Friday, September 13, 2019

Meanwhile, the Dead...


The Grateful Dead released two very diverse LPs in 1969. Aoxomoxoa, released in June, just before Woodstock, was iconic as a psychedelic experience that recreates the tripped-out vibe of the Dead's live shows. Live Dead, which came out in late December, skips the studio artifice and delivers the kind of live LP that every band strives for.

Garcia said, "Live Dead was recorded about the same time we were working on Aoxomoxoa. If you take them together, you have a picture of what we were doing at that time." While not as solid as the Dead's sophomore effort, Anthem of the Sun, Rolling Stone reported that Aoxomoxoa was "the work of the magical band. Can you hear this music and not see them before your eyes?"

Garcia continued, "When we started, Aoxomoxoa was an eight-track record, and then all of a sudden, there was a 16-track recorder in the studio, so we abandoned our eight-track version and started over with a 16-track. At the time, we were sipping STP [a sort of supercharged LSD, which produces 72-hour trips] during the sessions, which made it a little weird – in fact, very weird."

"We only recorded a few gigs to get that album," Garcia recalled. "We were after a certain sequence of the music. It's our music at one of its really good moments." Garcia's playing is flawlessly consistent and Weir shines for the first time showing the band in evolution. While the Dead's performance at Woodstock was problematic and subsequently lackluster, Live Dead was a hint at the greatest of live bands.

While I still enjoy the LP, it's not at the core of the band's studio LPs (Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, Mars Hotel). And yet the recording had armed the Gratefuls with the Ampex 16-track recorder, which allowed them the ability to bring the live shows to life on vinyl, charting a definitive course. 

The double LP begins with the side-long "Dark Star," 23 minutes of guitar jam with but a hint of vocals, the emotional performance straight from Dead souls. Each time the band goes into jam mode, the music is instantly mesmerizing.

"Saint Stephen" on Side 2, slows things down melodically and hits you in the face again with "The Eleven." "Turn On Your Love Light" is a fast-paced boogie-woogie that reminds one of a stoned "Jailhouse Rock." "Feedback" is for many the part of the LP you skip. It's not a song, but a collection of psyched-out noises followed by "And We Bid You Goodnight," a 30-second ditty that sums it all up.

*Two fun things. The lettering for American Beauty by Rick Griffin also spells out "American Reality" and if one looks closely, imagination intact, Griffin's lettering of "Grateful Dead" on Aoxomoxoa spells out "ATE THE ACID."

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