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.

32 responses
I'm excited to listen to this. Thanks for posting.
Yay! This should be fun. Have you seen the Every Dark Star blog? They listened to, and discussed, every version of the song in great detail. Check it out:
I've never seen the Every Dark Star blog. I'm checking it out now.
Thanks John for this and everything you do. All the best and Season's Greetings.
This was a very nice Christmas surprise. Thanks. I remember these textbooks -- never cared much for math so they bring back some dark childhood memories that I hope to explore, transmogrify and redeem while listening to The Dead jam on Dark Star.
The Nameless One - you might want to swap out that math book cover image! Glad folks are interested in this mix.
Isn't 'A Spontaneous Composition' a Mike Oldfield composition?
Johnr - Is it?! Do you know the name of the song you're thinking of?
this is cool!
John H - it's the melody from Tubular Bells at about the 20 minute mark, when each instrument is being introduced, starting with "Grand Piano." Not the main "Exorcist" theme. It's about the only Oldfield that I know
johnr - Wow, it sure is Tubular Bells. I see the internet has recognized this, now that I look, but it's not named as such in the old Deadbase X I use or the show files I used. Thanks very much for this!
I think Vince had an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock, deep enough to include being able to drop something like Oldfield into Space or sing the 'backward vocals' of Tomorrow Never Knows live
What happened? Did this site die?
John posts when he posts, I'm sure there's a new post upcoming...soon LOL
Michael and Fredrick, thanks for being out there and looking for new stuff on this site. I do have a mix in the works, but it's going slowwwwwly.
As I mentioned elsewhere, your mixes have given me entry vectors to the Dead (and one awesome Bowie albu/m/ix too) that have helped me appreciate their legacy, as my first actual entry vector was the original Greyfolded by John Oswald, which, like this mix in particular, focuses on Dark Star as the nexus megalith of their live show over the long, strange decades trip it was LOL as for a new mix, take all the time it takes to make, you yourself have mentioned how sometimes your mixes are complimentary to some Dick's Picks, others explore areas not always noted prominently, but for the most part are unique, even if there is only so much (even as it looks contrary) good material out there and only so many ways to reconstitute it with a fresh vantage point. Plus, I'm sure the last quarter mile before the end of the marathon is also coming up with an apropos cover image as well...:)
Fredrick, you're right that I kind of ran out of questions and concepts to pursue, and I accumulated enough mixes that I always have something to play, whatever my GD mood might be. I've barely touched the late 1970s, but mainly because released shows seem sufficient for my listening/pleasure.
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