing as he has 'no body' to go with! (I'm here all night folks...) Overall rating - A last hurrah 7/10

Road Trips Volume Three Number One

(Oakland Auditorium, California, December 28th and 30th 1979, Released 2009)

Sugaree/Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues/Row Jimmy/It's All Over Now/High Time/The Music Never Stopped/Alabama Getaway/Greatest Story Ever Told/Terrapin Station > Playin' In The Band > Rhythm Devils > Space > Uncle John's Band > I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin'/Casey Jones/One More Saturday Night/New New Minglewood Blues/Candyman /Ramble On Rose/Lazy Lightnin' > Supplication/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Truckin' > Wharf Rat
Two shows from five nights played at Oakland Auditorium to celebrate the new year (another had already been released from Boxing Day), this was the first time the Dead had played a new year's show with Brent on keys. He's very much integrated in the band's sound now, playing louder and more aggressively than Keith Godchaux ever did. The band play with much party atmosphere throughout, with a wild and rocky show where the harder edged songs fare well but the sweet ballads lack their usual precision. Perhaps everyone was partying just a little too hard? As is so often the case with these sets, the 'bonus disc' sounds far more interesting than the main concert, although that might just be because its included as a 'highlights' set.   Best Song: There's a merry dance through Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Now' that sounds rather good, perhaps because its played a little faster than normal and 'Alabama Getaway', complete with Phil Lesh bass groove, sounds better than average thanks to Brent's gruff harmonies proppping up Jerry's fading lead. Worst song: 'The Music Never Stopped' though you kinda wish it would to be honest and 'High Time' has never left me feeling lower Biggest Talking Point: Not really much to say - there's as few songs from new album 'Go To Heaven' but not too many and no rare covers, although there's notably a lot of Bob Weir solo songs tonight Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 14 minute 'Terrapin Station' best described as 'thoughtful' and played with more care than most of the set Front Cover: A sepia tinged shot of the band on stage Overall rating - Nothing that great here though nothing too awful either 4/10

Road Trips Volume Three Number Two

(Austin Memorial Auditorium, Texas, November 15th 1971, with a bonus disc of highlights from Texas Christian University, November 14th 1971, Released 2010)

Truckin'/Bertha/Playin' In The Band/Deal/Jack Straw/Loser/Beat It On Down The Line/Dark Star > El Paso > Dark Star/Casey Jones/One More Saturday Night/Me And My Uncle/Ramble On Rose/Mexicali Blues/Brokedown Palace/Me And Bobby McGee/ Cumberland Blues/Sugar Magnolia/You Win Again/Not Fade Away > Jam > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/Johnny B Goode/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Sugaree/Truckin' > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Me And My Uncle > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
More of the same from the Dead, who still play well but are clearly in transition (this is still only Keith's 16th gig in the 'hotseat'). Or at least that's how the performances and track selection looks on paper, but a closer listen reveals some unusual anomalies. The band start with 'Truckin' which hardly ever happens (the song is usually jammed at the end of the second or third sets!), shortly followed by a mere six minute rendition of the usually half-hour length 'Playin' In The Band'. What is going on??? Things get weirder as a mightily slow 'Dark Star' finds itself segueing into, not 'St Stephen' as normal, not even the band's usual 'jamming' songs like 'Morning Dew' or 'Playin' In The Band' but frivolous outlaw cover 'El Paso'. Eh? How on earth did that happen?!? It's like seeing a Dalek wearing cowboy boots, or John Wayne zapping aliens! As a result this is one of those shows presumably released because fans discuss it and it's weird running order so much, even though in musical terms this is standard Dead at best, ragged at worst. Garcia's microphone struggles to pick him up all gig for some reason and while the guitars sound mighty fine the bass and drums don't have their usual punch either. The other bad news is that the 'bonus disc' containing only extracts from the second set played the night before (at a Texas Christian learning centre - which must be one of the strangest venues the band ever played; and no sadly they don't do 'St Stephen'!) is much more interesting and deserves a release in its own right, although it's most likely back of the queue now given that half of it is here. Admittedly this is early 70s Dead so it's not a release completely without merit, but there are far better shows of this vintage doing the rounds. Best Song: This is one of the best 'Not Fade Away's around, slightly more together and less rushed than usual and it ends in a colossal jam that somehow ends up in 'Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad' and somehow out the other side. Worst song: Bobby starts 'One More Saturday Night' at hysterical level and then gets more and more OTT from there. Biggest Talking Point: A very early 'Wharf Rat' - the earliest to be released so far. This is also only the second time the band ever covered Hank Williams' 'You Win Again'.  Best Speech: There is some stage banter going on during the start of 'Me And My Uncle' but I can't hear what it is except a bewildered Garcia asking 'where are we?'  Longest Song: A 12:49 'Dark Star' - despite being one of the shortest renditions of the song Front Cover: A skeleton in a stetson, honouring not only the Texas venue but the many cowboy songs played tonight - quite a scary sight to be honest! Overall rating -  More unusual than truly good, but the band are still tight and hard to beat in this era 6/10

Road Trips Volume Three Number Two

(Austin Memorial Auditorium, Texas, November 15th 1971, with a bonus disc of highlightrs from Texas Christian University, November 14th 1971, Released 2010)

Truckin'/Bertha/Playin' In The Band/Deal/Jack Straw/Loser/Beat It On Down The Line/Dark Star > El Paso > Dark Star/Casey Jones/One More Saturday Night/Me And My Uncle/Ramble On Rose/Mexicali Blues/Brokedown Palace/Me And Bobby McGee/ Cumberland Blues/Sugar Magnolia/You Win Again/Not Fade Away > Jam > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/Johnny B Goode/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Sugaree/Truckin' > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Me And My Uncle > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia

More of the same from the Dead, who still play well but are clearly in transition (this is still only Keith's 16th gig in the 'hotseat'). Or at least that's how the performances and track selection looks on paper, but a closer listen reveals some unusual anomalies. The band start with 'Truckin' which hardly ever happens (the song is usually jammed at the end of the second or third sets!), shortly followed by a mere six minute rendition of the usually half-hour length 'Playin' In The Band'. What is going on??? Things get weirder as a mightily slow 'Dark Star' finds itself segueing into, not 'St Stephen' as normal, not even the band's usual 'jamming' songs like 'Morning Dew' or 'Playin' In The Band' but frivolous outlaw cover 'El Paso'. Eh? How on earth did that happen?!? It's like seeing a Dalek wearing cowboy boots, or John Wayne zapping aliens! As a result this is one of those shows presumably released because fans discuss it and it's weird running order so much, even though in musical terms this is standard Dead at best, ragged at worst. Garcia's microphone struggles to pick him up all gig for some reason and while the guitars sound mighty fine the bass and drums don't have their usual punch either. The other bad news is that the 'bonus disc' containing only extracts from the second set played the night before (at a Texas Christian learning centre - which must be one of the strangest venues the band ever played; and no sadly they don't do 'St Stephen'!) is much more interesting and deserves a release in its own right, although it's most likely back of the queue now given that half of it is here. Admittedly this is early 70s Dead so it's not a release completely without merit, but there are far better shows of this vintage doing the rounds. Best Song: This is one of the best 'Not Fade Away's around, slightly more together and less rushed than usual and it ends in a colossal jam that somehow ends up in 'Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad' and somehow out the other side. Worst song: Bobby starts 'One More Saturday Night' at hysterical level and then gets more and more OTT from there. Biggest Talking Point: A very early 'Wharf Rat' - the earliest to be released so far. This is also only the second time the band ever covered Hank Williams' 'You Win Again'.  Best Speech: There is some stage banter going on during the start of 'Me And My Uncle' but I can't hear what it is except a bewildered Garcia asking 'where are we?'  Longest Song: A 12:49 'Dark Star' - despite being one of the shortest renditions of the song Front Cover: A skeleton in a stetson, honouring not only the Texas venue but the many cowboy songs played tonight - quite a scary sight to be honest! Overall rating -  More unusual than truly good, but the band are still tight and hard to beat in this era 6/10

Road Trips Volume Three Number Three

(Fillmore East, New York, May 15th 1970, with extracts from the previous night's show at Meramac Community College, Missouri, Released 2010)

Don't Ease Me In/I Know My Rider/Ain't It Crazy? (The Rub)/Long Black Limousine/New Speedway Boogie/Casey Jones/St Stephen > That's It For The Other One > Cosmic Charlie/New New Minglewood Blues/Deep Elem Blues/The Ballad Of Casey Jones/Silver Threads And Golden Needles/Black Peter/Friend Of The Devil/Uncle John's Band/She's Mine/Katie Mae/A Voice On High/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Cumberland Blues/Hard To Handle/Morning Dew/Dire Wolf/Good Lovin'/Dark Star > St Stephen > Not Fade Away > Turn On Your Love Light/Cold Jordan/Friend Of The Devil/Candyman/ Cumberland Blues/Cold Jordan/Easy Wind/Attics Of My Life/Beat It On Down The Line/Next Time You See Me/New Speedway Boogie > St Stephen > Not Fade Away > Turn On Your Love Light
 The Dead play two lengthy sets on the same night supported by New Riders Of The Purple Sage (whose member Dave Nelson joins the band for first set encore 'Cold Jordan'), The Guess Who, Cold Blood and Buddy Miles. A fascinating good-natured show from a great period that's both one of the better played Dead sets and one of the more interesting for the long-term collector. This is the year when the Dead have introduced a smaller more intimate acoustic set and thankfully for the first time the acoustic set is left intact, but there's still plenty of room for the heady lengthy improvisations of 1968/69. The band are in real experimental mode too, performing several songs here that were only ever played for a handful of shows and aren't available elsewhere, mostly acoustic blues numbers. The results are an awful lot more interesting than what can be heard on 'Bear's Choice', the live album of the period, with Jerry, Bob and Pigpen handling the intimacy of these gigs a lot more.The performances are a little scruffy here and there, as the band add more and more new numbers to their set they haven't rehearsed as fully as at some other gigs, but there are many definitive sparkling performances across this set and lots of witty banter between band and hecklers. The first disc is particularly strong and among the best hours in the Dead's canon - archive or not! Recorded just a month before the release of 'Workingman's Dead', unusually almost all the album is here (everything but 'High Time') and all sounding particularly strong here (the band have clearly been rehearsing the album a lot). This lengthy four disc set shows just how hard the Dead worked in these days: all but the second half of the fourth and final disc of this set comes from the same date - man that's a long show, even if the band aren't playing as many extended jams these days. The bonus disc, containing highlights from a show played at the same venue the night before, is also pretty stunning highlighted by a four-piece medley of songs that didn't often go together. Alas despite being crammed with more goodies than most Dead archive CDs, the performance of 'Candyman' from the 15th is absent for unknown reasons. The performance of 'Easy Wind' from the main show was later chosen by Lesh for his personal collection 'Fallout From The Philzone'.  Best Song: An early version of 'New Speedway Boogie' played 'unplugged' style and with a lengthy organ intro played on the organ! This is one of the best 'New Minglewood Blues'es too, of either arrangement, with Bob shrieking at the top of his lungs. The Garcia-Weir blend is at its best on the traditional 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles'. 'Friend Of The Devil', about the only archive version played at the 'proper' (i.e. fast) speed is a delight too. Tonight's also one of the better 'China Cat's, a very jumpy and twitchy feline tonight. Worst song: Until recently every performance of 'That's It For The Other One' was a thing of beauty, but from this era onwards it begins to be more about lengthy drumming solos and a slower, more rambling second half. 'Dark Star' is more of a struggle than usual too, played at a really slow pace and with Jerry over-enunciating everything. Biggest Talking Point: There are a lot of rare or unusual song choices tonight: Bobby George's 'Long Black Limousine', Lightnin' Hopkins' lewd 'Ain't It Crazy?', Frank Forest's country song 'Next Time You See Me', the traditional song 'Cold Jordan' and the first time the band played the original traditional Ballad Of Casey Jones song, having already played 'their' version of the song for fans to compare it to! There's also a very different arrangement to 'I Know You Rider' than the pre-fame bluesy one or the post-fame rocky pairing with 'China Cat Sunflower' also heard in early form on this disc- a lovely slow folk ballad arrangement, which I probably like best of all and is one of the real highlights here. Best Speech: Emcee: 'May I introduce to you Mr Philip Lesh, from Marin Junior College' Phil: 'That's a lie!' 'Garcia: 'Yeah - that ain't Phillip Lesh!' Emcee: 'From 710 Ashbury Street, Mr Jerry Garcia' Garcia: 'They'll never take me alive!' Emcee: 'On drums, the son of Lenny Hart - Mickey Hart' Weir: 'He's trying to keep that quiet!' Garcia: 'Can we play now? Outtasite!' (oddly enough Billy is never introduced to the crowd!) Later Garcia jokes: 'We don't have to endure your miserable heckling!' with Bob adding 'a playful 'That's telling them, Jer!' *Crowd calls out for something unintelligible the band clearly don't want to play* Pigpen: 'If you can get Weir to bend over, maybe you'd get a chance at it!' Weir: 'Getting me to do that would be like getting Pig to brush his teeth!'  Longest Song: Generally speaking this is the Dead's 'folk-rock' year so the playing times tend to be shorter, although there's still room for a 13:45 'Turn On Your Love Light' Front Cover: A silhouette of the band on stage (left to right Garcia, Kreutzmann, Weir, Lesh, Hart and Pigpen) Overall rating - Simply stunning, this set is what fans dream of - Jerry, Bob and Pig all hitting peak form at the same, with killer versions of several fan favourites and some rare performances too  8/10

Road Trips Volume Three Number Four

(Pennsylvania State University, May 6th 1980 and Cornell University, New York, May 7th 1980, Released 2010)

Jack Straw/Peggy-O/Me And My Uncle > Big River/Loser/Cassidy/Row Jimmy/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Althea/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Feels Like A Stranger > He's Gone > That's It For The Other One > Rhythm Devils > Space > Wharf Rat > Around And Around > Johnny B Goode/Shakedown Street > Bertha > Playin' In The Band > Terrapin Station > Rhythm Devils > Space > Saint Of Circumstance > Black Peter > Playin' In The Band > Good Lovin'

A rare 1980s return to a university campus gig - most students don't know who the Dead are by this time though their parents sure do. The second of these shows is Bill Kreutzmann's 34th birthday, although sadly nobody sings 'happy birthday' to him at this gig. I'm rather surprised that this slightly scruffy gig has been released so soon - while the band don't get things as spectacularly wrong as they do occasionally at a few shows they struggle to get it together most of the two gigs (thought the second is slightly the better of the two) and there's nothing really spectacular or of historical importance here. Jerry's really in a bad way here, missing harmony cues, noodling rather than soaring on the solos and keeping the tempos sluggish. The set seems unusually high on recent songs tonight, with several songs from 'Shakedown Street' and 'Go To Heaven' here and the band do seem to play them with more interest than a lot of the 'oldies' (perhaps they've re-ordered their setlists to their younger audience, although that would be a first if they did!)  Best Song: The 'Lazy Lightnin' > Supplication' medley is a mess, but a fun mess while 'Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance' is a rare recovery during the set with Bob on good form throughout tonight Worst song: 'Loser' sounds wretched, painfully slow and with Jerry fast asleep on his feet. China Cat sounds lopsided and fat, waddling rather than strutting Biggest Talking Point: A mammoth 'Playin' In The Band' jam that takes in a while bunch of other Dead classics along the way. The band also play a brief version of the University's 'theme' song 'Far Above Cayuga's Waters' for the only time Best Speech: There's a really jolly tune to accompany 'take a step back' tonight Longest Song: He's Gone' and 'Shakedown Street' both clock in at the same time - 13:54 Front Cover: Two laughing skulls stare at each other from the opposite sides of an arena Overall rating - Pretty horrid to be honest - a poor show from a poor period without much to recommend it 2/10

Road Trips Volume Four Number One

(The Big Rock Pow-Wow Festival, Florida, May 23-24th 1969, Released 2010)

Hard To Handle/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light/Turn On Your Love Light Again/Doin' That Rag/He Was A Friend Of Mine/China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Death Don't Have No Mercy/Morning Dew/Me And My Uncle/Bob Weir's Yellow Dog Story/Alligator > Drums > St Stephen > Feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight

Here's a rather unique event: an American Indian Woodstock, held three months before the more famous festival! The night's theme is everything Indian, although the usual acts from the late 1960s still appear at it including Johnny Winter and The Youngbloods, as well as a reading by Timothy Leary. It's another classic 1969 set with the band on truly great form and turning even the shorter songs into extended jams (only 'And We Bid You Goodnight' and 'Me and My Uncle' come in at under five minutes!) The band have a real telepathy with each other in this period and the two drummers particularly are working miracles behind the main sound, whilst Tom Constanten and Pigpen are both loud in the mix on different songs. Though Pig has a lot to do and gets a rare chance to start the set off (plus three lengthy goes at 'Love Light', all amongst the best especially the half-hour version!), this isn't a set for staying tied to the Earth but one for hovering in mid-air. Best Song: This is a great 'Dark Star', slow and stately without being too slow and big on the atmospherics, transforming into a more polished-than-usual 'St Stephen' complete with chiming bells during the middle eight! A very noisy 'China Cat' is terrific too, sounding more like Tigger than its usual sleek tiger-self. By contrast there's a chilling 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' sung at full power compared to the inferior slurred version from 'Live/Dead' Worst song: Surprisingly after near-perfect renditions of its two main companions, the band don't really connect with 'The Eleven' tonight which keeps threatening to turn upside down and end up as 'Not Fade Away'. 'Morning Dew' doesn't quite have the sparkle of usual either Biggest Talking Point: This is likely to be the first time Bob told his shaggy, sorry yellow dog story on stage and he's noticeably hesitant over it compared to later, with Jerry having to quieten down the crowd so he can tell it (a second, rather better later version can be heard on the CD re-issue of 'Europe '72') The band haven't played 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' for a while either, one of the earliest songs in their setlist making a surprise come back. Best Speech: Two of the funniest Dead speeches - Emcee: 'It would be best at the beginning for those of you in the back if at the front you could sit down so you can all see, because the Grateful Dead are going to be with you for a while' Pigpen: 'Don't sit - stand up!' 'Emcee: 'Or - yeah, we could do that too!' Lesh: 'Don't be programming it - let's just get it on!' Garcia: 'There's nothing to see anyway...' Emcee: 'Just do what you want!' Garcia: 'Thanks, Man!' Lesh: 'Ok, boss!' Emcee: 'You guys are too much!' The other again involves the emcee who tells the crowd: 'I just got to say a word' Garcia: 'Alright then, say a word, howdy? boo?' Emcee: 'Easter 1968 The first group to ever play the love in grace Greenhills Park' Weir: 'I don't remember it!' Emcee: 'We basically started off with just a concert for the Grateful Dead and we ended up with a whole festival, so here they are the best group in the universe, musician for musician...' Garcia: 'Don't say that!' Emcee: 'Dynamic, electronic, the Grateful Dead!' Lesh's response?: 'Boo!' Longest Song: A mammoth 31 minute 'Love Light' Front Cover: A scary looking skull wearing a bandana Overall rating - Superb, one of the Dead's best nights and as close to essential as a single concert can be 9/10

Road Trips Volume Four Number Two

(Brendan Byrne Arena, New Jersey, March 31st-April 1st 1988, Released 2011)

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Jack Straw > To Lay Me Down/Ballad Of A Thin Man/When Push Comes To Shove/New New Minglewood Blues/Cumberland Blues/Deal/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Brokedown Palace/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Samson And Delilah > Fire On The Mountain > Samson And Delilah/Terrapin Station > Rhythm Devils > Space > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > I Need A Miracle > Dear Mr Fantasy > Hey Jude > All Along The Watchtower/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider > Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away

The second and third of three shows played at this venue on consecutive days. A rowdy, hostile night the gig starts badly with a punch-up among fans in the car park and ends during the last song with Billy Kreutzmann being hit on the head with a bottle on the earlier show; he's unhurt but for the first time in years the band refuse to play an encore. Traditionally a show fans want to forget, this was a surprise choice for the archives series. The performance of 'Ballad Of A Thin Man' from tonight's gig was previously released on 'Postcards Of The Hanging' and this gig is perhaps most notable for the sheer amount of Dylan songs performed tonight (four!) As for the quality of the music, this isn't bad for the era, although the tempos are still a tad sluggish and not a lot really throws. The band sound like they're trying though and Jerry sounds like he's awake, which is a plus, occasionally exploding into life on the ballads particularly, with the first of the two shows tonight's winner on points. Neither are essential, but if this period of Dead lore is important to you then this is still worth exploring.  Best Song: A slow crawl through 'To Lay Me Down' is by turns horrid and poignant, boring and flat and yet emotionally charged. A fierce 'New New Minglewood Blues' is played with real passion and fire tonight. Tonight's 'Deal' is super-quick and tests the band to their limits. 'Wharf Rat' is unusually tight for the period, with a real change between the two halves rather than them just being played the same as so often happened in the 1980s Worst song: This 'Jack Straw', played far too fast, sounds like he should be locked up for his own good while 'Terrapin Station' derails early on and never quite recovers and 'Throwing Stones' is rather thrown away  Biggest Talking Point: 'Ballad Of A Thin Man' is one of the band's rarer Dylan covers. The band busk nurdsery rhyme 'Little Bunny Foo Foo' during the opening tune-up, with Bob joking at the song's wild reception 'thankyou very much - we'll be right back' as if this 30 second burst is all the audience are getting! There's a fairly rare medley of 'Dear Mr Fantasy' and 'Hey Jude' performed too. Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 12:36 'Estimated Prophet' Front Cover: A skeleton wearing a jester's head-dress. Funny guy! Overall rating - The band are audibly past their best now but still get it together a few times across the set 4/10

Road Trips Volume Four Number Three

(Denver Coliseum, Colorado, November 21st 1973, with a bonus disc from the Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio, December 6th 1973, Released 2011)

Me And My Uncle/Sugaree/Jack Straw/Dire Wolf/Black Throated Wind/Big Railroad Blues/Mexicali Blues/They Love Each Other/Looks Like Rain/Here Comes Sunshine/Big River/Brokedown Palace/Weather Report Suite/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Playin' In The Band > El Paso > Playin' In The Band > Wharf Rat > Playin' In The Band > Morning Dew/Truckin'/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/One More Saturday Night/Uncle John's Band/Truckin'/That's It For The Other One/Stella Blue/Greatest Story Ever Told/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider > Dark Star > Eyes Of The World

The second of two shows at this venue. Recorded just four days after the above, t's worth pointing out how different the track listing is - the two shows may start with the same song but otherwise really couldn't be more different. The band play a couple of spotty gigs here, ranging from brilliance to ordinaryness from song to song. They notably keep to a lot of shorter songs tonight as if they're just not up to playing epics and they're generally missing their magic telepathy tonight although the harder edged faster rock songs still come across with power and panache. The second show is arguably the better, although both are kind of middling. Once again the bonus disc, included here merely as a highlights set for those who pre-ordered the set, seems like the most deserving of a full release containing a mind-boggling 43 minute version of 'Dark Star' that's one of the longest on records - it certainly isn't the best but it has its moments and despite the length doesn't go as soggy in the middle as some 1970s renditions of the song, an amazing achievement of concentration and dexterity Best Song: A spirited 'They Love Each Other' with a fierce drum backing is a revelation, turning an occasionally dreary ballad into a rush of adrenalin. 'Playin' In The Band' is something of a marmite choice tonight - fans either love it for Billy's strong drumming and the fast-paced tempo, while others hate it for pushing Donna Giodchaux even further out of the comfort zone. 'Black Throated Wind' and 'Sugaree' sound good tonight too. A rare full 'Weather Report Suite' lasting some 15 minutes sound pretty good tonight too with some lovely Keith Godchaux organ frills, even if the chorus vocals are way off Worst song: Bob gets awfully shrill during 'Looks Like Rain'  and 'Mississippi' sounds unusually atonal with Jerry really struggling for breath Biggest Talking Point: A rare period version of the charming 'Wake Of The Flood' song 'Here Comes Sunshine', extended into a fine eleven minute jamming session and amongst the best things here despite Jerry having a few microphone gremlins. Why wasn't this lovely song in the set for longer? Best Speech: None Longest Song: A monumental 44:33 'Dark Star' on the 'Ohio' bonus disc- the longest on record?  Front Cover: A skeleton on horse-back seen in silhouette at night. At least he's light for the horse to carry! Overall rating - Certainly has its moments though it's one of the Dead's more inconsistent collections from the period  6/10

Road Trips Volume Four Number Four

(The Spectrum, Philadelphia, April 5-6th 1982, Released 2011)

Cold Rain And Snow/Promised Land/Candyman/C C Rider/Brown Eyed Women/Mama Tried/Mexicali Blues/Big Railroad Blues/Looks Like Rain/Jack-A-Roe/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Might As Well/Shakedown Street/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance/Terrapin Station > Rhythm Devils > Space/Deep Elem Blues/Althea/Man Smart Woman Smarter/Truckin' > That's It For The Other One > Morning Dew > Sugar Magnolia/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Bertha/Playin' In The Band > Ship Of Fools > Playin' In The Band

Listening to this set on its own you'd be hard pressed to wonder why the year 1982 has such a bad reputation amongst fans. You see, this show has the lot: tight rocky performances, intimate ballads, more rare cover songs than average, tight slick performances with a little taste of the old days still in there, Brent isn't too loud Jerry isn't too quiet and Weir is just right. Now having sat through a handful more of these shows (including the only other official 1982 show out there - 'Dick's Picks 32') I know that this is a fallacy, that the Dead barely ever got it together for a whole song, never mind a whole set. So this surprise, an oasis in a sea of mediocrity, is well worth celebrating. Unusually the bonus tracks aren't up to the main show and rather get in the way - especially as a lot of them are added to disc two rather than at the end - but hey ho, that just shows up what a rare on-night this was.  Best Song: 'Candyman' sounds utterly glorious on a surprise return to the set, with Jerry in excellent voice throughout. A slow ramble through 'Althea' is lovely, with Jerry much more 'alive' vocally than he ever was on record. 'Terrapin Station' is treated with far more reverence than usual in the 1980s, with Jerry's vocal first class! Bob's 'Lost Sailor' is nicely spooky too. Worst song: 'Truckin' is a little sloppy and at just under seven minutes rather short Biggest Talking Point: Slow ballad 'Ship Of Fools' is one of the stranger songs to suddenly turn up in the middle of noisy jam 'Playin' In The Band'. Rare covers - well those unavailable on album in the band's own lifetime at least - including a funky 'Promised Land', a nice 'C C Rider', a fun 'Might As Well' and a hip 'Man Smart Woman Smarter'  with an especially good elongated opening. Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 13:16 'Shakedown Street' - that's a lotta poking around! Front Cover: Benjamin Franklin dressed as a hippy, with long hair and Byrds-style Granny Glasses. Erm, OK - well I guess after 120 odd releases you do start to run out of ideas... Overall rating -    An excellent return to form 8/10

Download Series Volume One

(New York City Palladium, New York, April 30th 1977, Released 2005)

The Music Never Stopped/Bertha/It's All Over Now/Deal/Mama Tried > Me And My Uncle/Peggy-O/Looks Like Rain/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Promised Land/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Good Lovin' /Friend Of The Devil/Estimated Prophet/St Stephen > Not Fade Away > Stella Blue > St Stephen > One More Saturday Night/Terrapin Station (Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station)/Sugaree/Scarlet Begonias > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad

In many ways this is a strange choice for the start of a new archive series. Spring 1977 is easily the best represented period of the Dead's live shows out there - and rightly so in many ways as the band display the best mix between their old passion and the laidback mellow groove of later years (these shows are often cited as a good 'launching pad' for new fans unsure of the longer jams, although I say you still can't beat the studio albums for this and by then you'll want to dive headfirst into the extreme live stuff anyway). But this was already an oversubscribed era with two archive releases already out and this is far from the best Dead show of the period. Noticeably the band don't really stretch out on this set, with just three songs in the eleven minute range and one in the fourteens. There is however still a fair amount to recommend with a pretty good range of all era of Dead history from the psychedelic 'St Stephen' to the country-rock years and most of the 70s stopping off points along the way. Best Song: 'Stella Blue' is rather sturdier on her feet than most Dead versions of this fragile beauty and holds her own bookended in a monster jam between the harder edged tones of 'Not Fade Away' and 'St Stephen'  Worst song: It's bad enough that 'Friend Of The Devil' should have been slowed down from a fun jaunt to a slow crawel in this era but - reggae guitar riffs? Really?!? Biggest Talking Point: Three early versions of future classics, all still unreleased on album at the point they were performed here: An already slightly unwieldy 'Estimated Prophet', a shortened early version of 'Terrapin Station' - the earliest legally released live version to date - and another very early version of 'Fire On The Mountain' which won't find a home on record for another two years, already in a natural pairing with 'Scarlet Begonias' from 1974. There's also the surprise return of 'St Stephen', which re-entered the set lists in 1976 after a five year break but wasn't often played even then. Longest song: A 14:52 'Not Fade Away', the closest this set gets to finding a 'groove' the whole night, although it's a groove at rather a slow tempo Best Speech: None - the Dead are rather quite tonight! Front Cover: Like most of the 'Download' series a shot of the 'bolts and lightning' Dead logo writ large. This one comes in red and blue. Overall rating - Not the Dead's finest hour, despite some fine jams 4/10

Download Series Volume Two

(Springer's Inn, Portland,Oregon, January 18th 1970, Released 2005)
Cold Rain And Snow/Big Boss Man/Mason's Children/Black Peter/Dancing In The Street/Good Lovin'/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Turn On Your Love Light

With six members all huddled together on a tiny stage in a saloon bar, this is a nicely intimate gig that's a good find for those who particularly like the 1970 era Dead full of shorter harmony-based songs. In actual the quieter and simpler the songs the better the Dead sound, with Garcia shining on a classic 'Black Peter' and the band all but tripping over themselves on the extended workouts from yesteryear. As early as the 18th day of the new year it's clear where the Dead's heart now lies. Note, though, that even reduced to a mere 80 minute set (nothing by their standards) the band are keen to play around with their usual material, throwing in a rare early version on 'Dancing In The Street' from this period with Weir on vocals (the band performed it regularly during their pre-record contract days and again from 1977 but hardly ever in-between) and 'Mason's Children', a Garcia/Hunter song that never did make it to album despite being recorded for 'Workingman's Dead'. Best Song: As well as the above, 'Good Lovin' is smoking, sounding so much better with Pig on vocals than the 1979 Weir revival Worst song: Hearing 'Mason's Children' you kind of understand why it never made the album, being a little wobbly and gauche compared to the warmth of the other songs here. Biggest Talking Point: The fact that this show existed! A rare case of the Dead's archive series turning up a song that hadn't circulated among the tapers and in such exceptional sound too. Best Speech: None Longest Song: 'Turn On Your Love Light' lasts 18:07 - even this usual epic is running short by Dead standards! Front Cover: That 'thunderbolt' skull logo, this time on a purple background Overall rating - A nice opportunity to hear something a little different 7/10

Download Series Volume Three

(University Of Rochester, October 26th 1971, Released 2005)

Bertha/Playin' In The Band/Sugaree/Me And My Uncle/Tennessee Jed/Jack Straw/Big Railroad Blues/Me And Bobby McGee/Cumberland Blues/Cold Rain And Snow/Cold Rain And Snow/Mexicali Blues/Loser/El Paso/Comes A Time/One More Saturday Night/Ramble On Rose/Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Truckin' > Drums > That's It For The Other One/Johnny B Goode

Recorded two days after 'Skulls and Roses' came out and with a very similar setlist, this is the second-earliest released show with Keith on keys and features him playing only his sixth show with the band. This is also an early show to hear Billy drumming on his own without Billy and he's on great form, lighting a fire underneath the rest of the band for most of the gig. The show was also broadcast live on radio and as such used to be quite a common Dead performance among fans. The show is a very frenetic one, as if the band are rushing through it throughout, with a notably short second set (despite the fact that a lot of these tapes cut one or two of the songs out there's just one track missing - a relatively brief 'Beat It On Down The Line' from the first set - it's not that this is yet another highlights disc!) The band are in a chatty mood tonight though, with several discussions over broken strings, the crowd pushing forward to the stage, the lack of water facilities at the gig ('don't hit each other or nobody gets any water!' orders Bob after bottles get passed to and fro from a fountain) and a heckler from the audience who wants something 'new'. In fact there are several fairly new songs at this show, all debuted the same month, with the second earliest 'One More Saturday Night' and 'Comes A Time' 'Jack Straw' and 'Tennessee Jed' available all on this gig. Despite having only just released 'Skulls and Roses' the band already have the backbone for what will become 'Europe '72' ready to go!  Best Song: One of the heaviest 'Bertha's out there, a fine way to open any show Worst song: This 'Cold Rain and Snow' is so slow and unfocused it sounds as if it's defrosting Biggest Talking Point: As well as the above, another relatively new song is 'Playin' In The Band', for now merely a short six minute warm-up rather than the half-hour behemoth it will become later in the decade. Best Speech: Emcee: 'If you're listening at home by the radio set get a bit nearer - and if you're here and you're listening, could you get back a bit? It looks as if you're all going to come over the front of the stage any minute and that would be a tragedy!' Lesh: 'It looks like - yes we do - we have a broken string!' 'Garcia: 'Yes that's right, take up slack as it were - pick a pocket!' Audience member following 'Comes A Time' (debuted just seven days earlier): 'Play something new!' Lesh: 'I don't know where you've been buddy but that was something new! Garcia: 'This is also something new!' Weir: 'Actually this is something as old as time itself...' The band then play 'One More Saturday Night', only the sixth ever performance! Longest Song: A 16:06 'That's It For The Other One' Front Cover: The series logo: a skull filled with a 'thunderbolt', this time on a dark green background  Overall rating - A harder edged and rockier show than average with the band on good form, losing marks mainly because of how short it is compared to other shows of the period 7/10

Download Series Volume Four

 (Capital Theatre, New Jersey, June 18th 1976, with a bonus disc made up of extracts from Tower Theatre, Philadelphia, June 21-22nd 1976 and the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, on June 28th 1976, Released 2005)

The Music Never Stopped/Sugaree/Mama Tried/Crazy Fingers/Big River/Brown Eyed Women/Looks Like Rain/Row Jimmy/Cassidy/Mission In The Rain/Promised Land/Samson And Delilah/St Stephen > Not Fade Away > St Stephen > Eyes Of The World > Drums > The Wheel > Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Us Blues/Scarlet Begonias/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Candyman/Playin' In The Band/High Time

The middle of three shows performed at the same venue on consecutive days. Alas 'Tennessee Jed' had to be cut from the set due to technical issues with the tape (thank goodness it wasn't one of the second set tracks!) This is only the band's eighth gig since their return and they're clearly still bedding in, but there's a delight to this concert, a feeling that the band can go anywhere from here. The old songs have a certain panache tonight, as if the Dead are thrilled to be reunited with them again, while there are lots of stretches out to somewhere near including performances of two cornerstones of 'Blues For Allah' and an early reading of 'Samson and Delilah' a full year before it's appearance on 'Terrapin Station'. Not for the last time the second set is better than the first, with some magical jamming across one of the better 'Drums' out there and some great explorations round old friends 'St Stephen' and 'Eyes Of The World'. However the bonus tracks are better yet, some great performances from three days later (return gig number ten) where the Dead are that much more focussed and together. Why can't we have that one out complete?!  Best Song: The band may have disliked it, but this revival of 'St Stephen' is majestic  Worst song: Final encore 'US Blues' sounds a little tired tonight Biggest Talking Point: A very rare performance of Garcia-Hunter song 'Mission In The Rain', more often performed by The Garcia Band and only sung on stage by the Dead five times over the years. 'The Wheel', while an old song from Garcia's first album in 1972, is also new to the band and to the stage (but already sounds like an old friend).  Longest Song: On the 'main' course it's a 12:45 'Eyes Of The World'; on the bonus disc it's a 23:25 'Playin' In The Band' Best Speech: None Front Cover: That good ol' 'thunderbolt skull' logo on a brown background Overall rating - Another good show from an under-rated year 7/10

Download Series Volume Four

 (Capital Theatre, New Jersey, June 18th 1976, with a bonus disc made up of extracts from Tower Theatre, Philadelphia, June 21-22nd 1976 and the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, on June 28th 1976, Released 2005)
The Music Never Stopped/Sugaree/Mama Tried/Crazy Fingers/Big River/Brown Eyed Women/Looks Like Rain/Row Jimmy/Cassidy/Mission In The Rain/Promised Land/Samson And Delilah/St Stephen > Not Fade Away > St Stephen > Eyes Of The World > Drums > The Wheel > Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Us Blues/Scarlet Begonias/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Candyman/Playin' In The Band/High Time
The middle of three shows performed at the same venue on consecutive days. Alas 'Tennessee Jed' had to be cut from the set due to technical issues with the tape (thank goodness it wasn't one of the second set tracks!) This is only the band's eighth gig since their return and they're clearly still bedding in, but there's a delight to this concert, a feeling that the band can go anywhere from here. The old songs have a certain panache tonight, as if the Dead are thrilled to be reunited with them again, while there are lots of stretches out to somewhere near including performances of two cornerstones of 'Blues For Allah' and an early reading of 'Samson and Delilah' a full year before it's appearance on 'Terrapin Station'. Not for the last time the second set is better than the first, with some magical jamming across one of the better 'Drums' out there and some great explorations round old friends 'St Stephen' and 'Eyes Of The World'. However the bonus tracks are better yet, some great performances from three days later (return gig number ten) where the Dead are that much more focussed and together. Why can't we have that one out complete?!  Best Song: The band may have disliked it, but this revival of 'St Stephen' is majestic  Worst song: Final encore 'US Blues' sounds a little tired tonight Biggest Talking Point: A very rare performance of Garcia-Hunter song 'Mission In The Rain', more often performed by The Garcia Band and only sung on stage by the Dead five times over the years. 'The Wheel', while an old song from Garcia's first album in 1972, is also new to the band and to the stage (but already sounds like an old friend).  Longest Song: On the 'main' course it's a 12:45 'Eyes Of The World'; on the bonus disc it's a 23:25 'Playin' In The Band' Best Speech: None Front Cover: That good ol' 'thunderbolt skull' logo on a brown background Overall rating - Another good show from an under-rated year 7/10

Download Series Volume Five

(Hampton Coliseum, Virginia, March 27th 1988, Released 2005)

Iko Iko/Little Red Rooster/Stagger Lee/The Ballad Of A Thin Man/Cumberland Blues/Me And My Uncle/To Lay Me Down/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow) > Space > So What? > Sugar Magnolia > Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > I Need A Miracle/Dear Mr Fantasy/Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/US Blues

The second of three shows played on consecutive nights which is featured here complete. Not many Dead gigs from the late 1980s have been released to date - many fans tend to agree that the band's best years were behind them and the song selection does tend to become rigid. However this show in particular bucks the trend with a string of rarities detailed below that show a real desire to play around with the setlist, with many of these songs given introductions very different to normal. This show is one of those that's interesting if you've already sat through the rest, though, and can appreciate the differences compared to other gigs - in itself the Dead are coasting and not always coasting that well. Best Song: There's a funky little going on at the start of 'Cumberland Blues' that should have been used more often, while the band sing in hushed tones rather than their usual fire. Worst song: 'Let It Grow' from 'The Weather Report Suite' sounds aptly foggy, the song almost creeping up on the band without them realising or before they're ready.  Biggest Talking Point: There's also a lot of unusual material played tonight: Miles Davis cover 'So What?' is unique to this gig (although it lasts all of a minute) and reveals what a great jazz band the Dead might have made, while Dylan cover 'The Ballad Of A Thin Man' is almost as rare and at seven minutes far longer. This is also the only time in all the years of both being played that I've heard 'Sugar Magnolia' turn into its near rhyme-partner 'Scarlet Begonias' - 'Sugar Begonias' sounds rather nice and should have become a regular! Best Speech: None Longest Song: In a relatively short set an 11:35 'Let It Grow' is the longest thing here and even that's shorter than normal! Front Cover: That familiar 'thunderbolt' skeleton, this time on a beige background Overall rating -  4/10

Download Series Volume Six

(Carousel Ballroom (an early version of The Fillmore West), San Francisco, March 17th 1968, Released 2005)

Turn On Your Love Light/That's It For The Other One > New Potato Caboose > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback

The last of three nights played at the Carousel Ballroom alongside Jefferson Airplane. Sadly the set has been cut to smithereens for release, because of problems with the first half of the tape (although that doesn't explain why 'Dark Star' is missing - this and 'China Cat > The Eleven' sequence were included in the 'So Many Roads' box set). Legend has it these 'problems' come from an experiment the band conducted during the making of the part live/part studio collage 'Anthem Of The Sun' that even today's tape engineers couldn't undo (how very Dead!) As a result, all of the first set bar the opening 'Love Light' is missing, which is a shame because again the Dead seem to be really on it tonight, revelling in the opportunity to delve out into the wide open spaces of their imaginations. Once again the band have large sections of 'Aoxomoxoa' and 'Live/Dead' intact (although 'St Stephen' hasn't arrived to join either party just yet) and the track listing is one for fans to die for, with lots of Pig and great jazzy improvised numbers that are always different from gig to gig. Tom Constanten has just joined the band (this is one of his first gigs in fact) and while he doesn't change the band's sound that dramatically, this is clearly a band one stage closer to their poetic, free-thinking selves than the occasionally bass-heavy set in February. The result isn't quite as intense as the other pair of shows from early 1968 doing the rounds or as fired-up, with the Dead in a more mellow mood and there are less rarities to savour this time around, but this is still exciting stuff with the extended jamming is still jaw-droppingly good most of the time. Best Song: This is the jazziest 'The Eleven' around, with Weir playing throughout instead of tagging onto Garcia's coat-tails. 'Caution' too is ferocious and features Garcia scratching away at his guitar strings to make the loveliest unholy racket you'll ever hear. Worst song: 'New Potato Caboose' is a little clumsy and peaks in loudness too early, although this is of course a relative measure and it still sounds fabulous! Biggest Talking Point: Another impressively early show, shorter than the 'Dick's Picks' above but in rather better sound. Once again, several songs appear here a full year before their official appearance on disc.  Best Speech: None - not on the bit that survives anyway! Longest Song: A 20:54 'Caution' that still isn't enough to stop the Dead train de-railing in glorious slow-motion!  Front Cover: Like all the other 'Download Series' sets you'll be reading about this features the 'thunderbolt skull' logo first used on 1976's 'Steal Your Face', this time on a beige background Overall rating - The short running time - a mere 80 minutes - brings the rating down compared to other period shows  7/10

Download Series Volume Seven

(Springfield, Massachusetts, September 3rd 1980 and Providence, Rhode Island, September 4th 1980, Released 2005)

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Franklin's Tower/Mama Tried/Mexicali Blues/ Althea/Little Red Rooster/Candyman/Easy To Love You/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Deal/Feel Like A Stranger/High Time/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance > Jam > Drums > Rhythm Devils > Space > He's Gone > Truckin' > Black Peter/Around And Around/Johnny B Goode/Brokedown Palace/Supplication Jam > Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Rhythm Devils > Space > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Good Lovin'/US Blues

A hybrid set containing the full gig from the 3rd and with highlights from the 4th stuck on the end. Once again many Deadheads were left scratching their heads over the release of this one: most fans agree that the Dead were really on it the previous week's run of shows at the end of August and played rather sloppily here (most of which exist I'm pleased to say and while I haven't heard them all the New York show on the 31st is indeed a lot better), while 1980 wasn't one of the band's better years, so it's not as if the archivists can release any old show and expect it to be good. What's more the 'bonus disc' is easily the better yet again, with the band in a more reflective mood throughout rather than just roaring into rockers. To be fair, though, I've always considered this year gets a bad press amongst fans: whilst Brent's keyboard work isn't everyone's cup of tea it's quieter here than on later years when he's more settled in and he does bring life back to a band who'd been struggling their final couple of years with Keith and Donna (he's also much more on the ball than the earlier archive release in May). This is a really inconsistent set not made for easy listening, veering from hopeless to faultless from minute to minute never mind track by track, but at least this show has several rosy moments in there somewhere. Very unusually the band seem very keen to plug their latest album 'Go To Heaven' with some strong performances of five of the album's songs. Best Song: A terrific and rather fast 'Franklin's Tower' where Jerry's guitar solo just keeps racing on and on, as if defying the rest of the band to keep up! Brent's 'Easy To Love You' sounds a lot tougher than it did on the record. A sturdier than normal 'Brokedown Palace' is a nice finale too. These are two of the most beautiful 'Wharf Rat's and 'Black Peter's around too, with Garcia really channelling his inner wise old man at the show on the 4th. Worst song: Brent has some electrics problems during 'He's Gone' that set the tyone for a rather sluggish performance dragged out to ten minutes. Biggest Talking Point: The only semi-unusual thing to report is that this gig's 'Drums' is really 'Drums 'n' Keyboards' with Brent sitting in too Best Speech: Err, Longest Song: A relatively brief (by Dead standards) 11: 18 version of 'Feel Like A Stranger' Front Cover: That by now over-familiar 'thunderbolt' skull on a light green background. Surely that's every colour used by now?... Overall rating - A very up and down set that should perhaps have been kept as a 'highlights' set 5/10

Download Series Volume Eight

(Charlotte Coliseum, North California, December 10th 1973, Released 2005)

Bertha/Mexicali Blues/Deal/Big River/Don't Ease Me In/Playin' In The Band/Promised Land/Peggy-O/Row Jimmy/Me And Bobby McGee/Big Railroad Blues/Truckin' > Nobody's Fault But Mine > Eyes Of The World > Brokedown Palace/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider > Sugar Magnolia > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Casey Jones

Given the period (one of my favourite Dead years) this show is a disappointment, the Dead sounding as if they're desperately trying to gee up themselves and the crowd throughout the gig without ever quite managing it. The track listing too is rather ordinary, high o  the covers and low on the sort of expressive groove songs that the Dead can play like no other.  'One More Saturday Night' was left off the release due to problems with sound quality. There's sadly little from the 'Wake Of The Flood' album still in the set list by now and yet there's nothing from the forthcoming 'Mars Hotel' record here to fill the gap either (not even the two songs that had appeared by now, 'Loose Lucy' and 'Scarlet begonias')> Instead this is one of those Dead shows big on deja vu, with the same arrangements you can hear on almost any of the chronologically later archive sets and nothing really to make this show stand out. You wonder why it was chosen.  Best Song: Unusual that a rock and roll cover should be the best thing but tonight's 'Promised Land' is one of the best performances of Chuck Berry's song, tight and taut with everyone hitting a nice groove. This is a lovely 'Brokedown Palace' too, with the band more in tune than normal! Worst song: I've never been a fan of including just the 'coda' of 'Sugar Magnolia' rather than the full song (that's like 'Hey Jude'; being reduced to just the na na nas' - oh, oops the Dead did that too...) and this is ropier than most, never quite finding it's way into the song's main riff Biggest Talking Point: The relatively rare Robert Johnson cover 'Nobody's Fault But Mine'. Garcia's reading of traditional song 'Peggy-O' is debuted tonight. Almost uniquely, the 'China Rider' jam comes in the second set not the first.  Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 20:52 'Playin' In The Band' Front Cover: That 'thunderbolt skull' logo, this time on a purple background Overall rating - A bit dull 3/10

Download Series Volume Nine

(Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, April 2nd and 3rd 1989, Released 2006)

Iko Iko/Little Red Rooster/Dire Wolf/It's All Over Now/We Can Run/Brown Eyed Women/Queen Jane Approximately/Tennessee Jed/The Music Never Stopped/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Shakedown Street > Man Smart Woman Smarter > Foolish Heart > Rhythm Devils > Space > The Wheel > Dear Mr Fantasy > Hey Jude > Around And Around > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Turn On Your Love Light/Greatest Story Ever Told/Bertha/Walking Blues/Jack-A-Roe/El Paso/Built To Last/Victim Or The Crime/Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues/Don't Ease Me In/Blow Away/Johnny B Goode/Black Muddy River/Estimated Prophet > Crazy Fingers > Uncle John's Band > Rhythm Devils  > Space > Gimme Some Lovin' > I Need A Miracle > Stella Blue/Sugar Magnolia

Another curious choice for release, with both shows marked by 'bad blood' amongst fans and not exactly adored for their music either. Some 3000 rioters invade the arena across the two dates, trying to get in for free without tickets (or, according to some reports, someone official let a friend in for free who let another friend in for free and before you know it half the parking lot are inside avoiding the ticket barrier). In total twenty people were arrested for their part in the violence that followed and while the Dead tended to side with outlaws and renegades the band sounded about as furious as they ever did about anything at the disruption caused to fans with paid for tickets (after all, it's not as if the Dead didn't do their fair share of free gigs over the years). The event makes the local news and puts some promoters off hiring the Dead, damaging their reputation for a few years to come, although other news reports turn on the local mayor and show that the Dead had asked for their usual security measures which had been ignored in a cost-cutting exercise. Meanwhile back in the arena, Brent is on particular fine form and his songs are the highlights of this show, not just the ones he always sings but the ones originally sung by Pigpen which are greeted with warm nostalgia by the crowd. The date on the 2nd is arguably the better but both are good for the period, if not quite up to some other late 80s gigs and it's welcome to have both gigs here complete given how different the pair of them are. Best Song: Brent's rarely heard 'We Can Run' is at its best here, the sentiments 'we can run but we can't hide from it' particularly striking the crowd after all the violence. A particularly nasty 'Victim Or The Crime' also sounds like a pained comment on proceedings ('The dark side hires another soul, did his steal his bread or earn it? Whatever happened to his precious self control?') and Bob has never sounded more sinister. Worst song: 'The Wheel' - one of my favourite Dead songs, but played this slow and rambling with so many twinkling synth parts added on top? Yuk!  Biggest Talking Point: Other than what's going on outside, Brent's 'We Can Run' and the cover of 'Man Smart Woman Smarter' didn't get many live airings - both sound better than most of the old favourites played tonight. Longest Song: A 12:05 'Shakedown Street' . Best Speech: None Front Cover: That over-used lightning bolt skeleton, this time in a fetching pink Overall rating -  Good for the era but still an event in Deadlore most would want to forget 5/10

Download Series Volume Ten

(Paramount Northwest Theatre, Seattle, July 21st-22nd 1972, Released 2006)

Sugaree/Black Throated Wind/Cumberland Blues/Me And Bobby McGee/Loser/Mexicali Blues/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Beat It On Down The Line/Stella Blue/Playin' In The Band > Tennessee Jed/Casey Jones/Me And My Uncle/Deal/Jack Straw/He's Gone > Truckin' > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Comes A Time/Sugar Magnolia/Ramble On Rose/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/You Win Again/Bird Song/Playin' In The Band/Morning Dew/Uncle John's Band/One More Saturday Night

The start of another new era for the Dead, who are now firmly back home but still fresh from having played to half of Europe. This is one of Donna Godchaux's first shows (she's introduced by Bob before a flailing 'Playin' In The Band' jam as 'the newest member of our family'). Interestingly the Dead have already extended their set list way past what you can hear on 'Europe '72' with all sorts of 'new' songs that will later appear on Garcia and Weir's solo albums. The Dead are on good form, having become a really tight unit over the course of the year although the hot weather seems to be playing havoc with the equipment and the band have to tune up over and over - even more than usual. Bob is in chatty form, though, and usually has a quip ready to cover the band's incessant stop-starting. Weir is on top form all round actually, getting all of the best vocals tonight while Jerry doesn't get much to do for once. The 'filler' material on the last disc from the night before is rather good too, highlighted by a lengthy medley where a blistering 'Playin' In The Band' somehow turns into a sweet and slow 'Morning Dew'. Best Song: 'Truckin' hits a really nice groove, as if it's running on rails Worst song: This Biggest Talking Point: The arrival of Donna and a very early appearance of 'Stella Blue' a full year before it's appearance on 'Wake Of The Flood'. Bobby teases the crowd with the opening lick of what will become 'The Weather Report Suite' during a spot of tuning and the band get through about a minute's worth before the song breaks down and he chuckles, sheepishly hitting 'Me And My Uncle' in a hurry as if to make up for lost time. Longest Song: A 22:03 version of 'That's It For The Other One' Best Speech: Weir, during tuning: 'This is an integral part of our show, hassling around...diddle diddle'. Weir again: 'This is something we should have done a couple of minutes ago but we're going to do it now instead...This is why they call us a boogie band!' before yet another tune-up session Front Cover: That by now over-familiar 'thunderbolt' skeletion on a background of aqua-marine blue Overall rating - There's nothing really that distinctive or standout about this gig compared to others of the era but a nice track listing and some super-tight performances still make this one of the must-haves of the archive series 8/10

Download Series Volume Eleven

(Pine Knob Music Theatre, Missouri, June 19-20th 1991, Released 2006)

Touch Of Grey/Greatest Story Ever Told/Peggy-O/Mexicali Blues/Maggie's Farm/Bird Song/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Throwing Styones/Iko Iko/All Along The Watch-Tower/Standing On The Moon > He's Gone > Rhythm Devils > Space > The Wheel > I Need A Miracle > Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away/ Brokedown palace/Stella Blue/That's It For The Other One/Johnny B Goode

A very jazzy show, with Bruce Hornsby taking the lead on many of the songs here, with the keyboard parts ominously laying a bigger role then the guitars. Phil too seems to be playing with a more artificial sounding bass than usual, which along with the occasional electronic drum parts and Jerry's beloved MIDI guitar sequencer is in danger of making this sound like the Android Dead. On the other hand, Bruce adds a nice touch of home-spunness to 'Iko Iko', accompanying the band on an accordion.The band are in cruise control mode, not playing badly as they did on some nights on this tour but not really reaching many heights either. The track selection is extremely good though - at least for me - and this show is more interesting than some to hear the Dead re-arrange many of these for Hornsby to play his part on. All that said, it's only really of interest once you've heard all of the eras when the Dead were truly sparking. Jerry sounds either poorly or disinterested or both, which enhances some of his more fragile ballads, but is deeply distressing to hear in places. Yet again the 'bonus' material is far better than anything from the main show, with a storming 'Scarlet Fire' from earlier in the year the only thing truly worth owning this set for. Best Song: I'm still not sure whether this set's 'Standing On The Moon' is heart-tugging emotion from a man who knows he isn't long for this world or the most poorly sung, slowed down morass of noise the band ever played. Worst song: A digital version of 'The Wheel', the most human Dead song imaginable? Has the world gone mad?!?  Biggest Talking Point: You don't often hear the Dead protessin' against workin' down on Maggie's farm no moire! There's an unusual segue of 'Throwing Stones' and 'Iko Iko' the band only ever tried once too. Longest Song: A 14:21 'Bird Song' Best Speech: None Front Cover: Another variation on that iconic 'Skulls and Roses' cover Overall rating - One of the most wretched recordings in the whole of the archive series, of interest to fans only for how different Bruce Hornsby makes many of these songs sound 1/10

Download Series Volume Twelve

(Washington University, St Louis, April 17th 1969, with bonus tracks from The Avalon Ballroom, January 23rd 1969, Released 2006)

Hard To Handle/Morning Dew/Good Morning Little School Girl/Dark Star > St Stephen > I Know It's A Sin > St Stephen > Turn On Your Love Light/That's It For The Other One > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)/The Eleven/Dupree's Diamond Blues

The Dead are in experimental mode tonight (on the main show at least) with a few unusual touches added to yet another 'Anthem/Live-Dead'/Aoxo' era setlist. 'Hard To handle' includes Jerry trying out a steel guitar lick he never brothers with again, the 'St Stephen' breakout ends up not in 'The Eleven' but the blues song 'I Know It's A Sin' (the only time this happened) and even the 'William Tell' section turns left into not 'The Eleven' but a rocking 'Turn On Your Love Light'. While the Dead are in fine form they're not quite as with it as with other period shows; as a result this is another of those archive sets that's endlessly fascinating to Deadheads who've heard how these songs should go oodles of times and isn't really made for the casual listener. Pig's on good form tonight, though, with a raucous 'Schoolgirl', a funky 'Love Light' and a dangerous but sadly cut short 'Caution' that cut through all the experimentation the rest of the band bring to the show. Once again the tape has been painstakingly put together with a lot of time and care from various sources - the best sounding quality tape used for most of the gig is missing the opening ten minutes (was the taper held up in traffic or trying to sneak his tape recorder past security one wonders?!) and had to be edited in from a lesser source (so don't get too worried about the hiss on 'Haard To Handle') 'The Eleven' and Dupree's Diamonds' with which the set ends are from a rehearsal tape made in January 1969 so the band could see what they sounded like, which is odd, actually, given that the band's set list hadn't really changed that much since the previous Summer (although 'Dupree' was then a brand new song, with this it's first known performance captured on tape, though you couldn't really call it a 'live premiere').  Best Song: This is yet another golden 'Morning Dew' Worst song: While still remarkable the band aren't quite as tight on 'That's It For The Other One' as elsewhere Biggest Talking Point: The debut of 'Dupree's Diamond Blues' Best Speech:None Longest Song: A 22:44 'That's It For The Other One' Front Cover: That familiar 'thunderbolt' skeleton logo, this time on a purple background Overall rating - Not one of the best sets of a classic era but fascinating for the differences compared to normal  7/10

Download Series: Family Dog At The Great Highway

(Great Highway, San Francisco, February 4th 1970, plus bonus tracks from the same venue on December 31st 1971, Released 2005)

Hard To Handle/Black Peter/Me And My Uncle/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/St Stephen > Not Fade Away > St Stephen > In The Midnight Hour/Dancing In The Street/The Monkey And The Engineer/Good Lovin'

Part of this show ('Hard To Handle' and 'China Rider') were broadcast by local TV Station KQED on television in a music special at the end of the year and amazingly still exists. Despite being a peak period for acoustic Dead shows (the 'Bear's Choice' live album was  made up of dates recorded from the rest of the month) the band only play an electric set. The rest has clearly done them well, though, with blistering committed performances of practically everything. Pigpen is on great form, with definitive performances of 'Hard To Handle' and 'In The Midnight Hour', however the rest of the band are pretty close to their best too. The only downside in all this is how short the gig is (with the last three less interesting tracks taken from later shows in October and December, an odd choice to include both musically and historically), the Dead having to squeeze a set in alongside co-headliners Jefferson Airplane, the only thing that prevents this great and under-rated show getting higher marks. This one was a limited edition of just 7,500 copies - the lowest pressings of any Dead archive release so far - more's the pity, as this is the sort of set to convince your non-Dead fans what the fuss is all about. Best Song: In addition to Pigpen's pair of covers, this is one of the best 'China Riders' around, sleek of foot and full of trippy confidence Worst song: 'The Monkey And The Engineer' was always a strange choice for the band to pick and as the only acoustic song here sticks out like a sore skull Biggest Talking Point: A deeply unusual jam between 'St Stephen' and Buddy Holly cover 'Not Fade Away'; while thematically it fits (Stephen is torn between embracing the new and holding on to traditions), musically it's a bit of a step. Longest Song: A 15: 05 'Good Lovin' Best Speech: None Front Cover: That skull-and-a-thunderbolt logo on a sort of off colour orange background Overall rating - The best things come in short packages 8/10

One From The Vault

(Great American Music Hall, California, August 13th 1975, Released 1991)

Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower/The Music Never Stopped/It Must Have Been The Roses/Eyes Of The World > Drums > King Solomon's Marbles/Around And Around/Sugaree/Big River/Crazy Fingers > Drums > That's It For The Other One/Sage And Spirit/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/US Blues/Blues For Allah

Well this is a red letter day - the Dead's first archive release! Officially part of the Dead's discography when they were still an on-going band (although there's only live album disaster 'Without A Net' to come) this filled in the 'missing years' between albums quite nicely for fans. The show is a logical choice too, a well received set that's an important milestone in Dead history and was often voted top of Deadhead 'taper' polls (in part because it was so readily available, having been broadcast on FM radio - on the station 'Metromedia'  and everything! Bootleggers from the pre-1990 age might know this show better under the name 'Make Believe Ballroom', even though this gig wasn't in a ballroom!) Apart from a benefit gig in June (which sadly doesn't seem to have been taped) this is the Dead's big comeback after their hiatus and is a nicely intimate gig played for an audience of just 400 give or take the radio audience (rather than the thousands they've been playing to recently). This also means that this is the big return for Mickey Hart, who quit the band in 1972 and only returned at the very last show at the Winterland in 1974, now re-instated as a full-time member. In addition the band premiere several songs from 'Blues For Allah' released this same month and this is, I think, the only time the band ever performed a whole album in its entirety (albeit not all in one go) with near enough unique recordings of 'King Solomon's Marbles' 'Sage and Spirit' and the title suite as well as the first performances of several future greats including the 'Help/Slipknot/Tower' trilogy, ';The Music Never Stopped' and 'Crazy Fingers'. Even the songs that will be heard many times over the next few years are at their best here, with the Dead at one of their peaks, nicely caught between energising looseness and telepathical structure. Even 'Blues For Allah' itself sounds enticing, even with a few flat-spotted vocals - quite an achievement in itself!  Only a bit of messing around with the set (which has been altered to fit onto two CDs - changing sets around will be anathema to most later sets, but to be fair they were just testing the waters here to see what would work) brings it down from maximum points. With a US chart peak of #106 and some glowing reviews, this album's success paved the way for the whole of the archive series, for which we should be thankful, no matter how many lousy versions of 'Sugaree' and 'Mama Tried' we have to put up with as a result. Best Song: 'King Solomon's Marbles' sounds even better live than it does on record - they should have jammed it more often! Worst song: A slowed down six minute 'Around and Around' isn't bad but it is a little out of place. 'Sage and Spirit' doesn't quite work without the flutes either. Biggest Talking Point: The band are back! With new songs! And a returning drummer! And they're on radio! Yay! Best Speech: None worth mentioning Longest song: A 21:01 'Blue For Allah' Front Cover: A rather boring white card invitation that's a replica of the ticket stub and looks not unlike the cover for Rolling Stones album 'Beggar's Banquet'  Overall rating - Great, just...great! 9/10

Two From The Vault

(Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, August 23-24th 1968, Released 1992)

Good Morning Little School Girl/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Death Don't Have No Mercy/That's It For The Other One > New Potato Caboose > Turn On Your Lovelight/Morning Dew/Alligator > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback

A very interesting set, covering the first gig that the Dead had professionally recorded (though, typically, Warner Brothers, the results were unusable originally because they sent their usual classical engineers out who didn't understand the different miking technqiues needed for louder rock music and allowed every instrument to 'leak' through on the mixing board. Only a great deal of effort and a gadget called  'digital spectrum equalizer' managed to separate the two; the engineers separated Phil's bass track and worked from there, fitting everything else around it). Luckily all the effort was worth it and like many a Dead gig in 1968-69 this is one of the few truly essential archive purchases, with the band on cracking form and an excellent choice as only the second ever 'archive' release. Pig is the star of this recording, adding a grit and growl to old favourites and his performances take up just over an hour of this two-hours-forty minute show. Along with selections from the first two albums The Dead have already worked up the entire 'Live/Dead' double album taped the following year, although unusually there's no material unreleased on this set, with every track finding a home on record somewhere. The Alligator > Caution > Feedback jam is the same one that turned up on the 'Anthem Of The Sun' CD re-issue as a lengthy bonus track and is rightly hailed by fans as one of the greatest period live recordings out there. However it's just one of many highlights from a highly consistent show. Alas the every end of 'The Eleven' seems to be missing from the tape, although it's already turning 180 degrees to 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' by the time the tape stops a-rolling so it's probably only missing seconds. Best Song: 'The Eleven' is especially powerful with an added organ part cut from later performances Worst song: 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' doesn't really 'fit' the mood of the set and Garcia's mock-gospel vocal is rather irritating Biggest Talking Point: 'Dark Star' is still young enough to be a mere 'proto-star' at this stage, on around its 9th or 10th appearance in concert ever (certainly this is the earliest out on tape officially). Though restricted to eleven minutes it still sounds out of this world! Best Speech: None - the early band tend to let the music do the talking! Longest song: A particularly loose and jazzy 17:12 'Turn On Your Love Light' Front Cover: Like the rest of the 'vault' series this one has the 'thunderbolt' skeleton logo, this time on a dark blue background Overall rating - A shame that after all that hard work the sound is still a little odd in most places (though 'Alligator' et seq sounds rather better oddly) but only the poor sound brings this gig down from a full ten. In other words, 9/10

Three From The Vault

(Capitol Theatre, New York, February 19th 1971, Released 2007)

The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down > Spring Song/Truckin'/Loser/Cumberland Blues/It Hurts Me Too/Bertha/Playin' In The Band/Dark Hollow/Smokestack Lightnin'/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Greatest Story Ever Told/Johnny B Goode/Bird Song/Easy Wind/Deal/That's It For The Other One > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat/Good Lovin'/Casey Jones

I'm astonished that out of all the archive releases out to date this is the only one from a six-nighter at the Capitol Theatre that many fans consider their best - and that they've released the second show rather than the more commonly loved first night. This is an important Dead show for many reasons. It's the first since Mickey Hart's 'retirement' and comes in the short period before recruiting Keith Godchaux on keyboards, meaning that this is the last show released officially to date with just the 'core five' playing. They adjust rather well, particularly Bill who can now play louder and more aggressively without fitting his drumming round his partner Mickey's, giving the songs a quite different spikier feel than of late. In many ways it's a wastershed moment, with the band now fully cutting back on the psychedelic explorations of old and playing with a rockier heavier feel. Oddly enough though while this should be good news for Pigpen it's here that he truly steps away from the microphone and plays only a cameo role on this recording as his health declines further. This is the Dead cut back to basics but what a wonderful basics it is. This is also the first Dead show for over a year not to have an 'acoustic' opening set. Two new compositions 'Bird Song' and 'Deal' were performed for the very first time this very night and sound shaky but still stupendous: the former features much more band interplay with sweet harmonies nearly throughout while the latter is pretty much a Garcia solo. This is also the earliest available recordings for a whole slew of Dead classics debuted the day before but still very hot off the press: 'Bertha' 'Greatest Story Ever Told' 'Loser' and two of the band's most famous 1970s pieces 'Wharf Rat' and 'Playin' In The Band' (which for now is a mere five minutes compared to the lengthy jams the Dead will go on to build around it).However not all the main factors about this show were musical - or sadly transferable to tape. Dr Stanley Krippner, conducting experiments in ESP, 'borrowed' the crowd as his guinea pigs for an experiment where a set of slides were shown in a random sequence at 11.30pm each night while the band were playing and the crowd were asked to 'beam' thoughts at Krippner's assistant back to his associate Malcom Besant back at base.The results were said to be 'statistically significant', although you have to wonder whether instead of concentrating the Deadheads beamed back images of dancing skeletons, bears and roses instead! With all that happening it would be easy for this to be another string of gigs more talked about for the events than the music itself and living on as a sort of 'folk memory', but actually the music is fabulous and this amongst the best of the archive Dead shows out there. Let's hope the other five dates from this venue can join it on our shelves sometime soon too! Best Song: We've already listed most of them but check out a storming 'Easy Wind' too with Pigpen hitting a killer groove! Worst song: 'Dark Hollow', the one leftover from the acoustic set, just doesn't sound right played electrically and somebody sounds a little out of tune here  Biggest Talking Point: All of the above, highlighted by a splendid 'Wharf Rat' when it was still a ratling. Note too the unusual way this show starts with the familiar 'looney tunes' theme tune picked at by Garcia during tuning and jumped on by the others. Best Speech: None, sadly! Longest Song: Unusually it's Good Lovin', with a jam lasting 16:33 Front Cover: The by now over familiar 'bolt' skeleton set into a red coloured jukebox. Overall rating -  9/10

View From The Vault Volume Four

(Oakland Coliseum and Anaheim Stadium, California, July 24-26th 1987, Released 2003)

Jack Straw/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/My Brother Essau/Friend Of The Devil/Me And My Uncle/Big River/When Push Comes To Shove/Far From Me/Cassidy/ Deal/Hell In A Bucket/Scarlet Begonias/Playin' In The Band > Drums > Space > Uncle John's Band/Dear Mr Fantasy/I Need Miracle/Bertha/Sugar Magnolia/Iko Iko/New New Minglewood Blues/Tons Of Steel/West L.A. Fadeaway/When I Paint My Masterpiece/ Mexicali Blues/Bird Song/Promised Land/Shakedown Street/Looks Like Rain/Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > That's It For The Other Ones/Stella Blue/Throwing Stones/Not Fade Away

The fourth and final release in the 'View From The Vault' series, like the others this was released on video - and like the others you don't really need to bother, unless you have a thing about seeing Bob Weir in shorts. This show - the only archive set so far from the not-that-interesting year of 1987 - features the last two dates of a six-night tour where the Dead played co-host with Bob Dylan. Sadly the set the pair always played together is missing from both the CDs and the DVD at Dylan's insistence (to be fair, though, you're not missing much) but the good news is that this is all way better than the wretched 'Dylan and the Dead' official live CD (although that's where some of the songs come from - 'I Want You' was performed on the 24th and 'Gotta Serve Somebody' 'All Along The Watchtower' and 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' all come from the 26th). That second show (the band had a day rare off on the 25th) was slightly better, a bit livelier than the first, although neither is likely to convince you that the Dead were on good form in this period. This is the period when the band were becoming big news again following the release of 'In The Dark' earlier in the month with five of that album's seven songs (plus 'honorary B-side 'My Brother Esau' making a rare archive appearance) performed across the two days (although, typically, the Dead don't play the hit single still sitting in the charts that week, 'Touch Of Grey'!) Given the few gigs the band played immediately after Jerry's post-coma comeback in 1986, this also means that this is the earliest archive set to feature Jerry after his return from (or should that be to?) the Dead. He sounds on perky form throughout, a little shaky on the ballads but on the ball for most of the rockers. Three songs on this set - 'Friend Of The Devil' 'Me And My Uncle' and 'Big River' - were cut from the DVD for timing reasons. Best Song: 'New New Minglewood Blues' sounds good tonight, with Bob almost rapping in a Pigpen type manner Worst song: This 'Shakedown Street' ifs from the wrong part of town - I tell you it ain't got no heart, not even after lots of poking around. 'Terrapin Station' is coming to the end of the line too. Biggest Talking Point: To be honest, not much - the band saved most of their surprises for the set with Dylan, which sadly isn't here Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 12:23 'Shakedown Street' Front Cover: A shot of the band on stage as seen from far away in the audience (you can still see Bob's legs from a mile away it seems...) Overall rating -  Nice to have at least one record of the 'comeback' year, although this period is frowned upon for a reason 2/10

Live At The Fillmore East 2-11-69

(Fillmore East, New York, February 11th 1969, Released 1997)

Good Morning Little School Girl/That's It For The Other One/Doin' That Rag/I'm A King Bee/Turn On Your Love Light/Hey Jude/Dupree's Diamond Blues/Mountains Of The Moon/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Drums > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight

A compilation of the morning and evening shows, supporting Janis Joplin's Kozmik Blues Band. Like many of the Dead's 1969 shows this is powerful stuff and the band are on exploratory form, with the entire show lasting some two hours and - despite the quirk of turning some of the suites into individual songs for this CD - contains just twelve actual songs (That's ten minutes each on average!) Interestingly the band have already all but abandoned their 1967-68 repertoire in favour of selections from the two albums they'll release in 1969 'Aoxomoxoa' and 'Live/Dead'. While the latter selections are as fine and adventurous as every other rendition, the more studio-bound 'Aoxomoxoa' tracks sounds remarkably good, with a rare performance of 'Mountains Of The Moon' with Tom Constanten on organ truly beautiful and even an acoustic 'Dupree's Diamond Blues' less irritating than normal. Pigpen gets an especially large amount to do which is a joy, taking up the entire last half hour of the first disc.  The disc ends with an 'unlisted' bonus track, an extract of the final encore 'Cosmic Charlie' - alas the tape recording the gig ran out of reels so only part of the song survives! Best Song: 'Dark Star' is by now in its prime, having grown up nicely over a six month adolescence and without falling into the restrictions of middle age as per later years. Worst song: 'Hey Jude' is a classic song. The Grateful Dead are a classic band. Yet somehow the two just don't belong together, with Pig's soul interpretation a little strained. Biggest Talking Point: The first cover of The Beatles' 'Hey Jude' , not that there are many, with Pigpen on lead vocals. Also, the massive jam that takes up most of the second set and lasts for nearly an hour Best Speech: Emcee Richard Zacherie: 'We'd like to start off with one of the great great insane groups of today - the Grateful Dead!'  Longest Song: A 17:07 'Turn On Your Love Light' Front Cover: For reasons best known to the Dead there's an image of a wolf dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood leaving the theatre where the Dead's name is in big (although it must be a mock one as they were actually a support act that night) and licking his lips. A 'Dire Wolf' if ever I saw one!  Overall rating - Another must-buy 9/10

Fillmore West 1969: Complete Recordings

(Fillmore West, San Francisco, February 27th-March 2nd 1969, plus a bonus disc featuring extracts from other Fillmore shows on June 14th 1968, June 8th 1969 and February 7th 1970, Released 2005)
Good Morning Little School Girl/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 Love Light/Cosmic Charlie/Morning Dew/Good Morning Little School Girl/Doin' That Rag/I'm A King Bee/Turn On Your Love Light/That's It For The Other One > Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Death Don't Have No Mercy/Alligator > Drums > Jam > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight/That's It For The Other One > New Potato Caboose > Doin' That Rag/Cosmic Charlie/Dupree's Diamond Blues/Mountains Of The Moon/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light/Hey Jude/Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light/Doin' That Rag/That's It For The Other One > Death Don't Have No Mercy/Morning Dew/Alligator > Drums > Jam > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight

This is what you might call 'the big one', not just because this is an eleven disc set featuring four complete shows but because for collectors of the Dead's psychedelic years this is the holy grail, arguably the greatest run of shows the band ever gave and the most important release since the sixties, like hearing The Who's Live At Leeds', the Stones' 'Ya-Yas', Pink Floyd at Pompeii and CSNY at Wembley all at once. Ever since 'Live/Dead' turned fans onto what this band could do in free-fall, fans had been waiting vainly for another glimpse of the hallucinatory place only the Dead could take us to and wondered whether anything else the Dead recorded during these four shows could possibly be anywhere near what made the album. Well the answer is it can: The Dead were on electric form every single night (particularly the second gig on the 28th) and while unusually the setlist didn't much change (the band may have already decided in advance what songs were going to make the record) the results are actually very different, the Dead taking their 'Anthem' Aoxo' and 'Live/Dead' era material somewhere very different each and every other night. The results are jaw-dropping and the treats and surprises are numerous: the second, much slower 'Dark Star > St Stephen > The Eleven' sequence from the 28th is just as good as the finished product, just a little different, with Garcia coming in earlier and Pigpen's organ parts being slightly fuller in the mix; Conversely the louder, angrier 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' from the same date is far better than the 'finished' version, the Dead refusing to go quietly and Garcia howling with rage about the injustice of man's mortality; the loose and funky alternate 'Love Light' from the show of the 27th is much more fun than the finished product, with Pig going off on several improvised raps ('Make me feel like a doggone king, even though she was an old queen, I'm gonna take a couple high brown-eyed women to make me feel alright, ha!'); The 'Morning Dew' from the 28th with added layers of cymbal washes and feedback may well be the best single version of this long-lasting classic The Dead ever played; A 'That's It For The Other One' from the same day is tighter and punchier than normal, Garcia almost taunting the fates with his cried of 'you know he had to die!' even if the drummers mess up their percussion intro a little; A rare live outing for 'New Potato Caboose' passes up beauty for hard rocking; 'Cosmic Charlie' is less of a comedy oddball and more of a Chuck Berry-hardened rocker; 'Mountains Of The Moon' shimmers with a rare ethereal beauty with Tom Constanten playing on an organ dressed to sound like a harpsichord;    Hearing the performances we've known and loved for so many years (with a slightly different mix for 'Dark Star' to boot) is also highly revealing, putting these songs back into context and hearing where they come from is glorious. A fun bonus disc containing extracts from other Fillmore shows both earlier and later then tops and tails things off with the definitive 'Caution' jam, snaking and snorting its way through the irregular bluesy riff, calms things down for a beautiful version of folk song 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', digress to a fun compact version of 'China Cat Sunflower', fall back on to an even rockier 'New Potato Caboose', an early prototype of the 'China Rider' jam and cools down for one of the greatest 'High Time's there ever was. Not quite everything is top notch - the March 3rd show finds the Dead comparatively tired and less willing to wander, but even that is never less than good. Even with eleven discs and a staggering price tag, how can all that magic be fitted into one place? For the record most of the 'Live/Dead' album came from one of these four shows ('Dark Star' and St Stephen' from the 27th, ''Death Don't Have No Mercy' 'Feedback' and 'Goodnight' from March 2nd; 'The Eleven' and 'Love Light' came from an earlier show at the Avalon Ballroom on January 26th that sadly isn't out officially yet). This is additionally where the stunning 'That's It For The Other Ones' from the 'So Many Roads' box set comes from, which remains my all-time favourite Dead live recording (the band are going in such different places simultaneously and yet it still sounds glorious, all the way through for nearly half an hour!) A more compact three-CD set (missing out all the replica shows included on other sets) is also available - which makes more commercial sense but somehow misses out on the sheer scale and consistency of hearing all four shows unfold one after another. For the record The Dead were supported by fellow AAA band Pentangle as well as The Sir Douglas Quintet, but you don't need to know that - hearing any music after listening to this set for any extended amount of time makes every other form of music seem one-dimensional and under-whelming. Best Song: An alternate Dark Star > Stephen > Eleven from the second show that beats even the 'Live/Dead' one mainly taken from the first night. Wow,  Worst song: Doin' That Rag' is normally a show highlight but here sounds too complex and intellectual for such naturally-evolving tunes. 'Hey Jude' is a struggle too.  Biggest Talking Point: There's a rare outing for The Beatles' 'Hey Jude' (then a mere five months old) with Pigpen on lead. The 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' on the bonus disc is even rarer, a song the Dead only played regularly in their early years getting pretty much it's last showing here. Best Speech: Emcee: 'The last of the gay desperadoes - the Grateful Dead' Emcee: 'The American version of the Japanese film 'Magnificent Seven' - the Grateful Dead' Weir: 'Now we're going to try out these new amplifiers and find them totally inadequate and unappropriate' Garcia: 'That's un-adequate and inappropriate...semi-adequate!' Weir: 'So we're gonna hate it!' Weir: 'We'd like to bring on the two drummers now - Thumpy and Drumstick!'  Longest song: A 25:31 'Jam' in between Drums and 'Caution' from the final show. Front Cover: rather dull packaging to be honest, with the 'Skulls and Roses' skeleton (used in advertising for these shows before it's use on a record) reduced to a skull and tinted blue  Overall rating - How can it be anything else except 10/10? 

Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco, 4/18/70

(Family Dog Concert Hall, San Francisco, April 18th 1970, Released 2013)

I Know My Rider/Don't Ease Me In/Silver Threads And Golden Needles/Friend Of The Devil/Deep Elem Blues/Wake Up Little Susie/Candyman/Cumberland Blues/New Speedway Boogie/Me And My Uncle/Mama Tried/Katie Mae/Ain't That Crazy?/Roberta/Bring Me My Shotgun/The Mighty Flood/Black Snake

The middle of three shows played at San Francisco's 'other' major rock venue supported by The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Charles Musselwhite. The Dead were billed at this show as 'Mickey and the Hartbeats', a 'clue' that true fans would have picked up on, whilst keeping the usual Deadhead hordes away. The New Riders crop up on many songs too, which is common for Dead shows but exclusive (to date) for an archive release. As a result of their newfound audience, the band are in a mischievous mood and play several rare songs here in between messing around. Fans of the 'Bear's Choice' acoustic set will like this gig, which is heavy on Pigpen (six songs!) and (despite the star billing for Mickey) short on drums. Lasting just 80 minutes this is one of the shorter Dead archive sets out there and is another of those rare shows that have never really been passed on to 'tapers' (the show only appears to exist on a tape in Jerry's possession and donated to the archive series by his ex wife Mountain Girl).The tape is clearly made by a fan rather than a professional sound recorder and as such is in lesser sound quality than most other period gigs that have survived (this set was also released on vinyl, where the hiss and clicks make sense). However it's a rare treat, with the band having fun away from their 'day jobs' and tapping back into their folk and blues roots.  Best Song: 'New Speedway Boogie' played - uniquely - in an 'unplugged' setting. Worst song: 'Wake Up Little Susie' never quite fitted into the setlist, being a 50s pop song out of place with the other acoustic gems here Biggest Talking Point: There are an awful lot of cover songs from the Dead's past revived for this show, including some rarities such as the traditional 'Silver Threads And Golden Needles' , blues sung standard 'Bring Me My Shotgun' and the first time Pigpen sang Ledbelly's lovely ballad 'Roberta', a song so far exclusive to this set. Longest Song: In a very short running show an 8:18 'New Speedway Boogie' is the longest thing here! Best Speech: Err, none that I understand! Front Cover: That familiar 'thunderbolt skull' image, this time on a sort of colour orange background Overall rating - One of those Dead shows revered for its uniqueness. I'm glad the band didn't record these spotty informal messy acoustic shows all the time but it's nice to have a souvenir of it when they do. A rare treat. 7/10

 Ladies And Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead

(Fillmore East, New York, April 25-29th 1971, Released 2000)

Truckin'/Bertha/Next Time You See Me/Beat It On Down The Line/Bird Song/Dark Hollow/I Second That Emotion/Me And My Uncle/Cumberland Blues/Good Lovin' > Drums > Good Lovin'/Sugar Magnolia/Loser/Ain't It Crazy? (The Rub)/El Paso/I'm A King Bee/Ripple/Me And Bobby McGee/Uncle John's Band > Turn On Your Love Light/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/It Hurts Me Too/Sing Me Back Home/Hard To Handle/Dark Star > St Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/Morning Dew/New Minglewood Blues/Wharf Rat/Alligator > Drums > Jam > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Cold Rain And Snow/Casey Jones/In The Midnight Hour > We Bid You Goodnight

Highlights of a five day run played at one of the Dead's favourite venues on consecutive days. This is the same period covered by 'Skulls and Roses' - indeed four of that live set's songs were recorded across these gigs (though the actual performances aren't replicated here). These gigs were notable for the amount of musicians hanging around the band: The New Riders Of Purple Sage open once again, with Dave Nelson appearing on the Dead's set, while Duane Allman (of the Allman Brothers) guests on the night of the 26th and The Beach Boys on the night of the 27th (where the Dead jam on a jaw-dropping 'Help Me Rhonda'). On less salubrious terms, the band accidentally dose Pigpen on LSD - the one member of the band who swore of drugs, it hit him hard - and for one night only (the 28th) Tom Constanten re-joins the band in his place (his last show with the group). With all that going on the music ought to be secondary, but actually it's pretty fantastic all round. The Dead are caught right at a crossroads, between the mellow vibe of the 1970 shows and the slicker 1971 shows and while this occasionally means lengthy improvisations that don't really go anywhere it also means some fabulous and uniquely arranged versions of old classics (everything seems to sound slower or faster than usual, as if the band are trying to keep their set fresh). Alas this is another of those sets where hearing the five nights in 'compilation' form doesn't really do the gigs justice - what's impressive about them is how on form the band were all the time at all five shows (although for my money the 28th is the best) and I'm not sure I always agree with the song selections here (the opening show of the 25th is torn to pieces and loses the fabulous 'Morning Dew', while the show on the 29th featured a terrific last performance of 'Alligator', both of which deserve to be here more than any single track on the set! There's also nothing from the 26th which seems odd - the show exists in excellent sound and is as good as the others played that week). Best Song: A lovely 'Dark Star' > St Stephen > Not Fade Away' jamming progression with TC playing some great organ parts Worst song: 'Uncle John's Band' have definitely seen better days Biggest Talking Point: Being one of the last shows before Keith and Donna join, you can also hear Phil's vocals for almost the last time for a full decade or so.  Best Speech: Longest Song: A 22:18 'Turn On Your Love Light' Front Cover: Some psychedelic lettering over some eye-numbing tie-dye Overall rating - Excellent once again, but I'd have still rather had the sets out individually or complete as one big set - these shows deserve it more than, say, 'The Complete Europe '72' 8/10

Winterland: May 30th 1971

(As the title says: Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, May 30th 1971, Released 2012)

Sugar Magnolia/Cumberland Blues/Big Boss Man/Me And My Uncle/Deal/Truckin'/Turn On Your Love Light/Uncle John's Band/Casey Jones/Johnny B Goode

The second of two shows played at the Winterland on consecutive nights (the first was more memorable, if only for events backstage - 30 fans ended up in hospital as a result of 'bad acid'). One of a handful of Dead concerts re-issued solely on vinyl as part of a 'record store day' promotion in 2012 and yet to appear on any other medium (worse luck, as only 7,500 copies were ever printed this is one of the rarer Dead sets to get your hands on despite being one of the more recent ones). Sadly even as a double set the release wasn't long enough to include the whole gig, with 'I Know You Rider' cut from fan tapes of the gig circulating (and sadly this is one of the few gigs of the 1970s that only exists incomplete with a nasty edit at the start of 'Rider' which is probably why it wasn't used). The band are in tighter form than you'd expect, certainly compared to 'Skulls and Roses' with the uptempo rockers sounding especially good tonight and Weir is in impeccable form, taking the lead for most of the set that remains. Best Song: A punchy 'Sugar Magnolia' still halfway between its conversion from country-rock walking pace to all-out rock attack. A slower but heavier 'Love Light' doesn't rock so much as strut, now quite a different beast to how it was in 1969. Worst song: 'Deal' is a little scatterbrained tonight, the band sounding as if they're not quite ready and the tempo is about the slowest of all the versions out officially to date Biggest Talking Point: For once I can't think of any talking points - there are no real speeches, no unusual songs in the running order and no old songs getting a final outing or new ones coming in - just an hour of the Dead at their crowd-pleasing best. Best Speech: Bill Graham warning the crowd if the power suddenly gets cut past their curfew: 'We're going past the two AM thing. If it stops, it's not because of us. It's because they've come in and turned off the switch, but we'll just keep going until they get here!' (Thankfully they never do and the gig ends as planned!)  Longest Song: A 15:32 'Turn On Your Love Light' Front Cover: A clever re-creation of the 'Skulls and Roses' LP sleeve - the official live album from the same period - although the colours have all been changed round with a 'sunshine' effect now appearing behind the skeleton! Overall rating - It's a great shame that more doesn't exist from this fascinating gig, but fans of the Dead's heavier sound will love it! 7/10

Steppin' Out With The Grateful Dead: England '72

(Highlights from shows recorded in the UK between April 9th and May 26th 1972, Released 2002)

Cold Rain And Snow/Greatest Story Ever Told/Mr Charlie/Sugaree/Mexicali Blues/Big Boss Man/Deal/Jack Straw/Big Railroad Blues/It Hurts Me Too/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Happy Birthday To You/Playin' In The Band/Good Lovin'/Ramble On Rose/Black Throated Wind/Sitting On Top Of The World/Comes A Time/Turn On Your Love Light > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away > Hey! Bo Diddley > Not Fade Away/Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu/Black Peter/Chinatown Shuffle/Truckin' > Drums > That's It For The Other One > El Paso > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat/One More Saturday Night/Uncle John's Band/The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)/Dark Star/Sugar Magnolia/Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)/Brokedown Palace

One of many archive releases covering the very popular European tour of 1972, this is effectively a four CD alternate version of the official live two-disc live release from this year and all of these tracks are included in the whopping 73-disc 'complete Europe' breeze-block (box set seems an inadequate description of it somehow!) It's not my pick of the best material played at these shows and concentrates too much on the English shows (the Netherlands and German gigs were better say my ears) but does at least feature many of the one-offs that you can't get on any single-show CDs: For example, this set captures the band randomly striking up 'Happy Birthday To You' after the 'China Rider' sequence, a spirited 'Hey! Bo Diddley!' during the Buddy Holly 'Not Fade Away' jam and a mean cover of Huey Smith classic 'Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu'. By comparison the more familiar mat5erial sounds almost jaded, although Pigpen is on top form for almost the last time and gets all the best moments in the set (a powerful sixtet of most of Pig's great songs - 'Love Light'  'Good Lovin' 'The Stranger' 'Mr Charlie' 'Chinatown Shuffle' and 'Caution'). Part of the 'Dark Star' used on this set was previously included in various artists compilation 'Glastonbury Fayre' - particularly odd given that it was recorded at Wembley! Unusually for an archive Dead set, this release made the charts, peaking at #160 in the States (despite being one of the few shows not recorded on home soil!) Best Song: As well as the above, 'Sugar Magnolia' sounds nicely funky tonight while 'Jack Straw' has more drive and power than  usual too Worst song: 'Ramble On Rose' is even more rambling than usual, while an organ-led 'Caution' is no substitute for the 1968-69 versions Biggest Talking Point: 'Sittin' On Top Of The World' makes a rare return to the setlist Longest Song: A rather seasick wild ride through a 31:27 'Dark Star', with a 20 minute 'Good Lovin' also standing out Best Speech: This being a compilation, sadly all the chat has been removed Front Cover: A London Bus came by and I nearly got on, but the driver was clearly tripping on something and smashed into a cobbled street instead, while a big shoe with a union jack on the soles is coming out of the bus in a parody of the original 'Europe '72' cover! Overall rating - 8/10

Rockin' The Rhein

(Rheinhalle, Dusseldorf, April 24th 1972, with bonus disc from The Academy Of Music New York on March 22-23rd 1972, Released 2004)

Truckin'/Tennessee Jed/Chinatown Shuffle/Black Throated Wind/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Mr Charlie/Beat It On Down The Line/Loser/Playin' In The Band/Next Time You See Me/Me And Bobby McGee/Good Lovin'/Casey Jones/He's Gone/Hurts Me Too/El Paso/Turn On Your Love Light/The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)/Dark Star/Me And My Uncle/Dark Star/Wharf Rat/Sugar Magnolia/Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away/One More Saturday Night//Playin' In The Band/Sugar Magnolia/Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Jam > Uncle John's Band/Dark Star

For my money the 'Europe '72' shows in Holland and Denmark were the best - the band got better and better the more they played, with the early shows in Germany and England less interesting. The good news is that this is a much better set than the one played the night of 'Hundred Year Hall' and what's more it's heard complete too, with no silly editing (although some songs have been switched in the running order, which is a shame: 'Dark Star' for instance ought to run into 'Sugar Magnolia'). The Dead play some of their best songs (this setlists is a lot more entertaining than what made 'Europe '72') but something just doesn't quite click tonight. Nothing is particularly wrong, but Garcia's vocals are just the wrong side of together, the guitars are just the wrong edge of meshing and Keith Godchaux appears to be asleep on many of the songs. The echoey hall doesn't help (it sounds like the band have two drummers again for the quieter songs, albeit slightly out of synch with each other). Even Pigpen is less than stellar, with the last ever truncated performance of his showstopper 'Turn On Your Love Light' (added as a bonus track from a show in London exactly a month later) not a nice place to say goodbye. One of the lesser Dead archive sets, certainly from the first half of their career Best Song: A slowed down and edgy 'Two Souls In Communion', quite different to the normal way the band play it Worst song: 'Casey Jones' is a train wreck despite going so slowly it barely raises any steam Biggest Talking Point: This is only the third ever performance of 'He's Gone', the one song debuted on the European tour Best Speech: None Longest Song: A 25:46 'Dark Star' Front Cover: An unusual sleeve with a wooden border and a deer overlooking a shield painted in the colours of the German flag! Overall rating - Poor 2/10

Hundred Year Hall

(Jarhunderthalle, Frankfurt, April 26th 1972, Released 1995)

Bertha/Me And My Uncle/Next Time You See Me/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Jack Straw/Big Railroad Blues/Playin' In The Band/Turn On Your Lovelight > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > One More Saturday Night/Truckin' > That's It For The Other Ones > Comes A Time > Sugar Magnolia

Fans are supposed to like their first 'tape' and as one of the very first Dead archive sets (and the very first to be released after Garcia's demise, although he knew about it and had okayed it) this was mine. The signs should have been good: this is the band in a hot yearbut with a track listing that's subtly different from the 'Europe '72' album with some hot jamming near the end. But somehow this gig never takes off, the Dead sounding less telepathic on this show and more like every other band, complete with mistakes. The set is an important one though for two main reasons, First, in the days before the 'complete Europe' suitcase it was your only chance to hear the Dead groove in a foreign land rather than the original tour recordings. The German venue is one of the strangest the band ever played - a plastic dome built just before the second world war (and approved by Adolf Hitler!); though you sense the Fuhrer would have hated the democratic Dead, he inadvertently provided the Dead with one of the most suitable acoustics for one of their best recorded shows. This is also the end of the road for Pigpen and while technically speaking he was at the concert on May 4th 1972 extracted for the 'Dark Star' release you woukdn't know he was there (given that the lengthy 'title track jam is all that appears). Meaning that 'Hall' is the last album where you can hear Pig sing if you're listening to these official shows chronologically and a sad way to end it is too: Pig only gets two vocals and doesn't sound quite himself on either of them ('Love Light' is about as tired as it ever sounded, whilst a rare 'Next Time You See Me' is more fascinating historically than musically). The rest of the band too don't have that swing in their step they so often had with the lengthy 'Truckin' > 'The Other One' jam (that never quite hits the main song proper despite lasting half an hour so) one of the most unlistenable moments in the Dead's official canon. Worse yet, this two-disc set is another of those 'highlights' shows that skips on some music that's actually a lot more interesting (the full list of what's missing includes a lot more Pig, for instance, on 'Mr Charlie' 'Chinatown Shuffle' and 'The Stranger' - which all sound mighty good to me, with the last one of these three later turning up as a bonus track on the 'Europe '72' CD re-issue - plus 'He's Gone' 'Black Throated Wind' 'Loser' 'Beat It On Down The Line' 'You Win Again' 'Good Lovin' 'Dire Wolf' 'El Paso' 'Tennessee Jed' and 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' - the band really need to re-release this set on three discs some day!) The result is a show that's one of the more disappointing sets out there and a curious choice for release so early on, a very poor set from a pretty good year. Best Song: Opener 'Bertha' is as good as it gets, taken at a frenetic but thrilling pace even if Jerry can't keep up vocally Worst song: A strangely en-un-ci-a-ted 'Sugar Magnolia' (is Bob being kind to a German-speaking audience?) falls very flat  Biggest Talking Point: Apart from Pigpen and the Hall this show is most notable for the rare cover of 'Next Time You See Me', a song the band performed often until Pig's death but only appears on an archive release here.** Best Speech: None Front Cover: The sleeve is the best thing about this set, with stained glass replicas of the six-piece Dead line-up of the time looking saintly (Pig and Billy look so right as knights in armour, though minstrel Garcia just looks daft!) Overall rating - I'm curious as to why this show is as universally loved as it is - this set largely does nothing for me 2/10

Dark Star

 (Olympia Theatre, Paris, May 4th 1972, Released 2012)

Dark Star > Drums > Dark Star

A very unusual archive release, in the sense that this vinyl-only limited edition contains just the one lengthy version of 'Dark Star' generally agree to be one of the band's best.It's certainly one of the longest, closing in at 35 minutes (though not the longest as is sometimes said) and while nice to have might have made more sense as the centrepiece of the whole gig (which was another good 'un, even for 1972). Although only 'Dark Star' appears on this set, this show is additionally the source of the 'Sugar Magnolia' used on 'Europe '72'. You won't know it from most of this appearance, but this is the last released show to feature Pigpen, who stays home for good after a gig on June 17th 1972. Best Song: 'Dark Star' Worst song: 'Dark Star' Biggest Talking Point: Well, how about the fact that this release is unique in Dead terms: it contains just one very lengthy version of 'Dark Star' split over two sides of vinyl Longest Song: The only song is the infamous record-breaking 40 minute 'Dark Star' (not the longest version of the song - a version on 'Road Trips Volume 4 Number 3 tops it at 44 minutes - but often cited by fans as their favourite). Best Speech: There's no time for talking, what with 35 minutes of 'Dark Star' to play! Front Cover: A griffon with roses in its hair. Well, it makes a change from skeletons! Overall rating -  7/10

Sunshine Daydream

(Old Renaissance Fair Grounds, Oregon, August 27th 1972, Released 2013)

Promised Land/Sugaree/Me And My Uncle/Deal/Black Throated Wind/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Mexicali Blues/Bertha/Playin' In The Band > He's Gone > Jack Straw/Bird Song/Greatest Story Ever Told/Dark Star/El Paso/Sing Me Back Home/Sugar Magnolia/Casey Jones/One More Saturday Night

Released simultaneously on DVD, with bonus documentary 'Grateful Days'. This show is hot - in more ways than one. The first Dead show to be professionally filmed (as opposed to them appearing in someone else's film as per Monterey and Woodstock), memories of this one were legion and fans have been pushing for its release since the day it was filmed. After all, this charity gig was one close to the band's heart - it was made to raise money for band friend Ken Kesey's brother's failing farm business ('The Springfield Creamery') and to help publicise the plight of struggling farmers hit by unfair costs long before 'Farm Aid' in the 1980s made this sort of thing an institution. The band performed not in the usual arenas or cities but in a field surrounded by wildflowers. Fans who've heard the show on unofficial tapes regularly count it as one of the band's best, but the Dead were disappointed when they saw the playbacks, nixing one version of the film in the 1970s and another in the 1990s (which was a sort of 'tribute' to the 'merry pranksters' early acid days and mixed footage of Kesey and a young Dead in with the show). At last the band got it right in 2013 - some 41 years after it was filmed - and the result is ever so nearly as good as myth and legend has it. The band are tight, generally sticking to the harder-edged rock and roll they know will get the crowd thinking about something other than the weather and everyone sounds in a good mood, especially Weir whose on top form tonight. The only downside is that the hot weather is causing the guitars to go out of tune quite a bit which means some of the longer jams get a lot weirder than they should. That said, the first set is fabulous and hard to beat. A useful starting point for fans curious o see what all the fuss is about.  Best Song: A thrilling 'Bird Song' with Garcia finding a nice guitar groove and one of the better 'Playin' In The Band' jams around, snaking in and out of the riff while finding more places to go with every circle round Worst song: Chuck Berry's 'Promised Land' sounds a little too rough around the edges Biggest Talking Point: The band and fans are outside communing with nature!  Best Speech: Bob Weir, referring to the hot weather, says, 'We're changing our name to 'The Sun Stroked Serenaders'! Weir also adds 'This is the first time I've ever been to Oregon and it didn't rain - of course now it's too damn hot!' Longest Song: An epic 31 minute version of 'Dark Star' often referred to as the band's best (it isn't, but it's close)  Front Cover: An excellent cover with a tie-dye border and a skeleton calling an eagle down to sit on his head with a nature background Overall rating - One of the best 1972 shows around, long overdue 8/10

Europe '72 Volume Two

(Various venues, April-May 1972, Released 2011)

Bertha/Me And My Uncle/Chinatown Shuffle/Sugaree/Beat It On Down The Line/Loser/ Next Time You See Me/Black Throated Wind/Dire Wolf/Greatest Story Ever Told/Deal/ Good Lovin'/Playin' In The Band/Dark Star > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Sing Me Back Home > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away

Note: we've elected to review this 'highlights' album rather than the 73 disc 'complete' 'Europe '72 Shows' set although it's worth adding that we like the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxemborg gigs better than the English and German ones!

Released just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the Dead's better known live albums, this second volume is much like the first a patchwork quilt of different venues, different styles and songs that have been around in the set lists for years nestling against those that are freshly minted. Many fans will tell you that the Dead were at their peak in 1972 and while I don't agree they were certainly at their most eclectic, switching from old time cowboy songs to psychedelic jam sessions to compact originals in the blink of an eye. Though generally I've fought tooth and nail on these pages to get the compilers of these sets to put them out complete, there is something to be said for picking the best versions, which from what I've heard of the complete Europe '72 shows do sound better heard like this. Indeed song per song this may even be a better set than the original volume - admittedly there's nothing quite as hauntingly perfect as that original version of 'Morning Dew', as nicely played as 'Jack Straw' or as cleverly interwoven as 'China Rider', but the lengthy jam on this album (based around 'Dark Star' and 'That's It For The Other One') is far more convincing than the one based around 'Truckin' and there are far less poor cowboy songs this time around. The other good news is that nothing here is replicated - none of the songs here appeared on the original 'Europe '72' album. Alas that's because most of them had already appeared on 'Skulls and Roses' the year before. Yes the Dead never played the same song twice and some of these versions are very different, but there was a whole range of songs the compilers could have chosen, particularly from Pigpen and Bobby's side of the stage. The rarest thing here is 'Sing Me Back Home'  - which had already appeared on three archive sets before this (Including the 'So Many Roads' box set) - and yet another 'Next Time You See', which had been rare but was suddenly about the most popular track released in this 2002 period! What happened to songs premiered that tour like 'Two Souls In Communion' 'Looks Like Rain' , all sorts of songs from solo albums 'Garcia ' and 'Ace' heard on that tour, even the unique cover of 'Rockin Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu' from the finale in London? Of course it's far from bad and hearing the cream of the crop chosen by someone who cares about these things and knows their stuff means this is one of the band's more consistent archive sets. But I was ever so slightly disappointed with this one, which deservedly got some of the band's reviews in years but yet promised so much more. This set was released as a four vinyl set in addition to appearing on two CDs. Best Song: Bob's 'Black-Throated Wind' was always an under-rated song and is played with real confidence here during the same month of release on 'Ace'. This is also one of the last truly classic 'Dark Stars' before the song a bit...weird Worst song: 'Dire Wolf' is all too convincing as the sound of someone in the process of being murdered, with Jerry back on lead in this period Biggest Talking Point: It's the first bona fide honest to goodness Grateful Dead sequel! Best Speech: None - as a highlights set all the chat has been excised Longest Song: A 30:27 'That's It For The Other One' Front Cover: The best thing about this set is the cover. Stanley Mouse was invited back to work with the band for the first time in years, re-creating his distinctive cartoon style seen on the original, only instead of a giant foot and an American awkwardly eating an ice cream the sleeve has a convict with multi-coloured hair having dropped his ice cream to the ground in favour of a begging bowl Overall rating - Very very good but it could have been great 7/10

Winterland 1973: Complete Recordings

(Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, November 9-11th 1973, with a bonus disc of Cincinnati Gardens, Ohio, December 4th 1973, Released 2008)

Promised Land/Brown Eyed Women/Me And Bobby McGee/They Love Each Other/Black Throated Wind/Don't Ease Me In/Mexicali Blues/Row Jimmy/The Race Is On/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Playin' In The Band/Here Comes Sunshine/Me And My Uncle/To Lay Me Down/Big River/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Greatest Story Ever Told/Bertha/Weather Report Suite > Eyes Of The World/China Doll/Around And Around > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Johnny B Goode/Bertha/Jack Straw/Loser/Looks Like Rain/Deal/Mexicali Blues/Tennessee Jed/El Paso/Brokedown Palace/Beat It On Down The Line/Row Jimmy/Weather Report Suite/Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Morning Dew > Uncle John's Band > Playin' In The Band/Big River/Stella Blue/Truckin' > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia/One More Saturday Night/Casey Jones/Promised Land > Bertha > Greatest Story Ever Told/Sugaree/Black Throated Wind/To Lay Me Down/El Paso/Ramble On Rose/Me And Bobby McGee/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Me And My Uncle/Loose Lucy/Weather Report Suite/Misissippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Big River/Dark Star > Eyes Of The World > China Doll/Sugar Magnolia/Uncle John's Band > Johnny B Goode > And We Bid You Goodnight/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Truckin'/Stella Blue/Eyes Of The World > Space > Sugar Magnolia/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Band/Casey Jones

November 1973 was clearly a good month for the Dead, with no less than four archive sets taken from that month (the most popular after May 1977). In many ways this is the long awaited home-coming, although it's not quite the only run the Dead played in their beloved San Francisco, it is the only extended one and as such is full of a sea of true committed 'Deadheads' rather than casual fans, with the band throwing in the odd surprise along the way, including a very early 'Loose Lucy' and a rare 'To Lay Me Down' (the only one played in 1974). The result is a sprawling set that isn't all great by any means but is amazingly consistent considering the scope and size, with Billy -in the years he was the band's only drummer - on particularly tight form.  All in all this is one of the best Dead sets out there, slightly rockier than the band's form in 1973 but without the loss of subtlety of later years. To be honest every disc has something about it to enjoy, with all the three main performances fantastic in their own way, but for once the bonus disc (highlights of a gig played on December 4th) isn't really up to standard. As the tape for 'Morning Dew' was broken, the compilers have fixed it with the version that was later released on 'Dave's Picks Volume Five'. Best Song: A chirpy 'They Love Each Other' is by far the best version of the song I've heard. A lovely twelve-minute 'Here Comes The Sunshine' ends up in a fierce jam, which is very unusual but also very good - it's a shame the band didn't perform the song like this more often. 'To Lay Me Down' is so gorgeous you wonder why the band ever let it rest at all.  Worst song: 'Weather Report Suite' is becoming a little unfocussed - this is one of the last times the Dead performed the whole of it before paring it back to the second half.  Biggest Talking Point: There are ten - count 'em' - discs, equalling 'The Complete Fillmore' as the second-longest live Dead set in existence. In a cycle that seems so obvious you wonder why it hadn't happened before, 'Uncle John's Band' becomes rocking rebel 'Johnny B Goode'. The band also revive 'To Lay Me Down' after nearly a year's rest. Best Speech: None Longest Song: A full 'Weather Report Suite' at 18:26 Front Cover: A skull with a rose coming out of it (and out of that an eye) is seen against a crowd of people Overall rating - Simply glorious 8/10

 The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack

(Winterland, San Francisco, October 16-20th 1974, Released 2005)

US Blues/One More Saturday Night/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider/Eyes Of The World > China Doll/Playin' In The Band/Scarlet Begonias > He's Gone > Jam > Weirdness > That's It For The Other One > Spanish Jam > Mind Has Left Body Jam > That's It For The Other One > Stella Blue/Casey Jones/Weather Report Suite > Jam > Dark Star > Morning Dew > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/Uncle John's Band > Big Railroad Blues/Tomorrow Is Forever/Sugar Magnolia/He's Gone > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) Jam > Drums > Space > Truckin' > Black Peter/Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Playin' In The Band > Drums > Not Fade Away > That's It For The Other Ones > Wharf Rat > Playin' In The Band/Johnny B Goode/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/We Bid You Goodnight
It's the end - but the moment has been prepared for. The Dead's last shows before an eighteen month hiatus (and in case the title hadn't given it away, the soundtrack to The Grateful Dead Movie, filmed in 1974 but not released till 1977) are a curious affair: generally lifeless and tired but sometimes sputtering into greatness. Certainly hearing five discs worth of this set makes a lot more sense than the double-LP 'Steal Your Face' did, which generally went for the songs fans might know rather than the full taste of what these shows were like - spacey and weird for the most part. The unique selling points are that for the first time really the band tried a bit of everything from their nine year history, including a few old friends who hadn't showed up for a while. Mickey is also back on drums on the last and arguably best of the five gigs for the first time in three years and adds an extra power to the band (although you have to say Billy is on top form all five nights!) The event feels like a party - but one of those sad parties where someone you know well is leaving and nobody quite wants to go home because things won't be the same after they've gone. As a result many of the jams are long and unwieldy, including some of the longest versions of some of these songs around (even the songs from the first sets aren't as short as normal!) Like the film itself Typically the band play almost nothing from the album they're meant to be promoting, 'From The Mars Hotel'! ('US Blues' is the only song!) This set is an extension of the unloved 'Steal Your Face' album released in 1976 that featured 14 of these songs. This gig is also the source of the 'So Many Roads' version of 'Eyes Of The World'. Finally, note that the 'Movie' itself includes a performance of 'Sugaree' that didn't make this soundtrack set at all - how very confusing but utterly Dead! Best Song: Most of the last disc is excellent, the whole band coming together right at the end on a marvellous 'Playin' In The Band' sequence with a moving 'Wharf Rat' somehow appearing in the middle. 'Morning Dew' is also superb, with a real gear change in this one between the sad and lonely opening and the rage of the final verse, with Garcia on top form. A playful finale of 'We Big You Goodnight' goes on forever, the band reluctant to walk off stage and start their sabbatical. Worst song: Sadly most of the second disc is unlistenable, lengthy atonal jams that are the Dead at their worst - in total there are five separate jams listed after 'He's Gone', none of them that long but all of them pretty tedious. Biggest Talking Point: Apart from the obvious - that this is goodbye, *sob* - there's a rare and almost unique cover of Dolly Parton's 'Tomorrow Is Forever', an odd choice when you think about it (the band were already setting dates for their eventual return), which is performed for the final time o the fourth show. The middle show is the last time that the band will play 'Weather Report Suite' in its entirety. Best Speech: Weir: 'It's technical difficulty time - which is kind of like Grateful Dead standard time!' Bill Graham introduces the Dead technical team to the stage: 'They're shy but very very crazy - they've done it for ten fucking years, the Grateful Dead crew!' Longest Song: This Playin' In The Band' lasts a whopping 31:44 - and that's without counting the reprise Front Cover: As per the jaw-dropping animation in the film, a skeleton in an 'Uncle Sam' hat doffs it at the audience (the inner packaging has other stills from the film, of him passing a 'valley of legs' (!) and lazing about in a lilo!)! Overall rating - There's a great single disc highlights set in here somewhere. 'Steal Your Face' isn't it by the way but a souvenir of the five days' weaker and more ordinary aspects  4/10

 Live At The Cow Palace

(Cow Palace, California, December 31st 1976, plus a bonus disc with other shows at the same venues across 1976, Released 2007)

Promised Land/Bertha/Mama Tried/They Love Each Other/Looks Like Rain/Deal/Playin' In The Band/Sugar Magnolia/Eyes Of The World/Wharf Rat/Good Lovin'/Samson And Delilah/Scarlet Begonias/Around And Around/Help On The Way > Skipknot! > Drums/Not Fade Away/Morning Dew/One More Saturday Night/Uncle John's Band/We Bid You Goodnight//The Music Never Stopped/Crazy Fingers/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Might As Well/Playin' In The Band > Supplication > Playin' In The Band > Scarlet Begonias

Happy new year! It's only the second ever Dead show to ring in the new year and is the start of an institution that will see the band play some of their most beloved shows ever. There's a definite party going on in the music, with many of the usual suspects from 1976 (a few stragglers from 'Blues For Allah' and titbits from every other earlier era) played with more power and drive than normal. This was actual the only Dead gig played between October 1976 and February 1977, when the touring started again in earnest so was a good excuse for Deadheads to party (the band only played 41 shows total in 1976 - most years they played five times that). Better yet, it was broadcast on national radio so every American Deadhead with a radio and no mountains blocking the coverage could hear it and take part in it. In many ways it's in with the old and out with the new, the Dead preferring to give fans something they know to boogie to than introducing new songs, with very little change compared to the above 'Dick's Picks' volume from the same year. It's also the last time the band will play the Cow Palace, a venue never that popular with Deadheads due to the echo that interfered with tape recorders (this gig does indeed sound odd compared to most other archive gigs). Note though the fact that 'Samson and Delilah' is already in the setlists (it will be recorded for 'Terrapin Station' the following year) and 'Good Lovin' has already been revived (this will appear on 'Shakedown Street' in 1979). Every new year's eve show the Dead will play will feature something weird going on during the year switchover: this time around it's concert venue host extraordinaire Bill Graham, dressed in little more than a new year's sash, bursting out of a giant hourglass and a lengthy countdown to the hour that even the band stopped playing to acknowledge. Of course, like all the best new year's eve parties, this is one of those gigs where you had to be there - listening back to it the morning after(or even forty years) merely sounds like a blurry recollection of why you were having so much fun. In truth this is a rather messy show for the mid-70s Dead, full of their shorter rockier and frankly less interesting songs and only 'Playin' In The Band' really stretches out. The support acts were Santana and a local band named Soundhole. Best Song: This is a fiery fast-paced version of 'Playin' In The Band' that goes on and on. A slightly shorter than normal but twice-the-speed 'Eyes Of The World' is rather good too. Worst song: 'Wharf Rat' is painfully slow and features a whacking great heavy drum accompaniment that doesn't quite fit. 'Morning Dew' also sounds as if it's had a few too many. Biggest Talking Point: It's new year's eve! Isn't that enough talking point for one night? Oh and Bob Weir's grown a Garcia-style beard, but he won't keep it for long. Best Speech: 'Happy New Year' messages and a lot of screaming! Longest Song: A 23:12 'Playin' In The Band' Front Cover: A cow with wings and an 'Uncle Sam' hat on peers through a laurel leaf emblem. Man that's heavy stuff... Overall rating - Not ghastly but not that great either 3 /10

May 1977

(Various dates, May 11-17th 1977, Released 2013)

Promised Land/They Love Each Other/Big River/Loser/Looks Like Rain/Ramble On Rose/Jack Straw/Peggy-O/El Paso/Deal/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Sugaree/Samson And Delilah/Brown Eyed Women/Estimated Prophet/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Good Lovin' > Uncle John's Band > Space > Wharf Rat > Around And Around/Brokedown Palace/Bertha/Me And My Uncle/Tennessee Jed/Cassidy/Peggy-O/Jack Straw/They Love Each Other/New New Minglewood Blues/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Dancing In The Street/Samson And Delilah/Brown Eyed Women/Estimated Prophet/Sunrise/Terrapin Station > Playin' In The Band > Drums > Not Fade Away > Comes A Time > Playin' In The Band > Johnny B Goode/The Music Never Stopped/Ramble On Rose/Cassidy/Brown Eyed Women/New New Minglewood Blues/Friend Of The Devil/El Paso/Jack-A-Roe/Looks Like Rain/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Samson And Delilah/Bertha/Estimated Prophet > Drums > That's It For The Other One/Stella Blue > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/One More Saturday Night/US Blues/Bertha > Good Lovin' > Row Jimmy/New New Minglewood Blues/Tennessee Jed/Lazy Lightnin' > Supplication/Jack-A-Roe/Passenger/Brown Eyed Women/Dancing In The Street/Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Samson And Delilah > Ship Of Fools/St Stephen > Iko Iko > Not Fade Away > Sugar Magnolia/Uncle John's Band/New New Minglewood Blues/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/El Paso/They Love Each Other/Jack Straw/Jack-A-Roe/Looks Like Rain/Tennessee Jed/Passenger/High Time/Big River/Sunrise/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Samson And Delilah/Bertha > Good Lovin'/Brown Eyed Women/Estimated Prophet/Terrapin Station > Playin' In The Band > Drums > Wharf Rat > Playin' In The Band/Sugar Magnolia

By 1977 The Grateful Dead had moved on from the jazzy free-form style that marked their comeback concerts and settled on a sort of uneasy compromise between their earlier jam-heavy shows and the slicker commercial style of the studio records. To be honest the style never suited them that well and not many of the versions of 'old' songs on this humungous fourteen-disc set can compare to what the band were doing even three years before. However the 1977 tour is a fond memory for many Deadheads, a welcome launching point for fans who struggle to cope with their heavier more atonal works and it is perhaps significant how many 1977 archival shows have been released to date (rivalling 1971 and 1972 as the band's most legally available year). You have to say too that the new material from 'Terrapin Station' sounds an awful lot better here than it does on record: the band are slicker on the new numbers than when promoting many of their albums and have really knocked the new songs into shape here with the title track and 'Estimated Prophet' already fan favourites with the crowd. The drawback is that when old favourites are approached with the same slickness and tightness what used to sound so great when improvised and open to all possibilities end up in something of a cul-de-sac. It doesn't help too that the milestones of the Dead's past ('That's It For The Other One' 'Dark Star' 'The Eleven' and even 'China Cat Sunflower') were all temporarily dropped for this tour: however good the shorter folkier songs are, they just can't compare. There are a few sound issues too where the microphones drop out briefly, most notably the start of 'Mississippi', although the performances are still strong enough to compensate for this. Still if it's a tight show you want to hear then there are few Dead sets out there better than this one and the fact the Dead nailed their regular setlist more or less night after night makes this one of the more consistent, albeit repetitive sets, out there on the market. Best song: A lovely version of 'Sugaree', performed a little slower than normal, with Jerry living every word. A very early version of 'Fire On The Mountain' (how did this song not make the 'terrapin' album?) is exquisite, Jerry living every word and while it's futile to say any Garcia guitar solo is the 'best' there are so many good ones this performance is right up there, fluid and clear yet harrowing too. One of the best 'Row Jimmy's of the period is close behind too. Worst song: A disappointingly dull 'That's It For The Other One' is the only time one of the Dead's 'big three' are attempted the whole set and it's a big load of nothing. Biggest Talking Point: The new material being 'broken out' in time for 'Terrapin Station's release in July. All of that record is here in some form or another and most of it fabulous. Best Speech: Weir: 'We're going to take a short break now, whatever it is you have to do!' Longest Song: In a shorter-per-song-average running time compared to normal a 16:28 'That's It For The Other One' really stand out. Front Cover: Disappointingly plain packaging for such a colourful sets, with an antique wooden box replica housing a dodgy looking picture of a glacier overlaid with psychedelic colours. If the makers of Werthers Originals had been taken over by Oswley in the 12960s then their packaging might have looked a bit like this. Overall rating  - The 'new' songs sound as great as they ever will, but the oldies are getting a bit mouldies 6/10

To Terrapin: Hartford '77

(Hartford Civic Centre, Connecticut, May 28th 1977, Released 2009)

Bertha > Good Lovin' > Sugaree/Jack Straw/Row Jimmy/New New Minglewood Blues/Candyman/Passenger/Brown Eyes Women/Promised Land/Samson And Delilah/Tennessee Jed/Estimated Prophet > Playin' In The Band > Terrapin Station > Drums > Not Fade Away > Wharf Rat > Playin' In The Band/One More Saturday Night/US Blues

And finally we say goodbye to the Dead's busiest month with yet another concert that, despite the title, features only three actual songs from the 'Terrapin Station' album named on the cover! (That said, why isn't the show from May 8th - long considered one of the Dead's top five performances - out on anything yet? Are they saving it up for some special occasion?!) The band are in much the same form as last time we saw them - slightly more together than usual and with a slightly more mellow first set and a rather more adventurous second, with Bob having a particularly on-form day. This set probably won't end up your favourite (unless it's a show you went to or your first tape - we Deadheads are largely sentimental creatures after all) but it's another excellent effort with much to recommend. I still have no clue why it has that title though - there are another five gigs to go before 'Terrapin' comes out!  Best Song: I wouldn't say I'm the biggest fan of 'Estimated Prophet' but this is the best version of it around by far - this song doesn't walk, it struts, making the most of its unusual riff and ending up stretching it's legs in a fascinating jam by song's end. This is one of the better 'Playin' In The Band's too, slowly than average but taken at a much quicker pace with some excellent harpsichord work from Keith Godchaux. Worst song: This is another one of those 'Row Jimmy's where poor old Jim needs to bail out fast because there's a hole in the boat. At nearly ten minutes  - twice the normal length - 'Tennessee Jed' rather outstays his welcome too. Biggest Talking Point: With this release the month of May 1977 became the most comprehensively covered month for Deadheads since the Fillmore shows of 1969. As the title implies, this show features a very early rendition of 'Terrapin Station' which at this stage lasts a mere (!) eleven minutes. Best Speech: None Longest Song: Very unusually, it's 'Sugaree', stretched past breaking point to 19:09 Front Cover: A lonely Terrapin tries to hitch-hike a lift to a station that's just arriving on the horizon... Overall rating - Another solid, occasionally spectacular, 1977 show 7/10

Winterland June 1977

 (Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, June 7-9th 1977, with a bonus disc of Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, May 12th 1977, Released 2009)

Bertha/Jack Straw/Tennessee Jed/Looks Like Rain/Peggy-O/Funiculi Funicula/El Paso/Friend Of The Devil/The Music Never Stopped/Scarlet begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Good Lovin' > Candyman > Estimated Prophet > He's Gone> Drums/Samson And Delilah > Terrapin Station > Morning Dew > Around And Around/Uncle John's Band/US Blues/New New Minglewood Blues/Sugaree/Mexicali Blues/Row Jimmy/Passenger/ Sunrise/Brown-Eyed Women/It's All Over Now/Jack-A-Roe/Lazy Lightning > Supplication/Bertha > Good Lovin'/Ramble On Rose/Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Johnny B Goode/Brokedown Palace/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Jack Straw/They Love Each Other/Cassidy/Sunrise/Deal/Looks Like Rain/Loser/The Music Never Stopped/Samson And Delilah/Funiculi Funicela/Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower/Estimated Prophet > St Stephen > Not Fade Away > Drums > St Stephen > Terrapin Station > Sugar Magnolia/US Blues/One More Saturday Night/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Dancing In The Street/Terrapin Station > Playin' In The Band > Drums > Not Fade Away > Comes A Time > Playin' In The Band
Wow - ten whole discs featuring three whole nights from the Dead at what many fans consider their peak period. What's even more impressive is how little material is repeated across the three shows - opener 'Bertha' aside the Dead rarely do anything twice. Like many a 1977 show, the mood is mellow rather than dangerous and safe rather than experimental, so this set won't be everybody's cup of tea (whisper it quietly but even I find it a bit boring heard in one go!) This is however the sound of a band that's clearly on an 'up' - this most stable line-up of the Dead have been together a while and know these songs inside out by now, while there are lots of energetic takes on songs from the forthcoming 'Terrapin Station' album that sound much tighter and tougher than that record ever did. General consensus has it that the first two gigs were more of a warm-up for the last night, which is reckoned to be one of the best shows the band ever played. However for me it's the first sets from both the earlier nights that work best, with old friends revisited with more care and attention than normal, plus a storming second set from the show on the 9th that really make this purchase. However nothing from this set is really bad - an achievement in itself across ten discs - and while the band played better, more consistent and groundbreaking shows elsewhere they didn't often mange it back-to-back as per here. To be honest the only annoying thing about this set is the high price tag...Incidentally, these shows came along a mere week after the debut of the 'Grateful Dead Movie', with which it has several songs in common (for once!) Best Song: There's a nice reggae lilt to 'Friend Of The Devil' that suits the song really well. A rare live version of Donna lovely 'Sunrise' is superb - the band should have played it more often. There's a really sparkin' 'Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad'. A classy return for 'St Stephen'. Plus finally a special 'Terrapin' that's as firmly on the rails as any other out there.  Worst song: 'Jack-A-Roe' never really worked and that goes double for the 'Not fade Away' style rhythm the band give it here. 'Cassidy' starts a little too fast and trips over it's big feet, but even that settles down nicely thereafter. Biggest Talking Point: There's a rare and early version of Donna Godchaux's showpiece 'Sunrise' and an unusual yet natural pairing of two 'prophets' - 'Estimated' and 'St Stephen'. Best Speech: Weir: 'Our highly trained and efficient crack equipment team is busy at work making everything just exactly perfect!' Longest Song: A 19:20 'Eyes Of The World' Front Cover: A skeleton Overall rating - Nice set if you can spare the time and money to absorb it all 7/10

Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978

(Giza Sound And Light Theatre, Cairo, September 15-16th 1978, Released 2008)

Jack Straw/Row Jimmy/New New Minglewood Blues/Candyman/Looks Like Rain/Stagger Lee/I Need A Miracle/It's Al Over Now/Deal/Ollin Arageed/Fire On The Mountain/Iko Iko/Shakedown Street > Drums > Space > Truckin' > Stella Blue/Around And Around
The final two of three shows played in front of the Giant Pyramids, with most of the shows complete on the CD and highlights of both on a DVD. What fun this show should have been - after an idea by Phil Lesh and months of negotiations the Dead were welcomed to the very aptly named 'city of the Dead' and played two gigs on consecutive nights in front of not Deadheads and stadiums but the giant pyramids of Giza and camels. The shows were timed so that a lunar eclipse took place during the finale on the third night; fans assumed minds would be blown and all sorts of demons would be unleashed  but nothing, not even a mummy (although the last show is generally accepted to have been the best). The Dead should have felt right at home amongst all those tombs, but somehow the idea of the gig proved to be better than the gig itself where once again (as per Monterey and Woodstock) the Dead's loose structure came unstuck under bigger press scrutiny than they'd had in years. This rather put the kybosh on the band's plans to make up for the gig's high transport costs with a live album (which would have been their fifth in eleven years), with the band deciding the tapes were too poor to release (the Dead took no money for the gigs, dominating all proceeds to a local charity, which made it easy for them to negotiate playing the gig in the first place). What was probably true in 1978 (when audiences were pickier) is sadly as true today, with the band oddly out of sync with each other, crossing lines and missing cues throughout all three nights. Though some of the songs come together (the two drummers are on particularly good form) this gig simply doesn't have the magic that everyone assumed it would have and isn't even up to the band's average rate in America across 1978 (the Egyptian Gods were clearly out that night, or perhaps they were just cross over the way the Dead had used an 'inverted pyramid' symbol in the animation for 'The Grateful Dead Movie'). Considering the unusual circumstances and the 'spacey' feel of the gigs, the band mainly stick to playing safe, with a series of old favourites and just a handful of songs from next album 'Shakedown Street' and noticeably nothing fromthe other two albums since the hiatus. That's a shame - can you imagine how 'Terrapin Station' or any of the Egyptiany songs from 'Blues From Allah' might have fared? On the plus side the fact that this gig was professionally recorded means it sounds better than most of the archive sets, whatever the flaws in the music. The 'Ollin Arageed' and the 'Fire On The Mountain' and 'Stagger Lee' played here tonight had been previously released as bonus tracks on the 'Shakedown Street' CD release. Best Song: Most of the percussion heavy tracks are the best with 'Drums' the best for a while Worst song: The earliest 'Shakedown Street' available so far is a struggle to listen to, the band clearly still learning it. 'Stella Blue' is also horribly over-sung. Biggest Talking Point: It's Egypt! The Dead are playing in front of a giant pyramid! What else can you possibly be talking about? Well how about the Hamza El Din Egyptian instrumental welcome 'Ollin Arageed'? (Ironically, the performance here alongside the second and final one played at the 'welcome back' show heard on Road Trips Vol 1 No 4 means that 'Ollin Arageed' is the only Dead song played more than once where every version is available; that's 'ironic' because the Dead don't even play on it! If that isn't enough then how about an early 'Fire On The Mountain' not yet part of a medley with 'Scarlet Begonias? Best Speech: Oddly the band keep quiet Longest Song: A 15:31 'Shakedown Street' Front Cover: A pyramid sports wings and prepares to take off Overall rating - A better gig to talk about than to watch/listen to, important mainly for historical reasons rather than musical ones  2/10

The Closing Of Winterland

(Winterland Arena, San Francisco, December 31st 1978 (with a bonus disc of other New Year's Eve recordings from other years), Released 2003)

Sugar Magnolia/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Me And My Uncle/Big River/Friend Of The Devil/It's All Over Now/Stagger Lee/From The Heart Of Me/Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/Samson And Delilah/Ramble On Rose/I Need A Miracle/Terrapin Station/Playin' In The Band/Rhythm Devils > Not Fade Away/Around And Around/Dark Star > That's It For The Other One > Dark Star > Wharf Rat > St Stephen > Good Lovin'/Casey Jones/Johnny B Goode/And We Bid You Goodnight//Easy Wind (1970)/Jam > Black Peter (1971)/Playin' In The Band (1972)/Lazy Lightnin' > Supplication > Sugar Magnolia > Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain (1977)

The Dead bid a fond farewell to one of their favourite venues by headlining a lengthy show full of all sorts of stars from America's West Coast, released simultaneously on DVD. The band almost missed the gig after a bomb scare in Los Angeles grounded their aeroplane (they'd played at Pauley Pavilion the night before) but in the end they arrived merely 'fashionably late'. The entire show was broadcast by local radio station KSAN and unusually on TV station KQED, which means that in the bad old days before the internet and archive releases it tended to be one of the more popular Dead bootlegs. This was the new year's eve show where Bill Graham descended from the roof of the Winterland on top of a papier mache joint (bet he's glad he didn't have to get that through customs!) and advertised on the tickets as 'an all-night party with breakfast at dawn'. There's certainly a party atmosphere in the room, with sloppy yet enthusiastic performances that, dare I say it, sound a little inebriated (or could it be that the Dead are just tired after the stress of making the gig?) For once the release of the DVD makes sense - this is a show you need to see, full of balloons banners and confetti, whereas heard merely as an album it sounds like a party you wish you'd gone to. This is also notable for being the last officially released archive set to date featuring Keith and Donna Godchaux before they leave the band the following March. A gig full of surprises and goodbyes, then, although it sounds more a celebration than a eulogy. Once again the bonus disc, containing extracts from new year's eve shows in 1970, 1971 and 1977 is both tighter and more interesting than the gig we get here, although to be fair they might just have picked the absolute best from each.  Best Song: Another gorgeous 'Wharf Rat', slower than average Worst song: Nercomer to the setlist 'Stagger Lee' staggers so much he falls over several times before the band pick him up again Biggest Talking Point: A major surprise for a major show: the first time the band have played 'Dark Star' since 1974! 'St Stephen' isn't quite the first revival but it's another unexpected rarity not often played in this era. This is also the only archive set to date to feature Donna's vocal showcase 'From The Heart Of Me'. Best Speech: Weir, sarcastically: 'We're going to play a selection from our latest chart-buster!' (He means the comparatively poor-selling 'Shakedown Street') Longest Song: A 19:23 'Drums' - that's a lotta percussion! Front Cover: A monochrome shot of the American Beauty rose  Overall rating - Fun, but all rather frivolous by Dead standards 5/10

Live At Hampton Coliseum

(Hampton Coliseum, Virginia, May 4th 1979, Released 2014)

Loser/New New Minglewood Blues/Don't Ease Me In/Passenger/I Need A Miracle/ Bertha/Good Lovin'/Ship Of Fools/Estimated Prophet/Eyes Of The World/Truckin'/Stella Blue/Around And Around

On the same day that Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain (*shudder* 'I Need A Miracle' sounds suitably spooky tonight!), her polar opposites The Dead were breaking in a new keyboard player. Brent Mydland officially took over from Keith Godchaux in March and this only Brent's third show with the band. Already Brent is a major part of the sound, with no lead vocals yet but lots of supporting harmony work that adds a new dimension to grittier songs like 'I Need A Miracle' and the twin covers of 'Minglewood' and 'Don't Ease Me In'. Brent's keyboard is notably central to the sound too, not like the gentle keyboard washes to the side that was Keith's stock-in-trade. For many fans this is the beginning of the end and it's true that Brent's keyboard habits will become far harder to take when he's brave enough to start adding bits to old favourites, but for this gig alone he's exactly the 'lift' the Dead need. Notably the band don't play many 'old' songs at this show, preferring to stick to solo work covers or post-hiatus material  (1971's 'Bertha' is the earliest original on offer here - when did that last happen?) This show was another limited edition, with just the rather odd number of 7900 printed on vinyl as part of the celebrations for 'world record day' in 2014; sadly it never did come out on CD.  Best Song: A truly beautiful 'Candyman' updated for a new era with the keyboards and a slower tempo adding a new touch of melancholy. A funky 'Franklin's Tower' isn't far behind. Annoyingly both are missing from this 'highlights' gig! Worst song: 'Mama Tried' is rushed and Bob sounds as if he's getting a cold. Thankfully this too is missing from this 'highlights' gig! Biggest Talking Point: Only the biggest change in a decade - the addition of a new band member! Brent Brent, he's such a gent, and on keyboard sounds he overspent, though he leaves many asking where the Grateful Dead went... Best Speech: Weir: 'We're making some last minute and vital adjustments in order to assure us that's everything's happening as it ought to - all for your benefit of course!'  Longest Song: In a short set, a 13:21 'Eyes Of The World' is longest Front Cover: A weird hand-drawn cover with red and blue icebergs falling into the sea! Overall rating - Interesting for historical rather than musical reasons again, with some songs given a lift and others truly awful 3/10

Go To Nassau

(Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, May 15-16th 1980, Released 2002)

Jack Straw > Franklin's Tower > New New Minglewood Blues/High Time/Lazy Lightnin' > Supplication/Peggy-O/Far From Me/Looks Like Rain/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Feels Like A Stranger/Althea/Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance/Alabama Getaway/Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Good Lovin'

The second and third of three shows held at this venue. There aren't that many archive releases out by the Dead in 1980, but then the era has been pretty well catered for thanks to the release of 'reckoning' and 'Dead Set'. As the title implies, this record was released soon after the Dead 'go to Heaven' and while that's true of some of this inconsistent set, sadly they don't stay there for any length of time. In total half a dozen songs from that album are here - about two-thirds of it, all together in one great lump in the middle.  Yet again this CD is a highlights set, containing the best from two nights, which makes sense in as much as it skips on the repetition, but is a shame in that yet again this an uneven mix with the second show far superior to the first. The night of the 15th is just your usual typical Dead show, almost but not quite gathering together all the strands that make the band so unique - it's the show of the 16th where the band play with commitment and power with the drummers especially on form.  Best Song: Still brand new, 'Feel Like A Stranger' simply rocks, all the band hitting the complex rhythms in unison. The song has never sounded so good. The same goes for 'Althea' which simply purrs, a whole different beast to the rather thrown away version on the album. This is one of the very best 'Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstances' too, with all in all the songs from 'Go To Heaven' having a god night. Of the older songs Peggy-O sounds pretty good too. Worst song: 'High Time' has never sounded so low Biggest Talking Point: There isn't really much to say, with a typical blend of the usual covers and originals from yesteryear with a large helping of present day songs. Best Speech: None Front Cover: A photo of fans milling outside the theatre Longest Song: An 11:58 'Franklin's Tower' Overall rating -  Full marks for disc two, but leave disc on in the box 6/10

Truckin' Down To Buffalo

(Rich Stadium, New York, July 4th 1989, Released 2005).

Bertha/Greatest Story Ever Told/Cold Rain And Snow/Walkin' Blues/Row Jimmy/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Stagger Lee/Looks Like Rain/Deal/Touch Of Grey/Man Smart Woman Smarter/Ship Of Fools > Playin' In The Band > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > All Along The Watchtower/Morning Dew/Not Fade Away/US Blues
An American Independence Day show with 10,000 Maniacs the support act on another set released with a tie-in DVD. Despite the title 'Truckin' wasn't played at this show and the band aren't exactly speedy with some of the slowest versions of these songs around (oddly low on 'fireworks' for a 4th of July show and ending up something of a damp squib). However it's not bad - the Dead often struggled in the late 1980s and do occasionally mess up here too but they sound enthusiastic (sometimes) and together (sometimes), which is more than you can say for some gigs in this era. The band play a particular short first set here, although no songs were cut from this release as per some other archive releases. Interestingly there's just one song from the album the band have been busy working on in the studio - 'I Will Take You Home' - and as per the record only Brent features on it. Otherwise this is standard Dead period fare, with lots of olf favourites and nothing particularly rare (although 'Man Smart Woman Smarter' crops up again and the band tackle two Dylan covers; 'All Along The Watchtower is the same version previously released on the 'Postcards From The Hanging' compilation of Bob-covers). Best Song: A very poignant 'I Will Take You Home', slightly slower than the record and with an 'extra' counterpoint synth-brass part playing alongside. Worst song: Jerry puts the 'rough' in the 'Stagger Lee' ruffian with a very messy performance  Biggest Talking Point: 'Looks Like Rain' is suddenly accompanied by an unexpected but highly synchronistic downpour! While it's probably co-incidence, this may well be the longest 'wait' for a 'Playin' In The Band' reprise of all time too - the band teased the crowd with the main song the night before but unusually never did return to the song - until here, some twenty-four hours later, where the song riff naturally fades up out of 'Ship Of Fools'. So does that mean the entire set list of this show up till now and the end of the day before's set count as an epic 'Playin' medley, together with the 20-odd hours of silence? My head hurts...  Best Speech: None Longest Song: In a short running set it's a 12:08 'Terrapin Station' Front Cover: A skeleton in a souped-up psychedelic jalopy races along to the gig with a number plate that reads 'US Blues' Overall rating - Not that bad, but only infrequently that great 4/10

Crimson White And Indigo

(JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, July 7th 1989, Released 2010)

Hell In A Bucket/Iko Iko/Little Red Rooster/Ramble On Rose/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/Loser/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Blow Away/Box Of Rain/Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain/Estimated Prophet/Standing On The Moon/Rhythm Devils > Space > That's It For The Other One/Wharf Rat/Turn On Your Love Light/Knockin' On Heaven's Door

An unusual archive release that doesn't 'fit' any other series and is unique in featuring the highlights of the show on a DVD. Future member Bruce Hornsby and his band The Range are tonight's support act, which is rather fun - little does he know what he'll be getting himself into only a year or so's time! Named after a line taken from Garcia-Hunter eulogy 'Standing On The Moon' and describing the narrator's last glimpse of Earth before his spirit rises to Heaven, this set recorded a mere year away from Brent's own demise sounds in retrospect as if it's full of 'warnings'. The show starts with a narrator being dragged to 'hell in a bucket', includes pick-yourself-up-after-a-death song 'Box Of Rain' (then a very unusual song to play) and closes with the Dylan song 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door'. Perhaps it's more that the band are waving goodbye to an institution, with this the last ever performance to be given at the JFK Stadium before it's demolished (the venue had been running since 1966 when The Beatles were the first band to play there). Given that this show comes from a not very celebrated or highly rated period in the Dead's long history it's actually rather good, with Jerry more on the ball than average and Brent's electronic 80s excesses cut to a minimum. Certainly this show is a lot more interesting than either the official CD of this tour  'Without A Net' or the 'Truckin' Up To Buffalo' show from earlier the same week. While not every performance is great and not withstanding that the days of adventure and experiments are long gone, this is a very likeable show all round with all the band approaching top form and working together brilliantly. Tonight's performance of 'Blow Away' will be included as a bonus track on the 'Built To Last' CD. Best Song: 'Blow Away' is extraordinary and a welcome addition to the 'Built To Last' CD, in which Brent nearly self-destructs in front of the audience, turning his simple pop song into an epic thanks to an improvised coda that just keeps on coming while Jerry and Bob grimly hold on to the spiky guitar lick. This show's elongated 'Standing On The Moon' is rightly regarded as the best of the small handful of it the band ever gave too, ending in a rare extended jam. This is also a gorgeous version of 'Scarlet > Fire' that just goes on and on (and on). Worst song: 'Rhythm Devils' and 'Space' - unusually split over two discs - are particularly unappealing and weird tonight Biggest Talking Point: As well being the stadium's farewell, this set features a higher proportion than normal of Dylan covers and a rare Bob Weir revival of Pigpen favourite 'Turn On Your Love Light' Best Speech: Brent's jamathon coda to 'Blow Away' - 'You can't hold love in your fist - that's not real love, real love, real real love' Longest Song: At 12:28 it's the definitive performance of 'Blow Away' (complete with false ending and jammed second half!) Front Cover: A large bell calls time as a thunderbolt rips through it Overall rating - A rather good show from a poor era 7/10

Formerly The Warlocks

 (Hampton Coliseum, Virginia,October 8-9th 1989, Released 2010)

Foolish Heart/Walkin' Blues/Candyman/Me And My Uncle > Big River/Stagger Lee/Queen Jane Approximately/Bird Song/Promised Land/Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin's Tower/Victim Or The Crime > Eyes Of The World/ Rhythm Devils/ Space/I Need A Miracle > The Wheel > Gimme Some Lovin' > Morning Dew/We Bid You Goodnight/Feel Like A Stranger/Built To Last/Little Red Rooster/Ramble On Rose/We Can Run/Jack-A-Roe/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/Row Jimmy/The Music Never Stopped/Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Dark Star > Rhythm Devils/Space > Death Don't Have No Mercy > Dear Mr Fantasy > Hey Jude > Throwing Stones > Good Lovin'/ Attics Of My Life

 The best of the 1980s Dead concerts that I've heard although I'm a long way from hearing them all (and I'm not alone for once - tapers rated this song at #4 in their list of the best Dead concerts ever in a 1993 poll), perhaps because this show was rather low-key by Dead standards. Tired of all the fuss and the bigger arenas they had to play following their hit year of 1987, the band booked themselves two shows into the decidedly non-Dead location of Hampton Coliseum under the name 'Formerly The Warlocks' (the name the Dead had first used in  the mid-1960s). Long-term fans in the neighbourhood would clearly understand the message but the sometimes noisy newcomers who joined since 'In The Dark' and 'Touch Of Grey' wouldn't have a clue. As a result this is almost like an old Dead show: there's a wide variety of material across the two nights (so much so that not a single song is repeated!) and the occasional unexpected cover amongst the Dead standards. Ultimately this show has the best of both worlds - the Dead are well drilled but in a playful mood, with several of the more unusual song choices here started by some improvised guitar lick or phrase that makes many of the arrangements here unique. The first night is by far the best, but the second has a few moments of magic too. If only the band had released as their last 'official' recording instead of the comparatively poor 'Without A Net' from the next year's tour! The expansive (and expensive!) packaging includes glossy 'photos' of the gig and especially the 'Warlocks' name on the banner outside (for the first time since 1965), replica tickets and a reprint of a local newspaper's take on the special gig. Best Song: An angry, unrelenting version of 'Victim Or The Crime' that cuts through the rest of the two-nights gig like a knife through butter. This is one of the better 'Rhythm Devils' too, naturally segueing from a jazzy 'Eyes Of The World' and genuinely going somewhere interesting and transportive with some particularly nice panpipe work. There's a scarily intense 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' also, with Brent especially pouring his heart out on 'his' verse: he'd be dead in less than a year after this show. Worst song: This is one of the all-time worst jams on 'Playin' In The Band' and the segue into 'Uncle John's Band' one of the Dead's clumsiest Biggest Talking Point: The fact that the Dead are playing their first show as 'The Warlocks' in 24 years! Oh and the unexpected return of the full 'Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin's Tower' in some four years, after which the trio became a regular item in the Dead's live lexicon once again. 'Built To Last' is a rather rare song to hear live too despite sounding rather good here. Best Speech: Sadly the band stay quiet despite this being such an intimate and unusual gig Longest Song: A 13 minute jam based around 'Bird Song' Front Cover: A spoof cigarette advert. If the grinning skeleton smoking a cuban isn't enough to put you off smoking for life, nothing will! Overall rating - 8/10

Nightfall Of Diamonds

(Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, October 16th 1989, Released 2001)

Picasso Moon/Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodeloo/Feel Like A Stranger/Never Trust A Woman/Built To Last/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Deal/Dark Star > Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Jam > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > I Need A Miracle > Dark Star > Attics Of My Life > Playin' In The Band/And We Bid You Goodnight

The last of three shows held at this venue (and five in New Jersey) held on consecutive days, named after a line from the set's biggest talking point - the unexpected revival of an old classic 'Dark Star'. Omens for the gig are good - the same afternoon a horse named 'Dark Star' wins at the venue's race track. The band had apparently already planned to play 'Dark Star' at the show but had to perform it after such a heavy cosmic sign! This is the last archive show before the release of final Dead album 'Built To Last' a fortnight later, though in typical band fashion only 'Picasso Moon' and 'I Will Take You Home' are actually played from it! Instead the band are more keen on revisiting old friends in new ways, including a slowed-down 'Attics Of My Life' and a 'Mississippi' that's actually happy! It's also Bob Weir's 42nd birthday, the band and crowd  fitting in a brief 'happy birthday' before the start of 'Let It Grow'. Rather sweetly the set is deadicated to Adam Katz, with no explanation given - fans with long memories will know that he was the young Deadhead found dead of unknown causes after the show at the same venue on the 14th. This is the first archive Dead set to reach the charts for a while, peaking at #196 in America's Billboard. All in all one of the better later period shows, with Mydland and Garcia on better form than average and the whole band gelling in a way they hadn't for years. perhaps they should have revived 'Dark Star' more often given the magic the old song seems to cast on this show... Best Song: It's hard to look past 'Dark Star' - not the very best performance by any means and rather short but nicely played all the same with added keyboard touches Worst song: 'Let It Grow' sounds rather rushed and again has an almost reggae vibe that doesn't fit Biggest Talking Point: An unexpected 'Dark Star' revival, mischievously hinted at by Garcia in a press call for the tour where he said fans could hear the song 'sooner than you might think'. Brent's 'Never Trust A Woman' gets a rare performance too - it never came out on record though it's on a few archive shows and the same author's 'I Will Take You Home' can be heard in it's only archive performance so far even though it did make the record. Longest song: There are four seconds between 'Let It Grow' and 'Dark Star', both of them just shy of twelve minutes.  Best Speech: Just a quick 'happy birthday' Front Cover: A very 'Dead Set' style cover with a silhouette of East Rutherford at night Overall rating - An excellent late period show if still not up to old classics 7/10

Spring 1990/Spring 1990 ('The Other One')

(Various venues, March 14th-April 3rd 1990, Released 2012 and 2014)

Cold Rain And Snow/Feel Like A Stranger/Never Trust A Woman/Mama Tried/Big River/Loose Lucy/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/Row Jimmy/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Crazy Fingers > Playin' In The Band > Uncle John's Band > Jam > Drums > Space > Dear Mr Fantasy > I Need A Miracle > Black Peter > Turn On Your Love Light > Black Muddy River/Shakedown Street > Little Red Rooster/Stagger Lee/Me And My Uncle > Mexicali Blues/Friend Of The Devil/Just A Little Light/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Ramble On Rose/The Music Never Stopped/Iko Iko/Looks Like Rian/He's Gone > Truckin' > Spoonful > Drums > Space > The Wheel > All Along The Watchtower > Morning Dew/US Blues/Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/New New Minglewood Blues/Far From Me/Queen Jane Approximately/Loose Lucy/Victim Or The Crime > Standing On The Moon > Promised Land/Hey Pocky Way/Crazy Fingers > Cumberland Blues/Estimated Prophet > He's Gone > Drums > Space > I Need A Miracle > Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Turn On Your Love Light/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Greatest Story Ever Told > Touch Of Grey/Wang Dang Doodle/Never Trust A Woman/Jack-A-Roe/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Bird Song/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Eyes Of The World > Samson And Delilah/Crazy Fingers > Truckin' > Spoonful > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Black Peter > Around And Around Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)/Cold Rain And Snow > New New Minglewood Blues/Easy To Love You/High Time/Queen Jane Approximately/Loose Lucy/Cassidy > Deal/Foolish Heart > Looks Like Rain > Cumberland Blues > The Weight/Hey Pocky Way > Drums > Space > That's It For The Other One > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin' > Revolution/Jack Straw > Bertha/We Can Run/Ramble On Rose/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Bird Song > Promised Land/Eyes Of The World > Estimated Prophet > Dark Star > The Wheel > Throwing Stones > Turn On Your Love Light/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Touch Of Grey/Walkin' Blues/Just A Little Light/Candyman/Me And My Uncle/Big River/Althea/Victim Or The Crime > To Lay Me Down/The Music Never Stopped/China Cat Sunflower > I Know My Rider > Ship Of Fools > Man Smart Woman Smarter > Drums > Space > Dear Mr Fantasy > Hey Jude > Truckin' > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Shakedown Street/Hell In A Bucket > Sugaree/We Can Run/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Row Jimmy/Picasso Moon/Tennessee Jed > Promised Land/Estimated Prophet > Scarlet Begonias > Crazy Fingers > Playin' In The Band > Drums > Space > I Will Take You Home > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away/And We Bid You Goodnight

Perhaps sensibly restricted to a limited edition of 9000 copies, this is one of those sets that will only really appeal to diehard must-have-'em-all Deadheads or fans who were these at the six gigs featured complete here (with highlights from a seventh). The year 1990 wasn't a great one for the band - Brent is audibly struggling with his demons at times (he'll die of an overdose less than three months after the last gig featured here) and Garcia is getting feebler by the month, while the band are still trying to cope with both the influx of new Deadheads from the 1980s that's causing them to play bigger and more unknown venues and the relative flop of their last album 'Built To last' (six of the nine album songs are here, but only 'Picasso Moon' is played more than once). There's a distinctive sound about this period though that means at least one show from 1990 should be out there - a nice homely sound that sits in contrast to the more synthesiser-filled 1980s and like 1977 the Dead are noticeably jam-free, with very few songs past the ten minute mark. There aren't many rarities considering this set covers six shows but those that are here are all nice additions to the Dead canon: Sam Cooke's 'Let The Good Times Roll', a revival of Brent's 'Easy To Love You' (only the second performance in six years), Dylan's 'Queen Jane Approximately', 'Man Smart, Woman Smarter' Stones cover 'The Last Time', Traffic cover 'Dear Mr Fantasy complete with 'na na nas' lifted from 'Hey Jude' (which turns slowly into the first performance of the song since Pigpen did it in 1969) and Stevie Winwood cover 'Gimme Some Lovin'. This is also the first performance of 'Black Throated Wind' in 16 years - one of the longest pauses between live Dead performances. In contrast there are three songs getting their marching order here: the 22nd show is the last ever performance of 'Believe It Or Not', the 26th the last ever 'Built To Last' (ironic that a song with that title will be the first shelves from that last LP) and April 2nd a song the Dead first performed way back in 1967 breaths it's last: 'Death Don't Have No Mercy'. Certainly this set is more interesting than the 'Without A Net' album of the 1989-90 tour which this set covers the last couple of months of. Frankly, though, it's not good enough to warrant a release of every show here - personally I'd have rather seen a three-venue set of the opening Landover shows (only the last of which is featured here) perhaps alongside the 'Knickerbocker' show (which is easily the best gig here, though a highlights set is out separately). The drums sound artifical and false, noise without substance, while Mydland is in peak synth territory and worse still Garcia insists on frequently using a new gadget that makes even his guitar playing sound like a robot. The Dead have never sounded more, well, dead, only sporadically coming to life on a few rockers (mainly the Weir ones) or the odd ballad left as raw and low-key as possible. Alas even in a two-disc 'highlights' set (which oddly skips on most of the rarities, the main reason Deadheads will want it) what we have here is only inconsistently entertaining and only sporadically an essential to the Deadhead's collection. Like many a Dead box set it comes with some excellent packaging though including a lovely hard-backed book, photographs and replicas of the ticket stubs, backstage passes and tour programmes for the shows. Several recordings had been released before - 'Scarlet Fire' from the 22nd had already appeared on the 'So Many Roads' box set, while 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' from the same show appeared on 'The Dead Play Dylan'. Many of the songs from the date on the 26th also appeared on the 'Knickerbocker Arena' compilation 'Dozin' At The Knick'. Best Song: 'Feels Like A Stranger' suits the funky 80s vibe, while 'The Last Time' is the best of the rarities, slowed down from the original to a blues strut Worst song: 'Samson and Delilah' has by now turned into a noisy drum jam with the odd bit of squawking going on alongside it Biggest Talking Point: This is the second-biggest Grateful Dead set spanning a massive 23 discs and six complete shows! (While most of these are consecutive the set does miss out the March 15th show released as 'Terrapin Station' some seventeen years earlier). Saxophonist Branford Marsalis guests on the March 29th gig at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale (also released separately on the same date as three-disc set 'Wake Up To Find Out'). Best Speech: Amazingly for a set this long there's no chat worth speaking of at all! Longest Song: A 14:04 'Estimated Prophet', closely followed by two lengthy goes at 'Bird Song' Front Cover: A skeleton in an Indian head-dress. How now Jack-A-Row? Overall rating -  2/10

Terrapin Station

(Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, March 15th 1990, Released 1997)

Jack Straw/Sugaree/Easy To Love You/Walkin' Blues/Althea/Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues/Tennessee Jed/Cassidy/Don't Ease Me In/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider/Samson And Delilah/Terrapin Station (Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station) > Mock Turtle Jam > Blues > And > Space > I Will Take You Home > Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away/Revolution

All aboard to Terrapin some thirteen years after the locomotive first left the station. The middle of three shows played at this venue on consecutive nights. The day is also Phil Lesh's 50th birthday (a brief 'happy birthday' from the crowd is duly heard at the start of the second set, although sadly the band don't join in) and like 'Fallout From The Phil Zone' this is a show that Lesh pushed for and one that he's particularly fond of. There's another reason behind this limited edition too: the three-disc CD set was released to raise funds for the 'Terrapin Limited' multimedia museum/concert stage project established by the band in 1997 which sadly never came to fruition. However the main selling point is a rare and lengthy jam based around 'Terrapin', which quickly went down in Dead mythology as a classic and almost the last time the band surprised the crowd by re-arranging an old favourite. An even bigger surprise comes with the encore, which is a revival of the rarely played Beatles cover 'Revolution', added back to the set one last time as a special treat for Phil who was particularly fond of the song. It's for those two reasons that this set is so well treasured - to be honest everything else is close to the ordinary range, bordering on shambles in the first set with more missed cues than normal (Weir goes first on 'Jack Straw', then Garcia on 'China Cat'). However Jerry is on better form than he often has been of late and sings like he wants to be on stage, with Brent also on good form across this gig and finding a way to add his more contemporary sound to the Dead's without getting in the way as he had earlier in the decade. Many other shows from this period were featured in the 'Other Ones' set although not this one surprisingly (did the band already know they wanted to put it out separately?) and once again the set is generally superior to the official 'Without A Net' souvenir of the tour. That said, the recording of 'Althea' from this gig was used on that very album, although it's not one of the record's better moments. Best Song: Clearly it's 'Terrapin Station', with 'Revolution cutting it close.  Worst song: Bob Weir messes up the words during the opening 'Jack Straw', a song he'd been playing for eighteen years, which rather sets the tone for a crazy set! Biggest Talking Point: The first Dead cover of The Beatles' Revolution in five years astonished many and Brent's surprise revival of his first Dead song 'Easy To Love You' after a decade break. Dylan's 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' is one of the band's rarer Bob-covers. Best Speech: None Longest Song: Terrapin Station runs for 14:23 even without the eight minute jam hilariously titled 'Mock Turtle' on the sleeve. Front Cover: At last Mr Terrapin had boarded his train and is off to see the gig in a gorgeous steam train with the legend 'GDRR' on the side (a 'Grateful Dead Records Release' perhaps? Or a Grateful Dead Roadworthy Rodent perhaps?) If only the band had sung 'Casey Jones' tonight as well... Overall rating - Worth having for the two great songs, not so much for the rest 5/10

Dozin' At The Knick

(Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York, March 24-26th 1990, Released 1996)

Hell In A Bucket/Dupree's Diamond Blues/Just A Little Light/Walkin' Blues/Jack-A-Roe/Never Trust A Woman/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Row Jimmy/Blow Away/Playin' In The Band/Uncle John's Band/Terrapin Station (Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station)/Mud Love Buddy Jam > Drums > Space > More Space > The Wheel/All Along The Watchtower/ Stella Blue/Not Fade Away/We Bid You Goodnight/Space /I Will Take You Home/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/Black Peter/Around And Around/Brokedown Palace

...or 'Dosin' At The Knick' as several witty Deadheads renamed it! Highlights from three shows performed at the Dead's most regular haunt of their final years together with the Dead on above average form for their final Brent Mydland tour. The band sound especially strong on the more recent songs with some excellent readings of tracks from 'In The Dark' and 'Built To last'. They sound less convincing on old friends though including such rarities as a very brief reading of 'Terrapin Station', a chaotic slowed-down 'Dupree's Diamond Blues', a loose and jazzy rendering of 'The Wheel' and an off-key finale of 'And We Bid You Goodnight'. Like many a 1990 show it's difficult listening for any fans who don't have an emotional investment in the period and the band are a pale shadow of what they used to be. However they're still around, still fighting and still - occasionally - surprising, with quite a few surprises on this gig. The recording of 'One More Saturday Night' from this show had already been released as part of the 'Without A Net' concert compilation. Best Song: A fierce 'Blow Away' Worst song: 'Stella Blue' is hopelessly misread with everyone out of tune with one another Best Speech: None Biggest talking point: This is the final performance of 'Built To Last', a song debuted in 1988. There are a whole host of rare and unusual cover versions too including Dylan's 'All Along The Watchtower' and Robert Johnson's 'Walkin' Blues'. The jam out of 'Terrapin' known as 'Mind Left Body Jam' was the first of this live regular feature ever released on an 'official' album. Brent also gets the first official release for his rare song 'Never Trust A Woman'. Longest Song: An 11:39 'Blow Away' Front cover: A hippie from yesteryear relaxes in the trees while some very nineties students look on Overall Rating - Not a classic but with many things to recommend 4/10

View From The Vault (Volume One)

(Cardinal Stadium, Louisville and Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, July 6th and 8th 1990, Released 2000)
Touch Of Grey/Greatest Story Ever Told/Jack-A-Roe/New New Minglewood Blues/Row Jimmy/Mama Tried/Mexicali Blues/Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues/Weather Report Suite (Let It Grow)/Samson And Delilah/Eyes Of The World/Estimated Prophet/Terrapin Station (Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station) > Jam > Drums > Space/I Need A Miracle > Wang Dang Doodle > Black Peter > Throwing Stones  > Turn On Your Lovelight/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Standing On The Moon > He's Gone > KY Jam
Two memorable gigs, the first of which feature the Dead camp sharing overnight grounds with a passing troupe of Jehovah's Witnesses and the second of which sees support from Crosby, Stills and Nash (both Crosby and Stills were Dead guest regulars in the early 1970s but this marks the first show with the full trio and the first collaboration for a long long time; Garcia guested with them that night playing slide guitar on 'Teach Your Children', a part he played using a slide guitar on the original record; eye witness reports saw almost all the band at the side of the stage shopping and cheering throughout their set and having a good ol' natter). The first in a series of four shows released on video as well as audio, although in truth when you've seen one Dead gig you've seen them all (it's the music that's important, not how long Bob's hair is or what Jerry's wearing and the Dead aren't the most visual of bands). Thankfully the music is superb, remarkably so for coming so late in the Dead's pantheon of gigs. This is also among the last shows Brent died, the keyboard player dying of an overdose just 18 days after the second gig here. Spookily the show includes two of the three 'death' songs the Dead occasionally performed: 'He's Gone' - which almost uniquely ends the show - and 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' (the band give 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' a miss tonight or that would have been truly spooky!) The vibes are all positive though. The show starts with a life-affirming 'Touch Of Grey' (despite being some 50 archive shows in, it's the first time a live performance of their biggest hit was released) and almost-ending with a ferocious revival of 'Turn On Your Love Light', Brent returning to a Pigpen classic (bet there's a cooking version of this song goin on in heaven right now with Pig, Brent, Keith and Vince all taking turns!) The only thing taking this set down a peg or two is that, this being the 1990 era Dead, Jerry isn't quite as on the ball as at earlier shows and the band are less keen on exploring new territory. They also seem to tune up endlessly during this gig and are clearly not keen on the bigger stadium setting. Best Song: In a rare outing a slower-than-average 'Throwing Stones' sounds especially good Worst song: 'Estimated Prophet' starts off on the wrong foot and hobbles on from there Biggest Talking Point: This is, at the time of writing, the last available show featuring keyboardist Brent Mydland, who died on July 26th 1990. Oddly though he has no original songs in the setlist (though he sings lead on plenty of covers) There's also a rare cover of blues strut 'Wang Dang Doodle' with Bob on lead vocals sneaked into the set Longest Song: A 15: 14 'Eyes Of The World' Best Speech: None - the band are too busy tuning up! Front Cover: A shot of the band on stage with the band logo in big above them Overall rating - The last classic Dead show? 7/10

 View From The Vault Two

(Robert F Kennedy Stadium, Washington, June 14th 1991 with bonus material from a show at the same venue on July 12th 1990, Released 2001)

Cold Rain And Snow/Wang Dang Doodle/Jack-A-Roe/Big River/Maggie's Farm/Row Jimmy/Black Throated Wind/Tennessee Jed/The Music Never Stopped/Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower/Estimated Prophet/Dark Star > Drums > Space/Stella Blue/Turn On Your Love Light/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Victim Or The Crime?/Foolish Heart/Dark Star

Another show released simultaneously on video. Another dramatic gig sees the promoter so concerned about people dancing in the aisles that he threatens to cancel the gig in the intermission - in the end both crowd and band ignore him and the gig goes through to its usual conclusion without any problems. Odd, then, that the promoter should allow a camera crew on stage - or that the Dead should be so keen to record a gig that wasn't at one of their usual haunts. However once again that Dead concertometer comes up trumps, with 0one of the better gigs of the final years captured for posterity. Lots of old friends come out to play tonight that hadn't been seen in years - notably 'Dark Star' almost twinkling it's last, plus a rare 'Help > Slipknot > Tower' trilogy and a revival of 'Turn Off Your Love Light'. From the first the gig is unusual, the band returning 'Cold Rain And Snow' to it's mid-70s place as a set opener. Jerry is still having trouble with his vocals in places and occasionally sounds like the singer we all know and love, but the twin twinkling keyboards of Bruce and Vince are bedding in much better, adding to rather than detracting to the sound. The second set is especially good, with much more enthusiasm jamming songs than of late. However for once the bonus material on this set is really not that good at all - this set from the previous July seems very out of place with Brent still in the keyboard seat and finds the band on something of an off day. Luckily there are only three tracks from this gig, though (with the DVD adding a fourth in encore 'Box Of Rain', as well as a 'posthumous' (i.e. post-Jerry) music video for 'Liberty', a song played at this tour but not this set).  Dwight Yoakam is the support act for the 1991 gig.  Best Song: After a tour of teasing us with the opening lines the Dead finally hit into the opening of 'Dark Star'. While rather slow, it's one last great celestial journey before the Star turns inwards for good. Worst song: 'Estimated Prophet' was never a speedy song, but this version is slowed to a crawl and is a struggle to get through Biggest Talking Point: In addition to the above returning favourites there are two rare cover songs, not exclusive to this set but hard to track down: a spirited reading of Dylan's 'Maggie's Farm' with five vocalists having a turn (addressed at Mrs Thatcher, perhaps, ousted from office the previous November) and blues cover 'Wang Dang Doodle'. Best Speech: None Longest Song: For the main show, there are mere seconds between 'Estimated Prophet' and 'Stella Blue', both a fraction over thirteen minutes, although both are beaten hollow by the 'bonus' Dark Star' which runs for twenty-five minutes! Front Cover: Like the rest of the series, a shot of the band at work underneath the series logo Overall rating -   One last hurrah 6/10

View From The Vault Volume Three

(Shoreline Ampitheatre, California, June 16th 1990, with bonus tracks from the same venue, October 3rd 1987, Released 2002)

Good Times > Truckin' > Touch Of Grey/Mama Tried/Big River/Friend Of The Devil/Cassidy/Bog Boss Man/One More Saturday Night/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > We Can Run/Estimated Prophet > Terrapin Station > Jam > Drums > China Doll > Sugar Magnolia (Sunshine Daydream)/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Hey Pocky Way/New New Minglewood Blues/Candyman/When I Paint My Masterpiece/West L.A. Fadeaway/My Brother Esau

 The middle of three nights played at this venue on consecutive days at the Mountain View site - an odd choice, as it happens, as most Dead fans tend to consider the first night as one of the Dead's last truly classic shows. Mountain View is kind of the 1990s Dead equivalent of the Filmore - the closest the band had to a local venue and where they performed most often with 39 shows in total. In many ways this set features the usual Dead set list turned on its head. The band opens not with an old favourite or a fast-up tempo number to get the audience clapping along but a rare-as-terrapin's-teeth cover of Sam Cooke's 'Let The Good Times Roll' with Brent, Jerry and Bob trading verses (it's rather good actually and deserved to be heard more often). Truckin' - usually the cornerstone of the longer second set jams - is heard near the start in relatively compact form. 'One More Saturday Night', nearly always the fired up final encore, appears a third of the way in.The big finale jam? The usually compact 'Sugar Magnolia'. The keep-them-rocking encore? The low key cover of Dylan song 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' (note that once again both CD and DVD have been fleshed out with bonus tracks from a similar gig from four months later). Partly because of shaking things up, but mainly because the band are on top form with Brent in a particularly sunny mood, this is one of the best 1990s Dead gigs officially available with the shorter first set particularly tight. Instrumentally the band are rarely better, although Jerry is all too audibly struggling by now and finding singing difficult. As with the other three releases in this series, a DVD of the show was released concurrently. Best Song: 'Touch Of Grey' now comes with an extended opening with a big and chunky Weir rhythm guitar part and some astonishing organ runs from Brent. Shame Jerry sounds as if he's got a cold though. 'Terrapin Station' is pretty stunning too Worst song: 'Mama Tried' is thrown away without anyone really caring about it too much. Biggest Talking Point: A lengthy jamming session which takes place after 'Terrapin Station' and sounds more like the Dead of 15 years before. 'We Can Run' is a relatively obscure song too, played live just 22 times and features some nice Garcia guitar twirls that weren't on the original record and a stunning a capella tag. Note too a snatch of 'The Addams Family' theme tune busked during the tuning up following a slowed down keyboard-led version of 'Candyman'. 'My Brother Esau' was performed for the final time at the 1987 show. Longest song: That 15:20 'Terrapin Station' Best Speech: None -the band are quite again tonight Front Cover: A shot of the band on stage with the series logo and title information 'embedded' into the Dead's backdrop projection. Overall rating - 8/10

Wake Up To Find Out

(Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, March 29th 1990, Released 2014)
Jack Straw/Bertha/We Can Run/Ramble On Rose/When I Paint My Masterpiece/Bird Song/Promised Land/Eyes Of The World/Estimated Prophet > Dark Star > Drums > Space > Dark Star > The Wheel/Throwing Stones/Turn On Your Love Light/Knockin' On Heaven's Door
The Nassau set in March 1990 was talked about for years afterwards because jazz saxophonist Brentford Marsalis turned in what must surely be the best of the many guest appearances on a Dead concert down the years, adding a whole new laidback dimension to 'Eyes Of The World'. For years this concert was the Dead tape to own - from the band's last decade anyway - but there comes a problem. This version of 'Eyes Of The World' already appears on the official release from the 1990 tour 'Without A Net' - it's about the only thing worth buying the record for, frankly, apart from the cover. Although it's a set that's harder to get hold of than it once was, surely every fan whose interested enough to buy this pricey archive concert set already owns a copy, whether legal or not. No fan, as far as I know, has ever claimed that this was a great gig for any other reason - indeed, while far from the worst 1990 Dead concert around it's certainly in the bottom half with some pretty lifeless bludgeoning of some dear old friends. So why is this concert out really? After all the Marsalis 'Eyes Of The World' was only re-released again in 2012 as part of the 'Other One' set of the Spring 1990 tours alongside his playing on 'Dark Star' and 'Bird Song' (neither of which is quite as together) - surely two times was overkill as it was? Ah well, at least it is a truly fine Dead moment, Marsalis really on the money throughout, so I'll just mellow out and listen to it again and stopped getting so worked up about it. Aah that's better...   Best Song: Duhh, 'Eyes Of The World' with a proper jazz legend on stage! Worst song: 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' is becoming a real caricature by now. Biggest Talking Point: 'Well Brenford Marsalis was there standing backstage before the show and I said to the Deadhead on my left 'hey wouldn't it be great if he played on, I dunno, 'Eyes Of The World' or something and next thing we know he's assembling his reed and walking on stage...' Best Speech: None, not even to introduce 'Eyes Of The World' Longest Song: Yup, you guessed it, 'Eyes Of The World' at 16:33! Front Cover: A skeleton holds out some roses Overall rating Well, what can I say? Is one great moment enough to haul up a less than average set? Yes but only to the average mark - 5/10

‘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