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iTunes Smart Playlist: Lots of Live Dead

I’ve made a smart playlist to group all of my live Grateful Dead recordings (just official releases). This uses a nested smart playlist, with a number of conditions. The first is Artist is Grateful Dead, and then I nest a number of conditions, beginning with Album begins with 1, since all of the Dead’s concerts took place in the 20th century, and I name them with the date first, like this: 1974-05-14 – Missoula, MT – Dave’s Picks Vol. 9. Here’s what the smart playlist looks like:

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(To add nested conditions, press the Option key and click on the + button to the right of the first condition; when you hold down the Option key, that button becomes a … .)

For other live albums, I’ve just added their names; I could also do this more easily, by adding, say, “Live” to the Comments field of all these albums. But that means I’d need to remember to do this for each new release.

And here’s what I see when I view this smart playlist; this is in Grid view:

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That’s a lot of Grateful Dead!

By the way, if you want a full-size screenshot of the above picture, click here; it’s about 5 MB. You may need to click on the image to zoom to full size; I see I have to do that in Safari.

And how about a wallpaper? I’ve made a 2560×1440 graphic with a lot of my live Dead covers from iTunes. That’s the size of a 27″ Apple iMac, or Thunderbolt display. If you need other sizes, you’ll just have to make them yourself. Grab the wallpaper here (3.4 MB).

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Grateful Dead, 1977: The Best Year for Tuning Up

This came out last year, but it’s good to remind people of one of the more interesting Grateful Dead recordings circulating. It’s all of the Grateful Dead’s tuning for the year 1977; more than an hour and a half of tuning up.

If you’ve ever attended a Dead show, you know that the tuning was part of the show. It could be creative, or boring, or just long. So Michael David Murphy took available recordings and edited all of 1977′s tuning into a single tuning experience.

You can also grab it on archive.org, if you’re interested in the 24-bit FLAC version, for example.

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DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Move Me Brightly, Jerry Garcia 70th Birthday Concert

81g3HXTIyML._SL1500_.jpgOn August 3, 2013, Bob Weir organized a concert to commemorate the 70th birthday of the late Grateful Dead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) It was held in Weir’s TRI Studios in San Rafael, California, and was filmed by Justin Kreutzmann, son of the Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzman. The result is on this DVD and Blu-Ray, with about 2 hours of music and interviews.

I was looking forward to this, but, man, was I disappointed. It’s Bill’s party; other than Donna Jean Godchaux who manages to sing about half the songs, the only other member of the Grateful Dead who plays is Phil Lesh, and only in one song. There are interviews with drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, but neither of them picks up the sticks. The band is made of mostly of musicians I’ve never heard of, and is pretty lethargic.

One thing that makes this a dull concert is the audience. Presumably made up of friends of the musicians, there were maybe 200 people in the tiny studio; it’s not a concert hall, after all. Weir could have organized something in a real concert hall with well-known musicians; it could have been a Last Waltz type of concert. But it was just a small show, for a select few, and it shows. The musicians had a few days to rehearse, but for the most part, the songs were sedate. At times, Bob couldn’t hit the high notes, and some songs – especially Shakedown Street – were just bad.

Actor Luke Wilson interviewed Jerry’s daughters and older brother, with banalities that, for the first few songs, cut into the music, then were later used between songs. (It’s a shame that one of the best-played songs – the first, Cumberland Blues – was cut with interviews.)

None of the stories any of the musicians or family members told were very interesting, the music was humdrum, and it just seemed like Bob Weir wanted something to celebrate himself, not Jerry. I could have done without this.

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So Many Roads

So Many Roads, from the last Grateful Dead concert, 7/9/95.

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Grateful Dead to Release Sunshine Daydream, 8/27/72 Film and CD Set

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Deadheads, get out your credit cards! This September will finally see an official release of 8/27/72 and Sunshine Daydream. After more than 40 years, we’ll finally get a crystal-clear recording of this iconic show, and a DVD or Blu-Ray of the Sunshine Daydream movie, shot that day.

Most Deadheads know that this show, from Veneta, Oregon, is one of the best the band ever played. Performed as a benefit for Ken Kesey’s family creamery, The Field Trip, as it was advertised, was played in a field in front of 20,000 sunburned Deadheads, as temperatures passed 100 degrees, and water was scarce. There was magic in the air, that day, though; or at least good acid. Because the Dead played one of their best, tightest shows, with amazing renditions of Playin’ in the Band, China > Rider, and one of the best versions of Dark Star ever.

You may have seen footage of the Sunshine Daydream movie, filmed by John Norris, Phil DeGuere, and Sam Field, who caught the music and the vibes, but never had the money to get the footage edited correctly. Mediocre quality transfers have circulated for years, but finally, the Dead have restored the film, and the 16-track soundboard tapes, to create what looks and sounds amazing. Here’s a clip:

After the amazing Europe ’72 and May ’77 sets, this amazing show is yet another wonderful release from the Dead. Now, if they can only find a tape of 5/8/77 and release that…

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Lots of Grateful Dead on the iTunes Store

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The iTunes Store has a new band page for the Grateful Dead. In addition to better showcasing the band, there are four “collections” of music you can buy here:

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The first, Complete Studio Albums collection, is all the studio albums the Dead released, a total of 13. The second, Complete Live Albums Collection, is the live albums the band released before they started issuing live concerts, in the Vault Series, Dick’s Picks, the Download Series, Dave’s Picks and others. This includes the iconic Live/Dead, Skull & Roses (originally called Skullfuck), the best-selling Europe ’72, and the great acoustic Reckoning, among others, for a total of 8 albums.

Two other collections are Complete Studio Rarities and Complete Live Rarities. These are tracks added to the re-issues of Dead albums, The Golden Road and Beyond Description. These two box sets, containing 12 CDs each, have all of the music available in the iTunes Store collections. (Europe ’72, Vol. 2 is absent from the Complete Live Collection, as are a couple of other live releases.) At $116 and $107 for the two box sets, you’d be saving money compared to the iTunes Store prices, which total about $260. Though you’d have to rip the CDs.

Interestingly, in the UK iTunes Store, the prices are much lower. Together, the four collections cost £125, or about $191. This is probably because the Grateful Dead are not as well known in the UK. That’s a big saving over the cost of the box sets, which are £109 each. The Golden Road says it’s an AutoRip set, which means if you buy the CDs, you get the MP3s as well from Amazon, but Beyond Description doesn’t mention that.

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The box sets are very nice, and for what they cost, are a better deal. But if you want to get a boatload of Grateful Dead, and not spend time ripping CDs, these four collections are worth getting. The content is varied; if you’re not a Deadhead, you probably don’t want the rarities, and the later studio and live albums aren’t as good as the earlier stuff. But it’s nice to see the Dead getting some attention on the iTunes Store.

Now, if they’d just have a collection of the 36 Dick’s Picks releases at a nice price…

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Essential Music: The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack

Buy from: Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR | Amazon DE

If you follow this blog, or read my writing on Macworld, you’ve noticed that, among my varied musical interests, one artist stands out: the Grateful Dead. I’ve been a Deadhead for 35 years, since I first saw the band in the Spring of 1977 at the Palladium in New York. (To be honest, I was already a fan by then, having heard a number of their albums, both live and studio.) People sometimes ask me to recommend a Grateful Dead album for them to discover, and this post answers that question.

In late 1974, the Grateful Dead decided to “retire.” At the time, it wasn’t clear if the band would continue, but the increased pressure and cost of touring with their one-of-a-kind “Wall of Sound” sound system, made them realize that they couldn’t go on. They had to tour to pay for the cost of touring, and the time it took to set up and break down the Wall of Sound make touring more complicated.

So to celebrate their retirement, the Dead played five shows at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. Introduced by Bill Graham, the legendary concert promoter, these last five concerts were held from October 16-20. On the 20th, Bill Graham had the concert tickets stamped “The Last One” as a souvenir for those attending.

But while the Dead suggested that this would be a retirement, they actually had big plans for the final run. Much of the music was filmed and all of it was recorded with the idea of making a movie. Jerry Garcia was the engine for this project, and during the hiatus – the band came back to performing in April 1976 (there were four gigs in 1975) – he worked on editing the movie.

Released in 1977, the Grateful Dead movie was an attempt to translate the experience of a Grateful Dead concert to the screen. Concert movies were a recent phenomenon at the time, and this was more than just a film of the concert. There is footage of people waiting in line, interviews with Deadheads, clips of people dancing and enjoying the music, and some pretty hokey animation, notably a long animated introduction. The movie fails as both a concert movie and as a documentary, but, back in the day, it was amazing to see such great footage of the band on a big screen.

For years, the tapes of these five shows languished in the Grateful Dead vault, until a re-release of the movie on DVD in 2004, when the best parts of the five concerts were remastered and released on five CDs, for a total of about 6 1/2 hours of music. (This is a bit more than 1/3 of all the music played on those five nights.) Each of the CDs tries to represent a set of music; the songs flow together well, even on the discs where the music is from different nights. Three of the discs are essentially all from single nights, with a couple of exceptions.

One reason why the Grateful Dead was so interesting is because no two concerts were the same. Not only did they not have set lists – they’d choose what to play as they went along – they were consummate improvisers, and would segue from one song to another seamlessly. There were some songs that were often played together, and that formed units: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, and Not Fade Away > Going Down the Road Feeling Bad. But in 1974, only the first (China > Rider) was immutably joined, and from one show to another, the order of songs would change. In addition to these fluid set lists, the Dead would often jam on songs for a very long time; the longest track in this set is the 31:45 Playing in the Band, which is a perfect example of the band’s transcendent improvisations.

1974 was a watershed year for the Dead. One of the founding members, Pigpen (Ron McKernan) had died in 1973, and the Dead dropped many of the songs that he made famous, such as the long R&B-inspired Turn On Your Love Light, In the Midnight Hour, and Dancing In the Streets. Pigpen was a male Janis Joplin (they were lovers for a time), and he lived the blues the way he sang them; so much so that liquor killed him.

After Pigpen’s death, the Dead took a new direction, veering away from the early R&B songs, and the later folky Americana, toward some jazzier playing. That comes out here in the long Eyes of the World, a 1973 release, the mystical Playing in the Band, and Bob Weir’s Weather Report Suite, a long ballad. The Dead still played their staples: songs like U.S. Blues, He’s Gone, and One More Saturday Night, but this set doesn’t feature any of the “cowboy” songs the band played consistently in the early 1970s, such as Jack Straw, Beat It On Down the Line, Loser, Friend of the Devil, El Paso, or the perennial Me and My Uncle. The band played these songs at the five concerts, but they weren’t selected for this box set.

So on five CDs, this set gives an excellent overview of the Dead in 1974. Free jams, tight songs, a jazzier sound than in, say, 1972, but with all the power and mastery that the band had developed since their formation in 1965. While the Complete Europe ’72 box set remains the ultimate document of the Dead on tour, these edited recordings are probably the best introduction for someone interested in discovering the wide range of music the Grateful Dead played. (If you want a sample of the Dead on tour in 1972, the recent Europe ’72 Vol. 2, culled from that complete set, and tastefully remastered, is for you.) Or better yet, get both.

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