Grateful Dead: Dark Star Variations (June 1992 - March 1994)

This mix includes the 12 instances of “Dark Star” played by the Grateful Dead in the post-Hornsby period, 10 of which had verses and two of which were jam-only. The final, six-piece combo played its first “Dark Star” in June 1992 and its last in March 1994.

This is a wonderful period for variations on the “Dark Star” theme and for the weird, deep, free improvisation that one traditionally thinks of as part of “Dark Star” – all that stuff that happened between the first hint of the melody and whatever named song eventually followed.

In the 1990s, those two parts were separated: “Dark Star” was primarily an exploration of the melodic theme (6-9 minutes, with a verse), while “Drums” and “Space” became the expansive zone of open exploration, diverse in sounds and musical angles. 

The “Dark Stars” of this period are pleasing because their infrequency prevented them from having any set flavor. The ones that don’t even have the formal opening are often particularly beguiling. On 6/18/92 they played the verse instrumentally. And consider Garcia’s unique approach on the final version from 3/30/94 in Atlanta.

The late versions are, objectively, fresh variations on the eternal, ongoing “Dark Star jam,” an effect I’ve amplified by editing out the verses of all but the first and the last performances on this mix. Listen to the music play.

To demonstrate my assertion that Drums/Space held the other half of “Dark Star” in the 1990s, I’ve made a layer cake mix that intersperses the song/melody with a goodly number of intriguing Drums and Space segments.

The Space passages almost all come from the December 1992 and February 1993 runs in Oakland, CA (eight shows, total). The first of those runs featured “Dark Star” material on three nights (first verse, space jam, second verse).

The passages separating the “Dark Star” material are sometimes quite short, but I think they have a sufficient palette-cleansing/anticipation-of-return effect to make the persistent “Dark Star” recurrences satisfactorily orgasmic for the listener.

If you venerate 1969 suite-like “Dark Stars,” where only part of it is actually the melody, or 1974 “Dark Stars,” where most of it might not be the melody, etc… then you should love this. Tons of melody + lots of carefully curated WTF.

I chose the running order based on the character of the passages and the dynamic flow of the whole. Segues were mostly impossible, but fade-outs where needed worked out fine. There are a few deliberate jump cuts, but otherwise all tracks stand alone.

Two-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (dates/cities included in tags)

  • Walk On Drums
  • Dark Star (first verse)
  • Hectic > Peaceful Space
  • Dark Star
  • Ringing Drums
  • Fluttering Space
  • Dark Star
  • A Jerry Story
  • Dark Star
  • Dark Star w/David Murray
  • A Jerry Story
  • Didgeridoo Drums
  • Dark Star Jam
  • Jamming w/Ornette Coleman
  • Dark Star Space > Jam *
  • Dark Star
  • A Spontaneous Composition (Correction: This is a theme from "Tubular Bells!")
  • Dark Star
  • A Perilous Space
  • Dark Star
  • Chase Sequence Space
  • Dark Star
  • A Jerry Story
  • Dark Star (second verse)
  • Walk Off Space

* I forgot to indicate "> Jam" in the mp3 title tags

Cover art: Holt School Mathematics textbook cover detail (8th grade volume), circa 1976. Graphically, this Holt School series was very nice, each volume iterating on the same abstracted composition of the four basic math functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), which I think adequately reflects the philosophy of this mixtape.

Grateful Dead: Lesh is More Concrète (December 1973)

Jesse Jarnow pointed out that Phil Lesh takes over the Grateful Dead for six, extended, abstract bass adventures during the December 1973 shows.

Here are those passages, in chronological order, gently segued, totaling 39 minutes. The first one gives you a couple of minutes to orient yourself before Godzilla reaches the power station.

These are not bass solos (other players present), but Phil steps beyond the normal zones of 1973-1974 collective abstraction to establish his own soundscape plots - dropping bombs, embracing distortion, shifting an octave, firing off drones and tones. The band generally steps back to give him a canvas, with much of the accompaniment minimal and often gentle. It is paradoxically violent and soothing music.

39-minute mp3 mix zipped up here (dates/cities included in song titles)

Cover art: Howard V. Brown for the May 1934 issue of Astounding Stories. It reminds me a little bit of the cover of Neil Young’s abstract distortion album “Arc,” while also inviting you to hear this music in color.

Grateful Dead: The Terrapin Bounce Jam (1993-1994)

This mix includes four isolated, exceptional examples of the distinctive jam the Grateful Dead often played after “Terrapin” in the final years. Four musical leaps in the same direction, totaling 16 minutes.

In this period, there is a decisive moment when - or a brief transitional period during which - the climactic Terrapin riff gives way to a breezier space. Instead of grinding the Terrapin riff out forever, the band turns a corner into a different zone.

Does the Terrapin Bounce Jam rise to the level of an official Grateful Dead “thematic jam?” Possibly, because it is distinct from earlier Terrapin jams and contemporary Playin’ jams (which it shares a vibe with). I feel that at many moments, it could turn toward or back to either/both of those zones. It is something like a fresh space in a Venn diagram comfort zone for 1993-1994 Dead - a “Terraplayin’ Jam.”

Whatever its thematic taxonomy, this jam WAS an exceptional comfort zone for the final band. The rhythm section locked into a peppy groove, while responding fluidly to the melodic players – Phil Lesh performing a wild, sinuous ballet across the groove. Bob Weir finding the right accents and places to punctuate. Vince Welnick providing essential melodic elements.

And Jerry Fucking Garcia, genius lead guitarist, operating in a wide-open space - unencumbered by rote requirements - laying down spellbinding narratives. He employed many tones, natural and MIDI, not just changing channels for novelty but seeing the next place he wanted to take things and paying it off.

To illustrate/celebrate this corner of Grateful Dead, I’ve chosen just four particularly developed, short, and corner-turning examples. 

The jam/theme/turn/bounce appeared most of the time after Terrapin in the final years, but not always as an assertively self-contained jam. The Terrapin riff could extend farther in, creating a hybrid. The band could get pretty fierce for a long time within the “Terrapin Bounce” rhythm, without carving out a shape or turning dramatic corners. The jam could open up into a farther out thing or wind itself down, coherently, toward Drums. 

Download 16 minutes/four versions of the jam on mp3s here

  • 9/17/94 (4:39)
  • 7/23/94 (4:25)
  • 1/26/93 (3:11)
  • 4/4/94 (3:23)

Cover art: Gyokusho Kawabata 1842-1914

If you’d like more versions and a bigger 1993-1994 context for this jam, try this older and much longer Save Your Face mix:

Notes and mp3s


Shakedown Street: ’79 Jams

This mix celebrates Brent Mydland’s arrival on “Shakedown Street” in 1979 and the particularly excellent “disco Dead” that resulted. I’ve chosen seven 1979 performances to edit to semi-instrumentals: intro > solo section > final chorus & jam.

1979 is arguably the most deeply funky year for “Shakedown Street,” early Brent being exactly what the song - and the rest of the band - had been waiting for. Things really go to outer space in the Halloween performance. 

The seven versions presented here are those for which there’s a soundboard recording that makes every player clearly audible and present – ensuring a properly syncopated and detailed groove. 

“Shakedown Street” is not as easy to edit as many other Dead songs, but it only requires two splices, so I hope you’ll put up with a few moments of awkwardness in exchange for the extended, jammy experience. 

71-minute mp3 mix here

  • 8/13/79 (7:52)
  • 8/31/79 (10:10)
  • 10/25/79 (10:57)
  • 10/31/79 (13:43)
  • 11/25/79 (9:23)
  • 11/29/79 (8:21)
  • 12/26/79 (10:24) 

Cover art: Richard Biffle

Grateful Dead: Space 1995

The Grateful Dead remained an experimental band to the end. This mix arranges portions of 1995 “Spaces” from 11 cities/runs, February through May, into several listening arcs, totaling two hours.

In 1995, certain themes recurred regularly in the open improv sections of shows, arguably making them a jam or jams that ought to be named. You’ll hear them in the “Philadelphia Suite” that leads this mix, and then more insistently and extensively in the “Thematic Suite” that follows.  

I’ve also assembled a different flavor of improvisation into a “Melancholy Suite,” which highlights a quest for strange, gentle beauty. This portion of the mix sometimes aligns with the decade-spanning Save Your Face compilation “Chamber Music.”

And lastly, there are several great outliers from the above categories, with which I’ve concluded the mix.

Lesh said the Dead were always playing “Dark Star,” even when they weren’t. This is that music in 1995. 

1h 50m mp3 mix zipped up here (dates/cities included in song titles)

Philadelphia Suite (18 minutes)

  • Three nights edited into a single track. It was a run packed with notable passages, which I’ve melded together.

Thematic Suite (49 minutes)

  • Nine segments from various shows, indexed as separate tracks

Melancholy Suite (31 minutes)

  • Eight segments from various shows, indexed as separate tracks

Outliers (13 minutes)

  • Three segments from three shows

Cover art: Detail from “Bed” by Robert Rauschenberg

Grateful Dead: Go to Alaska (June 19-21, 1980)

In June 1980, the Grateful Dead went to a very nice high school gym in Anchorage, Alaska, for three nights that included the summer solstice. The venue had previously hosted artists such as Dave Brubeck and Leonard Bernstein, and it held 2,000 people. The promoter sweetened the gig offer with a hunting and fishing trip for the band.

The Alaska run (June 19-21) came five days after the band dashed through Portland, Seattle, and Spokane on consecutive nights (June 12-14). A week after Alaska, the band performed in LA and San Diego and then took six weeks off. 

This mix offers a 3-LP (2h 15m) Alaska “album” derived from eight hours of soundboard recordings (mastered by Miller), which I find exceptional.

The vocals are very forward, and every voice and instrument is clearly separated, while blending nicely. The resulting sound experience is very detailed and intimate-feeling, while also having plenty of oomph. 

With very few exceptions, I was able to segue these picks, such that they provide an unbroken listening experience.

Download mp3s

Stream on YouTube

  • Feel Like a Stranger
  • The Music Never Stopped
  • Sugaree
  • Far from Me
  • Loser
  • Let it Grow
  • Althea
  • Estimated Prophet >
  • The Other One
  • Not Fade Away >
  • Black Peter
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Supplication
  • Ship of Fools
  • Brokedown Palace

Grateful Dead: Early 1981 (February 26 - March 7)

Out of the gate in 1981, the Grateful Dead were lit. Exploratory and incendiary, it feels like a hard break with 1980. Perhaps the scrappy, early-‘80s Dead were born in February 1981? 

This post wraps together four Save Your Face mixes that summarize the first eight shows of 1981. Created two years ago, these mixes were based largely on Jesse Jarnow’s 40th anniversary listening notes from 2021. Now these mixes are steaming.

When the band got together after a break (for a new year or a new tour), the joy of their reunion as an exploratory musical collective was often palpable and measurable in magic minutes. Early 1981 is one of those events, and these mixes focus on that jammier material.

Chicago - Uptown Theatre (February 26, 27, 28)

Three nights in 2.3 hours, featuring most of the big songs, with many instrumental edits to create long stretches of improvisational playing. 



Original post

Cleveland Music Hall (March 2)

A 3-part “Playin’ in the Band” edited into a single 24-minute track, with “Supplication” for dessert.


Original post

Pittsburgh - Stanley Theatre (March 5, 6)

Second set highlights from each night, totaling 108 minutes. The first night’s second set began with a 7-minute jam without Garcia, who was having equipment issues. Both “Wharf Rat” and “Stella Blue” were given involved instrumental introductions. 


Original post

University of Maryland - Cole Field House (March 7)

74 minutes of highlights, including a 17-minute “Bird Song,” a 9.5-minute jam, and several other extra-long treats.



Original post

The Grateful Dead: February 1973 Improvisational Highlights

This post offers a three-piece, chronological survey of improvisational Grateful Dead performances from their first seven shows of 1973 – February 9th to 24th – none of which have been officially released. Highlights of the last two shows of the month (2/26 & 2/28) were released as “Dick’s Picks, Vol. 28” (2003).

These are older Save Your Face mixes, but I am taking the opportunity to re-share them now that streaming options are available, in addition to the blog's traditional mp3 downloads.

February 1973 was rough going for nearly all the many new songs the band was learning on-stage that month, and old standards weren’t often particularly tight or exciting, compared to late 1972 or later 1973.

However, the improvisational band leapt into 1973 with a big grin on its face – continuing its rapid expansion into the spaces opened up by Pigpen’s departure from the stage in mid-1972. (He died in March 1973). “Like a steam locomotive, rolling down the track,” the Dead were constantly departing and arriving in this period. 

This mix is a dense collection of February’s more exploratory passages. I included full (sung) songs and made instrumental edits as I saw fit, in order to avoid anything that got in the way of the overall momentum and quality.

The two new-for-1973 songs that were on target, right out of the gate, were “Eyes of the World” and “China Doll.” Both are extensively documented on the mix. With “Eyes,” you can hear the band figuring out how to put the pieces together to create the the structured ’73-’74 jam. There’s no good execution of “Here Comes Sunshine” in the first seven shows of the year, but they nailed it musically once, and that performance flowed seamlessly into “China Cat,” so I took out the sung parts of “Sunshine.” (You’re welcome!)

February 9, 1973: Palo Alto CA (56 minutes)

  • PA: Wavy Gravy
  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • Uncle John’s Band (instr. edit)
  • Playin’ in the Band (instr. edit)
  • Eyes of the World (1st time played) >
  • China Doll (1st time played)

Stream on Youtube

Stream on Archive

Read the original post and download here

February 15-19, 1973: Madison WI, St. Paul MN, Chicago IL (107 minutes)

  • Bertha (2/15)
  • Here Comes Sunshine (instr. edit) > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider (2/17)
  • Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road > Not Fade Away (2/17)
  • Dark Star (2/15)
  • He’s Gone (2/19)
  • The Other One  > Bass & Drums (edit 2/19)
  • Playin’ in the Band (2/15>2/17) > China Doll (2/15)
  • Birdsong (instr. edit 2/17)

Stream on Youtube

Stream on Archive

Read the original post and download here

February 21-24, 1973: Champaign Urbana IL, Iowa City IA (86 minutes)

  • Truckin’ > Bass & Drums (2/21) > 
  • Eyes of the World (2/21 > 2/22) >
  • China Doll (2/22)
  • Playin’ in the Band (2/22)
  • Dark Star (2/22) >
  • Space (2/22) >
  • Bass > Feelin’ Groovy Jam (2/24) >
  • Sugar Magnolia (2/24) 

Stream on Youtube

Stream on Archive

Read the original post and download here

Frank Zappa: Instrumental Works (1973-1975-ish)

This Spotify playlist is a shortcut for anyone who wants to explore the immediate sequel to 1970/1972 instrumental Zappa (e.g., “Hot Rats,” “Waka/Jawaka,” “The Grand Wazoo”).

The seven albums Zappa released in 1973 through mid-1978 contained almost no instrumental compositions/performances. This was the period when his vocal music found chart success and established his permanent reputation as a joke song guy (dental floss, yellow snow, STDs, etc.). 

However, Zappa's longstanding instrumental ambition, reawakened in 1972 on two studio albums and tours with 20- and 10-piece live units, continued through 1973-1975 and is highly rewarding. Zappa wrote and recorded many new instrumental compositions and re-arranged his old and recent oeuvre for varied ensembles, including a proper orchestral approach in 1975. 

Some of this recorded backlog would come out belatedly and confusedly (and almost all at once) on “Studio Tan,” “Sleep Dirt,” and “Orchestral Favorites,” from September 1978 through May 1979. To confuse things further, the jokey album “Sheik Yerbouti” - made up of much more recent recordings – would come out in the middle this backlog release schedule. Eventually, archive releases clarified and filled out the early-mid-1970s instrumental story. All Zappa releases and recordings are well-documented on Wikipedia, should you want to delve more deeply into musicians, recording dates, circumstances, and release history. 

ANYWAY, here’s a large Spotify playlist that isolates (nearly all of?) the now-released instrumental material mostly recorded/overdubbed circa 1973-1975:

  • It leads with the instrumentals Zappa included on “Lather,” a proposed four-LP set he compiled in 1977, but which he began conceiving and sequencing several years earlier, around earlier instrumental recordings. It included nearly all the 1973-1975-ish recordings that would later be sliced (by the label) into “Studio Tan” and “Sleep Dirt,” plus a few pieces included on the more comprehensive “Orchestral Favorites.” (It also included later, live vocal tracks, omitted here.)
  • Next up are most of the tracks from a 1973 archival live release of a short-lived, live ensemble that featured Jean-Luc Ponty (“Road Tapes Venue #2”). Nearly the whole set played by this band was instrumental. Zappa complained that the tour was boring because the band wanted to play chess on the tour bus. Counterpoint: Great music, compellingly-executed, via fresh arrangements of classic compositions.
  • Following that are a couple of stray instrumentals from vocal albums of the era – a testament to how rare those tracks were for a half-decade of 1970s releases. Located where they are in the Spotify playlist, because playback volume is increasing. 
  • And lastly, I’ve compiled the instrumental (and nearly so) material from the giant Halloween ’73 and complete Roxy ’73 archival boxed sets. These are performed by the band that immediately followed the Ponty unit and significantly overlapped its membership. The instrumentals from these shows were often the same compositions, but not always, and there are some individual mind-blowers among the repeated tunes. Find your own gold.

Instrumental Zappa over these few years was wildly heterogeneous and greater for that. The composer and bandleader were occupying this space half the time. I have left everything in the order it appeared on the releases used for this mix, aside from shunting 1973 rehearsals and soundcheck recordings to the end - a fascinating but separate trip. This playlist is an ocean, not a take.


I have deferred to Zappa’s 1977 curation by limiting the 1975 orchestral recordings to those he put on the “Lather” track list two years later. The 1975 Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra was a great trip in its own right, now documented by an expanded release (studio/live) that is well worth your while, and that is as important to me as the material in the main Spotify playlist. But I consider it a distinct trip.

The Phil Lesh Quintet: The Planet Jams (June-July, 2001)

Over the course of a summer month in 2001, the Q played seven Lesh-composed instrumentals known as “The Planet Jams.” Each was performed only once.

On the site, user Brinkdeers30 posted the following:

I interviewed Barraco a few years back and asked him about the Planet Jams Tour. This is what he said..

“Phil got this idea to honor the seven ancient planets. He wrote all of this incredible music and we decided to hire this guy, John Dwork, and have him have a vision of what this could be. Every show we were going to do one of these pieces that would be a special honoring and it would involve the audience and take place during the whole day. It was supposed to be this spectacular tour and somehow it imploded. What we were left with was this big circle Candace Brightman had built, you see them at dead shows... it's like a canvas with lighting.

Each day, we would come out on stage and see a symbol for one of the planets and we knew, that day we would be playing that specific music. But nobody in the audience was hip to what the f*** was going on. We were playing this crazy music but (the audience) didn't understand. In a way, I don't understand why we went through the motions without actually making it happen. It was so bizarre, but the music Phil wrote... Jimmy has said it many times, he said, 'That was the coolest s*** Phil ever wrote.' It was very deep and every single tune was different and really cool.

Phil is a great composer, he really is. This was written music, we actually had to read that s***. Phil's not the most prolific composer, but think about the body of his work, it's pretty impressive. Just think about "Box of Rain" and "Unbroken Chain" alone.

All of the music was very heady and different, but from the audience perspective, they didn't know what was going on. But it was cool for us, we dug it.”

The objective for this mix was to extract these pieces as cleanly as possible from the music that directly flowed into and out of them. They were almost all tightly sandwiched – one of them in the middle of Viola Lee Blues. So, I found the best starting place I could for each and faded all of them. Thank you to the audience tapers for their beautiful work. I’m sorry my files do not contain the info to credit all of them.

The band:

  • Phil Lesh
  • Warren Haynes
  • Jimmy Herring
  • Rob Barraco
  • John Molo

73-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Intrada > (7/28)
  • Saturn (7/28)
  • Luna (6/30)
  • Mars (7/22)
  • Comes a Time jam > Venus (7/17)
  • Sun (7/20)
  • Jupiter (7/26)
  • Mercury (7/6)

This mix is a sequel to the Save Your Face “PLQ Jazz 1" mix.  Posted here. Streaming here. Thank you to Josh Klay for introducing me to The Planet Jams and serving up the perfect concept for volume 2 of the series. 

Cover art: “Round,” Amaranth Ehrenhalt, 1961.   PLQ Jazz logo: John Hilgart & Ben Powers