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."

Shortlist: December 18, 1973 – Tampa, FL (Just the Jerry Songs)

LP 1 (42 minutes):

  • Tennessee Jed
  • Brown-Eyed Women
  • Peggy-O
  • Eyes of the World >
  • Wharf Rat

LP 2 (46 minutes):

  • Bertha
  • They Love Each Other
  • Deal
  • Row Jimmy
  • Dark Star
  • Uncle John’s Band

192kbps mp3 download

This is every Garcia-written song (plus "Peggy-O") from this show, and it’s quite a fine selection of tunes, played consistently well. There’s a small snag here and there, but I haven’t encountered another show that you can slice this way with such a good result.

I also can’t think of many shows where both the band and the sound mix were ready for business on the first song. The Dead played “Tennessee Jed” a million times from 1972 through 1974, but they only opened two shows with it, and this is one of them. The result is a version that stays restrained and deliberate throughout, never becoming as fully deranged as it typically did in the final instrumental break.

The last song of the show was “Uncle John’s Band,” and this is a version I find pretty satisfactory. I rarely like 1973-1974 UJBs much, because the melody gets tortured by the singing, but this performance and mix get it closer to the right place than many. It certainly ends the show nicely.

This is the first version of “Brown Eyed Women” I pulled aside for one of my mixes. I’m not sure why I perceive The Dead as hardly ever nailing this song between Europe ’72 and sometime in 1976 or 1977, but whatever I typically find lacking, this one doesn’t lack it. The opening bars are wobbly, but so it goes.

The “Eyes of the World” is nearly perfect throughout, and the jam continues to cook after they’ve finished the climactic synchronized riff sequence. The “Wharf Rat” that follows is not one that pounces on the big moments the way some do, but I can’t fault its overall approach to the drama, and the extended coda/fadeout is a nice touch.

The “Row Jimmy” is one of my favorites. “Peggy-O” is beautiful (if not transcendent), one of only three played in 1973, all in December; the next one would be in May 1974. “They Love Each Other” has the bouncy syncopation you’re looking for, with nice rushes of intensity. “Bertha” is rather explosive (originally sandwiched between “Promised Land” and “Greatest Story, giving it extra propulsion). And Jerry's so into "Deal" that he throws a bunch of extra little vocal punches.

I’ve always liked this simultaneously compact and restless “Dark Star,” pursuing the melody prettily and nonchalantly for about five minutes, then considering other options for a few minutes, including a little hint of the “Mind Left Body Jam” and a brief dance with “The Other One,” before settling in for a perfectly executed verse of “Dark Star.”

If you like the feel of an all-Garcia show, you will also like this.

Shortlist: June 22, 1973 - Vancouver, BC

90 minutes of gold, extracted from a messy, 240-minute show - 192kbps mp3 download:

Episode 1 (48 minutes):

  • Here Comes Sunshine (instrumental edit) (8:16)
  • Bird Song (13:45)
  • A Few Words from Phil (0:19)
  • Playin’ in the Band (18:34)
  • Looks Like Rain (6:58)

Episode 2 (45 minutes):

  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You, Rider (14:01)
  • Jam > (8:36)
  • The Other One > (6:59)
  • Industrial Space > (6:15)
  • The Other One. (2:06)
  • Sugaree (7:24)

I have only had this show for a couple of years, and it has steadily grown in stature for me, as I’ve listened to and pruned it. It is a concert plagued by errors, a combination of flubbed vocals, bum notes, and non-synchronized swimming.

Over time, a number of performances that are otherwise strong have fallen by the wayside, due to fumbles and dreary patches (e.g., “Jack Straw,” “Big River,” “Row Jimmy,” “Wharf Rat”). “Here Comes Sunshine” made it through with some plastic surgery. 

Jerry forgot the first line of the song and the first line of the reprise, and therefore understandably never quite seems sure of where he is among the lines that he has sung or not sung. Maybe that’s why everyone sounds so excited to jump into the instrumental breaks; it is, in fact, an exciting “Here Comes Sunshine,” instrumentally speaking. So, I’ve edited out the verse/chorus trainwrecks and made it the jammy overture to the shortlist.

Similarly, there’s a long jam out of “Truckin’,” in the full show, including a “Drums & Bass” segment, but it never quite reaches anywhere fantastic. Then, eight-and-a-half minutes from “The Other One,” a wonderful stand-alone jam materializes and keeps going.  So I started at the point that jam began to materialize.

The jam might be the diamond of the show, but the gentle-to-the-point-of-near-evaporation “Birdsong” might be a contender too.  Keith's electric piano is a big part of both of them. And, even as a slut for “Playin’ in the Band” jams from this period, I think this is a notable one. It doesn’t just go to the Playin’ place; it hunts around.

So, here’s my shortlist case for this show, mined out of a sequence where other stuff went badly wrong or failed to surmount meh. You'll still hear a few wobbles in what I've chosen. There’s even an uncertain moment in the two and a half minute stem song of “Playin',” something you'd think muscle memory alone would make impossible. 

All in all, I think this is a show where The Grateful Dead mechanism was poorly calibrated to perform songs and well calibrated to groove and explore. It's 90/240ths fantastic – or 37.5% absolutely worth your attention.

Many thanks to the anonymous master version editor who interpolated quality patches so seamlessly. 

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: 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: May 17, 1974 – Vancouver, BC

78 minute 192 kbps mp3 download

  • Deal
  • Greatest Story Ever Told
  • The Race is On
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Me & My Uncle
  • Ramble on Rose
  • Nobody’s Fault but Mine >
  • Eyes of the World
  • Playin’ in the Band

I think I’ve made shortlists of all the unreleased May 1974 shows except Reno, NV, which I’m inclined to judge simply a bad show.

Vancouver definitely has a lot of greatness in it. The “Eyes” is nearly perfect, both the song and the jam – and the fully sung and jammed “Nobody’s Fault” that precedes it is a superb specimen of that relative rarity.

Even though Jerry’s lyrics in “Ramble on Rose” slip a couple of times, and there are slightly ramshackle moments, I’m still going to call this a top 10 version. (Who even has a top ten list of “Ramble on Rose?”) From the screamer in the audience who helps launch it, straight to the end, it just cooks. Keith’s playing is fantastic. He’s great throughout, actually.

Since my shortlist-making days began, “Deal” has become a song that I pay far more attention to than I used to (also “Bertha”). The version in this show has a lazy lope of a groove, with a fine Garcia vocal. This "China Cat" also has a nice tempo, which leads to a nuanced, mellow execution.

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: March 24, 1973 – Philadelphia, PA

Disc 1 (60 minutes):

  • Here Comes Sunshine (instrumental edit)
  • Me & Bobby McGee
  • They Love Each Other
  • Stella Blue
  • Looks Like Rain
  • Tennessee Jed
  • Me & My Uncle
  • Playing in the Band

Disc 2 (64 minutes):

  • He’s Gone >
  • Truckin’ >
  • Jam 1 >
  • Bass & Drums >
  • Jam 2 >
  • Spanish Jam >
  • Spacey Connective Tissue >
  • Jam 3 (Twilight Zoney) >
  • Dark Star >
  • Sing Me Back Home
  • Box of Rain

192kbps mp3 download

(Bad link repaired.)

This is a very good show, and while I wouldn’t put the jam sequence coming out of “Truckin’” in the top tier of such passages, it is excellent and focused. I took the trouble to edit it into its constituent pieces, because the band deliberately starts and pursues each one; there’s very little noodling around looking for the next collective move. If you listen to the trailing off of the “Truckin’” jam, you’ll hear Jerry ask the band about “Dark Star,” by playing the opening notes quietly. No one goes for it; instead they decide to make some music from scratch. Nonetheless, they’re ready to make good on Jerry’s hint 20 minutes later, when all of a sudden we drop cleanly into “Dark Star” and a verse.

All the stand-alone songs are stand-up versions, and I even pulled aside a “Box of Rain,” which is about as good as it got live in this period. The only radical edit I made was on “Here Comes Sunshine,” removing the extremely awful singing, and turning it into a seamless “instrumental version.” The final singing of the title line at the end is still there (no other way to resolve the song), so you can decide for yourself how much more of that you could have handled. 

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: June 23, 1974 - Miami, FL

192kbps mp3 download

52 minutes:

  • Ramble on Rose
  • Black Peter
  • Let It Grow >
  • China Doll
  • To Lay Me Down
  • Jam >
  • Ship of Fools
  • Let It Rock

The excellent “Dark Star” > “Spanish Jam” > “U.S. Blues” sequence from this show’s second set was released on the “So Many Roads” box. I used to think of this show as a whole as too sleepy, but when I panned for gold, it turned out that the sleepy, mellow vibe was actually what this show was all about – kind of like that drifty second set “Dark Star.” The result makes for a distinctive, album-length arc of primarily subtle tunes and subtle playing. Keith's spooky organ on "Black Peter" makes me especially happy, and this must be one of the better "To Lay Me Down" performances.

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: 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. 

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.