Shortlist: December 1, 1973 – Boston, MA

55-minute mp3 download here

  • Weather Report (instrumental edit) (2:42)
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider (14:51)
  • Big River (5:14)
  • This Lame Trip 1 > (2:40)
  • Me & My Uncle > (3:20)
  • This Lame Trip 2 (2:14)
  • Playin’ > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’ (instrumental edit) (23:41)

You might well ask how I ended up with only 55 minutes from a 3.5 hour December ’73 show. Well, many songs are just okay or include little flubs and hesitations that make them less than exemplary performances. Additionally, when everyone is singing, it’s generally a mess of yowling and non-harmonizing, stabbing you in the head through a crystal clear SBD mix. 

But these 55 minutes, at a minimum, are completely excellent. 

“This Lame Trip” is an astonishing, and at times even virtuoso, stage banter performance featuring Phil, Bobby, and Jerry, often with spontaneous musical accompaniment.  “This Lame Trip 2” is one of best improvisations of the show. (The situation was that the police wanted the aisles of the stadium cleared.) The band also prevents Bobby from promising that they will re-learn "St. Stephen." 

The two cowboy songs are both crackling, and the "China > Rider" is a grand one.

The improvisational highlight of this mix is a "Playin' > UJB > Playin'" from which I've removed the vocal sections and segued a continuous jam. The harmonizing on "UJB" is acutely painful on this version, but musically it's an outstanding example of this particular song sequence: Without ever spacing out, the "Playin'" jam leads directly into and extended exploration of the "Uncle John's Band" theme, and as usual, "Playin'" reemerges smoothly out the end of the "UJB" jam. So, with such painful vocals, this seemed like the right version of this sequence to turn into an instrumental jam. It flows from the first note of "Playin'" through the last note of the "Playin'" reprise without any singing and without wandering into any deep space. 

I also made an instrumental edit of the show’s “Weather Report Prelude > Part 1.” The harmonies were very bad here, too, and there were a couple of stumbles during the verses. However, the playing on this version seems extra meaty to me (rather than thin and spindly) – almost “Stella Blue”-like – so I did my best to create a stand-alone instrumental piece. 

If you like these instrumental edit experiments, there are a bunch of them here

Improvisational Highlights: June 30, 1974 – Springfield, MA

67 minute mp3 download here

  • Scarlet Begonias (7:51)
  • Truckin’ Jam > Approach to Eyes > (8:59)
  • Eyes of the World > (15:29)
  • A Mostly Quiet Space (7:40)
  • Playin’ in the Band Jam (9:40)
  • Not Fade Away > (9:59)
  • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad (7:28)

This is an excellent show, very much worth a full listen on Including “Seastones,” it’s 3.5 hours long, with very few lame spots. This mix just brings together some improvisational highlights.

(Update: You can get four fantastic first set songs here.)

There are two portions that strike me as particularly notable: 

1) A subtle “Truckin’” jam gradually finds its way to an unorthodox start to “Eyes,” and then the “Eyes” jam is one of those lower-key noodly ones, but it still manages to hit the synchronized riff climaxes accurately and sail out of them with great propulsion. It then proceeds into a wonderful, mostly-minimalist space led by a Garcia solo.

2) The “Not Fade Away” jam goes to places that are unfamiliar to me. The riff and rhythm are bent completely out of shape by the end. 

The “Scarlet Begonias” doesn’t hold any unique revelations, but it’s from the first month that the song was expanded to include several minutes of jamming, and it’s delightful.  

Again, this show is worth listening to in full,  but if you particularly want to spend time with some high-level improvisation, this highlights reel should please you. 

With the exceptions of presenting only the forward-moving part of the “Playin’” jam and skipping the song part of “Truckin’,” this is all as-played. 

Shortlist: May 21, 1974 – Seattle, WA

75-minute mp3 playlist here

  • Scarlet Begonias (5:14)
  • Beat It on Down the Line (3:13)
  • The Race is On (2:59)
  • Deal (4:39)
  • Let It Grow > (10:50)
  • China Doll (5:30)
  • Playin’ in the Band (jam excerpt) (7:10)
  • Eyes of the World > (13:49)
  • Wharf Rat (9:43)
  • It Must Have Been the Roses (5:25)
  • Ship of Fools (missing start) (5:41)

This show is known primarily for its 45-minute “Playin’ in the Band.”  You can listen to that on anytime; I have included a seven-minute excerpt from its jam here, which I think you'll want to hear more often than the whole.  Otherwise, my attention is on the rest of the show, which is excellent. 

I really enjoy May 1974 as a whole, with the exception of the Reno show. And aside from that Reno show, I believe I've now posted a shortlist of all of the month's unreleased concerts. Nothing beats 5-19-74, IMO, but they all contain wonderful stuff.

“Blues for Allah” Rehearsals – 1975 (improved 2nd edition)

This is a replacement for mixes I previously posted (now deleted). See notes below the track lists.

Folder containing six zipped files of mp3s available here.

1: Sketch of Allah #1 (62 minutes)

  • Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower (“stunning”) (14:46)
  • Stronger Than Dirt (with conclusion) (7:25)
  • Primordial Crazy Fingers (“Distorto”) (8:15)
  • The Music Was a Jam (11:29)
  • In Search of Allah (19:53)

2: Low-Key Investigations (76 minutes)

  • Paging Getz & Gilberto (1:01)
  • Ace’s Riff (6:36)
  • Sleepy Desert Jam (14:25)
  • Beautiful Song (2:26)
  • Descent into a Spacey Place (7:12)
  • Homeward Through the Haze (7:58)
  • Supple Lightning (4:49)
  • Stronger Than Dirt (low-key) (2:06)
  • Ace’s Riffsong (edit of four pieces of three takes) (4:24)
  • Noodle on the Mountain (23:00)
  • The Music Almost Stopped (:44)
  • The Drunk Lounge Band from Ipanema (1:57)

3: Grooves (79 minutes)

  • Supplication Groove (“Groove" #1 full-length) (14:54)
  • Maybe This Town Has Got Some Heart (“Groove #2” full-length) (10:07)
  • A to E-Flat (full-length) (16:37)
  • Photo 18 Proper (full-length) (11:30)
  • Funky Plunky (5:07)
  • What if the Music Never Stops? (20:49)

4: Sketch of Allah #2 (53 minutes)

  • Help on the Way Jam > Looseknot (8:10)
  • Slipknoodle (1:09)
  • Franklin’s Tower (slow version) (6:37)
  • The Nines > Jam (“Orpheus”) (16:45)
  • Blues for Allah > Stronger Than Dirt” (14:50)
  • Low Down Payment Blues (5:25)

5: Full of Dirt (47 minutes)

  • Stronger Than Dirt (whimsical Keith) (1:48)
  • Longer Than Dirt (10:16)
  • The Nines 2 (9:39)
  • Stranger Than Dirt > Space > Stranger Than Dirt (6:26)
  • Help on the Way > Slipknot #1 (looser) (7:57)
  • Franklin’s Tower (encouraged muttering) (4:48)
  • The Nines 1 (5:10)

6: Sketch of Allah #3 (67 minutes)

  • Help on the Way > Slipknot #2 (speedy, tight) (6:08)
  • Franklin’s Tower (“Ow!” conclusion) (4:48)
  • Blues for Allah > Stronger Than Dirt > Closure (“The First Day”) (21:35)
  • Jam (23:45)
  • Crazy Fingers (studio instrumental) (6:51)
  • Hollywood Cantata (early Music Never Stopped) (4:15)

I previously posted a series of compilations of this material, but I did it hastily, didn’t think it through, posted stuff before I was finished, and made a number of unforced errors. If you downloaded that stuff, I advise you to move it to your trashcan and grab this instead. (Sorry!) There’s even more delightful material in this edition, and the presentation (sonic and sequential) is much improved.

The objective of this set is to distill a vast swath of fairly unapproachable, overlapping bootlegs into something that you can just put on, enjoy, and get to know. I'm confident of its usefulness until The Dead bring out a big, definitive boxed set. 

The result is about 6.5 hours of material from about 11 hours of bootlegs and other sources that I had available. It’s divided up into six “discs,” each of which is intended to provide a pleasurable, non-repetitive listening experience. I recommend spending time with 1-to-3 first, then proceeding to 4-to-6. Material on the latter three is just as interesting (mostly), but you risk repetition-fatigue if you dive into all six at once, IMO. That was the problem with the original bootlegs. Of course, you can choose your own adventure through all of it.

After identifying the material that I thought was distinctively delightful, I trimmed off all the dead air/noodling, rebuilt some long jams that were sliced up on the bootlegs, did some mild EQ-ing to bring muffled/shrill tracks into line, volume equalized it all (fairly well), and tried to title everything in a way that was musically accurate and provided ways to tell versions of the same song or theme apart. I started with 192kbps mp3s, so that’s what I outputted after editing. Lossy but delicious, I assure you. 

I have included unedited versions of the material released on the expanded editions of “Blues for Allah” and “Reflections,” (adding 2-10 minutes to those tracks that were edited) as well as the long recording known as “The First Day,” and three tracks from The Grateful Dead Hour that include David Crosby and Ned Lagin, while lacking Weir and Godchaux. Everything is from bootleg sources, except two tracks taken from the expanded “Allah” release and "Orpheus" from the expanded "Reflections" (because they were complete there and sounded better).

Shortlist: September 10, 1972 – Hollywood, CA

80-minute mp3 download here

  • Dark Star (20:41)
  • Sing Me Back Home (9:30)
  • He’s Gone Jam (4:57)
  • Truckin’ (12:26)
  • Jam (6:07)
  • Black Peter (8:48)
  • Playin’ Jam (16:47)

This show has a large amount of excellent improvisational playing, which I’ve boiled down to an 80-minute sequence. 

I find most of the vocals hard to listen to on this show, due to some combination of the mix and the distortion in (what seems to be) the best circulating SBD source. It’s also a show with some technical difficulties and some slop.

But these 80 minutes – boy howdy! Great playing from a month of great playing. 

The “Dark Star” is top-drawer, feisty out of the gate and jamming widely before the verse, 20 minutes later. The inspiration and pace don’t flag anywhere else, either. It’s one of those shows where every time the band jumped into jam mode, they hit the ground running and then stayed intent on their course.  

There’s some guest guitar from David Crosby in here. 

The Final Face (1989/1991)

Update: This post was/is of a Frankenstein show I constructed out of the best unreleased material I saw live and that I have in good recordings. It's from Ann Arbor, April '89, with "Dark Star" from Greensboro, April '91 added in. Since posting it, I regretted the inclusion of a lame "Wharf Rat" and the louder, duller sound of the Greensboro recordings. So, I EQ-ed the "Dark Star" to sound more like the Ann Arbor material – and that sonic matching, plus the deletion of "Wharf Rat," led to a more exciting running order for the second half.

So, edition #2 is a better experience than my original post - and it's as close as I can come to pretending that I saw a 1974 second set. 

mp3 download here

Part 1:

  • Feel Like a Stranger  8:15
  • Brown Eyed Women  4:55
  • Bird Song  13:14
  • Let It Grow 11:41
  • China Doll  6:50
  • Scarlet Begonias >  9:31
  • Fire on the Mountain  12:08

Part 2:

  • Dark Star  12:34
  • The Other One  7:47
  • Playin’ in the Band  12:45
  • Dark Star > Playin’ Jam  7:25
  • Playin’ in the Band Reprise  3:53
  • Not Fade Away  11:25

Original Post: 

Lest anyone assume that this blog implies that I only appreciate a few years of the Dead’s history, here’s an outlier post. I saw live Dead from 1988 to 1993. In there was the final renaissance, from 1989 through Brent Mydland’s death in 1990, with some post-Brent afterglow, before Bruce Hornsby dropped off. 

Of the unreleased shows I saw in that period, Ann Arbor April 1989 seems to be the best - two shows that between them hit a lot of the songs you particularly want to hear, with excellent, extended jamming. These shows were my first exposure to genuinely great in-person Dead music, my previous shows having been creaky-to-okay post-coma affairs. 

The last great live Dead performance I saw was at the other end of their final peak: "Dark Star" on April Fool’s Day in 1991, in Greensboro, NC. The rest of that show was nothing special, but the only "Dark Star" I saw turned out to be one worth pulling aside. Brent's gone, and there wasn't any full recovery from that, but perhaps because "Dark Star" is "Dark Star," and the band was game, and they hadn't played it in 15 shows, this one hits some very fine places, and the slow build to the reprise is quite delightful. More than 15 minutes, all told.

Here I’ve joined together all that material in a pseudo-album format. (Dates/cities included in tags for all song titles.) If these late years are unknown to you, this is a fine introduction to a period that in my mind is not impossibly distant from '77. Once again, we have a tight, enthusiastic, funky, reliable band that likes to lock into a bouncy place and hang out there for a while. If the '89-'91 bounce works for you, you're going to be happy straight through Stranger, Birdsong, Let It Grow, Scarlet-Fire, Dark Star, Playin', and Not Fade Away. 

I'm also of the opinion that Weir's guitar playing - always the decisive spice in the GD mix for me - got increasingly interesting after the '70s, so one benefit of the Dead's final flowering is a band that was as into it as Weir. The SBD mix for most of the Ann Arbor material is excellent, and Weir's playing really shines.

Steal Your Voice: Instrumental Versions 1972-1974

76-minute 192kbps mp3 download (4th edition)

Vocal-free versions of:

  • Here Comes Sunshine (8:16)
  • Loose Lucy (4:26)
  • Johnny B. Goode (1:41)
  • Promised Land (1:51)
  • Scarlet Begonias (7:10)
  • China Cat Rider (9:16)
  • Big River (2:42)
  • Let It Grow (5:32)
  • Bird Song (9:32)
  • Eyes of the World (7:46)
  • Playin' in the Band (17:57)

All from unreleased shows, with all original source dates contained in mp3 tags. 

This compilation is the counterpart to another mix I posted that is comprised of remarkable Grateful Dead improvisational passages that aren't related to any song – that just happened once. In this version, The Dead play their familiar, formal compositions, but they leave out the words.

The edits here preserve almost every note of the original performances, except the sung sections. Verses/choruses have been edited out and the surrounding musical movements seamed together to keep music flowing without disruption. The only exceptions are the final vocal reprises of “Here Comes Sunshine” and “I Know You Rider,” because only they resolve the songs.

It's both startling and familiar to hear The Dead working through the changes of all these songs, as if the truck carrying the microphones had been delayed, and they decided to go on with the show. The funny thing is that you already know these songs in this way. How each one starts, how it gets to every verse, and how it leaps out of every verse into an instrumental break that has different rules than the others. 

I made these edits in order to hear those songs within the songs, performed by a jazzy combo that hardly needs to play the melody straight once, before both bending it all out of shape and guiding it through a structured build and resolution. And indeed The Dead were that band, and this is an imaginary concert they performed in the early 1970s. 

    Shortlist: September 11, 1973 – Williamsburg, VA

    Ladies and gentlemen… Bob Weir and The Grateful Dead.

    75-minute 192kbps mp3 download

    • Looks Like Rain
    • Message to Shouters
    • Weather Report Suite: Prelude > Part 1 >
    • Let It Grow (with horns)
    • Let Me Sing Your Blues Away (with horns)
    • Mississippi Half-Step
    • Jam > Dark Star
    • Jack Straw
    • The Race is On
    • Beat It On Down the Line
    • Playin’ in the Band

    Between recording “Wake of the Flood” during the first half of August and the album’s release in mid-October, The Dead played eleven shows in September, all but the first two of them featuring the album’s horn players (Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis) on three songs. ("Eyes of the World" with horns debuted the night after this show.)

    Williamsburg was the first horns show, featuring the 2nd ever performance of “WRS Prelude > Part 1” and the 3rd ever performance of “Let It Grow.” Probably because they’d just been rehearsing and recording these compositions, this is one of the tightest, by-the-book, performances of the whole suite that I have. Plus, it’s got exciting horns!

    It’s just by chance that almost everything that stood out to me in this show is authored and/or sung by Bob Weir. This is one of the best performances of “Looks Like Rain” I have heard, so gentle and nuanced in all respects that I took the opportunity to start the shortlist sequence off in hushed beauty, rather than with the traditional bang of a Grateful Dead concert.

    “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” is a mess, but it’s such a rarity that I had to keep it, and I enjoy it too. 

    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 generic status as a big deal 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. 

    Shortlist: May 25, 1974 – Santa Barbara, CA

    57-minute 192kbps mp3 download

    • Sugar Magnolia
    • Deal
    • Mexicali Blues
    • Promised Land
    • Scarlet Begonias
    • Tennessee Jed
    • Let It Grow (instrumental) > (6:01)
    • Wharf Rat
    • Ship of Fools
    • Casey Jones

    As a whole (2h40m), this isn’t one of the notable May 1974 shows. On the other hand, an hour comprised of 10 crackling performances by the May ’74 Grateful Dead is nothing to sneer at. If you were compiling a summary box set of the month, you’d want to take a close look at these performances.

    This version of “Let It Grow” isn’t a particularly potent one song-wise, but the playing is excellent, so I took the vocal sections out to let the music do the talking.

    "Wharf Rat" begins and ends in "Dark Starry" fashion. “Tennessee Jed” gets really deranged by the end. “Casey Jones” swings more gently than usual. And I very rarely pull aside a “Sugar Magnolia,” much as I love the song itself, but I haven’t gotten tired of this rendition.

    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 generic status as a big deal 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.

    Shortlist: July 27, 1974 – Roanoke, VA

    • Big River (instrumental) (2:43)
    • Jack Straw (5:03)
    • Mississippi Half-Step > (7:22)
    • It Must Have Been the Roses (5:08)
    • Bertha (5:18)
    • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Briefly (10:48)
    • Johnny B. Goode (instrumental) (1:42)
    • Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road > (15:45)
    • U.S. Blues Jam > Promised Land Jam (6:35)
    • The Main Ten (10:37)
    • Brokedown Palace (5:35)

     76-minute mp3 download

    Remember that stretch of July 1974 when Donna was away recording her solo album, and Bobby couldn’t play guitar because of a broken wrist and just did some singing, on crutches? Basically, the band decided to honor several tour dates as a four-piece:

    • Jerry: guitar
    • Keith: electric piano
    • Phil: bass
    • Billy: high-hat and other drums

    Some stuff just couldn’t convert. “Row Jimmy” without Bobby’s guitar was like a clock missing a gear. But at other times, this stripped-down combo achieved a smooth, spacious groovy lockup that reminds me a little of 1977. Jerry on the left, Keith on the right, going solo in the rhythmic and harmonic role that he and Bobby’s guitar usually shared. Phil definitely seemed into it, putting some extra spring into their step on some tunes, like “Jack Straw” and “Bertha” in this show.

    Roanoke was the last of these shows, by which time they weren’t even attempting to play normal set lists, doing some songs as breakneck instrumentals and gravitating toward songs with groovy riffs that they could just play with for a while.

    Of course, none of this ever happened, but if you want a frame of reference for appreciating this show – and the edit I’ve made of it – that’s it.

    The SBD mix of this show almost doesn’t have Bobby’s guitar in it. Sometimes it’s quite perceptibly there, but much of the time you have to look for it, or it slides into/behind Keith’s piano. And it’s Keith’s piano, holding down the right channel as loudly as Jerry’s holding down the left that turns this bad mix into a happy accident: A Grateful Dead that is strangely unfamiliar and yet works, if you pay attention to the right songs. They make you dance a little differently. My source is the beautiful Miller-engineered one, with a big, shimmering, spacious sound. Definitely a show that sounds great on your good speakers.

    I took all the vocals out of “Big River,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Promised Land” (which they jammed into), which serves to highlight the solos Keith took in those songs. I also dropped out the song part of “I Know You Rider,” so for once we don’t have to listen to it in order to get from the beginning of “China Cat” to the end of “Rider.” “The Main Ten” is a piece of the “Playin’” jam.

    The way “U.S. Blues” went down in this show is funny; when they got to the end of the song, they weren’t agreed on whether to end it or jam on, so it ends with a whimper of collapse. Then they gather themselves and go for it.

    This is my second favorite early '70s "Half-Step."