Friday, July 3, 2009

Grateful Dead-Road Trips Vol. 2 No.3-Wall Of Sound

There seems to be two distinct schools of thought about the current Road Trips series of vault releases from the Grateful Dead. Some people are disappointed that they usually don’t consist of full shows, but rather highlights from a run of shows or a tour, attempting to capture the highlights of a specific period instead of just throwing show after show out there. On the other hand, there are those who feel that the full show is a sacred thing and should be presented in it’s entirety to preserve the historical integrity of the moment, and the Road Trips series instead tries to capture the feeling of an entire tour. The current release perfectly points to the strengths and flaws of each argument. Consisting of parts of two fantastically good shows, the theme of the release is an examination of the gigantic, experimental, expensive sound system the band toured with for a short period in the 70’s. Dubbed “The Wall Of Sound” the system provided both a futuristic look and sound for the audience to gawk at, but it offered the band an unparalleled aural canvas to showcase their work. Both shows are glorious in their entirety and deserve to be out with no edits, but taking just the best stuff and leaving out the more mundane makes for an awfully compelling listen.

Disc one is taken from the Des Moines State Fairgrounds on June 16, 1974 and the entire show has a wide-open, spacious feel. It sounds as though the band is playing outside under big Midwestern skies. The highlights are a long, beautifully played version of “Chinacat/Rider” that contains a perfect middle jam. “Eyes Of The World" appears on both discs, and is very different each time. The Des Moines version is led with breathless ferocity by Phil Lesh and finds the band simultaneously tight and loose (the Dead conundrum). At the end of the song Garcia starts spewing out notes a mile a minute and somehow it comes out as “Big River.” The disc ends with a long and very spacey “Playin’ In The Band” that the “Wall Of Sound” allows the listener to examine with surgical precision (or is that Ly-surgical?)

Disc two contains most of the second set of the legendary Louisville, Ky. show of June 18, 1974. This set truly has it all, and has been one of my favorites for years. The centerpiece is a jam that starts as “Weather Report Suite”, Morphs into “The Other One” and then goes deep into space and comes out in a beautiful “Stella Blue.” The playing has a very unique jazzy feel that doesn’t sound like any other show. Again, the wall of sound allows you to discern every cymbal fill and guitar scratch, it really is a magnificent set of music. For a short time, you can get a bonus disc that contains more from these shows, most notably the thunderous “Morning Dew” encore from Louisville, and a jam from Des Moines after “Truckin” that contains about five different jamming themes from the era. It is quite interesting.

So, whole show or highlights? Obviously, I want it all, but this is a pretty stellar release.

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