The Grateful Dead's second live release was an eponymously titled double LP whose cover bears the striking skull-and-roses visual motif that would become instantly recognizable and an indelibly linked trademark of the band. As opposed to their debut concert recording, Live/Dead (1969), this hour and ten minutes concentrates on newer material, which consisted of shorter self-contained originals and covers. Coming off of the quantum-leap success of the studio country-rock efforts Workingman's Dead (1969) and American Beauty, Grateful Dead offers up a pair of new Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter compositions – "Bertha" and "Wharf Rat" – both of which garnered a permanent place within the band's live catalog. However, "The Other One" – joined in progress just as Billy Kreutzmann fires up a blazing percussion solo – sprawls as the album's centerpiece.
With 1970's Workingman's Dead, the Grateful Dead went through an overnight metamorphosis, turning abruptly from tripped-out free-form rock toward sublime acoustic folk and Americana. Taking notes on vocal harmonies from friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Dead used the softer statements of their fourth studio album as a subtle but moving reflection on the turmoil, heaviness, and hope America's youth was facing as the idealistic '60s ended. American Beauty was recorded just a few months after its predecessor, both expanding and improving on the bluegrass, folk, and psychedelic country explorations of Workingman's Dead with some of the band's most brilliant compositions. The songs here have a noticeably more relaxed and joyous feel. Having dived headfirst into this new sound with the previous album, the bandmembers found the summit of their collaborative powers here, with lyricist Robert Hunter penning some of his most poetic work, Jerry Garcia focusing more on gliding pedal steel than his regular electric lead guitar work, and standout lead vocal performances coming from Bob Weir (on the anthem to hippie love "Sugar Magnolia"), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (on the husky blues of "Operator"), and Phil Lesh (on the near-perfect opening tune, "Box of Rain").
Hold on to your hat, we're coming in strong with one from the Windy City that'll have you movin' and shakin' from start to finish. DAVE'S PICKS VOLUME 31: UPTOWN THEATRE, CHICAGO, IL 12/3/79 signals a true rebirth of the Grateful Dead, reimagining classics and foreshadowing their 80s sound. This is as much in part due to freshly-minted member Brent Mydland bringing the organ back in as it is to Jerry finding new vivacity with his custom Tiger guitar. New guy, new guitar - it all makes for a heck of a good time!
On the Grateful Dead’s Anthem of the Sun the studio with its production work dissolves into live performance, the carefully crafted is thrown together with the casually tossed off, and the results are spliced together.
Beyond Description (1973-1989) is a companion set to 2001's 12-disc box The Golden Road (1965-1973), which collected all of the Grateful Dead's albums for Warner Bros, adding bonus tracks to each album, along with a double-disc collection of early pre-Warner recordings called "Birth of the Dead" for good measure. Beyond Description picks up the story after the Dead started their own label with 1973's Wake of the Flood and runs all the way to 1989, when they released their last studio album, Built to Last. Like The Golden Road, each album here is enhanced with bonus tracks, running the gamut from as little as three (on Built to Last) to has many as 16 (a full-length bonus disc added to 1980's live acoustic Reckoning), but there's nothing quite as enticing as "Birth of the Dead." Indeed, "enticing" is not a word that's frequently associated with the albums in this collection.
Aoxomoxoa is the work of the magical band. Can you hear this music and not see them before your eyes? The music is so much the reality of their physical and spiritual bodies that seeing them is the wonder of seeing music.