Shortlist: July 25, 1974 – Chicago, IL

75-minute mp3 download here

(Re-uploaded file to fix a screwup in the original one.)

  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Row Jimmy
  • Ship of Fools
  • Uncle John’s Band (instrumental edit)
  • Dark Star >
  • Jammy Space >
  • Jam (w/Slipknot riffing) >
  • Stella Blue
  • Let It Grow
  • Sugaree

This is one of the most noncommittal “Dark Stars,” with no verses and only holding together for six minutes. Nonetheless, those six minutes are delightful in the same way as the drifty “Dark Stars” of 11-11-73 and 10-18-74. The dissolve that follows is anticlimactic to me, in the sense that things go from barely there to nowhere – but it’s also somewhere, in the sense that the band rubs up against “Dark Star” a couple more times, while deliberately not playing it. If you want a more cohesive experience, just skip over what I’ve called “Jammy Space,” and you’ll jump pretty seamlessly from the “Dark Star” theme to an extended stretch of more vigorous and varied jamming. It spaces out in places, too, but eventually ends up featuring some early “Slipknot” riffing.

I’m always particularly interested to find versions of “Row Jimmy” and “Ship of Fools” that I love, and both of these seem strong to me. The “Ship of Fools” was the encore, and it’s got some extra oomph as a result. 

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: 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: 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 archive.org. 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 archive.org 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.

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: 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."

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.