Friday, March 25, 2016

Deadheads Unite!

ListenUp will be hosting their annual Music Matters event on April 5th and 6th at their 685 So. Pearl location (right across from our old location). This is always a very cool event, where consumers can be exposed to the best new products for their home systems and hear from some of the best names in current audiophile thought. This year is extra special for Deadheads however, as famed Boulder-based audio Engineer David Glasser will be a special guest. Glasser has worked on countless Grateful Dead projects including the landmark Europe ’72 box set and, more recently, the epic Thirty Trips Around The Sun box set. He is a true authority on The Grateful Dead’s recordings and their efforts to bring them to the public. Around the time of The Complete Europe ’72 box I interviewed Dave about working on Grateful Dead projects. In honor of ListenUp’s upcoming event, we present it here again. Click here ( to learn more about Music Matters and enjoy the interview (excerpted below, you can read the full interview HERE).

- Paul Epstein

The big archival news in the Grateful Dead world is the unprecedented Europe ’72 - The Complete Recordings box set. Containing all 22 shows of this greatest of all Dead tours, there’s not a dud show in the bunch; in fact there are very few dud songs. The band never played tighter or more inspired than on this tour. They also never toured behind such an abundance of great new material. They were playing many the songs from Weir’s then-new Ace album, Garcia’s first solo album plus about a dozen new Grateful Dead songs (“Ramble On Rose,” He’s Gone,” “Tennessee Jed,” Mr. Charlie,” Chinatown Shuffle,” etc.) and fresh covers (“Sing Me Back Home,” “You Win Again,”) and when combining them with some of their longer, jammier songs from the past (“Dark Star,” “The Other One,” “Truckin’,” “Lovelight”) they offered up an exciting marathon show every night of the tour. To add to the special nature of the tour was the fact that they were playing many beautiful, historic concert venues on a continent that was new to the band members and rich with historic and cultural significance to their hippie sensibilities. They were also dragging around a recording truck to every venue to insure their ability to pay for the whole trip. Remarkably, the recordings are outstanding, even by modern standards. There is a full, rich warmth to the sound that just reflects the warmth on stage. The huge, deluxe “steamer trunk” box set is sold out, but there is a superb new compilation called, appropriately enough,Europe ’72 Volume 2 that is out now on Rhino Records. It is packed with great moments from the tour including memorable takes on “Playin’ In The Band,” a huge Pigpen-led “Good Lovin’,” a great early version of “Sugaree” and a “Dark Star” that goes to outer space and back in 30 minutes. It is a wonderful keepsake, and we have it on sale for only $10.99. It’s the cheapest way you’re going to get into this tour. 

Because I was so blown away by the sound of these recordings, I thought it would be cool if we could ask Boulder resident David Glasser of Air Show Mastering some questions about the process of mastering this gigantic project. A Grammy Award winner, Glasser is one of the hidden gems of the Colorado music scene. Air Show has worked on countless albums you’ve heard of and continues to be one of the premier mastering facilities in the country. The Grateful Dead are legendary for their attention to detail when it comes to the sound and packaging of their releases, so their choice of Glasser is no accident. Glasser, as usual, was generous with his time and thoughtful in his answers.
Questions for David Glasser at Airshow Mastering regarding the Mastering of The Grateful Dead’s entire Europe ’72 tour.
Briefly explain the process of mastering.
• Mastering is simply the step - the last in the creative studio process - where the final adjustments and tweaks are made. It's akin to what a colorist does in the film world - making sure that the sound matches the vision of the producer and artist, and presenting the mixes in the best possible light. Usually that involves adjusting the song levels and overall level of the disc and using tools like EQ and compression to shape the sound (does it need to be brighter? punchier? less muddy? etc).
How is mastering an archival recording different than mastering a new, technically modern recording?
• Often archival recordings already exist in an aesthetic context that listeners are familiar with. This was certainly the case with the Europe 72 project. The 1972 LP is an iconic album - both the songs, and the sound. There are also several other official releases of E72 material, plus audience and soundboard tapes that have circulated for decades. So before starting I gathered together the original Europe 72,Steppin' Out, and Rockin' the Rhein, plus the first show that was mixed for this project. To my horror and dismay, they all sounded quite different! Jeffrey Norman and I discussed this at length and we agreed that the approach to this release was a "live-r," less "polished" presentation. We wanted to showcase the Dead as they sounded onstage at these shows. 
What is unique about mastering The Grateful Dead as opposed to other bands?
• Probably the fact that often they don't function as a typical rhythm section + soloists and singers like much popular music does. At any time, any one of the players could be driving the music, and it's constantly shifting. Phil's bass is another lead instrument along with the two guitarists. As a result, the music is often more dynamic. More like a jazz band - think Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. The goal is to mix and master so you can "see" into the music.
Describe your history with the recordings of The Grateful Dead. What was your first job mastering their recordings?
• My first Grateful Dead project was mastering the DVD release of The Grateful Dead Movie. Jeffrey Norman was looking for a place to master his surround mixes; "Dr." Don Pearson introduced us after visiting the studio with acoustician Sam Berkow. The Grateful Dead Movie was a huge project. I think there were 12 hours of music when you added up the stereo mix, the bonus material and the two surround versions. It took us two long weeks. After that Jeffrey returned with the Truckin' Up To Buffalo and the Rockin' The Cradle DVDs. There have been several others, for which I am forever grateful, pun intended. I've been listening to the Dead, and attending shows, since 1970.
Describe the process of working with The Grateful Dead organization. Who do you work with? How exacting are they? Does the record label (Rhino) get involved on your end at all?
• Working with the Grateful Dead's production team is an absolute pleasure. I wish all of my clients were this easy to work with. My contacts are Producer/Archivist David Lemieux and engineer Jeffrey Norman. Everyone has very high and exacting standards, but nobody is breathing down each other’s throat. The communication is very open. I think everyone really respects the creative process and everyone's contribution. Rhino is definitely involved in the tail end of my mastering work, as that's where we send the final masters.
Were there specific challenges involved with a project this large? 
• The challenges were chiefly organizational - how to keep track of so much material and insure quality and constancy from beginning to end.  We modified our in-house database for more efficient searching within the E72 project, and we designed a workflow that covered every aspect of our involvement with the project: from receiving Jeffrey's mixes, to naming files, to cross checking show-to-show, to sending references for approval, and creating the final masters for Rhino.
Did each show have a unique personality to you?
• Absolutely! The shows in the great concert halls like the Concertgebouw and Paris' Olympia Theater have a very open warm sound and I think the players were hearing the nice acoustics and hearing each other very well; it's reflected in the playing. The halls definitely influenced the playing. The Bickershaw show, which was an outdoor festival, sounds much different - the musicians are reacting to the cold weather and perhaps playing more deliberately. But the results are great - the “Dark Star/Other One” sequence was a standout, and is included in the Europe ‘72 Volume 2 release.
How about the individual personalities of the musicians in the band? 
• It's cool how the band can transform itself from song to song. When Pigpen steps out front, his blues and R & B attitude can change the whole vibe. And Bobby's country songs really inspire Garcia's Don Rich-style picking.
Did you gain a greater appreciation for, or did you have any revelations about the individual talents in the band?
• One of the cool things about listening to multiple versions of the same songs is that the personalities do come across. You can hear that Garcia is constantly exploring ways to express a solo, and his solos during this era are really well constructed, and they usually have a well-formed arc to them. As I worked on each show, I always referenced other versions of several songs to make sure the sound was consistent (or appropriately consistent). It's clear that the Dead were very well rehearsed, and the performances and even some of the solos of the first set type of songs were often identical over several nights. As the tour progressed, you can hear them refining arrangements. Bob Weir's playing is especially impressive. I think many people think his distinctive leads were played by Garcia - I know I used to!
Did you learn anything about what makes the Grateful Dead unique in the world of Rock from this project?
• I think we've all long appreciated that the Grateful Dead cut a wide swath through the landscape of American music. It sounds utterly natural to hear them go from a Marty Robbins cowboy song to a Bobby Blue Bland rave-up, to a jam Coltrane would admire, to a gorgeous Merle Haggard ballad, and end on Chuck Berry. What other band can do this?
Do you think the fact that the band was playing in small, largely opera-worthy venues on that tour made a difference in the way the band played and the way the recordings ultimately came out?
• I was fortunate to have seen the Dead in December 1971 in a concert hall setting, and in March 1972 in a mid-size theater (on my birthday!). I've always thought those kind of halls were the perfect size for this kind of music - large enough to get the energy flowing, and small enough for the band to play off the vibe of the hall and the crowd. I think that the Europe 72 recordings are a confirmation of this (though the larger gigs like Bickershaw really kick-ass).
Can you point to a couple of musical highlights of the tour? Where would you send a novice? Where would you send a hard-core fan?
• I think that David Lemieux did a great job in choosing the songs for the Europe ‘72 Volume 2 set. That and the original Europe ‘72 are a good starting point. Outside of those, I especially like “Dark Star” from the second Copenhagen show; “Two Souls in Communion” from Amsterdam, anything from the two Paris shows, and the first and last Lyceum shows. The Beat Club TV broadcast is also pretty cool, and the Aarhus concert, in a tiny 300 seat room has a nice intimate feel that you don't often hear.

-Paul Epstein

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