Shortlist: May 19, 1974 - Portland, OR

A 72-minute mix from two excellent SBD sources, all dead air trimmed off. 192kbps mp3s

  • Big Railroad Blues
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Wharf Rat
  • Truckin’ >
  • Jam >
  • Mind Left Body Jam >
  • Not Fade Away >
  • Goin’ Down the Road
  • Ship of Fools
  • U.S. Blues
  • [bonus track]

I can’t think of any passage of 72-74 Dead that is as exuberant, buoyant, bouncy, and cheerful as the 32 minutes of “Truckin’” through “Goin’ Down the Road” in this show. The pure playing is going so well by the time they get to “Not Fade Away,” that both it and “GDTRFB” are as much continuations of free playing as they are stand-alone songs. There’s just an attitude that carries through the full half-hour sequence.

Much the same can be said of “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider,” the weird super-cheerfulness of the show peaking in an anomalous event: When Jerry begins his first line in “I Know You Rider,” (around the 2:40 mark), what sounds like a clutch of swooning groupies next to the stage lets out a big cheer. Good times.

There are a lot of songs here that also appear on “Skullfuck” and “Europe ’72,” but these aren’t anything like those.

Shortlist philosophy: Start with a good soundboard of an unreleased show, and keep only what you honestly want to hear again and again. Be song-agnostic; look for outstanding performances of anything and everything, and reject an average performance of any song, no matter how grand that song’s status as a big song may be. Whatever’s left, edit out the tuning and other delays, and arrange everything into a pleasing sequence. Share the results in lossy mp3 format, in the spirit of the cassette tape trading of my youth, diligently not trying to compete with or annoy Grateful Dead Enterprises, whose property this music is.

Dark Starlets: A Europe ’72 Single-Song Mega-Mix

This mix is comprised of 21 musical segments drawn from all the “Dark Stars” performed during the Europe ’72 tour. They are arranged into two 64-minute sequences, each of which begins with the song’s intro, and each of which contains a verse. It’s all “forward moving” improvisation, whether on the “Dark Star” theme or farther afield. There’s no “space,” though the segments wind up and wind down from spacey zones, such that The Dead’s development of each musical angle here is respected, and the result feels more or less like a single performance, with ebbs and flows. If you’ve ever imagined a one-hour or two-hour “Dark Star” that never completely spaces out and keeps finding new melodic avenues, this is for you.

192kbps mp3s sourced from the official Europe '72 box (and reloaded to fix a defect)

Shortlist: Radical Edit of 11/14/73 - San Diego

This is a radical edit to highlight an extraordinary stretch of playing in this show. 

  • Truckin’ (intro and jam) > (8:52)
  • The Other One > Space > Big River Tease > The Other One > (24:18)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental) > (7:46)
  • The Other One. (4:23)

It’s really all about “The Other One” in this night's second set, and it’s a doozy. It emerges slowly and organically from a strong “Truckin’” jam, then explores a lot of territory up to the first verse – after which it dismantles itself elegantly into a spare, expressive “Space.” “Big River” provides a dramatic running start back into some more sublime “The Other One” exploration, which eventually finds a reasonable path to “Eyes of the World.” But the second verse of “The Other One” is still hanging, so “Eyes” detours around its usual synchronized jam sequence and instead finds its way back to “The Other One,” which has its grand finale. 

The purpose of this “radical edit” was to keep this whole sequence intact, but to eliminate the actual songs, “Truckin’,” “Big River,” and “Eyes of the World,” none of which are outstanding in performance or soundboard mix.

Five pieces were sliced out, and the breaches healed, so that it sounds approximately like The Dead played it this way:

  • “Truckin’” and “Big River”: One cut each, eliminating everything from the first sung word to the last sung word. 
  • “Eyes of the World”: All three verse/chorus segments removed, but the instrumental passages between them preserved and segued together into a single big instrumental “Eyes.”

It sounds crazy, but the result is a quite wonderful 45 minutes of high-end Grateful Dead instrumental, improvisational adventure through the riffs and changes of several songs, without singing any of them except "The Other One." 

Save Your Face: Garcia Songs Live 1972-1974

SET 1 (73 minutes)

  • Bertha
  • Loser
  • Friend of the Devil
  • To Lay Me Down
  • Here Comes Sunshine
  • Deal
  • Sugaree
  • Tennessee Jed
  • He’s Gone
  • Don’t Ease Me In

SET 2 (62 minutes)

  • U.S. Blues
  • They Love Each Other
  • Loose Lucy
  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Row Jimmy
  • Eyes of the World
  • Mississippi Half-Step > We Bid You Goodnight

SET 3 (74 minutes)

  • Comes a Time
  • Stella Blue
  • Black Peter
  • Morning Dew
  • China Doll
  • Bird Song
  • Wharf Rat
  • Ship of Fools
  • Brokedown Palace

320kbps zipped download

Ripped from official archive releases and edited as AIFF, then reduced to 320kbps mp3s. Tagged files include source concert dates, if you really have to know. 

If you look for “the best” version of any song from any period of the The Grateful Dead, you will fail. There are great versions, average versions, and lame versions, but the great versions will not present a single best version.

With this compilation, I was looking for a live version of the studio albums “Garcia,” “Wake of the Flood,” and “From the Mars Hotel.” I wanted a handy “album” containing all of those songs – and other Garcia compositions – that I could put onto the stereo, with anyone in the room, without caveat or apology. Just great music: “Here’s ‘Eyes of the World” and ‘Stella Blue,” with full-bore Dead behind them.” Strong vocals, strong musical performance, and good sound.

For uniform sound quality, and for selection-sanity reasons, I stuck to officially-released archive concert releases that I could rip from physical CDs. Regarding vocal quality, I was merciless; I never found an acceptably-sung post-Europe ’72 “Uncle John’s Band,” among my official purchases. This and a couple of other great Garcia compositions went by the wayside simply because my available official releases didn’t offer up a version that I could comfortably foist on other humans as proof of the song’s, and the live band’s, excellence. 

Late 1969 through 1975 were clearly Garcia’s songwriting flood years – an amazing catalog of songs written with Robert Hunter, the notable status of which, as an oeuvre, is perhaps partly obscured by both by the relative marginality of the studio albums on which they appear and the dispersion of these songs, in live performance, among both country and western covers and expanses of improvisational playing. Too many of these great songs ultimately ended up as mundane fodder for The Dead's first sets and late second sets, tunes that you weren't especially there to hear, or that signaled the end of surprises in a given show. This compilation highlights "Jerry Garcia: Singer and Songwriter," at his peak, interpreted by The Grateful Dead in arguably their most potent, flexible, and nuanced years as a live band. 

These selections intentionally skew hard toward 1973 and 1974, when the arc of the acid tests was moving through its final mutations with a single drummer, and the songs and sounds of Europe '72 were no longer the dominant traits. Nonetheless, I had to reach back into the Europe ’72 tour for a great, official “Comes a Time.” And, obviously, “Morning Dew” is not a Garcia original, but it had to be here. 

If you enjoy this experiment with an all-Garcia setlist, you might also enjoy this one.