DVD Review | Grateful Dead Sunshine Daydream

By Scott Bernstein Sep 20, 2013 7:30 am PDT

Ever since the Grateful Dead and Rhino Records announced they were releasing the Dead’s famed 8/27/72 show, we’ve been excited to see Sunshine Daydream in all its glory. Today JamBase’s Chad Berndtson weighs in on the release just days after it hit stores and mailboxes.

Archival releases typically fall into one of three categories: something to revel and savor in –a moment from the past, captured as much as the energy of ephemera ever can be –something to unpack –a massive collection of gems and curiosities, enjoyed deliberately and thoroughly –or something for the completist –he or she who buys because living without would leave a gaping hole in his fan devotion. Rare do you come across all three in one package, but there’s little question that’s what we have on hand with Sunshine Daydream, a stunner of a Grateful Dead release with a story to match: it’s arguably the most requested Dead show in history.

The film screened in movie theaters on August 1 and is just now hitting CD and DVD release. How to approach this both magnificent and impressively wieldy thing is part of the fun. Absorb the performance, basking in this oh-so-fruitful period in Dead history? Focus on the scholarship: the history of the show itself along with the handful of essays –ranging from scholarly to reporterly to just plain pleasant –to accompany your critical assessment? Geek on the technical details of the restoration –new stereo and 5.1 audio done by Jeffrey Norman, mastered by David Glasser –and the mix to HDCD from 40-year-old 16-track tape?

Hell, do it all. Do it slowly. Do it lovingly. Live it. Get sucked into the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, OR; where the hotter it got (103 degrees), the less available drinking water there was and the more the band’s instruments –if never their resolve –veered out of tune. Go down the rabbit hole with this already-famous “Dark Star,” a paint-splatting, purple-planet classic that’s as invitingly warm at times as it is trippy, gets incalculably deep in places, and single handedly bridges the Dead’s psychedelic and folk-country worlds as it finds its way, 31 minutes later, to “El Paso.” Check out the casual nudity and nonchalant drug consumption in the film and shake your head at how surely easy it must have felt. The setlist itself doesn’t tell the story –rollicking rock ‘n’ roll, a gentler strain of folk and still-frequent trips into the void were all competing for the Dead’s attention in mid-’72 –but beyond “Dark Star” there’s plenty: a showpiece “China > Rider,” an above-average “Playin” in an era when “Playin’” really couldn’t do wrong, and an expertly placed “Sing Me Back Home” that provides a lonesome, tender reprieve following the “Dark Star > El Paso” melt and before the pounding rock returns to close Set 3.

Downsides? The debate over “best shows ever” is foolish when it comes to the Dead, but you just may find yourself backing into one after hearing this show with fresh ears, and quibbling over things that you’re better off loving in their imperfect glory. Me, I could always use more than 135 minutes of movie –the DVD itself contains less than half the full show. And there’s the visual sight of the Dead as they were composed on this day and the melancholy that creeps in with no sign of Pigpen or Mickey Hart also enjoying what the band had clearly tapped.

But context is everything. Consider how many great Dead shows there are, how many fewer of those would be worth blowing out as thoroughly as the Dead and Rhino have here, and how many fewer of those actually have been –with a consumable, accessible audio and video release nearly comparable to seeing the film on the big screen. For the loving, gem-seeking, completist Deadhead, this is about as good as it gets.

Several different configurations are available. The 3 CD/1 DVD retail set ($39.98) gets you the concert film with all stereo and 5.1 mix bells and whistles from Jeffrey Norman and David Glasser, a producer’s note from David Lemieux, original tye-dye from Courtenay Pollock and cover art by Steve Vance. Taking it up a notch gets you the DVD Deluxe Version ($49.98; dead.net exclusive only, 12,500 copies) which includes all the retail content, a bonus documentary, a simply gorgeous 40-page essays and recollections booklet, and the Pollock slipcase. There’s also a Blu-Ray Deluxe edition ($54.98) which is the same as the DVD Deluxe with a Blu-Ray film upgrade.

Words By: Chad Berndtson

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