Shortlist: July 26, 1972 – Portland, OR

72-minute mp3 curation here

  • PA #1 (montage) (1:04)
  • Cold Rain and Snow (5:31)
  • PA #2 (montage) (0:50)
  • Sugaree (7:20)
  • Stella Blue (8:12)
  • PA #3 (0:18)
  • Playin’ Jam (9:20)
  • Dark Star > (12:17)
  • Jam > (7:39)
  • Space > (6:10)
  • Space Jam > Dark Star > (4:40)
  • Comes a Time (7:04)
  • PA #4 (1:24)

The “Dark Star”/improvisation sequence is the big deal here. 

The initial investigation of “Dark Star” is a fine one. It falls squarely into the center of the sleepy/aggressive spectrum, getting intense and wandering off course in nice ways. 

The portions I have titled “Jam” and “Space Jam > Dark Star” are amazing. It’s because I feel so strongly about them that I have separated them from the intervening “Space,” which just isn’t in the same category. (My track separations let you skip across “Space” without much of a disruption, if you want.)

“Jam” is not entirely unknown territory for late 1972: Some bass & drums, Keith entering on piano to organize things into a trio, then the guitarists joining to take it into a feisty jam that resembles “The Eleven.” I’d give this the nod over a similar passage from 8-21-72 BCT. 

However, the thing that the band suddenly, steadily builds out of unformed space, about six minutes after the jam described above, is a one-time-only event, as far as I know. It is as if The Iron Giant were reassembling himself, one disconnected gear and limb at a time, a chaotic rhythm of metallic interactions, steadily coordinating themselves, until, suddenly, the giant stands up and stretches, not as Superman but as the Dark Star Reprise. Amazing. Garcia isn’t ready to nail the second verse, but still.

Shortlist: Berkeley ’72 – August 20-21

Folder containing two zipped files of mp3s here

Monday (73 minutes)

  • Introduction
  • Friend of the Devil
  • Sugaree
  • Stella Blue
  • He’s Gone
  • Dark Star >
  • Space >
  • Keith’s Jam
  • Uncle John’s Band
  • Introducing Keith and Donna
  • Playin’ in the Band

Tuesday (70 minutes)

  • Birdsong (instrumental edit)
  • All That Top 40 Shit
  • The Other One
  • Not Fade Away >
  • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad >
  • Hey Bo Diddley > Not Fade Away
  • Playin' in the Band

Immediately before their famous 8-27-72 performance in Veneta, Oregon (released as “Sunshine Daydream”), The Dead played four shows over five nights at the Berkeley Community Theater (August 21, 22, 24, 25).

It would have been fun to sift all four into a fake road-trip boxed set, but I don’t have a personal copy of the fourth show, and the third one – on the 24th – is so impressively, consistently strong, that you should just go listen to it on archive.org.

So, here’s a shortlist of material from the first two shows, on Monday and Tuesday of that week.

Both shows have a sort of “B+” quality overall, with many songs having little vocal screw-ups or wobbly moments, while still being perfectly fine performances. I didn’t include stuff like that.

Monday (8-21) is the more impressive of the two, with great performances of some “routine” numbers, plus a “Dark Star” sequence that musician Henry Kaiser called out for special praise in a “Deadbase” review a long time ago. The bit I’ve titled “Keith’s Jam,” is delightful and, I think, unique. This is a very early, sweet, and confidently-executed “Stella Blue” (the 8th?), and both it and “He’s Gone” were stand-alone first-set songs this night. This "Friend of the Devil" is the hardest, most fiestily-played version I know. The “Playin’” jam is great. Definitely a show of note, in terms minutes of excellence. 

Tuesday (8-22) presented less gold to me. “The Other One” is long (30 minutes!) and engaging, though without the cohesion and melodic reach of something like 9-28-72. In contrast the “NFA > GDTR > NFA”  is compact and focused, with a "Hey, Bo Diddley" insertion that breaks the momentum a bit, but the novelty of its occurrence and the Garcia soloing that ensues compensate for that! 

The only performance I #@$%ed with is the Tuesday “Birdsong,” which I was on the fence about, due to bad harmony vocals, so I eventually split the difference and included an instrumental edit. 

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. 


Shortlist: November 19, 1972 - Houston, TX

Part 1 (45 minutes):

  • Happiness is Tuning
  • Box of Rain
  • Black Throated Wind
  • Bird Song
  • Sugar Magnolia
  • Tomorrow is Forever
  • Stella Blue
  • Weather Report Prelude Jam

Part 2 (49 minutes):

  • Dark Star >
  • Attack of the 50-foot Phil Lesh >
  • Jam
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Around & Around

192kbps mp3 download

I used to associate this show with 8/27/72, Veneta, OR. That show is now miraculously a film that confirms everything the music implied. Those sunlit dust motes and naked dancers were always there. If I could use The Grateful Dead time machine just once, I’d go to Oregon.

It is, of course, insane to associate that August day in a meadow with this November night in Houston, TX, inside a venue resembling a concrete bunker. But there are big, beautiful, meandering late 1972 versions of “Bird Song,” “Dark Star,” and “Playin’ in the Band” here, as well as a spirit of conviviality coming from the band that might partly excuse that association.

This was a long show (3h20m), kind of straggly, full of tuning breaks. I think it comes into focus – gets a little more “Veneta” – cut down to about 90 minutes. So, this is my best approximation of my sunshine daydream, leading off with "best of tuning." Don’t neglect “Stella Blue,” and Jerry's vocals that almost sound like they're from "Wake of the Flood." (Had to make a slight edit, due to some missing bars at the beginning, but no big deal. There was also a missing chunk in the middle of the “Playin’” verses, so I took the liberty of cutting to the chase – the main ten onward.) It's worth noting that Phil's bass is way up in the excellent mix and that the vocals are mixed fortuitously, so group harmonies sound good. That mix contributes to a really fine "Box of Rain."

If I could borrow The Grateful Dead time machine for a while, I’d steer it to a nearby 1972 parallel universe where this show was played in a meadow.

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: New Year’s Eve 1972 – San Francisco, CA

71 minute, 192kbps mp3 download

  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Truckin >
  • The Other One >
  • Drums >
  • Bass & Drums >
  • Jam >
  • Space >
  • Jam >
  • The Other One >
  • Jam >
  • Morning Dew

This is a rather fine specimen of this sort of second set sequence, notable for the three jams that aren't really related to anything else. The playing throughout the sequence tends to be fierce and engaging. The third jam is quite gentle and pretty. 

I found good places for all the track breaks, so anywhere you start is the start of something. The end of the third jam is a distinctive little piece of weird beauty, as David Crosby and the Dead are aligning themselves, and it drifts so seamlessly into “Morning Dew,” that I decided it belonged with "Morning Dew," rather than with the jam.

Shortlist: September 28, 1972 - Jersey City, NJ

Part 1: (48 minutes)

  • Big River
  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • Black Throated Wind
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Don’t Ease Me In

Part 2: (59 minutes)

  • He’s Gone >
  • Bass and Drums >
  • The Other One >
  • Space >
  • Me & Bobby McGee >
  • The Other One >
  • Wharf Rat

192kbps files derived from a couple of sources.

It always pains me a bit when they release another September 1972 show, and it’s not this one. (There are four of them so far.) The circulating SBDs of 9/28 are incomplete,* but there’s great stuff in there, and I rank the main, 20-minute “The Other One” passage as one of the best improvisational explorations of the era. The song’s undertow never quite goes away, but a tender counter-melody dominates, recurring and beautifully developed.

The “China Cat” is by itself, because “I Know You Rider” spliced into a bad audience recording – but it’s a really good “China Cat” with an extended intro. And it’s always nice to come across early 1970s versions of Bobby’s improbably-built, angular tunes (“Greatest Story” and “Black Throated Wind”), on which the band totally finds the double-jointed groove, and Weir’s vocals aren’t too yelpy. The “Greatest Story” here features a good version of the “St. Stephen”-style riff at the climax.

*P.S. - Since I made this mix, I seem to have picked up a nearly complete soundboard, with the complete "I Know You Rider," and a "Half-Step that maybe should be on this mix. Oh, well... 

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. 

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)