By Randy Ray
The Grateful Dead went into the Fillmore West run from early 1969 with the intention of finally recording their true personality on tape. They succeeded in ways even The Magnificent Seven could not have possibly imagined as their live legacy continues to this day to attract collectors in multiple and controversial official and archival download releases. The resulting document, Live/Dead, was mainly culled from 2/27 — “Dark Star> St. Stephen” — and 3/2 — “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Feedback> And We Bid You Goodnight.” Two additional tracks — “The Eleven” and “Lovelight” — were recorded on 1/26/69 at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom. Live/Dead solidified the band’s position as the premier acid rock group with the ability to perform an incredibly structured sequence of psychedelic improvisation. The band also augmented their trippy sound with Tom Constanten’s keyboards, which brought a wonderfully baroque tone to the wavy gravy artistic canvas that was the Grateful Dead circa ’68-’69.
This 3-CD set is a “Best Of” collection from that legendary four-night stand in true Cinerama Technicolor HDCD bliss. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of when the band performed a run as hot as this San Francisco stretch. How good were these gigs? Well... this set is actually a condensed version of a limited edition 10,000 pressing of a 10-CD set that encompasses the entire four nights, which sold out months ago. No need to worry, however, as these three discs parallel the somewhat standard (and uncharacteristic) set list that these shows had. Normally, the Dead played a mixed bag of songs that would appear at any time during a set. During the Fillmore stand, the band tried to play almost a cinematic multiple take series of songs as they wanted the best version of set pieces like “Dark Star> St. Stephen,” “The Eleven,” and “Lovelight.” Is this collection a good start for the new Head? Sure. It is also a must-have for the serious old tripster who wants to hear these recordings in a near flawless mix.
Ahhh... but let’s not be so linear about this oceanic tidal wave of interstellar surf music.
Let’s pick through the treasure chest at random, shall we? Some of the goodies are downright extraordinary and positively rare. There are two VERY noticeable cuts in the 25-minute “Jam” from 3/2/69 on CD 3, but that is really Deadhead nitpicking at its worst. Overall, this jam ventures all over the place as Jerry Garcia and then Phil Lesh lead a full-frontal assault on the crowd until the band moves the tempo up several notches to the zenith level and kicks into a very loose and raucous version of “Caution.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is The Kind.
Other passages are just as mind-blowing as CD 2 will probably wear out by the spring in my disc player. The sweet little disc contains the huge platter of LSD-25 sonic pleasure that is classic headiness, brah: an acoustic “Mountains of the Moon” floating into the opening strands of “Dark Star> St. Stephen> The Eleven> Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” A 23-minute “The Other One” smokes throughout as the long monster of Wagner rock reaches towards the netherworld and brings back a few chunks of magma blocks that burn the ears. This cut was, like much of the set, very rare in the past. Not no mo, sho nuff.
"Turn On Your Lovelight” is from 2/28/69 and features a restrained Ron "Pigpen" McKernan in a less than perverted fashion, which wasn’t always the case with his lengthy backdoor monologues during this chestnut, but it showcases the Dead ripping through the power chord sections that always book-ended Pig’s rap. Live stage banter circulated quite a bit during this early era, and there’s a fine bit of this before Pig’s other showpiece, “I’m A King Bee.” The band is farting around with the lick from the early 60s rave-up “Wipeout,” and Lesh promptly ends such a sonic discussion of earthy surf music with the quip: “I thought we came here to listen to psychedelic music.”
Garcia, always the prankster, retorts: “You came to the wrong place.”
Well... as always, Captain Trips was being modest. There isn’t an unessential note on this 3-CD set of scrumptious psychedelic music from the Good Ole ’69 Grateful Dead. I unfurl my mat, light my Nag Champa incense, and repeat my mantra: "Breathe it. Live it. Turn on some younger folks like a good Head."
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