Shortlist: December 27, 1989 - Oakland, CA

Cover art by Neon Park: Detail of "Green Goddess," 1984

I’ll always be grateful that my initial obsession with The Dead happened just as the band’s mid-to-late 1980s nadir gave way to a final, fantastic period of live playing. It makes perfect sense that The Dead have released a slew of shows from Spring 1989 through Spring 1990 – a career sweet spot between the end of the rebuilding period after Garcia’s coma and the death of Brent Mydland. 

I decided to try my Frankenstein editing approach on an unreleased show from this period – taking The Dead’s improvisational temperature by removing a lot of vocals to turn songs into jams and easing transitions that The Dead hadn't already provided. I chose this show at random.

62-minute mp3 mix here

  • Bird Song 
  • Playin’ Jam >
  • Crazy Fingers Jam > 
  • Uncle John’s Jam (>) 
  • Drums (>) 
  • Space > 
  • The Wheel Jam (>) 
  • Morning Dew

Real Dead segue: >

Edited transition: (>)


Shortlist: October 2, 1972 – Springfield, MA

Cover image: Scan of a faulty Polaroid photo

Springfield was the final stop on The Dead’s September 1972 tour of the Northeast. Afterwards, the band took two weeks off the road (playing a special hometown show in the middle of that break), and then set off for the Midwest.

The Dead have released seven shows from August and September of 1972, which is quite reasonable, IMO, and I’ve posted highlights from four others. 

With this one, as always, my picks reflect how well the particular soundboard mix works for particular songs. In this case, quiet Jerry and loud Bobby is the situation. Some songs work fine, some pop interestingly, and others feel too much like a rhythm section without enough of a unifying plot thread. If I've chosen wisely, you won't experience these issues unless you listen for them. When it works, this is quite a robust soundboard recording, on which all the players are clear.

Points of interest:

  • As far as I can tell, “Greatest Story” peaked in late 1972. Springy on top, throbbing at the bottom, with demented, melting Garcia guitar and that "St. Stephen"-like riff in the climax. 
  • This is the first “Nobody’s Fault Jam” since 1970, establishing its relationship to “Truckin’” for the next couple of years.
  • This is an exceptional “Bird Song," musically, though a bit droopy vocally. Both the playing and the mix make the jammed sections sound almost 1989-1990 to me. I sequenced it between two second set selections to emphasize the dark starriness inherent in a big “Bird Song.” 
  • There are some ragged edges and one big error in this “Morning Dew,” but I Iove it. It’s a little loose, a little delirious, but drama and momentum are intact. When Jerry isn’t ready with the words for the final sung section, I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. 
  • This “Uncle John’s Band” had really feeble verses, but the playing is mighty, so you get an edit. The fade-in is in the source.
  • This isn’t the first time I’ve made an instrumental edit of one of the Chuck Berry tunes, and I should probably make a few more. In between the barky verses, they could really rock and roll. 

60-minute FLAC-sourced 320kbps mp3 mix here

  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • Beat It on Down the Line
  • Truckin’ > Nobody’s Fault Jam
  • Bird Song
  • Jam > Feelin’ Groovy Jam > Noodling >
  • Morning Dew
  • Take a Step Back
  • Uncle John’s Band (mostly instrumental edit)
  • Johnny B. Goode (instrumental edit)


Shortlist: October 27, 1973 – Indianapolis, Indiana

Cover illustration by Luigi Serafini, from "Storie Naturali"

The Dead played this show on my birthday, an easy drive from where I lived at the time. Unfortunately, I was turning eight years old and wasn’t paying attention. But that’s okay, because the gift waited patiently for me to finally unwrap it.

Although this show has escaped The Dead’s generous approach to releasing Fall 1973 recordings, it has as much superb material in it as nearly any of them. 

My curation is built around two uninterrupted pieces of the second set. My arrangement of other songs around those pieces follows The Dead’s lead, when they decided to play a couple of first set songs in the middle of a fantastic second set “Playin’” jam. 

Parts of this show only circulate as audience recordings. The soundboard of everything else captures a rather wonderful mix, but for some reason the frequency spread of the circulating soundboard is all out of whack. It comes across as brittle, shrill, sterile, stabby, insubstantial, etc. I don’t know if this is a feature of the master tape or of a transferring snafu somewhere down the line.

But fear not! I obtained a FLAC file and gave it enough of a re-EQ to turn down the stabby and to bring up the warmth and depth, until it became a fully immersive Fall 1973 experience. Happy birthday.

90-minute 320kbps mp3 mix here

  • Beat It On Down the Line
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • Mississippi Half-Step >
  • Big River >
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • They Love Each Other
  • He’s Gone Jam >
  • Truckin’ >
  • Nobody’s Fault Jam
  • Loose Lucy


Shortlist: March 31, 1973 - Buffalo, NY

On the 45th anniversary of its playing, here’s a bookend to the February-March ‘73 material I’ve been posting lately. This is the next-to-last show of the March tour of the Northeast, which began in Uniondale, NY. The final show of the tour (4/2/73 Boston) was released as “Dave’s Picks” #21.

Unless I’m missing something, there’s no released show between 4/2/73 and 10/19/73. Dick Latvala maintained that the band flagged in the middle of the year, and I guess subsequent archivists have agreed. 

There are some obvious flaws in the material I’ve judged best from this show but it’s not for lack of The Dead trying and generally succeeding wonderfully. The sound of the mix/tape is great for instruments and not too hard on group vocals. 

70-minute mp3 mix here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/khddft26pjbfem7/GD%20shortlist%2073-03-31.zip?dl=0

  • Bertha >
  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • The Race is On
  • They Love Each Other
  • Mississippi Half-Step (instrumental edit)
  • He’s Gone >
  • Truckin’ (instrumental edit) >
  • Drums >
  • The Other One > Spanish Jam > The Other One >
  • Space >
  • Jam > I Know You Rider
  • Casey Jones

Points of interest:

This is the only instance of “I Know You Rider” NOT following “China Cat Sunflower” between late 1971 and late 1985. The performance of the song itself isn’t fantastic, but the three minutes between the end of “Space” and the first word of “Rider” are noteworthy. They begin a free-form jam (which an audience member recognizes and gets vocally excited about) that morphs into the “Feelin’ Groovy” jam, leading to “Rider.” 

Shortlist: February 9, 1973 – Palo Alto, CA

I can’t let the 45th anniversary of this show pass without paying tribute to the wonderful jamming it included. 

It’s the first show of 1973, and it’s famous because it featured debuts of seven new songs. But it’s mostly a messy, rusty show, the new songs not rehearsed enough, old songs not rehearsed at all. There were also a lot of technical difficulties with a new sound system.

Nonetheless, the band was clearly very excited to be doing this again, after five weeks off. The “Playin’” jam is wonderfully involved and never breaks stride, and the two new songs that were truly ready for prime time are superb. I think this is the best of the first three, exploratory “Eyes” jams,” and the execution of the song itself is exceptional. 

56-minute mix here

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dv8uw104uw4hgzy/GD%20Shortlist%2073-02-09.zip?dl=0

  • PA: Wavy Gravy
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Uncle John’s Band (instrumental edit)
  • Playin’ in the Band (instrumental edit)
  • Eyes of the World (first time played) >
  • China Doll (first time played)


Shortlist: June 9, 1973 – Washington, D.C.

Artwork by Moebius.

71-minute mp3 mix here

  • Deal (4:31)
  • Loose Lucy (8:04)
  • Row Jimmy (instrumental edit) (2:25)
  • Sugaree (7:43)
  • Eyes of the World (11:22)
  • He’s Gone Jam > (6:56)
  • Truckin’ (intro & jam) > Other One > Space > (6:40)
  • Playin’ in the Band (23:37)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Deadhead in possession of a good 1973 soundboard, must find something to love in it. 

This show (and its recording) are quite rightly overshadowed by the following day’s concert, 6/10/73, which ran to 4.5 hours, with three sets, the final one played with the Allman Brothers Band. I’m surprised it hasn’t been released yet; maybe the master tape is missing? 

I’ve circled around this day-before show for a long time, chipping away at it, wondering how short it was going to get before I loved every minute of it. That tipping point occurred when I had reduced the original 3.5 hours to 71 minutes. Four songs from each set. 

My picks result from the usual, vague combination of performance quality and how well the show’s sound mix does or does not favor a particular song. 

A few points of interest:

  • “Playin’” begins nearly a minute-and-a-half before the count-in; they walked up to the start of the song as if they were headed for the reprise. Additionally, the jam never spaces out, aside from a brief launching pad for the build to the reprise, so it’s a very long jam.
  • This is one of my favorite “Loose Lucys.” It’s so long that I made an instrumental mix of it (posted over here) that runs for 4.5 minutes. 
  • The “Eyes” is very solid, end-to-end, and quite compact.
  • Weir’s guitar has a great, shimmery quality on some songs; check out “Sugaree.”
  • Jerry calls for “Space” to turn into “Here Comes Sunshine,” before it turns toward “Playin’” instead. Listen to the very end of “Space” for his plaintive suggestion.

Shortlist: Berkeley ’72, Continued – 8/24/72

Zipped up mp3 compilation here

Part 1 (56 minutes):

  • Introduction 
  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • Mississippi Half-Step
  • Truckin’
  • Brown Eyed Women
  • Jack Straw
  • Bird Song
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Sugaree
  • One More Saturday Night

Part 2 (55 minutes):

  • Playin’ in the Band (15:09)
  • Dark Star > (13:01)
  • Space > (8:39)
  • Jam > (4:26)
  • Interlude > (1:06)
  • Morning Dew (13:04)
  • Sing Me Back Home (9:56)

Six months ago, when I posted highlight reels of the first two (of four) August 1972 Berkeley shows, I lamented the fact that I wasn’t able to process all four shows into a fake “Road Trips” “boxed set.” 

At the time, I didn’t have access to a SBD of the entire final/fourth show, and I judged the third one to perhaps be so good (performance/mix/recording) that it would become a “Dave’s Picks” release someday.

Six months later, on my birthday, no less, Dave did me one better by dropping the complete fourth show into my mailbox, complete and meticulously mastered! And, boy, it really does cap a fantastic run. 

Since there’s obviously no “Berkeley ‘72” box in the offing, I figured I’d go ahead and post my favorite stuff from the third one, so that the three Berkeley shows that Dave didn’t pick have good representation on this blog. You can make your own bonus disc(s) for “Dave’s Picks #24.” I’m reasonably sure that I haven’t left off anything that is for the ages, from the first three shows.

Context: After taking a week off, and having played only one show in three weeks, The Dead played five shows in seven days, culminating in the famed 8-27-72 Veneta, Oregon performance: San Jose on a Sunday, the four Berkeley shows across the following workweek, and then Veneta the next Sunday. (After Veneta, they took another week off.)

So, the Berkeley stand constitutes almost all of the prologue to Veneta: An extended, Bill Graham-sponsored, small theater, home-town residency for The Dead, in the midst of a very busy year. All things considered, it must have been a chill, comfy week for the band, and the high quality of playing suggests that they were both relaxed and focused over four nights at the community theater – very into it. And then, with only a day’s break, they moved from San Francisco/Bill Graham territory to an open field in the northwest, with their old acid test buddies, at an acid-test-level event. Additionally, the first Berkeley show is also just the 9th show after Pigpen’s last show, so we’re listening to the next phase of The Dead hitting its stride – the initial stage of the metamorphosis into 1973 Dead, two “Wake of the Flood” songs already clicking strongly, and jamming mutating in certain places to fill the Pigpen-song improvisational gaps. 

Would Veneta have been played the same way, if The Dead had come straight off of a random tour of sports stadiums in some region of the U.S.? I have no idea, but the character of Berkeley ’72 certainly seems to support the idea that it was the incubator of that transcendent Oregon afternoon. 

Compared to each of the first two shows of the run, I’ve held onto many more minutes from this one, totaling somewhat over two hours. As Dave noted about the next night, there are a lot of crackling smaller songs in this show, in both sets, and I’ve brought those together for the first part of this mix. 

You can tell that I feel good about the vocal mix of this show’s recording, as I’ve led both “discs” with full-throated Bobby and Donna songs, and I haven’t truncated anything into an “instrumental edit.” Loud Garcia vocals on “China Cat” make all the difference; when he’s quiet, the momentum goes completely out of the song. Group vocal songs, like “I Know You Rider” and “Truckin’,” really benefit from this mix, too. The harmonies go wrong in a few places, as you’d expect, but not so that it distracts from the overall impact of these performances. 

Shortlist: Watkins Glen – July 27-28, 1973

mp3 compilation here (re-loaded to add a few more minutes of music)

Part 1 (43 minutes):

  • Brown-Eyed Women (7/28)  (4:56)
  • Bird Song (instrumental edit - 7/27)  (11:21)
  • Garcia & Lesh > (7/28)  (1:05)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental edit - 7/28)  (16:17)
  • Sing Me Back Home (7/28)  (9:19)

Part 2 (43 minutes):

  • Here Comes Sunshine (instrumental edit -  7/28)  (6:41)
  • Deal (7/28)  (6:09)
  • Playin’ Jam (7/28)  (20:26)
  • Nobody’s Fault Jam (7/28)  (2:06)
  • China Cat Rider (instrumental edit – 7/28)  (8:01)

    (Cover image: Luigi Serafini)

    This mix aims to figure out what happened at Watkins Glen, other than the amazing, famous, 20-minute improvisation from 7/27: “The Watkins Glen Jam.” That jam isn’t included here, but it can be found on the official release, “So Many Roads,” and in part on an all-improvisation mix I made and posted here. Among other glories, that jam includes an early, extended trip into “Fire on the Mountain” territory. 

    One show was scheduled at Watkins Glen; two were played. The venue was a racetrack, and the context was “Summer Jam at Watkins Glen,” scheduled for one day, July 28, 1973, featuring The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band. However, so many people had shown up by the 27th that the sound check became a concert in its own right, The Band and Allman Brothers playing a couple songs each, and the Dead playing for 90 minutes. 

    Wikipedia’s got a good article about the festival as a whole, and The Dead have posted a nice tribute to the “sound check,” which includes complete, streaming audio.

    I got intimate with the shows because I wanted to know what kind of other improvisational playing occurred around that epicenter of excellence, “The Watkins Glen Jam.” (Just like you want to hear the August 1972 Berkeley Community Theater shows, because they immediately preceded Veneta, OR.)

    It turns out that there was plenty more stupendous improvisation at these shows, as well as a few highly pleasing examples of more routine songs. By the end of my own listening/culling saga, everything I continued to love came from the 7/28 show, except for one mind-melting performance from the 7/27 “sound check.”

    Two of the jam passages seem notable, beyond simply having great playing:

    • “Bird Song” and “Dark Star” are almost the same song to begin with, but this extraordinary “Bird Song” demonstrates the resemblance to an uncanny degree. 
    • This long “Eyes of the World” jam becomes a real adventure, eventually hitting the synchronized riff five times, including one that becomes a fantastic moment of disintegration and one that commandingly bookends the song. The others are all in the pretty-solid to not-together range, but I don’t think that diminishes the thrill of the whole thing very much. (Is a five-riff “Eyes” a record?)

    SOUND QUALITY/EDITING CAVEATS: There’s a soundboard tape-flip gap during “Bird Song” that I joined up, and there’s a little jog in the “Playin’” jam that has nothing to do with my edits. My soundboard (or perhaps all soundboards?) also suffers from some tape-speed wobbles and warps. You’ll hear those in a couple of places, but mostly they didn’t impact the music I thought was worth pulling aside.

     

    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: October 25, 1973 – Madison, WI

    Zipped up file of mp3s here

    53 minutes:

    • Here Comes Sunshine
    • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
    • Weather Report Suite
    • Playin’ in the Band jam

    48 minutes:

    • Dark Star (including Mind Left Body) >
    • Space >
    • Eyes of the World >
    • Stella Blue

    In addition to the great performance, this soundboard features a superb mix, including the vocals. There's only one excessively sour harmony moment in "Here Comes Sunshine." (The cut around the 9 minute point of "Playin'" was in my source.)

    Dick Latvala discussed this show in his best of 1973 list:

    Now we get to one of the all-time, out-of-this-world kind of shows: 10/25/73. I really can't say enough about this one! The first set is very good, but it is the second set that does you in. 

    The "China Cat->Rider" is one of the better ones from that era when they used that transition material that people call "Tighten Up" and other names, and I am just as confused about this as the next guy. So, a detailed discussion about that wonderful "jam" occurring towards the ends of some "Dark Stars" from 1969 and 1970, (and which is stated as beautifully as I could ever hope to hear on 4/8/72- Wembley) and which also could be occasionally intimated during some versions of "Dancing in the Streets", that kind of discussion is something that I would like to learn more from some of you guys who have been investigating this. 

    But not right now, since I need to finish gushing all over this Madison show. The "Dark Star->Eyes->Stella Blue" is where the action is! There are "jams" surrounding these songs that contain some very, very scary and unbelievable playing. A bass sound that Phil employs here will pretty much have you seriously thinking that this might be too much! Obviously, words will never get this described very well, at least not my words. The "Eyes" is another one of those "best versions" type of things.