If anyone is downloading and listening to these shortlists, I'd love to hear what you think. I've made these mixes for my own listening pleasure, but if people are enjoying them and want more, I'll keep posting them. 

Now that you can listen to a quality SBD of nearly any show on, I've long since stopped worrying about preserving unreleased shows in their entirety for myself. And The Dead have released SO many shows that I have no shortage of complete shows that sound great, all mediocrity and repetition intact.

My goal is to avoid listening to a bad-to-average performance of any song more than once or twice, and to listen to very good-to-great performances of songs over and over again. Life is too short.

They played "Row Jimmy" something like 70 times in 1973 and 1974; I want to find and memorize the best 10, which would probably be enough to sustain me for the rest of my life, since I'd also have 10 or more great versions of every other song too - and that's just from 1972-1974.

Ultimately, I think the tyranny of "the show" has limited a demonstration of The Dead's oeuvre, excellence, and achievement since Garcia's death. It's rare that The Dead curate a live release, rather than releasing the entire show – but when they do curate, the result is typically great. At the same time, many Heads (and I was once one of them) still don't want to hear live Dead for the first time, except in the context of the complete show. They wouldn't want to have anything to do with my shortlists, because they deform the show and won't be identical to those parts of the show that they would have chosen as outstanding. 

True, "there's nothing like a Grateful Dead concert." However, there are also eight bajillion recorded Grateful Dead concerts, and there hasn't been an actual Grateful Dead show since 1995 - 21 years ago. There's absolutely no reason to keep treating concerts as though they are inviolable holy ceremonies, especially when you can stream them complete anytime you want. There's no reason to always stack their tunes in ways that mimic their typical placement in set lists. You don't have to alternate Jerry and Bobby songs. You don't have to bury a monumental "Wharf Rat" at the end of three hours of everything that came before it. You can choose your own adventure.

It's good to shake things up and to shave things down; it makes everything fresher to set it in a new context that doesn't follow the same old pattern. There's no right way to look at The Grateful Dead.

Step back from your screen and this swirl will become a 1972 Garcia:

(Image from a fan t-shirt I bought at a show in the 1980s.)

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. 

Some of my tape cases.

I've tossed most of the actual tapes, but the cases remain. I cringe to think how much time I spent on these, let alone all of the re-EQ-ing of tapes and copying them. Now you can hear a perfect version of nearly every show on Still feels a bit like science fiction to me.

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: 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: Improvisation 1973-1974 vol. 1

74 minutes (10 tracks) of vocal-free improvisation in lossy 192kbps mixtape glory.

New link: Let me know if it doesn't work.

The aspect of The Grateful Dead’s record release strategy since Garcia’s death that I’d particularly fault is the failure to secure the band’s legacy as one of the outstanding jazz-fusion explorers of the early 1970s. Ten years ago, I became fed up with poor 1972-1974 vocals, and was tired of most of The Dead’s songs, after 20 years of listening to them a lot. So, I made 10 volumes of nothing but vocal-free improvisational material from 1972 to 1974, and listened to nothing but that for a while. As this blog’s mixtapes indicate, I eventually came back around to the songs themselves, but the improv tapes remain a concentrated thrill. 

This is the first volume I made, probably the one most focused on spontaneous musical compositions that have no relation to any particular song. Some of this material was subsequently released officially, but whatever the provenance of the sources I used at the time, it’s all crispy. The 11/11/73 material may be sourced from a cassette that Dick Latvala sent me in the early 1990s, when I was sending him tapes of Pigpen outbursts, mostly directed at the sound mixer, that Dick couldn’t find in the archive. We’d argued, first, about whether “Dark Star” or “The Other One” was the ultimate Dead barometer (he insisted on “The Other One” and may have been correct), and then about the merits of the dreamy, drifty 11/11/73 “Dark Star” (the jam following it is on this mix). I loved that "Dark Star"; Dick was meh. I eventually conceded that maybe I was partly in love with the particular vibe of my mid-generation cassette, which I'd clutched tightly to my breast for years. Dick responded by sending me a dub of his reference copy of the whole show; he was a very nice guy. The "Dark Star" was still the song I knew and loved, but so much cleaner, so I guess I accidentally tricked Dick – but he was satisfied to receive in return a tape of Pigpen threatening to cut off the sound mixer’s head and shit in it. 

Dark Starlets: A Europe ’72 Single-Song Mega-Mix

This mix is comprised of 21 musical segments drawn from all the “Dark Stars” performed during the Europe ’72 tour. They are arranged into two 64-minute sequences, each of which begins with the song’s intro, and each of which contains a verse. It’s all “forward moving” improvisation, whether on the “Dark Star” theme or farther afield. There’s no “space,” though the segments wind up and wind down from spacey zones, such that The Dead’s development of each musical angle here is respected, and the result feels more or less like a single performance, with ebbs and flows. If you’ve ever imagined a one-hour or two-hour “Dark Star” that never completely spaces out and keeps finding new melodic avenues, this is for you.

192kbps mp3s sourced from the official Europe '72 box (and reloaded to fix a defect)

Shortlist: Radical Edit of 11/14/73 - San Diego

This is a radical edit to highlight an extraordinary stretch of playing in this show. 

  • Truckin’ (intro and jam) > (8:52)
  • The Other One > Space > Big River Tease > The Other One > (24:18)
  • Eyes of the World (instrumental) > (7:46)
  • The Other One. (4:23)

It’s really all about “The Other One” in this night's second set, and it’s a doozy. It emerges slowly and organically from a strong “Truckin’” jam, then explores a lot of territory up to the first verse – after which it dismantles itself elegantly into a spare, expressive “Space.” “Big River” provides a dramatic running start back into some more sublime “The Other One” exploration, which eventually finds a reasonable path to “Eyes of the World.” But the second verse of “The Other One” is still hanging, so “Eyes” detours around its usual synchronized jam sequence and instead finds its way back to “The Other One,” which has its grand finale. 

The purpose of this “radical edit” was to keep this whole sequence intact, but to eliminate the actual songs, “Truckin’,” “Big River,” and “Eyes of the World,” none of which are outstanding in performance or soundboard mix.

Five pieces were sliced out, and the breaches healed, so that it sounds approximately like The Dead played it this way:

  • “Truckin’” and “Big River”: One cut each, eliminating everything from the first sung word to the last sung word. 
  • “Eyes of the World”: All three verse/chorus segments removed, but the instrumental passages between them preserved and segued together into a single big instrumental “Eyes.”

It sounds crazy, but the result is a quite wonderful 45 minutes of high-end Grateful Dead instrumental, improvisational adventure through the riffs and changes of several songs, without singing any of them except "The Other One." 

Save Your Face: Garcia Songs Live 1972-1974

This mix features a giant slice of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songbook, played and sung superbly by the late-1972 through 1974 live band. 

The intent, when I compiled and posted it three years ago was to find officially-released performances of these songs that stood up in every respect – singing, playing, and sound mix. I wanted versions you could use to prove that the songs were great, and that the live Dead were great. 1972-1974 is my favorite version of the band, despite the fact that the vocals were often a mess, in performance or in the mix. 

I limited my scope to approximately a dozen releases that I could rip straight from an official disc. I couldn’t find every song that belongs here. For instance, there wasn’t a properly-sung and powerfully-played “Uncle John’s Band” in the stack of shows I used. 

320kbps zipped mp3 download (dates and source releases are included in song tags)

SET 1 (73 minutes)

  • Bertha
  • Loser
  • Friend of the Devil
  • To Lay Me Down
  • Here Comes Sunshine
  • Deal
  • Sugaree
  • Tennessee Jed
  • He’s Gone
  • Don’t Ease Me In

SET 2 (62 minutes)

  • U.S. Blues
  • They Love Each Other
  • Loose Lucy
  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Row Jimmy
  • Eyes of the World
  • Mississippi Half-Step > We Bid You Goodnight

SET 3 (74 minutes)

  • Comes a Time
  • Stella Blue
  • Black Peter
  • Morning Dew
  • China Doll
  • Bird Song
  • Wharf Rat
  • Ship of Fools
  • Brokedown Palace

If you enjoy this experiment with an all-Garcia setlist, you might also enjoy this one.

Revised notes, September 2019