Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Beginners Guide To The Grateful Dead - Part Two

There is a lot of music out there and some artists have massive catalogs which can paralyze new listeners with overwhelming choices. This Beginners Guide series will attempt to give new listeners entry points to some of these artists. Today we will look at: The Grateful Dead.

This post was very long so we are breaking it into two parts. This first offering will discuss the five places RtBE feels are the best entry points to the band. The follow up post will dive into the different eras of the Dead and pull out some well known and underappreciated shows for further listening. 

In part one RtBE discussed live shows and albums which will ease a listener into the band. The group has such a wide range of music/sound/shows that RtBE went through the years they were active and pulled out specific highlights. While this gets long, it is literally the tip of the iceberg. The Internet Archive is a digital gold mine for amazing Grateful Dead shows, but below are are choices throughout the years for highlights and further listening. 

Let's do a deeper dive now...

The Late 60's:
The early era can get really freaky and it started out with the Dead acting as the house band for The Merry Pranksters Acid Tests in San Francisco. The group went way out there with feedback and shifted from their bluegrass/folk roots into true psychedelic rock and rollers who forged their own path. While the shows could get wild and woolly, here is an acid test recording from 1966 that is really great:

This era is probably the one RtBE goes back to actually listen to least, but the official release Live/Dead sums it up very well. This random excellent show from 10/12/1968 is also a favorite and proves the band has a ton of energy, especially in the early days:

Early 70's. 
We mentioned Dick's Picks Volume 8 from 1970 in part one, but as the decade dawned the group was clearly working out their new folk-laid back style while still dealing the psychedelic acid rock. There are a lot of good shows to choose from for 1970 we will go with this guest laden fest from 2/11/70 at the Fillmore East:

and here is a tasty one from '71. In recent years late '71 has really picked up to our ears as the band worked to integrate Keith Godchaux on piano and were a dynamite barroom band for Nov/Dec. 

We discussed Europe '72 briefly in part one, and it is a great compilation. Our favorite show form that tour is also one of our favorite of all-time and can be heard here, it is from Olympia Paris, 5/3/1972. "The Other One" run in the second set is magic. 

The years of '73 and '74 saw the band stretching out their style even more with a jazz-folk hybrid as Bill Kreutzmann's fluid drumming lead the way (along with Garcia's amazing nightly work). The free-form playing became a nightly occurrence and the band really explored different terrain, many fans will call these the peak years and it is hard to argue. 

There are tons of great experimental shows from these two years but here are three. The fantastic 3/24/1973 from Philly early in 73 and which we wrote about in depth here.

One of the all-time great shows, which came late in the year, 11/11/73:

and while not all fans of the Dead like the Road Trip Series which cuts and pastes shows at times, we can certainly highlight this wall of sound capturing from the series for 6/16/74 Des Moines, IA:

1975 only saw one show from the band, but it was doozy, released as One From The Vault, the intro "Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin's Tower" is one of the best opening runs ever, and the dynamite "Eyes of The World" is a standout.

The year 1976 is a love/hate for most Dead fans as the band was clearly trying something out as they officially got back together and the groove got slooooow. This is a year to check out after becoming familiar with the bands sound and style from other years as '76 is an outlier. Lead by Garcia's glorious playing on a new guitar 10/9/76 is a hell of a show, starting and ending with Chuck Berry covers, the band is in the pocket. 

The band was fully back and rocking throughout the powerhouse year of 1977; it is can't miss. We highlighted Cornell in part one as the starting point for any new listener, but there are so many good shows in 1977 it is hard to go wrong. Feel free to go and pick your own from the archive. To prove how solid 77 is, here is a totally random pick, a little off the radar, 11/1/77 from Cobo Arena in Detroit and it rules.

The late 70's had a bunch of strong offerings riding high from the successes of '77. One of the historic concerts was also one of the best, actually spanning both 78 and 79, as the Closing of Winterland on New Years Eve 1978 delivers over four hours of goodness. 

1980 was perhaps the last fully strong year for quite a few as the band recorded the acoustic Reckoning and the electric Dead Set as official releases, but 11/30/80 needs to get some love as it is a firecracker.  Great versions of "Loser" and the especially excellent "Scarlet>Fire" are must hear.  

While '81 started a downward trend for the band there are a few standouts and this gem from Hartford on 3/14 is certainly one of those. Strong from top to bottom with an all-time version of "Althea" and Jerry playing Bach between "The Other One" and "Stella Blue" Garcia is truly on for this show and an excellent audience tape captures it over at the archive: 

Same goes for '82. There are moments of magic, but on the whole it was a down year. One of those nights where everything comes together though is 10/10/82 at the Frost Theater. This is perhaps Bob Weir's strongest show ever, each one of his songs on this night shine. 

Let's pause for a second...
While there are certainly solid shows from '83-86 RtBE is going to skip these years. Things aren't awful, but the majority of shows aren't great as the band fell into a bit of a rut around Garcia's escalating drug use and deteriorating health. Honestly, with so much other great live music out there people can investigate these lesser years after listening to better years. 

We will pick it back up in 1987 which saw the Dead revitalized as Garcia recovered from his diabetic coma, Weir was in top form and the band were raring to go again. Things didn't always click, but there were transcendent moments and shorter shows over the summer as the band toured with Bob Dylan. Here is one of those shows, captured as View From The Vault 4, 7/24/87:

The band grew more confident throughout 1988 and things really started to rev back up to heights not seen in a decade as strong work from Bobby, Brent and a rejuvenated Garcia lead to excellent full shows. Here is a good one from Chicago 4/15/88

From 1989 through 1991 the band saw the last real musical highs and unfortunately not the last personal lows, as they lost keyboardist Brent Mydland to a drug overdose but kept the musical progression active. One of our favorite shows from 1989 is 7/7/89 show from the summer tour in Philly at JFK Stadium  

We mentioned Without A Net in part one of this guide, but the full show a few songs were taken from  was released as Terrapin Station Limited Edition 3/15/90 and it is a fantastic night of music

And rather then delve into the years of 92-95, which were reminiscent of the mid 80's, with Garcia's drug use and decline health hampering the band, we will wrap up with two of the best later day Dead shows both from the NYC area as 6/17/91 was a behemoth at Giants Stadium:

and 9/10/91 is our personal go to show when we want any Grateful Dead from the 90's. This show is a gas with Branford Marsalis onboard, inspiring all on stage:

Hopefully this will give hours of enjoyment and while there are days worth of music to listen to above, it really just a starting point. There are so many other great shows out there to discover and explore on your own or with fellow fans. 

Enjoy and feel free to share your own favorites below.

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