Grateful Dead Shortlist: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Summer 1985

This mix curates the Dead’s unreleased June 30 - July 1 run in Columbia, Maryland. The soundboard mix is immaculate, and exceptional performances abound. 

The two shows are strong overall, and I’ve listened to them several times. However, as always, I think the best Dead minutes become even better, and a show’s stature greater, when you cut until you can’t bring yourself to cut anymore.

The only edits are segues to connect tracks toward the end of each of the two parts of the mix. There are crackles on a couple of songs that seem to be native to the sound boards. 

2.5-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (dates included in song titles)

Part One:

  • Shakedown Street >
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Walkin’ Blues
  • Big Railroad Blues
  • Looks Like Rain
  • My Brother Esau
  • Let It Grow
  • U.S. Blues
  • Sugar Magnolia

Part Two:

  • Scarlet Begonias >
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • Uncle John’s Band
  • Drums > Space
  • The Other One
  • Good Lovin’
  • Satisfaction

Cover art: Framing photograph - JR Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Inset detail: Yayoi Kusama

Grateful Dead Improvisation 1972-1974

One of the most common inquiries I get is where to look for improv-only 1972-1974 Dead mixes on the Save Your Face mixtape blog. Here’s the shortest answer: There are lots of SYF mixes that focus on the jammy side of ’72-’74 Dead, but the mixes below focus on zones of pure, spontaneous creation, largely detached from any particular song.

This is improvisational music of the highest order, full of indelible moments of delicate intricacy, collective synchronicity, individual virtuosity, melodic forward-motion, and complete narrative arcs... in real time. To me, this is where the Grateful Dead planted a flag that no one in the rock and jazz categories can dispute or directly compete with.

Bookmark this page, and you'll have instant access to hours and hours of that kind of music.

Dark Starlets: Europe ’72

This mix offers two hours of non-spacey listening from all the Europe ’72 tour “Dark Stars.” It is not every cool passage from those performances, but it is an ongoing melodic adventure that highlights the earliest signs of the improvisational Dead that would follow Pigpen’s departure. While the Dark Star theme returns many times, there are also numerous pure improvisations beyond that theme.

Original post/download


Improvisation Vol. 1: 1973-1974

The original SYF “jazz years” improv mix, isolating 10 passages/74 minutes that are among the most revered “out of nowhere” playing from the era. Bits you surely know well, but carved out as stand-alone tracks that reveal the GD’s ability to create something amazing from nothing. Henry Kaiser approved this mix at some point. 

Original post/download


Improvisation Vol. 2: 1972-1974

Nine passages/96 minutes more of improvisation that has little or no relation to song-themes - while coming across as wholly-formed ideas. This mix compiles the best open passages I discovered over a year or so of listening to unreleased shows from the era. 

Original post/download


Theme from Summer of ’73 (The Phil Jazz Jam)

Sixteen tracks/67 minutes of Summer ’73 improv that slightly overlap the 72-74 mix above - again avoiding song themes for pure improv. Summer bliss circling around multiple takes of “The Phil Jazz Jam.”

Original post/download


Pouring Light into Jazzes: Drifty Dark Stars (1973-1974)

Nine passages/two hours focused on some of the most diffuse and open Dark Star zones of the era. It’s Dark Star, but it’s also infinity. A perfect sequel to the more structured, era-beginning “Dark Starlets” mix, above. 

Original post/download


The Mind Left Body Jam

The first "disc" of this multi-decade anthology complies the 1972-1974 performances of the theme.

Original post/download


The Spanish Jam

The second “disc” of this multi-decade anthology compiles the 1973-1974 performances of the theme.

Original post/download


Cover art: Luigi Serafini - detail from a page of "Pulcinellopaedia Seraphiniana"

Magazine: Live in Boston (August 4, 1979)

This is a customized remix of one of the best live documents of the classic Magazine lineup that included guitarist/composer/occasional-sax-player John McGeoch. By the time they toured in 1980, and recorded their live album “Play,” McGeoch was gone.

In addition to McGeoch’s presence, what I like about this recording/show is the aggressive crunch, which is lacking in nearly all of the (scant) other 1978-1979 recordings that exist in good fidelity. Instead of coming across as a mannered post-punk/proto-synth-band, they hit with the punch of punk - bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, and Howard Devoto all coming for your ears in equal measure. 

The Boston ’79 recording is probably not a complete set list, but it’s close. I’m guessing the ultimate source was an FM broadcast.

The proximate source of the version presented here is the early 1980s vinyl bootleg “Back to Nature,” which I believe remains the only source for the show. The raw LP contains quite a bit of distortion, but when I scrutinized it, I discovered that it was a mono recording, and that the distortion was almost entirely in one channel. 

The customized version presented here is therefore the clean vinyl channel doubled to two-channel mono for the digital rip, with some mild EQ applied. Without the noisy channel, the recording really stands up.

51-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • My Tulpa
  • Give Me Everything
  • Definitive Gaze
  • Back to Nature
  • Parade
  • Boredom
  • Permafrost
  • The Light Pours Out of Me
  • I Love You Big Dummy
  • Thank You
  • My Mind Ain’t So Open 

For the curious, I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of 1978-1979 live performances of songs that do not appear on the Boston ’79 tape. The first three - released as 12-inch b-sides in 1980 (but recorded earlier) - are the sonic peak of available McGeogh-era recordings, including the definitive version of “20 Years Ago.” The additional tracks come from the other official sources, all of which I find less compelling than the Boston tape - but great to hear the extra songs live.

Grateful Dead: 4th Day of July (1981, 1984, 1986)

Although there’s a lot of Americana and flag-stuff associated with the Grateful Dead, The 4th of July is not strongly associated with the band as a show date.

That’s because, after 1969, the Grateful Dead didn’t play on the 4th of July until 1981. They then played the date repeatedly through the Eighties – 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989 (released), and 1990 - and then, never again.

Deadheads put a lot of weight on the circumstances of shows - venues, cities, seasons, eclipses, New Year’s Eve, etc. So, let’s shake that magic 8-ball of tapes for the 4th of July… all signs point to a real good time.

It turns out the band played a considerable amount of great stuff on 7/4 in the 1980s, captured on soundboards you can inhabit happily. In the mixes below, I’ve curated the 1981, 1984, and 1986 shows, tagging them as separate mixes/albums in the usual SYF “shortlist” way.

Enjoy them separately, or as a 2.75 hour Grateful Dead, Fourth of July soundtrack. 

2.75-hour mp3 download of all three mixes here

7/4/81: Austin, TX (63 minutes)

  • Jack Straw
  • Loser
  • Birdsong >
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Feel Like a Stranger
  • Not Fade Away
  • One More Fourth of July

7/4/84: Cedar Rapids, IA (70 minutes)

  • Hell in a Bucket >
  • Don’t Ease Me In
  • Help on the Way > Slipknot! >
  • Franklin’s Tower
  • Estimated Prophet >
  • He’s Gone
  • Wharf Rat
  • U.S. Blues

7/4/86: Buffalo, NY (32 minutes)

  • Cold Rain and Snow >
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • The Wheel
  • Goin’ Down the Road, Feelin’ Bad
  • Dupree’s Diamond Blues


“>” above indicates an as-played, GD fast-change in the real-time performance, but not an actual musical segue, other than Help > Slip.

The Other Ones: “Banyan Tree” (June-July 1998)

“Banyan Tree” is the most beguiling new song created by the initial lineup of The Other Ones - the first post-Garcia reunion band, which only performed in June-July 1998. 

  • Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
  • Phil Lesh - bass, vocals 
  • Mickey Hart - percussion, RAMU, vocals 
  • Bruce Hornsby - piano, keyboards, vocals 
  • Dave Ellis - saxophone, vocals 
  • Mark Karan - guitar, vocals 
  • Steve Kimock - guitar 
  • John Molo - drums

Credited to Hart, Hunter, and Weir, “Banyan Tree” is a sleepy, tropical groove, with a brief Hunter text that Weir narrates-sings. If you enjoy the jazzy Phil Lesh Quintet from the same period (overlapping musicians), you'll enjoy "Banyan." As one would expect, this first post-Garcia outing, just three years after his death, also has strong ties to the Grateful Dead sound - refracted through Diga Rhythm Band and post-"Eternity" Weir vibes. Though this tune is nothing like anything from the 1983 Stone House Sessions, it feels like kin. It could be an "Apocalypse Now" river journey. It's a cool addition to the Dead-legacy canon, and in the next iteration of the band, Kreutzmann was playing it as a new member. 

This mixtape knits together edits of three rehearsal takes from the beginning of June, 1998, ahead of the band’s first concerts. It’s a 40-minute, drifting ride, with monkeys.

On 6/2/98 at Club Front, the band stretches out in the groove for the first time, Hart turning on the beat out of a spacey passage and Weir eventually trying out his idea for the vocals. The next day (6/3), they work on bringing more shape to it and joining it to “Playin’ in the Band.” 

Some of the band’s chatter while playing remains in these edits. Weir: “Take it from the top!” Lesh: “Take what from the top?!” Someone improvises some arch vocal commentary, beginning with, “NPR’s world of music… morning becomes eclectic…” Weir: “More monkeys!”

I have appended a live version from July, by which time the song had become structured and muscular. (This is the only live non-audience version circulating that isn’t the one on the official album, “The Strange Remain.”)

48-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Banyan Tree (6/2/98 - studio, Club Front)
  • Banyan Tree > Playin’ Jam > Banyan Tree > Playin’ Jam (edit, 6/3/98 - studio, Club Front)
  • Banyan Tree > Playin’ Demise (edit, 6/3/98 - studio, Club Front)
  • Banyan Tree (7/25/98 - live, Shoreline)


The 6/2-3/1998 conversations on the Club Front Tapes offer a great, documentary perspective on Lesh, Weir, Hart, and Hornsby getting the band back together and working out songs. Check them out on Relisten or Archive. 

The Phil Lesh Quintet: Jazz Vol. 1 (2000-2001)

No Dead-related band, including the Grateful Dead, could turn on a dime like The Phil Lesh Quintet. They were a nimble jazz unit that happened to play Grateful Dead songs some of the time.

This mix curates the jazziest of their performances from the earliest months of their existence, using only the available soundboard tapes. There are a few brushes with Grateful Dead material, but most of the passages come from stretches of pure, twisting, improvisation. 

I’ve often fantasized about an alternate history of post-1975 Grateful Dead that sounded something like this.

You can’t easily, artificially splice PLQ passages together the way you can with the Grateful Dead live tapes. PLQ kept you spellbound until a logical and seamless shift into the next song, without wasting a single beat. I’ve therefore faded these passages, which is probably for the best, because it’s all intensely involving music, and an unbroken chain might be overwhelming.

Tracks span October 2000 through April 2001. They are all titled “Jam,” except for a few, including “Milestones,” “Help on the Way > Slipknot!,” and “Blues for Allah.” Performance dates are included in the song title tags. 

Thanks to Ben Powers for helping me bring the logo concept to the right destination. Cover art: Basquiat

2-LP set zipped up here (as mp3s)

Shortlist: Grateful Dead w/David Murray (2/26/95)

This mix curates 47 minutes of the Grateful Dead’s final performance with saxophonist David Murray as a guest.

This show was not represented on Save Your Face’s “Dead is Jazz” compilation, which included some fantastic, earlier Murray performances. That’s primarily because there is no ideal tape for this show. Murray is very quiet on the audience and soundboard tapes, and he is very loud on the circulating monitor mix. None of those options would have slotted into the “Dead is Jazz” mix smoothly.

However, the monitor mix is fab, in its own way, with Murray’s sax punching you in the face like Ornette Coleman. 

I’ve narrowed the focus to the vocal return/jam section of “Estimated,” an instrumental edit of “Eyes,” “Space,” and a “Days Between” that mostly succeeds (few/brief Garcia lyric lapses), with Murray figuring it out and delivering a great close. 

As there is a non-band-member memoir that claims that no one was listening to Vince in their monitors, I need to point out that about two minutes into this “Eyes” edit you’ll hear Garcia asking for Vince to be turned up. “I can’t hear Vince at all.” 

47-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Estimated Prophet > (edit)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental edit)
  • Space
  • Days Between

Cover art: Robert Rauschenberg 

Shortlist: Dead & Company - New England, September 2021

Save Your Face makes its first foray into Dead & Company mixtape territory with the help of Josh Landes (@JoshLandesWAMC). Josh has been sharing choice D&C material with me for a while, and in this case, he served up a pre-curated, four-hour road-trip from the three September 2021 New England shows played in Mansfield, Massachusetts (9/2 - 9/3) and Hartford, Connecticut (9/5). 

I’m a fan without being anything remotely like an expert, so I limited my interventions to listening happily and fiddling with the sequence, based on gentle segue opportunities and some mood considerations. (I did nix one song – "Saint of Circumstance" - resulting in a jump cut out of "Lost Sailor.") My personal thoughts on Dead & Co. are below the track list.

Thank you, Josh!

4-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (song dates included in file titles)

  • Jack Straw
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • The Wheel
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Sugaree
  • Lost Sailor
  • Deal >
  • Dark Star >
  • El Paso
  • He’s Gone
  • Truckin’ >
  • Dark Star
  • St. Stephen >
  • William Tell Bridge >
  • The Eleven
  • Terrapin Station
  • Drums >
  • Space >
  • The Other One >
  • Morning Dew

Cover art by Johnny Gruelle.

John’s Comments:

I don’t know why people get so worked up - in a negative way - about this band. Ain’t no time to hate.

I never spent any time with post-1995, Dead-member-involved bands while they were active, though I’ve checked them all out subsequently. I remain pretty ignorant, based on total hours logged, but all those bands have paid off for me in greater and lesser degrees. Or maybe the better way to say it is that there’s always an arrangement or a jam that’s going to turn my head. Good musicians who are familiar with each other are always going to make some delightful, distinctive music.

One of my limitations is that I’m not that into Grateful Dead covers, and the ones that please me most are the ones that are farthest from what Garcia Dead played. Dead member legacy and Dead tribute bands are therefore not a big draw for me. 

However, I feel nothing but respect for every human who has experienced transcendence at any Dead-related live show since 1995. I had multiple ecstatic events and massive amounts of overall scene delight when I saw the Dead 1988-1993, and that was very late in the game by anyone’s measure. 

Now it’s 30 years later, and the kids still dance and shake their bones. Ain’t no time to hate.

What I like best about Dead & Company are the jammy spaces, where fidelity to the traditional song gives way to the band being itself, doing what comes naturally in the improvisational zones. This mix has plenty of those zones, sometimes cropping up in places you wouldn’t expect, if the track list were from a Grateful Dead run.

I am not immune to the “Dead and Slow” complaint, but I’d also say that I don’t have a problem with the tempo of any given song. A tempo change is a great way to explore a song, if it works. Nonetheless, I understand why people struggle with this aspect of the band.

Which is all the more reason to slant a Dead & Company mix in the way Josh Landes has here, ensuring a good balance of song-parts and improvisational zones – tempo being irrelevant to improvisational zones. I've endeavored to use the lead-off sequencing to recalibrate your Grateful Dead tempos to Dead & Co.'s vibe, in the hope that you can ride that vibe happily. 

Faust for Beginners: Pastoral (1971-1975)

Get lost in an album’s worth of melancholy beauty from the early-1970s German band Faust – better known for its whimsy, chaos, progressive grooves, and metallic dub slabs. 

Faust was many bands at once, and their albums insisted on keeping them mixed up.

This mix pulls their most gorgeous recordings together into the Faustian equivalent of the 3rd Velvet Underground album.

Most of the band's music was created in an old schoolhouse in rural Wumme, Germany, which doubled as studio and home. The engineer the record label sent turned out to be Faust's perfect George Martin - genius Kurt Graupner.

The band's melancholy side matches the pastoral recording setting and seems to have been defined by Rudolf Sosna, who wrote, sang, played guitar and keyboard, and was involved in the mixing/production that achieved the atmospheres you'll find on this mix. 

49-minute mp3 mix zipped up here. (Source information and alternate titles included in song title tags.)

  • Hermann’s Lament >
  • I’ve Heard That One Before
  • Jennifer (alt mix)
  • Rudolf Der Pianist >
  • Party 8
  • Purzelbaum Mit Anschubsen >
  • Chère Chambre
  • Läuft ... Heisst... (alt mix) >
  • On The Way To Abamäe 
  • Flashback Caruso
  • Das Meer (full length)
  • Lampe An, Tür Zu, Leute Rein! >
  • Schön Rund
  • Rémaj7

Editing Notes:

• No internal edits of tracks.

• Starts and ends cleaned up in some cases.

• Several segues added, as noted by “>,” above.

• Volume equalized to match “The Wumme Years” boxed set, the baseline master I recognize for the bulk of Faust’s catalogue. (“Das Meer” volume adjusted in various ways.) Sources are that box, the 2006 “IV” expanded reissue, and the 2021 box including extra material.

Grateful Dead Shortlist: Shoreline 1991 (August 16-18)

This unreleased run featured a 1st set “Dark Star,” a 2nd set “Feel Like a Stranger”-into-drums, a robust “Playin’ Jam” out of Space, and a “Scarlet > Victim > Fire” combo with all songs and transitions in full working order. Frisky! Feisty! Tight!

I consider the tracks I've included to be truly outstanding Grateful Dead, recorded beautifully. At this point, the band was about a year into the Hornsby/Welnick era and seven months away from Hornsby’s departure. A version of the Dead in its prime.

I cut quite a bit of very good stuff, because the best performances made very good not enough. There were also several tragic vocal fumbles that took some otherwise great takes out of the race.

Although the soundboard mixes were screwy in several places during this run, they are fantastic on all the material compiled here. A particular feature is the combination of very present singers and a very present vocal mix. Garcia/Hornsby musical dialogues are also foregrounded in a few places. Though I’m a Vince defender, his keyboards are minimized in these selections, so you get something akin to a Hornsby-only Dead.

I’ve made some artificial segues to create continuities across non-consecutively-played tracks. The “>” below represent as-played musical links and one adept pause-and-relaunch (Fire’s conclusion into Truckin’s start). The "(>)" below show where I've created a hinge.

Cover art: Victor Moscoso

2.5-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (dates included in the mp3 tags)

Disc One (70 minutes):

  • Feel Like a Stranger (>)
  • Samson and Delilah
  • West LA Fadeaway
  • Bertha
  • Scarlet Begonias >
  • Victim or the Crime >
  • Fire on the Mountain >
  • Truckin’

Disc Two (78 minutes):

  • Smokestack Lighting >
  • He’s Gone >
  • Jam
  • Dark Star
  • Improvisation (space excerpt) (>)
  • Playin’ in the Band (out of space jam > reprise) (>)
  • China Doll (>)
  • Dark Star Jam >
  • Morning Dew
  • Improvisation (space excerpt)